Saints Voices

November 16, 2022

The pre-Thanksgiving dinner list for SCCC

The Bennett family has a tradition every year that before we have Thanksgiving dinner we all must verbally explain what we are thankful for. It is has been funny watching the girls grow as it went from comments that they were thankful for their teddy bear to now being thankful for their family. I am thankful for each face around the table — and also thankful that our own table is securely located in our home in Liberal, and that we do not have to weather yet another move with all the packing and unpacking that involves!

In keeping with that practice, I’ve been reflecting on the Saints family’s list of reasons for gratitude. Seward County Community College has so much to be thankful for.

We are so lucky to be in Southwest Kansas to serve the many communities we consider part of ours. Our 11 Outreach high school districts work tirelessly with us to serve the high school students that we count as a valuable part of our college. We are so glad to participate in many smaller-town customs and events, and always feel welcomed when we travel to parades, football games, academic awards, and chamber of commerce festivities.

Here at our campus in Liberal, we are so thankful for the extreme level of support from the community members who travel from near and far to cheer us on. Our athletics programs are the object of envy across the conference and the nation: the Saints have a reputation for incredible fan support in the Greenhouse and even on the road.

The same applies to our concerts, student fundraisers and club events, and academic programs. From the recent popcorn sales by the Saints cheerleaders, to the handmade scented candles sold by the Pathways STEM club students, to the fundraiser for Angels for Animals that our Hispanic Leadership club HALO sponsored, we are always blown away by the positive response from the community.

In a similar vein, we are thankful for the relationships we have built with many organizations in the community. The Liberal Rotary Club, the Kiwanis Club, and the Lions Club all meet on our campus, and we love seeing those members on a regular basis. Special events like the recent Veterans Day panel discussion, co-sponsored by the High Plains Daily Leader and EPIC Communications and SCCC, brought us all together in a show of respect and appreciation for those who served.

So many groups traverse the campus — elementary and middle-school tours, guests at information sessions for agriculture, Allied Health, cosmetology and social work. Nonprofit groups like the Southwest Symphony Society and Rainbow Players. We are thankful for the perspectives they bring and their contributions to a vibrant campus life.

We are thankful for our employees in so many ways. The instructors and staff members who unfailingly support our students. Administrators who tackle tough issues and advocate for the college to be the best it can be. Our board members, who show up for meetings, events, and even travel to state and national gatherings to represent us with class and integrity.

On a more personal note, I’m thankful for the bright moments when we gather together, like the costume party and scavenger hunt at Halloween, the meetings that sometimes end with laughter and good-natured teasing, and unexpected sweet treats, like the Cocoa and Compliments pop-up sponsored by the Human Resources department during the cold weather last week.

We often talk about the family feeling on campus, and it is true. We root for our colleagues when a cancer diagnosis darkens the horizon, and then we celebrate when they return to work. We grieve with those who have lost loved ones. We can’t wait to open the emails that announce a new baby or a big win. I’m thankful every day for this group of people, who are some of the best I’ve met in my time in higher education.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we are thankful for our students who have entrusted us with their education. On our campus, young men and women from more than a dozen countries play on athletic teams, overcome their fear of public speaking, and conquer algebra. Students from all walks of life, income level, and ages, come together to chart new career paths.

When we hear about a successful alumni, we are eager to congratulate them and invite them back to campus to share what they’ve learned with our current Saints. There’s nothing like the feeling of belonging that develops as students work to better themselves and learn more about who they are and what they can achieve.

I hope you too can find a long list of reasons to be thankful this week. And I invite you to become part of the Saints family yourself, as a student, supporter, or Saints athletic fan. You can be sure we will welcome you into the fold.

EDITOR’S NOTE — Brad Bennett is the president of Seward County Community College. This Thanksgiving, his family took a short detour to see Santa at the North Pole (in Colorado), which meant someone else was wearing a Santa suit. He’ll be back in the office this week. You can reach him at brad.bennett@sccc.edu.

November 7, 2022

On Veterans Day and every day, service members deserve our thanks

On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, the Armistice was signed, ending World War I, the “war to end all wars,” as it was known. We know now that phrase was optimistic, and wrong. World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Iraq, along with many more smaller military operations, have called servicemen- and women to combat.

Eventually, Armistice Day was changed officially to Veterans Day to celebrate all of our veterans. Here at Seward County Community College we are proud to support our veterans and are thankful for the sacrifices of our American heroes. This year on Tuesday, Nov. 8, we hosted a panel of Vietnam veterans moderated by Earl Watt and supported by EPIC Communications.

The vision for this event was to bring history to life for our students while honoring the people who served. Many times, the generations that follow times of conflict have only a printed page in a textbook, a website, or a social media post that falls far short of the ideal. It is one thing to hear or read about something that happened to someone else, and something much more powerful to come in contact with firsthand experience.

This week, in the Jesus A. Manriquez Showcase Theater on campus, we heard stories of experiences from before, during, and after the war. Sitting there in the theater, I know I was not the only person to be drawn in to the lives of Ivanhoe Love Jr., Ivan App, Delari George, and Ed Poley. The four men represented unique aspects of military service, from the processes of enlistment to their experiences during deployment. What they all had in common was an abiding sense of patriotism and love of country, as well as the reality of carrying a heavy burden away from the war.

The Vietnam War was particularly ugly part of U.S. history as so many Americans disrespected our heroes for simply doing what our country required them to do. But as our auditorium full of community members and students covering multiple generations watched and listened intently, there was nothing but respect. I saw tears and looks of astonishment and appreciation across the crowd. But above all there was understanding that while, as one of the panelists said, “war is ugly, but is also why we are all here.”

The event was meaningful to me, both as the president of SCCC and as an individual. While I was never in the military, I am a life-long historian and majored in history as my undergrad. I have always tried to learn as much as possible and work hard to pay respect and appreciation to our American heroes. Passing this awareness along to the young adults who are enrolled as students in the Saints family is an important part of my role as a leader, and as a parent to my own children.

Fifteen years ago, I visited the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in 2007. I was taken away by the peace and beauty of the cemetery. The crosses and the Star of David markers all faced west, facing home. The powerful silence in that place remains clear in my mind. We have a duty to keep the memory of such sacrifices alive. And to pass that awareness along to the generations that follow us.

As we remember and pay respect to our veterans and servicemen and women this week and we think about all the sacrifices that have been made I challenge you to pay your respects and teach your children about the history of our country.

Many thanks to Earl Watt and the High Plains Leader and Times, and most importantly to the four veterans who were willing to revisit a part of their lives that contained pain and darkness. Their ability to share memories and observations about the cost of freedom is one that does not come cheap. We are forever grateful.

WWP_BradSCCC_01EDITOR’S NOTE — Brad Bennett is the president of Seward County Community College, and an unashamed patriot and history buff; just ask his grade-school daughters about the word “armistice.” You can contact him at brad.bennett@sccc.edu

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November 1, 2022

Saints — and goats — are back home on the farm at SCCC

Seward County Community College is in the heart of ag country. Western Kansas has more cows than we do people, so ag — whether you call it farming or ranching — is who we are and what we do. That goes a long way to explain why we’re so excited about the revitalization of our agriculture program. 

Last spring we made the decision to bring back livestock judging and focus on building our ag program. In previous years, the SCCC livestock judging teams were highly competitive and brought back enough trophies to fill a couple cases. We have a tradition of excellence in that area, but, like a lot of ag folks in the region, had wondered over the years if we should shift our focus to other specialties and approaches. At the same time, various factors in the economy and state and national policies did what they always do, shifting and changing.

Some things stay the same, however. I believe to have a quality ag program you have to have livestock judging. With the hiring two new ag instructors, Rachael Sirek-Milashoski and Will Milashoski, we gained a tremendous amount of knowledge and experience in this area. Having grown up in rural Illinois, both of them understand the ups and downs that small operators have to weather. They also bring a level of enthusiasm and grit to the prospect of restoring our ag program to the glory it once was. 

They are not the only ones pitching in. SCCC Welding Instructor Jerad Nobles, a farm boy himself, has joined in with his years of experience. The entire biofuels team, which brings together instructors and students from agriculture, industrial tech, and even the business division, is also involved in growing soybeans and converting them into liquid fuel. 

A few weeks ago, as part of our campus clean-up day, around 30 employees focused on the ag area, collecting trash, removing old fence materials, and just plain doing chores where chores needed to be done. It was a good feeling to get our campus looking its best, and to do it as a team.

But where, as the old commercial asked, is the beef? Or at least the animals? No cattle have arrived on campus, but we have welcomed goats. They were a big hit at the Halloween Spook-tacular Trunk or Treat event for children. If you have to choose between collecting candy and petting an adorable, fuzzy goat — at least if you are some children — you might have a hard time deciding. The goats were popular, to say the least. 

The program itself is also growing. We aim to have 40 ag students enrolled by fall 2023, and we are well on the way with more than a dozen committed already. Will and Rachael represented Seward at the national Future Farmers of American conference in Indiana last month, an event that is attended by around 10,000 high school students. This week, they headed to Hutchinson for a high school expo that draws a crowd of 5,000. 

We’re also counting on our Saints alumni, former livestock judging team champions, and ag program supporters in the community to spread the word. Seward County Community College is still staking a claim on ag education, livestock judging, and a prosperous future for the region. 

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EDITOR’S NOTE — Brad Bennett is the president of Seward County Community College. While he is no farmer, he knows how to fish, handle a chain saw, and even scoop up the stray snake that slithers into his back yard. Contact him at brad.bennett@sccc.edu.

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October 25, 2022

Keeping an award-winning campus beautiful, one trash bag at a time

Clean-up is the name of the game on our campus! Our Saints family has worked hard since April on cleaning out different aspects of campus. We’ve “reclaimed” the northeast corner of campus, where a shelter belt provided a wind trap for trash and debris. Now it’s more attractive and safer for the many students and community members who use our connection trail system to walk to shopping destinations.

We continue to sort through storage and have been listing old items at the online auction site Purple Wave. There’s no reason to let old equipment age on campus when it is possible to clear out space and make good use of our resources at the same time. This approach is ongoing.

Now we are turning our attention to our old dorms, which for your years have become a catch-all for storage. I was walking some parents across campus the other day and having a wonderful conversation. The father of one of our students asked me what that building was used for.  After a long pause, I explained that was an old dorm that we now use for storage. 

He nodded his head but I could tell by his long face he was thinking “What in the world?!” The building is close to the heart of campus, near the current student living center and the student union. And he was absolutely right, why do we have an old building for the purpose of a catch-all? There is not a good answer, even when we consider the COVID pandemic, changes in leadership, and the real (but not THAT pressing) need for storage.

This is our next clean-up project as we look at repurposing this building and making it a critical part of our campus. An initial consultation with architects revealed encouraging news. The dorm would cost more to tear down than it would to repurpose, and it is possible to make use of the structure for a reasonable cost. We are still exploring possibilities and needs, but it is a step in the right direction and one we intend to take.

SCCC has several major expansion projects completed or near the finish line. The Colvin Family Center for Allied Health has been up and running for more than a year and continues to provide a beautiful and functional site for training future health occupations professionals. The Sharp Family Champions Center is being finished, with contractors installing restrooms and interior fixtures. And our new Grain Elevator Operator site is coming together, as is the biofuels lab and our renewed agriculture and livestock judging program. 

I know clean-up is not exciting, but it’s important as we prepare for even more new initiatives. The prospect of the CDL/truck driving expansion is near, and will occupy some of the space that we have focused on. The “old dorms” is slated for the next big push, starting with — no surprise — cleaning out the rooms that have been filled with miscellaneous items and old equipment. 

Seward County Community College has such a beautiful campus. It’s one of the most well-constructed and landscaped in the state, and even won an architectural award when it was first built. Fifty-two years later,  we are increasingly “taking ownership” and making sure that we show the best version of our campus every single day.

WWP_BradSCCC_01EDITOR’S NOTE: Brad Bennett is the president of Seward County Community College. He is in New York City this week for a community college conference, and is certain that SCCC has the Big Apple beat in terms of everyday maintenance and pride. Reach out to him at brad.bennett@sccc.edu. 

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October 18, 2022

It’s that time of year …. Saints basketball is coming soon

While we are in the midst of a conference championship race in volleyball, and celebrating our first national champion women’s single with Carol Mora’s ITA National Championship last week, we are also gearing up for basketball season.

That’s life in the Saints universe — the wins come so fast and furious, it is hard to keep up with what’s next!

Men’s and women’s basketball scrimmages are already occurring, and the home opener for our men is just 12 days away with women’s basketball taking the court shortly after that.

We are excited to see the Saints hit the hardwood. It is always a great sight as Saints fans make their way to the Greenhouse across our beautiful campus. Evening comes earlier, the campus is lit up in the crisp air, and our fall foliage coming into full effect. The smell of freshly popped popcorn, the sounds of fans talking about this year’s teams, and then the sounds and excitement of the game: it all comes together to create a signature Saints experience.

One aspect of basketball at SCCC is that it often provides women’s and men’s sports to be played back to back on the same day, providing over four hours of excitement. And, with a storied history that includes a national championship and many seasons of conference dominance, we always feel that thrill of excitement about what this season may bring.

The preseason rankings came out this week and while our women are not ranked (something I doubt will last long) our men hold a preseason ranking of 16th. After checking in on practice for both teams I think we will see two very exciting teams hit the court each night. All in all it’s a great day to be a Saint!

Fall is not only about basketball, of course. As October winds down, we’re looking forward to resuming a popular fall tradition on campus: kids and candy. Pre-pandemic, SCCC hosted “Trick or Treat Street” in the student union, with campus clubs and organizations hosting carnival-style game booths. This year, we’re moving the fun out to the pumpkin patch, where agriculture students continue to cultivate the favorite of fall flavors. As in the past, this Halloween event will provide a safe, fun setting for young kids in costume, along with the feeling of an outdoor fall festival.

Join us on campus on Halloween night, next Monday, Oct. 31., 6-8 p.m., at the Agriculture buildings on the northeast side of campus — just across from the French Family Softball Complex.

The next day, of course, will be our first-ever SCCC Candy Buy-Back, at 5 p.m. in the Hobble Building. I will be paying $1 per pound of candy donated by children who have too much sugar to realistically eat and enjoy it all. The candy collected will go to U.S. military service members.

As we wrap up the second half of this fall semester, it’s not too early to look ahead to spring 2023. Enrollment for spring classes will open at the end of October. While SCCC’s enrollment remained steady for the fall, we would love to see a jump in numbers as students continue to return to the routine of in-person classes and campus events. It is truly never too late to follow your dreams, and with 46 programs available, we are committed to helping you pursue yours. Stop by campus to visit with an admissions counselor, register for classes, or even talk to an advisor to map out your own plan for success.

Until then, we welcome you to campus to cheer on our amazing student athletes, pick up a sweet treat or two, and then pay it forward with a care package for our military servicemen- and women. At SCCC, we’re all about making life a little sweeter and more successful for everyone who makes up our community.

WWP_BradSCCC_01EDITOR’S NOTE: Brad Bennett is the president of Seward County Community College, and willing to go head-to-head with our mascot, Louie the Saint, for bragging rights as the Saints’ biggest fan. You can catch up with him in the Greenhouse bleachers, or email at brad.bennett@sccc.edu.

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October 11, 2022

It’s a frog, it’s the Big Bad Wolf, it’s … the college president!

Halloween has traditionally been a time for kids (and some adults) to try out a different identity with a fun costume. It’s all in good fun, and nobody expects us to carry the costume over into real life. I’m not sure what the Seward County Community College employees would think if their president showed up at work dressed as The Big Bad Wolf from Red Riding Hood, or a Frog.

On Halloween, though, it’s a different story at the Bennett house. Lindsay and I committed to dressing up with the girls for Halloween as long as they wanted us. With MaryBelle being 9, and Madeline already 7, I know these moments are limited so I wear these silly and sometimes embarrassing costumes with great pride as my duty of being a “Girl Dad.” None of us is able to plan ahead in terms of who our children will be, or what being their parents will require. It is one of those surprises that life delivers to us, and something I value highly.

At SCCC, we are constantly watching our students go through a somewhat similar process — figuring out the basics of who they are, what they want to do, and how they plan to move forward as self-supporting adults. Sure, this happens partly in the classroom and the advising session. Students might come into college thinking they want to be doctors or lawyers, only to realize they don’t like classroom science enough to absorb eight more years of it. Or they might arrive with the idea that their love of working on cars is “just a hobby” and something less important than putting on a suit and tie for a 9-to-5 job. We love the moments when they discover there is room in adult life for all kinds of interests and pursuits, and sometimes the “big money” is achievable with a technical certificate.

But all learning does not take place in the academic world. We also strive to create a fun engaging culture for all. October has provided plenty of opportunities for students to engage with real-world issues in a way that connects to their current pursuits. The volleyball team will “dig pink” with a show of support for breast cancer survivors and fundraising at this Friday’s game. Later this month we will co-host a color run on campus with Liberal Area Rape Crisis/Domestic Violence Service to bring awareness to domestic violence, its signs and prevention.

Our employees will also be busy all month helping local and area high school students fill out the federal application for financial aid, a form fondly known as FAFSA. Look for their friendly faces at area “Apply Kansas” nights, or stop by campus to schedule a help session.

As Halloween draws near, the college will also host our first-ever Candy Buy Back. This event is a triple win, and it’s scheduled for Nov. 1. I will be paying $1 per pound for wrapped, kid-collected Halloween candy. The candy will then be boxed and sent to our troops. The idea is to reduce the amount the candy our little ones are consuming by giving them a fun alternative while showing our love and support for our troops.

Paying kids $1 a pound for their Halloween candy is a triple win. You solve the problem of too much sugar and all the health and behavior issues that can lead to, introduce entrepreneurship in everyday life, and you support our military. It is — Dad joke warning — a sweet setup.  The Candy Buy Back will occur from 5-6 p.m. in the student union outside of the bookstore.

We have a new committee on our campus which has the purpose of improving employee recognition and increasing morale. So, we will also be hosting our first-ever employee Halloween Party on the afternoon of Oct. 31. I’ve heard it will include games, a scavenger hunt, and work-appropriate costume contest. When you work as hard as our team does, it’s important to make time for team-building and fun as well. I have not yet revealed what my family-designed Halloween role will be this year, and I cannot promise to attend the party in costume. But I will provide pictures after the fact.

And I will be on campus  — as myself —  the day after for the Candy Buy Back.  I hope to collect 100 pounds, minimum.

