A couple of weeks ago, accompanied by one of our advisors at Cumberland County College, I got the opportunity to meet with an impressive group of African-American males at Bridgeton High School. We spent an hour chatting about their aspirations for themselves and for their community. Despite their youth and short historical perspective, they spoke of what Bridgeton was. They spoke of the days of glory, comfort, bustling businesses that they had heard about from others much older than them. They spoke of past eras as if they had experienced them. They longed for the same type of vitality today. Most impressive was their articulation of how much their leadership, their generation’s leadership, is needed in the community.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of my work is meeting with youth in Cumberland County, whether on our campus or in our community. A couple of months back, I met with a group of students at Vineland High School who were just so inspiring. The analytical skills of our local students is one of our most prized assets, in my opinion. The social capital that their lived experiences, combined with their formal education, have allowed them to develop and sharpen their intellect. They are also talented. Their musical, poetry, and dance performances are equally impressive. There is so much talent in our county. Our challenge is to connect them with the role models and mentors who can help them carve their path forward.
At the College, I meet regularly with groups of students and invite others that I run into over the course of the day to have a snack and chat. We have burgeoning entrepreneurs on campus, some of whom have launched their products and businesses while studying as students here. We have young scientists working on various prototypes and even a group of aspiring engineers working on an escape room. We have prolific writers, among other great talents.
As a resident of Cumberland, retaining our graduates in the county is a professional and personal mission. We want them to fly away from the nest, to gain experience, and to develop a broader world view. We also want them to come back. Over the next few months, we will be working with local Generation X and with millennial leaders and professionals who choose to remain in Cumberland to brainstorm and come up with a few strategies to help retain our best and brightest in the county. As the higher education institution in the county, so many of our best and brightest cross our threshold each semester. We want to play a role not only in their success, but in their retention as accomplished professionals.
Cumberland County College has embarked on a dual track strategy to help raise the current level of human capital in the county. Our approach focuses on the “middle skills gap.” Middle skills jobs are those that require more than a high school diploma, but less than a bachelor’s degree. These could be jobs that require a full associate degree, a certificate, or vocational/technical training.
In the regional economy of South Jersey, we see consistent growth in the number and proportion of jobs requiring middle skills credentials for entry-level positions. More advanced degrees are needed for career mobility. To accommodate those, Cumberland County College offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees through our university partners. Currently, a student can complete all of their degrees including a master’s degree on campus via partnerships offered at our University Center. Institutions such as Wilmington University, Fairleigh Dickinson University, Montclair State University, Seton Hall University, and Georgian Court University all offer degree programs taught at Cumberland. In addition, we also offer online programs through Drexel University, the University of Delaware, Franklin University, and Thomas Edison State College, among other institutions.
We are committed to meeting our residents where they are to help them get their foot in the door and ascend the career ladder with the necessary education. Similarly, we are also committed to helping our current employers upgrade the level of skills of their incumbent workers. As I meet with employers across Cumberland, many have shared their needs for customized training. With new technologies, new state, federal and industry regulations and certifications, changing demographics that include retirement of highly-skilled veteran workers, employers are faced with a myriad of challenges.
Cumberland County College is the premier educational partner for individuals and businesses alike in the county. Our collaborations with our partners at the Scarpa Technical Education Center and the Center for Workforce and Economic Development help us to better serve the region more effectively and more efficiently. Together with our other local high schools, we are addressing the county’s education and training needs and empowering our residents and businesses.
Previously published on thedailyjournal.com on February 6, 2017.
I hope your semester is off to a great start! Over the last two days, I have spoken to some faculty and staff who have relayed some of the conversations and questions that have arisen on campus recently.
I want to reassure every student that Cumberland County College prides itself on providing a safe and welcoming environment for all learners and members of our community. As an institution of higher learning, we embrace divergent viewpoints. We welcome diversity of thought, religion, political inclinations, race, sexual orientation and other broad categories of difference. We know that difference makes for richer learning environments.
Our country was founded as a safe haven for dissidents fleeing from a range of persecution and harsh socioeconomic conditions and hardships across the globe. As a resident of New England for more than a quarter century, my family has always embraced the Native Americans and the Pilgrims of our region, as well as all others who have helped build our country into the global economic power that it is today. As an immigrant, I am grateful for the opportunities that my chosen homeland, the United States of America, has afforded me. As President, I commit to doing my best to extend these opportunities to all and to welcome all who wish to advance themselves through education.
I encourage you to be kind toward each other, to see the person in each of us before we judge. You are the leaders of today and of tomorrow. Our society is counting on your humanity and leadership to help us realize the human potential in each of us.
Peace. Paz. Paix. Pace.
All the best,
Dr. Yves Salomon-Fernandez