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As the director of Southwestern Community College’s new Plus 50 program, Michael Rich is rapidly working in the community to get his face and program recognized.

An initiative of the American Association of Community Colleges, Plus 50 focuses on learning, career development and volunteering for people older than 50. In Southwestern’s three-county service area there are more than 30,000 people older than 50.

Rich is eager to appear before groups to discuss the new Plus 50 program and gather input. Call him at SCC’s Cashiers Center at 828.586.4091 ext. 497 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Visit the Plus 50 blog at http://blogs.southwesterncc.edu/plus50/.

Southwestern Community College was one of only 11 colleges to earn an exceptional rating in the annual performance measures report recently released by the North Carolina Community College System. The performance measures were adopted by the State Board of Community Colleges to annually assess the performance of the state’s 58 community colleges in meeting key indicators of success.

In order to receive an Exceptional Institutional Performance rating, a college must meet or exceed the state standards in eight areas.

The complete report is available on the N.C. Community College System Web page at: http://www.nccommunitycolleges.edu/Publications/docs/Publications/csf2010.pdf.

The Southwestern Community College Board of Trustees has settled on a replacement for outgoing President Cecil Groves.

Last week, the board approved the selection of Dr. Richard Collings, president of Wayne State College in Nebraska and a former administrator at Western Carolina University, as the college’s fifth president. His hiring is contingent upon approval of the State Board of Community Colleges next month.

The board arrived at its decision after narrowing the field of candidates to four finalists, a list they elected to keep secret while their final decision was pending. The finalists were interviewed in early June.

Collings served as vice chancellor for academic affairs at Western Carolina University from 1996 to 2004. He kept his house here when moving to Nebraska and rented it out with the intention of returning one day.

“We’d always planned to come back to the community to retire. I never dreamed I’d have the opportunity to come back and work,” said Collings, who is in his early 60s.

His son lives in Jackson County as well.

Collings has spent the last six years in northeast Nebraska at a four-year college with close ties to a community college system. Wayne State College recently opened a campus that is jointly owned and operated by Northeast Community College.

“When a student comes to that campus, they won’t know the differences between the four-year and two-year school,” Collings said.

Collings has worked closely with community colleges since 1989, and those interactions have accelerated during the last six years with the partnership between Wayne State and Northeast Community College.

His experience aligning the curricula of two systems could prove useful in the relationship between SCC and WCU.

In addition, Collings said his experience working with a rural student body, a neighboring Indian tribe and a strong community college system has prepared him for the job at SCC.

Collings said he has watched developments at SCC closely.

“I’ve seen the great trajectory that SCC has taken with all of the national acclaim and the acclaim from within the community college system,” Collings said. “I knew it was a great institution when I was there.”

Among his other accomplishments at Wayne State, Collings reversed a decade-long enrollment decline, improved graduation and retention rates, and led a successful $20 million capital campaign to commemorate the college’s 100th year in service.

Conrad Burrell, chairman of the SCC Board of Trustees, noted that Collings was chosen from a pool of highly qualified national applicants.

“Although our presidential search produced many outstanding candidates, Dr. Collings was chosen because of his impressive background and credentials. We feel his experience in education and knowledge of our service area will greatly benefit the college and the communities we serve,” Burrell wrote in a prepared statement.

A new road that would traverse the campus of Southwestern Community College and provide a new link between two of Jackson County’s major roads is in the final planning stages.

The proposed two-lane road is designed to alleviate congestion and improve traffic flow at the intersection of N.C. 107 and N.C. 116 and help transit to and from SCC, according to N.C. Department of Transportation project engineer Steve Williams. The congested intersection is flanked by an Ingles grocery store and a Lowe’s home improvement store.

According to NCDOT projections, daily traffic on N.C. 116 is expected to increase from 10,200 vehicles per day in 2008 to 19,100 vehicles per day by 2035, and traffic on N.C. 107 is expected to increase from 23,300 vehicles per day in 2008 to 51,100 vehicles per day by 2035.

Engineers have developed two options for the new road. Both follow the same route and include plans for a bridge over N.C. 107, but they differ in the style of intersection.

SCC President Cecil Groves said the new road was crucial for the college’s expansion.

“The road is essential to the future development of the college, particularly with regard to our ability to handle traffic patterns and expand the number of students,” Groves said.

Groves said the new road would give SCC an exit out of the back of the campus that would greatly enhance its ability to complete construction projects related to its expansion. It would also make the N.C. 116 entrance safer for faculty, students, and staff.

