The beginning of a new year is always a good time for reflection. As I reflected on my early years about plans for attending college, I didn’t have any. I had a supportive family that wanted nothing but the best for me, more than they had.
Their hope was that I would be the first in our family to go to college and graduate. Instead I chose to go into the Air Force, a decision I don’t regret as I look back, but nevertheless it was a bit of a disappointment to my family.
Growing up in a fairly large city I didn’t feel or have a connection to our local college. They always seemed too busy to talk about what I wanted for my future. To be honest I’m not sure I gave them the chance. I tell you this because I miss not having had that early college experience. I went from the Air Force to a career in law enforcement. When I came to my senses about college, I was married with a family. But I had a life-changing moment when I had the opportunity to talk with the president of my university.
We had an honest conversation and he shared all the things you would expect someone to say when they wanted you to enroll. It wasn’t what he said, it was how he said it and how he took an interest in my future. To make a long story short it was because of his words and his caring attitude that I began my education and ultimately received my doctorate. It was a long, hard road working and raising a family, but I did it with their love, care and support. My only regret is the two people who wanted me to get an education weren’t with us when I achieved that goal.
So by now most of you asking yourself what’s the point of this editorial? The point is a simple one. I was raised, trained and educated to take care of people. I know what it’s like to start down a road with no one in your corner. There have been too many examples in my law enforcement career and in my education career of people who had no guidance and ended up traveling down the wrong path. I have prided myself in taking a personal interest in our students — their time with us, their future and the future of our community. Our students are our future. We are educating them to take our place in the world and make things a little better for them than the way we found it.
I have always shared with you what an outstanding faculty we have at Labette Community College. And that is an understatement. Each and every one of them care deeply about our students and their future. Each day faculty and staff members work the hardest they can to make our students successful. The extra time they spend with our students, the extra things they do and provide are immeasurable. We haven’t taken our charge lightly. There are so many dedicated, hard-working people who have gone out of their way to help us build our new Health Science Building. There are so many friends of the college who offer their home and support to our students. In each and everything we do for our students we know there is a payback to them, to us and to our community. We are blessed to have a hospital filled with caring, committed individuals along with a business community that is extremely productive and great community partners. And, last but not least, our community encourages and fosters new growth and business ideas that benefit all of us.
With that said please let me share with you the path that led us to where we are with giving our students the opportunity to have student housing adjacent to our campus. First let me say the path has been long and unproductive. Before I arrived there had been student housing on campus. I don’t have much history in how that project was developed. But from what I hear the space wasn’t designed to house students. A student that was over 6 feet tall couldn’t put their bed against the wall and the space was minimal, and without a doubt not staffed properly. When I arrived 10 years ago the first thing I did is meet with our faculty, staff and community and business leaders. In our discussions on growth of the college, student housing was at the top of the list.
Ten years ago we developed a “master plan” of sorts that has guided us to where we are. There have been attempts with student housing by private individuals that were unsuccessful. The two projects that have been mentioned the most are the old nursing home behind Shredders and the Parsonian Hotel. In both cases the owner/developers had never been in the student housing business and sought little input on how their projects could be successful.
Over the last five years finding a developer that had expertise in building and managing student housing has been a priority. I met with developers from Kansas City, Wichita and local builders that all wanted to provide the needed student housing but never came back to us with a plan to move forward. A local business professional, for whom I have a great deal of respect, gave me the name of a developer that he heard built quality student housing and managed their projects. We were hopeful that this would be the lead we were looking for. The bottom line is that the administration and a majority of the Board of Trustees felt the lead was promising and it should be pursued.
We did that after having several meetings with the developer and the board listening to what our options were. The developer proposed building a student housing facility that would have 144 beds and a student activities center available to our students. We encouraged the developer to seek funding for the project locally. They did that. The agreement was formed between the developer and a local banking institution in which the terms were developed.
We realize that a lot of wonderful community members have always stepped up to provide our students with housing, and we certainly hope they still will. The new facility doesn’t come close to meeting the needs of the student population we serve. But the new student housing facility provides a well-managed facility adjacent to our campus that allows us to offer our students the level of student programming they deserve for the complete college experience.
We at LCC recognize that we are one of the major economic engines that serves Labette County and Southeast Kansas. We consistently return millions of dollars to our local economy. I’m proud of the things we have been able to do for our students and I’m proud of what I see as our place and partnership with our community. Our students will be our future. They will be productive, tax-paying citizens who will continue to make our community a better place.
I hope you understand my mission and our college’s mission – “to provide quality learning opportunities in a supportive environment for success in a changing world.”