President’s Column

August 2019

Thoughts on the recent shootings in Ohio, El Paso

 Here at SCCC, we have a better way of valuing everyone

At the beginning of a new academic year, we typically anticipate what lies ahead — new concepts and materials to learn, new relationships to build, new accomplishments to celebrate. Instead, after a weekend of mass shootings in Ohio and El Paso, we find ourselves in territory we have traveled before. The sadness and fear are too familiar.

So are the details of these awful killings. Young shooters, one of whom attended his local community college. Anxiety and hatred around immigrant issues. Death that occurs in the most ordinary of places. It is too easy to let our minds go to the possibilities for harm in our own community.

But we should not go there. White Nationalism and prejudice are not part of our culture at Seward: instead, we choose to value everyone. Fear and violence are not how we do our work for student success. Quality, integrity, and trust mean that we are not afraid of tough conversations and difficult issues, even the ones that could easily divide us.

It is an honor to serve as your president, and moments like this remind me of how it all started for my family.  It was 1901 and my great-grandfather made the choice to make the journey — one that required endurance and courage — from Poland. His brother  followed soon after. His intention was betterment for his family and for their future.

We look forward to a new year at SCCC, it should always be about betterment in how we serve one another.

Our year will be a bright one.  We will welcome new faces on our team and among our students. We will do big things that change lives.  We have our own way of doing things here, and it is far better than division and hatred.

Please join me in a moment of silence at 4 p.m. today, meeting on the campus crossroads area in the main courtyard. If you are unable to attend in person, please observe a moment of silence where you are, as we remember the victims in Texas and Ohio, their families, and set an intention to follow another path in our own lives.

June/July 2019

A season for reflection about the work ahead

SCCC’s values do not change, but we regularly take a fresh look at our methods 

Summer has always served as a time to reflect, refresh, and prepare for the next season — and  from the vantage point ofthe SCCC President’s office, this spring’s events have led to a particularly fruitful point in time. As many in the community know, I was listed as a finalist in the College of DuPage (Illinois) community college search for a president. Family considerations compelled me to consider the position.

Yet the idea of leaving Liberal, which has become home on the High Plains, prompted a sense of loss — as did the gracious and whole-hearted support expressed by our campus team and friends in the community. It means much more than I could fairly express in words. I am deeply appreciative of my relationships here, and am aware that I couldn’t even be considered for this job if it wasn’t for everyone here, and the amazing work we do together.

In so many ways, I feel we are just getting started on many great things, and I want to see those through. As it turned out, I will stay on at Seward  — and the experience of re-examining it all became a perfect example of the kind of open conversation that makes our team at SCCC strong and vibrant.

This energy spilled over to a planning retreat our leadership team — comprised of a diverse mixture of voices from across campus — held in early June. Our “No-Box Strategic Planning Session” provided a forum for team-building, new ideas, fresh interpretations and great energy.

Despite the corporate leadership language, it boiled down to pragmatic questions and honest, face-to-face conversations, no holds barred. We asked “What’s holding us back” and answered as individuals and in service to our community college. We encouraged each other tthink big and tdream. We began to feel the excitement that comes when you set out on another leg of a long journey, and you know the destination is someplace entirely new.

As always, our intent is to stay focused on what is most important — our students. This, we know, can be achieved through mindful practice of SCCC’s core values of integrity, trust, valuing others, quality, and student success. Over the past three years, we have embraced actions rooted in our values, moving purposefully in five key directions. Those are:

      • Promote a safe and healthy campus
      • Invest in teaching, learning, and curriculum development
      • Enhance financial and organizational vitality
      • Expect high outcomes in recruitment, retention, and graduation
      • Broaden collaboration between community, education, and business and industry.

Like our core values, the key directions — how we live out what we believe, and apply it to real lives in real time — do not change. Our practices, however, get a fresh look from the SCCC team members on a regular basis, and that’s what we are preparing to do over the next month.

