A decade in the making, new SCC building expands campus holdings

A new building started taking shape last month at Southwestern Community College’s campus in Sylva, with completion slated for next March.

When finished, the nearly $8-million project will be called the Conrad G. Burrell building after longtime board of trustee member Conrad Burrell, who once took carpentry, electrical and other classes at what was then a technical college. The building will provide the school new bookstore space, plus additional academic and administrative space.

This represents the first state-funded construction to take place at SCC’s main campus since 1986, Project Manager George Stanley said. More recently, Jackson County paid to build an early-college building for high-school students there. The county transferred ownership of that building to the community college.

Jackson County also pitched in about $2.7 million to help fund the new building.

This new 38,210-square-foot Burrell building is being paid for with remnants of the 2000 education bond referendum. Stanley said the school asked to delay using the bond money to work out a swap for the land-strapped institution from the N.C. Forest Service, which neighbored SCC’s campus. Burrell was instrumental in making that deal happen — the Forest Service identified nine acres to relocate to elsewhere in Jackson, in the Greens Creek area, and SCC purchased the land for them.

“That was a good trade,” Burrell said. “Southwestern needed that property bad.”

The building is environmentally friendly, though it won’t carry the coveted LEED certification tag because of ongoing costs associated with that program.

“We have a pedigree building without the registration,” Stanley said.

That includes geothermal heating and cooling with 48 wells used to meet the 105-ton cooling load of the building.

Thanks to the economic doldrums, construction came in $1.5-million less than budgeted. This will allow SCC, pending state approval, to use its surplus to buy an abandoned Tuckaseigee Water and Sewer Association water tank on campus. This is needed to provide adequate pressure to power a fire sprinkler system for all of the buildings on SCC’s campus, and to reach the third floor of the new building, Stanley said.

Burrell said he was honored when the SCC board of trustee’s named the building after him.

“I had no idea the board was going to do this,” Burrell said. “We were in a meeting, they asked me to leave — I thought they were going to fire me or something. I wasn’t expecting it.”

Southwestern Community College presidents resigns suddenly

Richard Collings has submitted his resignation as president of Southwestern Community College after just six months on the job.

The resignation was submitted Tuesday, to be effective Wednesday, Feb. 9. No reason was given for the resignation. Collings suffered unexpected health problems shortly after taking the job at SCC late last summer.

The board of trustees is moving quickly ahead to begin the search for a new president, according to Conrad Burrell, chairman of the SCC board of trustees.

In the meantime, the board selected Janet Burnette, executive vice president for administrative services, to serve as interim president. She served briefly as interim president before Collings came on board in August.

“Ms. Burnette has served previously as interim president of the college, and we feel her knowledge of the college and level of experience will best serve the college during this transitory period,” Burrell said in a statement.

The SCC board had approved the selection of Collings in June 2010 upon the retirement of longtime president Cecil Groves. At the time, Collings was president of Wayne State College in Nebraska. He was a former administrator at Western Carolina University, where he served as vice chancellor for academic affairs from 1996 to 2004.


Click to read about Collings health problems after being hired at SCC and his background

Click to read about Collings initial hire and his background


SCC offers new program in wilderness therapy

Southwestern Community College has started a new degree program whose graduates will likely become the leaders in the growing field of wilderness therapy.

The course work was designed in collaboration with area wilderness therapy providers such as Woodson Wilderness Challenge, Second Nature Blue Ridge, Phoenix Outdoors and others.

“We have a lot of interns in the field working with different organizations through our Outdoor Leadership program,” said Paul Wolf, the director of SCC’s Outdoor Leadership program. “And the message we kept hearing from these groups was that their biggest challenge was to get qualified staff and be able to keep them.”

Wolf is excited and enthused about the program, which began this fall semester and requires 18 semester-hour credits.

It’s been a two-year journey from brainstorming sessions to opening the doors to Wilderness Therapy students this fall. The journey began with meetings with Deb Klavohn, dean of health sciences at SCC. Then SCC had to get permission from the North Carolina Board of Community Colleges.

