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History, Heritage, and Hope

By Dr. Al Roberts

The opening of a new year provides an opportunity for self-assessment and the chance to embrace renewed hope for the months yet to come. At the same time, revealing January’s calendar page begins an annual roll call of holidays that commemorate past events, reminders of our shared history and challenges we’ve already overcome.

On the third Monday in January, which this year will fall on January 16, our nation honors Martin Luther King, Jr., a dynamic civil rights leader and advocate of nonviolent activism. Dr. King was born in Atlanta, Georgia on January 15, 1929 and assassinated in April 1968.

Rosa Parks, another civil rights pioneer, was born on February 4, 1913 in Tuskegee, Alabama. Mrs. Parks inadvertently stepped into the national spotlight in 1955 by refusing to obey a bus driver who was enlarging the section of seats reserved for white passengers. Her refusal to move to a different seat resulted in her arrest for violating a city law that mandated the racial segregation of public buses.

These two remembrances lead into February’s observance of Black History Month, which provides an opportunity for learning more about the stories, struggles, and achievements of African American people. Other nationally recognized heritage months provide similar opportunities to learn about diverse groups that comprise our nation’s multicultural landscape. These include Women’s History Month (March), Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month (May), Hispanic Heritage Month (from mid-September to mid-October), National Disability Employment Awareness Month (October), and Native American Heritage Month (November).

Higher education is a key tool in efforts to vanquish inequalities of the past. In a recent report on diversity, the U.S. Department of Education noted, “Student body diversity in institutions of higher education is important not only for improving the economic and educational opportunities for students of color, but also for the social, academic, and societal benefits that diversity presents for all students and communities.”

Southside Virginia Community College is committed to fostering, cultivating, and sustaining a culture of diversity and inclusion. We believe our community is stronger when we welcome diverse ideas and perspectives, as well as people from a variety of backgrounds, cultures, and experiences. The College’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee embraces goals such as identifying practices designed to hire a diverse faculty and staff, supporting culturally expanding experiences, requesting that students with disabilities self-identify and utilize provided services, and encouraging employees to volunteer with charitable organizations that help diverse populations and people living in poverty. Student organizations include the Minority Awareness Programming Club and Make It Happen, a program that provides an institutional climate supportive to African-American male students.

Through these efforts and more, the College strives to create a welcoming, inclusive environment where all people feel respected and valued.

Dr. Al Roberts is president of Southside Virginia Community College, an institution of higher learning that provides a wide variety of education opportunities to a diverse student population within a service area that spans ten counties and the city of Emporia. He can be reached via email at al.roberts@southside.edu.

Community Is Our Middle Name

By Dr. Al Roberts

We are Southside Virginia Community College. “Southside Virginia” describes the geographic area we serve. “College” explains our function as an institution of postsecondary education. But “Community” is what characterizes our mission. Community stands at the core of our purpose and in the middle of our name. Community binds the people and places of our region together as we share our lives, our challenges, and our dreams.

Admittedly, some of the challenges have been significant. But challenges only serve to make us stronger. For example, business start-ups have increased every year for the past three years (from 214 to 308 to 353). Employment rates also show recovery. Regional unemployment stood at 10.5% in 2010, and the most recent Virginia Employment Commission figures peg it at 5.5%. The College promotes regional and individual prosperity through a wide slate of education opportunities. Earlier this year, SVCC awarded Associate of Applied Science, Associate of Arts and Science, and other credentials to more than 1,300 students, opening many doors of opportunity. Furthermore, for the eighth year in a row, SVCC was recognized as a “Great College to Work For” by The Chronicle of Higher Education.

SVCC faculty and staff also maintain strong community connections. With more than 300 full-time and part-time employees, the College’s workforce constitutes an armada of volunteers. They serve in areas such as fire departments and rescue squads. They distribute food and clothing, provide health care, and keep our region beautiful by picking up litter. SVCC employees serve on non-profit boards and committees, help out at festivals, and assist in schools, nursing homes, and churches. They help build and repair houses, volunteer as coaches, and give their blood—literally. By example, they lead students into lifestyles characterized by helping others.

SVCC student organizations include the Human Services Club, whose members seek to address needs among the elderly, young, and mentally challenged members of the community. The Student Government Association networks with legislators to find solutions to educational issues. The Minority Awareness Programming Club sponsors an annual African-American History month program and raises funds for charitable organizations. The Automotive Club sponsors car care clinics, and the Wellness Club offers workshops and community outreach programs to promote healthy lifestyles. Student Veterans of America provides encouragement to veterans and spouses of veterans, and members of Student Ambassadors honor the value of giving back to the community through outreach and volunteer projects. These are just a few of many examples.