Since 2016, Moving Seward Forward has resulted in many positive achievements, from simplifying our hiring and performance processes to groundbreaking on two new facilities on the college’s main campus. We have renewed our commitment to meeting students at their point of need. Sometimes that means a class that occurs in real life, online, or even on demand — we call that model Blendflex. Sometimes that means text reminders to incoming students that it’s time to enroll for fall, or time to sign up for intramural sports. Sometimes that means we encourage employees ttell us what means the most in terms of vending machine options or Wellness Center hours.

The next steps forward are yet to be determined. Our team will weigh in on priorities for the college’s landmark 50th year serving students in 2019-20, and we welcome input from our stakeholders as well. Our students, too, will have a voice in our direction: after all, they are the reason we do what we do. As our team experienced at the “No Box” session, and I personally saw this spring in my own career and work, it’s the conversation that lends vibrance and energy tthe process.

Each day this summer, we see progress on the Colvin Family Center for Allied Health and preparation for the Sharp Family Champions Center. We notice instructors — who are technically off work — logging time as they revamp curriculum and plan for fall. We welcome children of all ages to campus for sports intensives and Kids’ College. Just like the wheat fields outside city limits and the lawns that need mowing, this is growing season at SCCC.

I look forward to our continued work together. There is lots to get done.

KT02Dr. Ken Trzaska is the 10th president to lead Seward County Community College, where he maintains a “no door” policy, focuses on collaboration and team-building, works with the SCCC Foundation to lead a $6M capital campaign and campus expansion, and tirelessly advocates for good coffee. Visit his page on our college website to read more of his articles and check out his Top 50 Books Worth Reading. 

 

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February / March 2019

Accountability is part of SCCC’s core identity

Why we serve our community determines how we do our work

The new year has propelled Seward County Community College forward at a hectic pace, with plenty to celebrate — new buildings, new opportunities for success … and new challenges. Our college board and executive team members have spent considerable time in the state capitol this year, and for good reason. As conversation around funding and the best interests of Kansas students intensifies, community colleges must remain vigilant and engaged.

That’s why I’ve spent considerable time in Topeka this spring, along with my fellow community college presidents and members of the Seward team. A few weeks ago, the big issue was a proposal by a Butler County representative to drastically increase regulation on community colleges and our ability to operate efficiently. Kristey Williams’ bill would have ballooned the bureaucracy that too often impedes our ability to get things done, and assumed the worst about local control.

Through intense lobbying and support from our respective legislators, I’m happy to say the original bill was stripped of its most damaging elements. Requests for additional transparency are no problem for SCCC, because that is already the way we operate.

I’m proud of how SCCC has worked closely with the local community, putting our stakeholders’ best interests alongside what we want for students. In the end, progress benefits everyone. In the few years I have been proud to call Liberal home, I have seen the community make great strides forward.

  • Joint meetings between elected boards, which bring everyone to a common table to dream about what our future can be. With input from the Chamber of Commerce, USD 480, City of Liberal, Seward County, Southwest Medical Center, Kansas Small Business Development, and more, we have crafted valuable strategies for the good of all.
  • A growing spirit of philanthropy, which results in movement and construction. On our own campus, we see ongoing work to build the Colvin Family Center for Allied Health and the Sharp Family Champions Center. Both serve as a testament to their lead donors’ commitment, but also the contributions of hundreds of individuals and businesses, each giving what they can.
  • Collaborative energy, with groups like the United Way, Liberal Area Coalition for Families, LEAD of Liberal, and more, working together to build a better life. These projects can be see all over town, from our own SCCC Trail System, built with help from the Sunflower Foundation and Blue Cross Blue Shield, to improvements at the Liberal Senior Center.
  • Innovative approaches to education, with ongoing partnerships between five elementary schools, two middle schools, Liberal High School, and 11 outreach high schools in our region. Through structured courses, volunteer opportunities, and special events, we are making a life-changing impact on young people from kindergarten to grade 12.

In all this good work, we rely on our stakeholders for honest feedback and practical support. We know our stakeholders offer us the priceless gift of trust, which leads to a natural and willing accountability. It’s often said on campus that there is no such thing as “the college’s money,” because everything we have belongs to the taxpayers and this community. We owe you more than our appreciation; we owe you our best stewardship.