“We were granted permission last summer,” Wolf said.


A shift in direction

Wolf said wilderness therapy has had a major shift in direction since its early boot camp mindset.

Tragedies such as the ones at the Challenger Foundation in 1990 — where two teenagers died during separate wilderness survival trips — and the death of Aaron Bacon in 1994 while enrolled in a North Star Expeditions program made the industry slow down and take a second look. While “natural consequences” — i.e. if you don’t make a dry shelter and it rains, you get wet — are still a primary tenant of wilderness therapy, the industry has moved to an “empowerment model” rather than a punishment model.

He said that most of today’s wilderness therapy programs employ professional therapists or psychologists with graduate degrees. However, these therapists don’t march every step with participants, so the need for highly skilled field instructors is paramount to the success of the program and the safety of the participants.


SCC’s Wilderness Therapy program

A wilderness therapy field instructor wears many hats. That person is the trail boss to get from point A to point B. The field instructor has to have primitive living skills to ensure the group is prepared for whatever type of trail or weather conditions it encounters. Excellent orienteering and map-reading skills are mandatory. Plus, the field instructor is the first responder in any medical emergency and, for the majority of the trip, camp counselor.

Wolf has designed a diverse yet focused program to guarantee that SCC Wilderness Therapy graduates have what it takes to be competent field instructors and valued wilderness therapy employees. Courses in the program include Intro to Wilderness Therapy, Wilderness Therapeutic Models, Methods of Experiential Education, Primitive Living Skills as well as Land-Based and Water-Based Activities. The two courses offered this fall are Intro to Wilderness Therapy and Primitive Living Skills. Wolf said there were nine students in each class.

Wolf, who teaches most of the classes, has a bachelor’s degree with a double major in psychology and environmental studies from Mankato State University in Minnesota and a master’s in educational administration from Western Carolina University. He has years of experience in outdoor leadership and education including seven years with the Voyager Outward Bound School in the Boundary Waters wilderness in northern Minnesota. He was also coordinator of the Action Learning Programs at the Nantahala Outdoor Center. Wolf also uses adjunct professors such as Jonathan Bryant, director of NOC’s wilderness medicine department, and Stephan Hart, who is a NOC instructor specializing in wild foods and medicinal plants.


A good fit

Wolf said the Wilderness Therapy program was a great fit and addition to SCC’s Outdoor learning Program.

“I would recommend an Outdoor Leadership degree for someone just out of high school,” Wolf said. “But the Wilderness Therapy certificate is a great add-on for someone who already has a degree or experience in outdoor learning.”

And it’s a great fit in the overall mission of community colleges. “This is something that is career-ready and specific. It was designed to meet industry needs and there are employers out there waiting,” Wolf said.



What is wilderness therapy?

Wilderness therapy — sometimes referred to as outdoor education or adventure-based therapy — are outdoor programs intended to be therapeutic in nature. They may simply self-identify as therapeutic or may offer more traditional psychotherapy in a wilderness environment.

Budget woes leave higher education institutions with tough choices

Up to 1,700 jobs, perhaps a whole campus eliminated — the dire picture painted this month by Erskine Bowles, president of the University of North Carolina system, on the state of higher education during these tough economic times isn’t pretty.

Locally, staff and faculty at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, Southwestern Community College in Sylva and Haywood Community College in Clyde are preparing for significant budget cuts.

Most likely, a 10-percent reduction is coming. State colleges and universities across North Carolina, however, are outlining what they’d do in response to higher and lower reductions, as directed by the UNC system and The State Board of Community Colleges.

“We are hearing talk of impending heavy slashing and have been asked to prepare scenarios of how we would deal with 5-, 10- and even 15-percent cuts,” said Rose Hooper Garrett, public information officer for SCC, via email.

A year ago, the UNC system took a $70 million cut, or less than 3 percent.


