This is one of my favorite times of the year. Today marks the start of a new semester and a new academic year at Lorain County Community College.
The excitement on campus today is palpable. The hopeful energy of nearly 14,000 new and returning LCCC and University Partnership students is in the air, swirling with the excited anticipation of our faculty and staff who have been preparing all summer for this moment. When you put it all together, the atmosphere is downright exhilarating.
As we welcome students back this week, here is my message to LCCC students who are beginning their new semester:
A fresh start.
At a community college, a fresh start comes in many forms. For many of our students, this week marks their first-ever taste of college life. They may be coming to us straight from high school, with their futures wide-open. Others are taking their first college classes in their 40s or 50s after deciding to embark on a career change after years in the field. Still others are returning to college after an extended absence, and are now ready to complete what they started.
No matter what past brought them through our doors, one thing’s for certain: their future is theirs to write. Helping students reach their goals is a privilege we take seriously. Every student’s dream matters and our campus is ready to wrap our arms around each student and guide them to their finish line – whether that’s an associate degree, certificate or bachelor’s degree.
At LCCC, we pride ourselves on being student-ready; that means meeting students where they are and providing the tailored support they need to reach their goals. There is no one-size-fits-all method for supporting students. Over the past decades, LCCC has cultivated a culture of caring by adopting a holistic approach that helps our students achieve success and stability. In 2018 our efforts were recognized nationally by the American Association of Community Colleges, who named LCCC the first the nation for student success. This academic year, we are taking student support a step further with the creation of our new Student Advocacy and Resource Center (ARC), a one-stop connection for students to find assistance in overcoming obstacles like hunger, emergency car repairs, child care and so much more. Our campus recently hosted Donna Beegle, Ed.D., president of Communication Across Barriers, and a champion for ending poverty. As Dr. Beegle told us, it’s the community’s responsibility to “fight poverty, not the people who live in it.” I know the ARC will do that just – help students overcome barriers on their way to success.
Here’s more about the ARC:
Let’s get started.
No one knows exactly what the future will hold, but at LCCC we know that our students will be prepared for whatever comes their way. Our programs prepare students for the jobs of the future, while our support systems guide them through the realities of today. As I walk on campus, surrounded by our students and their boundless possibilities, I’m hopeful, excited and ready to see each one reach for their dreams.
On Saturday, May 18, the campus of Lorain County Community College was absolutely buzzing with excitement and pride for the class of 2019.
More than 620 students marched in our ceremony, representing a total class of 1,641 graduates who earned 2,083 associate degrees and certificates. An additional 353 students earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees through LCCC’s University Partnership, bringing the grand total of degrees and certificates awarded to an astounding 2,436! What a true honor it was for me to shake the hand of each graduate as they received their diploma.
The day was made even more extraordinary by the inspiring words from keynote speaker Allan Golston, president of the United States Program for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Golston encouraged the graduates not to wait to pay forward their success, but to begin right away impacting the lives of others. In his new post on Medium, Golston shared the impact the LCCC Class of 2019 had on him during his visits to our campus.
The graduates represent a promising future for Lorain County and our region. The LCCC District Board of Trustees recently adopted a new strategic plan that includes the promise of 10,000 individuals earning a degree or certificate by the year 2025. We call it 10,000 Degrees of Impact and it’s all about making Lorain County future-ready. Studies show that higher education dramatically increases a person’s chance move up the economic ladder, making a college degree a powerful tool to break the cycle of poverty for families. (For more on this, read my blog about higher education and upward mobility.)
The 2019 graduates represent the first class to be counted toward our new goal. What an impact these individuals will have on our world!
The impact will be made by students like Julian Colbert, an 18-year-old senior at Clearview High School who earned two associate degrees through LCCC’s College Credit Plus program. Julian will transfer to The Ohio State University in the fall with a full scholarship as a Morrill Scholar. He is one of 136 high school students who earned LCCC degrees this year through College Credit Plus and Lorain County Early College High School.
Daymiah and Jeremiah Leyva
Another high school student who earned a degree is Daymiah Leyva. She’s one of 21 students from Lorain High School who earned an associate degree through College Credit Plus. Daymiah had the uniquely amazing experience to earn her degree at the same time her father, Jeremiah, earned his bachelor’s degree through LCCC’s University Partnership. A few years ago, Jeremiah decided to make education a priority in his life and he came to meet with me to talk about returning to LCCC. His determination to create a prosperous future for his family was an inspiration, and I was pleased to help him get back on track toward his goals. Over the past four years, Jeremiah and Daymiah inspired each other to strive for the best and I know they will continue to push each other to achieve their dreams.
One family making a big impact is the Spradlin family. Brandy earned her first degree in 2018 – when she graduated at the same time her daughter, Ashley, earned an associate degree through Lorain County Early College High School. This year, Brandy earned her associate degree nursing alongside her son, Chase, who earned his associate degree through Early College. Brandy and her family are a true inspiration and it’s clear that higher education will have a tangible impact on their futures.
