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.

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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.

Fans Needed for Saturday Showdown at The Dog House

Fans Needed for Saturday Showdown at The Dog House

March Madness, Mid-South Community College style, is coming to West Memphis in mid-February. The Greyhounds and Lady Greyhounds will host North Arkansas College on Saturday, Feb. 14, in a crucial Region 2 showdown, and we need your help to create the optimum home-court advantage. The winners of Saturday’s games will host the regional tournament, and the more fans we have cheering for the Greyhounds, the better our chances will be of playing at home again on Feb. 28.

When the Pioneers/Lady Pioneers walk into our gym on Saturday, they will bring a lengthy history of basketball success. NorthArk’s program tipped off in 1975, almost 20 years before we established our own institution and 35 years before we put our first teams on the intercollegiate court. The men’s and women’s teams at Harrison have played more than 1,100 games each, and both have won more games than they have lost. The women have amassed 34 winning seasons, and the men have compiled 20. The Lady Pioneers have won at least 20 games 19 times, and the Pioneers have reached the 20-victory plateau on six occasions. Both teams will enter Saturday’s games with double-digit wins and single-digit losses.

In addition to an experience edge, NorthArk boasts a much more robust athletic budget than Mid-South. Based on figures reported in 2013-14, NAC spends about twice as much on its basketball program as we spend on ours. Although sports spending doesn’t necessarily translate into victories, it certainly gives the Pioneers some advantages we don’t enjoy, which makes it all the more satisfying when we manage to pin losses on them.

While NorthArk boasts an enviable track record and a decisive edge in athletic resources, none of that will matter when the teams take the court on Saturday. The Pioneers hold the 2014-15 advantage over the Greyhounds at this point with a pair of victories on their home court in January, and that matters to the extent that MSCC needs wins on Saturday to bring the regional championship to our floor.

Mid-South has never hosted the tournament, and our men and women are eager to change that. Since the Greyhounds and Lady Greyhounds triumphed in last year’s tourney in Harrison, they hold the tiebreaker and control their own destiny. Our teams have an 11-8 composite record at The Dog House this season, so they are obviously playing their best basketball at home. To put the home success into greater perspective, MSCC has not lost to a non-Division I foe on its home court. Four of the Greyhounds/Lady Greyhounds’ wins in The Dog House have come against Division I teams which have distinct recruiting/scholarship advantages over our program.

Our men have won a record 15 games thus far this season and have caught the eye of Arkansas State University System President Dr. Chuck Welch. While visiting our campus recently, Dr. Welch had the opportunity to watch some of the Greyhounds’ practice. Noting that one of our players missed only two shots the entire time he watched, Dr. Welch told us, “I’m going to call our basketball coach at Jonesboro and say, ‘You might want to get down there pretty quick.’” Our women, despite a slow start and a killer schedule against numerous Division I schools, are making steady progress.

So we need you in the stands beginning at 2 p.m. this Saturday when the women’s teams take the court. While the games themselves should be enough to draw you to our campus, we’ve also sweetened the pot. We have decided to forego our general admission charges — $5 for adults, $3 for students – and let everyone in free. I won’t guarantee a pair of Mid-South victories, but I promise you that the Lady Greyhounds/Greyhounds will not disappoint.

Hail to the Chief – Time is Right for Free Tuition

Hail to the Chief – Time is Right for Free Tuition

When President Barak Obama unveiled his “America’s College Promise” proposal on Jan. 7, his presentation struck a chord with two-year institution students and leaders throughout the country. The President’s plan, if it survives the political minefield that can be our nation’s capital, would make two years of community college free for students who maintain a 2.5 grade-point average and make steady progress toward completion of a certificate or degree.

Considering that public, two-year colleges serve nearly 40 percent of all of the undergraduates in the country, free tuition is an idea whose time has come. Inspired by successful initiatives in Tennessee and Chicago, the plan could dramatically benefit as many as 9 million students from coast to coast.

President Obama is asking the country to think about education in a new way while working toward a goal of making two years of higher learning “as free and universal as high school.”

America’s College Promise would certainly aid students interested in Mid-South Community College. While our institution takes great pride in keeping tuition low, we recognize that some people remain disenfranchised from higher education. Federal Pell Grants help the majority of our students, but we still have a significant number of potential enrollees who have no hope of career advancement because they earn too much money to qualify for governmental assistance. Two free years of college would go a long way toward encouraging more people in our historically disadvantaged region to access the great technical and general education programs available on our campus.