WWP_BradSCCC_01EDITOR’S NOTE: Brad Bennett is the president of Seward County Community College and has not yet revealed to the public what he will be for Halloween. Hint: maybe he won’t tell because he is without a heart. Email him at brad.bennett@sccc.edu.

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September 28, 2022

Fall brings some of the same, some of the new

Fall arrived last week, the SCCC Foundation Auction hit record numbers, and we’re almost halfway through the semester. When people say time flies, I guess this is what they mean. 

Here at Seward County Community College, we are all enjoying the cooler temperatures and the feeling of fall. More than that, it’s amazing to feel a sense of normal life after two very strange years. 

During the pandemic, we heard a lot of conversation about what the “new normal” would look like, and how everything was going to be different in key ways. Like most predictions, this had a little bit of truth and a whole lot of active imagination. If I had to make a list of what’s “Old Normal” and what’s “New Normal,” I think it would probably come out even. 

In the Saints world, “Old Normal” things this year have included:

  • Student clubs and activities. Our campus organizations are meeting regularly and sponsoring activities for their peers and the community. This week, the Hispanic American Leadership Organization welcomed Liberal City Commissioner and proud Saints alum Janeth Vazquez as a guest speaker. The club has also sponsored a blood drive and is collecting donations for the Liberal Animal Shelter. 
  • On Wednesday, the campus club Messengers for Christ gathered around the flagpole for a sunrise prayer meeting. The global student morning of prayer is something that local school groups in USD 480 observed as well, and provided a meaningful point of connection for the Saints who participated. 
  • Saints Booster Club is showing healthy growth and people are enjoying the monthly get-togethers at local restaurants after a long hiatus. We are always glad to see our fans in the Greenhouse, and it’s a pleasure to meet and greet them at social events as well.
  • In-person classes continue to serve students on campus. Over the last year, we saw a renewed commitment from faculty and students who had missed having face-to-face interactions, group discussions in an actual room, and hands-on projects. 
  • Moments that bring people together are possible once again. For example, students in Stan Sanko’s automotive technology class pitched in to perform a quick minor repair job for new agriculture instructor Rachael Sirek-Milashoski — and in return, she showed up with donuts the next morning. That Saints solidarity is what makes this campus special, and we love seeing it live and in action. 

So what is “New Normal” at SCCC? The pandemic taught us a lot of hard and sometimes frustrating lessons. We are still reflecting on the lessons we learned. New things we’re still absorbing include:

  • The crazy new job market our graduates will enter (or are entering now, as most SCCC students work at least part-time). It’s no secret that employers are scrambling to attract people to fill jobs, and this changes the landscape for young adults. They can now be more selective about the jobs they accept, they expect higher wages, and they are not afraid to advocate for themselves. SCCC’s responsibility is still to equip them for the workforce, and to address these new issues.
  • The same job market factors influence our own campus community of faculty and staff. There are several instructor positions that remain open, and we’ve embarked on a campus-wide discussion about the pay structure at SCCC. This is never an easy conversation, and I appreciate the PEA representatives and salary task force members who are contributing their time to this important issue. 
  • We continue to cultivate outside funding sources, as the state of Kansas makes adjustments to how community colleges are supported. Over the past two years, our grant writer Charity Horinek has succeeded in obtaining $3 million in grant money. The recent SCCC Foundation Auction raised nearly $100,000 in one evening, thanks to our amazing community donors. Several entities and individuals took advantage of the Kansas Tax Credit opportunity that opened earlier this fall. These are all important steps in the direction of local and regional philanthropy. 
  • Online course offerings continue to grow on our campus. While many students prefer face-to-face teaching, just as many need the flexibility of online instruction. We have expanded our online course offerings, and after the pandemic, we have seen all our instructors embrace the online platform with greater skill. We expect this will continue. 

One of the most comforting things in life is the way seasons change and we see cycles in nature and in our own families and friends as the years go by. The college is no different. We are enjoying the season we are currently in, and look forward to many more to come. 

WWP_BradSCCC_01EDITOR’S NOTE — Brad Bennett is president of Seward County Community College. He is already bracing himself for this year’s Halloween costume as selected by his wife and daughters — here’s hoping he doesn’t have to dress up as a frog for two small princesses. You can reach him at brad.bennett@sccc.edu. 

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September 21, 2022

Hispanic Heritage Month is for all of the Saints family

Hispanic Heritage Month 2022 began on September 15 and runs through October 15. It’s a big deal for us at Seward County Community College. Hispanic heritage is so important to our students and the community we serve. Being federally designated as a Hispanic Serving Institution, it is at the core of what we do and who we are.

But our relationship to Hispanic Heritage is about more than celebration. It must involve a deep understanding, and a commitment to include voices from the Hispanic community — which we need to view as also our community — in the conversations that drive change and make decisions.

To get to this point, we have to “do our own work,” as people often say. For instance, I am not a person of Hispanic origin, and so I am aware that there is a lot I don’t know. Instead of relying on my impressions of what Hispanic culture is, or my own life experiences, I need to ask a lot of questions. I need to be willing to notice when I am putting myself in the focus point instead of focusing on the students around me or the employees who are Hispanic and have insights I am likely to miss.

Obviously, learning more about Hispanic culture involves more than just enjoying our amazing local restaurants from Mexico and other Latin-American cuisines or knowing how to say “gracias!” I hope that our Saints family can continue to work harder on this skill set and get better. We have already made a great start.

Over the past few months, the college has been hard at work to form its new strategic plan for the next three years. Several parts of this process reflect the desire to be diverse and inclusive, especially in regard to the Hispanic population. We set up focus groups to gather information, and besides including one specifically for Spanish-speaking community members, we also invited Hispanic-identifying individuals and groups to take part in multiple sessions, including our Full Strategic Team.

In the end, everything the college does is focused on student success, which eventually translates into community-building. With a lot of our students in the “Gen Z” category, we know that this age group needs a direct, personal involvement in order to buy in to pretty much anything. They have to believe in a thing personally, see that it impacts them, and have a sense of ownership and investment if they are going to dive in and get involved.

With that in mind, it’s amazing to see the revamped and re-energized HALO club on campus. HALO (which stands for Hispanic American Leadership Organization) is a national group that works to empower Hispanic American youth with community service, training, and a sense of belonging. Our HALO club was sponsored for more than a decade by retired Saint Patsy Fischer and the late Frances Brown. For most people, HALO might be what they associate with the American Red Cross blood drives on campus. It’s a vital service to the greater community in Seward County.

This fall, SCCC employees Erika Espinoza and Karla Morales Escarcega took on sponsorship of HALO, and immediately recruited more than 50 members. It’s clear that our Gen Z students do indeed have a sense of personal connection and ownership. The club has big plans to get involved in campus life, seek out training and student-support programs, and, of course, continue those blood drives.

We are so grateful to Erika and Karla for mentoring and encouraging the students in HALO. And, we can’t wait to see what results as the students progress through college and leadership development.

One of the goals Dr. Todd Carter focused on when he served at SCCC was the idea that Hispanic students shouldn’t have to give up their sense of cultural pride in order to succeed — they shouldn’t have to “be more Anglo” in order to get good grades, be seen as intelligent, or find high-status jobs. We continue to build on those ideas, with a personal twist: those of us who are Anglo, while also keeping a sense of cultural pride, should do our part to get to know and appreciate our Hispanic friends and neighbors, especially within the Saints family.

In the end, we are all in it for the long run, and Saints stick together. So, during Hispanic Heritage Month, along with the jalapeno-eating contest, the great meals, and the programs designed to honor Hispanic-Americans of excellence, I hope we will all learn a little bit more.

Go Saints!  ¡Adelante, Santos!

WWP_BradSCCC_01Editor’s Note — Brad Bennett is the president of Seward County Community College, where the goal is to be a little better every day. He cannot promise to apply this rule to the jalapeno-eating contest, but just about everything else is eligible. You can reach him at brad.bennett@sccc.edu. 

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September 14, 2022

Don’t miss the SCCC Fall Festival Party Auction this weekend

Doing some good in the world is really important, but many times it does not feel good when you are in the process. When we volunteer our time, contribute to research or charitable groups, we are, quite honestly, giving up something else. Maybe it’s a weekend trip to attend a concert, or that new pair of shoes you’ve had your eye on.

This weekend is different, because the Seward County Community College Foundation Auction is scheduled. And it is the best opportunity you will have this year to do good AND have a good time simultaneously. Just so you don’t miss the details, here they are:

  • Saturday, Sept. 17
  • 6 p.m. (doors open)
  • Seward County Activity Center (near the fairgrounds)
  • Buy your entrance wristband IN ADVANCE for $20
  • Call 620-417-1135 or visit the site scccfoundation.org to purchase

If you want to include dinner in your plans for the evening, there’s a fantastic option on site, as the owners of El Pastorcito and El Casa del Pastor will be catering both Mexican and Italian entrees for $10 per person. The meal includes a dessert buffet provided by Great Western Dining. As always, the beer, wine, and soft drink beverages are included with the wristband entrance price and do not require separate purchase.

This is the 28th year the SCCC foundation has sponsored the auction. Even though life throws curve balls (like a global pandemic) and changes (new faces in offices), the SCCC auction has figured out how to put on a great evening that provides a wonderful opportunity to make a difference in a student’s life.

Often these scholarships provide opportunities for students to seek a higher education that students would not otherwise have. If you no longer live “close to the bone,” juggling paychecks and bill deadlines,, you might have lost touch with how it feels to be in that position. Then again, inflation has forced all of us to tighten our belts and think twice about some purchases.

Please don’t let that stop you from participating in the auction with enthusiasm and your wallet. The students who receive these scholarships need the help. They need it not just for financial reasons — which are very real — but they also need it so they can believe it is possible to get a college degree. Like anyone entering a strange new environment, our first-generation students often wonder if higher education is open to them. A scholarship communicates that yes, they belong here, yes, it is possible, and yes, we are going to be behind you all the way to graduation.

If that doesn’t make a person feel good on the giving and receiving end, I can’t think of anything that would! But that is exactly what the auction does every year. It brings our community together for one common reason: to fundraise for the betterment of our students and the communities we serve.

The betterment I am talking about will also show up in surprising ways for the folks who buy auction items. When you are at our house and I am asked, “Hey, where did you get that?” 99 percent of the time my response is “At a foundation auction.” My wife Lindsay and I believe in supporting these events. We try to donate items that we feel are a little different and will bring some interest from our audience.

Lindsay puts her belief to work, too. She has made a pie a month for a foundation since 2008. This year is no different as we attend our first SCCC foundation auction, and her “Homemade Pie a Month for a Year” item is on the live auction block. Trust me when I say you don’t want to pass it by.

We are excited to experience the auction in person. Although not here physically here last year, we still supported by donating football tickets and even bought a few items through a friend who agreed to place bids on our behalf.

As we look toward Saturday night our auction items are up cash donations have increased and we are so excited for an evening of friendship, laughter and most importantly supporting our students.

It truly is the best night of the year.

WWP_BradSCCC_01EDITOR’S NOTE — Brad Bennett is the SCCC President and looks forward to outbidding friends and neighbors this Saturday at the 28th annual SCCC Foundation Party Auction. If you outbid him, he guarantees he won’t be a sore loser.

•••

September 7, 2022

Green for Good2

September is for suicide prevention

At SCCC and across the nation, let’s get rid of mental health stigma

For most of us, the “Top 10” lists we keep in mind are positive — the best birthday, the biggest surprise, and so on. I am betting you don’t spend a lot of time remembering the worst day of your life or the toughest time you went through, but I am also pretty sure that kind of a list would include events from the early years of adulthood. 

It’s not easy being the age that we see on campus at Seward County Community College. The late teens and early 20s are a time for finding out who you are and what you want to do with your life. It’s a time when you have a lot of questions and problems that seem bigger than anything you have experienced before. 

That is probably why mental health is such a big topic on campuses. That is especially true in September, which is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month (or SPAM, which is not a great acronym, I will admit). 

You already know that I am a numbers and data guy, so I will share the statistics with you:

  • Suicide was the twelfth leading cause of death overall in the United States, claiming the lives of over 45,900 people.
  • Suicide was the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10-14 and 25-34 , the third leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 15-24, and the fourth leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 35 and 44.
  • There were nearly two times as many suicides (45,979) in the United States as there were homicides (24,576).
  • Among adults across all age groups, the prevalence of suicide attempt in the past year was highest among young adults 18-25 years old (1.9%).

Here in rural America, it is easy to think that these national statistics are skewed by more urban parts of the country. But Kansas falls right in the middle of the trend, just like we are right in the middle of the country. We are not the worst in terms of suicide risk, but we are also not the best. 

For SCCC, any number is too high. We value each of our students, which is a driving force in many of the projects we tackle. Our thinking is, if an outreach effort or public campaign saves even one student life, it is worthwhile. 

Preventing suicide starts with education. Good thing we are an institution of higher learning! If you are concerned about SCCC Saints at risk for suicide, keep reading. 

According to social researchers, grief, isolation and fear caused by the COVID-19 pandemic are part of the picture. Over the last decade, other pressures on this young generation have been rising. The op reasons for suicide include depression, anxiety, and other mental health challenges; substance abuse; exposure to violence, abuse, or other trauma; social isolation and loneliness; losing a family member to death or through divorce; financial or job loss; relationship conflicts; starting or changing psychotropic medications; feeling singled out or stigmatized; not having a support system.

A college cannot address all these complicated factors, but we are able to do several powerful things. This column is one of the best. We can take away the stigma of talking about mental health and suicidal thoughts. Counselors and psychologists have confirmed that talking about suicide does not “put the idea into people’s minds.” In fact, the silence around mental health challenges can make them worse, causing the person who is suffering to feel shame. 

This month, SCCC is rolling out a campaign titled “Green for Good” on campus. The goal is to educate our students, staff, and faculty about suicide risks, signs, and interventions. People who participate can pick up a Seward Green bandana and a resource card so that they can show they care to anyone who is struggling. Sometimes, all it takes is a smile and a short conversation to create a connection, and the connection turns into a life-changing moment. 

Partnerships with Southwest Guidance Center, the Liberal Area Rape Crisis / Domestive Violence Service, Liberal Area Coalition for Families, and the KU COPE program are providing the expertise we need to tackle this issue with confidence. These groups are already providing medical, mental health, and other assistance to community members, and SCCC is proud to stand with them in their efforts. 

We can’t end the conversation without mentioning one exciting new development: the 988 suicide prevention line, which is available everywhere and makes it a little easier to reach out for help in a crisis. If you don’t feel qualified to intervene in a crisis, you can remember this number and help others be aware. This is the shortcut to the traditional 1-800-273-TALK (8255) line that still operates as well.

We often say “Go Green” and “Saints Strong” to express our pride in the Saints community. “Green for Good” goes one step further, and reminds us that every person matters in the long run, and makes our Saints family an enduring force for good. 

WWP_BradSCCC_01EDITOR’S NOTE — Brad Bennett is the president of Seward County Community College, part-time regional parade participant and landscape detailer on campus. You can reach him at brad.bennett@sccc.edu or by calling 620-417-1010.  

•••

August 31, 2022

Small changes make big difference on campus

Looking at SCCC facilities with an eye for the future

When it comes to people, you often hear the phrase, “Grow or die.” That’s a pretty extreme way to promote a growth mindset and lifelong learning. It even sounds a little threatening. But it’s not wrong.

The equivalent for buildings might be “Improve or decay.” Between the natural elements of temperature, erosion, and weather, and the toll daily use can take on a doorway, for instance, it’s no surprise when things start to look a little shabby or creak when opened. Apply that process to the multiple structures that make up Seward County Community College, and you can see we have our work cut out for us.

The idea of improvement is front and center on campus these days. Like much of the world the campus stood still during the pandemic. Walking toward the Hobble Building or across the parking lot, it can feel a little bit like returning after a long absence.

From my point of view, there is the added angle of switching careers and then landing back where I belong. When you come back to a familiar place, sometimes you notice things that you had gotten used to — faded paint or a broken fence post. Most of us have experienced that when revisiting a childhood home or school. Things look smaller, and they are usually not improved by time — unless they are still in use and being cared for with intention.

That’s a big part of what is driving changes on the Seward County Community College campus, where we are in full-on, catch-up mode.

It’s amazing what a difference small changes can make. For example, the north- and south-facing doors on the newer wing of the Hobble Academic Building were recently painted with a fresh coat of Seward green. The vibrant color pops out against the bricks, and you can’t help but feel a little burst of Saints spirit when you enter the building.

Indoors, we are in the process of replacing worn carpet and flooring across campus. Some of this updates faded or worn-out materials. At the top of the list is the SCCC Library, which is slated for fresh paint and new carpet. The process has already begun with improvements to a large supply closet that is being converted to the SaintsUP food and essentials pantry for students.

Another high-traffic, high-demand area is the second-floor conference rooms in the student union. It’s not just our students who use this space, but the wider community as well. Civic groups routinely hold meetings in our “SW” and “SU” building and take advantage of the catering services provided by Great Western Dining.

On the one hand, our thrifty Midwestern ways can stop us from making improvements that might seem superficial. But it’s important to look at those environments with the question in mind, “Does this represent who we are?” — both as a college and a community. I will just put it out there, the wallpaper in the conference rooms has served its useful life with honor, but it is no longer who we are, and it’s going to be replaced.

A first wave of new signage has been installed on our campus with more to follow, the parking lot is being repainted, and roofs are being fixed. Clean-up days will continue. As I joked to one of our new employees, Athletic Coordinator of Operations & Eligibility Preston Caldwell, “Welcome to higher ed! Sometimes pulling weeds is what we do!” Give him credit, he pitched in with a smile.

My mom used to say that you can’t eat an elephant overnight and this how I currently see our campus. It is going to take several years to catch up on these projects and more, but as long as we are making continuous improvements, we are far from the danger zone of decay.

WWP_BradSCCC_01EDITOR’S NOTE — Brad Bennett is leader of the weed-pulling, trash-collecting volunteer squad on campus. When he’s not coordinating clean-up, he serves as the 13th president of Seward County Community College. 

•••

August 24, 2022

SCCC, the definition of what college is supposed to be

When I first came to western Kansas as a teacher at Colby Community College I was surprised as the environment did not feel like a “community college” in the way that I was used to. I’m not sure where I got the idea that community college was somehow less than four-year college. Maybe it was the old label “junior college” that was stuck in my mind.

Like a lot of people, I probably picked up stereotypes about the community college experience — images that had to do with not being smart enough or wealthy enough or ambitious enough to go far away from a hometown, and instead “settling” for something easier.

