It hardly seems possible, but the days of December are winding down, and 2014 is nearly history. Mid-South Community College has enjoyed another banner year highlighted by many accomplishments and more than a few instances of divine intervention.
In January, The Manufacturing Institute recognized our welding program for teaching to industry standards. Also in the tech world, instructors Gary Giordano and Kelly Bearden earned 18 National Institute for Metalworking Skills certifications, an amazing feat and an important step toward overall program accreditation.
In February, the Higher Learning Commission granted continued accreditation to our institution, and the Assisi Foundation of Memphis awarded us a $325,000 grant. The funding is helping us with construction costs of a training facility in support of the Jeremy M. Jacobs Hospitality Program and the Delta Cuisine Kitchen Incubator project.
In March, MSCC’s men’s and women’s basketball teams made history with their first postseason victories as well as a pair of Region 2 Tournament championships. In the academic realm, the College established a chapter of Sigma Kappa Delta, the National English Honor Society, and inducted charter members.
In April, MSCC and Southwest Tennessee Community College sponsored an Employer Forum on our campus, the first formal event of The Greater Memphis Workforce Development Institute. Also that month, Mid-South students won eight medals at the Arkansas SkillsUSA State Leadership and Skills Championship, taking our overall award count to 146 since joining the competition in 2007.
In May, we officially relaunched the historic KWEM Radio station which we believe has great potential for the future of Crittenden County. The special event drew the attention of world-wide media, and the New York Times covered the festivities.
In June, MSCC student/employee Robert Smith received one of 50 nationwide scholarships to attend the SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference. Also that month, Lori Forrester, who coordinates our Teacher Education program, detailed the success of our efforts to supply eastern Arkansas classrooms with “home grown” talent. She said the program has produced more than 60 graduates, many of whom are working in local school districts.
In August, three MSCC Aviation Maintenance students earned NASA/Arkansas Space Grant Consortium scholarships, and another of our students received a $10,000 Hino Motors Manufacturing U.S.A., Inc. scholarship. On a slightly different front, Andy Stoglin, who gave our athletic program instant credibility four years ago, returned as head coach of the Lady Greyhounds.
In September, FedEx Express demonstrated its long-term commitment to our Aviation Maintenance Technology program with a $250,000 gift. We are using the funds toward construction of the “FedEx Aviation Technology Center” which will allow us to enhance and expand our program. We also took another step toward a world-class Hospitality Management program with a ceremonial groundbreaking for the $2.2 million Jeremy Jacobs Hospitality Center.
In October, our institution, in conjunction with the Greater Memphis Alliance for a Competitive Workforce, received formal notice of a $9.8 million grant focusing on employment-directed training. We also announced creation of a Construction Technology program to prepare area citizens for jobs with Big River Steel.
In November, Bill Clinton, no stranger to the MSCC campus, returned to talk about the general election and its impact on our families, communities, and state. Also that month, a project led by Memphis Bioworks received formal notification of an $8 million U.S. Department of Labor grant that included MSCC as an educational/training partner. To cap an eventful month, our Board of Trustees began conversations with the Arkansas State University System about a possible merger which would significantly strengthen our institution.
We closed the year by acknowledging a generous $1,000 gift from the West Memphis Rotary Club to the Crittenden County Literacy Council which resides on our campus.
As 2015 approaches, please take time to reflect on the blessings of the year that is almost past, and remember the reason for this and every other season.
More than 200 Mid-South Community College Developmental Math students worked with instructors, tutors, and adaptive instructional software this semester to complete at least one course, a major accomplishment for all concerned. Adding to the excitement is the fact that 24 of those students earned credit for multiple classes, and a dozen even worked their way through all three prep courses to meet the requirements for taking the next step toward a brighter future.
On December 4, our math faculty recognized individuals who completed multiple courses as well as members of classes which finished the most modules during the semester. Our top achievers received a variety of prizes for their efforts, and instructors’ praise flowed freely as they talked about determined, hard-working students who excelled during the semester. Hugs and smiles abounded.
The brainchild of Stephanie Krehl, our lead faculty for Developmental/Technical Math, the celebratory event served to recognize, encourage, reward, and motivate students at all levels. Not too surprisingly, some of our students complete a class quickly enough to start the next but are content with their accomplishment. We want them be more proactive in moving toward their overall educational objective. We’re hoping the recognition efforts will inspire more students to finish multiple classes in a semester so they can progress more rapidly.