When SVCC staff and students join hands with neighbors and others, Southside Virginia becomes a place where unity strengthens our relationships and prepares us for the future. SVCC’s Annual Report includes more details about the ways in which the College helps put the “unity” into our Community. If you would like to receive a copy, please contact me at 434-949-1004 or al.roberts@southside.edu.

Dr. Al Roberts is president of Southside Virginia Community College, an institution of higher learning that provides a wide variety of education opportunities to a diverse student population within a service area that spans ten counties and the city of Emporia. He can be reached via email at al.roberts@southside.edu.

Answering the Call

By Dr. Al Roberts

On the morning of September 11, 2001, nineteen people carried out suicide attacks against targets within the United States. Two airplanes smashed into the twin towers of New York City’s World Trade Center and another plunged into the Pentagon. A fourth plane crashed in Pennsylvania without reaching its intended target. More than 3,000 people, including hundreds of police officers and firefighters, were killed during the assaults.

According to a report by the 9/11 Commission that investigated the horrifying events, casualties at the World Trade Center “were very high among first responders who stayed in danger as they tried to save lives.” The report goes on to note that ultimately, “all but approximately one hundred of the thousands of civilians who worked below the impact zone escaped, often with help from the emergency responders.”

In honor of the bravery and courage with which men and women faced these strikes against our national security, the U.S. Congress passed bipartisan legislation in 2009 designating September 11 as a National Day of Service and Remembrance. By instituting a tradition of charitable service, the commemoration redirects memories of destruction toward the establishment of hope. It encourages people to show respect to the victims, survivors, and first responders by promoting goodwill and unity. The declaration calls people to work together through service motivated by the desire to make the world a better place.

Our nation’s first responders include a diverse range of dedicated individuals who place their duties and responsibilities ahead of their own personal regard. They are professionals and volunteers; they are our nation’s first line of defense. The National First Responders Organization defines a first responder in this way: “Any individual who runs toward an event rather than the other way.”

In order to perform their duties, first responders must be well-equipped. They face day-to-day dangers and handle large scale crises. Being prepared includes undergoing readiness training, maintaining mental and physical capabilities, and being able to deploy safety technologies to meet emergency needs. Because they are such skilled leaders, first responders often serve as role models within their communities.

Southside Virginia Community College takes pride in the part we play in providing instruction and credentialing for people who embrace these vital responsibilities. We offer Associate degrees, Certificate programs, and Career Studies Certificates in the fields of Administration of Justice, Emergency Medical Services, and Fire Science Technology. In addition, we offer CPR and first aid training classes.

If you yearn to answer the call to service, I invite you to visit SVCC’s website (www.southside.edu) or call SVCC at 888-220-7822. Admissions personnel can help you to learn about the training opportunities that will qualify you to join the elite cadre of first responders.

Dr. Al Roberts is president of Southside Virginia Community College, an institution of higher learning that provides a wide variety of education opportunities to a diverse student population within a service area that spans ten counties and the city of Emporia. He can be reached via email at al.roberts@southside.edu.

So Many Choices

By Dr. Al Roberts

The Model T was America’s first automobile priced for the middle class. In writing about it, industrialist Henry Ford quipped, “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.”

Not all early cars were black. Cars built by craftsmen—and even some of the first production models of the Model T—sported different colors. The switch to all-black was made to accommodate nascent assembly lines and to overcome technical problems related to paints. The one-color-fits-all approach didn’t last long.

After the end of World War I, improvements in painting technologies opened the way for car manufacturers to offer a variety of colors. By 1926, even Henry Ford found himself bowing to customer demand and offering more choices.

It seems that in every area of human endeavor, individual needs based on unique circumstances call for customize solutions.

This is especially evident in education. Students come from diverse walks of life. They face multi-faceted challenges. Daily, they juggle numerous obligations, and each faces different sets of complications and worries.

For this reason, Southside Virginia Community College offers courses in a variety of places and with a wide array of scheduling options. SVCC serves students from more than seven different physical sites across its service area. Classes include those taught in traditional 16-week semesters, but others are available in shorter formats of twelve, ten, eight, five, or even four weeks. Some classes are held during the day; others meet at night.