With graduates like Julian, Daymiah, Jeremiah, Brandy, Chase and so many more impacting our community, I know that the future is in good hands. As the class of 2019 inspires others to reach for their goals, I have no doubt that our community will be celebrating the graduation of 10,000 more LCCC students by 2025.
What are you favorite graduation memories? Tell me on Twitter.
As Women’s History Month comes to a close, I find myself thinking about the limitless potential that exists when women are fully embraced in our community. It’s imperative that women inspire, encourage and empower one another. Melinda Gates said, “When women and girls are empowered to participate fully in society, everyone benefits” and I agree wholeheartedly. I’m proud to serve as LCCC’s first female president, and it’s important to me that women in our community feel connected, supported, and prepared to reach their educational and career goals.
It’s my mantra that every student’s dream matters, and it’s our mission at LCCC to help each student achieve their goals – no matter the barriers they may face. As the community’s college, we serve students of all ages and demographics, and we prepare them for the next phase in their lives – whether that’s retraining for a new career or transferring to a four-year university through LCCC’s University Partnership or another institution. The strength and determination put forth daily by our students is truly inspiring. But even the most resolute student can run into roadblocks, and that’s where LCCC’s specialized networks and support programs can inspire and energize students – especially women who often face unique challenges.
One program that is inspiring students to reach their goals is our Students Accelerating in Learning (SAIL) program, which is producing amazing results for all participants – including women of all ages. Our ground-breaking SAIL program is modeled after the highly successful ASAP program at The City University New York. LCCC’s SAIL provides financial support in the form of tuition scholarships, textbook vouchers and gift cards for gas and groceries. Moreover, students are supported each step of the way through regular communication with their advisor. Many of the students are women from low-income households and are the first in their family to attend college, making the SAIL program a tool to break the cycle of poverty.
There is no doubt that the combined impact of monetary support and advising is effective and SAIL’s results speak for themselves. Over a two-year study by the nonprofit research firm MDRC, students in LCCC’s SAIL program graduated at more than twice the rate of students not in the program. (Read more about our results and find the full case study here.) This swift path to graduation – with more than 41 percent of SAIL student completing a degree in three years – is worth expanding and LCCC is committed to doing just that. Over the next five years, 1,000 students will benefit from the SAIL program.
This expansion is focused and deliberate. We know that educational attainment has a profound effect on whether a family lives in poverty, particularly for those with a high school diploma or less. A college education can be especially transformational for single mothers with young children, who often bear the brunt of poverty. Of all the families in Lorain County with children under five years old living in poverty, 61 percent are headed by single moms. By reaching these populations through strategic programs like SAIL, we give women and their children the power to move up the economic ladder, creating a vibrant future for their families and our community.
One inspiring student to complete our SAIL program is Dorisa Johnson. Dorisa started walking to the LCCC Lorain Learning Center when she was 18. She had earned her GED – the first in her family to reach that milestone – and was hungry for more education. She felt a calling to study for a career in heath care as a tribute to her father, who passed away in 2014. At LCCC, Dorisa found SAIL and the confidence that she could achieve her goals. She also found a trusted advisor and confidante in SAIL advisor Cynthia Arredondo.
“I felt challenges, but I kept meeting with Cynthia and listening to her advice,” Dorisa said. “And now I feel like I’m succeeding. I’m getting somewhere.”
With that support, she earned an associate of applied science in medical assisting from LCCC in 2018 and is now on her way to a bachelor’s degree from LCCC’s University Partnership.
Dorisa was steadfast, but like most students, she faced challenges. The SAIL program prepares students to weather storms through a built-in support system at LCCC.
For Alyssa Earl, the requirement to enroll full time almost stopped her before she got started. This requirement is in place because we know that students who enroll full time are more likely to earn their degrees faster. Alyssa was working full time and not sure she was able to prioritize school. Like Dorisa, Alyssa turned to her advisor, Cynthia Arredondo for advice.
“I was scared to go to school full time but Cynthia stayed on me and made sure I put myself and my future first,” Alyssa said. “Now that I’m on campus full time, I get that full college experience. I work on campus. I am involved in clubs. It’s inspiring.”
Arredondo said Alyssa’s struggle to put education first is a common dilemma for the many women she mentors through the SAIL program.
“Women more typically have greater family responsibilities, whether it is being a parent – and the burden is greater if they are a single parent – or a caretaker for another family member, along with the financial responsibility of having a job while attending college,” Arredondo said. “Breaking down the process of completing college can feel overwhelming for many woman, especially at the start.”
Arredondo encourages and inspires fearful students by sharing the stories of the many strong women who completed their degrees while also balancing other responsibilities. Regular communication is also a priority, she said.
