Gateway to a New Era

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Now that her school’s new campus is on line, GCCÂ’s Kendrick eyes new challenges

"http://www.ninecakes.com/media/buyonline//#here">Dr.Kendrick-003Dorsey Kendrick was named president of Gateway Community College in 1999. She found here a college with a large and growing population but two outdated facilities, on Long Wharf and the other a former North Haven school. Gateway was the last "//#adderall_generic">adderall generic community college in the state to be rebuilt. However, the state would enter a sharp recession as she advocated for a new campus. Kendrick marshaled community leaders and eventually built support from area legislators for a new campus in downtown New Haven. The "/orig/buy//#"> million building opened in September. Now with more than 8,000 students, Gateway is one of the largest educational institutions in Connecticut and offers students state-of-the-art facilities. The mission of Gateway and all of ConnecticutÂ’s community colleges has been expanded "site//#buy_" online ConnecticutÂ’s legislature, demanding more bang for the educational buck. BNH spoke with Kendrick to see how the move has gone and how the new mission will effect New Haven.

 

What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome to get the new building ready for occupancy?

Having all the tools that we needed to be ready to start classes the first day of school. When we moved in everything was not operational. We had some glitches. So the concern was the first day of classes: Are we going to have everything we need to have a smooth transition the first semester? [Problems] have subsided tremendously. We’ve had outside people come in, and they say everybody here seems so happy. The faculty is smiling, the staff are smiling, and the students are smiling. People are very proud to be in this building. It says we have a beautiful facility, we have state-of-the-art learning tools, [students] have a place to go and do homework if [they] need to. We want you to learn, we want you to be successful, and this is one more way of showing that we care about you.

 

Has the new building changed the nature of the student body?

Yesterday afternoon one of the professors came up to me and said, ‘We just did our midterm grades, and the students’ level of performance and their GPAs at this point are so much higher than they ever were before.’ I think it’s not just the building, but they have little pods where they can go study together. They have learning space, more tools to use, they can do more individualized work in the laboratories. He said, it has had major impact on the science students.

 

You’re not the type to let grass grow under your feet. What’s the next set of goals?

Now that we’ve moved into the new building, we’re looking at starting a technical academy in conjunction with the city of New Haven at the old site [on Sargent Drive]. That will be the Gateway Technical Academy. We’ll be working more with the high schools to get kids engaged in technical education, with the ability to take four years of high school with one additional year in a technical field at the college, graduating with an associate degree. Yet when they graduate from high school, have the capacity to get a job because they’ll have the technical skills that will allow them to work.

 

What kind of technical skills?

Engineering technologies, electrical engineering technologies, automotive technologies.

 

Are community colleges in Connecticut becoming really the first two years of college? And does that compete with the other mission of community college, which is helping adults prepare for new careers?

Absolutely not. The mission of the community college has been and will continue to be to take people from wherever they are and help them get on the pathway to lifelong learning. That means high school kids who want a certificate or associate degree program. But once they graduate from college then they are a lifelong learner: They can go to a four-year school to get a bachelor’s degree, a master’s and a doctorate. One size does not fit all. We have students who are 25 years old who may have a bachelor’s degree and were in a field that was going nowhere and they wanted to come back and take courses to get a certificate that will allow them to compete for another job. We have students who are 65 years old who never had the chance to get an associate’s degree, and they come to the college to get validated that they’re somebody. They had their career but they didn’t have the credentials to make them feel good about their experiences. Lifelong learning is taking you wherever you are in your learning experience and providing you with the tools to move to the next level — wherever that level is.

 

Does the public believe in that model, and is there the political will to pay for it?

Of course resources are important. We’re all competing to get the greatest number of resources to meet the needs of students. Let’s be real: Everyone is not academically talented and intellectually astute enough to get into the Ivy League schools or other schools, but everyone has dreams, goals, expectations.

 

How has the mission of the state’s community colleges changed?

The legislators made a decision that students in Connecticut should not have an associate’s degree and then to go to a four-year school have to start over — that the credentials you get in a community college meant something. We had to ensure that students who had an associate’s degree, or 60 college credits, can use that credential to get them to the next level, and that’s toward getting their bachelor’s degree.

 

Does that put a bigger burden on you and the faculty?

