As we begin a new semester at Lorain County Community College and a new calendar year, many are anxious to close the door on 2020 and return to “normal.” While I agree that last year presented a number of challenges that we continue to face, this is also a time of great discovery. Albert Einstein said, “In the midst of every crisis lies great opportunity.” This year we have come together in new ways to meet unprecedented challenges. In doing so, we have created innovative opportunities and solutions. So, instead of a “return to normal,” I am optimistic and energized about a new, better future ahead. This level of enthusiasm comes from the remarkable resilience I’ve witnessed from our students, our campus and our community.
Learning by Listening
With so much noise in the world right now, one of the most powerful actions we can take is to actively listen to those we serve. Listening allows us to not only determine how we can best fulfill our values to educate, adapt, lead and inspire; it allows us to reflect upon what has enabled our students and our community to persevere.
The resiliency of our students is inspiring, but it’s not surprising. LCCC students have bold goals and they have grit – that special strength of character that allows a person to dig deep during the most trying times and persist. Over and over again, our students break barriers and move boldly to determine their own futures. For some, that means changing plans in order to stay safe and save money in uncertain times. For other students, it means seeking career training in a new field after losing their job or juggling the role of mother, student and employee all at once. Whatever the circumstances that bring students to their community college, all have the opportunity to continue their education to earn a bachelor’s or a master’s degree from LCCC’s University Partnership.
The grit our students show is astonishing, however, grit alone is not required to find success at LCCC. Helping students break barriers is in our DNA. That’s why we made strategic changes based on direct student feedback, identifying the challenges that are impeding their academic progress – such as food insecurity and mental health needs. So, we extended hours and increased virtual appointments for both the Advocacy and Resource Center and the Commodore Cupboard food pantry. With the help of our community, we expanded the availability of emergency aid for students. Additionally, I’ve committed that every student will have access to the technology they need for their classes. These measures and more are working, as we see students persist from semester to semester, even during a global health crisis.
What’s more, many students are shining their resilient lights outward into our community, lifting spirits and bringing hope in dark times. Students in LCCC’s Psi Beta psychology honor society spread kindness and joy to residents of a local nursing home. Recent nursing graduate Alexis Costello warmed the hearts and hands of those in need through a glove donation drive. And countless other students donated to food and clothing drives. I call these acts of caring “mission moments” – the true embodiment of LCCC’s mission in action. These students used their grit to continue their own education and found the strength of character to uplift others in need, doing their part to create a vibrant community.
Here’s more about Psi Beta’s mission moment:
Over the past year I have listened to our students through virtual coffee chats, surveys and open forums designed to check in and identify ways we can improve as an organization. However, I recognize that while our students are an extension of our community, there are many others that we serve in different ways that we hold equally close such as our community partners, local employers and citizens.
When I became president of LCCC in 2016, I leaned in hard on this conviction:
You can’t lead a community that you don’t love, and you can’t love a community that you don’t know.
I believe the best way to get to know a community is to ask questions. At the start of the pandemic, we reached out to each student to assess their needs. Based on their feedback, we were able to build or expand services to support them. Now, as we move past the emergency response phase, we rely again on our most basic principle: listening to our community to understand how to best serve their changing needs and help seize opportunities that will make our community stronger.
For this purpose, I reopened our strategic visioning process in a phase we call Reimagining LCCC. We last updated LCCC’s strategic plan in 2019 – just two years ago. But it is clear, given the events and accelerated change of the last 10 months, it was time to reconnect and better understand how this moment in time can and will shape our future. During the past three months, we hosted 54 Reimagining listening sessions with more than 500 stakeholders, including students, employees, community and industry partners and citizens. Each provided important feedback on how Lorain County Community College can best fulfill our mission as the community’s college going forward. This process will continue with a refreshed vision and plan emerging later this spring.
Listening and responding to our community’s needs is who we are; it’s why we were founded as the first community college in Ohio in 1963. For nearly 60 years, the college has delivered on that promise, through the most prosperous times as well as the most challenging times. It is my promise that LCCC will continue to listen, adapt and act to prepare us for the best and brightest future we can imagine.