That’s why we are proud of the successful financial audits that mark each year’s budget process. The most recent, presented at the March 4 meeting, once again passed with flying colors.

That’s why we go the extra mile to publicize each meeting agenda for our Board of Trustees, making reports and minutes available to anyone who is interested.

That’s why our board room is sometimes crowded, because the meetings are open to the public, and the public is welcome to attend.

A recent meeting of the SCCC Foundation, a separate but crucially important supporting organization, provided similar transparency, with detailed financial reports about scholarship awards and the exciting capital campaign that will soon result in two new buildings on the main campus.

As the Kansas Legislature continues its process, I continue to press forward for SCCC. Monday, March 11, the Kansas Association of Community Colleges will present to the Kansas Senate’s Ways and Means Higher Ed Subcommittee. Our document outlining the vision for community colleges across the state, what’s working, and what could use a helping hand, is the result of several presidents’ advocacy efforts.

In particular, we offer salient points about SB155, the funding mechanism for Career-Tech-Ed coursework for high school students, and the need to ensure transferable credits for students who eventually move to four-year universities. In all these discussions, the unique student body of our Southwest Kansas region is foremost in my mind.

This work, while far from my office on campus, is an integral part of what the Board of Trustees has charged me to undertake. I am honored to serve as a voice for this community and its community college, and I welcome your input.

KT02Dr. Ken Trzaska is the 10th president to lead Seward County Community College, where he maintains a “no door” policy, focuses on collaboration and team-building, works with the SCCC Foundation to lead a $6M capital campaign and campus expansion, and tirelessly advocates for good coffee. Visit his page on our college website to read more of his articles and check out his Top 50 Books Worth Reading. 

 

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January 2019

At SCCC, community and relationships outshine politics

With the federal government shutdown and a constant stream of events that prompt all Americans to feel anxious, immigration at the southern border of the U.S. is in the national spotlight. The process of immigration and the making of new citizens is nothing new at Seward County Community College, nor to Liberal and the region we call home. For decades now, Southwest Kansas has seen a steady influx of newcomers.

Partisan politics aside, the ability to extend hospitality and neighborly help is one of the hallmarks of the community. It’s something I’m proud to be part of as a relative newcomer myself. And, as president of SCCC, I take special pride in the role the college plays.

We are a Hispanic Serving Institution, or HSI as the Department of Education calls it. Simply put, that means standard enrollment is made up of at least 25% students who identify as Hispanic. At Seward, our numbers nearly double that rate, which reflects the makeup of the community as a whole in the same way enrollment at USD 480 does.

Our status as an HSI enables us to pursue additional sources of funding through grants and endowments, which in turn benefits all our students and the community. We also qualify to host innovative and impressive partnerships with Kansas State University and the National Science Foundation. Again, students of all ethnicities and races are welcome to take part in the Bridges program for science-related research, and Louis Stokes Alliance research opportunities.

In truth, it is the “first generation” status of most of our Saints that commands more of our attention, rather than hot-button issues that clutter headlines. Whether they are small-town graduates from the rural communities in our service area, or children of immigrants from Mexico and Central America, more than half our students are the first in their family to attend college. That means they bring a unique set of questions, challenges, and strengths to the table. It’s our job to meet them at their point of need, and give them tools to succeed in life

As far as immigration issues are concerned, SCCC provides information and education on a broad array of issues. Immigration is one of them. Sometimes, this takes the form of granting access outside groups to campus for workshops and Q-and-A sessions about the complicated and often intimidating process of becoming a legal citizen. Indeed, our U.S. Citizenship classes, offered every semester through the Business & Industry division, have produced around 500 new citizens over the past decade. I am just as proud of those students as I am when graduates walk across the stage each May to receive their diplomas.

The college’s mission is to equip people to live the best life possible through a variety of educational programs and paths. We regularly engage our students in conversations about health and wellness, including issues related to drug and alcohol use and mental health issues. We encourage voter registration and participation in elections. We strive to create a welcoming atmosphere on campus that values all people, from the Gideons International volunteers who offer free Bibles to our students each year and our student-led “Campus Messenger for Christ” to the HALO club for Hispanic student leadership, and the newest group for students, Circle K — an undergrad society affiliated with the Kiwanis International.

