Dr. Annesa Cheek, President
Lawyers learn to never ask questions they don’t know the answers to. College presidents are the exact opposite, particularly new ones like me.
Over the last six months, I have exercised the two-to-one rule: using my two ears and one mouth in that proportion. Being new to St. Cloud Technical & Community College (SCTCC), and being new to the St. Cloud region, I have spent lots of time listening and learning – something I plan to continue doing. And in this short period of time, I’ve learned and observed some interesting things about the college and the community it serves.
The good news is, there is general consensus among the more than 400 stakeholders I’ve met with and spoken to that SCTCC is responsive to the needs of local businesses. That is very encouraging. Due in large part to our strong and collaborative partnerships with business and industry, the college maintains high-quality, in-demand programs that prepare individuals for the real world of work…thinkers, leaders, and doers. The faculty and staff at SCTCC are dedicated, knowledgeable, and deeply committed to the success of our students and understand that the complexities of everyday life can sometimes get in the way of their academic progress…students need support. This feedback is critical, and the strength of our college’s value proposition can be measured by how well we meet the evolving needs of our diverse community.
I’ve also learned that there are things on which we need to focus and improve upon, such as better alignment and engagement with our local high schools and universities (especially St. Cloud State University), increasing capacity in our skilled trades programs, and seeking new partnerships with a multitude of organizations that provide critical safety net services for so many of our students. These guideposts are important in helping SCTCC stay on the path of continuous improvement…always driving toward being better; for our students, the St. Cloud community, and the State of Minnesota.
Quite possibly the most interesting advice I’ve received since joining this great community last July was to embrace our “AND.” I’ve been reminded on several occasions that it’s St. Cloud Technical AND Community College, and, from time to time, we might lose sight of one or the other. For our college to be healthy and vibrant and meet the needs of local employers, we indeed must embrace our AND by ensuring that all of our students, regardless of their age, race/ethnicity, gender, gender identity, culture, religion, sexual orientation, disability, socioeconomic status, country of origin, or language, receive a well-rounded education via a variety of clearly defined and easy-to-access academic program pathways and on-ramps. This includes preparing our career and technical students, as well as our students who intend to transfer to a university, with leadership, communication, critical-thinking, problem-solving, and cooperative skills that allow them to thrive in the workforce and be active participants in our community.
To advance these suggestions, there are several things that we must do. We live in an increasingly diverse community and our students comprise a diverse cohort of learners. “New traditional” students are here to stay and include first-generation students, single parents, non-U.S. citizens, veterans, students with disabilities, students with a prior bachelor’s degree, students of color, and students receiving some type of financial aid. Our students have changed, and we must change.
It is critical that we analyze student progress data to surface inequities in learning outcomes and increase our institutional capacity to reflect on policies, practices, and systems that might be barriers to student progress and achievement. According to W. Edwards Deming, scholar and teacher, “Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.” The education and workforce development ecosystem is vast and complex, and currently, too few individuals are successfully navigating the terrain. Across the country, including the State of Minnesota, there are inequities in student outcomes that span the entire educational spectrum. The goal is to ensure equal access to education while also achieving equal outcomes among all racial/ethnic student groups. No one left behind. No one to waste. We must look to the system and cooperatively design solutions that foster student growth, development, and success for ALL. SCTCC must be part of the solution.
Faculty in our classrooms and staff across our campus should reflect the faces our students see in the mirror each morning. Our learners need to see, learn from, and interact with individuals who can serve as role models and mentors and who share their backgrounds and experiences, while also being exposed to those who do not. It is our duty as a college to ensure that students, as well as faculty and staff, are culturally competent and capable of navigating a diverse, multicultural, global society.
To frame our future at SCTCC, we are listening and learning – doing and discovering. As we evaluate where we stand in relation to Minnesota’s 70 percent postsecondary attainment goal (70 percent of working-age adults, across all racial/ethnic groups, will have a postsecondary credential by the year 2025), we see that we have work to do. With our region at a rate of 45 percent overall, we have room to grow and capacity to innovate, collaborate, and create new opportunities for students to learn to think critically and lead productive lives and earn valuable credentials that make them competitive in the local and global economies. That is why it’s important that we keep the conversations moving forward and the focus on doing what is best for students.
For St. Cloud Technical & Community College, 2019 will be a year of “MORE.” Over the next year and beyond, we will be working diligently to provide more graduates, more skilled workers, more partnerships and collaboration, more solutions, more innovation and creativity, more visibility in the community, and more frictionless transitions (to and through our college) for our students. Our collective future requires more and I am optimistic about the work that lies ahead as we strive to produce more civically engaged, socially mobile, economically independent students and work with the community to make more great things happen for our region.