“Cynthia was always in my inbox, always emailing me. Always making sure I stayed on top of my goals,” Alyssa said. “Because of her and because of the SAIL program, I’m more confident and it’s made me who I am today.”
Alyssa earned her associate degree in 2018 and is now working on a bachelor’s degree in psychology through LCCC’s University Partnership. Without the push from her advisor, Alyssa said she would have taken one or two classes per semester, dramatically lengthening the time it took to earn her associate degree.
When students are inspired and encouraged, they become empowered to reach for their dreams, like SAIL graduate LePreece Johnson.
LePreece was in her mid-40s when she decided it was time to leave a successful corporate job and follow her dreams toward a new career in engineering. With five children and a husband, LePreece struggled at first with allowing herself to focus on her education. It was the financial assistance of SAIL that helped her put aside her doubts.
“Knowing I had tuition covered helped me sleep at night,” she said.
LePreece earned two associate degrees in May 2018 and is now working in her dream career as a project coordinator for Mainthia Technologies, a contractor for NASA – a job she was landed before she even graduated.
“I’m so grateful to LCCC and SAIL, I can’t say it enough,” LePreece said. “I started in LCCC spring of 2015, worked straight through until graduation, and I have a brand new exciting career to show for it.”
LePreece, Alyssa and Dorisa were inspired, encouraged and empowered to build a strong and positive future for themselves. They are now doing their part to inspire others – including the next generation who can look to these women as strong examples of what can be achieved when we support one another.
It’s Women’s History Month, and I want to know: Who are the women that inspire you?
We all have those “remember when” moments … those instances that years later you look back to as a turning point; an event or action that happened and made all the difference. Sometimes, it’s the smallest moments that make the largest impact. And at times, it’s big moments that mean big changes.
As the calendar nears the end of 2018, I find myself reflecting on the past year. And what a year it has been. The past 12 months at Lorain County Community College have been filled with many moments – big and small – that will stand test of time. As the president of your community college, these moments are personal for me but also are wide-reaching in their positive impact for our region.
These are the “remember when” moments from 2018 that I will be talking about for years to come.
Remember when … A record number of students earned their degrees at LCCC?
Our May 2018 commencement ceremony celebrated the largest graduating class in the college’s history – 2,018 graduates in the year 2018! As anyone who has started something big can attest, who you were when you started the journey may not be who you are at the end. That was true for so many of our graduates, including Trecia Cintron, who earned an associate degree through LCCC’s Early College High School.
“Five years ago, I never would have seen myself graduating with more than 70 college credits,” Trecia said. “And now, here I am soaring above and beyond my own goals.”
Remember when … the future of higher education in our community was changed when the first classes started in LCCC’s new bachelor of applied science in Microelectronic Manufacturing (MEMS)?
In October 2018, Jared Dumont walked into the Richard Desich Business and Entrepreneurship Center for the first class in LCCC’s newly approved applied bachelor’s degree in MEMS. Jared and his classmates are the first in the state to receive bachelor’s level education in MEMS at a community college. The applied bachelor’s degree meets a specific need in the region and melds seamlessly with the associate degree MEMS program. Jared, who has already landed a job in the field by completing the MEMS associate degree, will graduate with even more experience and be prepared to advance to higher level jobs in the field. What’s more, the full applied bachelor’s degree can be completed at little cost to the students, due to LCCC’s low tuition and paid internships built included in the curriculum.
This MEMS applied bachelor’s program is going to produce big results for our region, and I can’t wait to continue to develop more specialized applied bachelor’s degree programs for our community.
Remember when … a family member’s graduation inspired generations?
In late November, I arrived in my office to find a hand-written note from Christine Halvorsen. In her note, Christine wrote to me that she graduated from LCCC’s University Partnership program in June 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in technical and applied studies from Ohio University. She commented that just a few years ago, she had been faced with a restructuring at her employer and wasn’t sure where to go. Over the years, Christine had completed some LCCC classes, but stopped out to focus on her family. More than a decade later, she found herself in need of a bachelor’s degree to keep her job.
It was during that time that she attended the graduation of her niece, Halle Branscum, who earned an associate degree from LCCC in 2016. That day also happened to be my first commencement speech after being named president of LCCC. I shared with the graduates my own story of earning a master’s degree through LCCC’s University Partnership, and I urged them to continue to reach for their dreams. Hearing those words, Christine told me, helped spur her to take the plunge toward her own education. With the support of her son and Halle, Christine registered for classes and started toward her future the next week!
Christine went on to earn an associate degree in 2017 – where I had the pleasure of shaking her hand as she crossed the stage. She continued to earn a bachelor’s degree through LCCC’s University Partnership and Ohio University. And, she’s now working on her MBA. Christine’s note means so much to me, and her story is a testament to what can be achieved when you truly believe in yourself.
Remember when … new students took a chance on themselves?