In all these endeavors, we aim to encourage understanding, connection, relationships, and growth. An exciting example of this energy will take place at our first Taste of Kansas potluck meal from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 29. For those new to Liberal, that date is “Kansas Day,” commemorating the entrance of our state into the United States. Our definition of “Kansas Day” food is epitome of inclusiveness: if you live in Kansas, you bring something to the table. We’ll share chicken and noodles with mashed potatoes, South Asian food, baklava, and authentic Mexican dishes prepared by students, employee team members, and friends of the college.

The event is a great way to experience what is best about Liberal, and its very own community college. Other groups can protest, worry, and speak out online as is their right — but here in the heartland, SCCC encourages our community to focus on being good neighbors, and enjoy a meal together.

KT02

Dr. Ken Trzaska is the 10th president to lead Seward County Community College, where he maintains a “no door” policy, focuses on collaboration and team-building, works with the SCCC Foundation to lead a $6M capital campaign and campus expansion, and tirelessly advocates for good coffee. Visit his page on our college website to read more of his articles and check out his Top 50 Books Worth Reading. 

 

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December 2018

Historic groundbreaking marks a bright future

Liberal residents who pass Seward County Community College’s Epworth Allied Health Center, on the corner of Washington Ave. and Fifth Street may not realize they are observing the passage of time. Epworth was once the hospital that served Liberal and the outlying area. Later, it became the first site of the newly-formed Seward County “Junior College,” as SCCC was originally called. Today, it is the center for five cutting-edge Allied Health programs that serve a strategic purpose in the health of this region’s residents and its economic vitality.

All of that is the foundation of an institution that continues to flourish. As the college prepares to celebrate 50 years of serving students, we look to the future and at a new location for the health care professionals who begin their journey at SCCC.

Tuesday morning, we will break ground for the Colvin Family Center for Allied Health, and I invite the community to come out and be part of this historic event. Construction will begin in the weeks to come on the new Allied Health building, with a projected completion date of summer 2019. This is a celebration of a long-term, ambitious project that has drawn support from a wide range of friends in the community, and the region.

SCCC Foundation President, Duane Bozarth, has shepherded the project through a long process of planning, fundraising, and responsiveness. It’s fitting that he himself was born at the “old” Epworth Hospital, and now helps to usher in a new era at Seward. He has had good company in the Foundation Board, which currently includes Stephanie Ormiston, Jane Head, Sharla Light-Sallaska, Larry Mikles, John Engel, Al Shank Jr., Gary Dunnam, Lidia Hook Grey, Ryan Farrar, and Omar Olivas. Along the way, leaders like former SCCC President Dr. Duane Dunn and former SCCC Development Director Tammy Doll kept chipping away at what must have felt, at times, like an unlikely dream with our final concept taking shape over the last several years.

Lead donors, the Colvin family, have also invested in the institution over a long span of decades, beginning with Bill and Virginia Colvin, and continuing with Kent and Molly Colvin, and the extended family.  Throughout the process, new supporters have joined, like keystone donors Melvin and Mona Winger, and many others too numerous to list. It’s my hope and vision that when the doors of the polished, high-tech building open to students, they will be met by a comprehensive list of contributors who have banded together, one dollar at a time, to make this expansion a reality.

Our SCCC Board of Trustees have also combined attention to detail with the big picture. Ever cognizant of the reality that this college belongs to the community and is supported through the community’s tax revenues, board members Ron Oliver (chair), Marvin Chance Jr. (vice chair), John Engel, Dustin Ormiston, Stacy Johnson, and Casey Mein, have prevailed in the sometimes tedious details to provide due diligence as stewards. And while countless individuals have contributed to the evolution of this project, Vice President of Finance and Operations Dennis Sander has tirelessly gathered information, numbers, and options to enable the board to make sound decisions.