By now, I know how wrong I was. My experiences at Colby quickly removed those misconceptions. Like peer community colleges across Kansas, and Seward County Community College, the atmosphere there had nothing “junior” about it.

The classes were tough and engaging. I know, because I taught some of them, and I had to step up to the examples set by my fellow instructors. This is the mode of operations at Seward, especially this year, when we have two executive team members, Vice President of Academic Affairs Luke Dowell and me, teaching in the classroom, along with the occasional dean or division director. It gives us all appreciation for our full-time faculty, who handle a much larger course load than a single class.

I also discovered the intense loyalty and buy-in that community college student athletic programs generate. In many public appearances and faculty and staff meetings, I’ve told the story of how, no matter how happy I was during my 13 years at Colby, I always felt a little envious of the Saints’ community support.

When I arrived in Liberal, I found out for myself what it means to “bleed green.” I am still amazed at how much enthusiasm and hands-on help the people in our community provide. I see families welcome student-athletes to their homes, going out of their way to provide hot meals and a sense of family. At Saints athletics home games, our fans are the best in our conference, bar none. We see retirees, third-generation families, even babies wearing Saints gear. It’s incredible, and encouraging, and a constant source of pride for us all.

If it was possible to send a message to the younger Brad Bennett, I would reassure him that there’s nothing second rate about the community colleges of Kansas. And there’s a lot to learn from the students who are here. They are smart. They are hungry for knowledge and opportunity. Most of our Saints are by no means wealthy, and that’s part of what motivates them to learn time management skills and soldier on when the semester becomes a struggle. How else will they put in the hours at their full-time jobs, their full class schedule, and their family obligations? They already know how to work, and they are determined to do right by their parents and siblings, spouses and chilren. They are so aware of those who have sacrificed so much to get them to this point and they plan to make them proud. The last time I checked, that is the definition of ambition.

All those feelings and the lessons that created them are alive and strong as we enter the second week of school. I walk across campus and see everything that makes a college experience real and life-changing. Athletics are kicking off. Student events are happening all over campus. The dorms are loud with laughter.

Community colleges in Kansas provide such a wonderful opportunity for our students and community. Here at Seward, students become a highly valued part of an all-encompassing campus that provides them with one-on-one educational resources to work-ready technical programs to transfer degrees. It’s the best of both worlds, based on the personal connections that make rural America the classic source of character development, work ethic, and civic engagement.

At the same time it’s the local equivalent of a small university or liberal arts college. Students can explore a wide variety of subjects, interests, extracurricular projects and clubs. We care about excellence; after all, quality is one of our core values. But we’re not interested in elitism or competition that crushes beginners and weeds out people who haven’t yet had an opportunity to develop their ability to speak in public, or sing in a choir, or create art, or shine on the quiz bowl team.

There’s room for everyone; in fact, there’s a sense that we need everyone to make it all work smoothly.

That’s what community is all about. It’s what makes a college of excellence, regardless of the size or location.

WWP_BradSCCC_01EDITOR’S NOTE — Brad Bennett is the president of Seward County Community College. He recently attended the council of presidents for Kansas community college and he won’t hesitate to tell his peers that he has the best job of them all. Just the facts. You can reach him at brad.bennett@sccc.edu. 

•••

August 17, 2022

Despite time, teaching basics stay the same

Intro to Business brings president back to classroom

On Monday I left the SCCC President’s office and stepped back into the classroom for the first time since 2015. Seven years is a long time to stay away from something you genuinely enjoy. When Deedee Flax, chair of the ag, business, and personal services division told me that we needed an instructor for the “Introduction to Business” class, I saw an opportunity to return. I said “yes” in my head before she even finished asking whether I’d be interested.

Intro to Business is a class I taught for years. Stepping in for the fall semester would help the college, our instructors, and — most important — give me a direct connection to the students we serve. 

Sunday night I found myself checking the time on and off throughout the night even though I have never needed an alarm clock — I am up early every morning. I was filled with excitement, and honestly, I also felt a little nervous. Did I remember how to teach? How much had students changed in the past seven years? Would I find a way to connect with them? 

Just think of everything that happened since 2015. Back then, being a vegan was a strange choice nobody really understood. Streaming music and video was still a fairly new concept. Disney Plus didn’t even exist. Remote work and online school were also in their earliest stages. Nobody talked about a “gig” economy unless they worked in the performing arts. Tesla introduced its first electric car, and on a much smaller scale, people were excited to explore the hoverboard. 

The students in my Intro to Business class would have been starting high school in 2017. Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity Wars were the biggest box-office hits their sophomore year, and by 2020, A$AP Rocky and Rihanna were a couple. I had to Google these facts because I was still a fairly new parent during this time period. I was not watching YouTube videos. 

But some things don’t really change. Teaching is all about relationships and sharing what you know. A few hours later, as my classroom began to fill before 8 a.m. on Monday morning it all started coming back to me. 

I have three rules in my class: separate yourself from your cell phone; show up; and be ready to have fun and be creative. These rules actually work well in nearly any work or social situation, though I have to admit separating from the cell phone is a challenge. 

While teaching a class does add extra work to my daily duties as president and I find myself prepping late at night after the girls go to bed, I’m still feeling the excitement that comes with a new year and a classroom full of new students. What an honor! 

Like all the instructors at Seward, I hope to have a small impact on my students. I want to share some of the knowledge and experiences I have collected, and encourage them to forge their own path. This is true on the industrial tech side of campus, where instructors share stories of work in the oil field, the auto shop, and on the farm, offering real-life perspective. It’s also true in Allied Health, Agriculture, Cosmetology, Business — what we refer to as CTE or Career Technical Education tracks of study. 

When it comes to the gen-ed classes, or what I often think of as the “liberal arts” component of SCCC, students encounter the usual, sometimes scary subjects like English composition, college algebra, chemistry, public speaking, U.S. government. The difference here is that we meet our students at their point of need, intervene skillfully, and provide a whole menu of options to help them learn in the way that works for them. And, if they have a passion for a specialty, there’s freedom for them to explore with enthusiastic support. 

One of the most frequent comments we hear from graduates of SCCC is that it’s the personal touch that makes us stand out. It’s not just the small class sizes, it’s also the caring instructors and the campus-wide commitment to student success. It’s easy to talk about this quality of Saints culture, but getting in the classroom provides a direct line to how and why our reputation rests on this unique value. 

The added benefit for me is that teaching creates a portal for me to see the life of SCCC through the eyes of students. Surveys and focus groups are valuable tools for gathering data about the student experience. Cross-campus communication is something we are always working to improve. But there’s nothing like getting to know our students and hearing them express what works, what doesn’t, and how it all connects to their hopes and dreams. 

All in all, it feels great to be back in school once again. 

WWP_BradSCCC_01EDITOR’S NOTE — Most days, “Prof Brad” can be found in the President’s Office in Hobble Academic Building at Seward County Community College — except for 8 a.m. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, when he is teaching. Go Saints!

•••

August 10, 2022 : Saints Voices

Finding the right spot to grow is just the beginning

“You’re doing great! I’m so proud of you,” I said. “It’s a new leaf!”

I meant it — literally. I was just outside my office at Seward County Community College, and I was talking to a plant. 

The plant, a trendy favorite of hipsters, had lived in the spare room of my house for nearly two years. A pandemic purchase, it flourished in the carefully filtered light of the west-facing windows. And it grew. It outgrew its first pot, and then it outgrew its second, and pretty soon I couldn’t find a proper place to keep my monstera deliciosa, also known as the “Swiss cheese plant.” 

Weirdly, the dilemma reminded me of my family a decade earlier, when teenagers filled our home. They too had grown to unexpected glory. They took up a whole lot more room than I expected. And it was clear they had outgrown their childhood bedrooms and interests. What was the best next step?

It seems a little nuts to apply those parental feelings to a plant, but hey — empty nesting is real. Just ask any of the parents who will show up on campus over the next week. They come to help their sons and daughters move into the dorms, meet instructors and coaches, and make sure there’s plenty of snack food and personal supplies stocked up for late-night study sessions or small emergencies. 

But they are also here to get a sense of their own new reality. The everyday rituals, laughter, and shared meals they’ve come to associate with a sense of family is all about to change, maybe forever. It’s a scary parenting moment, and it helps to get a bit of reassurance that things will all work out. Our student services folks at SCCC will have their hands full as they guide students — and their parents — through the process of settling in and letting go. 

Back at my adults-only house, early summer had arrived and I was looking forward to visits from grandchildren and my soon-to-be grad student. Monstera was taking up a lot of space. Maybe it would enjoy being outdoors. Plenty of sun, plenty of fresh air, plant friends to keep it company? I took a deep breath (Monstera was heavy), picked up the pot, and baby-stepped out the back door. 

Three days later, I could see I’d made a big mistake. Rather than the mild temperatures I expected, the heat had come on strong and my poor teenage plant had gotten a serious sunburn. I moved it to a shadier spot, soaked it down, and said soothing words. I’ve read the science: it’s true that plants like to be talked to with kindness. 

To say the young adults we welcome to the Saints family every year are no different sounds a little sappy, but the science back that up, too. We know that despite their efforts at sophistication, their tendency to flirt with dubious habits, and their large size, our students are still developing. Their brains are not finished — again, literally. 

The formation of the brain and its neural pathways wraps up around age 25. So, while our newest Saints are not children, they are also not adults. They are learning how to succeed in an entirely new set of circumstances.

That’s not easy for anybody, not even a plant. After the backyard fiasco, I had decided the next best step for my household arrangement was to send Monstera to college. The seating area outside my office had east-facing windows and filtered natural light, so Monstera would be shielded from punishingly hot rays. I purchased potting soil, a larger container, and enlisted my husband’s help for transportation. 

It was a rough transition. Monstera did not die, but it did not readily embrace its new home in higher education. I soon realized I had to check on it daily, rather than the casual Saturday sessions I’d worked into my routine at home. Watering it took more effort. Because of the faucet set-up, one good soak required several trips. The air at work was drier, too, so I brought a spray bottle from home to provide a daily misting. 

All that goes to explain my excitement about the green shoots that emerged last week. It had taken a couple months, renewed attention, and an outpouring of verbal reassurance and affection that might have seemed excessive to any coworkers who overheard me. I didn’t care. The narrow spikes poking through the soil were just a beginning, it’s true, but they meant we were going to be all right. I can’t wait to see how Monstera looks by the end of the year. 

The same is true for our students. I don’t intend to mist any of them with a spray bottle, but my coworkers and I will be smiling like mad, offering chocolate, directions around the building, and a kind word whenever we can. It’s how we all grow. 

EDITOR’S NOTE — Rachel Coleman is executive director of marketing and PR at SCCC, mother of six grown children, three grandchildren, and caregiver to five indoor plants and an uncountable quantity of books. Have a story idea related to the college? You can reach her at rachel.coleman@sccc.edu or 620-417-1125. 

•••

August 3, 2022 : Saints Voices

Welcome to SCCC, where education is personal and we will feed you pancakes

Executive Team Moonlight Files

With the start of the new school year, we are welcoming many new employees to the Saints family and the community of Liberal. It’s an exciting time of year. Newcomers usually show up filled with optimism, a sense of purpose, and high energy. Old-timers welcome that fresh infusion of ideas and human capital, especially after the last few years we have all experienced.

Reflecting back on when I first came to Western Kansas to teach at a community college, I remember a sense of discovery. I had a perceived notion that a community college in rural Kansas would resemble a community college in a large city. I was definitely in for a surprise. Northwest Kansas is not at all like the Tulsa area, or Denver metro. The community culture is different, the students have life experiences that are centered on the area’s industry and economy, and commuters measure the trip to campus in mileposts, not minutes spent in traffic.

Many of our new employees are coming to us from out of state and while we try to portray the wonderful qualities of Southwestern Kansas it is difficult to paint a comprehensive picture. On the one hand, the enormous horizon, open landscape and extreme temperatures can be unsettling for someone who is used to trees and hills and water. On the other hand, our regional terrain is representative of what a person can do in this part of the world — the possibilities are vast, and opportunities are everywhere.

From the close-up perspective, I’m excited for each one of them to arrive on campus where they will find a wonderful group of people who are focused on two things. These are a caring culture and focus on student success. Outside the world of education, many people might assume that all schools, colleges, and universities are concerned about student success.

On paper, sure — but at Seward, students will find a unique place that puts action to those words. When we follow up with alumni, transfer students, and former Saints, we hear that they valued their time at SCCC because of the warm, welcoming atmosphere. “It’s the people who make it so great,” they say. They felt accepted and valued, and knew their instructors and staff truly cared about them.

That sense of belonging is not limited to campus, as our new employees will soon learn. They may very well be surprised at the high level of community support and the athletic backing of Saints Nation. SCCC is renowned for pulling record numbers of local fans to athletic competitions. We have a robust booster club that keeps growing. And on campus, we celebrate the wins, whether that is a Spanish-speaking student who aced the CLEP test and gained 10 credit hours on their transcript, to a student-athlete signing to play at the next level.

As we begin to incorporate our new employees into the college culture we will be introducing them to the community as well. Seward is proud to support the New Educators Breakfast, which is organized each year by the Liberal Area Chamber of Commerce for new teachers and instructors at USD 480 and SCCC. This event also gets our new educators in touch with each other, and gets those networking connections started.

At SCCC, we’ll be welcoming two new instructors to the agriculture program, as well as several English instructors, new coaches and staff in the athletic department, and support professionals across campus. Keep an eye on local media for interviews, guest appearances, and even an occasional speaking engagement at civic groups like the Rotary Club, Lions, and Kiwanis.

Of course, it is always a lot of fun to introduce our new employees to Pancake Day. How many colleges do you know who close campus and encourage employees to eat and flip pancakes, cheer on racers wearing aprons and headscarfs, and keep score in a contest that dates back more than 500 years? Last year, we sent a team of five men to compete in the “pacer race” before the big, official international competition. We also entered our Saints mascot, Louie, in the mascot race. Lady Saints volleyball players helped serve at the morning pancake breakfast.

In fact, at the end of each semester, our executive team takes a turn at the griddle to serve up pancakes, biscuits and gravy, omelettes and more at the free-to-students Moonlight Finals breakfast. One way or another, being at SCCC means a hot breakfast.

But that is months away. In the coming weeks, the newest members of the Saints family will be busy moving into offices, finding their way across campus, and getting a feel for Southwest Kansas. If you meet up with any of them, be sure to offer the legendary hospitality that gave Liberal its name. As a person who’s moved here twice in the past two years, I can say with confidence that there’s really no place like Liberal to call your home.

WWP_BradSCCC_01EDITOR’S NOTE — Brad Bennett is happy to call Liberal home, though he is not planning to put on an apron and headscarf anytime soon. You can get to know him by stopping at the President’s office on campus, 1801 N. Kansas, emailing brad.bennett@sccc.edu, or calling 620-417-1010. 

•••

July 27, 2022 : Saints Voices

Summer memories set foundation for  future

Whether it’s ice cream or a fishing trip, those moments endure

For many of us, summers are so different than the rest of the year. Something about the change in weather and the change in schedule makes everything seem special.

Oftentimes traditions and food are nostalgic. It is not really about what we are eating, yet the taste and smell serve as a kind of memory holder in time. We have a rule in the Bennett Family that every fishing trip ends with ice cream. MaryBelle and Madeline sometimes eat all their ice cream, and sometimes they have only a few bites. It is the moments together reflecting on the time we spent that are important.

We all have different childhood memories that serve as placeholders. My dad lives in Northeast Oklahoma and our family has been traveling to Grand Lake Oklahoma since it was built. Earlier this summer, our family visited again, and I showed my girls the cabin my grandparents would take me to. Not much on the outside, it was basically a trailer with a small room and deck that my very skilled grandfather added over the years. But let me tell you — this place was awesome.

I can remember it like yesterday, and I found myself telling my daughters details about our trips there that I thought that I had forgotten. My grandfather — PaPa — was a tremendous welder and built a railing around the deck with welded fish cutouts every few feet. He had a small ski boat that we would always fish out of as well. We went early every morning we were there. Often it was him and my dad and me. I can recall the smell of the exhaust of that old outboard as we idled out for the morning with the sun not quite up. We would fish and laugh as my grandfather, like me, was always telling a story or playing a practical joke.

The deck had an outside charcoal griddle built by my grandfather, and I can recall smelling my grandmother (Nana) cooking biscuits and gravy on the deck. The delicious smell would go for miles, and that’s how we knew to come in when breakfast was ready.

No time, no cell phones, no text messages, just a very simple period in my life. While we know life is not simple and is constantly changing I have tried to replicate some of those memories for my kids.

I hope celebrating National Ice Cream month, which SCCC is doing for the second year now, will provide a positive memory holder for the children in Liberal. Maybe they picked up an ice cream sandwich during a trip to Memorial Library, or enjoyed the sweet treat after meeting our mascot Louie the Saint for the first time. If they rode their bicycles to the Liberal Recreation Center and arrived tired and sweaty during the hottest summer yet, SCCC offered a welcome bit of refreshment.

More than 70 children attended Kids College on campus this week, and they will be celebrating their accomplishments with a pool and pizza party with — you guessed it — ice cream. We hope to see them, and the others who have helped us celebrate National Ice Cream month, enrolled as Saints someday.

Looking back to my own memories, I can see that my grandparents gave me more than happy summer experiences. They were demonstrating the values they lived by. Hard work. Care for others. Using what you have to create goodness and joy. Patience, for sure, as anyone who goes fishing has experienced! In the same way, our team at SCCC constantly works to provide positive and life-changing experiences for our students.

Everyone on campus is already gearing up to welcome our 2022-23 students in less than a month. It’s hard to believe that summer is coming to a close. Professional development days are scheduled for the first week of August, and classes begin on Aug. 15.

There is still plenty of time to enroll in classes, and we are ready to make it happen. Whether you are a recent graduate of high school, a returning student, or someone looking for a career change or a fresh start, we are here for you. Seward offers more than 40 programs of study, from agriculture to vocal music. The possibilities are endless, but we know they lead to success: our Saints can expect to earn $10,000 more per year, compared to those with a high school diploma, after they graduate with a certificate or associate degree.

Summer hours continue for the rest of July, which means we are open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Starting in July, campus will go back to regular hours, which are 7:45 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.

So, make a little time to stop by Seward and enroll. You never know, we might even be handing out ice cream.

WWP_BradSCCC_01EDITOR’S NOTE — Brad Bennett is the president of SCCC, and the occasional host of a backyard fishing class — just ask Kids College students. You can email him at brad.bennett@sccc.edu. 