Starting something new can be challenging. At LCCC, our faculty and staff are dedicated to making the transition to college as seamless as possible for everyone. To the nearly 5,000 students who took their first class at LCCC during 2018, I’m proud of you! And we are here for you, so that years from now, you can look back on 2018 as your “remember when” moment of taking your first class that led to a brighter future.
Remember when … LCCC’s commitment to student success was nationally recognized?
On April 30, 2018, I shook hands with Dr. Walter Bumphus, President and CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges, on stage at the AACC national conference. Honestly, the moment is a bit of a blur in my memory. I had just heard Lorain County Community College announced as the winner of the 2018 Excellence in Student Success award, and somehow my feet carried me to the stage to accept this amazing honor on behalf of LCCC.
Student success is at the heart of every program, every initiative and every support service we provide as the community’s college. I was honored to accept the award on behalf of every student – past, present and future – who has ever trusted their higher education to LCCC. The national recognition has driven our campus to dive even deeper into our commitment to be a student-ready college, supporting our students in the ways they need it most.
Remember when … let 2019 fill in the blank.
Sometimes, it’s only clear years later what those “remember when” moments were.
It can take time for life to unfold and reveal what those “remember when” moments were. As we all journey into 2019, I wish you many “remember when” moments that will positively direct your life for years to come.
At Lorain County Community College, it’s my goal to provide all people with the opportunity to earn a degree that helps them fulfill their dreams. For today’s college student, getting from the start line to the finish line is rarely a straight road. For most students, there are stops, starts, zigzags and barriers along the way. The things that can help students keep going are personal connections with someone on campus paired with the right support services. As president, that’s why I’ve made it a priority at LCCC that our culture of caring delivers each student an equitable opportunity to earn a degree. It’s about LCCC being student-ready.
A Dream That Keeps Truckin’
For more than a decade, Shontae Jackson from Lorain took LCCC classes as her schedule and her life circumstances permitted. As a mother of three children, she had a lot on her plate, but she dreamed of owning her own food truck. When a life change caused her to get serious about completing her degree, she returned to LCCC determined to make her dream a reality. While she had the personal commitment and drive to succeed, she also benefited from a mentorship from LCCC’s culinary program director Adam Schmith who saw in her a spark for creating complicated dishes with ease. By connecting with LCCC’s student business support center, NEO LaunchNET, Shontae soon found herself the owner and operator of the Steel Magnolia food truck. And when she needed help staffing the truck, her classmates in the culinary program volunteered their time and skills to support their friend and classmate.
SAILing Past Road Blocks
When Jared Jones graduated from Vermilion High School in 2015 he felt unsure about starting college. When he applied to LCCC’s Student Accelerating in Learning (SAIL) program, he found the customized support he was looking for. Jared was excelling in his courses when he was faced with a serious heart condition that required two surgeries. He then was forced to deal with the death of two grandparents – all in the same semester. Setbacks like these can cause a student to leave college and not return. For Jared, it was his connections with his instructors and his SAIL advisor, Cynthia Arrendondo, who helped him move past the road blocks he faced and continue his education. He’s now back in the classroom and maintaining his high GPA on the way to earning an associate of arts degree.
A Dreamer with a Goal
Corina Barranco was only 5 years old when she and her family walked from Mexico into the United States and eventually settled in Lorain, hoping for a better life. As she completed her senior year at Lorain High School in May of 2018, she dreamed of attending LCCC to study police science. Corina excelled in her high school classes and qualified for an LCCC scholarship, but she was afraid to apply. As a DACA recipient, or Dreamer, she faces unique challenges with financial aid. Corina’s story was chronicled in Time’s story “A Dreamer’s Life,” including the hardships she faced in funding her college education. The attention received widespread attention and community members flooded the LCCC Foundation office with financial donations to ensure Corina would have the opportunity to earn a college degree. The monetary support was so great, in fact, that a new LCCC scholarship was created specifically for students like Corina. Thanks to the community and our financial services team, Corina is now enrolled in her first semester at LCCC.
Like Shontae, Jared and Corina, each student’s experience is unique, and each person requires individual support to help them reach their goals. At LCCC, providing equitable, tailored support has been a hallmark of our campus culture for years. The populations we serve at LCCC are as varied as our program offerings and include students of all ages, races and socio-economic demographics, and many are tasked with nontraditional college student roles, such as raising a family and working full-time jobs. In fact, research shows that nearly 74 percent of all undergraduate students in the country have at least one factor that qualifies them as “nontraditional” students. When these students enter the classroom, they bring with them all the qualities that make them unique, again confirming that a one-size-fits-all approach does not apply in higher education. This objective takes us back to the roots of LCCC, which was founded in 1963 with the goal of creating equity of opportunity for everyone in Lorain County through higher education.
Moving the Needle
By proactively meeting students where they are in their personal and academic journey, the college has increased the overall number of degrees and certificates awarded by 79 percent since 2011. Through intentional design and a culture of caring and support, the number of degrees awarded to Hispanic/Latino students increased by 149 percent during that time, and the number of degrees awarded to black/African American students increased 123 percent.