And, just as improvements in painting technologies ushered in a rainbow of car color choices, the present internet age has introduced a host of new technologies for teaching. SVCC makes full use of these state-of-the-art developments to offer classes in a wide variety of formats, including online, hybrid, compressed video, and shared distance learning courses. Online course can be completed from anywhere with a computer and a reliable internet connection. Hybrid courses combine the benefits of seated and online components. Compressed video technology makes courses available at more locations by enabling instructors and students to connect with two-way communication tools. Furthermore, shared distance learning lets SVCC students broaden their online class choices to include offerings from other partner institutions.

So many choices! Yet, not every choice is right for every person. At SVCC, counselors work with each individual to customize a roadmap to success. This dedication to personalized assistance helps ensure that every individual finds just the right mix of class schedules, formats, and locations to successfully reach his or her chosen destination.

If you’re ready to start or to continue on an education journey, call 888-220-7822 or visit www.southside.edu for assistance in choosing the right education model for your lifestyle.

Dr. Al Roberts is president of Southside Virginia Community College, an institution of higher learning that provides a wide variety of education opportunities to a diverse student population within a service area that spans ten counties and the city of Emporia. He can be reached via email at al.roberts@southside.edu.

Access Is Nice, Success Is Best

By Dr. Al Roberts

Citizens of Virginia have many reasons to pursue higher education. Some want skills and knowledge. Others desire a better quality of life, enhanced respect, and greater self-confidence. Many seek increased career options and the associated financial gains. According to the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV), “On average, people with a college education earn nearly twice as much as those with only a high school diploma.” SCHEV also notes, “The earnings gap between someone with a college degree and someone with a high school diploma has widened in the last decades and that gap is projected to widen even further in the future.”

Students have a plethora of higher education options, including the pursuit of certificates and industry-recognized credentials, associates degrees, and other higher degrees. The Commonwealth offers 23 public community colleges plus one other public two-year college, 15 public four-year colleges, 44 accredited private colleges, and many other types of education-related enterprises.

Yet many people discover that access to college is only part of the equation. Without needed support, success remains elusive. In fact, recent statistics suggest that more than half of college students who embark on an education journey in the United States fail to reach their goals.

Recognizing that students face significant barriers, Southside Virginia Community College offers a wide array of resources that make success more likely. In fact, a team from SVCC recently participated in a Student Success Leadership Institute (SSLI) sponsored by the Virginia Community College System. The SSLI is designed to implement proven student success strategies system-wide.  Under the guidance of experts, the SVCC team examined our college’s data and practices for the purpose of developing an action plan to enhance increased college completion.

These new steps complement resources already in place. For example, the college offers Comprehensive Learning Centers (CLCs) on both main campuses where professional tutors and trained student assistants offer assistance. The CLCs also help students learn how to organize and remember large amounts of information, how to maintain a schedule, how to take notes, and how to manage stress.

Additional supportive services can be found throughout the college. Admissions advisors help students explore options. Financial aid advisors help students figure out how to fund their education, and the SVCC Foundation annually disburses more than 250 scholarship awards. Counselors and faculty mentors also help keep students on track for graduation.

All these elements contribute to student achievement. On May 14, 2016, the SVCC family will gather at a graduation ceremony to celebrate the accomplishments of more than 1,300 students. Combined, they will be awarded more than 700 Associate of Applied Science and Associate of Arts and Science degrees and more than 600 other certificates and diplomas. We are proud to have helped these students find success.

Dr. Al Roberts is president of Southside Virginia Community College, an institution of higher learning that provides a wide variety of education opportunities to a diverse student population within a service area that spans ten counties and the city of Emporia. He can be reached via email at al.roberts@southside.edu.

The Costs and Value of Higher Education

According to U.S. Census Data, only 24.5% of people older than 25 years in 1940 had completed high school. At that time, people without a high school diploma could still earn family-sustaining wages. By the mid-1960s, more than half of all people over the age of 25 held a high school diploma, and increasingly that credential was needed to secure stable employment.  Today, a high-school education isn’t enough. Employers often demand postsecondary credentials.

Many recent studies have reported that people with any level of higher education generally have a greater earnings potential than others. Research also shows that they have better perceptions of personal health and well-being, demonstrate increased levels of volunteerism, and are more likely to vote.