President Obama’s proposal calls for federal funding to cover 75% of the tuition cost, and states would be required to provide the remaining amount. Participating states would be required to commit to continue existing investments in higher education; coordinate high schools, community colleges, and four-year institutions to reduce the need for remediation and repeated courses; and allocate a significant portion of funding based on performance, not enrollment alone. Those are all worthy goals.

Mid-South Community College is already addressing many of those issues, and we are partnering with major companies, universities, and local public school systems to eliminate duplicated efforts and create a training system designed to prepare our students for employment. At the end of the day, we want to put people to work. In some situations, we can help students find jobs without them spending two years in a classroom. Our technology-focused programs can prepare them for lucrative careers in shorter time spans, and having free tuition for those opportunities would serve as a powerful tool toward that end.

In addition to free tuition, political and educational leaders need to, as the President suggested, view education in a different way. Based on the growing “skills gap” in our nation, the traditional general education model simply isn’t working. I am certainly not opposed to people completing general education courses and programs, but the reason for certificates and degrees has not been driven by a model to put people to work, at least in recent years. It has been driven by a model that forces technical education students into general education requirements often not needed for the career they want to pursue.

One of our math instructors has told me on multiple occasions that College Algebra was never intended for the masses, but many degrees in the traditional educational model require it. Why? If higher education were starting from scratch, it would include technical math and writing courses that would more than meet the needs of employers. We must keep pushing for contextualized general education based on workplace competencies. That approach would allow us to create and sustain effective learning models that keep our folks from falling through the cracks.

Adult Education Program Providing Second Chances

Adult Education Program Providing Second Chances

The most recent U.S. Census (2010) indicated that as many as 39 million Americans lack a high school credential. That astronomically-high number represents about 18 percent of the nation’s adult population and also represents hopelessness. Mid-South Community College’s Adult Education program is doing its part to decrease those figures and increase the hopes and opportunities of people in our region.

Under the direction of Donnylle Hampton, our staff members are working with teenagers through senior citizens to help them improve their educational skills. Our ultimate goal is to prepare them for the General Educational Development (GED®) Test and college-level work.

Our Adult Ed students come from all walks of life and from all backgrounds but have at least one thing in common – they want to improve their circumstances. Most of them finished junior high but dropped out before high school graduation. They are not any less intelligent than people who have earned a high school diploma, and many are quite bright when armed with the right tools. They have been deterred, however, by one or more life circumstances that have hindered their opportunities to move forward educationally.

Our program operates under the oversight of the Arkansas Department of Career Education which espouses the following philosophy:

  • All adults can learn.
  • All adults have the right to education that enhances their ability to effect positive changes in their lives.
  • All adults have the right to obtain the life skills that they need to become self- sufficient, actively participating members of society.
  • All adults have the right to complete their education through the high school level.

General adult education is designed to assist adults (defined as anyone 16 years of age or older) who are functioning on at least the ninth-grade level. It is a powerful and absolutely necessary tool to meet the needs of citizens who have fallen through the cracks of our traditional high school model. A high school credential has become a basic, bare minimum requirement for even low-wage, low-skill jobs, so men and women who do not possess one are finding themselves with little hope of fending for themselves or providing for a family.

Earning a GED is far from easy, especially with the latest exam updated in 2014. Unlike its predecessors, the new GED test requires “higher order thinking.” More of the questions require thoughtful, written responses, and the test includes fewer multiple-choice items where students have the opportunity to guess rather than demonstrate true subject comprehension. A more rigorous educational evaluation tool is needed because the skills required for today’s jobs are increasing dramatically. Even a high school equivalency isn’t really enough for today’s high-tech world, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction.

During a recent meeting on our campus, I made the comment, “If you can pass the new GED, you can almost teach at the college level.” While that’s a bit of an exaggeration, students who do well on the new GED are very well prepared for additional education. As an illustration, we have 10 recent GED graduates enrolled in MSCC classes for the first time this spring. The majority of them scored high enough on a placement exam to move directly into college-level work, saving them time and money that would have been spent on developmental classes. The students are that much closer to a college certificate or degree, and their opportunity for success is greatly enhanced.

We are proud of the phenomenal success of our Adult Education program, but we are even more proud of the students who have taken this major step toward a better future. Returning to the classroom is difficult at any age, so we applaud these students for their efforts and accomplishments. We look forward to the opportunity to help them continue their education, and we will do everything possible to assist them in becoming successful on the college level as well.