It didn’t make the national news and hardly made a media ripple at home, but the group originally known as the Arkansas Association of Two-Year Colleges has become “Arkansas Community Colleges.”
Under new leadership for the first time since its inception, the organization chose a different name to better reflect the diverse nature and mission of its 22 member institutions. In announcing the change, the ACC explained it thusly on its website: “We are the same Association you have known since 1989, but we have a fresh new look that we are excited to share with you. Whether a student is seeking short-term training, a one-year certificate, or an Associate’s degree, education beyond high school is the key to a better life.”
During its 25 years as the AATYC, the association helped galvanize two-year institutions into a unified entity with a stronger, more powerful voice as well as a presence that couldn’t easily be ignored. Since the creation of what is now the ACC, two-year institutions we have grown in number and stature and have moved to the forefront of the workforce and economic development conversations locally and regionally. Thanks in part to the two-year association, Arkansas’s political and business leaders have come to view community colleges as seminal to the process of educating and training our citizens to meet the demands for a highly-skilled workforce.
After great leadership from Dr. Ed Franklin, the ACC is now in the capable hands of Executive Director Bill H. Stovall III.
When Ed Franklin announced his retirement, we advertised the position, and it had been theorized that there would be a handful people in the state interested in that job. Some of those decided they didn’t want to do it. We had some eminently qualified people apply, but we really hadn’t found what we considered a perfect fit for the job.
I recall a Sunday afternoon when Bill Stovall called me and asked, ‘Are you going to go and do Ed Franklin’s job?’ I said, ‘Boy, I hope not.’ And he said, ‘What if I thought I might want to do it?’ I immediately recognized that would be one of the greatest coups ever for Arkansas’s two-year colleges. We began working diligently to that get that move made, and Bill has been a godsend.
If you’re connected to Arkansas politics, you know Bill is one of the most respected personalities in the entire state in terms of his knowledge, capacity, and skill set when it comes to dealing with the Arkansas General Assembly. Bill Stovall could be doing anything he wants in state government. He could probably be the governor if he ever decided to run. He could be running the Department of Finance and Administration which is probably the single most important position in state government.
Bill has worked for both Republican and Democrat leaders in the House after having been a Speaker of the House himself. His capacity to understand matters that relate to funding and finances is probably head and shoulders above almost anyone else in the state. We’ll be fortunate if governor-elect Asa Hutchinson doesn’t try to steal Bill away from us.
A native of Heber Springs, Bill served eight years as a member of the Cleburne County Quorum Court before winning election to the Arkansas House of Representatives in 2001. He became Speaker of the House in 2005. When term limits victimized Bill, he remained employed by the House in various roles, including chief of staff and chief operations officer. He has basically done just about everything in the world to scratch out a living.
Bill is also a two-year college graduate (Pulaski Technical College) and holds bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and a master’s degree in liberal arts from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro.
The ACC website asserts that “Arkansas has a bright future,” and Bill Stovall is certainly one of the primary reasons for excitement about what the next few years hold for all of us.
We are privileged to often be able to share cool things that are happening at Mid-South Community College that positively affect our region. And I cannot think of greater news than this recent development.
In this past week, our Board of Trustees, with the involvement of the Foundation’s leadership, has agreed to enter into discussions to potentially become a part of the Arkansas State University System.
I think it’s safe to say that our position in the workforce education conversation in our state, region, and even our country is probably at its height. We’re now being recognized by Memphis as a tremendously powerful asset, and at the same time, we’re being recognized by Arkansas as a potential major player in fueling an economic turnaround in our part of the state.
It is now time for us to take what we’ve been doing for the last 23 years and grow to the next level and in the process seize a number of opportunities on the horizon for economic development within our region. The timing has never been more perfect. Because of our accomplishments and the situations and challenges before us, we have an elevated sense of responsibility to take what God has given us and maximize it.
I readily admit that I have said on a number of occasions that I saw no reason for our institution to be a part of a university system. I believed that with all my heart, and my statements to that effect were based on the circumstances of those times and places. But this is a different time.