Sorting it out

“At this point, it’s too early in the process to provide the actual impact of what a 10-percent budget reduction would do to the overall operations of WCU,” said Chuck Wooten, vice chancellor for administration and finance for the university.

“It’s fair to say that most likely we will have fewer class sections, more students in each class, more dependence on part-time faculty, reduced funds for faculty travel and professional development, fewer funds for general operations such as supplies and equipments, elimination of vacant positions, possible elimination of positions that are currently filled, and reduced funds for general maintenance of the physical plant of the campus.”

Here’s what is happening: North Carolina is facing a budget deficit of $3.5 billion.

At 5 percent, the UNC system would cut $135 million and likely eliminate 800 jobs. At 10 percent, the UNC system would cut $270 million and eliminate 1,700 jobs.

“We’re really going to impact the academic side,” the Associated Press quoted Bowles as saying.

Rose Harrell Johnson, president of Haywood Community College, said the community college would lose more than $1,306,478 with a 10-percent reduction.

“For comparison, the college received an increase of $1,213,111 in state funding this fiscal year because it had a 10.77 percent enrollment increase,” Johnson said. “If the budget reduction becomes reality, the college will lose its enrollment growth budget increase and potentially more.”

Among other measures, Garrett said SCC has been considering tuition increases.

“At the system office we will look at operations, contracts and personnel,” she said.


Preparing for the worst

Wooten said WCU anticipated budget reductions by making a number of decisions in the 2009-2010 fiscal year to take in budget reductions totaling about 8 percent, which eliminated 93.92 positions.

“After satisfying budget reductions for 2010-11, $4,404,792 remained for use against future budget reductions,” Wooten said.

WCU would see reductions of $8,638,874 at the 10-percent level and $4,319,437 at the 5 percent level, he said.

“WCU’s plan, which was submitted to the Office of State Budget and Management, would first offer up the full amount remaining from previous budget reductions ($4,404,792) to satisfy the 5-percent budget reduction plan, and campus divisions and departments have identified additional budget reductions ($4,234,082) to satisfy a 10-percent budget reduction plan … (this) would potentially eliminate 41.08 positions in the 2011-2012 fiscal year budget.”

Groves said goodbye, but comes back again

Cecil Groves, former president of Southwestern Community College, is the new CEO of BalsamWest FiberNet.

Groves, who had moved to Texas to be near family, replaces David Hubbs, who announced he was leaving to pursue personal

New SCC president takes the helm after health setback

Richard Collings suffered a stroke the night he arrived in Western North Carolina to take over as president of Southwestern Community College.

What followed, as Collings described it, was “kind of a weird interlude” into his new job.

There had been no indication of potential health problems. Collings, a tall, lanky, fit-looking man, walks and bikes regularly for exercise. A doctor who checked him out a short time before the incident assured him he was in good overall health.

That first night back in WNC, however, he began feeling disoriented. His wife, Marilyn, suggested the possibility of a stroke. Collings was taken to a hospital for treatment.

He lived. He suffered minimal damage. He clearly believes himself fortunate. But one senses about him a lingering bemusement that he, Collings — a man who’d just been informed his blood-pressure reading was that of a teenager — could, without warning, be felled.

As it happened, the stroke wasn’t connected to blood pressure. A blood clot was to blame.


Getting on with things

Collings, 63, was cleared to start his new position Aug. 23. This followed two months or so in occupational and physical therapy. His right leg still feels a little weak. One hand is a bit numb. That describes the situation. Collings said he’s eager to get on with the job.

The task he faces is somewhat delicate: don’t be the man who messes things up.

SCC achieved national recognition, twice, under the leadership of the previous president, Dr. Cecil Groves. The college hasn’t been shy about trumpeting its Top 10 rankings by Washington Monthly, a monthly nonprofit magazine. On highway billboards, media releases, wherever and whenever potential students, faculty and staff — the simple passerby — can be reminded of SCC’s stellar rankings, they are reminded.