It puts a burden on K-12 all the way through. Students should be able to have a valid high school education, and with some coursework that they’ve taken, use that to start moving into the community college. Education should be a seamless process from birth to the time you get a bachelor’s degree.

 

Are secondary schools making progress in that the students coming in are progressively better prepared?

It varies because education is not just education — there are extenuating life circumstances that get in the way. More people are living in poverty, or don’t have jobs to a certain extent. Because of family they may not see education in the same way that their parents did ten years ago. So those circumstances play a great role in terms of them being able to get in school, and more importantly stay in school and keep their eyes on the prize. Do we have to do more today than we did ten years ago? Absolutely. We have homeless students now; when I first came here I don’t remember having that many homeless students.

 

When you first came to Gateway, it was the Rodney Dangerfield of community colleges in Connecticut. It was the last community college to get a new campus. What did you do to change the ‘no-respect’ reputation?

I wanted people to see that this college was a reflection of the community. And they had an obligation as I had an obligation to make sure that this community had the best school to provide the best education for its constituent group that it could. It’s not my school; it’s our school. It’s not my future; it’s our future, and you’re a stakeholder in this future also. The message started growing as I tried to get more programs at the college, hiring more faculty, to be sure we had the staffing levels we needed. [We] spruced up the old building and make it look like the place where learning was going on. We pulled community in with every opportunity I could to [instill] the sense [to the community] that ‘This your school.’ And you have an obligation and a responsibility to make this school work for all of us.

 

How has that changed what it’s like to be the president of the college?

I still see that more work needs to be done. We have been as guilty as anyone of not paying attention to students staying in developmental education for two or three years; now we have to. That means faculty and staff and president have to talk about what strategies didn’t work, and what we need to put in place, and how are we going to find those strategies and demonstrate accountability. As we move forward, the funding that’s going to follow education is going to be directly related to our ability to be accountable. That means to get students in, graduate them more readily — not have a 14- to 15-percent graduation rate over three years, but having more like 20 to 25 percent. If we’re having goals and demonstrating we’ve accomplished those goals, the money will follow.

 

Are you satisfied with the support from the business community?

Absolutely. The allied health and nursing wing [is] named after Yale-New Haven Hospital; they supported it. The library is supported by First Niagara Bank. The partnership with the New Haven public schools is supported by the Community Foundation [of Greater New Haven] and Wells Fargo. Businesses come in all the time and provide expertise. If you go to our small-business labs you’ll see business advisory boards, allied health and nursing advisory boards, culinary advisory boards. They provide expertise, scholarships, give in-kind donations if we need them, and many give resources. They’re not just involved in helping faculty see what’s needed [in the workplace], but also refining curriculum to ensure that when students graduate they have the skills to go out and compete for jobs.

 

How can a businessperson get involved here?

They just call the college and we make sure the appropriate department knows. As they add new people [to advisory boards], their names come up. I have a presidential advisory board that consists of all the major CEOs in the New Haven area.

 

What do those CEOs tell you they need?

They tell us where they have vacancies and what kind of people they need for those vacancies. The nursing initiative would not have started if the business community didn’t say, ‘We need nursing in New Haven.’ The automotive program has a strong partnership with General Motors; they indicated there will be more need for mechanics in the future than ever before. [The advisory board] tells us where the jobs are based, on growth opportunities, and help us develop the curriculum. The businesses are very instrumental in helping us understand where their jobs are going to be in the future and what skill sets students need.

 

How is the student population changing?

Our student population is getting younger: We’re getting more students between the ages of 18 and 24. That makes up 25 to 30 percent of our population now. We’re still getting returning students, adult students, students who lost their jobs. But because of the cost of higher education, and particularly [in] some of the four-year schools, parents are choosing to have their children do their first two years at the community college and then transfer. It also gives them a chance in many cases to build up their knowledge base, get their GPAs up so they can adequately compete to go to a UConn. You have to be a 3.0 student to get into UConn. That creates more competition for the students being able to get into college. Because of the new initiative of the New Haven Promise [a program funded by Yale to pay college tuition for graduating New Haven high-school seniors with a 3.0 or higher GPA], it [allows] more high school students from New Haven [to go] to college because of the guarantee of getting resources to do so. That certainly will strengthen the younger [GCC] population. Last year, 19 out of the 110 students in the Promise program came to Gateway. This year it’s 27 or 28 that came to Gateway.