Beyond the words of appreciation, however, I want to focus on the underlying meaning of this tremendous project. Along with its companion construction, the Sharp Family Champions Center, slated to begin construction in the near future, the Colvin Family Center for Allied Health exemplifies what SCCC offers to its people. We strive for excellence. We hold fast to values of integrity, trust, quality, valuing others, and student success. In these pursuits, we reflect the very character of Southwest Kansas and Oklahoma Panhandle culture. Some call it the “Seward Way.”

With completion of this new structure, SCCC will fuel the ambitions and potential of our students. We will enhance the delivery of cutting-edge classes and technology that makes our institution perpetually relevant. And, we will seal our commitment to life on the High Plains. The Colvin Family Center for Allied Health will enable people to flourish in body and mind, and it will help the region thrive as well.

Please join us Tuesday at 11 a.m. as we mark this historic occasion with a groundbreaking ceremony near the old cottonwood tree, just south of the Cosmetology Building. This site is where, a year from now, future nurses, respiratory therapists, medical lab technologists, surgical techs, and certified nurse aides and phlebotomists will begin their careers. It’s an event worthy of celebration, and the more that join in, the better.

KT02

Dr. Ken Trzaska is the 10th president to lead Seward County Community College, where he maintains a “no door” policy, focuses on collaboration and team-building, works with the SCCC Foundation to lead a $6M capital campaign and campus expansion, and tirelessly advocates for good coffee. Visit his page on our college website to read more of his articles and check out his Top 50 Books Worth Reading. 

 

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November 2018

Looking out for the community at SCCC

Geographically, Kansas lies at the heart of the United States, critically important but often overlooked. National attention rarely comes, unless natural disasters prompt an emergency. In this week’s issue of the “New Yorker” magazine, the writer Ian Frazier shares his experiences on the High Plains after the extreme wildfires of 2017.

The story is long, and familiar if you live in this part of the world. Since I came to Seward County Community College in 2015, I have learned a little bit about tornados, straight line winds, snow that falls “sideways” instead of piling up like it did in the upper peninsula of Michigan, where I lived for several years. I have also learned about the dangers of prairie fires, which are all too common in the area that SCCC serves.

In a nutshell, that ever-present danger to rural communities and family farms is why SCCC partnered with Seward County Fire & Rescue to start a Resident Firefighter program this fall. Rumors around town have suggested that the program is a burden on taxpayers, a free ride for college students.

However, it’s exactly the opposite. The program’s big vision is to equip a new generation of community firefighters who can protect their hometowns, and their neighbors’ homes.

As the economic winds change over time, the real winds never stop. The oil boom and bust cycle, the emergence of new technology that automates process, and the constant struggle to keep young people in the regions means Southwest Kansas and the Oklahoma Panhandle face a dangerous and expensive pair of problems. Wildfires aren’t going to stop, even if the volunteer firefighter crews number nearly nothing. At the same time, staffing fire stations requires money.

Bringing in more personnel and equipment would mean increases in the tax burden far beyond the investment in the new partnership program. In Seward County, the fire and rescue department is a tax-levying entity, which means it can increase the mill levy if necessary. How much better is it to train young, motivated firefighters who are ready and willing to serve for the two years they attend SCCC, and open a pathway for them to stay in the area? To Fire Chief Andrew Barkley, our Vice President of Academics, Dr. Todd Carter, our board of trustees, and me, the answer is clear.

Outsiders like the writers and publishers of the “New Yorker” magazine might find it hard to understand our way of life, but this community continues to impress me with its “can do” spirit and its famous generosity. Instead of watching the formation of our new resident firefighter program at SCCC with grudging suspicion, I hope to see the people of Seward County and the region cheer us on. We want to give back to our communities, and so do our resident firefighters.

As we move forward institutionally and look forward to ground-breaking for the Colvin Family Allied Health Center and, soon after, the Sharp Family Champions Center, the college and the community are poised to flourish. As we near September 2019, and the 50th anniversary of the first set of students to enroll at SCCC, we are anticipating celebration.

Along the way, the everyday work continues. Our Saints athletes in tennis and volleyball are contending at the national level, and men’s and women’s basketball teams are off to a brilliant start. Enrollment is open for spring, and we are eager to welcome students back, and introduce new students to the “Seward County Way.” We were also one the colleges that experienced an increase in overall enrollment this year, a testament to the diligent and collaborative work by our campus team. We were also one of the Kansas colleges that experienced an increase in overall enrollment this year, a testament to the diligent and collaborate work by our full campus team.