There’s little question that SCC, led by Groves and his predecessor, Barry Russell, emerged during the past two decades or so as one of the most important institutions in the far-western end of the state.

This, in part, is because unlike most of North Carolina’s community colleges, SCC serves more than one county. The two-year college’s service area is made up of Jackson, Macon and Swain counties, plus the Cherokee Indian Reservation. Michell Hicks, the tribe’s principal chief, is among the school’s most notable graduates.

This year, SCC has 2,650 curriculum students. There are 202 full-time employees and 477 part-time ones. Students can choose from 74 programs; 19 of those are available online.

SCC plays a critical role in training people to work in the service industry, and as medical experts, law-enforcement officers, outdoor guides, even hairdressers. Name anything connected with earning a livelihood here in the shadow of the Great Smoky Mountains, and former SCC students are probably involved.


New president styled “open minded”

Collings previously served as vice chancellor for academic affairs at Western Carolina University. Between then and taking the SCC job, he was president for six years at Wayne State College in Nebraska.

Bill Path, president of Northeast Community College in nearby Norfolk, Neb., said he wasn’t surprised when he learned Collings wanted to give up his post at the head of a four-year school to lead a community college. Path knew Collings’ children and grandchildren were still in this area, “and he was open-minded.”

“A lot of times, four-year colleges look down on two-year colleges. I never saw any hint of that, or hesitation on his part,” Path said.

During Collings’ stint at Wayne State College, the two men did something unusual. The Nebraska State College System would later use accolades such as “history making” and “unique.”

Collings and Path collaborated on a joint campus, an unusual partnership between a two-year and four-year school.

There was political opposition to begin with, Collings said. Some university leaders opposed the project, afraid perhaps of the competition, or being forced to undertake similar tasks themselves. The men also had to find more than $14 million, done largely through grants and private fundraising.

Construction is almost finished on a new joint campus in South Sioux City, Neb. Students will be able to take freshman and sophomore courses from Northeast, and junior and senior or graduate courses from Wayne State College — all in the same place, in their town, close to their own homes. The two men invented, at least for Nebraska, the educational equivalent of one-stop shopping.


A man with a mission

Collings might have embraced innovation in Nebraska. But don’t expect huge changes at SCC. This is an individual who strongly believes in defining, and adhering, to a mission.

He speaks of  “tweaking” things at the community college. Of getting involved in the multiple communities the college serves, and finding out what else residents need and want. But Collings also talks of the philosophy of continuous improvement.

“You either move forward or you fall back,” he said.

The former university administrator is not a fan of community colleges that emulate their bigger brothers and offer bachelor’s degrees, an education concept particularly embraced of late in the state of Florida. Collings doesn’t covet university sports teams. He doesn’t wish he could offer students dorm space on campus. Don’t, in other words, expect “mission creep” under Collings’ watch at SCC.

“Community colleges fill an important niche. There are things we can’t do,” he said. “We are not trying to be a university, or a four-year school. We have a different mission.”

Collings said he’s not made wholesale changes to the staff and faculty. Because, he said, this isn’t a rescue operation.

Kate Welch, a former Swain County teacher and 13-year member of SCC’s Board of Trustees, said Collings seemed a square peg for a square hole.

“I didn’t hear before, or since, any negative things about him. Everything that was said was very, very positive,” Welch said, adding that, during the interview process, Collings impressed her with his sincerity.

The similarities of his educational path and those of students who attend SCC also struck her favorably. The Louisville, Ky., native worked his way through school, usually doing some form of manual labor to pay his tuition.

“It made me think he could relate to our students,” she said. “Some work two, three jobs, and have childcare issues. And that he would be part of our community, and fit right in.”

Collings has a one-year contract. The trustees can choose to renew that contract, or not. He will be paid $140,000.


Meet SCC’s new president

WHAT: Welcome reception for Richard Collings

WHERE: Balsam Center Lobby of the Jackson Campus.

