By President Annesa Cheek
Certain things exist, or so we think. Wise scientists have surmised that darkness does not exist; it simply is the absence of light. And learned philosophers have pondered that hate does not exist, it is simply the absence of love. Allow me to add to the notion and say that ignorance does not exist; it simply is the absence of education and learning – two key principles underscored in the classrooms and on the campus of St. Cloud Technical & Community College.
At a time when the very notion of facts and science are being dissected and scrutinized and even dismissed, SCTCC has an obligation to our students and our community to reinforce what does exist, through education. I do not say this cavalierly or with judgement, but as a statement of purpose and a calling to make the opportunity of getting a higher education accessible, affordable and meaningful to the people of our region.
The last year and a half brought forward some of the most complex social, political, economic, legal, educational and community challenges in recent memory. We have seen many of our friends and neighbors impacted physically, mentally, emotionally and financially by the global COVID-19 pandemic. However, the challenges and uncertainty of our world go well beyond that caused by COVID-19 and started well before the pandemic emerged. In the world of education, some scholars are referring to this span of time as an age of “VUCA” – volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. We have seen these elements manifest themselves in our classrooms, on the pages of our newspaper, on our television screens, on social media feeds, in our streets, in our homes and in our hearts.
Living in such an inter-connected world charges us to meet the challenge of being comfortable with and being able to navigate volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous issues, situations, and times. In education – though we have not been as explicit as to name it – we have used these elements for ages to demonstrate that volatility does not exist, it is simply the absence of stability; uncertainty does not exist, it is the absence of clarity; complexity does not exist, it is merely the absence of that which is simple; and ambiguity is nothing more than space without concrete form. Overly academic and philosophical? Perhaps. But the point is that we must often look at things in different ways and see them with different lenses than our own, utilizing the senses of ourselves and those around us to truly learn and understand what we think we see and what we think we know.
A point of pride for us at SCTCC is that we create a welcoming, accepting and encouraging space for the development of those senses for all of our students and support them on their journey to determine what does and does not exist and what is simply missing. That is how we train our health sciences students to be practitioners with empathy and heart and attune to the needs of their patients. It is how our manufacturing students are educated to analyze data and material to design and build products with purpose and integrity. And it is how we grow student leaders to be service-minded and community-focused to imagine a purpose bigger than their own in the advancement of and for others.
Last month, we began a new academic year at SCTCC. To have students in our classrooms and on our campus again brought back the needed energy, vitality and promise that goes missing when they are not there. To carry the theme: the College does not exist without students. This is why we consider ourselves fortunate to serve as the school of choice for the students of our region who are interested in advancing their education in hopes of making better lives for themselves and their families by marrying learning with doing.
This new academic year holds great promise for SCTCC as we embark on a new strategic plan that will chart our course for years to come in serving our students and our community. We will navigate our environment to bring about the stability, clarity, simplicity, and form necessary to take SCTCC to the next level of service to students, meeting them where they are and preparing them for what’s next in work, education and life.