The Big River Steel project and our participation in the Greater Memphis Alliance for a Competitive Workforce (GMACW) represent huge opportunities for Crittenden County. Big River Steel will create directly or indirectly as many as 3,000 jobs in the coming months — jobs that can forever change eastern Arkansas and Crittenden County – IF we are properly prepared. It’s an opportunity that hasn’t existed in our lifetime, and it’s just beginning. We have to do everything we can to make our communities more attractive and appealing to families and businesses, and having Arkansas State University in the mix will help us increase our appeal to investors, support industries, and employees and their families.
Our partnership with the GMACW puts us on the playing field with 106 of the largest, most powerful companies in Memphis who are insisting verbally and financially that Memphis up its game on workforce development to support their businesses and Memphis’ future. Their mission is to regionalize the local economy and create sectors emphasizing economic development and educational programming. The only thing better for Crittenden County than strengthening Memphis’ economy is for that underpinning to be reliant on Mid-South Community College as a major contributor in workforce education. It gives us the opportunity to build new relationships and create new opportunities for growth for our area. Arkansas State University clearly offers us those additional resources to maximize that opportunity.
Approached in the right way, we think joining with a university system has the potential to become a very powerful catalyst for our institution to maximize the great opportunities that we see in front of us, and it is something that Arkansas State sees as ample rationale to make additional investments in the resources that are available to see that we capture each opportunity with maximum results.
There are numerous benefits to this merger. Some of the most immediately valuable include an experienced system staff based in the state capital to represent us effectively. Resources currently unavailable or costly for us include staff lawyers who deal with legal issues facing higher education. They will be especially beneficial to us in the management of intellectual property including patents, copyrights, and trademarks. This is the next step in growing our alternative fuels initiatives and bioscience-related endeavors. They have a proven, strong track record in the history/heritage efforts of our region, including what they have done at Dyess. For the preservation of our KWEM legacy, this is an amazing alliance. ASU already sees eastern Arkansas as an important part of the state’s future, and they understand the increased outreach in our community and the entire Memphis region represents a significant upside for their university system. Moreover, many more benefits to the potential merger will become increasingly clear as the conversation continues.
What does this mean for our Trustees and the Foundation? In some regards there will be no change, and in others it only increases our fund-raising capacity. The Foundation remains as is. All money raised in this area continues to stay in this area. Additionally, our fund raising is augmented by becoming part of a larger reputable brand in education. The college will have additional resources to expand programs and relationships and the Foundation will be able to capitalize on those to increase funding support.
One of the key points of a merger agreement will be local autonomy. Arkansas State University System asserts a commitment to allowing significant autonomy to each member campus, including the appointment of a local board and the freedom for campuses to develop or maintain their unique identity, mission and purpose. If our board members determine that a merger would be of benefit, the Board of Trustees would become a ‘Board of Visitors’ and would remain intact. They would have similar responsibilities to what they have now.
Growth and progress give meaning to words like improvement, achievement, and success. Unfortunately, meaningful opportunity for positive growth does not knock on our doors in this region as much as we would like, so when it does we have a responsibility to open the door and welcome the conversation. In the coming weeks, you’ll hear more about this, and we will share information readily as it becomes available. In the meantime if you have questions, please feel free to ask.
By his own admission, Mid-South Community College student Treyvon Olden is unaccustomed to recognition for academic success. To this point in his life, most of the 19-year-old’s accolades have come from athletic endeavors. So when he earned our institution’s highest honor for a student, he had a simple question – why?
The answer is also very simple; the story behind it is much more complex. Treyvon Olden is a classic example of why Mid-South Community College exists. Raised in a one-parent home in a rough section of Memphis, Olden’s prospects for the future looked bleak at best. He has described his surroundings as hostile and has shared that he felt he came from a “generation that’s cursed. My father’s father was not in his life, and my father was not in my life. My father really didn’t want to have anything to do with me.”
His mother provided great encouragement, but Treyvon found himself exposed on a daily basis to situations and people that seemingly conspired to keep him from succeeding. “I was afraid of becoming that person that I saw every day,” he said. His grandmother even told him that a child only knows what he sees or has been around.
