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NH Voices: Susan Huard -- Building A Pathway For All At Community Colleges

Posted: December 05, 2019
by Dr. Susan Huard

In 1901, the first-ever community college opened its doors in Illinois, launching a uniquely American way of learning. It has had a profound impact on the lives of countless people, all based on a simple concept that you come here to learn and then go forth to serve.

For nearly 10 years, I have had the honor of serving as president of Manchester Community College. As I prepare to step down in retirement, I wish to thank all those who have contributed to the success of MCC and to offer encouragement to all those who will lead this great mission.

In my 10 years here, I have seen more than 4,000 people graduate from MCC. Each day, I see living examples of courage and ambition. Our campus looks like our community: MCC student ages range from 14 – 69. We have countless nationalities and a diversity rate of 27%, which has steadily climbed from single digits when I started here in 2010. We serve veterans, retirees, young people, professionals seeking new skills, and people from all economic backgrounds. We are a melting pot of educational aspiration.

MCC offers several more degree and certificate programs than we did when I first started here. We have grown to meet the changing needs of our community; offering programs in everything from advanced manufacturing, Cloud Services IT and HVAC, to behavioral science, nursing, management and more. Our certificates provide new ways to build applicable skills. MCC is affordable, pragmatic and user-friendly, offering more online and “hybrid” classes.

As a former teacher, I feel it’s critical to provide interactive spaces for learning. We’re erasing the stereotypical structure of a teacher in front of a class and replacing that image with classrooms that have no “front row” or “back row” — but rather a room where teachers work alongside students.

We are building pathways for students to achieve results, through new programs and opportunities, and through collaboration. We’ve built countless new partnerships with local business leaders, who help us design academic programs and then hire our graduates.

For example, our partnership with Eversource is preparing the next generation of line-workers for careers in the electrical utility industry.

MCC grads have built successful careers in our communities — from the HVAC technician and restaurant owner to the hospital nurse, behavioral health counselor and preschool teacher. Graduates also tend to give back; guiding us on how to prepare future grads for similar success.

That’s part of MCC’s magic: we receive constant, pragmatic leadership from the business community. In turn, our students learn from experts in the field. Our costs are within reach and our value has no ceiling. Teamwork allows us to serve the interests of both students and employers.

That philosophy informed our thinking in the design of our new Advanced Technologies building, opened in 2017 for heating, air conditioning, ventilation and electrical tech students. The building is a living, breathing classroom, with exposed components that give a unique, hands-on approach to learning. Our automotive program technology reflects the 21st century needs of students with state-of-the-art equipment donated by auto manufacturers and dealers who immediately hire our students.

Community colleges create affordable opportunities through seamless partnerships with four-year schools.

In nursing, MCC offers a “3+1” RN to BSN degree path, where students save money spending three years on our campus, then finish an advanced degree at a four-year school.

Along the way, MCC has built a student center and renovated the campus to create “centers for learning” to make the environment more welcoming and accessible.

The success of community colleges is due to leaders who constantly ask themselves, “What else can we do for our students and for our community?”

It is the motto I have worked to instill here and what I hope will be the legacy of my time at MCC.

If educators continue asking that question, then the answers will truly benefit all of us.

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