Posted on Wednesday, October 17, 2018

1. Looking back on your first year as president of MECC, briefly tell us about your biggest challenge?

MECC President Kristen Westover takes part in a power lineman exercise.

VCCS BlogThe biggest challenge I believe our college faces is communicating our relevance to potential students in the communities we serve in ways that result in increased college attendance for the citizens of our region. We recognize that our region’s college and credential attainment rates are below state and national averages, and we are working diligently to share the opportunities created through education and credential attainment. While our biggest challenge has likely been curtailing an enrollment decline, our main focus has been on ensuring that we provide the academic and student support structures and systems necessary to ensure students who come to us successfully reach their academic credential attainment goals. One example of how we are planning to provide those resources is through the development of our new “One Stop” Student Center, a new centralized location for all student enrollment and advising services.

2. What solutions seem to work best in getting remedial students on the right path to academic success and ultimately toward college completion, and how can educational technologies help in this area?

Research indicates that the best solutions for assisting students who may not come to us “college ready” are those strategies that couple college-level coursework with “just in time” remediation strategies. These strategies are typically delivered as a short co-requisite course or instruction intended to support the underlying concepts delivered in the college-level course. The most effective models I have seen include additional instruction incorporating the foundational knowledge and skills students need immediately before or after the objective is covered in the college-level course. The delivery of developmental education in the VCCS with regard to reading and writing is a wonderful example of the success this model can generate.

3. What types of workforce development issues are working at your institution?

Our college is delivering workforce development in numerous ways. Each model is intended to reach a different population with different workforce needs. We recognize that we have a great responsibility in filling the regional workforce pipeline with graduates and credential earners who have the knowledge, skills, attitudes and abilities employers are looking for. MECC develops and delivers customized training for existing or expanding businesses, creates new workforce training opportunities to increase the pipeline of available workers in regional areas of growth and expansion, and offers short term, stackable workforce credentials that provide greater earning power for the citizens of our region and provide a foundation upon which a student can build. We build strong relationships with current employers, meeting with them regularly and seeking their input into both credit and non-credit programming. We are also actively engaged in sharing the strengths and attributes of our trained and educated workforce for regional economic development opportunities.

4. Please explain what you think are the most pressing issues and challenges being faced by MECC today and what you think the future looks like five years from now?

The most pressing issues I believe our college faces are those dealing with sustained and increased enrollment. Regional population declines approaching double digit figures over the last decade created by a decline in coal production have impacted our regional economy in devastating ways. Those declines coupled with an expected drop in high school graduation rates resulting from a birth dearth create a challenging future picture for the college. Our citizens also have unmet financial and personal needs that often get in the way of successful college completion efforts. In five years, we will have impactful strategies in place for supporting today’s students who have multiple demands and obstacles keeping them from completing a credential. In order for MECC to be relevant in five years, we must have a significant role in preparing more of our citizens as an educated, trained and ready workforce. We must be involved in creating economic development opportunities through workforce training and support budding entrepreneurs and small business start-up operations. We must assist existing businesses in shifting as technology changes impact their core operations. Recognizing and communicating the potential impact technology and automation innovations will have in the workforce, as well as providing workforce credentials and degrees, are paramount in ensuring our college is relevant and impactful five years from now.

5. Please tell us something about yourself that our readers would enjoy learning about you (i.e., hobbies, family, favorite books, etc.).

I was not a traditional college student. I dropped out of high school the day I turned 16. I was a student who believed education had very little to offer me in life. Unfortunately, many people believe the same thing today. It took a few years of piecing together part-time positions and dealing with job loss because of plant closings before I recognized that I needed more than a GED education if I wanted to make a living wage and have a fulfilling job. I eventually found my way to Colby Community College, where their open-door policy and supportive educational experience made me feel welcomed, encouraged, and most-importantly – capable. I now work in community college leadership because I want to create the same positive educational experience for others. I feel I have an obligation to do for others what was done for me. And, I believe that in today’s rapidly changing and technologically-impacted world, the importance of education and training is greater than ever before in an individual’s ability to make a living wage and create better life outcomes.

I do have a life outside of work. My husband Mark and I like to ride our motorcycles across Southwest Virginia. I love the outdoors and any activity that takes me there. Most importantly, I love spending time with family, friends and our pets.

cbutterworth@vccs.edu'

Craig Butterworth

A native of Richmond, Craig Butterworth is an award-winning broadcast journalist and communications professional. He has worked as a spokesperson, staff writer and editor for a variety of non-profit and for-profit organizations throughout the Richmond area.

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