•••

July 20, 2022

Give yourself credit when you support SCCC

We’re talking about tax credits; get ’em while they last

While I am writing this column, it is Wednesday, but it feels like we have already experienced a full week of work, meetings and all the tasks that are part of higher education. The calendar year can feel that way, too, but fortunately we are at the opening point of a new fiscal year. Who doesn’t like a fresh start and new opportunities?

At the state level, the legislature has offered exactly that. 

This year our legislatures allowed community and technical colleges the ability to sell capital improvement tax credits.The state allocated $5 million dollars total to the 26 two-year colleges in our state. The tax credits are first-come first-serve and any institution can sell up to $500,000. 

This is an amazing opportunity for our institution to raise funds for capital projects while offering an added benefit to our donors. I’m so proud of this campus, which is so beautiful and constantly surprises visitors. They don’t expect to see a place like this in such a remote rural community.

But it’s not possible to keep a campus up to date and attractive and functional without having a long-range plan for maintenance and upkeep. Our grounds and building crews do a fantastic job. Our board and executive team work hard to practice good stewardship of taxpayer funds. 

All those factors mean that an opportunity to claim funding that will help us finish ongoing projects — like the Sharp Family Champions Center — and tackle some of the improvements and upgrades that we have put on the back burner for longer than we would like.

So, how does it work? If you are like a lot of us, the idea of a tax credit might be new and raise some questions. Let’s break it down:

What is it called? Community College Capital Improvement Tax Credit.

Who is it for? Kansas Income taxpayers, Kansas Premium taxpayers, a

nd Kansas privilege taxpayers. That means pretty much everyone, from individuals to large companies. 

When does it begin? Effective on and after July 1, 2022 and prior to December 31, 2025.

How does it help SCCC?  When you, the taxpayer, make a contribution through this program, the college can use the money for capital improvements, deferred maintenance, or the purchase of technology and equipment.

How does it help you? The credit is 60 percent of the total amount contributed during the taxable year by the taxpayer to a community college located in Kansas. So, if you contribute $1,000, you can subtract $600 from any taxes you owe to the state of Kansas. It’s a great way to reduce tax debt and do good at the same time. 

How much can I give? The starting amount is $1,000, and you or your business can give up to a quarter million dollars, but (here we quote directly from the state), “In no event shall the total amount of credits allowed for taxpayers who contribute to any one such community college exceed $250,000 in any one tax year.  Community Colleges are also capped at awarding a maximum of $500,000 in total from their college.  A statewide cap on the amount of credits that are available to be awarded is $5,000,000.

That sounds competitive. Is it a race? In way, yes. The state has set a limit of $5 million in credits to be awarded, and once that figure is reached, the program stops accepting donations. So, whichever college’s supporters have seized the opportunity first will be the winners. 

If I make a large donation through this program, will I get a tax refund? No.  If the amount of credit exceeds the taxpayer’s tax liability, the remaining credit is not allowed to carryover or to be refunded.  

How can I get started? Qualified taxpayers who have made a contribution to a community college on or after July 1, 2022 will be required to file the appropriate tax return electronically and follow the proper steps in preparation of their tax return to claim the credit as directed to on the Kansas Department of Revenue website.

Where can I learn more? https://www.ksrevenue.gov/prtaxcredits-deferred.html

I know it’s not possible to answer every question in one newspaper column. If you want to learn more, or have issues to discuss, please reach out to talk with me. I am glad to unpack the details, respond to questions, and walk you through the details. Stop by my office in the Hobble Academic Building here on campus, give me a call at 620-417-1010, or email me at brad.bennett@sccc.edu. 

WWP_BradSCCC_01EDITOR’S NOTE: Brad Bennett is the president of Seward County Community College but in a former life he taught accounting and business classes to high school and college students. His two young daughters are currently assisting him in earning the title of “The Man Who Can Answer Your Questions.”  

•••

June 29, 2022

1,000 T-shirts, a custom motorcycle, and a community worth celebrating

It’s hard to believe we have already hit the midpoint of summer, but here we are in July. That means Seward County Community College is preparing to welcome the entire community to our campus as part of the second-biggest celebration of the year in Liberal — July 4.

In any other town, we would probably list Independence Day as the primary holiday that brings people together, but other towns don’t have Pancake Day. That said, July 4 promises to be even bigger and better this year, with a parade and park extravaganza planned before the traditional festivities held on the SCCC campus. You will be sure to see Saints at all of the fun. The parade begins at 10 a.m. on Kansas Ave., moving north to end at Light Park. 

This year, Seward has made a deliberate effort to show up at area parades large and small. The project began at the suggestion of our Outreach Director Mike Bailey, whose daily work includes many highway miles traveling to the smaller towns we serve. He pointed out that after the pandemic and long months apart from one another, we are eager to reconnect with our far-flung Saints family. We want to show up and let them know we care. 

Thanks to his dedication and willingness to handle hundreds of pounds of candy and swag, Mike has earned the title of “Director of Parades.” In all seriousness, we are thankful for his willingness to spearhead the parades, throw candy, and even dodge a cow chip or two as he traveled from town to town. In many of these adventures, Dean of Enrollment and Student Success Annette Hackbarth-Onson has been his loyal co-conspirator. 

Here in Liberal, LHS Homecoming and Pancake Day provided us with so many good memories and moments of connection, with our cosmetology students and student athletes representing campus with pride. For July 4, we’re planning to bring the amazing custom-built motorcycle created by the Vo-Tech long before the merger. It’s still a point of pride on the Industrial Tech campus and Dr. Amber Jones, head of that division, is eager to show it to a new generation of future Saints. Look for her behind the wheel of the SCCC pickup truck, and try to catch a roll of Smarties as she steers the motorcycle trailer. 

Once the parade wraps up, Light Park will be the site for an afternoon of fun. Presentations begin at 11 a.m., including historic speeches, singing, dancing and other entertainment. Booths and informational tables will also be set up, and you can find a Saints table in the mix, with T-shirts, lanyards and other giveaway items. And, if you’re planning to head back to college in August, you can talk to SCCC representatives about the next step. 

Until 3 p.m. the park will host food trucks, shaved ice, vendors, bouncy houses, electric bull rides and the Oz train. 

Throughout these events, I hope to see folks wearing our newest SCCC T-shirts. We plan to give out 1,000 of these free shirts. If you don’t score one during the parade, be sure to pick yours up at the Saints table! 

At 2:30 p.m., it will be time to head to Saints Nation, also known as the SCCC Campus and Brent Gould Field. We’re very proud that the college is also the home field for the Liberal Bee Jays and the City of Liberal’s annual fireworks display every July 4. Fellowship Baptist Church will join the community on campus, holding a picnic with a hot dog feed, bouncy houses, and plenty of games for the entire family starting at 2:30 p.m. in the area immediately adjacent to the field on the SCCC main campus. After the picnic, the Bee Jays will take on the Dodge City A’s at 7 p.m. Fireworks follow after the game and after dark.

This celebration reflects the very best of rural America, and our national values. I love seeing the many different entities come together to provide fun, food, and positive memories for children and young people. There’s so much power in that sense of community and belonging. It’s something we all cherish, and I’m proud that SCCC can play a part in making it happen. 

No matter what you plan for Independence Day, I hope you will make SCCC a part of your holiday. The promise of liberty and justice for all is an enduring standard, and one that we should all continue to pursue and practice in our own lives. So soak up the sunshine, share a smile, and take in the sparkle of fireworks above this community. It is something worth celebrating. 

WWP_BradSCCC_01EDITOR’S NOTE — Brad Bennett is the president of Seward County Community College, where higher education runs the gamut from pulling weeds on campus to receiving community feedback for the next strategic plan. You can contact him at brad.bennett@sccc.edu. 

•••

June 22, 2022 : Saints Voices

Town halls must go on and we need you there

And other Dad-style reminders just in time for Father’s Day

I know that I sound like a broken record as I always say that community is the middle of our name. Since Father’s Day is coming up, it’s OK if you chalk this up to the way we tend to tune out reminders — just ask your own dad how many times he reminded you to check the tire pressure or take out the trash!

Just like families who look out for each other, our goal at SCCC is to create a strategic plan that connects directly to what our community needs. Currently, our strategic plan is in a 100% planning mode as different focus groups meet across our community. Our goal is to lay out a unique plan which is truly developed by the community we serve. 

This is why we must continue with the Town Halls. There are so many more conversations we must have. To continue the comparison, think back to family dinners around the table or the kitchen counter. Some of those memories are positive — like taco night or your mom’s delicious lasagna — while others probably bring up moments that may be funny now but felt awfully tense at the time. 

Town Hall meetings are like that. Some are positive. Some highlight what we must do better. My mother, who was a lifelong educator, used to tell me a person who doesn’t want to get better doesn’t ask tough questions. How true is this statement?! I took that lesson to heart, and chose a philosophy of pursuing excellence, even when it means being open to tough questions that might sting when they are answered. 

That’s what I want for SCCC. We must constantly question everything we do as educators and as community members. Our stakeholders continue to change daily, because that is how real life works. Accordingly, we rely heavily on our community members to tell us what they need and what we can do better to support them. 

So, here comes the reminder you can probably recite from memory: Our next Town Hall is scheduled soon, and we hope to see you there. It will be at 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, June 28 at Louie’s Café on our tech campus. From the beginning of this process, we planned to meet in a different location each time and what we have learned is that we receive different people at each one. How great is that? I think it’s exciting, and shows how diverse our community is in so many ways.

Switching gears, I am also excited to celebrate Father’s Day this weekend. Having lost my mother a little over a year ago, Father’s Day now carries a little more impact on me. I am hopeful to have my dad Jerry, and my daughters MaryBelle and Madeline all on the boat together enjoying conversation, celebrating three generations, taking a few minutes to catch up, and capturing moments we know won’t always be there. I feel so lucky to pass along my love of the outdoors to my daughters and feel fortunate to be able to share these moments with my dad. If we catch a fish in the process, what a bonus!  

These moments are so important, and SCCC strives to create a work culture that encourages our team members to take care of themselves and their families. As the insurance and fiscal years wind down and we turn a fresh page, I’m especially happy that the college was able to negotiate a fourth tier on our health insurance for employees. It’s so important to provide options that work, at the best price everyone can afford. 

This is just one part of the way Seward aims to create a family-friendly environment, and a family feeling at work. We’re also rolling out options to encourage overall health and wellness, from a step challenge that employees recently completed, to healthier snack options. This is not easy for anyone; I recently brought a couple boxes of protein bars to share at work but everyone went for the lemon cake with frosting that one of our directors dropped off in the break room. That’s the thing about families — we weather tough times together, and when it’s time to celebrate, we do that too. 

This week, I hope you have time to enjoy your own loved ones, get away from the heat, and reflect on what a good life and a flourishing community mean to you. Happy Father’s Day!

WWP_BradSCCC_01EDITOR’S NOTE — Brad Bennett is an avid fisherman and a proud father of girls, who provide him with daily style advice, glittery coffee mugs, and life-restoring hugs after a day at the office. 

•••

June 15, 2022 : Saints Voices

An inside look at the cycle of higher education

So much of what we see is the result of long processes and planning

Education — like many other industries — is a constant cycle.  

Don’t worry, I am not suggesting our students are like widgets or that campus is a factory. At the end of the day, education is a human endeavor. The Seward County Community College mission statement leaves no doubts: We exist to improve the lives of every person who enrolls in any one of our many programs. Our big goal is to make things better, from the individual life to the family, to the community and eventually the world.

Achieving that goal requires all kinds of everyday, ordinary resources. Food. Shelter. A parking lot that won’t contribute to wrecks and flat tires. Library and bookstore resources that meet the needs of the classes our students take. That’s just the beginning of the complex systems that make SCCC the amazing place it is.

In May, as soon as our residence life students move out, we begin preparing for the next school year. That means deep cleaning rooms, removing mattresses and other items that have reached the end of their useful lives, and scheduling repairs. This summer, the laundry facilities will get extra attention in response to student feedback. 

We are also cleaning up the less tangible aspect of dorm life by reviewing and updating our dorm policies. The Student Living Center does not exist on autopilot; it is important to evaluate operations each year based on student and employee experiences and be willing to adjust. Once that process is complete, student housing handbooks are prepared and printed for distribution to all residents before move-in day in August. 

Similar processes are underway all across campus. Classrooms contain more than the furniture and carpet. There are also electronic and multimedia elements to be tested and maintained. For example, our intercom system recently received a refresh and upgrade. The IT staff will soon be testing, removing, and replacing hundreds of computers. The total number of units on campus is not 1,000, but it creeps closer every year; the last count was upwards of 800. 

More than anything, however, classrooms require instructors. We’ve been recruiting for several key teaching positions, as well as adjunct instructors at our various outreach high schools. It’s always exciting to see the applications come in, and to meet potential members of the Saints family. If you are interested in being part of SCCC, or if you know someone who is in the market for a great job with an amazing team of people, check out the job listings at sccc.edu. 

This summer, we are already looking ahead to the fall, and that’s where professional development sessions that kick off every semester come in. What do you need to know to teach a community college class? At SCCC, you need to know how to use our learning management system (called Canvas), and you need all kinds of practical support. Where to make photocopies. How to schedule events outside the classroom. The steps for reserving a vehicle or requesting funds for special projects. 

On the mental and emotional levels, our professional development sessions are also a source of encouragement and motivation. Led by our Human Resources Director Charlotte Peterson, we are planning a great kick-off to the year, plus ongoing programs to equip faculty and staff to do their best. 

In our survey of the educational cycle, we never forget the students, the reason we are all here. They need more than a place to sleep and food to eat and desks to sit in. They also require a wide variety of support, from advising and tutoring to social events, club activities, and often times, assistance in the necessary but challenging task of filling out paperwork. Our admissions department and Registrar’s offices recruit and assist our future Saints in crossing all the Ts and dotting the “I”s as they approach college. 

Once the students arrive, we take our duty of care seriously. While the students might be “adults” in terms of their age of 18 and up, they are still the sons and daughters of parents and family members who trust us to look out for them. That’s why we are reactivating our campus security and safety committee as well as the wellness committee. These groups of SCCC employees take a close look at policy, the structure of how various departments work, and will help us ensure we stay up to date on safety drills, best practices, and preventive measures that help everyone stay healthy, strong, and confident while on campus.

To continue the comparison to industry, education has its own version of the supply chain and the many critical factors that determine business success. We constantly evaluate ourselves, from budgeting to customer service to what’s on the menu in terms of classes. 

While all of this takes time and we do not see changes occurring overnight, we want our community to know that we are committed to a culture of constant improvement. If we do our jobs a little bit better each day 12 months a year, we will continue to achieve our goals.

WWP_BradSCCC_01EDITOR’S NOTE — Brad Bennett is president of Seward County Community College, where his goal is to be a little bit better at his job every single day. 

•••

June 8, 2022 : Saints Voices

Summertime, and the work list is growing

Did someone mention something about vacations? Not here!

Someone asked me recently if we have much going on at Seward County Community College during the summer, and it took me a moment to answer. Not because there was nothing to say, but because we have so much going on during the summer months, it can be hard to keep track of all the projects, meetings, improvements, and opportunities SCCC offers the community.

We have the Bee Jays. We have Kids College. We have three sessions of summer classes. And we even have Young Frankenstein roaming the halls, thanks to the Rainbow Players community theater group. We invite the community to come on out and take advantage of the many opportunities on campus this summer, whether that means a continuing education class at B&I, a dip in the pool, join our wellness center, or a quick and easy lunch in the cafeteria.

In June, we will host the corrosion industry trade group formerly known as NACE, with industry professionals from around the nation attending certification classes and exams. While gas prices go up and world events cause concern, SCCC continues to equip energy trade workers to provide safe and effective access to natural resources. The Business & Industry department has also lined up continuing education courses in certified nurse and medication aide, defensive driving, forklift safety, landlord-tenant law, and recruiting practices for business owners. There’s also the fun stuff, from cake decorating to arts and crafts.

And if you can’t make it to campus, we will come to you. In July, we will celebrate National Ice Cream Month at locations around Liberal, with information about new programs, community resources, and, of course, ice cream. On Independence Day, look for us in the parade. And everywhere you go, you are sure to see Saints spirit as we continue to distribute T-shirts in our quest to have every person in Seward County wearing Saints swag in their everyday lives.

But along with all the outward-focused activity, we are doing plenty to improve our campus and our daily practices.

  • I’ve mentioned my paint project before, and it’s still on the schedule: 500 gallons of paint in Seward County green, to be used sprucing up our campus before the start of the next school year. We will pick up our brushes on June 13th and continue until there’s nothing left to paint. 
  • We’re also preparing to give the SCCC Library a fresh look. Technology may change but a library is never obsolete. 
  • You may see SCCC cars around town as we fuel up or carry out college business, and we’re in the process of looking at the fleet in terms of safety and efficiency. In that process, we plan to wrap one of our older fleet cars for our trusty security team to use as they keep an eye on college facilities over the summer. 
  • Cleanup is a never-ending part of life, and we continue to remove old equipment, furniture, and items that have cluttered up storage areas. We’ll never be perfectly streamlined, but our goal is to make the best use of the building space we have rather than storing excess materials where we could be serving our Saints campus better. 

If you have a calendar ready, here are some important dates to remember:

  • Bee Jays home games at Brent Gould field on June 3, June 22-26, June 29, July 1-6, July 17-20, and July 24.
  • Kids College July 18-21. Three consecutive class sessions start at 8 a.m., 9:30 a.m. and 11 a.m., ending at 12:15 p.m. For information, visit sccc.edu or call 620-417-1170. 
  • Young Frankenstein, presented by Rainbow Players community theater group in the Showcase Theater on July 7-9. 
  • Summer class session 1 began Tuesday, May 31 and continues through June 30; Session 2 opens June 6 and continues through June 30; Session 3 runs from July 5-28. Check out a complete list of online and in-person courses at sccc.edu or via the Seward County Community College official Facebook page. 

WWP_BradSCCC_01EDITOR’S NOTE: Brad Bennett is the president of Seward County Community College, where he encourages all employees to strive to make every day a little better than the day before. You can reach him at brad.bennett@sccc.edu or by calling 620-417-1010. 

•••

June 1, 2022 : Saints Voices

Our Saints shine on the court, make history

Men’s tennis has doubled our college total of national titles

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When I first arrived back at Seward County Community College, I immediately began to plan for the future of our extraordinary institution. We are in the midst of making several changes and updates around campus with the goal of academic year 23-24 being “The Year of the Saints!”

