MSCC Hits Home Run with Sonja Tate Hire

MSCC Hits Home Run with Sonja Tate Hire

While the name of the game isn’t baseball, our hiring of Sonja Tate to lead the women’s basketball program prompted at least a couple of people to declare that we had “hit the ball out of the park.” Maybe they should have said we had swished a game-winning, three-pointer at the buzzer, but we all understand what they meant.

Knocking the ball out of the park is the ultimate accomplishment for a hitter, and we have essentially matched that feat by landing one of the rising stars in the coaching profession. Our institution thrives in large part because of divine intervention, and this latest cataclysmic event adds to the extensive list of miraculous occurrences that continue to shape our destiny.

When you have an opportunity to add people to your family, you certainly want to find the right ones. If you are dreaming of the right kind of person to fit in our model, you think first of someone who understands our community and our students and also understands and appreciates the opportunity to help build something bigger than just a basketball program. You want to find somebody who has come from the same places that our students have come from and has managed to become tremendously successful. You want to find somebody who can be a great role model.

When you find that person and manage to convince her to come to your institution and then hear people across the state and country exclaim “Wow!” that’s your best hope realized.

Sonja Tate fits every qualification we would have wanted to include in a job description. We’re ecstatic to have someone of her caliber engaged in what we’re trying to do, and we have every confidence that she will take our women’s basketball program to the next level.

What I have learned from this experience is you never can discount the cool things that God can make happen in ways that we can never imagine. When you have a guy like Andy Stoglin walk into your office and tell you that you can afford him as a basketball coach if that’s what it takes to start to a basketball program, I don’t have to be very smart to understand that mere mortals can’t engineer something like that.

Since 1992, a part of what I had dreamed for this community and our college was to have an athletic program. You can pray and hope for things, but they don’t always happen in your time frame. You have to let it happen when it’s supposed to happen. Obviously for more than 15 years we were trying to figure out how to build a college.

Now five years after Coach Stoglin walked into my office, we have a gym that we couldn’t have dreamed about earlier in our existence. Our men’s and women’s programs have already taken great steps forward, winning regional championships in a very short period of time while competing with schools that are much larger in terms of enrollment and that are much better financed than we are.

As I have said many times before, I still believe very strongly that this is something that is supposed to be happening because it gives so many people a chance to take their talents and parlay them into educational opportunities that can change the rest of their lives. That’s the type of program that we wanted to create, and that’s the type of program that we want to sustain.

SkillsUSA Students Invest Time, Energy to Compete

SkillsUSA Students Invest Time, Energy to Compete

Mid-South Community College’s top SkillsUSA students will travel to Hot Springs early next week to take on challengers from across Arkansas in the annual State Leadership and Skills Championship. We are sending about 50 of our best and brightest for a great experience, a great opportunity, and a chance to make us proud once again.

Our SkillsUSA chapter is less than a decade old but has already produced 146 gold, silver and bronze medals, an average of 18 per year. About the only competitions in which we haven’t finished in the top three are the ones we haven’t entered yet, and we’re working on those. It’s probably not practical to expect 18 medals every year, but we have almost come to expect such a massive haul based on the past performances of our students.

The young men and women who will represent themselves, their families, their college, and their high schools (in the case of MSCC Technical Center students) have been working exceptionally hard to prepare for the competition. It all started with an intra-campus contest to determine which students were best prepared for the state contest. Because the interest in SkillsUSA is so high on our campus, we have found it necessary to create an internal competition to determine who will take the next step. Most, if not all, of the state competitions limit the number of contestants, so we can’t send everyone, no matter how deserving they might be.

About 100 students showed up on a Saturday in February to demonstrate their skills. If you have school- or college-age children, you probably know how difficult it is to get them to do much of anything on a Saturday, especially something that is related to school. But our SkillsUSA participants are exceptionally dedicated to improving their technical competencies, so we’re not surprised by the great turnout and competition.