While I’m proud that we are moving the needle, we recognize that there is still a distance to go as we continue to shift our focus to equity of outcomes.
With our focus on equity and individualized service, we invited Dr. Tia McNair to our fall Convocation to share her views on the need for higher education institutions to become student-ready. Taking the dated view that students must be college-ready prior to enrolling in courses and flipping it around, McNair challenges each college to become student-ready and be prepared to support individuals in the ways they need. By changing the focus and responsibility from the student to the college, we are able to laser-focus our sights on continuing to develop our culture of caring at LCCC.
It’s my belief that every student’s dream matters, no matter where they begin their journey or what barriers they may face along the way. By focusing on equity, our campus is able to break down barriers that students face while also bolstering their potential and confidence – leading to a positive future for individuals and a prosperous future for our community.
And that’s what it’s all about: providing the right support for each student so they can focus on achieving their dreams.
Have you experienced a culture of caring, or are you working toward equity? Tell me about your experience on Twitter at @PresBallinger. I’d love to hear from you.
There are moments in time that leave marks on your heart – a few split seconds so remarkable that you know you have to take a minute to breathe it all in. I’ve been lucky enough to have quite a few of those moments lately.
The most recent of these was during Lorain County Community College’s 54th Commencement ceremony. We celebrated a class of 2,018 graduates – yes, 2,018 graduates in the year 2018! – and the many discoveries they’ve made about themselves along their path to a degree. As we cheered for the graduates, and the final glimmer of confetti hit the floor, I found myself truly overcome by the elation in the room and the great pride I feel for our students. Everything our students work toward culminates at graduation – the long hours studying, the times they pushed through doubt and the support they receive from our campus. LCCC is the melting pot of our community, and as I looked out on the cheering crowd of graduates comprised of all ages, races and socio-economic statuses, I was filled with joy for their success and hope for the future our community.
That mindset translates to LCCC students having the highest three-year degree completion rate in Ohio for two years running. Additionally, students who transfer from LCCC to a four-year university have a higher rate of degree completion than students who did all four years at a typical university. That focus on student success directly led to our largest ever graduating class this year, and I know they will continue to discover paths for themselves.
After they graduate or transfer, our students go on to great things. Many keep in touch with me – and I love that! Some students, however, have phenomenal stories that I have discovered almost by accident. One such person is Michael Brown, who was a featured speaker at the American Association of Community College Trustees conference that I attended last October. I had never met Michael Brown and I was certainly not expecting the chain of events that unfolded. During his remarks, I heard him mention the state of Ohio, and The Ohio State University. He then mentioned that he began his education at a community college in Northeast Ohio – and I just knew at that moment that he was an #LCCCProud alum – even before he announced that he grew up in Grafton and attended LCCC.
After Brown’s speech, I introduced myself to him and heard the amazing story of how he started at LCCC and is now the president of Barrick Gold USA. After attending LCCC in the late 1970s, Brown earned a bachelor’s degree from The Ohio State University and an MBA from The George Washington University. He worked in the US Treasury and now for the largest gold mining company in the world – and yet he regretted that he did not earn his associate degree from LCCC before he transferred to OSU.
Brown joined me on stage during LCCC’s Commencement ceremony and delivered a keynote speech that was thought provoking, inspiring and downright funny! He encouraged the graduates to be bold, to make a stand for social justice, and to never forget their roots. During Commencement, I presented him with his associate of arts degree from his first alma mater, LCCC. Seeing the genuine happiness and joy on his face was a moment I will not soon forget.
Brown told the crowd that the 2018 Commencement ceremony was actually the second LCCC graduation he had attended. While a student at LCCC, he served as a student senator and was required to attend the 1978 graduation ceremony, even though he was a class short of earning a degree himself. The sting he felt 40 years ago as he watched his classmates cross the stage and earn their degrees was still present, he said. Even though he went on to earn advanced degrees, he always wished he had completed his first degree. With his continued college coursework, Brown met the requirements to earn his associate degree and it was an honor for me to a part of his full-circle moment, as he received the degree that began his path of discovery.
All of these life-is-good moments I’ve had over the past several months all come back to student success – the core of who we are at LCCC. I believe that every student’s dream matters and helping students reach their goals in a quick and affordable manner is the hallmark of our campus. I look forward to what the realized dreams of our graduates will bring to our campus, our community and our world.
As Women’s History Month comes to a close, I’m reminded of the sentiment that has become wildly popular in recent years:
She believed she could, so she did.
A woman’s mind is an unrelenting force once it is set on an objective. But before a woman can reach the “so she did,” she must first begin with “she believed she could.” As president of your community college, I make an effort to encourage everyone – especially women – to reach for their dreams because every dream matters.