Little did we know that we would receive a kick-off event delivered by our men’s tennis team. It’s been more than 20 years since Seward claimed a national title, but we’re back in the best ranks, thanks to the men’s tennis team. They say winning isn’t everything, but it sure feels good. And for those of us who love competition, this win is even sweeter.

The Year of the Saints is about making our entire campus better. Focusing every day on continuous improvement to grow enrollment, improve student success, win more games, and excel in every aspect of the Seward experience. We envision taking our already great culture and refining and elevating it until we are winning in every phase of our campus. To compare it to tennis, you might say that we will strengthen every part of our game.

Unfortunately, I could not be in Tyler last week (between moving Lindsay and the girls here and a family event),but I stayed in close contact with Athletic Director Dan Artamenko and sat on the edge of my seat watching every update on Twitter.

My wife and I had the chance shortly after we won to FaceTime with Coach Vechione and the team, and it was such a special moment. We are so proud of them for bringing home numerous program firsts, but as with all student-athletes, we are prouder of who they are as students and people in our community.

Some of the program firsts:

  • Most matches were won at a National Tournament with 27, and the most points were earned at the National Tournament with 45.
  • First time in program history to win a singles final, and we had two win their draws: Kyllian Savary won the number three singles championship, and Karlo Krolo won the number five singles championship.
  • First time in program history the Saints won the doubles draw championship. Luke Quaynor and Kyllian Savary won their number two doubles draw over TJC to win the championship.
  • Seward County had a record of four singles All-Americans. In addition, Kyllian Savary received 1st team All-American honors, Karlo Krolo received 1st team All-American honors, Luke Quaynor received 2nd team.

When our women’s tennis team returned home from their phenomenal end-of-season competition in Arizona, we celebrated with flowers for the players and a campus-wide ice cream social. Our student-athletes are more than sports competitors or Saints representatives, although those roles comprise part of their total identity. We know them as human beings full of potential and personality. Though we relate to them first and foremost as students to whom we owe a duty of care, we usually stay in touch with them after they leave our campus, and in many cases, these young people become our friends over time.

Most of the men’s tennis team took advantage of being in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area and traveled back home from there, so an ice cream social is not possible. Plus, in light of the history-making national championship they achieved, we will be planning a National Championship Banquet for the fall. For now, though, the glow of victory is bright on campus despite the rainy weather this week. We’re shining with pride in our student-athletes, and the glimmer of more to come as we near the Year of the Saints. Now more than ever, it’s great to be part of the Saints family.

WWP_BradSCCC_01EDITOR’S NOTE — Brad Bennett has recently pursued his own athletic career in the rare sport of box packing, lifting, and unpacking as he and his family settle into their new home in Liberal. This summer, he will turn his attention to the cross-generational sports of feeding ducks with his daughters and fishing.

•••

April 24, 2022 : Saints Voices

After two historic years, it’s time to celebrate 

Our Saints graduates have achieved something amazing

Two years ago, many of our students who will graduate from Seward County Community College this weekend were sent on spring break. They had no idea their academic year was effectively over: they never returned to the classroom that spring.  All events were canceled, and the world felt uncertain in every aspect. Their dreams of finishing their high school year in style — of prom, spring sports and all the rites of passage — were gone.

I recall the night that COVID-19 become something up-close and personal, and not just a story on the news. I was in Topeka for state meetings and the PTK luncheon to honor the All-Kansas Academic Team. In 2020, every second of the presidents’ meeting was marked by the sounds of cell phones going off. Employees, students, and parents who had heard about the growing pandemic wanted to know our next steps. Things were changing by the minute. By that afternoon we began the unthinkable outcome of shutting down our schools.

Riding back to my place of employment at the time — Colby Community College— with CCC President Carter, the question “What’s our first step?” loomed large. As two young administrators, we had never encountered such a massive challenge, but it was our responsibility to try and handle this mysterious and scary situation.

We began by ordering personal protective equipment; we got masks and hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies from vendors everywhere and anywhere. Purchasing these items was only one small part of our response, but it was a starting point that set us on the right path.

Throughout the following months, we stayed on a mostly-empty campus and spent a good part of our time gathering supplies to donate to area hospitals.

By the time I arrived at Seward County Community College in October, the Saints family had taken similar steps. Seward was stocked up with branded hand sanitizers, masks, upgraded air systems, and all kinds of different tools to help us through. At the outset of the 20-21 academic year, I remember setting our goal as staying open for in-person classes. Amazingly, SCCC did just that.

The students who lived through that strange and — as everyone kept saying — “unprecedented” time will graduate next weekend.

It’s an amazing accomplishment.

As seniors in the spring of 2020, they worked online to finish high school, then spent their first year in college in less-than-exciting circumstances. They were freshmen who could not gather for social events, had to continuously wear a mask, and were asked to socially distance. How easy would it have been for them to quit? Nope. Perseverance and hard work carried these students through. We owe them respect and admiration for staying the course.

In many ways, this cohort of Saints carried out a great tradition of rising to the occasion, whatever that may be. The college was established in 1967, a time of protests, riots, and social change. Citizens of Liberal, including Jo Ann Sharp, were concerned about what the “wild and crazy” younger generation might do faced with so few opportunities. They lobbied hard to claim the final location for a “junior college” in the state of Kansas. We are so grateful they succeeded.

The generations of SCCC graduates that followed — nearly 10,000 at the last count — adapted to classes held in multiple locations as the current campus was being constructed and expanded; some students met in a downtown storefront building. The old Epworth Hospital building was used as a college headquarters, then a dorm, then a site for Allied Health. In the early 2000s, the community wrestled with the question of what to do with the local vo-tech school, and despite worries and challenges, the college incorporated what is now our Industrial Tech campus into the Saints family.

It’s amazing to consider the history of SCCC and the recent challenges our Class of ’22 has met with so much determination and focus. Life has returned to a new version of normal, with the usual spring events on campus, from baseball and softball to All Saints Days for our incoming students and smiling faces no longer hidden by masks. As president of this amazing college, I am no longer chasing suppliers of hand sanitizer or worrying about how to find a compromise between mask-wearers and those who don’t believe they make a difference. The biggest concern on my radar this week was a few PG-13 jokes in our spring musical: as the father of two daughters, I have become a G-rated person. Seriously, though, our students put on a great show and it was fun to welcome audiences to campus as they performed on stage.

In less than 10 days, we will applaud another kind of student success, with four commencement ceremonies on campus. After two years no one ever anticipated, it’s time to celebrate. We hope you will show up to join us.

WWP_BradSCCC_01EDITOR’S NOTE: Brad Bennett is the president of Seward County Community College and a reluctant fan of Disney Princess movies (rated G). He’s also your go-to person if you need to purchase cleaning supplies in bulk. You can reach him at 620-417-1010, or by email at brad.bennett@sccc.edu.

•••

April 17, 2022: Saints Voices

Day and night, it takes a team to grow a college — and a community 

SCCC campus at night

Work-life balance is something that we all struggle to master. The past few years have made the process even more complicated, as the lines between home, office and working hours overlapped out of necessity. I could say that is the reason I sometimes email faculty and staff at strange times — 5 a.m., for instance, or mid afternoon on a holiday weekend — but the truth is that my personal work style has been that way for years. 

As a community college president, every day is a little different. My  schedule can change completely between the first cup of coffee and the Rotary Club meeting at noon or an afternoon conference call with the Kansas Board of Regents. I do everything possible to meet with students and SCCC team members when they have a question, request, or great idea; transparency and open access is important to me even when it is not convenient. 

Parents, teachers, and emergency workers are familiar with this dynamic. When your main job is to show care to a child, student, or patient, the schedule is less important than the person sitting in front of you. That “duty of care” philosophy is not my own personal preference. It is the way the SCCC campus has traditionally operated. Some people call it the “Seward County Way,” some refer to the idea of “we bleed green!” No matter how you describe the mentality, it boils down to the fact that we care about the work we do and the people we serve. That doesn’t always line up with regular working hours.

It’s true when you are a college president, too. The hours are long, there’s lots of travel, papers to sign and meetings to attend. Whether I’m driving on the highway, walking across campus, or heading out of town for a family getaway, I am always thinking about how to help SCCC be better.  This leads me to playing catch-up when the campus is closed or returning late night emails …. after I have finished bedtime reading with two little girls who love to hear princess stories. At this point, I have to say that the long hours are only possible because of my wonderful wife, Lindsay, and her unwavering support for me, our family, and for the Saints family. 

Don’t get me wrong: I am not complaining about the requirements that come with the job of being SCCC president. I love it, enjoy every minute, and there is not a day that goes by that I am not thankful for this opportunity. That said, I do not expect the rest of the world to operate in the same way I do.  I constantly remind our staff that if I email you on a holiday or when you are not at work, I am not looking for an immediate response. I’m simply taking care of my to-do list and my question or concern can wait until you return. 

We all know the days of working an 8-5 are long gone. Commitment among our campus team doesn’t always look the same in terms of the hours and the schedules. Our campus is always busy. Our coaches work extremely variable hours. Club sponsors show up at odd times to drive students to competitions and practice sessions, and sometimes head out for entire weekend camping sessions. Our overnight staff keep campus and students safe at all hours, and several custodians begin their work days at 5 a.m. While schedules and hours are different the one aspect that does not change is that we care greatly about Seward County Community College, and we care greatly about educating our students.

As the spring semester wraps up and we look forward to commencement ceremonies, our year-round Saints will shift to a four-day work week, with offices and campus open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Those 10-hour days can be challenging, and we sometimes sweeten the afternoon with ice cream bars or meetings that get us moving across campus. But I think everyone enjoys long weekends, and we feel great about conserving energy and economizing on cooling and other utility bills. After all, it’s not “our” money or “our” campus, but a resource that belongs to the community. 

In any community, we rely on our friends and neighbors — law enforcement, firefighters, hospital workers. We count on people that help us grow — our parents, who are willing to get up in the middle of the night if a child has a bad dream or a stomach-ache , or teachers who take home stacks of papers to grade after dinner. Whether you are a college president, a cafeteria worker, or a student intern, you play a role in making things work. Someone, somewhere, is always on duty. I am glad we have a team that helps make that possible.

WWP_BradSCCC_01EDITOR’S NOTE: Brad Bennett is not completely a night owl or an early bird, but he sometimes keeps both kinds of schedules as the president of Seward County Community College. You can reach him at his office on campus, phone 620-417-1010, or email brad.bennett@sccc.edu. 

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April 10, 2022 : Saints Voices

Saints get the best ROI for time and money

April is community college month! That means it’s time to celebrate the best deal in our country. There is no other option for our students that produce such a high Return on Investment (ROI). I do not make that claim lightly. As a person who loves Excel spreadsheets, I have the numbers to back it up.

We have to look no further than the data of our students from Seward County Community College. On average, a student who earns an associate degree will earn nearly half a million dollars more than if they had gone straight to work with a high school diploma only — that comes out to about $10,000 more per year in wages earned. The impact multiplies rapidly if you look at all those individual lives as a group: 50 years of graduates from SCCC, the money added to the region through their earnings totals around $4 billion.

However, most days SCCC is looking at the close-up view. Community colleges for the most part are non-research institutions. We are not trying to win Nobel prizes or make headlines. Our focus is on the success of our students.

Last week, a group of students, their families, and members of our college administration gathered at the annual Phi Theta Kappa banquet to celebrate our all Kansas Academic Team in Junction City. Our two honorees — Elizabeth Horinek and Israel Banuelos — joined peers from community colleges across the state of Kansas. Wow, what a group that was. As we honored these students we heard about their plans for next steps. These community college graduates will be attending universities from Kansas to Hawaii and everywhere in between. From Ivy league schools to state universities, these students are progressing through their education journey with excellence, preparing to be  the best in their field.

But that is only part of our story. A four-year degree is not for everyone, nor does it guarantee success post-college. What our students consider a good return on the investment depends on what happens when they leave the world of higher education and step into adult life.

10,000 more bucksHere is where SCCC shines its brightest. Out of the 19 community colleges in the state of Kansas, nine opted to join with vocational technical schools in their geographic area. Seward is one of those nine. The merger with Southwest Kansas Area Vocational Technical School in 2008 created a unique opportunity for our area.

We have technical programs to educate tomorrow’s workforce. From short-term programs to CDL to programs in Allied Health, we have so many options to not only educate our students but provide them a direct route to a high-wage, high-demand job. The investment of time and money varies. Some certifications take just eight weeks to complete. Others “stack,” so that a welding student can opt to leave the classroom after one semester with an “A” certificate and go directly to the workforce, or stay another semester for the “B” cert, or even continue for the full two years and an associate of applied science degree.

Allied Health can serve the same purpose on a larger scale, with many students going to work as nurses, respiratory therapists, or medical laboratory technologists in order to pay their way through additional levels of education. The same approach has proven useful to graduates of our cosmetology program and other CTE pathways: use the education close at hand to increase your earnings right away, while you prepare for the next level.

For high school students in our service area, concurrent classes provide a quick start to college. At the Student-Trustee Dinner on Monday evening, we heard from several Saints who are preparing to graduate from high school with both their diploma and an associates degree from SCCC. They have cut the cost of college in half.

So, let’s not pretend and let’s not keep the best ROI in the country a secret  any longer. Join the rest of the country in celebrating April as Community College Month!

WWP_BradSCCC_01EDITOR’S NOTE: Brad Bennett is the president of Seward County Community College, where he cheers loudly for the wins, whether they appear in the form of top-ranking tennis players or improved lighting for the parking lots. Contact him at brad.bennett@sccc.edu or 620-417-1010. 

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April 3, 2022 :  Saints Voices

The Big Reset is colored SCCC green

As spring slowly arrives, campus is also set to bloom

Kansas weather is unpredictable, and March proved the point. We had a sunny “snow” day after blizzard predictions fizzled out, a few adventures with high wind, and some just plain beautiful afternoons. Anybody who has lived in Kansas for more than a minute knows this is normal, but spring feels different this year. 

A little over two years, ago we sent our students home for spring break not knowing how our world would change. We had no idea that we would not welcome them back to campus to complete the semester in person. That was the spring when proms were postponed and graduation ceremonies did not happen with the usual pomp and circumstance. High school and college athletes felt crushing disappointment when state and regional tournaments were cancelled. 

One year later, we were back on campus, but spring still felt uncertain. During that pandemic year, Seward County Community College kept our classrooms open one week at a time. We are still incredibly proud of that fact. It was only possible because of the dedication of instructors, staff members, students, and our community. The meetings with our county health professionals and our on-campus contact tracers started to blend together until it felt like the whole year was one giant meeting — but we made it. 

At SCCC, as we begin to welcome the sunshine and warmer days — and, we hope, LESS wind and MORE rain — spring is definitely here. But it feels different. It seems as if we are hitting the reset button on our campus. 

Our students have experienced a pretty normal school year.
Our student-athletes have returned to regular play after the most unusual sports seasons in history.

Our instructors are scrambling to keep the grade books current as we pass the mid-term mark and head towards graduation. 

Campus clubs are meeting once more. 

Overall, it feels really good and it’s worthwhile to stop and notice that sense of new beginnings and motivation. The pandemic required so much time and effort that focus from other items was lost. Small repairs and projects fell by the wayside as we put attention on higher priorities like health and safety. 

Now that it’s safe to do so, I’m really happy about the events our Saints family has been able to participate in. For example, at the beginning of March, we participated in a wonderful Pancake Day. My fellow Men’s Pacer Race contestants might agree with me that participating in the day “as it was meant to be” involved more cardio than we originally imagined — but it was a lot of fun from the Grand Marshall Reception to the afternoon parade. 

A couple weeks later, we hosted a campus clean-up during spring break followed by an all campus lunch. People showed up voluntarily to pick up trash, trim overgrown hedges and more. I didn’t know what to expect, but 150 people participated, and we got so much done to make our campus a place that reflects our pride. 

Spring is only getting started, with a long list of events coming up. Enrollment for summer and fall classes opens on April 4. Current students can even get an early start on setting up their schedule right now. April 8, a week from Friday, the humanities department will host the Creative Writers’ Coffeehouse at 7 p.m. in the Student Union. It’s free, fun, and there are beverages and refreshments. 

Cast members are rehearsing for the spring musical, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” which will be performed April 21, 22, and 23 at 7 p.m. Tickets for the show are $10. Even though it is a lot of fun, the humanities department warns that the musical does have some content that is inappropriate for younger audiences. It is just for A-D-U-L-T-S. 

The spring concert for vocal and band programs will be at 7 p.m. April 29, also in the theater. Ticket sales support the SCCC Music Endowment Fund, so get yours for $3 and help future music students attend college. 

Then, just one week later, we will have graduation. Preparing campus for that event always results in a summer work list which is much longer than what is possible to complete. Personally, I think that is awesome because it shows how excited our Saints family is and how much we can do. Our goal is to paint 500 gallons of paint by August 1st. And that paint is Seward Green. 

We are excited to hit the reset button as we prep for what we hope will be the most exciting time in the history of our wonderful institution.

WWP_BradSCCC_01EDITOR’S NOTE: President Brad Bennett has already ordered the paint and welcomes volunteers who are willing to wield a brush in the service of Saints pride. Stop by campus anytime, or call him at 620-417-1010.

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March 27, 2022 :  Saints Voices

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What do athletic programs at the community college level mean?

Here’s a hint: in the end, we care about more than the score

I have always believed in athletics and the positive impact they make on our youth, institutions, and our community. When I first started teaching, I was also the head men’s basketball coach. I would spend countless hours teaching our team how to prep themselves to survive and excel in the world around them.

My first year we did not have many wins, but all 32 players learned to tie a tie, we improved GPA’s, and increased our community service hours. It might seem like that list doesn’t have a lot to do with basketball, but teachers from kindergarten to college understand that students are not ever one single thing — a math student, or an athlete, or a person with an injury, or a low-income family member, or a single parent. Students are people, and like all people they are complex and capable of amazing accomplishments if they are encouraged to reach their potential.

Athletics are often the lever that opens up the opportunities to grow, explore new worlds, and develop as a well-rounded person. First and foremost, athletics at the community college level improve access to education that thousands of students would not otherwise have.

This serves an important purpose for what we call first generation students — young men and women who are the first in their families to attend college. Like so many things in life, higher education can be hard to imagine if it’s completely foreign. Many hardworking parents struggle to visualize how the pieces fit together — scholarships, financial aid, and the college credit system leading to a degree. They might even wonder what difference the degree will actually make for their child. But anyone who has attended a Little League game or a high school soccer playoff knows how it feels to believe your son or daughter can win. Parents of athletes understand the way hard work and perseverance pay off in so many many ways, not just trophies and stats, but in a sense of teamwork, pride, and belonging. Those same qualities can produce a degree-earning college student.

Additionally, athletics brings pride to our campus and our community. How lucky are we? On any given day we can catch a game at the Greenhouse and see some of the best basketball or volleyball in the country. If we swing by Brent Gould field, we can catch a couple of MLB draft prospects, or over French Family Field,  two softball teams loaded with D1 talent play. Then there are the world-class tennis matches with the best players in the country and points around the world.

Our student athletes provide role models to the youth of our community. They help with food drives, work at Pancake Day, and attend youth league games throughout the year. Why? We are teaching them values that will serve them long after they have passed their days of playing.

If you want to understand the power of athletics to change lives for the better, there is nothing like getting to know our students. At Seward, we are fortunate to have community members who like say they “bleed green,” and who make it point to make every competition at the Greenhouse they can. These fans join our booster club, providing material and energetic support to the student athletes, but they often go one step further, hosting a student athlete and making that personal connection. It is not unusual to find Saints fans hitting the road to cheer at out-of-town games, or even road trip cross-country to watch beloved Saints alumni win big at the four-year schools where they transferred after finishing at SCCC.

When anyone asks me to explain the way athletics and academics can combine to make a real difference, I think back to a student I met in my early days at Colby Community College. He came from a background of extreme poverty, and had low self-esteem. I worked with a lot of young men during this time period, working on economics and accounting problems. This particular student stuck with it. During his time at Colby, he met his wife, they graduated, and they started a family.

I gave him one of my suits for his first job interview. I was impressed with his athletic skills, but what meant the most to me was the way this young man broke the cycle in his family: he became the first college graduate in their history. This is the real value of athletics.

The great thing is that his story is not unusual. We see it often at SCCC. Every day, as student athletes head to practice, the cafeteria, classes, and back to the dorms, we see the possibility of another success story unfolding in each one’s life.

WWP_BradSCCC_01EDITOR’S NOTE: President Brad Bennett allows what he calls his ‘insanely competitive side’ to come out on behalf of the Saints and Lady Saints. Thanks to his daughters, he sometimes brings his own cheer squad along to games in the Greenhouse. 

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March 20, 2022 :  Saints Voices

Find work satisfaction with the Saints family

At SCCC, our team changes the world every day

The best workplace ever: When you hear those words, do you picture an office ping-pong table, daily donuts, or unlimited time off? Or is it all about the money?

When I hear the words “Best Workplace Ever,” I picture our campus at Seward County Community College, where it is always great to be a Saint. Lately, I am saying that more often. That’s because, like most institutions our size, we currently have quite a few job openings. Some might see staffing issues as a sign that there is something wrong. But many businesses are facing the challenge of job vacancies after the past two years. What’s more, our own employees frequently tell us they feel like they are part of a family.

So, what is it that makes SCCC a special place to work? If someone is just looking for a fat paycheck, SCCC is probably not the place for you. We work hard at keeping our wages comparable to the industry, and one of my goals over the next year is to focus more attention there. But money is not why we choose to work at SCCC.

I have personally weighed the benefits of higher earnings against work that is meaningful and purpose-driven. And I can attest that it is better to work in an environment where employees feel valued and connected to something bigger than it is to see money accrue and motivation decrease. As president, I see it as a key part of my role to create that positive environment.

SCCC aspires to create a workplace culture where all employees are treated with equally and respect. An environment where employees are empowered to make a decision. A job that is actually a career and makes you proud to come to work every single day.

I definitely felt proud last week, when our first-ever volunteer work day took place on a Wednesday right in the middle of spring break. More than 100 people showed up to clear trash from campus, trim overgrown shrubbery, and take care of minor repairs. The sun was shining, we stopped at noon for a hamburger feed, and people were smiling. You could feel the camaraderie and pride between the students, faculty, staff, and even a few family members who chipped in.

I believe each person who took part was building our Saints Family pride, and practicing leadership. It’s a process I care about deeply and pursue whenever I can. This Thursday night, prior to our SCCC town hall meeting, I will be speaking at the Leadership Education and Development (LEAD) graduation on campus. The LEAD program is a great example of opportunities that the college continually offers to the community. This takes place year-round through Business & Industry classes, professional development / certification workshops, Business Over Breakfast meetings, and special speakers through our collaboration with the Liberal Area Chamber of Commerce. We want to develop more leaders. We want a strong and vibrant community.

We also want to hear more voices, which is why we’re hosting Town Hall meetings in the community over the next few months. Leaders do not only act, they listen — and they can lead from wherever they happen to be standing.

Maybe there’s a spot waiting for you on our campus. Open positions are available in athletics, instruction, and many other departments on campus. When we say the Saints Family, we mean it. We chip in to help each other in times of need. We eat together and laugh together. We go through good and bad times together, donate our sick leave to one another, and constantly show we appreciate one another.

The people are what make being a Saint special.

So if you are interested in joining our team, visit our website or stop by campus. It really is the best workplace ever.

WWP_BradSCCC_01EDITOR’S NOTE: Brad Bennett is the president of Seward County Community College. He is also, when the occasion calls for it, a hamburger grillmaster and public speaker. You can meet him this Thursday at 7 p.m. at the SCCC Town Hall Meeting in the Showcase Theater on campus. 

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March 13, 2022 :  Saints Voices

No matter the question, let’s crowd-source answers to benefit the community

As the College prepares to draft new strategies, add your ideas

It’s common knowledge that complaints are louder than compliments. In the English-speaking world, we’ve even got folk sayings to emphasize this aspect of human nature: “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” and “hindsight is 20/20.” Even the stern instructions “don’t cry over spilled milk” and “you’ve made your bed, now lie in it” focus on looking back with regret.

But what if we reversed the habit of criticism to gaze fearlessly into the future?

What if we took a look at worst-case scenarios and imagined a better outcome?

What if our collective dreams turned out to be stronger than our deepest fears?

That’s the stuff communities are built upon.

It’s also the way forward for Seward County Community College, where we are preparing our next round of strategic plans. In the corporate world and many households, the five-year plan is a standard way to list goals, dreams, challenges, opportunities, and the practical steps to find a path from now to the future. This year, though, it’s anything but business as usual in the world of education.

On the second anniversary of mass shutdowns prompted by COVID, college does not look like it once did. For years, early adopters promoted the ease and economy of online learning. In 2020 and 2021, everyone had to give it a try. Buy-in was not a factor as necessity demanded action. Two years later, K-12 teachers, college instructors and professors have a bewildering assortment of results to consider. Does technology-aided learning work? It depends who you ask.

The same applies to the cost of college. Over the past few decades, tuition rates at four-year universities have multiplied to unimaginable heights. Meanwhile, college in your hometown remains the big secret to cost-cutting. Students can start at Seward, transfer, and earn a degree for half the cost of university tuition, fees, food and housing. The pandemic and world events upended even that sensible assumption — thank you and no thank you, inflation! This leaves more students and their parents with the question, is college worth what it costs in terms of time and money? Again, answers vary.

Finally, at the Kansas state capitol, legislators are engaged in what is now a 12-year debate about how to fund higher education. While much of our funding at SCCC comes from local sources and tuition, money from the state and federal governments plays a role, as do funds impacted by ongoing legal matters before the Kansas court. Solid stewardship of taxpayer dollars is a priority. If you’ve ever waited for a check (or bill) that is rumored to be “in the mail,” you know how difficult it is to plan amid uncertainty.

Yet there’s one sure thing amid change. At Seward County Community College, we believe in the power of education to change the world one life at a time. We come alongside students from all walks of life, equipping and empowering them to change for the better. It starts with an individual who applies, enrolls, and eventually earns the certificate or degree that opens doors. That person has a family, tribe, or network — possibly all of those groups — who benefit from that SCCC Saint’s higher wages, stronger skills, and sense of hope. Put a few of those groups together, and you’ve started to build a community.

And this month, we’re looking to our community to find answers as we plan for the future. How can we best support students? What programs are calling out for expansion? In what ways can the college partner effectively with business and industry to strengthen the regional economy? What opportunities do our stakeholders most desire? What widespread community challenges might be resolved with the help of SCCC programs? What are we doing well? What can we do better?

President Brad Bennett and several SCCC employees will host a Town Hall meeting at 7 p.m. March 24 in the Showcase Theater to get the conversation started. We want to hear what’s on the minds of our past and future students, taxpayers, armchair philosophers, optimists, entrepreneurs, and anyone else who wants to join in. You can ask us (nearly!) anything, and we will do our best to answer. We are also eager to hear your brilliant ideas.

Join us for our first Town Hall meeting on March 24! We can’t wait to get started together.

rachel colemanEDITOR’S NOTE — Rachel Coleman is a former newspaper writer who reported on focus groups, forums, and public meetings for more than two decades. In her current role as executive director of marketing and PR at SCCC, she’s excited to help host Town Hall meetings that reach out to include unusual voices and make the most of the real-life experiences of our community members. 

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March 7, 2022 :  Saints Voices

Contracts reflect what matters most — family, a sense of purpose, and commitment

That includes documents signed in crayon at 11 p.m.

When I was a teacher, I used to preach to my students to be passionate about their work. We spend so much time at work and doing something you’re passionate about makes it feel like a choice that feels good and not “nose to the grindstone” work.

Last spring, I left Seward County Community College for financially motivated reasons. That decision took me outside of education, which has been my first, feel-good career choice for the majority of my work life. If my former students could have seen me, they might have said, “Mr. Bennett, you should practice what you preach!”

Maybe they were, because I had a feeling while I pulled out of Liberal that I was making a mistake.

As time passed, I quickly realized that the words I had told thousands of students over the years were in fact true. I missed education. I missed the feeling of purpose I gain from this profession. But, more than that, I missed being a Saint. I missed the community of Liberal, and I missed the wonderful faculty and staff Seward County Community College is blessed with. I knew I needed to live with my decision, but the passion for work was not there.

My wife and I began to discuss our options. How could we address the fact that I was unhappy with my career, and it was impacting my family? I could get back into the field of education, but I made the decision not to apply to other schools because I knew that my heart was at SCCC. I told Lindsay, “Let’s wait for four or five years and see what is open at that point. I miss SCCC too much to go to a different school.”

Being a community college President requires incredible dedication, passion, and energy. I knew that I would not be the best version of myself at another institution. One of the lessons I learned in 2021 was that I should pay attention to that voice inside, the one that advised students to pay attention to their passion.

Five days later I received a call that led me to return to my position with the Saints family. It felt unreal, exactly what I had been hoping for. Rarely in life do we receive a second chance.

Before I accepted the job, Lindsay and I sat down with our daughters MaryBelle (8) and Madeline (6). We wanted to make sure they were okay with another life-changing event.  The girls have completely opposite personalities:  MaryBelle is shy, does not like change, and rarely is in trouble, while Madeline is ready to explore, even if that means breaking a rule or two. That said, they are both wonderful in their unique strengths, and they are both incredibly loving and kind. The girls reassured me that this was the best move not only for me, but my family.

A few minutes later, MaryBelle walked out of her room sporting a Saints shirt, holding a contract for me to sign. The document my second-grader had written up stated that this was the correct move, BUT we were not allowed to move again. It is by far the most serious contract I have signed.

Family connections are the strongest, and in many ways, the return to Seward continues a passion I picked up from my own mother, who was a lifelong educator. My childhood memories include watching her pour everything she had into being a better teacher and later an administrator. It’s probably similar for MaryBelle and Madeline, who can tell when their dad is happy as he heads off to work.

Here in Liberal, they see me bring that passion to campus every day. My view is that if I help guide our employees and make the workplace happier — and sometimes even fun — the students in turn will have a better experience. Everything we do and every decision we make impacts our students. Each of our employees plays a critical role in educating the future. It’s my goal to lead the Saints family with positive energy that benefits each one, our students, and the community.

I am so excited to be back on campus. Please stop in and say hi, or reach out if I can help you in any way.  Also, mark your calendar for Thursday, March 24, when we will host a Town Hall meeting in the Showcase Theater at 7 p.m. We’re hosting a conversation about enrollment, optimism, and SCCC’s impact, and are excited to hear from you, the stakeholders of the community that is the center of who we are.

WWP_BradSCCC_01EDITOR’S NOTE: Brad Bennett is both the 11th and the 13th president of Seward County Community College, and a proud participant in the 2022 Men’s Pacer Race at International Pancake Day. 

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February 27, 2022 :  Saints Voices

Decades after Dr. King, Black History and Black Futures deserve more conversation

SCCC aspires to host meaningful dialogue that changes hearts

When my children — now young adults — were growing up, our observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day was almost cursory. We popped our mini-documentary about King’s life and the civil rights movement into the VCR machine and watched the black-and-white images together. The narrative was interspersed with commentary by my husband, who is just old enough to carry his own personal memories of that tumultuous period in history.

It seemed, back in the late 1990s, more symbolic than relevant.

It seemed that way because we, a mixed-race, bicultural couple, viewed the prospects of our children with a vivid optimism fueled by love.

Even so, it seemed important to do our due diligence.

That was clear when, in turn, our three mixed-race kids announced they weren’t so keen on identifying as Black, outright rejecting the term. At the time, I flirted briefly with the notion that maybe they were right. Hadn’t we, as a nation, outgrown such labels? Maybe we were truly “past all that.” My husband held his peace, perhaps hoping my perceptions would hold true.

Nearly 30 years later, we all laugh about those assumptions — and the laughter is a little painful.

True: My three mixed-race children are perceived as, and move through the world as, Black.

Also true: They embrace their identity, and still have plenty of thoughts and opinions to share.

Truest of all: Their lived experiences matter just as much as — likely more than — any explanations their father and I might offer.

On January 17, 2022, the conversation in our living room was lively. With Seward County Community College closed in observance of the MLK federal holiday, we had time and a 4/5 majority present for an informal re-enactment of those family dialogues from decades past.

Ask my kids whether MLK day is relevant, whether systemic racism is real — heck, what it’s like to be “young, Black and gifted,” as Nina Simone phrased it — and you’ll hear three different answers. Some arrive with smiles, others with tears.

During the two terms of President Barack Obama, my children were tweens and high school students; Trayvon Martin was killed while wearing a hoodie and eating Skittles; Beyonce ascended to superstar status. As they embarked in early adulthood, the election of President Donald Trump and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement (and more murdered Black folks than this column has room to list) swung the pendulum in another, more dismaying direction. Along the way, they had to grapple with a society just as topsy-turvy as the hormonal fluctuations in their still-developing brains.

On campus at SCCC, we witness a similar array of young adult reckonings. With a majority of first generation, Hispanic students, our Saints are personally embroiled in the hot topics of the times. Immigration. Colorism and racism. Questions about consent, agency, identity. And, always, the daily concerns about food, shelter, medical and mental healthcare. Often, survival is a struggle.

Ask my husband and me about MLK and his relevance, and we’ll tell you that cherry-picked quotes only go so far and often get twisted to prove points Dr. King never meant to make. We’ve found the most important thing to do is listen to our kids, and encourage them to listen to their elders. There is comfort in being heard. There is confidence in knowing someone finds you worthy, valuable, and interesting enough to tune in to what you say. And there’s wisdom to be found in the exchange of ideas and personal experience.

That’s exactly what we will be doing on campus through the month of February in honor of Black History Month. Wednesday, Feb. 9, in the SCCC Library, we will stage a series of small, personal panel discussions focused on the theme “Black History | Black Futures.” Students and the public are welcome to participate in short roundtable conversations pairing older and younger members of the Black community. Topics on the roster include military service, public protests in the 1960s and the current day, and patriotism. Another table will explore the experiences of Black women in the workplace and athletics, mental health issues that result from society’s often unspoken (and sometimes voiced) assumptions, and how barriers are maintained and broken across generations. A third table will examine the colorful, sometimes painful, sometimes delicious intersection between African culture and Black American culture.

Like the living discussion my own family conducted last Monday, I hope the Saints family conversation will further the goal of loving our students into success. The Coleman household did not tidy up the problems of our messy world, but we all got a chance to speak our mind, gain a fresh appreciation of other viewpoints, and affirm that life is better together than when we are divided.

The goal at Seward is to strengthen that sense of “Saints Strong” unity through each encounter, whether it takes place in the Greenhouse, the classroom, or the cafeteria. Join us next month in the library as we observe Black History and Black Futures. At SCCC, we honor both.

rachel colemanEDITOR’S NOTE — The Black History | Black Futures sessions are set for 9 a.m. and noon on Wednesday, Feb. 9, at the Seward County Community College library. The community is invited to attend as we listen to Saints voices.  Rachel Coleman is the Executive Director of Marketing and Public Relations at SCCC, and a six-year member of the college’s Diversity & Inclusion team. You can contact her at 620-417-1125 or rachel.coleman@sccc.edu.

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February 13, 2022 :  Saints Voices

Saints family a welcome contrast to the Great Resignation sweeping the world of work

In the world of education, each semester means professional development workshops, introductions to new employees, and a review of why we do what we do. After seven years at Seward County Community College, I confess I drank extra-strong coffee this week before we embarked on our 2022 sessions. It was tough to trade the leisurely late mornings of holiday break for power point presentations. At the same time, being part of a vibrant team of people committed to empowering students never gets old.

We’re at a point in U.S. history where employment is in a state of dizzying change. The global pandemic interrupted everything we thought was reliable and spawned what pundits are now calling The Great Resignation — a massive labor shortage. Some of it is caused by death, but just as many workers left their jobs because of dissatisfaction with wages, working conditions, and outdated expectations.

It’s a strange phenomenon to witness when you love the place you work. Seward County Community College employs roughly 200 people, forming what we often refer to as the Saints Family. Like all families, we’re not perfect. We weather our share of disagreements, dramatic moments, wins and losses. Yet each semester, whether the sky is delivering icy needles of could-be snow or the sun blazes off the concrete in the campus courtyard, we start again. We are here to serve our students.

When I joined the Saints family, I stepped on campus in a blur of terror and jubilation. I had worked at home for more than a decade and felt deeply insecure about my ability to make small talk by the coffee machine. I was thrilled about the prospect of working in a building that contained an entire library and giddy about the impact I could have on young lives.

Over time, the jitters mellowed into familiarity, and while I am by no means an old-timer on campus. I am established enough to offer a helping hand to newcomers. I also sustain an enthusiastic endorsement of SCCC as a great place to work. There’s no possibility of boredom in a place that exists to enable learning. That’s not just for our students; all employees at SCCC are encouraged to build on whatever we bring with us.