WHEN: Thursday, Sept. 30.

TIME: 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Glaze techniques shared at SCC workshop

Artist Laura Davis will demonstrate and discuss her glaze techniques from 6 to 9 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 16, at the Swain Center of Southwestern Community College.

Davis, who has been working with clay since 2002, owns Core Clay, a pottery studio and supply store in Cincinnati, Ohio. Much of her pottery is highly textured and features her signature transparent glazes. Her work can be seen at the Core Clay website, at the Pottery Festival in Dillsboro on Nov. 6, and in the book 500 Vases.

Students who want to try glazing techniques should bring up to two bisqued pieces, cone 6, maximum size three pounds each, to the class. Textured pieces are recommended. Participants will have an opportunity to glaze a piece, which will then be fired. The pieces will be critiqued during the second night of the workshop.

Free for enrolled students of the Heritage Arts Institute at SCC; $10. Bring a potluck dish to share.


SCC eyed for federal law enforcement training

Four donated modular units should help ease a space crunch at the Public Safety Training Center in Macon County, but the fix could be short-lived.

The training center, run by Southwestern Community College, might soon become one of a handful of sites in the country where federal law enforcement officers can get high-level training.

While thousands cycle through every year for basic police, fire and rescue training, demand may be stiffest for a handful of coveted slots in a four-month academy for federal park rangers.

Men and women seeking seasonal, or temporary, law enforcement jobs with the National Park Service train there now. But the college hopes to offer more federal training next year — by increasing the number of academies it holds and adding training for fulltime federal law enforcement officers.

The National Park Service would be the primary beneficiary. Some other federal agencies also could use men and women commissioned through the training center.

“There’s a lot of potential with this federal accreditation,” said Curtis Dowdle, director of the training center. “But we would have to meet a number of policies and regulations, such as instructors who hold certain credentials, equipment requirements, enough square-feet-per-student requirements.

“Record keeping is probably the biggest part — we’d have to house the records on the students forever, and that’s a big space issue,” Dowdle said.

Right now, all training for fulltime federal law enforcement officers takes place at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, headquartered in Glynco, Ga. Dowdle said the federal government estimates having a select number of sites across the nation offer the classes could save taxpayers more than $40,000 per government employee.

Space problems

Macon County Schools donated the modular units to SCC, and county commissioners last week agreed to spend $17,500 from the county’s contingency fund to pay to move them. They were previously used by two of the county’s schools for additional classroom space. Macon County has been building new schools and no longer needs them.

“It services the whole region, even the nation,” Ronnie Beale, chairman of the Macon County Board of Commissioners, said of the center.

Steve Stinnett, chief ranger for the Blue Ridge Parkway, agreed that the training center plays an important role.

“The center has been very helpful to us,” said Stinnett. “They’ve really made it available.”

In addition to having access to a pool of qualified applicants when hiring, Stinnett said the National Park Service receives a professional boost because rangers working on the Parkway or in the Smokies are sometimes tapped to teach at the training center.

“People who teach something tend to do it better,” he said.

In addition to classrooms, a computer lab and more, the center has a driver-training course, shooting range and a 4,100-square-foot, three-story building used to train fire and rescue workers.

Each modular unit will provide an additional 864 square feet of space to the training center.

Simulators for emergency medical service workers will be set up in one unit. A use-of-force simulator for law enforcement officers will be housed in another, as will exercise equipment. One unit will add general classroom space.

But it’s doubtful the four units will provide adequate room for long. In addition to seeking the federal accreditation required to train fulltime federal law enforcement officers, Dowdle and SCC are considering other expansions.

‘Growing smart’

Two, 30-member academies for training the seasonal federal workers are currently offered. The academy starting in January has a waiting list; 15 men and women already have signed up for the second academy, which isn’t until August of next year. SCC, in response to the demand, is considering holding three academies each year.

