One Cumberland: Reaching for Higher, Fulfilling Our Potential

Cumberland County is an exceptional community. These were the exact words of Google executive, Steve Vinter, who was one of two keynote speakers at our recent Business Leaders’ Summit. Vinter joined the community for an intimate dinner the evening before the conference and a community leaders breakfast the morning after. Impressed with the business leaders, politicians and students with whom he met, he promised to come back next year. Similarly, Michelle Drolet, CEO of Towerwall—an information security company—asked why she hadn’t heard of Cumberland before. The event also showcased our best talent in the county, a range of entrepreneurs and their businesses, and our two hospital networks: Inspira and Complete Care.

The leaders who attended the breakfast spoke of the role that Cumberland County College can play as a convener and facilitator for helping the community reach its potential. Beyond educating students, as a community college, part of our mission is to help advance the economic vitality of the county by securing resources for our businesses and engaging in activities tailored to the specific needs of the community.

By working together as one cohesive community, being inclusive, and approaching our work with the understanding that we can set high goals for ourselves and attain them through collaborative efforts, we can excel at the College and as a county.

Over the next few months, Cumberland County College will be developing its strategic plan for 2018-2023. This is an opportunity for us to articulate our goals and map our strategy for high performance on traditional indicators such as increasing enrollment and graduation. It is also an opportunity for us to authentically engage the external community around the College’s role in supporting a stronger, more economically vibrant Cumberland that is not at or near the bottom of key socioeconomic indicators in the state. We will need your insights and feedback.

We know that Cumberland County, as a community, has immense potential. We know that. It is also validating when others visit and can see the unrealized potential that we know we can unlock. Our time is now, Cumberland!

Previously published on thedailyjournal.com on April 26, 2017.

Giving Hope and Opportunity to the Incarcerated

Across our county, many community members are concerned with the incarcerated population. Their concerns are well founded, not just for those who are within the prison system but for their families also. We know from existing research that kids within families with experience in the corrections system have a higher probability of engaging in the kinds of risky behaviors that can lead to incarceration. It’s bad enough to have one family member impacted, but worse for multiple generations. It’s a concern for the entire community, not just those directly impacted.

Recidivism is also a concern. Our Freeholders, County Prosecutor, a number of community-based organizations, and concerned citizens have worked together to make great strides in reducing the recidivism rate. Working with Rutgers University, the County has working groups that meet regularly to make measurable and preventative differences in the lives of our youth. The outcomes of such efforts would be enhanced significantly if coupled with robust higher education opportunities for those locked up and their at-risk families.

Consider this: a person sitting in jail has ample free time. Without a trade, technical, or vocational skill, or even an associate degree, when they are freed they are much more likely to engage in the kinds of behavior that landed them in a cell to begin with. With some sort of credential, they have hope and the opportunity to earn an honest living. This is why as President of the College, I support the reinstatement of the federal Pell grant for incarcerated people. It is good for the individual, good for the local economy, and good for other honest taxpayers who help support those in need. It is in our best communal interest to see to it that folks are given the opportunity for redemption and the means for dignified, honest work.

While some may have good intentions of leading an honest life upon release, without the skill, the means, and the opportunity, intentions never become reality. Cumberland County College is committed to educating all people for the purpose of a healthy, safe, and self-sustaining community.

Previously published on thedailyjournal.com on March 30, 2017.

Cultivating and Retaining Young Talent in Cumberland

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.

Filling the middle skills gap in Cumberland County

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.

Reaffirming our support of all students

Dear Students,

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

Remembering the Legacy of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

This month, we celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a man whose influence on society has been so profound and whose legacy is more important today than ever. Dr. King had an extraordinary ability to bring a broad range of people together to organize and put their own lives at risk in service of others and in service of humanity. Their message of peaceful civil disobedience to bring about equality resonated throughout the world.

Reverend King saw education as “the great equalizer.” Aside from its intrinsic value, education provides the socioeconomic mobility that allows individuals and families to build wealth. The current educational trends are troubling. Today our public schools are more segregated than a generation ago, according to a national study conducted by the Civil Rights Project at the University of California in Los Angeles. In 2001, more than 40 percent of black students attended schools that were 90 percent minority or more.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in Cumberland County, only 13.8% of the adult population 25 years or older had a bachelor’s degree or higher in 2014—compared to 36.4% in the state of New Jersey. While not everyone needs a bachelor’s degree, we can all agree that there is room for improvement around training and education in our community. We need to do better and part of the responsibility rests on us as educators and community members. We share equal stakes in the present and future of the county.

As Cumberland County College celebrates its 50th anniversary, we renew our resolve to work with our K-12 partners and the agencies serving the adult population to significantly increase the educational attainment rates of the youth and adults in our county. For many years, our county had high teen pregnancy rates. In addition, we have a population of formerly incarcerated people who also forewent an education in their youth. We cannot allow them to be the forgotten generation. We commit to advancing Dr. King’s legacy around education for a better, stronger society.

Previously published in The Daily Journal on January 24, 2017.

Keeping the American Dream Accessible for All

Cumberland is a richly diverse county where, despite our different and storied paths, our commitment to improving the human condition is a strong bond that ties us all together. There is great compassion in this community. At Cumberland County College, we couple compassion with ability for self-sufficiency and to give back.

For some time, we have been reviewing our academic programs with insights from our employers to ensure that our graduates have the skills and knowledge that will help them to succeed in the marketplace. We go beyond theoretical work.

As we examine employment and economic trends, we are strengthening our roster of academic offerings. We are enhancing existing programs and adding new ones including cyber security, data analytics, and healthcare risk management—to name a few. We are also adding Certified Production Technician and other trades programs, and engaging with employers in the trades to better respond to their needs and the needs of students not taking the traditional academic route.

No matter our residents’ interests, as the higher education institution of Cumberland County, we are giving students and their families options and a pathway to the middle class.

Our approach is to embrace the entire community. Whether our students were born elsewhere, brought here with parents who support our thriving agricultural industry or higher education is a family legacy and they choose Cumberland County College because they are financially savvy, we embrace the entire community. Our classes mirror the real world settings students will encounter upon graduation.

Earlier this month, we co-hosted an expungement workshop with the Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office, defense attorneys, and our Human Resources Department. Our goal was to educate and also help those wishing to turn their lives around find a way to do that. Our faculty have taught at our local prisons and are committed to helping our community members reinvent themselves.

As we reflect on the meaning of the holiday season, as an institution, we are proud of the hope and tools with which we empower Cumberland.

Previously published in The Daily Journal on December 22, 2016.