The 0.7-mile connector road would run along the edge of the SCC campus and connect N.C. 107 at Evans Road to N.C. 116 at Bonnie Lane.

The NCDOT will hold an information session to share designs for the new road from 4 to 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 20, at the Balsam Center on the SCC campus.

The meeting will provide an informal venue for dialogue about the proposed road’s effect on the community.

According to Williams, the two scenarios mainly affect the intersection with N.C. 107.

The major components of the plan involve the construction of a roundabout on N.C. 116 –– close to the site of the Jackson County Schools bus garage –– that would serve in lieu of a stoplight at the intersection.

The new road would then cross a U.S. Forest Service property, traverse the SCC campus, and eventually intersect with N.C. 107 just over the hill from Smoky Mountain High School — after crossing 107 with an overhead bridge.

In one set of plans, the new road would have a second roundabout that would provide access to N.C. 107, while the other option traffic would access N.C. 107 directly from Evans Rd.

The new road would be built with a sidewalk and bike lane to accommodate pedestrian traffic and cyclists.

In order to move forward with the new road, NCDOT will need to purchase additional right of ways from landowners and undergo the necessary environmental assessments for the road project.

In 1970, Cecil Groves was the 30-year-old provost of Delgado College. The city of New Orleans was on fire, rent apart by the legacy of former President Lyndon Johnson’s policy of desegregation, and Groves was trying to guide his little two-year college towards national accreditation at a time when the future of American cities was very much in doubt.

The lessons he learned during the early years of his career explain why even the largest problems seem small to Groves now, their solutions already grasped in the teeth of the gears that turn the wheels in his mind.

“Cecil struck me as a visionary of a proportion I hadn’t interacted with at my level or at the community college level,” said Bill Gibson, director of the Southwestern Planning Commission, recalling the first time he met Groves.

Last Friday, Cecil Groves said goodbye to Southwestern Community College after a 13-year run as president during which he reshaped the regional landscape and turned SCC from a little school with good teachers into one of the best community colleges in the country.

At the graduation, Groves was recognized for his hand in expanding SCC to its Macon County campus, growing the largest graduating class in its history, and creating a technology platform that has allowed the college to reshape the way it delivers education to students.

Groves is almost universally loved by staff and students, and he sees SCC, the smallest and sweetest job of his career, as something like a beloved child.

But to understand why Groves was so successful at SCC, you have to go back to the beginning.

Born in Magnolia, Texas, a sleepy town outside of Houston, Groves was the son of a sawmill worker and worked in the self-same mills as a young man.

“Eat it up. Wear it out. Make do. Or go without,” Groves said, recalling the country sayings that shaped his worldview. “And I thought, ‘Why don’t we just get together and work this out?’”

Groves got his PhD. in higher education administration from University of Texas in 1970, having spent his college years during the time Lyndon Johnson was unrolling his plans for the Great Society. This was the America of the Whiz Kids, a time and place when the human systems that make the world go round were getting crunched into equations and spat out on IBM punch cards.

When you listen to Groves talk about what makes a two-year college tick, it’s like listening to Eisenhower explaining the European theater of World War II.

Gibson, who was trained in planning and administration around the same time, recalls learning to plan with three variables: physical capital (p), fiscal capital (f), and human capital (h). That’s product, money, and labor, for the uninitiated.

“Cecil was one of the first people to understand the real impact of relationship capital and how the interactions among people and the institutions they represent either add value or take away value from a desired end,” Gibson said.

Groves describes the basis for his success as a networker and dealmaker in plainer terms.

“I like people. I just do,” Groves said. “I think they’re basically good, and they like to do good.”

A time to change

“My career has been in the midst of growth and expansion in different areas,” Groves said, somewhat formally, responding to a question about his remarkable record for being in the right place at the right time.

Groves is careful to point out the coincidences in his past, but the fact is that everywhere he’s been, he has helped change the regional discussion around economic development and education. He guided Delgado College towards accreditation through desegregation, white flight and the attenuating upheaval that grew out of the civil rights movement.

He grew Austin Community College from an after-thought in a city dominated by UT-Austin into a 16,000-student workforce development engine and a national template for the university transfer model — where community colleges act as a stepping stone to local four-year universities.

He guided Pike Peaks College in Colorado Springs through the trial of the savings and loan crisis of the mid-‘80s while helping to create a workforce that paved the way for the growth of one of the nation’s key high-tech regions.