Federal Law Enforcement Training Center officials did not respond by press time to an interview request.

“If we grow, we want to grow smart,” Dowdle said, emphasizing the community college’s need to weigh each expansion carefully.

An academy lasts four months. If another one is held, SCC — which under state law cannot operate student housing — will need to find more places for the students to live. The students now rent directly from people in the community.

“We must find more housing, unless we have an investor come forward who wants to put something up,” Dowdle said.

A state-of-the-art firing range is also being considered. This would be an outdoor range similar to one used by the federal government in Glynco. A bullet trap system would collect the lead, protecting both people and the environment. The firing range currently used by SCC is behind the water-treatment plant in Sylva. It has no trap system and just 10 lanes. That’s a problem when the community college is trying to train 30 cadets at a time, Dowdle said.

Federal money to outfit community college with green teaching tools

A $300,000 federal grant awarded to three community colleges will help ready a Western North Carolina workforce for the rapidly growing green technology field.

Some 400 students are expected to enroll in programs supported by the Appalachian Regional Commission grant at Haywood, Southwestern and Tri-County community colleges.

Since 1998, clean energy jobs in North Carolina have grown by over 15 percent, while jobs in other fields have increased by only 6 percent. Officials say focusing on green job training is already a must in preparing students headed into the working world.

“It is incredibly important for the future of our state and country,” said Janet Burnette, interim president at Southwestern Community College.

Donna Tipton-Rogers, Tri-County college’s president, said this particular field was especially relevant with Murphy located close to major auto manufacturers in the South.

“It fits in great,” said Tipton-Rogers.

At a press conference held at Western Carolina University last week, the $300,000 check was officially presented to the Southwestern Planning & Economic Development Commission, which will work with the community colleges to develop the training program.

Rose Johnson, president of HCC, said the ARC money would be put to work as soon as the next semester begins. In all, $794,000 will be invested in the green training initiative, with local sources making up the difference.

The Appalachian Regional Commission works to promote economic development in 13 Appalachian states.

With a persistently high unemployment rate in the area, ARC Federal Co-Chair Earl Gohl pointed out the important role of higher education in bringing prosperity here.

“In an economic recession, one point that always comes out is the level of education has a direct impact on the level of income,” said Gohl. “It’s essential for a competitive workforce to be well-trained and well-educated.”

U.S. Congressman Heath Shuler emphasized the importance of not only creating green technology, but also creating the workforce necessary to implement it locally.

“We develop it, we produce it, we sell it — all in America,” said Shuler.

Governor Bev Perdue added that the grant would help bring Western North Carolina jobseekers up to speed.

“The world has morphed,” said Perdue. “We have a really deep and abiding commitment to going green.”

Green funding for colleges

The $300,000 Appalachian Regional Commission grant will help three community colleges expand training in green jobs. Here are some ideas on how they plan to use it:

• Haywood Community College plans to use its share of the grant to fund equipment and instruction for low impact development, green building technology and weatherization.

• Southwestern Community College will focus on low impact development, alternative fuels, weatherization and sustainable energy.

• Tri-County Community College will invest its grant on teaching students to work on hybrid and electric vehicles.

Digital Camera Basics offered at SCC-Cashiers

Registration for fall personal enrichment classes is beginning at Southwestern Community College.

The first course offering at SCC-Cashiers Center (217 Frank Allen Road) will be an eight-hour workshop on Digital Camera Basics, starting Monday, Aug. 16. The class will meet from 10 a.m. to noon on Aug. 16, 23, and 30, and Sept. 13.

This course will cover the basics of using your digital camera and using the various functions and tools available with it. There will be practical applications of photography theory and opportunities to explore several forms of expression. The class will conclude with the basics of getting digital photos from the camera to a computer, and simple editing and production of prints.

The instructor will be Michael Rich, the current director at Cashiers Center, who has been a professional photographer and worked for Mountaineer Publishing as staff photographer and photo editor.


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