It’s often said that there is a time for everything, and we see the truth of that at SCCC. This is a time to build, and, with our resident firefighter program, a time to preserve and protect. When you see those red fire trucks parked on the south edge of campus, you know your community college is looking out for you, now and in the future.

KT02

Dr. Ken Trzaska is the 10th president to lead Seward County Community College, where he maintains a “no door” policy, focuses on collaboration and team-building, works with the SCCC Foundation to lead a $6M capital campaign and campus expansion, and tirelessly advocates for good coffee. Visit his page on our college website to read more of his articles and check out his Top 50 Books Worth Reading. 

 

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January 2019

At SCCC, community and relationships outshine politics

 

With the federal government shutdown and a constant stream of events that prompt all Americans to feel anxious, immigration at the southern border of the U.S. is in the national spotlight. The process of immigration and the making of new citizens is nothing new at Seward County Community College, nor to Liberal and the region we call home. For decades now, Southwest Kansas has seen a steady influx of newcomers.

Partisan politics aside, the ability to extend hospitality and neighborly help is one of the hallmarks of the community. It’s something I’m proud to be part of as a relative newcomer myself. And, as president of SCCC, I take special pride in the role the college plays.

We are a Hispanic Serving Institution, or HSI as the Department of Education calls it. Simply put, that means standard enrollment is made up of at least 25% students who identify as Hispanic. At Seward, our numbers nearly double that rate, which reflects the makeup of the community as a whole in the same way enrollment at USD 480 does.

Our status as an HSI enables us to pursue additional sources of funding through grants and endowments, which in turn benefits all our students and the community. We also qualify to host innovative and impressive partnerships with Kansas State University and the National Science Foundation. Again, students of all ethnicities and races are welcome to take part in the Bridges program for science-related research, and Louis Stokes Alliance research opportunities.

In truth, it is the “first generation” status of most of our Saints that commands more of our attention, rather than hot-button issues that clutter headlines. Whether they are small-town graduates from the rural communities in our service area, or children of immigrants from Mexico and Central America, more than half our students are the first in their family to attend college. That means they bring a unique set of questions, challenges, and strengths to the table. It’s our job to meet them at their point of need, and give them tools to succeed in life

As far as immigration issues are concerned, SCCC provides information and education on a broad array of issues. Immigration is one of them. Sometimes, this takes the form of granting access outside groups to campus for workshops and Q-and-A sessions about the complicated and often intimidating process of becoming a legal citizen. Indeed, our U.S. Citizenship classes, offered every semester through the Business & Industry division, have produced around 500 new citizens over the past decade. I am just as proud of those students as I am when graduates walk across the stage each May to receive their diplomas.

The college’s mission is to equip people to live the best life possible through a variety of educational programs and paths. We regularly engage our students in conversations about health and wellness, including issues related to drug and alcohol use and mental health issues. We encourage voter registration and participation in elections. We strive to create a welcoming atmosphere on campus that values all people, from the Gideons International volunteers who offer free Bibles to our students each year and our student-led “Campus Messenger for Christ” to the HALO club for Hispanic student leadership, and the newest group for students, Circle K — an undergrad society affiliated with the Kiwanis International.

In all these endeavors, we aim to encourage understanding, connection, relationships, and growth. An exciting example of this energy will take place at our first Taste of Kansas potluck meal from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 29. For those new to Liberal, that date is “Kansas Day,” commemorating the entrance of our state into the United States. Our definition of “Kansas Day” food is epitome of inclusiveness: if you live in Kansas, you bring something to the table. We’ll share chicken and noodles with mashed potatoes, South Asian food, baklava, and authentic Mexican dishes prepared by students, employee team members, and friends of the college.

The event is a great way to experience what is best about Liberal, and its very own community college. Other groups can protest, worry, and speak out online as is their right — but here in the heartland, SCCC encourages our community to focus on being good neighbors, and enjoy a meal together.

 

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