Tuesday, September 21, 2010

More Than an Anecdote

Anecdotes are short, interesting stories about real incidents or people. We all possess a few. Stories abound, amongst the community college crowd, of students who've overcome this barrier or that, and those who arrived a certain way, grew, developed and achieved their personal happy endings. I rely on anecdotes all the time to find inspiration for my weekly posts. As I write this week I'm overwhelmed with pride, having recently heard about the success of an old colleague. Her story is much more than an anecdote. To me, it reflects the simple, unvarnished power of the community college experience to transform lives.

Eleven years ago I was the new Chief Academic Officer at a large community college in Omaha. The secretary's position in my office was vacant and I needed it filled sooner rather than later! While visiting one of our campuses, getting to know faculty and staff, I was introduced to a recent graduate from the College, who had just begun using her office professional associate degree as a secretary. After talking with her, she agreed to come work in my office. Her name was Jody. Barely in her early twenties, Jody was very friendly, seemed to know everyone, and loved the college. As we worked together, her work ethic, positive attitude, willingness to help others, and instincts made Jody a valuable member of an increasingly effective team.

A few years later, she entered a baccalaureate program, catering to working adults, at a local university. Even before she completed that program, she set her sights on a master's program in Community College Administration at the University of Nebraska. Then, upon completing her master's degree, she enrolled in the Community College Leadership doctoral program at Iowa State University. Jody was on her way.

She played a significant role in the College's accreditation efforts, program reviews, assessments of student learning, and greatly expanding our adjunct faculty support. Jody also developed a great interest in the professional development of faculty - an interest that eventually became the topic of her dissertation. Over the eight years we worked together, her career blossomed - from faculty secretary, to Assistant to the Vice President, to Projects Coordinator (where she held positions of Interim Assistant Dean in two different divisions) and, finally, Associate Dean for Program and Curriculum Development (later completing a stint as an Interim Dean of Visual Arts), and last spring she accepted the position of Vice President of Instruction at a rural community college in Nebraska.

Last week she successfully defended her dissertation at Iowa State.

When Jody walks across the stage to receive her Ph.D. in a few weeks, her story will be much more than an anecdote about how the community college experience can change someone's life. Jody found her career path through her community college experience because of faculty who practice the ever-evolving art of teaching (the primary responsibility of community college faculty); a personalized learning environment (one of the primary commitments of every community college); advisors who helped clarify educational goals; food service, facilities, and safety staff who work hard to create the safe, healthy environment necessary to support good teaching and learning.

Jody's story is certainly more than an anecdote. Jody's story is the community college story. It's a powerful story of the magic, the wonder, and potential that the community college experience has to offer to all who come through the doors. Community college can unlock the first door and provide keys to many more! It can accelerate careers and bring those who study and learn there to places they may never have dared to dream.

If you have any thoughts on this post, please contact me at presblog@mvcc.edu.