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


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!

The Start of a Great Adventure

Today is the first day of what promises to be a great adventure with Cumberland County College! Despite all the work that moving entails, I have been looking forward to this day with great excitement and I am glad that the anticipation is over.

Cumberland County College is a great gem—a best kept secret that won’t be for long. With its beautiful serene campus that mirrors some of the great private liberal arts colleges in the Northeast, I share the staff’s pride that our community college students get to study in an environment that is both conducive to learning and aesthetically pleasing. The beauty of Cumberland County itself, outside of the college, is equally captivating. Prior to exploring my new hometown, I was told that our county put the “Garden” in the “Garden State,” as is New Jersey’s motto.

The county offers a great mix of rural with quasi-city living, ample open space, clean air, and rich historical sites tied to the Underground Railroad, the Civil War, The Gilded Age, the Jazz Age, the Great Depression, and the Post War eras, not to mention the accompanying legends and lore told by locals. The wildlife, rivers, and the Delaware Bay that run through the county offer great picturesque scenes fit for postcards.

The people—Cumberland County’s best assets—are welcoming and warm. Much like the rest of the country, Cumberland County is becoming more diverse and with a growing Latino population. Our college is even a designated Hispanic-Serving Institution. My new colleagues are enthusiastic, fun, and future-ready. As Cumberland County College celebrates 50 years of extraordinary achievements, the College, its Board, its benefactors, and the broader community are energized to start writing the next chapter.

Needless to say, I am in love with Cumberland. Let’s get started!