Saints Voices

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.

Here 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. 

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.  

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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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rachel-coleman2-e1563812127359.jpg

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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