 

How many students are enrolled this year and what is the trend?

Over 8,031 this semester. We’re up about 10.5 percent over last year.

 

There were many reported problems with parking and traffic when the new campus first opened. How is it now?

I think people overreacted because it’s change — change is hard. It was something unknown so many people were getting anxious. We have more parking spaces than we use, and we planned two years ahead for this move. Students are using the bus passes, people are walking, we have 90 bike racks and people are biking, carpooling. Parking is not an issue. The first day classes began, we had difficulties because it was a bad rainstorm. And people who came at the last minute to do their business, etc. I just rode the tide; I knew things were going to get better. You have to anticipate for the worst and plan for it, and things will just work out.

 

What are some challenges you didn’t anticipate?

The area we really have to focus on is the bookstore. We had lines of students; we need a different process. I hate to see lines anywhere in the building. I think in terms of new student orientation, the focus is going to be on graduation, so we’re going to get students to buy into pledging to graduate when they come in as freshmen.

 

What are the biggest obstacles to a student graduating?

Life gets in the way. Many of our students work part time. Many get financial aid, but it doesn’t cover anything other than their textbooks and their tuition. When you have to live, your physiological needs have to be met — food, clothing, shelter. Their part-time jobs — they lose them or have to change their work schedules. Child care, family issues get in the way. Health issues get in the way. Incarceration gets in the way. Just having the strength and determination to not let things get them down. Many are not prepared for college-level work and when they start taking courses they don’t understand how to study, how to get involved in focus groups.

 

If you have to graduate a higher proportion of students, how will you address that?

The orientations have become more informational. Now students can get online tutoring. We have to develop some peer-mentoring initiatives. The faculty are thinking of next year in addition to advising students, becoming mentors of students. Volunteering faculty will take on four or five new students, and those who have had difficulties by midterm mentor them to get through the semester.

 

What is the gender composition of the student body?

Sixty percent female; 40 percent male.

 

Why the disparity?

It’s life. There are more women than men pursuing education. For men of color sometimes, the interest in going to college is not as much of a determination as it is for our female students.

 

Is the greater New Haven community doing a good job of telling you people how important education is?

They do. The churches are doing a great job; I hear more and more they are having programs to encourage people to take advantage of education. [Among] civic groups there is a lot of focus on education. The community is doing what it can, but a lot of this starts with the parents and with the homes and the neighborhoods. That’s where we need to do a better job of getting into neighborhoods, talking to people one on one, finding out what their circumstances are and trying to help guide them in terms of going back to school. Particularly some of our inner-city neighborhoods. When your physiological needs are not met, it’s hard to focus on going back to school. We have to do a better job of helping them understand that [education] is your passport. Without education the situation you’re in now is going to get worse or catastrophic if you don’t refocus your interests.

 

What are the most popular areas of study now?

Still the sciences. It’s allied health, nursing. Business courses are hot; culinary is hot. Don’t forget the senior citizen population — the music classes fill up so fast. Also hot for senior citizens are the computer classes. The largest group of students still take liberal arts classes and then transfer. A large percentage — anywhere from 35 to 40 percent — transfer.

 

What would you like the business community to know about Gateway?

I want them to know that Gateway Community College is a place that provides access to higher education for a variety of individuals. And the ‘community’ embedded in the college does mean community. We value the input of the community, particularly the business community. We want to be partners with them in helping them define the jobs that will be available for the citizens of this region over the next few years. We are a New England Association of Schools & Colleges-accredited institution, which gives us the rights and privileges of any other college across this country. We’re competitive; our faculty are very highly credentialed and are professionals in their fields. I want them to know that we take many people at the college — those who have not gone to college before, those who have some college, and those aspiring to go to college. And we hope the experiences they have prepare them for their life journey. We not only provide them with learning, we provide them with people who genuinely care about them. We take our students who are downtrodden and help them pull themselves up by their bootstraps and go out and contribute to society. We take our students who have nothing and help dress them up so they can come to school and go into a classroom and feel as empowered as anyone else does. We take our students who are different in the sense of their religion, etc. and create safe havens for them to worship as they please and yet go out and contribute in this college without fear.


 

 
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