When Olden became a father as a teenager, his prospects for the future dimmed even more. But the young man refused to allow all of those strikes against him to determine his future. Instead, he steeled his resolve to overcome what most agree would meet the criteria of overwhelming, if not insurmountable, odds.
He didn’t exactly set the world on fire as a high school student, though, and readily admits to a graduation GPA just north of average. He attributes that to missing quite a few classes/school days while serving as the primary caregiver for his daughter. Olden says his goal as a parent is to be the opposite of his father. He is actively involved in his daughter’s life and loves to teach her new things. And when he picks her up from daycare, he loves to hear what she’s learned there.
After graduation, Olden considered attending a four-year institution and thought that’s what he was destined to do. He wanted to see and experience new things, pledge a fraternity, and enjoy university life. Many of his acquaintances encouraged him to leave the area for a fresh start. But two MSCC Career Coaches told him to give Mid-South Community College a try. His first response? “I wouldn’t have thought in a million years that I would attend a community college.”
After analyzing his options, however, he realized enrolling at MSCC, even for just a semester, would allow him to continue taking care of and spending time with his daughter. His university of choice required all freshmen to live on campus in a dorm their first year, so he would have been separated from her for long periods of time.
Once he set foot on our campus, he was hooked. He fell in love (his word, not mine) with MSCC and is laying the foundation for a nursing degree. Wise beyond his years, he pointed out that to help another person is a great gift that he wants to possess.
In spite of his trials and tribulations, Treyvon demonstrates unbridled enthusiasm and mirth. “The way I view things is if you don’t smile, you live life in misery. So I try my best to stay in a positive mood and be optimistic about my day. I always try to smile and make students feel good about themselves.”
About pursuing dreams at Mid-South Community College, he said, “I’m glad I made the decision. I will never forget about this college.” And we won’t forget about an inspiring young man who motivates us to continue our efforts to help students of the Delta achieve their God-given potential.
Participants in Mid-South Community College’s Technical Center program enjoyed the opportunity of lifetime on Oct. 10 when their counterparts from the Hino Technical Skills Academy in Japan visited our campus. The three-hour event included presentations, gift exchanges, games, a tour, and performances that will help the young men and women understand a little more about the diverse cultures of each nation.
As has become our tradition, MSCCTC students greeted the visitors with name cards and presented their partners with “dog tags” made by machining students and staff. After posing for a group picture, the students moved to the Marion Berry Renewable Energy Center where Pete Selden, MSCC’s Associate Vice President for Workforce Programs, provided the official welcome to our guests from across the ocean. He conveyed our profound honor to host the students and staff of an institution that has been part of the Japanese workforce training effort for more than 50 years.
Following Pete’s welcome, Hino Technical Academy Student Officers took center stage to talk about their school. Their presentation included everything from a detailed day-by-day schedule of activities to recreational activities like club sports, camping trips, festivals, and the highlight of every senior – the trip the U.S. and to MSCC. One of the speakers suggested that the opportunity to come to America is likely one of the greatest adventures of their lives.
Our students and staff listened intently as the students described the Academy. In Japan, high school consists of three years of classes. During the first two years, the young men and women participate in intensive classroom study, including a heavy dose of English. Most of the students are able to speak at least a little of our language, and they read and write it on a higher level. Discipline is a major emphasis of everything they do.
During the third year of high school, the instructional focus shifts to practical application of what the students have learned, and industry-relevant training moves to the forefront. Everything is strategically structured to prepare the Academy participants to work for Hino Motors Manufacturing. Students choose one of several areas of emphasis for their vocational training – Machine Work/Machine Systems, Machine Processing Systems, Automotive Manufacturing and Automotive Systems, or Electronic and Electrical Systems. According to one of the presenters, “We work hard to gain special knowledge and skills so that we can be professionals.”
All Academy students have the opportunity to choose a sport/recreational activity when they enroll. Once a student selects a particular club, he or she is committed to it for all three years of school. That’s a part of their discipline, and quitting is never an option.