How do we help a woman move from the first step to goal achievement? The answer, I believe, is in building a strong support system. In fact, I propose we update that adage to recognize the vital component of support:
She believed she could, she built a support system, and so she did.
I recently had the honor of meeting Sharonda Hall, a woman from Lorain. Over the past two years, Sharonda has changed her life – and went from making $12 an hour at factory job to making more than $30 an hour at Columbia Gas and becoming a first-time homeowner. I asked Sharonda what the difference is in her life between two years ago and today. Her answer: Believing in herself.
She believed she could …
Like most of us, Sharonda’s life has had many ups and downs. She attended LCCC right after high school in 2001 but left before earning a degree because life happened. She started back several years later, but withdrew due to family obligations. By 2016, she was in her 30s and had two children depending on her. She was earning just above minimum wage at a factory, but her expenses didn’t leave much left over for planning for the future.
“It paid the bills but it wasn’t enough to move forward,” she told me about her paychecks.
She felt stuck. And, more than anything, she felt alone. When she was younger, she said, she had support from all around her. Once she was an adult with children, that support faded.
When a friend sent her information about the WE3 program, she was skeptical.
“At first, I didn’t have an open mind. I thought I didn’t have time for this,” she told me. Furthermore, she worried that a decade-old felony on her record would prevent her from finding a better job.
What Sharonda found when she walked through the doors at WE3 was a community of women ready to lift her up.
“The women at WE3 were friendly, welcoming and supportive. Seeing that there are people who want me to be successful, who embrace me and my kids: that experience was like nothing I’d ever felt before,” she said.
For those engulfed in generational poverty, believing they are capable of moving up the economic ladder can be a challenging first step. That’s where community organizations make all the difference. It’s my personal belief community colleges and other organizations must meet people where they are; to adjust and adapt to the needs of the students and people they serve. In Sharonda’s case, that meant WE3 meeting in her community, and providing the supports she needed, such as a childcare and job training.
The immediate support from WE3, including from Cynthia Andrews, who at the time was the executive director of Oberlin Community Services and is now president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Lorain County, and LaToya Miller, WE3 project coordinator at LCCC, helped Sharonda shift her mindset from feeling stuck to feeling empowered.
“Cindy and the others saw in me what I hadn’t seen in myself. They helped me become a positive person,” Sharonda said.
WE3 participants undergo job skill preparation and learn to look for jobs that may be outside of their current comfort zones. When the group heard about job openings for field technicians at Columbia Gas, Sharonda was intrigued. She likes working with her hands and finding solutions to problems. The fact that the position came with a company car was an added bonus, she said.
The application process was rigorous. Math test. Personality test. Strength test. She made it through the initial rounds and was invited to orientation.
“Here I was in a room of 50 people, and I was the only woman,” Sharonda recalled. “But it was okay. I knew what to expect because WE3 prepared me for being the only woman in that room.”
She landed the job and began work in April 2017. She’s already had several promotions and said she is far from reaching her maximum potential. At her workplace, Sharonda’s found another support system.
“Columbia Gas is a family. They want you to succeed. This is not a job for right now, it’s a career for a lifetime,” she said.
And so she did.
Sharonda bought a house last year. Prior to WE3, homeownership hadn’t crossed her mind. With her career at Columbia Gas, she found herself thinking of buying a home, but she didn’t know where to start. Again, she turned to her mentors at WE3 who guided her in the process.
The day I met Sharonda was her daughter Ariana’s 18th birthday. Ariana is a senior in Lorain County Early College High School – a tuition-free, four-year combined high school and college experience located on the LCCC campus. When Ariana graduates in May, she’ll earn her high school diploma and an associate degree at the same time, and I know that Sharonda will be in the front row cheering her on. Ariana will be the first in their family to earn a college degree. She’s been accepted to The Ohio State University and will study international business and accounting. After she crosses the stage at graduation, the family will come home to celebrate.
“We will have her graduation party at our home,” Sharonda said with pride.
Now that Sharonda has found success through WE3, LCCC and her employment, she is ready to be a support system for other women. She encourages the single mothers she knows to give WE3 a try – it could be the push they need to start believing in themselves. And once a woman believes in herself, anything is possible.
“WE3 means empowering women for success. It means building a sisterhood,” she said.
“I used to worry if I would be able to pay my bills. I worried if I would be able to eat. Now I’m not stressed,” she told me. “WE3 changed my life. I believe in myself now and this is just the beginning for me.”
In other words: Sharonda believed she could, she built a support system, and so she did.
As you know, it is my philosophy that every student’s dream matters. I believe the role of Lorain County Community College is to help our students achieve their dreams – no matter what the student’s challenges are.
As we prepared for the start of spring semester, our campus hosted David Dodson, president of MDC, Inc. and a leading figure in the research of social and economic mobility. Dodson hosted sessions for both our campus faculty and staff, as well as with key community stakeholders. He began each session with the simple question, “Do you believe that where a person is born should determine where they end up in life?”
