President's Editorials

Well it is the beginning of a new academic year and Labette Community College is excited about welcoming our returning and new students. In the community college business we have two benchmarks. The first and most important is our student enrollment. This year our enrollment has increased and we are able to serve more students then we generally do. We always caution our campus community not to look at our percentage of increase, but the number of students we have the opportunity to serve. But this year we are doing well on both counts. The second benchmark is our funding. After being in this business for 16 years I have given up the notion of receiving the funding our students deserve. No matter how hard we lobby our elected officials it never seems to sink in that these students are our future and our future taxpayers and yet we continue to under fund their future. The other side of that points to dedication of our faculty, staff and administration who work so very hard, year after year, with limited resources for our students. And still do one outstanding job and produce the best of the best for our community and state.

So looking back when arrived at LCC 12 years ago I couldn’t have come into a better situation. Ron Fundis, the previous president, had worked hard to build a College with a sound financial base. It is because of the leadership he provided the College that we were able to move forward and serve our students with tremendous opportunities. I think it is important to emphasize that is it no one person that has done anything at our College. We have a dedicated family of educators that have moved this College forward in ways that I never would have imagined. When I first arrived I would always welcome our guests and future students to the best College in Kansas. I have to admit that I was a bit short sighted. There is no doubt in my mind that our College is not only the best in Kansas, but the four-states and beyond. We have certainly had our share of turmoil. My goal has always been to have our elected officials place the needs of our students first and everything else falls in place. We return roughly 12 million plus dollars a year back into our local economy. LCC is attributing to keeping this great community alive by educating our future leaders and taxpayers. Stop and think what our community would look like if we didn’t have a community college, an excellent hospital with caring leadership and a business community that embraces what we have. In my opinion we would have far less than we have.

So looking back, this small Southeast Kansas College has been able to compete nationally for a Title III Federal grant that allowed us to begin three tremendous programs with new facilities. We began with the Physical Therapy Assistant program and added the Ted Hill Physical Therapy building. We added our Diagnostic Medical Sonography program and our Dental Assisting program that is housed at our Cherokee Center. Let me say that we are so proud of what we have accomplished at the Cherokee Center. It’s not all about numbers, it’s about serving students. I know some don’t agree, but it goes back to original question that should be asked before we do anything “Is this the best thing for our students?” The Cherokee Center serves place bound students that didn’t have the opportunity to further their education. Our dream was that Cherokee Center would offer students a place to begin their education at an affordable rate, and transfer onto a four year university, like Pittsburg State. The Cherokee Center has given the College an opportunity to reach an underserved student population, reach out of our comfort zone when opening a satellite campus and build collaboration with local universities. Again it’s all about our students. Their future and ours. We have always felt that collaboration is much better than isolation.

Together with many donors, we successfully completed a 10 million dollar capital campaign. During that campaign we funded deferred maintenance, built scholarship endowment, received a matching million dollar grant, and build the state-of-the-art Zetmeir Health Science Building allowing for the best health/science education for our students. The overall enhancements made to our College have made the College more functional and attractive for prospective students and their families. Last year we had the opportunity to purchase the former Bank of Parsons building. What a win/win for our college and our community. The Bank of Parsons built a wonderful new facility right in our own neighborhood and we will have a new much needed library facility.

So let me finish my thoughts with looking at the future of Labette Community College. The future is bright.  Again placing our students first, we will have a new 144 bed student housing facility built with a projected opening date of fall 2017. This has been a long standing goal of our College. We will expand our current athletic facility to serve our student athletes. This facility has been needed for so long and our students deserve it. My hope would be that the future of Labette Community College includes the purchase of the last piece of property on 13th and Main Street that will complete the campus.

It has been such a privilege to serve this College that simply has the best faculty, staff, and administration that any president would be fortunate to serve with. I’m confident that the next president has the same solid base to work with that I had and will take our college places we never dreamed. Thank you for sharing this wonderful college with us. Carol and I will miss it terribly. But the time is right for us and our sailboat to enjoy our retirement, beginning July 2017. Please continue to do all you do to support our students and our College. It is an investment in your future. Once a Cardinal, Always a Cardinal.

I began my career as a community college president in 2000. The biggest change in the Kansas Community College System took place that year. Since its’ formation our system was under the Kansas Board of Education. In 2000 our system moved from the Board of Education to the Kansas Board of Regents. In reflection it was a time of great change and great expectations. The promise of a new funding model, a challenge of a new governance model and great hope for a unified system that brought the technical colleges, the community colleges and universities under one governance system that would ultimately provide a seamless system for our important commodity, our students. Coming into the presidency for the first time and into a brand new system was exciting and challenging. I was very fortunate to have a lot of great seasoned presidents and mentors in Kansas and from AACC’s President’s Academy. The very best advice I received as the new kid on the block was to “listen, learn and absorb” as much of our community college history as I could because our lessons learned would be critical moving forward.

Fast forwarding to 2016 unfortunately not much has changed in my 15 years as a president. We still, like most states, continue to fight for funding for our students. Probably the most disappointing part of the voyage has been the difficulty of the Kansas Board of Regents to define their leadership role with the community colleges.

Probably the most significant change in my leadership role and suspect all other presidents is our involvement in politics and fundraising. I think it’s safe to say the political piece is the most challenging and the continuing struggle to convince legislators of the value of your college and the value to your community.

