Background: This address was written for and delivered by a community college president as part of the program of events celebrating her inauguration.
Good afternoon. I would like to begin by thanking Sandra Timmons for her remarks and for her extraordinary work on behalf of young people. She is an old and dear friend of mine, and I am delighted that she was able to join us today. Her work with A Better Chance is similar in many ways to the work we do here in providing educational access and developing potential. Like ours, hers is an organization with a transformational mission, and so we are especially pleased to welcome her to our campus.
I would also like to welcome and thank my friends and family members who have traveled from all over the country to be here on this special occasion.
One of the benefits of having been at the college for 13 years is that I am able to look out into the audience and see so many familiar faces. I am privileged to work with a talented and dedicated group of individuals and within a community rich in vitality and promise. It is my great honor to serve Prince George’s Community College as its eighth president. I thank you all for the opportunity and for the trust you have placed in me to lead this institution.
As you know, this year marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of Prince George’s Community College, and there is much to celebrate. We have had many successes along the way, receiving national recognition for our students, faculty, staff and programs. We continue to expand capacity, improve facilities and upgrade technology. Through collaborations with businesses and philanthropic organizations, we have been able to broaden our course offerings and provide scholarships, internships, mentoring and leadership development to qualified students.
However, we are not content to rest on our laurels. With any commemoration comes the chance to look forward to what lies ahead. In that sense, this year can be seen not simply as an anniversary, but as the beginning of the next 50 years for the college and the community as a whole. Even as we recognize our significant accomplishments, we acknowledge that there is still a great deal to be done.
Although the college has altered considerably in size and appearance since 1958, we remain as we were then, a community-serving institution. The work that we do is work that no one else can or will do. Our fundamental mission, simply stated, is to provide access to higher education for all who seek it. It is a broad and ambitious mission, and it is unique to the community college.
On the individual level, the college serves as a gateway to opportunity. Our students’ reasons for enrolling vary widely, as does the length of their attendance and their level of academic preparedness. Some enroll intending to transfer to a four-year institution. Others hope to move directly into the workforce. Still others come to learn new skills and improve their career prospects. A portion of our student body comes to us directly from high school. Our older students often have families and full-time jobs that require their attention and time. Despite their diverse needs and goals, enrolling in college means that these students have made a commitment to a better future. It is our duty to ensure that they receive a solid, high-quality education that prepares them for whatever they undertake next.
The education and training we offer our students also have long-term benefits for the community and the local economy. Our students go on to be health care providers, teachers, law enforcement officers, entrepreneurs and involved citizens. Local businesses benefit from a highly trained, competitive workforce. These boosts to the economy are tangible, in the number of graduates produced, their employment rate and the feedback from employers.
Less quantifiable, but no less powerful is the role the college plays in uplifting the community by opening doors for those who have nowhere else to turn. For many students, Prince George’s Community College is the only route to higher education. These are individuals who may have the will and the determination to succeed but are lacking in resources – academic, financial or otherwise. Not all our students fall into this category, but for those who do, the journey to reach their goals can be long and arduous. It is our job to guide them on that path and to do all that we can to ensure their success. If we do it well, our students leave here with new skills and knowledge. They have a greater choice of jobs and more earning power. But beyond that, they are transformed—in their thinking, their perceptions and their aspirations.
The idea that we are engaged in such life-changing work should motivate us. It also highlights the importance of overcoming the obstacles we still face. Already in place are a series of institutional priorities designed to help us take on those challenges. These five priorities shape our actions and planning and help to determine how resources are to be allocated.
The first priority is one I have already touched on—student success—and it remains one of our biggest hurdles. It is not enough for students to enroll. Once they are here, we must help them set clear goals and devise a strategy to reach them. This means everything from monitoring students’ academic progress to helping them navigate the system so that they know where to go for help and are not hesitant to seek advisement or tutoring. Progress in this area will be measured in terms of rising graduation, transfer and retention rates, but also in the level of student engagement in the classroom and in the life of the college. Naturally, we take great pride in the triumphs of our high-achieving students. But we also look for the hard-won accomplishments—a passing grade, a semester completed, a degree earned, a job placement—to know that we are really making a difference to those for whom the community college was created.
Investment in Human Capital
There can be no student success, however, without the faculty and staff of the college. Our second priority, investment in human capital, addresses the needs of employees. We endeavor to provide a work environment that offers meaningful opportunities for professional development and advancement. Talent and abilities should be appropriately cultivated and rewarded. As the college moves forward technologically, training and education must be made available to all. We are engaged in a common purpose and it is imperative that we all feel invested in, and focused on, the work we are doing. It is the people of this college whose energy and talent will perpetuate the vitality and growth of the institution.
Essential to all our efforts is clarity and ease of communication, both internal and external. In an institution this large, effective communication is not always easy, but certainly always necessary. Lack of communication and miscommunication can lead to misunderstanding and alienation. I am committed to fostering an environment of transparency and inclusion, and I hope that every member of the college community feels that his or her voice can be heard and respected. We cannot address concerns unless we know what they are. Keeping an open channel of communication entails keeping one another informed of changes in policies, procedures and plans. It means sharing news of what is happening around the college, in and out of the classroom. It also involves communicating that news to the public in order to raise awareness of the college’s work, recruit students and gain support for the college’s initiatives. Our constituency needs to know what we are doing and what we have to offer.
In keeping with our mission, community service is another of our highest institutional priorities. We continue to work hard to establish strong partnerships with Prince George’s County schools, agencies and businesses to respond quickly and creatively to community and workforce needs. Too many of our students come to us unprepared for college-level work. Addressing this challenge requires a joint approach by the college and the county’s public school system. We can work together to create standards for academic preparation that meet college requirements and create a smoother transition from high school to college.
Our alliances with the business community are also important in creating a robust and well-trained workforce that can participate in a dynamic economy. The college’s industry-specific workforce development institutes in areas such as hospitality and tourism and construction and development are an innovative example of how we can customize education. By ensuring access to a high level of knowledge and specialized skills, we are able to help fulfill the recruitment needs of local employers.
Community service also includes just that – service to the community. The college as an institution already provides a variety of services to the community, including programs for seniors and job and health fairs, but we would like to see more employees and students involved in community service initiatives around the county. Teaching our students to be good citizens includes teaching them responsibility for their community and leading by example. These hands-on opportunities, whether they be isolated or ongoing, are rewarding not only for the direct beneficiaries, but also for the volunteers themselves.
Our final priority is organizational improvement. This is an all-encompassing and continuous effort to establish methods of assessment for all college programs and services to ensure that we are providing the highest quality of service in every aspect of our work. It may sound like a given, that we want to be all that we can and should be, but in practice, it takes constant monitoring and evaluating. It requires the use of data to identify areas of strength and weakness and act accordingly. Everyone needs to know what the standards are in order to determine whether or not we are measuring up to them. Even then, it is not a matter of simply meeting those standards. We need to be able to exceed them.
In thinking about our agenda as we move ahead, I am reminded of what one of our nursing students, Promise Olomo, had to say about his experience at Prince George’s Community College. He spoke of how his advisers helped him “to believe that many of the things we automatically rule out as impossible are perhaps just difficult possibilities.”
We too can learn from that advice. Once we decide something can be done, the conversation moves from “Can we?” to “How do we?” A challenge is not simply a difficult task. It is also a summons, a call to action, and I look forward to working with you to answer that call.
Remember—the next 50 years begins now. Thank you for your support and for all you do.