Clark State shifts focus to engaging students earlier

The current model of bringing students to Clark State Community College’s campus and then helping them find a career or four-year college is outdated, President Jo Alice Blondin said.

Rather the school must do more to engage and attract new students, she said in an exclusive interview with the Springfield News-Sun to discuss her first year in office.

“No longer do we count noses on campus,” Blondin said. “We now need to make sure that we’re enrolling those students, but we also want to make sure that at the end of the journey they earn a degree.”

Clark State is a top employer in Springfield with 622 total workers, including full-time staff, adjunct faculty and tutors. It has an annual budget of more than $29 million.

Blondin took over leading the college in July last year, filling the position left open when longtime former president Karen Rafinski retired. Blondin had previously served as chancellor of the Ozark Campus at Arkansas Tech University.

The community college has crafted a new strategic plan in Blondin’s first year, developed a new precision agriculture program and become active in numerous community organizations.

“It really has been a whirlwind but I have the energy to do it,” Blondin said. “I’m a social person, I love getting out there and meeting people, developing relationships and making connections.”

Clark State should place more emphasis on working with students early on, she said, to make sure they are better prepared to transition to a four-year college of their choice or move directly into the workforce.

Placing more emphasis on making sure students earn a degree will be increasingly important due to recent changes in the state’s funding formula that ties dollars more closely to high graduation rates, she said.

Blondin said she spent much of the first year listening to area businesses and community leaders to see what kinds of programs and services Clark State can provide. The next step is to make sure the college is following through and placing its graduates in jobs in the region.

“The listening phase is over,” Blondin said.

Instead, she said Clark State needs to develop relationships with area businesses and four-year universities so students have a better idea of what courses and training they need to move forward the moment they step on campus.

“Our goal is to raise the educational attainment in our region,” Blondin said.

Overall, however, Blondin said Clark State has started several important programs since she took office.

Beginning this fall, Clark State will begin offering its new precision agriculture program, which was developed in a span of about six months. As part of the program, Clark State worked with the Ohio/Indiana UAS Center and SelectTech Geospatial Advanced Manufacturing to develop a curriculum and offer work experience for prospective students.

Students in the program will analyze data collected by drones to provide better solutions to issues like crop production and pest control, among other fields. The program is the first of its kind in Ohio and one of only about a dozen nationwide.

The college is important to the city because it employs hundreds of residents and provides training for the area’s workforce, Springfield Mayor Warren Copeland.

“I haven’t had a lot of direct personal contact with her, but I’ve been able to see what she’s done in the community,” Copeland said of Blondin. “She’s been doing a very good job of trying to get the college connected to the community and serving especially the employment needs of the community. That’s a key contribution a community college can make.”

Clark State is also expanding its presence in Greene County. Clark State opened a campus along Interstate 675 in Beavercreek in 2006, and has about 1,500 students at that campus.

Much of the growth Clark State has seen recently has occurred in Greene County.

On Monday, Clark State announced Teri Overholser was hired as director of business and community development. Overholser previously served as president and CEO of the Beavercreek Chamber of Commerce.

Sinclair Community College has also pushed to expand its presence in Greene County. A dispute broke out after Clark State discussed plans to invest more in its Beavercreek campus, while Sinclair announced a proposal to open a new corporate college about half a mile from Clark State’s Greene County campus.

Sinclair has also recently announced a new partnership with Ohio State University. The agreement provide Sinclair students with a pathway to four-year degrees in areas like data analytics and precision agriculture, while OSU students can earn an unmanned aerial systems certificate from Sinclair along with their four-year degree.

Blondin downplayed any potential dispute, saying both colleges are looking for ways to work together to serve area students. Clark State is also working on its own agreement with Ohio State, she said.

“We’re both great colleges that are trying to fill a need,” she said. “I think that need has been made very clear by the business community and we’re both rising to the occasion of serving them.”

Clark State is also in the early stages of developing a food science degree that will align with courses offered at the Global Impact STEM Academy, which is expected to move to South High School.

Blondin said she was also proud of students at Clark State, who spearheaded an effort to establish a Fallen Warriors Memorial on campus. She hopes the memorial creates a more positive environment for veterans on campus. It is expected to be dedicated on Veterans Day this year.

“The students were really showing a lot of initiative and I was really proud of them,” Blondin said. “I’m really proud of how we’ve engaged with our student leadership and all our students.”

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