Particularly rewarding to our SkillsUSA sponsors and instructors (and all of us at the college) is the willingness of our students to pursue excellence outside of the classroom. Several of our young people are “competing up,” meaning they are participating in contests for which they haven’t even taken the classes that would prepare them. Instead, they have worked outside of class with their instructors for the opportunity to compete in the state contest.

While all of our instructors are proud of their students, we have one who is particularly invested. Martha Herron, director of Certified Nursing/Allied Health instructor at the college, speaks very highly of the young people and their instructors in the healthcare program.

“I am the very proud director of a very large Medical Professions program with some great students who have worked very hard,” she said during a heart-felt presentation announcing the contest participants. “This program and these students mean a lot to me,” she said while stopping briefly to compose herself. Martha apologized for her show of emotion, but no apology was necessary. Emotion is a vital part of the educational process, and we want our instructors to be passionate about their students.

Whether we win 1 medal or 31, we’re excited about the growth in our SkillsUSA program. Our students are learning character, leadership, and employability skills that will help them succeed, both on the job and in life. And shouldn’t that be the goal of our educational system?

Delayed Black History Event Worth the Wait

Delayed Black History Event Worth the Wait

Our 11th Annual Black History celebration didn’t go exactly as planned because of Old Man Winter, but when the weather finally cleared, we enjoyed a program that was well worth the wait.

Guest speaker Derwin Sisnett, a trail-blazing educator who worked at Mid-South Community College before tackling a major challenge in Memphis, provided an inspirational, motivational address about his early struggles and later successes.

Born in the rough Far Rockaway neighborhood of Queens, N.Y., Sisnett painted a bleak picture of his childhood. He told us multiple times during his presentation that he was a statistical anomaly. “I’m not supposed to be here,” he said, noting that the odds were much greater he would end up in the grave or in a prison than as a guest speaker at a Black History event.

Many considered the middle school Sisnett attended one of the most violent in New York. While he didn’t elaborate, the speaker said he exited the eighth-grade in handcuffs, casting significant doubt on his future.

With the help of divine intervention, however, Sisnett made it to high school. He credits “the grace of God” for the opportunity to attend a high-performing public school. He buckled down in the classroom and finished a year early, mainly to get away from Far Rockaway.

Sisnett attended Atlanta’s Emory University where he was “pre-med, pre-law, pre-whatever,” before electing to pursue a passion for writing. After graduating with a psychology degree, Sisnett enrolled in grad school at Hollins University. He said he still had no idea where education would take him.

While at Hollins, Sisnett accepted an invitation to speak to a middle school class about writing. The experience changed his life. “I saw the eyes of middle school students who looked just like me when I was a middle school student.” He decided to become an educator.

After earning his master’s degree, Sisnett married a young woman he met at Emory, and they chose to live Memphis (her home town). He began looking for a teaching job but received zero response to his efforts.

At the time Mid-South Community College needed an adjunct faculty member with his credentials, and we had the good sense to hire him. Derwin impressed us so much with his dynamic, enthusiastic, student-focused approach that we soon hired him full time as a retention coordinator. He did a great job for us before another challenge presented itself.

While working on a Ph.D. in educational psychology, he received a call from a community development corporation which thought his research might be helpful in efforts to apply for a charter school. Sisnett agreed to share what he learned, and when the executive director job opened not too long after that, he decided to give it a try. He had no guarantee that the job would last beyond the application phase, “but I knew I wanted to serve more kids that looked like me, that came from environments like mine.” We certainly didn’t want to lose Derwin, but it’s tough to argue with someone so intent on helping as many people as possible.

The Power Center Academy received its charter and opened in 2008. Success came quickly, and Derwin soon found himself pursuing a goal of creating a “microcosm of a healthy community.” He and others made it a reality, and when approached by movers and shakers who wanted to replicate the success statewide, Derwin wanted to say no but couldn’t. He is now CEO of Gestalt Community Schools.

So the young man who seemed the least likely to succeed or even survive is now encouraging youngsters (and others as well) to dream big and change their lives through education. We need more people like Derwin Sisnett, and we’re proud that we had the opportunity to play a small part in his success.