Early in my career I picked up a copy of his book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” By Steven Covey. Each and every habit plays a pivotal role in leadership, but the one that has helped me the most is “Seek first to understand, and then be understood.” That habit taught me to be an active listener.

The next piece of leadership for me is teamwork. I have been so very fortunate to have a tremendous, supportive leadership team that has allowed us to do so many great things for our students on a limited budget.

Last week during our annual commencement ceremonies last week we honored three distinguished alumni, a distinguished faculty member, and two Cardinal Citation recipients. These six individuals know first-hand these qualities of leadership and help define leadership in our community. They place students, family, and the greater community before themselves. Their leadership qualities include engaging and encouraging others to perform better in the classroom, in the workplace, and in the community through persistence, encouragement, and volunteerism.

Tom Duran, an LCC communication instructor, was named Distinguished Faculty of the Year because of his dedication to the central mission of the college and our students. Janice Every, Greg Forbes and Rick Ray were each named with the 2016 Distinguished Alumni award. These three graduates of LCC have excelled personally and professionally since their time at LCC through further academic achievements, professional accolades, and volunteerism. Chuck and Mary Catherine Brown, of Parsons, were named the 2016 Cardinal Citation award recipients. This is the highest honor that LCC bestows to individuals for outstanding lifetime achievement. The Browns dedication to Parsons and Labette County through numerous service and civic organizations, dedication to youth activities, beautification of Parsons, and to area healthcare is tremendous.

Each one of these individuals received their awards with a humble attitude. We can all ‘listen, learn, and absorb’ from these six individuals, as they make our community great because of their leadership, generosity and service to others.

The small town life may not be for everyone. Some want large cities with exotic restaurants and endless opportunity for events and theatre productions. I, however, appreciate the value of a small rural community where everybody knows your name, it takes less than 10 minutes to drive across town, and there are always activities happening in our community. Parsons and Labette County always have community events; from parades and festivals, concerts and art exhibits, or ballgames and theater events all happening at our schools, Labette Community College, the city and chamber. Many of these events are offered free or a very low admission cost. One such free event is the Labette Community College Indie Lens Pop-Up series.  

Community Cinema is now known as the PBS Indie Lens Pop-Up! The Indie Lens Pop-Up is a neighborhood series that brings people together for film screenings and conversations. Featuring documentaries seen on PBS’s Independent Lens, Indie Lens Pop-Up draws local residents, leaders, and organizations to discuss what matters most, from newsworthy topics, to family and relationships. The series is a community-driven screening program for all different types of viewers: inspiring activities and discussions, giveaways, and occasional raffle prizes.

The ultimate goal of the program is community engagement and connection. Indie Lens Pop-Up contributes to the “community” in Labette Community College. It is an invitation to our neighbors, near and far, to come and enjoy our campus with engaging programming that appeal to a broad audience. Connections and working relationships have been formed between speakers, audience members, and students that have resulted in collaboration and volunteering outside of the events. The program also gets students out of the classroom and participating in campus life.

The target audience for each program viewing somewhat depends on the film. For example, our upcoming program, In Football We Trust, is about “young Polynesian-American men in Utah, as they transform out of their adolescence, striving to take warrior culture to the next level – through American football.” This would likely appeal to a high school and college audience, as well as sports fans in general. However, these films are quite engaging and really have a broad appeal, whether or not individuals are particularly interested in the subject matter. All community members are encouraged to come out, learn something new, and participate in the conversation as it relates to us personally and locally. Part of the point of the documentaries is to see how other people live their lives, and to get some understanding of where they are coming from.

Kalynn Amundson, LCC Sociology instructor, and Tim Miller, LCC History and Geography instructor put an incredible amount of effort into the coordination of offering the Indie Lens Pop-Up series at LCC. We bring in a variety of esteemed guest speakers, from the local to the national level, to discuss the film subjects, add perspective, and field questions. On the national level, we’ve had  NASA astronaut, Lieutenant General Susan Helms, Dream 9 activist, Claudia Amaro, and Vietnam vet and film subject, Ronnie “Stray Dog” Hall, just to name a few. Past local speakers include Melissa Brown founder and manager of Safe Haven Outreach Mission and Earnest Moreland, Executive Director of the Youth Crisis Center. The speakers for our Spring 2016 lineup include retired NFL player Kendall Gammon, who played for the Pittsburgh Steelers, New Orleans Saints, and the Kansas City Chiefs, current NFL player and former Parsonian Shaun Hill of the Minnesota Vikings (both for In Football We Trust), and Parsons Police Chief, Jason Sharp (for Peace Officer). The public discussion forum, guest speaker expertise, and sense of community are something that you don’t get from watching in your living room.  

One of the strong points of the program is the audience discussion after the film. Speakers generally only speak for a few minutes after the film, at which point we open the floor to audience questions. Some of the questions deal directly with the film, others are about the film's connection to local issues or to the speaker's experiences, but the questions are usually engaging and the discussion is often lively.

All Indie Lens Pop-Up programs are free and open to the public offered in the LCC Thiebaud Theatre on the second floor of the main building. In Football We Trust will be Tuesday, January 26 at 6:30pm in Thiebaud Theatre. See you there!

Mark Watkins, Ed.D.

(620) 820-1223