Expanding into the future
Clark’s visions are coming to fruition
by Robert K. Knight
Over the past year, we have seen many successes; we have seen many things that seemed like a dream or far-off vision come to fruition. Some of the successes were planned before I arrived at the college 11 years ago, while others are opportunities that we have been able to take advantage of very quickly. As I reflected on several of these in preparation for the annual State of the College address in January, I came to the conclusion that the future is right now for Clark College.
Understanding how I came to this conclusion requires reflection on both where we have been and where we are going as a college. Let’s start with where we’ve been: fall 2014 began on a high note with the completion of the Ensuring a Bright Future: Campaign for Clark College. More than just celebrating some numbers on a screen or in a bank balance, we were able to turn the first ceremonial shovels of dirt on the new science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) building. Today, as I walk between buildings I can look to the west and see cranes moving walls into place and foundations being poured for what will be our largest classroom building at more than 70,000 square feet.
Last fall we also expanded our degree programs in the Columbia River Gorge, launching a computer-aided design and drafting (CADD) program specifically aimed at helping aerospace businesses train their workforce. The jobs those students will get working on drones did not even exist a decade ago. Now we are delivering the training needed to expand the businesses in that region. The things we are learning at our Bingen location will help us develop new ways to provide advanced manufacturing training to the region through all of our current and future locations.
Clark College received approval for its first bachelor’s degree program in 2014. The Bachelor of Applied Science in Dental Hygiene is the culmination of years of work by faculty and staff. Students are already benefiting from this change in curriculum, and it is a mountaintop moment for a program that is among the very best in the country.
The future is also on campus right now as we continue to see globalization happen in our classrooms. During the fall quarter, Clark College welcomed 200 international students—the largest group in our history. International student recruitment is our highest growth area.
However, to truly grasp why this is such an important moment for Clark, it is essential to see where we are going—and one direction we are going is north. The generosity of the Boschma family and the work of Clark College Foundation, made the purchase of land for a future North County campus possible. The Boschmas, former dairy farmers in Ridgefield, Wash., have ties to learning and education and to Clark College in particular. As immigrants to America, Hank and Bernice each took a citizenship course here in preparation for the national exam. Two of their children work in education. Their daughter Gerry also attended Clark.
The Boschmas’ story serves as an inspiration for our students. Coming to Washington from the Netherlands, their hard work built a successful agriculture business. As we look to a future campus in North County, their example reminds us to create opportunities that will allow people to live, be successful and contribute to the community in Southwest Washington. That is why we are looking at Clark College at Boschma Farms as a possible center for advanced manufacturing and medical programs—two fields that were mentioned time and time again when speaking with business and community leaders about this region’s needs.
Of course, we will continue to solicit input from our community and business partners before we finalize what the new campus will offer. The business community has also said there is a need for skilled employees who can work with composites, do fabrication and handle advanced robotic equipment like we have in our Mechatronics program.
Another reason the future is now at Clark College is because we have gathered such an amazing group of individuals who make up the faculty and staff. We have one of the absolute best automotive technicians in the country in Automotive Technology professor Mike Godson, and I’m not the only one to recognize this accomplishment. He has both the national exam scores and comments from Toyota to prove it. Child Education and Family Studies Director Laurie Cornelius, who has earned national recognition in the past, recently received praise closer to home when the Clark County Board of Health presented her with their 2014 Public Health Community Award for promoting initiatives that improve the health of children and families.
Our STEM faculty is already doing such amazing things that I wonder what they will accomplish with new facilities and space. Professors Tina Barsotti, Carol Hsu, Izad Khormaee and others in STEM are providing some of the most exciting project-based learning to be found at any college or university. I have seen their students fly drones they built, develop computer applications and build trebuchets on the campus’ central lawn. Perhaps the most mind-boggling project was a space elevator a couple of our students were conceptionalizing.
I wish that I had room to mention more, because everywhere I turn on this campus I find motivated students, inspiring faculty and dedicated staff.
The final reason that the future is right now is that after two years of planning and discussion, we have recently unveiled a strategic plan that will guide the institution forward. In March, the Clark College Board of Trustees approved that plan. To read it, please visit our website. Clark College, I can proudly report, is on the move, meeting needs and serving the community.[hr]
Robert K. Knight is Clark College’s president, a post he has held since 2007. Knight, who joined Clark College in 2004 as vice president of administrative services, served as interim president in 2006. Under Knight’s leadership, Clark has become the second largest community college in Washington State, serving up to 16,000 students each quarter.