If I were Julian Castro or Don Lucas, I would tell you we have to call it what it is and not mince our words.
But I’m not a politician or a psychology professor with a hot topic and a plethora of adoring students. What I am, however, is a California native who spent 33 years in Oklahoma and then received the fortunate invitation to serve as the college president of the number one community college in Texas for 2017 and 2019.
The trouble with rankings is that they change. You can be number one until you’re not. Rankings come and go, like the rain in San Antonio. They also don’t define us!
We are most defined by the success of each and every student who walks through this campus. We are defined by each staff member who takes the time to turn a prospect without a transcript or proof of a meningitis shot into an orientation-ready student. We are defined by the faculty member who makes the painful decision to drop a student yet takes an additional step to learn more and you fill in the blank.
That’s what defines a caring college in the United States with or without an official ranking!
Outside of campus safety and sagging enrollments, a less than positive budget is a college president’s biggest fear. While decisions had to be made in order to balance the budget to our funding levels, nearly everything cut from the budget had ramifications to programming, personnel and/or equipment. We made every effort to utilize any remaining funds from FY 18-19 in purchasing equipment requested in FY 19-20. Every decision was difficult. It’s no denying that our budget shortfall this year was painful and will continue to bring heartburn when we think of how we will accomplish our goals with less. I wish I could tell you that I can rewind and bring it all back.
When I came to NVC five years ago, I didn’t just sign up to bask in glory. What I have signed up for is to be the one who clears the path for the innovation that you will develop, discover and implement.
When I sit down to draw or paint with my granddaughter Kennedy (or when I watch my granddaughter Kennedy paint), I see a canvas full of possibilities, and I think of a college that will recruit her not on the basis of its ranking but on the basis of its spirit.
Last year, we entered a new era of district administration. Dr. Flores’s success is the product of our efforts. He came from serving one of our colleges directly, a college he pushed to earn the Rising Star Aspen Award and he was instrumental in helping to gather momentum for our Baldrige recognition.
But we’d be fooling ourselves once again to think and hope that the Baldrige Award could help us resolve our recruitment and enrollment challenges any more that has our rankings at the state and national levels. It is our teams, our faculty and our staff who hold themselves and each other accountable for results. We know that recruitment and enrollment are everyone’s job.
We also know that enrollment is only one part of the budget equation. I believe that we all know we could do even more to retain our students. Two weeks from now, our parking lots will begin opening up to easier parking and while I might love to park close to the building, my heart will ache knowing that open parking spaces may mean that some students have somehow slipped through our grasp and have disappeared from NVC.
Before we start pointing fingers at each other, we must acknowledge that there are many factors that contribute to student retention and success.
Access, advocacy, inclusion and diversity are not going to be present or improved by a single person in the district or college administration. The challenges our students face are resolved by brave and inspiring employees who reach beyond our procedures, who sometimes break our own processes to get a student enrolled and retained, and who seek the attention of the administration when the time calls for it.
Collectively, with synergy and a sense of community spirit, NVC faculty and staff have an undeniable track record of resolving great challenges in our nearly 25th-year history. We have been the role model and the trendsetters, breaking the rules and setting up pilot programs for the district and our sister colleges. Before me, before Jackie, there was YOU.
People like Betty Cunningham who has supported veterans and their families for 25 years, people like Able Ruiz who quietly keep the wheels moving and let college presidents receive the credit. People like Professor Fernando Martinez who’s been teaching and recruiting students from the West Side for the past 25 years AND empowering them to lead, to worship and serve that same community where they change lives as community health workers.
I can never pay proper tribute to each and every one of you who make this place the BEST college for our students, for the dozens of phone calls and text messages I get from people who BEG to work here. I can never thank you NOR salute you properly for your efforts. I can only remind you that after Jackie and after me, there will be YOU because you are Vista!
This year, despite the noise and clutter and a less than favorable budget, we began construction on a new building… the building we will call Desert-Willow and its adjacent Texas Ash parking garage. The efforts of the likes of Erin Sherman, Laura Alvarez and their teams, are making it possible for us to continue to improve our current facilities. The Desert Willow Welcome Center will open ahead of schedule and we will begin construction of the science, technology, engineering and math building and the renovation of the Cypress Cultural Center.
Debi Gaitan’s tenacity and willingness to provide a personal tour and to speak candidly to a legislator at the ground-breaking, resulted in $6 million from Senator Menendez and the Texas Legislature for a Veteran’s Affairs and Student Advocacy Center. When I think of Judy Camargo and professors Anna Harwin, Heidi Hunt, Julie Pace, and Claudia Verdin, I think of the millions of dollars we annually receive in grant funding. I think of math changing from a feared subject to one that empowers the 15 West San Antonio parents who completed Community Math program training and are now more confident in helping their own children with math.
When I think of Gary Bowling, Mig Garcia, Lynne Dean, Manny Martinez, NVC Staff Senate and many, many others, I admire their bold efforts to push for the creation of the NVC Food Pantry. When I think of Lisa McGoldrick and the NVC Financial Literacy team members, I am grateful for the financial literacy our students gain as NVC students that they can use throughout their lives.
As we gear up for our 25thanniversary year next year, I ask you to pause and reflect on the youthful spirit that carried us to this point. As we begin our next 25 years, we don’t have to settle on rankings to define us because we are no longer a “best kept secret.” We shouldn’t. We should rely on our touchstones of synergy, diversity, learning, openness, creativity, caring, community, integrity and most of all—JOY…to be lucky to work, lead and serve together the high-quality education that defined the last 25 years… and that will define the next 25!
Thank you for allowing me to be part of this effort and NVC’s continued success story!
Let’s do everything we can to help our students succeed!