Although these benefits are known, a crisis looms over America’s higher education system. Indebtedness for education loans currently totals more than $1.2 trillion. This is more than the amount owed on all credit cards combined. It is more than the total amount owed on auto loans. In fact, student debt is the second largest category of debt in the United States. Only mortgage debt surpasses it. Increasingly, college graduates are unable to achieve independent lifestyles or make the types of purchases (such as cars and homes) that have traditionally been associated with moving the economy forward.

Community colleges play a vital role in creating a solution. Virginia’s community colleges offer high-quality academic programs at tuition rates that are generally less than half those charged by other types of public higher-education institutions. Furthermore, students who can pursue their studies while still living at home save on room and board charges, and these added fees can nearly double the cost of attending a four-year college or university.

Here at Southside Virginia Community College, we offer a comprehensive array of accredited post-secondary programs that lead to Associate in Arts and Science degrees, Associate in Applied Science degrees, and other industry-recognized credentials. For students who plan to continue an education path leading to baccalaureate and advanced degrees, SVCC simplifies the process through transfer and guaranteed admissions agreements with more than 20 other colleges and universities. Additionally, SVCC’s dual enrollment program allows high-achieving students to meet the requirements for high school graduation while simultaneously earning college credit. For students and their families, this represents a chance to reduce future college expenses.

If you have questions about admission, visit SVCC’s website at www.southside.edu or call one of the two main campuses: the Christanna Campus in Alberta (434-949-1000) or the Daniel Campus in Keysville (434-736-2000). To learn more about financial aid solutions that do not rely on loans and indebtedness, call SVCC’s financial aid office at 855-877-3943. For details about dual enrollment, call 434-736-2080. Early registration for the Fall 2016 semester begins on April 1.

Dr. Al Roberts is president of Southside Virginia Community College, an institution of higher learning that provides a wide variety of education opportunities to a diverse student population within a service area that spans ten counties and the city of Emporia. He can be reached via email at al.roberts@southside.edu.

Workforce Credentials Assure Economic Vitality

By Dr. Al Roberts

News headlines recently focused on the startling announcement that the number of people in America’s middle-income tier had fallen to less than half of the nation’s population. Some families moved out of the middle class by climbing the socioeconomic ladder into greater wealth. Many others, however, slipped into poverty. The shrinking of the middle class and corresponding increases in income inequality pose significant concerns because sustaining a vibrant middle class is vital to our nation’s economic health.

In this regard, Virginia faces unique challenges. The Commonwealth has suffered lost employment opportunities within the tobacco and coal industries, and force reductions within the military sector have increased the numbers of our neighbors who are seeking employment.

Yet employers also face challenges. In a recent study done by Burning Glass Technologies, a company specializing in labor market analytics, employers reported difficulties in finding qualified skilled workers. The study estimated that more than $1 billion in potential wages had been lost as Virginia’s employers struggled to fill open positions. The situation is especially acute here in Southside Virginia where our employment figures continue to lag behind those of other regions.

To help address these concerns, Virginia’s community colleges developed a comprehensive plan to expand worker-training programs and ensure that our labor force has the credentials employers require. As a partner in this effort, Southside Virginia Community College is committed to tripling the number of credentials earned by students. Last year, in addition to awarding hundreds of associate’s degrees in various fields, the college also prepared students for state licensing in several different nursing fields and helped other students achieve certifications in work-related areas. In fact, SVCC students can currently pursue many different industry-recognized credentials from entities such as the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE), American Welding Society (AWS), and National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER), National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS), and Microsoft. Furthermore, we’re working with businesses right here in Southside Virginia to identify which additional certifications or other credentials will best prepare workers for more and better jobs.

Expanding the availability of financial aid is another important part of this work. Data demonstrate that the low-income and out-of-work students who are most poised to benefit from short-term workforce training opportunities are the least able to afford the tuition. For this reason, SVCC is working alongside our sister institutions within the Virginia Community College System to encourage legislative support to expand access to short-term training financial aid for individuals pursuing in-demand and high-demand credentials.

As individual successes lead to increasing prosperity for families, the economic vitality of Southside Virginia will be assured. At SVCC, we are eager to help our neighbors achieve career goals through the attainment of credentials that will enhance our region’s reputation for the quality and competitiveness of its workforce.

Dr. Al Roberts is president of Southside Virginia Community College, an institution of higher learning that provides a wide variety of education opportunities to a diverse student population within a service area that spans ten counties and the city of Emporia. He can be reached via email at al.roberts@southside.edu.

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