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Across the country, community colleges are powerful, if underutilized, resources. Community colleges offer secondary education and career pathways without the financial burdens of four-year colleges. They offer flexibility in scheduling and pace, better school-life balance. And importantly, community colleges offer a multitude of STEM education programs that are in demand by employers everywhere. They offer associate degrees and stackable credentials in STEM industries that are growing exponentially.

But how can surrounding communities better take advantage of these valuable resources? And, conversely, how can community colleges better serve the students, businesses, and stakeholder organizations that support them?

A panel of experts from industry and postsecondary education addressed those questions to an audience of more than 90 people from across the country in the webinar “Community Colleges: Accelerating STEM Learning by Catalyzing Community Resources.” Sponsored by STEMconnector and the STEM Learning Ecosystems Community of Practice, panelists included:

  • Scott Ralls, president of the Wake Technical Community College in Raleigh, North Carolina;
  • Beth Broome, senior advisor to the provost for STEM strategy at the University of California-Davis;
  • Maria Reyes, dean of industry and public service for Phoenix College; and
  • Cynthia Murphy-Ortega, manager of university partnerships and association relations for the Chevron Corporation

During the hour-long conversation, panelists addressed issues such as community colleges as a driving force in promoting industry partnership and economic development; community colleges as ambassadors for STEM equity; and the role of industry leaders as community college partners in developing and supporting STEM programming and career pathways. 

“You look for people who see the strategic value in your role, and particularly our students.”

Addressing the role of community colleges in economic development, Ralls said partnership with industry leaders is vital to workforce development, and noted sound partnerships in student apprenticeship programs, for example, ultimately lead to a more robust workforce. Ralls said community colleges seek out partners who understand their roles and the value their students bring to the workforce.

“Our industry partners are vital to us, they are what hold us,” Ralls said. “We often talk about creating ladders, but they are the planks that hold the ladder together.”

“We had to learn about each other.”

Discussing Phoenix College’s relationship with Intel, Reyes said developing the partnership initially required a shared understanding of goals and strategies. Phoenix College’s relationship with Intel, for example, embodies this strategy.

“I had to learn about Intel, and Intel had to learn about community college,” Reyes said. “We had to see what were the parts that we could bring together, bringing our strengths, and really understand how that matched mission reach. Taking our own role and providing resources to the communities that we were outreaching to would then benefit what we were each trying to achieve.”

“When we’re looking at partnerships, the key item is common objectives and interests.”

Murphy-Ortega discussed ongoing community college partnerships from an industry perspective, and said a recognition of evolving interests is a key to developing lasting bonds.

“The requests that are coming to me or our organization are very tailored to meet those common interests, so that to me is a telltale sign that we’re making progress in developing that relationship,” Murphy-Ortega said. “The days of just giving a check or showing up at something you really don’t occur anymore. People are very mindful of how we want to spend our money and time to make the biggest impact on students.”

Watch the full webinar here: https://youtu.be/XA2KgY0kVNg 

Review additional resources shared by our attendees here: