Welcome Back, Faculty and Students

It is going to be a great year! This year, Cumberland County College celebrates its 50th anniversary. We have a rare opportunity to showcase the great talent and passionate individuals—faculty, staff, board members, donors, and countless others—who have propelled our students to great success for 50 years. We also have half a century of accomplishments by our students and alumni to share with the world. Our impact on the broader Cumberland county community has been deep and profound. We are proud of the officials, private citizens, and inaugural board members who saw it fitting to establish the college to provide opportunities for higher learning and socioeconomic mobility for the people of Cumberland County.

As important as our celebration, as we enter our 50th year, we have an unprecedented opportunity to envision what Cumberland County College in the 21st century should look like, how it should serve the community, and what kinds of impact in should have on the lives of the people residing here and on the environment.

As a sector, higher education has been facing a range of challenges from over-reliance on underpaid adjunct faculty, to high cost for students and families that are disproportionate to the economic returns at the undergraduate level, and a perception of being too slow to evolve, to cite a few of the issues. Our sector also faces challenges like an aging workforce, high health care costs, and the need to adapt and innovate with speed, agility, excellence, and responsiveness to a rapidly changing world, changing consumer preferences, demographics, and technology. As we look back 50 years, we also need to look forward so that we can nurture the kinds of leaders and citizens needed in the 21st century and create the conditions that will allow us to not just survive, but thrive for another 50 years.

As president, I am committed to leading a highly adaptable institution that is idea-driven with empowered individuals throughout the college and the hierarchy so that we can anticipate some of the changes that we can expect in the near future and evolve with the world that exists outside of academia. Our institution is going to embrace technology in a way that we have never done before. We will breathe and live our community mission. We will work as partners with our stakeholders with a level of cohesion not previously experienced so that we can maximize our collective impact. Most importantly, we will have fun as we work hard.

Cumberland County College is an institution that is change-ready and future-ready. It is my privilege to be a steward of this great college. We are creating a new model for higher education here in South Jersey and we are proud of it. We are not afraid to get our hands dirty and not afraid to take educated risks because our people and our community are worth it.

Welcome to the 2016-2017 academic year! Let’s build something great and agile for the 21st century.

Our Farms as Assets in our Wealth Portfolio in Cumberland

My father grew up on a farm and from the time he became a teenager, his goal was figuring out how to get off the farm. He succeeded in that. He became the first person in his family to attain beyond a 4th grade education. My uncle is a farmer and I have always admired the breadth of interdisciplinary knowledge it takes to be a farmer. Plant genetics, plant physiology, meteorology, soil science, and other sciences such as ecology, earth science, biology, chemistry, engineering, and economics are just some of the major areas of knowledge a farmer needs to succeed. While my father ran far away from the farms of Haiti, I am running into the fields of corn, eggplants, jalapenos, and other produce in South Jersey.

This past week, I had the privilege of spending some time with two generations of farmers at Tom Pontano & Son Farms. They own 300 acres of farmland in Vineland. It was the most time that I have ever spent on a farm and one of the most enlightening experiences of my career. I always knew that it takes hard work to be a farmer, but the economics of farming even in the wealthiest country in the world are intricate and often do not favor those responsible for our sustenance. The agriculture business is a complex, extremely regulated, and an expensive enterprise. Needless to say, I walked away with a deep appreciation for my local farmers and a commitment to support them as part of my lifestyle and where my family chooses to shop for fresh produce.

On the professional front, as an institution located in a primarily rural area, Cumberland County College needs to better understand the business, challenges, and opportunities for local farmers. It is at the very core of our mission to serve the community. Farmers today face an array of issues including international competition which affects the prices they are able to command in the produce market, labor shortages, wage regulation, changing and less predictable weather, a strict regulatory environment, and managing the environmental impact of farming are among some of the issues. These challenges, for the most part, are not even related to the actual production of their produce. There, plant breeding, plant physiology, crop rotation, soil fertility, irrigation and drainage, weed control, and insect and pest control—to name a few—are major factors dominating farmers’ time with respect to the actual production of fruits, vegetables, and grains.

Needless to say, I was impressed with my visit. The farms of Cumberland are one of the many natural assets in our collective wealth portfolio. They are also a way of life, the livelihood of many generations of immigrants old and new—from the more established Italians, Jews, and Puerto Ricans to the more recent Mexicans, Guatemalans, and other Central Americans. The academic in me also sees the farms as large field stations for more than just scientific learning and scientific knowledge generation. Our farmers, I learned, develop their breadth of knowledge mostly from field experience. Constant experimentation is a way of life for them, as are constant risk assessment and risk taking. They are constantly evaluating their business model in light of what appears to be always changing external factors.

Thank a farmer today. Buy their fresh local produce. It’s a job that fewer and fewer people want to do. Volunteer at a farm. Give back in whatever small way that you can. Thank you Tom Sr. and Jr. for an incredible experience and great insights.

A Living Legacy of Inclusiveness: Embracing Different Learning Styles and Abilities

Typically when the subject of diversity arises, it is about race and ethnicity.  Given the history of our country and the demographic changes we are undergoing currently, it is not hard to imagine why those two aspects are the most often talked about. In this blog post, I address the subject of diversity of learning styles and embracing students with learning disabilities. Over the last five decades, Cumberland County College has built not just a reputation but a living legacy around serving students with diverse learning needs and abilities with a level of care and excellence that many tell us is unparalleled in the region.

When we think of bullying in schools and students who feel that college is not for them or they are not smart enough or they are different, one of the most vulnerable groups is students with disabilities. Often, they feel conditioned to define success in ways that are different from the prevailing measures like college completion, successful careers, home ownership, and other traditional metrics of success. Often, they are made to feel that they need to settle for something less than—to pursue careers that many not necessarily depend on their intellectual and academic abilities. At Cumberland County College, we believe firmly in the human potential of each and all of our students and we make special efforts to embrace those who are vulnerable and who have been made to believe that there are limitations to their potential to achieve.

Over the last few months, I have been not just impressed but proud to hear of the services that we offer students with learning disabilities. When I hear anecdotes about families that thought that their child could not achieve like their siblings and they come to blossom at Cumberland, I feel a deep sense of pride in our students and alumni with disabilities who are living legacies of our commitment to the unleashing the human potential of every student who crosses our threshold.

When I hear of students who thought that there’s been something “wrong” with them all their lives or who thought that they were “dumb,” and only to find out that they are diagnosed with a learning disability that is not insurmountable, that can be accommodated, that does not shut out the world to them or in any way limit what they can aspire to achieve, I am also proud of our people. When I see our quiet, shy, and reserved director of the office that oversees support to students with learning and physical disabilities get excited and passionate speaking about our students and their families, I can’t help but wonder what I can do to share the gospel.

As we celebrate 50 years of achievements, we will be showcasing all of our students, especially those who had been told or conditioned to think of their lives and potential as being limited only to come and blossom at Cumberland County College. They are the living legacies of our support staff, our faculty, and their families that believed in them now and continue to believe in them.

Cumberland Turns 50: Celebrating a Half Century of Accomplishments

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This year, Cumberland County College turns 50. During my short time at the College, I have met students who were part of the inaugural class. I have also met faculty who were members of the inaugural instructional team—a couple of whom still work at the College. To celebrate our half century of service, we will host a number of engagements with the community because these first 50 years of success would not be possible without strong and broad support from the community. Our year-long celebration will culminate with a 50th anniversary gala on May 6, 2017.

For 50 years, Cumberland’s motto has been “pride, service, and excellence”. It is a motto that is embraced by the community at large. From our grounds and facilities crew to our faculty and our executive team, the pride that we take in serving the students and the community is evident in the quality of experiences that students have and the level of care that we show our students. Stewardship of our college is also shared with our elected officials, various local agencies, and even the mayors of the cities and townships that make up our county. Their commitment to Cumberland can be seen in the support of activities, opportunities, and spaces that they create to help youth and adults in the County acquire the skills and competencies that will lead them to a better future.

As we celebrate our first 50 years, we thank and embrace all of those who have made it possible. We thank the visionaries who established our college. We thank our trustees and Foundation Board members who have invested their time and resources into the College. We thank the alumni and students who cross our threshold every day. We thank the faculty and staff for whom working at the college is more than a job; it is a vocation. We thank the community members who make our campus part of their daily lives, whether it is playing tennis on our courts, watching a little league game on our baseball field, enjoying a soccer match, or simply taking a stroll in our courtyards. Cumberland County College is a gem for this community.

This year, we’ll celebrate half a century of propelling students to opportunities to profoundly impact society through their careers, their civic involvement, and leadership at the local and global levels. We will also be looking ahead, visioning what the next 50 years might look like—working with all of our stakeholders to imagine Cumberland County College at 100. We invite you to reconnect or connect for the first time with us at cumberland50@cccnj.edu. Let’s dream and act together!

Celebrating our Country’s 240th Birthday: So Many Achievements & So Much Promise Still

This weekend we celebrate our country’s 240th anniversary. Despite what some will have us believe, ours is still the greatest country on Earth. The proof is in the number of people who are clamoring to come here and to become citizens of the United States of America. Sure, we have our issues, but we are still the land of opportunity.

I was born abroad and have spent time in more than two dozen countries. Across the globe, people recognize that this is likely the only country where one can reinvent him or herself over and over again, a country where the caste you were born into doesn’t have to be the class that you die into. When the Pilgrims and the Puritans were looking for a safe haven, they turned to us. The Amish, the Mennonites, the Catholics, the Jews and others that escaped religious and political persecution, famine and economic instability, came here to start anew.

In Cumberland County, many have shared with me stories of their ancestors who settled here and worked the farms or worked in the factories to build wealth and a comfortable life for their children and grandchildren. Our goal at Cumberland County College is to keep the American Dream accessible for all. As our College turns 50 this year, we are renewing our commitment to keep creating ladders for economic mobility for all. The days of building wealth on a factory job that required no education beyond high school are long gone. Middle class jobs of the 21st century require a college credential, minimally.

In Cumberland County, keeping the American Dream alive and accessible is a shared endeavor. From our local Freeholders, to the local Improvement Authority, our Planning Board, and local public school districts—just to name a few—the commitment to higher education as a pathway to the American Dream is a shared value in Cumberland.

As we celebrate the 240th birthday of our country, we celebrate American leadership, entrepreneurialism, vision, can-do attitude, adaptability, openness, and compassion. These are just some of the attributes that make us great. Happy birthday to our extraordinary country! Happy birthday USA.

Rediscover Cumberland County College

As we prepare to celebrate Cumberland County College’s 50th anniversary this year, we are excited to re-acquaint the community with the only higher education institution in the county. Nationally, community colleges have changed drastically. Once considered the 13th grade and colleges attended primarily by students who did not excel academically and adult students, community colleges across the country have redefined themselves as vibrant academic institutions that are at the heart of the economic vitality of the communities they serve. Cumberland County College is no exception to that! Our entering students include valedictorians and the top tier of our local high school graduates.

Cumberland County College represents a great choice for financially savvy students and their families. A student who completes his or her first two years of college at Cumberland pays a total cost of $8,800 for those first two years. Now consider the alternative. The first two years alone at one of New Jersey’s fine public universities cost $25,600—not to mention the additional two years needed to complete an undergraduate degree. A student who starts at one of the private institutions in state, pays an average of $64,600 just for the first two years. To be solidly middle-class in the current economy, our students need a Master’s degree.

A student or family that spends over $100,000 on their basic college degree has little or nothing left to pay for an advanced degree. There is a reason why college debt—estimated to be over $1 trillion—now surpasses mortgage debt. Don’t let yourself or your child get saddled with debt right out of the gate. As a parent, I’d prefer to help my children invest in their first home.

It’s not just value that Cumberland County College offers. Our beautiful campus rivals all of the community college campuses in the state. We are often told that our campus mirrors some of the most elite, private colleges in the country. Come take a tour, enjoy a picnic at one of our courtyards, play Frisbee on our turf, enjoy a show by a well-known artist in our performing arts center, check out our conference center, or build something using our 3-D printers or extensive clay and pottery facilities.

Our facilities and our extraordinary faculty and staff create an optimal environment for learning. We also partner with local universities like Wilmington, Montclair, and Farleigh Dickinson to offer complete bachelor and Master’s degrees on campus and online for students who wish to complete their degrees without ever leaving Cumberland. Our graduates have also gone on to Rutgers, Stockton and prestigious universities like Harvard, Columbia, and other elite schools.

Higher education is the first most important and most significant investment in a young person’s life. As you consider your college options, I encourage you to make a financially savvy decision and to start at Cumberland County College. We have been propelling students to success for 50 years. We’d love to count you as one of our success stories as we enter our next half century.

Rekindling the Fire: Engaging our Community in New Ways

As Cumberland County College closes the books on 50 years of service to the community, we are pausing to reflect on the characteristics and successes that earned us the ranking of #1 community college in New Jersey and placement among the top 2% of community colleges in the country, according to the Washington Monthly Magazine. We work hard to maintain and exceed our high rankings, but we take the most pride in our students’ and alumni achievements—many of whom live right here among us while others are impacting the world beyond Cumberland.

We are also looking at the journey ahead by beginning to envision what the next 50 years might look like. As we do this, we’ll rekindle the fire with the community. Beginning this summer, we’ll be re-engaging our community partners and the people of the Cumberland. We’ll be meeting students where they are, bringing this community college into the community. We’ll be using all traditional and modern techniques, approaches, and media to make sure that no one is left out. We’ll embrace the diverse cultures that make us a microcosm of where our country is heading. We will live our mission of pride, service, and excellence by maximizing our impact on the community.

We will engage the people, non-profits, and business leaders of Cumberland County in examining key socio-economic indicators, workforce and economic development goals to determine where and how the College might be most impactful. Together, we will bring the economically marginalized more into the center as we strengthen our middle class, keep college costs low and expand transfer options for our students. We will align our academic programs with the current and projected labor demands of our regional workforce. We will embrace technology and avail ourselves of the natural assets this county offers to advance our people and institutions. We have high hopes for the next 50 years.

Broad community support has brought us to where we are today. Imagine what we can achieve if we were on fire. Imagine a new Cumberland!