Tommy Goldsby Leaves the World a Better Place than He Found It

Tommy Goldsby Leaves the World a Better Place than He Found It

Albert Einstein, generally considered one of the greatest scientists of all time, once offered this bit of advice about making a positive impact on the world: “Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value.” I can think of many people who have attained the former but far fewer who have accomplished the latter.

I don’t know if the late Thomas B. Goldsby Jr. had heard or read Einstein’s quote, but he certainly epitomized it. Mr. Goldsby could easily be described as successful by any applicable measures, but, more importantly, he lived a life of great value to others. While he passed from this life on March 15, Tommy’s amazing legacy of philanthropy and his desire to make a difference will be felt for generations to come.

I can safely say that Tommy was one of Mid-South Community College’s most passionate supporters, not only financially, but also in the way he valued the education and opportunities offered at our institution. Tommy’s vision was that higher education could and would spark economic development in our region, but his amazing philanthropy went well beyond classroom education and extended into a genuine love of Mid-South Community College – a love that he demonstrated on countless occasions in support of every major initiative we’ve pursued.

As many are aware, either by personal experience or general knowledge, Tommy established an innovative concurrent-enrollment scholarship program in 2001 designed to inspire students to pursue higher education while still in high school.

In establishing the scholarship, he said, “The key to the future of the Delta is clearly education. I am excited about the prospect of building an educational bridge and creating a more seamless transition between high school and college for young people in the Delta. This is a tremendous opportunity for us to…create higher levels of education in the Delta.”

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee attended the program announcement and lauded Tommy’s efforts. “Tommy is investing in the future generations of Crittenden County. Not everyone could make as generous a contribution as Tommy, but the true reality is that a lot of people who could never will. Tommy has chosen to invest not just in a place but in the people who will come to this place for education. Generations of students to come will benefit….”

History tells us and statistics show us that eastern Arkansas has long trailed other more prosperous areas of our state in the number of college graduates. But the Goldsby Scholarship is helping us affect a dramatically positive shift in those numbers. To date, because of Tommy’s belief in the power of education beyond high school, students from our region have earned more than 500 college degrees from almost 200 prestigious colleges and universities throughout the U.S. In the process, the innovative program has saved parents of those young people an estimated $12 million in tuition.

I believe it would be impossible for us to fully assess or understand the impact that the Goldsby Scholarship is having on our community. Obviously, we can put a dollar value on what it has saved our parents and students, but there is truly no way to adequately appreciate the value, the importance, or the significance of the lives that have been touched, the careers that have been shaped, and the futures that have been so positively impacted.

To say Tommy Goldsby will be sorely missed does not even begin to cover the loss that we feel. I encourage you to join me in prayers for Sandy, the Goldsby family, and their many friends in this time of sorrow. I also hope you will join me in thanking God graciously for Thomas B. Goldsby Jr. and the profound impact he has made on the people of our region.

Adjunct Faculty Making ‘Super’ Contributions to MSCC

Adjunct Faculty Making ‘Super’ Contributions to MSCC

Mid-South Community College recently recognized seven adjunct faculty members for extraordinary contributions during the fall semester to our mission to change the educational landscape of the Arkansas Delta. Nakeisha Griffin, Daphne Jones, Murat Kavuncu, Roxanne Lee, Angela Payne, Darlene Smith, and Amy Ware received certificates and financial incentives for their above-and-beyond efforts to encourage our students.

Lee is the “dean” of the honorees with service to the College dating back to 2002. She served as a part-time instructor for us beginning in June of that year and continuing through July 2008 before taking a break to pursue additional higher education. She returned as an MSCC “regular” in January 2012. Lee has served as an educator since 1994, working at Memphis Catholic High School, Marion High School, Christian Brothers High School, Wonder and East Junior High Schools, and West Memphis High School.

Ware has worked with us since August 2005. Her higher education experience includes stints with Rhodes College (assistant director of Career Services), the University of Georgia (assistant director/career consultant for the Career Center), and the University of Memphis (Career Services intern and Student Activities graduate assistant).