When he came to Western North Carolina to take over at Southwestern Community College –– which serves Jackson, Macon and Swain counties along with the Qualla Boundary –– Groves faced certain challenges he had seen before.

The North Carolina Community College system was about to move from a quarter schedule to a semester schedule to create better alignment with the UNC system. Groves needed to create a more flexible curriculum that would allow students to pursue open-ended goals, like university transfer, or immediate goals, like a one-year associates degree.

Having taken stock of the situation, Groves set about applying his own principles, one of which is to value what you already have.

“It’s like the Hippocratic oath,” Groves said. “Do no harm when you go in. This was already a good institution, but to make it better, we had to look at the whole region.”

Having spent the better part of 30 years at the helm of educational institutions, Groves’s pedagogical philosophy has been honed to a point.

“Anybody in education needs a credo — just like a minister in the pulpit,” said Groves. “These are the four things I believe.”

Educators, sharpen your pencils.

One, students learn best if they are engaged in as many ways as possible. Two, teachers are catalysts, not people who give out information, and their job is to create a learning environment. Three, the more you do something, the better you get at it. Four, if something makes sense, it’s easier to learn. The application needs to be clear from the beginning.

Groves takes this philosophy wherever he goes, but he also learns the lay of the land.

“He sought to understand before he sought to be understood,” Bill Gibson said, paraphrasing Steve Covey in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

What Groves wanted to preserve about SCC was the culture of family.

“One of the interesting things about the mountains is the family tradition, the feeling that the people who come to school here are family,” Groves said. “It’s a cultural issue that needs to be protected. It’s the value of the person.”

But he also realized early on that the college needed to move towards an online delivery model that was flexible enough to serve a wide panorama of students across a far-flung, difficult to access mountain region.

Changing the way a faculty delivers its message to students can be tricky, especially when you’re requiring them to update their technological skills.

“I don’t think technology is as complicated as people think,” Groves said. “Sometimes technical people obfuscate it so that other people think they can’t do it themselves.”

Groves said the curriculum changes worked themselves out with few kinks. Teachers who already had their students on the edge of their seats were allowed to maintain their old practices. But teachers who weren’t reaching their students were asked to update the way they created a learning environment or leave.

“What we did was to let the market drive it,” Groves said. “I won’t try to change a teacher who is already successful. This has been a natural evolution without any pushback, and it has moved along very nicely.”

A tangible legacy

“I hope that I positioned this institution and this region, in terms of infrastructure, facilities, and relationships, for the next 20 to 30 years,” Groves said, answering what he wants his legacy to be.

It’s fitting from such a practical thinker that above all of his other accomplishments at SCC, Groves believes his biggest contribution to the region is something he helped put in the ground.

Groves helped to broker the creation of Balsam West FiberNET, an unprecedented collaboration between SCC, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and Drake Enterprises, a Franklin-based tax software company that employs 500 people. Balsam West FiberNET, a for-profit business jointly owned by Drake and the tribe, created a 300-mile fiber broadband ring with a 10-gig capacity.

For Groves, the broadband capacity was essential for his school but he also saw it as a means to help the region adapt to the growth spurt that was just around the corner.

“You’ve got to have this level of connectivity that can create jobs and put you on the same kind of level playing field with Asheville and Raleigh,” Groves was saying.

Without any public money, Groves created the vision for the mountains as a destination for high-tech businesses by brokering a deal that resulted in a broadband network that could support a company the size of Google.

Conrad Burrell, SCC board chairman and a close friend of Groves’, remembers when he first heard the idea.

“I couldn’t even start to believe something like this could happen,” said Burrell.

Here is Groves the visionary, using his experience watching the development in other regions and his skill with human relationship capital to find a solution for a whole region.

“I saw the growth coming, and it was going to happen no matter what,” Groves said. “The question was, ‘How do we preserve the quality of life and protect the people who live here?’”

Gibson said Groves was the person who got all of the string-pullers in the region to face the reality that was rapidly impinging on their dreams of real estate booms without collateral costs.

“We were going to grow regardless,” Gibson said. “We were going to put more strain on our resources regardless. If we turned around and walked away those things were going to happen.”

Here is Groves the Whiz Kid. The broadband capacity would create an environment that could attract high-tech businesses and entrepreneurs. The taxes the businesses paid would offset the impact that fast-paced development was having on the region.

“You can’t just say you don’t want anyone else coming in,” Groves said. “You have to bring in another payer group if you’re going to minimize your taxes and retain the quality of life. The college’s role was to engage with the community to mitigate some of the impacts.”