The question seemed simple enough. Of course, where a person begins their life should not define where they end up. And yet, that’s exactly what we are faced with here in Northeast Ohio and in many other areas around the country. In fact, a child born in Lorain County to a family with an income in the bottom 20 percent has only a five percent chance of making it to the top of the income ladder by the time they reach adulthood. A five percent chance. That statistic stopped me in my tracks. If social and economic mobility is the American Dream, then the American Dream is in serious jeopardy right here in Lorain County.
Thankfully, a college degree can be the golden ticket out of poverty. According to research by the Pew Charitable Trust, earning a post-secondary credential dramatically lessens the chances that a person born at the bottom will remain at the bottom. Without a college degree, there is a 47 percent chance the person will stay stuck in the bottom half of income distribution. By earning a college degree, the likelihood of remaining at the bottom shrinks to just 10 percent. Read the Pew Charitable Trusts’ full report on economic mobility.
Lorain County Community College was founded to serve the community and provide access to higher education for Lorain County. These statistics on social mobility drive home more than ever the importance that all people in our county must have an equitable opportunity to achieve their goals through higher education – regardless of their race, age or economic position.
And while there is a long way to go, we have made great progress in recent years in helping local people access the education needed to reach their goals and provide for a better future for their families.
In the past 25 years, degree attainment in Lorain County has risen from 19 percent of Lorain County residents with an associate degree or higher to 33 percent of residents with a degree. To achieve this 14 percent increase, we’ve revamped advising models and restructured developmental courses to better serve the needs of students and decrease the amount of time it takes to earn a degree or credential. Additionally, the College Credit Plus program at LCCC has expanded course offerings and partnerships with local school districts, leading to 43 percent of Lorain County high school seniors to graduates with college credit in 2017 – credits they earned for free.
These statistics are great, but it’s the real people behind them that matter the most. Last month, I met Thomas Smith and his father, Christopher, at the Lorain County Urban League’s holiday luncheon. Christopher is a disabled veteran and told me that he used to work at the college setting up chairs in our conference center many years ago. After working here, he became inspired to go back to school and eventually encouraged his children to earn college degrees — and did they listen! His two daughters, Parris and Chynna, earned college degrees while still in high school. Parris graduated from Lorain County Early College High School and Chynna earned two LCCC associate degrees while she was a student at Clearview High School.
Thomas told me that he had been attending Cleveland State University when he needed supplemental income to support his journey. He turned to LCCC and our real estate program. He took real estate classes on weekends while going to school full time at CSU and holding down an internship. Talk about a drive to succeed! He told me, “Not everyone is made to play football or even sell houses, but we’re all meant to do something great and LCCC helps make it happen.”
The Smith family shows what can be possible when the proper supports are available to provide an equitable experience for all. As we continue to move the needle on degree attainment, there are areas that deserve additional attention to equity – especially in helping minority and Pell eligible students complete their degrees. To ensure equity for all students, LCCC has created the Equity for Students Team (EST) to oversee and monitor the implementation priorities, strategies, and interventions that are intentional on closing the achievement gaps for students of color and underserved populations.
As we confront the obstacles hindering equity and social mobility in our county, Dodson reminded us that we may face a new set of problems – he calls these adaptive challenges – that arise as we shift away from the status quo. The answer to these challenges, he says, is community collaboration between organizations. Lorain County is home to number of outstanding organizations that work closely with LCCC.
During our session with Dodson, a panel of local community leaders participated in a discussion moderated by Michael Collins, vice president of Jobs for the Future. During the discussion, Cynthia Andrews, president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Lorain County; Lorain El Centro Executive Director Victor Leandry and Lorain City Schools CEO David Hardy, Jr., all confirmed that residents — especially those in poverty — require connections and partnerships to succeed.
LCCC is committed to doing our part to pursue our vision of empowering a thriving a community for all. If you would like to become a part of this ongoing conversation, please visit www.lorainccc.edu/connection and share your information. I look forward to hearing from you.
Educational institutions focus much of their energy on making sure a student is college-ready, but it’s my personal belief that a college also needs to be student-ready. We need to be prepared to help students overcome any barrier they face while creating a welcoming community that supports every learner. So, when I learned that 13.3 percent of people in our county are struggling with hunger, I knew Lorain County Community College had to do more to help students overcome this barrier.
And while more than one in 10 people dealing with hunger is far too many, data suggests that community college students experience hunger at a much higher rate. A study by the Wisconsin HOPE Lab found that hunger and food insecurity among community college students is more prevalent than previously thought – with up to 40 percent of community college students reporting that they regularly experience hunger or food insecurity. The March 2017 study surveyed more than 33,000 students at 70 community colleges in 24 states and defined food insecurity as the limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods, or the ability to acquire such foods in a socially acceptable manner.