Payne, a lifelong educator, came on board in June 2008. She began her teaching career at Mississippi County Community College (now Arkansas Northeastern College) in 1993 and continued through 2004. Payne served as an assistant professor at Columbia State Community College for three years before joining the staff at Southwest Tennessee Community College in 2007. She started as an assistant professor and earned associate professor status in 2012. Payne also has community college roots as a graduate of Phillips County Community College (now Phillips Community College of the University of Arkansas).

Kavuncu joined our teaching staff in August 2009. He has been associated with Mid-South since 1999, first as a student and then as a graduate (associate of arts in 2002) before hiring on as an adjunct. His professional experience includes Continental Traffic Service Inc. of Memphis (transportation analyst), Kavland (partner/owner/manager), and Sundial Systems and Technology, LLC. In addition to English, he speaks and writes fluently in Turkish.

Griffin came to us in spring 2010. She brings a wealth of professional experience with the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, Memphis City Schools (taught seven years), HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital and FedEx.

Jones also joined the MSCC family in spring 2010, and the long-time educator (she started in 1994) has experience from the Little Rock School District, Memphis City Schools, Tennessee Department of Education, and the Grizzlies Academy.

Smith, the “newest” adjunct faculty member of the bunch, started at MSCC in August 2011. She is another lifelong educator and has been teaching since 1974. Smith has worked at East, West, and Wonder Junior High Schools and West Memphis High School. She also taught a year of kindergarten at First Baptist Church.

Obviously the educational and professional backgrounds of our Super Adjuncts is enough to impress almost anyone, but to earn special recognition, instructors must meet exacting criteria. Like their students, Super Adjunct candidates are “graded” based on a specific set of guidelines (a rubric) for each of six areas: professional development, use of technology in instruction, prompt and accurate response to administrative requests, loyalty to and support of MSCC, use of instructional strategies to increase student learning, and adherence to MSCC procedures. The highest mark in each category is a four, and honorees must earn at least a three in every category.

While we have singled out these seven honorees for their Herculean efforts, we recognize that all of our part-time instructors are “super.” Their help is vital to our effort to truly make a difference in our region because we can’t afford to hire the mass of humanity it would take to meet those diverse needs. Our part-time instructors understand the special needs of community colleges, and they go to great lengths to help our students succeed. For every Super Adjunct, we have 12 or 13 others who are just as devoted to their profession and our mission. We can’t pay them what they’re worth, but we can certainly express our appreciation for what they are doing to make the world a better place.

Career Coach Program Providing Great Opportunities

Career Coach Program Providing Great Opportunities

Thanks to the special efforts of Mid-South Community College Career Coach Cortez Washington, two MSCC concurrent-enrollment/Academies of West Memphis students and one AWM student spent a day helping state lawmakers with their legislative duties.

On Feb. 10, Washington transported Mid-South students Kelsi Burns (taking three classes at MSCC) and Anna Beth Haney (taking two college classes), as well as Academies student Sabina Therenciel, to Little Rock to participate in the 90th General Assembly of the Arkansas State Legislature. The young women enjoyed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“I’m so grateful for the Career Coach program for providing us with the experience of visiting our state capitol,” Burns said. “It was a great opportunity to meet Representative Deborah Ferguson, Senator Keith Ingram, and Governor Asa Hutchinson…. It was interesting to see how things work in our state government compared to the federal government which we learn about in our AP Government class.”

“When asked to partake in the opportunity…I was overjoyed yet nervous because what if I forgot the message or gave it to the wrong person?” Haney said. “It was exhilarating when the light for messages came on, and I got to take a message to another Representative. All my fears of messing up were erased for the Representatives are very understanding and will even help you out by telling where the said person is seated.”

“My trip to the capitol building was a very new experience for me,” Therenciel said. “I was very shocked at just how fun and exciting politics can be. I used to think that politics was surrounded by a very stiff and serious environment, but this trip has enlightened me. Yes these men and women are discussing serious topics, but they are real people who are not only very kind and inviting, but also who are filled with the American spirit to help make our nation the best it can be for everyone’s benefit.”

Opportunities like the one coordinated by Cortez and made possible by the Career Coach program are priceless in the lives and futures of the young people of Crittenden and surrounding counties. Learning about governmental processes in the classroom is helpful and needful, but actually participating in the process allows students to make a tangible connection to what they’re hearing and reading. Too many times in today’s educational system we’re failing to establish that real-world correlation.

The Career Coach program is another powerful tool in helping us support classroom achievement and long-term goal attainment while providing employment-relevant learning opportunities. Part of the Arkansas Works initiative, the program focuses on Arkansas counties with the highest unemployment and poverty rates and the lowest college-going rate. Career Coaches don’t operate in silos; they work to complement and enhance college and career planning efforts of public schools. Extended career guidance services can prepare students for a more successful college experience and career by helping them set and achieve realistic goals and develop the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in the workforce of today and tomorrow.

Mid-South Community College employs two Career Coaches – Washington and Isaac McBride – and is in the process of hiring a third. Washington is based at West Junior High School and works with 289 students in the eighth and ninth grades. McBride is assigned to Wonder Junior High and serves 282 students. With assistance from their MSCC supervisor Cynthia Quarrels, Coordinator for Workforce Counseling, Washington and McBride are also helping at East Junior High (212 students) until another Career Coach can be added. The Coaches, who are required to earn and maintain Career Development Facilitator certification, also work with about 1,200 sophomores, juniors, and seniors at the high school.

Investments in the Career Coach program have been significant, but the long-term results will be even more so. With the ultimate goal of guiding students toward employment sufficient to allow them to support themselves and their and families, this program is worth every penny expended on it.

Legislators Unlikely to Boost Higher Education This Year

Legislators Unlikely to Boost Higher Education This Year

The 90th General Assembly of the Arkansas State Legislature is nearing the end of its sixth week of the 2015 regular session, and it appears unlikely to provide much, if any, new money for higher education. Arkansas fiscal policy has always leaned heavily toward conservatism, and that policy will likely not be challenged at this point.

If we were in any other session where it wasn’t occurring under a newly-elected, first-term governor with a large number of new lawmakers, we would probably find ourselves in a fantastic position. Why? Our institution’s nationally-recognized training and education model is being used in almost every conversation in Little Rock about what the state wants to replicate and multiply. With an emphasis on tax cuts, however, no one seems particularly willing or motivated to put money into the model, at least for the coming year.

While I don’t expect anything particularly bad happening for our institution during the General Assembly, I also don’t anticipate anything tremendously positive with the exception that we will continue to be viewed by many throughout the state, region, and nation as the poster child for workforce education. I believe additional funding is coming but not this year.

Based on what higher education officials have been told, we can expect somewhere between a zero and one percent increase in state funding – that’s for everybody across the board. For Mid-South Community College, that means we will be operating the upcoming fiscal year with about the same amount of funding that we received in 2005 or 2006. Trying to meet the diverse workforce development needs of our region while operating with an essentially stagnant budget certainly makes our job tougher, but we have grown accustomed to doing more with less.

The most positive thing on the funding front is that three bills either have been or will be introduced which include significant input from eastern Arkansas. One of them would increase funding for the Career Coaches program sponsored by Arkansas Works, which provides students in economically-distressed areas with information and assistance related to academic tutoring, career counseling, mentoring, financial guidance, and other supports necessary for career educational access and retention. The second bill would increase funding for secondary center models across the state and eventually mandate that all of them be located on two-year college campuses. The third piece of legislation would change the higher education funding formula to increase the dollars that follow technical programs, something of vital interest to Mid-South Community College.

Any of those, or certainly all three, could be passed and/or funded. My best guess, however, is that minimal new money will come out of any of those proposals during the current session. If it happens, it will probably come one year or two years from now when folks figure out the long-term financial impact of the tax cuts that are being implemented.

As we enter into our budgeting process, we’re looking at things we might be able to do smarter, and we’re also reviewing activities that have been merely marginally successful. We must evaluate activities or initiatives that don’t seem to work and consider the alternatives. If we’re going to do something different, it either needs to be something that works a whole lot better or costs a whole lot less money.