As it does with many institutions of higher learning, especially community colleges, mathematics presents a significant challenge for students in pursuit of degrees or certificates. While it is not an officially-recognized disorder, math anxiety is certainly a reality for many of our students. Somewhere along the educational path, they have developed a frustration about an inability to perform mathematical functions correctly. For some, merely setting foot in a math class can be a major challenge.
At MSCC, we’re constantly trying to find the right formula to provide our students with the best possible opportunity to succeed. We hire skilled, experienced, and, perhaps more importantly, understanding full-time and adjunct faculty to guide, instruct, encourage, and motivate our students. We also seek out the most effective instructional systems and technology designed to help the learning process.
All educators understand that students learn in diverse ways and at varying rates, so providing mathematical instruction that meets the needs of everyone in a particular classroom is difficult at best. So we are energized by the recent results that have come with the aid of the MyMath Lab® system which provides students with the opportunity to access any number of tutorials and assessments through computer/Internet-based software.
Unlike a previous system we tried, MyMath Lab does not provide students with multiple-choice options and assessments. Students must work through problems and enter an answer. The system also provides an almost unlimited combination of questions. It randomly generates the numbers, so a student can take the “same” quiz as many times as he or she wants. While the overall concepts are the same, the answers are different.
MyMath Lab encourages active learning, not memorization, so it supports our goal of preparing students to meet the challenges of College Algebra. In previous years while using a different system, we found that some students became quite adept at memorizing answers to a small test bank of questions only to be extremely frustrated, and largely unsuccessful, in College Algebra. Obviously, that runs contrary to what we want to happen in the classroom.
We’re excited by the significant number of students who mastered mathematical principles this semester and are looking forward to their continued progression. We anticipate that students who have completed their developmental math series will perform well in College Algebra next semester and will have the opportunity for career success in the near future.
Eight of our Machine Technology students recently took giant steps toward lucrative and rewarding careers by earning National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS) certification in Measurement, Materials & Safety. In fact, one of the students used his newly-acquired certificate to land a job at Hino Motors Manufacturing in Marion. West Memphian Bernard Grier, who completed two of the four course modules before earning his certification, told course instructor and program lead Gary Giordano that having the credential “definitely helped” him secure the employment opportunity at Hino.
That’s exactly what he hope to replicate many times over as we align our programs, instruction, and training with nationally-recognized industry credentials. Third-party certifications are great for students and employers alike. They give students workplace-relevant acknowledgement of their skills and abilities, and they allow employers to remove the guesswork from the hiring process equation.
When our students take and pass outside certification exams, they aren’t just validating the education and training they receive at Mid-South Community College. They are demonstrating the ability to meet a national standard based on universal performance assessments.
During the last few years, we have worked closely with The Manufacturing Institute, an affiliate of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) to develop articulated education pathways which deliver the competency-based, stacked, and latticed credentials recognized by the production, welding, machining, and metalworking industries. NAM is the largest manufacturing association in the United States and is the leading advocate for a policy agenda that helps manufacturers compete in the global economy and create jobs. Our goal in working with NAM is to develop and sustain a rich cross alignment between education and employers with third-party certifications as a bridge that validates the model’s effectiveness.
In recent months, we have been working with NIMS to earn institutional accreditation for our machining program. Established in 1995 by metalworking trade associations, NIMS sets skills standards for the industry, certifies individual skills against the standards, and accredits training programs. Many companies use NIMS certification as a basis for recruiting, hiring, placement and promotion.
Mid-South Community College features educational pathways that encompass both traditional and alternative innovation-driven models and accelerated options, technology-based online learning, and expanded ‘on’ and ‘off’ ramps that support lifelong learning.
Our institution features some of the finest machining and manufacturing equipment in the region, and we’re proud of that. Our students have the opportunity to work on machines that cost anywhere from $50,000 to $500,000 – equipment that is used in all of the most advanced shops across the nation. As is our custom, Mid-South Community College strives to have the best of everything to give our students world-class opportunities. When they master the machinery and computer equipment in our Workforce Technology Center, they are eminently prepared to meet the challenges of the profession.
Interestingly, our success in helping students obtain the skills needed to find great jobs is something of a good news/bad news scenario for the College. Our courses are focused so much on industry-relevant skills that some of our folks are able to take a couple of classes and join the workforce before earning a degree or certificate from our institution. Since we provide the on and off ramps, however, we are hopeful that our students will return and complete more courses when they have opportunities to advance in their trade. And the fact that we’re producing skilled workers should allow us to draw more students to our campus for life-changing opportunities.
Our technical students come to us for one of two reasons — to find a good job or improve their skills to earn a promotion where they already work. When they succeed, it certainly makes the time and effort worthwhile. And that’s what education is all about.
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.