Burrell, and many others, watched a fantasy come true.

“He had this dream out there and that’s just exactly what he made happen,” Burrell said.

While the mountains of Western North Carolina haven’t exactly turned into a new Silicon Valley, Groves still thinks they will. He has seen recessions and upheaval, and he marks the region for growth through the next 30 years.

Upon retirement, Groves will head back to Waco, Tex., where two of his children live in the same neighborhood. He’ll take on the challenge of full-time grandparenthood.

For Burrell and many others, he will leave behind a void, a fiber ring, and a lot of good feeling.

“We’re going to miss him and his leadership, and it’s going to be a vacant spot for a while,” Burrell said. “But I understand what he’s got to do. We’re both getting up in years.”

Perhaps the best way to end a discussion of Cecil Grove’s legacy at SCC, is with his own words of advice to young people. Like the man, they are both simple and elusive.

“Find something you like doing and do a lot of it,” Groves said, smiling. “Forty hours a week isn’t enough.”

Cecil Groves, president of Southwestern Community College since 1997, informed the board of trustees and college faculty and staff that he will retire at the end of this academic year.

“As for everything and everyone, there is a season. My season has now come,” Groves said.

Groves thanked the SCC family for its “support, encouragement and, most of all, friendship.”

Before becoming the fourth president of SCC, Groves served as chancellor of the Texas State Technical College System, president of Pikes Peak Community College in Colorado Springs, Colo., president of Austin Community College in Austin, Texas, and executive vice president/provost for Delgado College in New Orleans, La.

Conrad Burrell, Chairman of the SCC Board of Trustees for the past 10 years, put Groves’ career in perspective.

“I’ve enjoyed working with Dr. Groves on college business and as a friend. He has had the full cooperation of the trustees, the faculty and staff and the community, which is very rare for any president. We’ll miss his leadership - and humor- not only on our board, but in the community,” Burrell said.

Burrell said Groves has greatly increased the viability and reputation of the college “which is now established as an institution of the highest quality and recognized for teaching excellence.”

In addressing the faculty and staff about his departure, Groves called the college’s achievement during his tenure a collective effort.

“Collectively, we have accomplished many critical benchmarks important to the future of our institution, our communities and our students,” he said.

Some of those accomplishments include national and statewide recognition for excellence, the expansion of campus facilities throughout the Western North Carolina region, new partnerships with the public schools, innovative and first-of-a-kind degree programs, and recognized leadership in instructional technology and online learning.

“The momentum of the college will not be slowed down during the transition,” Groves said of his departure.

Groves’ last day will be June 30, and the college expects to have a new president in place by Aug. 1.

The newest addition to Southwestern Community College’s Oconaluftee Institute of Cultural Arts holds a piece of Cherokee history. OICA will soon obtain a letterpress that will be used to print books in the Cherokee syllabary.

“We are bringing back the Cherokee history in true art form,” said Luzene Hill, OICA progam outreach coordinator.

Through a $68,846 grant from Cherokee Preservation Foundation and a $47,792 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, OICA will purchase a metal press and develop a printmaking studio at its facilities on Bingo Loop Road in Cherokee.

Years ago, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians published a newspaper called Tsa la gi Tsu lehisanunhi, or the Cherokee Phoenix. This first Native American newspaper was printed on a hot-type letterpress in which each word is put together by hand, combining individual metal letters or characters.

“It opens up a whole new craft of book art for us, including printmaking, hand-papermaking and hand-bookbinding,” said Hill. “For our students, book art will blend fine arts with crafts.”

After 12 years, Sequoyah finished developing the Cherokee syllabary in 1821. Each character represents a syllable, instead of one sound, thus the name syllabary.

As in the Phoenix newspaper, the power of the Cherokee language rises through the printed word on the page, transforming from thoughts to art, Hill explained.

“You already feel the power of words but capturing them in a book through individual characters you’ve laid out in hot type and on paper you’ve made from linen or hemp fiber really helps you feel them in an art form, too,” said Hill.

As students learn to produce first the paper and then the books, they will also learn skills such as precision, technique, spacing and artistic layout composition, said Hill, who is consulting with noted instructor Frank Brannon.

Brannon, who runs his own letterpress studio, SpeakEasy Press, in Dillsboro, earned his master of fine arts in Book Arts at the University of Alabama and has recently taught Letterpress at the Penland School of Crafts and Papermaking and Printing at the John C. Campbell Folk School.

