NORFOLK, Neb. – “We are ready for Fall 2020 and our students will feel it as they enter our classrooms – virtual or in person,” said Leah Barrett, president of Northeast Community College as she began her remarks to faculty and staff during a virtual In-Service session recently.
Barrett said everyone desires to have students come to Northeast campuses for face-to-face-classes, but the pandemic has generally put a halt to that. Only a third of Northeast classes will be offered in person. Changes in delivery of instruction this fall will include moving many traditional face-to-face classes to more online and synchronous online (virtual) classes, as well as reduced numbers of students and social distancing protocols in limited face-to-face classes. Face masks or shields will be required in all Northeast buildings this fall.
“Although our lives are definitely not business as usual, our students and our region need us,” Barrett said. “They need to experience our resilient spirit, our love of teaching and learning, and our commitment to the vibrancy of northeast Nebraska. I am proud of the decisions we made and the timing of those decisions.”
Barrett’s remarks were not limited to COVID-19. She also spoke of the future, Northeast students, and the college community. In order to stay committed to the pursuit of excellence, she said the college will be mindful of how it works with students and the public.
“Continuous quality improvement is not a fad. It is how we should approach our work. It will allow us to assess our effectiveness and implement new and better ways to serve our students and to operate as a college.”
Barrett cites the work of Northeast Community College over the past 10 years in how it will become even more intentional in ensuring students are successful in their college journey. This year marks the end of Northeast’s five-year strategic plan, Vision 2020. Vision 2020 and the strategic plan prior to that will be the basis for identifying the college’s next strategic priorities.
Barrett said the deliberate focus of working with all students through a “guided pathways” culture will be transformational.
“It’s about digging deeper into processes and systems, analyzing the data and identifying students who are not successful in meeting their goals and detecting the barriers to their success,” she said. “Guided Pathways requires full engagement and places the responsibility for the success of each student on each of us at the college. It is a mindset, not a list of actions. It is intentional and each student knows that we will work to help them achieve their goals.”
“After this pandemic, how will we be better able to serve our students and our region,” Barrett asked. “My intent is to engage our college and our community in discussions about how we better fulfill our mission.”
Barrett cited information from a recent Community Foundation survey of rural northeast Nebraska high school students that indicated that young people want to stay in their communities as well have a desire to work in agriculture, natural resources, food, education, and manufacturing. She said Northeast can play a role in partnering with others to create vibrant communities of young people throughout the region.
Barrett said working with post traditional learners who would like to finish their degree or earn a credential is another opportunity for Northeast to offer its assistance. She said the Nebraska Workforce Retraining Initiative will help unemployed and underemployed individuals who have had their lives impacted by the pandemic. Northeast received nearly $1 million in scholarship money to retrain unemployed or underemployed individuals in the region.
“Governor Ricketts and other governors are looking directly to the community colleges for support. Northeast is offering 18 programs that lead to industry-wide credentials. Approximately 100 participants are slated to enroll in our courses beginning next week. The initiative at Northeast hopes to enroll hundreds more people in the fall.”
Barrett, who took office in January, said she is proud to be serving as president of Northeast at this time and called the college a “wonderful place.” While COVID-19 has caused setbacks, Barrett said she is optimistic as she looks toward the future.
“As I told graduates during our virtual commencement ceremony we held in May, the road ahead will be challenging, but everyone needs to come together for the benefit of families, communities, the nation and the world as we continue on this journey. Let us take the lessons of working alone together over these past five months and turn them into a greater good in making the world a better place than it was before the pandemic.”
Northeast Community College began the academic year on Monday, August 17.
Leah Barrett, president of Northeast Community College, speaks to faculty and staff during an all-college In-Service session recently. Northeast began the academic year on Monday, August 17.