These statistics certainly resonate on our campus. At a recent open forum, I asked students to identify the largest barriers they face in achieving their educational goals. Hunger was one of the most frequently cited barriers and at that moment, I knew that even though we offer an on-campus food pantry, called Commodore Cupboard, we weren’t doing enough to address this crisis. Our students often have to decide between buying food or paying rent. Students should never have their academic efforts undermined by the effects of hunger. Addressing basic needs for students is vital to their degree completion and overall quality of life, and it’s our responsibility to help.
The positive side of illuminating this crisis facing many of our students is that it is sparking action. LCCC students recently decided that fighting hunger on our campus is a priority. And so, together with students and the entire campus community, we issued the #HungerFreeLCCC challenge and asked students, faculty and staff to donate food, money or volunteer time to Commodore Cupboard. Almost immediately the pledges began pouring in, demonstrating the caring community LCCC embodies.
Helping the college in this effort is Chicks Against Hunger, a grassroots organization, that hosts food drives and works with food pantries throughout Lorain County. The organization donated more than 450 pounds of soup to for our #HungerFreeLCCC challenge. Not long ago, I met Kim McDonald, a co-founder of Chicks Against Hunger, and she told me about her dream of creating a hunger free Lorain County. It’s my hope that our work on campus will create a ripple that spreads throughout all of Lorain County and eliminates food insecurity for everyone.
The results of the #HungerFreeLCCC challenge were unveiled during our Commodores Care Day earlier this month and I can’t tell you how proud I am of our campus. In just a few short hours, the LCCC campus donated more than 3,000 pounds of food and more than $3,700 to benefit Commodore Cupboard. An additional 28 people pledged to volunteer at least 10 hours at Commodore Cupboard to help serve students in need. These donations will go a long way to helping Commodore Cupboard expand its hours and create more a holistic approach to ending hunger on campus.
As we move into the holiday season, our campus continues to support the Commodore Cupboard. At a recent event for the LCCC Culinary Arts Institute, the donation tables overflowed with nonperishable food items for Commodore Cupboard. And I know the support will continue to grow as our campus community rises up to support students in need.
Fall semester is well under way and right now more than 11,000 students are hard at work in LCCC classes. These students are bravely taking steps toward improving their quality of life, providing for their families, and pursuing their dreams. And judging by the excitement surrounding our faculty and staff this semester, our campus community is ready and willing to help all of our students succeed.
There has been a lot of buzz lately within the higher education world surrounding the phrase “student success.” At Lorain County Community College, we have identified student success as our top priority – but many of you may be asking, what does this really mean? We have learned that for our diverse student body, the term “success” can evolve during the course of a student’s life. At LCCC, we personalize our approach to each student – helping them identify their goals and define what success means to them.
There is a lot of behind the scenes work going on daily to ensure our students’ success through innovations in teaching, redesigning advising, and enhancing student services and career planning. Our recently unveiled nine academic and career pathways offer a much more streamlined and personalized approach for students that connects them to their own personal advisor from day one. But the real magic happens when our faculty and staff connect to our students on a personal level.
Take Kenneth Glynn for example. Ken spent 10 years in the United States Army and 19 years working in the steel industry before starting his higher education journey through LCCC’s SAIL (Students Accelerating in Learning) program. At first, the Elyria resident wasn’t sure about college, but with the help of SAIL assistance and his advisors’ and instructors’ support, he is well on his way to achieving his goals.
Ken addressed a group of LCCC faculty and staff in August where he shared that he and his classmates, including former co-workers from a steel plant who were laid off at the same time as him, simply would not have made it through math without their LCCC instructor, Carolyn Gang. Carolyn went above and beyond to assist them – even staying after class and tutoring on Saturdays to ensure they understood the material.
“I had never been exposed to any of this math before in my life. It had been 30 years since I had been in school,” Ken said. “When I was first in Mrs. Gang’s class, it was like a roller coaster ride for me. The first hill I took, I yelled and screamed and wanted to get off the ride immediately. But Mrs. Gang had a compassion for us older students in the class. Without her support and the support of the SAIL program, I never would have earned my associate degree.”
Carolyn claims she was the one being motivated by her students. “Seeing their raw determination to master math they hadn’t looked at in 30 years, or in some cases had never even seen, made me just as determined to see them succeed and complete their degrees,” she said. “These students were a real source of inspiration to me.”
Although he was unsure of himself at the beginning of his studies, Ken said he gained more confidence each semester. He attributes his success to his “LCCC angels” including his advisor, Ursula Delahunty.
Ken graduated in May 2017 with his associate degree in business administration and is continuing his education through LCCC’s University Partnership with Cleveland State University to earn a bachelor of arts in organizational leadership. He is the first person in his family to earn a college degree. I am so proud of Ken’s hard work, as well as our faculty and staff who rallied around him. These are the stories that truly represent the heart of who we are as an institution and why I am so honored to be serving as president of this great community college.