“One of Frank’s specialties is the Cherokee Phoenix newspaper,” said Hill. “He has explored and published copies from the original hand impressions of type from the Phoenix, found in a 1954 excavation of the New Echota historic site. He hand printed and hand bound the publications for exhibition.”

“The Phoenix was a bilingual weekly newspaper printed in parallel columns in Cherokee and English and one of its biggest subscribers was the British Library,” said Brannon, who also teaches at Book Works in Asheville.

The first paper that the Phoenix was printed on came from Knoxville by wagon and it took two weeks to arrive, according to Brannon. The last issue was published in 1834, shortly before the Cherokee removal to Indian Territory in Oklahoma.

“Students will learn the Cherokee history right along with the history of the letterpress,” said Hill.

The Cherokee language will also be incorporated into the course since the books can be published in the Cherokee syllabary, she added.

For more information contact Hill at 828.497.3945.

In August a computer hacker broke into a North Carolina Community College System server and potentially gained access to the personal information of 51,000 library users across the state.

The cyber break-in was deemed harmless by investigators in the wake of the event, but it left behind glaring questions about the security of personal information on the Internet.

According to N.C. Community College officials, the perpetrator accessed the library patron information in August via a computer server housed in the community college system office in Raleigh by decoding a user password.

An initial investigation revealed that 8,300 driver’s license numbers, originally collected by 18 colleges to help identify library users, were stored on the server. However, an ongoing review of the incident revealed that an additional Social Security numbers of 42,500 library patrons were also stored on the breached server, including the information of patrons from Haywood Community College and Southwestern Community College.

Ryan Schwiebert, IT director at SCC, explained how the breach affected the college.

“As a college we stopped using social security numbers quite some time ago,” Schweibert said. “The social security numbers that were jeopardized in the breach were left in the library’s system from two years ago.”

Schwiebert said the state’s community college library server is an “open facing” system, which means it can be accessed via the Internet. He said best policy dictates that private information be maintained only on servers that don’t allow that level of access. For instance, the SCC’s student information database is secured on a server protected by layers of firewalls.

“That type of server would be very difficult for a hacker to access without being caught,” Schwiebert said. “Even for one of our own people.”

In the wake of the security breach, N.C. Community College officials notified 51,000 library users from 25 community colleges that a security breach had occurred on a computer server containing their personal information. While reviews and investigations after the event indicated that the hacker had not accessed any personal information, state and federal privacy laws dictated that the college system inform all of the users who had potentially been affected by the breach.

Forty-six community colleges that participate in the Community College Libraries in North Carolina consortium maintain information on more than 270,000 library users on this server. The security breach was discovered Monday, Aug. 24, during a routine security review and was reported to the state’s Information Technology Service at that time. Students potentially affected weren’t notified for another four months.

Wanda Morris walked into uncharted territory when she started teaching Gaming Management Technology three years ago at Southwestern Community College.

“We were the first community college in the state to offer the program so we took our chances thinking outside the box,” said Morris. “In fact, very few four-year colleges even offer the program.”

At the college’s graduation ceremony Tues., Dec. 15, the first graduates of SCC’s program will receive their certificates.

Gaming is a big business with a certain lure of 24/7 excitement as blackjack tables whirl and slot machines hit jackpot.

To design a college program that accurately represented the professional field, Morris called on experts like Ron Hager, who has more than 25 years experience in the gaming industry. Hager, who came to Harrah’s Cherokee Casino from Caesar’s in Indiana, gave the students an overview of the different games like craps, roulette and cards. Then he took them into Harrah’s training center to practice dealing and playing with professionals.

“I knew if I was going to bring that same sense of excitement to the classroom that the classroom sure wouldn’t be typical,” Morris said.

Harrah’s director of marketing Leeann Bridges-McHattie instructed the class in planning a marketing calendar. Students learned the customer service end from Greg Galloway of Harrah’s. They learned about job descriptions and job analysis from Jo Blaylock and Tina Vaitkus, who talked about how many job descriptions will change as a result of the casino’s ability to serve alcohol.

Other courses in the program dealt with gaming law and regulations, accounting and controls, gaming facility management and social issues in gaming.

For more information, call Thom Brooks, SCC dean of career technologies, at 828.586.4091, ext. 202.

In this day and age, as the gap between the rich and poor continues to widen and this country’s manufacturing economy undergoes a dramatic transformation, community colleges are more important than ever.

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