Thursday, June 26, 2008

A College Never Sleeps

It's always nice to have those constants in life to give us a sense of balance. As a college administrator, one thing I have come to expect with the start of summer is the periodic conversation where someone who works in a non-academic environment says, "so, you have the summer off, right?" The reality for all colleges today is that the learning business is a year-round enterprise. So for me, the summer is divided into two parts - finishing up things from the previous academic year and then getting ready for the start of the fall semester.

When I was preparing to come to New York a year ago, I asked a friend who worked at a community college in the northeast what the summers were like. My friend said the summers are the way they should be - it's cooler than most other places, so unbearable heat is unlikely; there is much to do, from day trips or longer vacations to just enjoying being outside so much; and that people cherish summer in an area where the winters can be a touch long. I've found this all to be true; however, while the pace of work might be a little different the tasks remain equally significant.

Facilities staff are focused on readying the campuses for the coming year after the comprehensive use of the buildings and grounds during the past year. Major projects are being completed, from the dramatic landscaping upgrades at the Utica Campus to reviewing classroom and soft space furniture around campus. Lest you think that our college isn’t as popular in the summer, rest assured that we are anything but asleep. We recently had hundreds of people at the Utica Campus for a wonderful Relay for Life event and hundreds more for a Cybersecurity conference. Soon, our youngest clientele will keep the campuses hopping with College for Kids programs and sports camps. People are often surprised when I respond to the "summer's off" question with the fact that we have 1,200 students enrolled in credit classes this summer in addition to all the other activity. Students are filing and processing for financial aid and registering for the fall semester; and quietly in the background, the administrative departments are executing that two-fold action plan of wrapping up last year and unwrapping the year to come.

Henry James once wrote, "Summer afternoon - summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language." Sometimes we are so captivated by the beauty and energy of summer, we forget that a college never sleeps. And while the college isn’t sleeping, neither are our many constituents. Our students, no matter where they come from, aren’t sleeping during the summer. They are engaged in their own balancing act of work, family, rising gas prices, and a sluggish economy. They are weighing their options for their future, wondering whether starting or continuing their education is the right move right now. For them and only for them we cannot afford to sleep – so that they may afford their dreams.

If you have any reflections on summer at MVCC, let me know at rvanwagoner@mvcc.edu.