Each year, we celebrate team members who have earned associate degrees right here on campus, persevered to claim a bachelor’s degree, or gone even further. In 2018, I was one of those newly-minted four-year-degree holders. This fall, several team members earned master’s or doctorate-level degrees. SCCC makes it possible to level up. The college encourages and supports employees who are working on additional credentials.

But the Saints experience goes far beyond academic affairs. Our employees engage with an array of students from the region, the nation, and the world. Whether it’s the kid who used to mow your lawn, or the volleyball player you cheered for at high school games, you become part of the story of those young people’s lives as they find their way to adulthood. You’ll also have the opportunity to meet our international students, who come from 20+ countries each year. These students relish learning about the United States, and enliven the hallways as they provide an up-close window to the world.

New employees are often warned they may begin to “bleed green,” much in the way young newspaper recruits were told that “ink would get in our blood.” This is not true in the literal sense, yet it is true. Wednesdays are Green on campus, as we show up in Saints swag and college colors. Greenhouse nights host basketball or volleyball competitions in the gymnasium, and admission is free to all employees. The banner-lined ceiling of that cavernous space attests to the caliber of Saints athletics — always a sight to behold.

Yet when we talk about why Seward is a great place to work, it always comes down to the people. Yes, the grounds are lush and shady all summer. We love our Christmas pies and our summer ice cream giveaways. But it’s the people we greet every morning at the time clock or in the cafeteria line who make SCCC stellar. If your dog runs away, we’ll help search. If your house burns down, we will collect donations. If you get a flat tire, someone will come to find you. If you have a bad day, you might find your favorite soda waiting at your desk. Heck, if you renovate your bathroom, we might even throw you a toilet paper shower when the project is complete.

This spring, we’re looking for new members to join our team in a variety of positions. Those include instructors for mathematics, business marketing and management, business administration, microbiology. Agriculture. Nursing, and cosmetology. We’re also hiring an alumni and gift coordinator in the development office, and a part-time bus driver.

As the old saying goes, you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family. When you come to work at SCCC, you get to choose both.

Check out job descriptions and application instructions at sccc.edu > faculty/staff > human resources > Join the team! You can also call Human Resources at 620-417-1123 for more information.

rachel colemanEDITOR’S NOTE: Rachel Coleman is the Executive Director of PR and Marketing at SCCC. This position sometimes involves washing windows, handing out candy, and looking on the bright side when life turns cloudy.  If you come to work at SCCC, she’ll set you up with a Saints Strong T shirt and assorted college swag.  

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December 11, 2021 :  Saints Voices

The courageous parents of first-generation students

SCCC is privileged to be part of their stories

At Seward County Community College, we like to praise the power of education to transform lives. We believe, as Nelson Mandela observed, “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.” For most of us, however, that notion is a slightly blurry, distant idea rather than lived reality.

It came into sharp focus for me late last month, when we received word that my mother-in-law, Minnie Mae Coleman, had died — or, in the parlance of church tradition, “transitioned to Heaven.” She was 98, fierce and kind and always hopeful. Besides the 13 children she raised, Momma welcomed more than 150 grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and countless strays and in-laws to the family I joined 28 years ago.

Momma grew up in the Mississippi Delta, where despite her tiny frame, she outpicked my father-in-law pound for pound in the cotton fields, a fact she never allowed him to storytell away. Growing up, she dreamed of becoming a nurse, inspired by a magazine picture that she’d seen on a discarded paper. Her father, Alonzo Mason, had avoided a sharecropper’s fate and prided himself on providing for his family through the parcel of land he owned outright. Even so, the American South in the 1920s and ‘30s did not offer much in the way of educational opportunity for girls like Momma. She completed the eighth grade, no more.

It’s hard to imagine a world without public school for everyone, yet Momma was not left untutored. The real-life library of knowledge she could access was rich and varied. Her mother, Amy, was a well-respected midwife, capable and resourceful. One of Momma’s nephews — who eventually rose to the position of federal judge — recalls being called upon to record the names of newborn babies for his grandmomma. At eight years old, he was the only family member able to read and write on demand, which may account for some of the creative name spellings that occur in the Swifttown region.

In time, Momma attained literacy and applied it to her Bible, newspapers and other written materials. A relentlessly hard worker who once told a baffled cardiologist, “Patch me up and send me home,” she cleaned houses, took in laundry, and even found a job as a a nurse’s aide, the closest she could get to her girlhood aspiration.

As I knew her in the final decades of her life, cataracts had rubbed out her vision and she retreated to oral history, song, and memorized scripture. My iPhone is crowded with spontaneous recordings of Momma’s crinkled-silk voice that often swerved into a knowing chuckle. Of course, I’ve only listened in small doses. A few sentences and the grief closes in.

I want vision unfettered by time and space so that I can see back to my mother-in-law’s earliest memories, the quandaries she settled in her mind, and all the might-have-been alternate paths closed to her by history and happenstance. What if Momma had been born in Massachusetts? What if she had possessed the power to say “no” whenever it suited her? What if she had been offered the option to enroll in college? If we took Momma’s acrylic paintings on corrugated cardboard and her multitude of hand-pieced quilts to an art professor, what unacknowledged talent might we identify?

Who will tell the stories she carried? And what about all the life lore she had absorbed, an understanding of the human body, social dynamics, spiritual principles, the skills needed for everyday existence? Does anyone have her recipes for peach cobbler or mustard greens? Where did she learn to cure a bad winter cough with orange peel tea?

The academic world has long struggled with the question of how to quantify folk (indigenous) wisdom expressed in what we condescendingly viewed as less than “proper” English. We call it African American Standard English now, and linguists acknowledge that it is a dialect, not a deficiency.

In the same way, our society has long paid homage to degrees and titles while dismissing the hard-won lessons of life in the migrant fields and margins of “civilization.” Knowledge over wisdom, you might say.

Momma may not have held a diploma of any sort, but she was a true sage, able to discern a correct course of action amid chaos, willing to wait for the dust to settle, and calmly complete whatever was needed in the meantime. Unsurprisingly, she recognized the power of education and preached it tirelessly to her children.

She urged them to seize opportunities denied to her. Two older daughters ventured to an early ‘60s iteration of Job Corps in Maine. Two sons parlayed their formidable athleticism into scholarships at four-year colleges. A fair number of my “bonus siblings” took classes at SCCC itself, and countless others of the second, third, and even fourth generation have followed hard after education, “the thing,” Momma reminded everyone, “that no one can take away from you.”

This parental aspiration and bequeathed courage is a gift many of our students at SCCC bring with them. They are often the first person in their family to pass through the doors of any sort of college. Their parents have no idea how to support them, beyond a steady belief in their excellence. It’s our privilege at SCCC to become part of the storylines of such families, like the one I married into.

There’s no doubt that Momma would view her passing as a promotion rather than a loss. No more mandatory doctor visits or stays in the care center. She doesn’t have to scheme to keep hold of her garden patch, her occasional chickens, her sense of independent innovation. Her far-flung, gorgeous, prolific family will be reckoning with the loss for years to come. Thanks to her influence, though, her descendants will do so with high school diplomas, professional certificates, and college degrees held firmly in hand: nobody, we hear her voice reminding us, can take that away.

rachel colemanEDITOR’S NOTE — Rachel Coleman is the executive director of marketing and public relations at Seward County Community College. You’ll find her listening to gospel music through the end of this year, and testing peach cobbler recipes that meet the Minnie Mae Coleman standard. 

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From the Constitution to SCCC, local autonomy deserves our protection

September 21, 2021

This past week we celebrated Constitution Day, which in turn started Constitution Week in the United States. While this is an annual event, it doesn’t seem to get it’s due. Constitution day is normally observed on September 17th, because on September 17th, 1787, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention signed the document that became the cornerstone of the greatest “experiment” in the history of governance in the world.

The constitution was a framework created for a set of States with their unique autonomies to be able to act as one when needed to benefit the whole, as defined in its preamble. The hallowed document was not intended to make the states, the counties, the cities and towns homogeneously and singularly subservient to the federal government. Had it done so, it would have lost the main ingredient that allowed this republic to evolve into the most enduring beacon of freedom and independence.

That observation leads me to the point I want to make about the importance of the public trust that Seward County Community College has with the electorate of Seward County. As national politics clamor with sounds of greater federal influence on its citizens, I believe it is vital that we understand and appreciate our local autonomies, and the power of the local self-determination that we currently possess. As noted in the July 4, 2021 editorial in the Leader-Times, by Dr Walter Wendler of West Texas A&M University, “as the distance to the seat of government increases, that potential of having cogent, meaningful impact decreases. Local influence and decision-making empower a free society’s work and worth, and likewise, for a local university.” Dr. Wendler is obviously referring to the role West Texas A&M plays in the Texas panhandle, but I would extend the same sentiment to Seward County Community College, as the local college within our region.

SCCC’s Board of Trustees are elected by the voters of Seward County. They have been exemplary stewards of this college over the years, and they continue to be so. They are in tune to the educational and economic impact that SCCC has not only in Seward County, but indeed the region surrounding Seward County. They make decisions in the best interest, and to the specific needs, of the people of this locale.

The people of this locale are uniquely special and deserving of all that our college can provide for them. I was reminded of this recently when Sr. Rosa Maria of St. Anthony’s Catholic Church stopped me on the street to tell me she was returning to Mexico. During our brief conversation, she thanked me for helping create a peaceful community. I believe she was not just referring to me individually, or just the St. Anthony parish, but to Liberal and southwest Kansas, with its rich citizenry of diverse culture and common decency. Her comment reminded me of how important it is to understand the duty and obligation that we as citizens of Seward County, of Kansas, and indeed of the United States of America have been entrusted.

Part of the duty of SCCC to its students and its taxpayers is to endlessly pursue excellence in education. As Professor Lee Tavis once told my class at the University of Notre Dame, when we were collectively stumped on a question he had posed to the class, ..”without the tools, you are nothing but a bunch of do-gooders to whom nobody listens.”

The educators at SCCC strive to teach, and thus provide, its students with the tools to be productive, self-determined, happy, and responsible citizens that make the caring, peaceful community that Sr. Rosa described. May we as citizens of Seward County employ the civic tools we have been entrusted with, and strive to be vigilant and dedicated in our duties and responsibilities to our neighbors, our fellow citizens, and the Constitution that has made this beautiful “experiment” possible for over 200 years.

Currently the interim president at SCCC, Dennis Sander also serves as Vice President of Finance and Operations. A Southwest Kansas native, Sander is known in Saints Land for his love of puns, attention to detail, and fierce loyalty to all things Notre Dame. This opinion column reflects the personal perspective of its author, and is not intended to reflect the official position of SCCC.  

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Two decades later, 9/11 events remain vivid for New York transplant and SCCC team member 

September 11, 2021

There are moments – events — in life that you never forget. That create memories so powerful you can identify exactly what you were doing. John F. Kennedy being shot, the first man on the moon, the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan, the start of the Iraq War in 1990 and the Oklahoma City bombing, just to name a few.

I remember a few of those quite vividly, others not so much. But one event I will never forget is the attack on September 11. I have a little different perspective on the matter because I was born and raised in New York City. I lived there for 35 years before I moved to Liberal.

And it wasn’t that I just lived in New York, but I considered the World Trade Area my stomping ground. I worked in and hung out in that area for more than a decade. I would wander into the buildings to visit the shops and access mass transit in the World Trade Center hub more often than I can remember. 

It’s been 20 years — I can’t believe it’s been that long — but I’ll always remember it like it was yesterday. That day, it had been two years since I left New York to come to Kansas. That morning, I was going to get some blood work done at the doctor’s office. The nurse said, “a plane has crashed into the World Trade Center!”At first, I didn’t believe it. That was absolutely ridiculous. But the more I thought about it, the more I reasoned that “well, maybe it’s a small plane and I guess that could happen.”

Driving back to the house, I listened to the details on the radio. I got home, immediately turned on the television and watched the disaster unfold.

As I’m watching, my mind starts to scramble and I’m flooded with questions. “I wonder where my parents are?” “What about my brother and sister?” “My friends?” I’m pretty sure everyone is OK but there’s a sense of panic. I’m calling and all I get is the automated message: “all circuits are busy.”

It wasn’t until hours later that I finally got through and everyone was in fact OK, but in shock about what had happened.

The scenes on TV were dramatic. The billowing smoke from both towers. The fire that I watched burning buildings and the eventual collapse of the Twin Towers. It was incredibly surreal. You didn’t believe it was happening, but it did. It wasn’t a movie or a TV show. It was real.

It was deeply personal. A tragedy that hit home only because I had been there. I pretty much walked every inch of the World Trade Center area hundreds if not thousands of times. And then I wondered if I would’ve been there, if I hadn’t moved to Kansas. Maybe. Maybe not. When I lived in New York, it was certainly a possibility — especially in the morning.

I won’t watch any footage or documentaries or movies about the event. It’s just too hard. The panic in the streets, the terror and the chaos. It’s too hard to relive.

Just as an aside, I did know people who perished in the attack – high school acquaintances, first responders. And while this tragedy touches me on the most personal level, it is gratifying that the people in Liberal and Seward County Community College pay tribute on that day.

The college has often set up a special lunch and gathered the community to commemorate and honor not only those who have lost their lives but those who were first to help out – the police, fireman and EMTs – the first responders. How they have given their lives without hesitation to help others – their unselfishness. This year, Patriot Day falls on the weekend, and we will not be on campus. Even so, we should all honor and respect the memories of those we lost and the heroism of those who served as rescuers and responders.

September 11, 2001 – never forget.

A 14-year member of the Saints family, Phil Lee has worked in the SCCC Library, TRiO offices, and currently in the PR & Marketing office. You’ll be likely to see him at student and community events, capturing images and video footage for use in college media. 

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Trunk Abe Schultz

Life Interrupted: In which I unpack my grandfather’s short-lived college years

The trunk occupies the northwest corner of my living room, as if it still looks toward Montana and a farm that the bank took back. Its boxy face is covered with nailed-on filigree panels, impressed on metal too darkened with age for me to identify. One handle, the original leather rotted to a stub, has been replaced by a loop of rope. It is that makeshift detail that so endears the trunk to me. I view it as evidence that life goes on, and beauty remains. 

When Abraham Schultz boarded the train to Minneapolis, Minn., in the early 1930s, the trunk was likely in excellent condition — unlike the state of affairs for wheat farmers like his father. Montana grain-growers had endured years of drought, locusts, and the Dust Bowl and Depression hadn’t even begun. By contrast, young Abe, someday to be my grandfather, was full of optimism, bound for Bible college and a scholar’s life. He had packed all his worldly belongings in the trunk, except for his heavy winter coat; that he layered over his clothes to conserve packing space. It was Indian Summer, and he must have felt stiflingly hot.  

It would be decades before my mother heard the story of how her father’s education was interrupted by nature, social upheaval, and misfortune. She got the account from her own mother, whose lament in old age was the loss of her husband “who had been such an encourager. He always knew what to say to me when I was blue, and he encouraged me to keep on.”

Less than a year into his studies, Abe received word from his father in Montana: the bank had called in his loan, repossessed the farm, and evicted the family. As youngest son, and the only one without a wife and children, Abe was obliged to return home to help pack and move his parents to Dallas, Oregon. There, they found temporary lodging with relatives, and joined the migrant workers who picked fruit and lived hand-to-mouth through the Depression. 

He was never a bitter man, my grandfather. My mother says he never talked about “what if” and how bad things had been for him. “He recalled being deeply disappointed that he was not able to finish college. He had to give that dream up,” she said. “But he dug down deep and decided to make the best of it. He found another way to get educated and to learn, to study. That was all of his own initiative, his inner drive.”

Before he met my grandmother, he traveled to California to help an uncle, and was able to take classes at Biola College in Los Angeles. Later, as a young minister in a Mennonite church in Quakertown, Penn., he attended a few seminary classes. Books crowded his study shelves. He was truly a self-taught man.  

These days, his trunk serves as a lamp table in my living room, where I sometimes curl up on the sofa to work cozily. The stay-at-home orders prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and my resulting telecommuting work model feel surreal some days. Can it be possible that my office will remain dark until midsummer? That my Los Angeles daughter drove a full circuit of the city, from the mountains to the Pacific, in just 45 minutes on near-empty roads? That my state university daughter has created a basement studio in her Wichita house to continue music lessons and practice sessions? That my son dons full PPE gear to deliver oxygen tanks to respiratory-compromised clients? Can it be possible that there won’t be a “normal” to get back to?

All of us, particularly the students who have abruptly come to an educational crossroads, are alternately speechless and fearful. It must have been something like this for my grandfather. Like the students at Seward County Community College, where I work (from home) (sometimes on the sofa), he had a mere two decades of life experience to draw on as he navigated national disaster. His own parents had emigrated from Prussia, and remembered wartime and religious oppression and starvation. It’s safe to say the Depression was not the worst thing that had ever happened to them. For their son, though, the sudden withdrawal from college completely changed his vision of the future. I imagine it was devastating. 

Yet here I am today, the second of four generations to come from his line. And we don’t recall him as a curmudgeon marked by bitterness. He didn’t just survive: he made a good life, won the heart of a beautiful woman who still longed for him 50 years after his death, raised children who remember his boundless optimism. Everywhere Abe moved, he planted grapevines in the back yard. Maybe the family would reap the benefits, or maybe they would be posted to a new church. Everywhere Abe moved, he began the day with singing — a practice he imposed upon his sleepy children before breakfast was served. He lived well. 

For all of us, elementary students to at-risk grandparents, this time poses similar heartaches and opportunities. Yes, life is changing. The train has left the station, the dust clouds on the horizon threaten to darken our days, and we have no idea what might be asked of us. Yet we have so much to work with. We have technology and capacity to communicate by faster means than telegraph and handwritten letter. We have medical advancements that arm us with knowledge and effective care. Perhaps most valuable of all we have the legacy of the folks who weathered worse storms. My grandfather’s trunk reminds me each day that we should hold onto the things that are portable: love, family connection, a belief in the good that is possible. We carry them with us, and they last.  

rachel colemanRachel Coleman serves as Executive Director of Marketing & P.R., and leads the Inclusiveness & Civility Mover Team at SCCC. Like most of her teammates at the college, she is making it work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic … with plenty of coffee and a healthy dose of humor contributed by her husband. This opinion column reflects the personal perspective of its author, and is not intended to reflect the official position of SCCC.  

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Hall of Saints members put their SCCC education to good use

During the last week of January 2020, the Seward County Community College campus saw a little bit of everything — glistening snowdrifts, Homecoming events for all students, a multicultural potluck, and the celebration of 15 remarkable alumni as part of the college’s 50th anniversary festivities. Our college president, Dr. T, described it as “the continuing story of SCCC, told in each person’s life.”