The Japanese educational calendar is a little bit different than ours. Hino Technical Skills Academy students begin their school year in April and finish in March. They don’t have a summer vacation, but they do have breaks throughout the year. Third-year students in Japan receive the same privilege as American students when graduation approaches. They only attend classes for about half of their final month while first- and second-year students must attend until the end of March.
Mid-South and the Hino Academy have collaborated on student visits for several years. MSCC officials toured HTSA in September 2005, and Japanese students have made almost yearly visits to the MSCC campus since that time. Mid-South sent student and staff representatives to Japan in 2009.
It’s a great honor for us to have the Hino Technical Skills Academy students and staff on our campus. We’re very proud to be associated with Hino, and we’re certainly very proud to be associated with the Academy. We have learned a lot about the Hino way of educating and training students, and we’ve made some lifelong friends. Over time, we hope we can create additional experiences and opportunities to share the talents and abilities of the students at both schools.
Five years ago, Mid-South Community College began cultivating a relationship with the Memphis Bioworks Foundation, and the resulting partnership continues to pay great dividends for our students, our institution, and our region.
It all started in June 2009 with an invitation to Dr. Steven J. Bares, president/executive director of the organization, to speak at a Distinguished Lecture Series event at MSCC. As we listened to his presentation, we understood very quickly that a long-term partnership would be of significant benefit to everyone in the room.
Founded in 2001, the not-for-profit organization focuses its energies on creating and nurturing alliances between public, private, academic, and government entities to catalyze economic development in health care, logistics, and emerging technology. Memphis Bioworks has become the area’s “go-to” organization for creating companies, jobs, and investments in bioscience and sustainability. Their approach obviously interconnects with the College’s mission, and we welcomed the opportunity to join hands with our friends across the river.
Less than a year after that fortuitous meeting of the minds, Memphis Bioworks received a $2.9 million Energy Training Partnership Grant under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Green Jobs Training Program. Mid-South Community College shared in the grant designed to establish or enhance programs to train area workers for jobs in energy-efficiency and renewable energy occupations.
While proceeds from that grant helped us advance our training efforts, we soon found ourselves too far ahead of the curve in the renewable energy realm. We could certainly prepare workers for those jobs, but our region had not yet attracted enough of the requisite “green” businesses and industries to provide jobs for our graduates.
We have since found, however, that the very same educational principles and technological skills needed to produce alternative fuel can be applied in many different areas including hydraulics; chemical, food and beverage production; pharmaceuticals; power generation; pulp and paper; refining, and waste water treatment. Trained technicians are in high demand for companies producing everything from ice cream to bread to paint. And more importantly for us and our constituents, thousands of those jobs are available in the Memphis metropolitan region today.
Through a recent partnership with Southwest Tennessee Community College, we are continuing to develop and refine the program. We’re taking the best of what they have and are mixing it with the best of what we have.
When the process control curriculum is offered to anybody in eastern Arkansas, western Tennessee, or northwest Mississippi, it is being offered in a partnership between the two community colleges. We understand the futility of competing against each other and are playing smarter instead.
And Memphis Bioworks is once again a major contributor to the effort. The Southern Employment and Training Consortium-Bio/IT project, spearheaded by Memphis Bioworks, recently received notification of an $8 million U.S. Department of Labor grant as part of the Ready to Work Partnership. The initiative supports innovative collaborations between employers, nonprofit organizations, and federal job training programs to help connect ready-to-work Americans with ready-to-be-filled jobs.
Mid-South Community College is among the educational/training partners included in the tri-state effort, and our institution will receive $464,228 over a four-year span to put all of the pieces of our Process Control Technology program together. Our goal is to train a minimum of 70 highly-skilled technicians who can fill good-paying, 21st century jobs in our region.
Almost every major production entity in the world has some sort of process control protocol in their facility/factory. With the help of our partners in Memphis, we’re addressing a documented need and giving students another career opportunity that features a sustainable wage and a rewarding work environment.