Amid the happy frenzy, I found myself reflecting on a childhood story playing out in real life. I first encountered the Parable of the Talents in a slim, brightly-colored paperback “Arch Book,” the Sunday School equivalent of the better-known Golden Books. This one, “Eight Bags of Gold,” featured striking, hand-drawn illustrations in the favored color palette of the 1970s — burnt orange, harvest gold, and avocado green.

Arch Book Talents

The original Arch book by Janice Kramer, published 1964 by Concordia House.

The story featured three characters, each of whom was given a different sum of money (in the parlance of antiquity, “talents,” also known as solid-gold currency) by their boss as he set out on a journey of unspecified length. The first two employees went to work immediately, doubling their respective funds. The third buried the gold in the ground, focusing on keeping it safe. He explained his rationale for the “play it safe” approach:

“Master, I know you have high standards and hate careless ways, that you demand the best and make no allowances for error. I was afraid I might disappoint you, so I found a good hiding place and secured your money.”

In the story, the master praised the first two characters, but expressed angry disappointment about the third servants inactivity. One translation of the original puts it this way: the master exclaimed, “That’s a terrible way to live!”

What did my childhood self make of this story, originally recorded in the gospel of Matthew? One take-away is that fear has no place in a vibrant life. Another might be, “trust the people around you,” — in the college environment, that would be your teachers. Then there’s the old adage, “he who hesitates is lost.”

What moved me most as I spoke with graduates like healthcare provider Elizabeth Irby, and athlete and psychologist Anne Weese, was the way they have leveraged the opportunities life presented them. When you listen to them tell how they got from uncertain 18-year-old to the impressive accomplishments they’ve logged, their time at SCCC carries equal weight as years spent at big-name institutions like K-State, Notre Dame, and even Virginia Tech.

Honoree Areli Monarrez-Valles told me that she and her husband, Jose Valles, view this community college as the place where everything came together for them. It’s the origin-point of a journey into a wholly unknown universe of higher education. They were the first people in their respective families to venture out, and SCCC gave them courage to continue.

I particularly enjoyed Stuart Moore’s story of how he heeded the good advice given by a science instructor to “make yourself more marketable” as a combination coach/teacher, and minor in something other than history. English instructor Ann Judd provided the inspiration for the baseball player to earn a credential in language arts as well as physical education.

Their stories have something in common with every single inductee we have added to our new Hall of Saints cohort — 40 to date, with 10 more to come by May 2020.

Each person exemplifies the heart of our mission at SCCC: to provide opportunities to enrich and improve each person’s life through a range of academic programs … for the advancement of the individual and the community. That means we actively seek to meet our students at their point of need — not, as the foolish servant assumed in the parable, “to demand the best and make no allowances for error.”

You could almost make the case that SCCC offers a shot at redemption for nearly every situation that ails people: teenage angst and confusion, disappointments on the court and the field, changes in plan, changes in circumstance. We specialize in holding out a hand to people who’ve requested a “do-over.” We welcome the bright stars who eagerly work to leverage their advantages — intelligence, beauty, creativity, financial stability, innovative thinking — to go as far as they possibly can.

And we celebrate it all: the multiplication of talents, no matter how humble the start.

The best aspect of this process is that it’s truly a never-ending story. Every semester, we welcome more students to the campus. Every day, our alumni go about the regular business of life. They make the world better one newspaper page, one high school science lab, one new calf on the ranch, one life at a time.

What a way to live.

NOTE: We continue to add in-depth profiles of each of our Hall of Saints inductees to the official public relations site of the college. You can find them at scccnews.com.

rachel colemanRachel Coleman serves as Executive Director of Marketing & P.R., and leads the Inclusiveness & Civility Mover Team at SCCC. She freely admits to a self-diagnosed condition, “Indiscriminate Fondness Disorder” that leads her to find something likable in every human she meets. This opinion column reflects the personal perspective of its author, and is not intended to reflect the official position of SCCC.  

•••

5 Follow along pattern

Lessons learned in Squirrel School

The neighbor dogs had barked since 9 a.m. when I stepped into the back yard to investigate. I had to squint across slabs of afternoon sun to scan the creaky elm tree that grows on the other side of the fence. Squirrel school, it appeared, was in session.

A determined-looking parent squirrel coaxed two kits along a slender branch that reached toward the roof. As they shrank into cute but uncooperative clumps, the parent crouched, launched, and landed decisively on the shingled slope. The mother — of course I imagined it was the mother — stood at attention, prairie-dog style, and chattered at her offspring. Just try it! I imagined her saying. It’s the shortest, safest route to the even bigger elm tree in the front yard!

Winter is coming! It’s time to stockpile food! This is the most efficient way! (Though I have no evidence, I am pretty sure squirrels end every sentence with an exclamation mark.)

The babies would have none of it. With a visible sigh, the mother dashed out of view, only to reappear in the tree moments later. The demonstration began again. The dog continued his alarm-bark. Saturday class continued until dusk.

With one college instructor and two future school teachers in the family, I hear plenty of human chatter about curriculum planning. Then, too, there’s my own work environment, surrounded by math and science instructors’ offices, students cramming for class outside my workspace, and the many meetings that punctuate academic life, meetings where we tackle tough questions like, “Why won’t our squirrels jump?” and “How many nuts are needed?” and “Have you seen the weather forecast for December?” I couldn’t help but imagine how this squirrel parent developed her own lesson outline.

Demonstration: How to leap from branch to shingle!

Assignment: Do as I do. And as I say … “be fearless, little ones!”

Objective: Master this skill before winter, in order to stockpile the most possible food in the highest possible location inaccessible to other creatures!

Outcome: Defy death at the jaws of the slavering dog below!

Assessment: If there’s no blood, we pass! If there are nuts in the nest, we earn As! Bonus points for any ounces gained by spring!

It’s no exaggeration to point out that the tiny, non-leaping squirrel kits resembled Saints students in more than one way. They were young and skinny and kind of adorable — all energy at the beginning, quick to wilt for nap time when the stress of leaping began to accrue. I’m sure they gobble nuts and seeds like nobody’s business, and have become accustomed to the bounty of summer and a parent’s provisions. Do these squirrels know how to cook or do laundry? They do not.

They were also easily distractible. During what must have been the parent’s 457th attempt to get them to try the leap, they engaged in a game of tag across the non-dog-guarded regions of the tree. I watched incredulously as they sprinted vertically up a desiccated branch that looked far less sturdy than the launch branch their mother had selected for the actual assignment. The 90-degree angle and brittle appearance of the branch bark and bone-white wood beneath seemed to me to represent a far greater possibility of tumbling to an untimely death by dog-jaw. Yet the baby squirrels wanted to play, and play to their strengths. They were stubborn, just like many of our students. They were were a bit cocky, betting on their squirrel tag skills instead of putting in the practice time for a challenging leap. They had no concept of winter, just as many of our students have no concept of the long marathon of debt repayment, or the likelihood of illness or injury and the need for a backup plan. They had no concept of age, because they were still babies, nor did they understand that their carefree days would not last forever. Sound familiar?

I take the parent squirrel’s teaching method to heart. It requires so much patience, time, sweat and determination. The mother did not need to jump on repeat for five hours, but she did. The students did not focus on the lesson, but she did. The need to get those winter preparations complete would drive me to despair, but she just kept at it.

Those darn squirrel kids. They don’t appreciate what they’ve got. Thank goodness someone’s looking out for them while the leaves fall and the dogs gather.

rachel colemanRachel Coleman is a lifelong learner and former homeschooling parent  who currently serves as Executive Director of Marketing & P.R., and leads the Inclusiveness & Civility Mover Team at SCCC. This opinion column reflects the personal perspective of its author, and is not intended to reflect the official position of  SCCC.  

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Clothe yourself in social courage

October, the month when I begin to listen for wild geese migrating, brings an echo of loss. Low grey skies create a sounding bell for the calls of birds fleeing blizzards; they also reflect an inevitable gloom, the descending specter of less sunlight and darker moods.

Autumn is when we feel the steady tick of time passing. Summer is over, winter is on its way, and growing season has come to a close. There’s no tricking a hard freeze.

It’s time to pull on an extra sweater, take a deep breath, and be brave.

Brave, because this time of year is when we reckon with mortality. We can’t avoid it. The trees offer testimony of bare-bones truth. Why would we assume that humans, whose lives are shorter than the average oak, are granted immunity from the forces that erode mountains?

How people handle loss is tied to how we connect with others. It is peculiar and treacherous territory. On the one hand, it’s as ordinary as dirt: everybody carries private grief. Making too much of yours can cloy. When I yearn for the dog I just relinquished to new owners or lament the mostly empty nest at my house, I can almost hear Auntie Sergeant in my head, issuing a crisp corrective: “Some people don’t have homes. Some people don’t have children to send to college! Toughen up, buttercup!” My sensible alter-ego is right — sorrow is nothing special.

But as Tolstoy observed in his novel Anna Karenina (whose title character is the all-time champion of melancholy) while all happy families are pretty much the same, every unhappy family finds its own unique way to explore misery. Can a person whose geriatric parent just died identify with the pain of a 25-year-old whose mother fought cancer and lost? If you say you’re upset about a favorite chair claimed by dry rot, do I trump your tale of woe with a story about termites?

In the face of such quandaries, professionals offer tips. Maybe it’s Seasonal Affective Disorder — the wintertime blues — that has us down. Or perhaps we ought to talk about National Suicide Awareness Month? Be aware, feelings of discouragement are not the same as clinical depression. Instructors at the community college where I work take the halfway mark of the semester as a cue to issue warnings about “staying on top of your studies.” Young adult students, whose brains are still in the final stages of development, might not be sure why they feel downhearted.

The big box stores see the start of autumn as a gold rush: Halloween, hunting season, Thanksgiving, football, and Christmas shopping all provide profits galore. The retailers are not wrong, if what counts is dollars. We all know, however, down in the roots of our being, that money is not what matters when that cold and lonely wind blows.

For me, October is a grab bag of emotion. It is the time of year I met my next-door neighbor, who became my husband 26 years ago. It’s also the time of year when my oldest child died. This year, the month has already brought gain and loss, gold and grit. I want to photograph every bright red leaf I notice turning in the wind. I want to curl up beneath the softest blanket in the house, and go to sleep. I’m pretty sure I am not alone in this back-and-forth response to the arrival of autumn.

At work, the month brings what I think of as “Judgement Day,” our accreditation visit from the Higher Learning Commission. Being evaluated is never comfortable, even when you know you have done your level best. The stress is counterbalanced by the excitement about our new buildings on campus — the Colvin Family Center for Allied Health on the northwest side of Circle Drive, and the Sharp Family Champions Center on the southeast. Both are nearly complete, and the altered silhouette kind of takes my breath away when I approach campus.

That’s the thing about seasons. They change. And even though we might find familiar themes, be those in the form of pumpkins or plaid, no two years are exactly the same.

What memories mark this season for you? What do you savor? When does sadness gust into the corners of your heart, like wind scattering dry leaves?

As SCCC’s inclusiveness & civility mover team launches another year of work, we’re interested in those moments, when loss collides with forward motion, calling for courage and grace. More than the distinctions that divide us, all people share common experiences as we move through life. Let’s keep good company with one another along the way.

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rachel colemanRachel Coleman is a recovering newspaper writer who currently serves as Executive Director of Marketing & P.R., and leads the Inclusiveness & Civility Mover Team at SCCC. To read more of her columns, visit her blog at rachelcoleman.wordpress.com. This opinion column reflects the personal perspective of its author, and is not intended to reflect the official position of SCCC.  

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Going back to where we came from

If you grew up in a small, rural community like I did, the beginning of the school year was something like a family reunion. Every August, the same group of 15 or so kids lined up in the freshly-waxed hallway, back to assume their roles in the social network of best friends, best athletes, smartest students, poorest families, prettiest girls; the roles rarely shifted, having been set in kindergarten stone. Your identity was marked and known.

As a book-loving girl, I clamored for change. “Why can’t you take a church in New York? Or Kansas City? Or … anywhere with a museum?” I demanded of my preacher father.

God, it appeared, was not subject to my geographic whims. We stayed in that town of 800. Internally, I fumed about the limitations of small-town life. Outwardly, I often disconnected or sought to stir up controversy with tools like vote-fixing in the third-grade ballot box, an “underground” newspaper filled with snarky observations, and, in high school, a leopardskin-patterned skirt. Thank God he hadn’t left town, or the adults’ patience would have run out.

Decades later, I’m grateful for my throwback childhood, where neighbors ratted you out for picking flowers from their front yards and teachers exercised autonomy to design independent studies for a restless eighth-grader. These Indian summer afternoons, with their stored heat that radiates from the campus sidewalks, set off nostalgia rather than bitterness. My juvenile complaints, it turns out, were short-sighted.

Here at SCCC, we often experience the same dissatisfactions that marked my Minneola years. We are place-bound and work far away from urban resources and hot new trends. We make the best of aging buildings and standing committees filled with the same group of faces from year to year. We take for granted the advantages that tend to fade with familiarity. Until we don’t.

It’s a well-known trait of human beings — even those of us with a long list of complaints — to resist change. Take, for instance, one elementary-aged girl who hissed to the new kid in class, a smart and confident student whose hand shot up with ready answers, “Go back to Omaha where you came from!”

Why did I resent the arrival of someone who had read all the same books I loved, and brought fresh stories of a life lived elsewhere? Rather than relish the opportunities for friendship with a kindred spirit, I defaulted to animosity. How we navigated that relationship is a story too long for this column, but keep in mind the inertia of small town demographics. In the decades that followed, two classmates who argued during recess found common ground. Now we keep an eye on one another via Facebook. 

Higher ed, of course, is assumed to be far from the grade-school classroom. Even so, we adults often resemble our younger selves. 

When longtime colleagues retire or move on to other jobs, it’s human to mourn the loss; it’s shortsighted to shut out newcomers. When politics or current events frighten us, we need time to process our grief; it’s foolish to let our fears divide us from coworkers and neighbors who see events through a different lens. 

When summer comes to an end, it’s  OK to be sad. July, which is National Ice Cream month and a cause for celebration at my house, is nearly a week behind us. Regular work hours resumed on campus this Monday, and I confess I’m feeling a little cranky about how quickly the summer melted away.

At the same time, I can’t help but feel a surge of excitement about what this year will hold. Our campus has two new buildings, one of which is nearly finished. Vacancies on the SCCC team have been filled with newcomers from other places — though I haven’t seen Omaha on the list — and many folks on campus have switched jobs and moved to new offices.

Just as I could never have predicted how my childhood perspectives on life would shift, I realize there’s no telling what marvels might unfold during this new year. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

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Saint Stories is written by Executive Director of PR & Marketing, Rachel Coleman. A Kansas native and lifelong bibliovore, Rachel is affectionately known as the “Book Bully” by her family. She will stop reading for afternoon tea or a walk with the dog so that she can find the beauty in everyday life. This opinion column reflects the personal perspective of its author, and is not intended to reflect the official position of SCCC.  

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Green is good — until it’s time to mow

At Seward County Community College, we often say, “It’s good to be green!”

This summer, the natural world echoed that emotion with more rain through the season than anyone younger than 90 years of age can recall.

The robins rejoiced — loudly — starting at 3 a.m. daily, and the grackles never let up in their extravagant mating rituals that transform them from black mini-crows to gorgeous scribbles of desire. Gardeners enjoyed our own celebratory moments. The rain compensated for all sorts of horticultural shortcomings, from late plantings of tomato vines to distracted afternoons when watering fell off the “to do” list.

“This is why flowerbeds in Colorado and the Pacific Northwest look so lush,” I said to myself. “They get rain every day and nobody has to worry about drought resistant varieties of anything.” It’s easy to achieve beauty when it is your worries that evaporate, and not the sprinkler’s spray.

Mowing, though — that’s a different story. On campus, I saw our trusty crew mount the machines and make the circuit. And then do it again the next day. And the next. By the time they finished the outer edges of our sizable grounds, it was time to start over. And by the time I imagine they had resigned themselves to their fate, the weather decided to grant us 10 days of triple digits. No matter: the lawns still demanded attention.

SCCC has long touted its green spaces, often referred to by our community as “an oasis” on these arid High Plains. Over the last four years, the oasis has received many upgrades with the help of various granting bodies both public and private. The Sunflower Foundation, the Kansas Department of Parks and Wildlife, the Liberal Area Coalition for Families and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas have all dedicated funding to expand our Connections Trail System.

At the outset, some expressed skepticism about the vision that fueled this project, articulated by then-new SCCC President, Dr. Ken Trzaska. Dr. T would expound on his future-perfect scenario of hundreds of new trees, including an orchard path at some stretch, and families with young children picnicking in the shade. “He’s not from Kansas,” I think the feelings ran. “Clearly, he does not understand how hard it is to get things to grow out here.”

That’s probably true of any transplant, but Dr. T proved he understood more than anybody reckoned when construction began on the Colvin Center for Allied Health — right next to the ancient cottonwood that rules the northwest quadrant of Circle Drive. The cottonwood, in my imagination, had attracted two disciples in the form of Scotch Pines to the north. While it was a given that Coonrod & Associates would never dare to do so much as scratch the Cottonwood, the relatively smaller evergreens were in the way.

“They will have to move the two trees,” Dr. T said when he heard rumors of tree-chopping. “Trees are too hard to grow out here for us to just cut them down.”

He was right. The trees were good trees, sturdy, seemingly impervious to whatever that rusty, tree-balding disease is that has claimed other, less determined members of their species.

I’m not sure what it takes to relocate a tree of the size and age of the Scotch twins. Heavy equipment, for starters. Even then, it has to be a touch-and-go endeavor. Sadly, the first candidate for resettlement succumbed. The second remained, standing sentry as lifters and scrapers and Allied-Health makers — I may know the names of flora and fauna, but not construction machines — rumbled past.

Summer’s timer is ticking as I write, and the verdant glory of SCCC continues. I tip my hat to the groundskeepers, the construction crew, and our president for ensuring the oasis lives up to its name. One more reason to repeat, “it’s good to be green.”

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Saint Stories is written by Executive Director of PR & Marketing, Rachel Coleman. A Kansas native and lifelong bibliovore, Rachel is affectionately known as the “Book Bully” by her family. She will stop reading for afternoon tea or a walk with the dog so that she can find the beauty in everyday life. Enthusiastic book recommendations are always free to the public. This opinion column reflects the personal perspective of its author, and is not intended to reflect the official position of SCCC.  

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