Community Colleges Need Their Community

Saint Paul College is lucky. We are located in a great city full of opportunity for business, education, cultural and recreational events. At the end of next week, January 24-26, 2013, at the end of our street, Red Bull's Crashed Ice World Championship 2013 competition will be invading the City of Saint Paul. Over 100,000 enthusiastic spectators are expected again this year. The Saint Paul Winter Carnival begins next week, with a coronation, parade, ice sculpting contest and a winter marathon. In fact some of our students will be marching in the parade. And yesterday, just a little further down the hill from us, after finally settling contract disputes, the NHL Minnesota Wild hockey team played their first scrimmage game of the season -- to a packed house. People cheer, scream, clap and celebrate noisily. Sports, competitions and special events really ignite a passion in people -- even here in the dead of winter in the frozen tundra.

This isn't going to be a pep talk about sports analogies and "team" efforts and being team players. This is to remind myself and everyone around me how privileged we are to be part of a caring and passionate community that even in the dead of winter -- Monday's expected high temp is minus 2 degrees Fahrenheit -- our students battle Old Man Winter to get to class every day and enrollment still has us bursting at the seams as a college. Just like any athlete, it takes had work, sacrifice and determination for students to compete and achieve their academic dreams. All of this sports noise and enthusiasm reminds me of the cheers and the cacophony of the families and students who attend our graduation ceremony each spring. I know some folks would just as soon have a nice reserved ceremony where everyone sits in their seats with their hands folded -- but I like the celebration. I like that the little children are brought to see their brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers graduate, and see how exciting it is to be part of the celebration of educational achievement. I love that our whole educational community beams with as much pride as do the graduates and their families.

Not every child comes from a sports-enthusiast family. Not every child comes from a home where education is valued. And just like the sports teams that do special PR to promote their sport, we do special PR and community outreach to ignite passion for learning and enthusiasm for what education and institutions do and accomplish. So while the crowds cheer Crashed Ice next week, we'll be promoting and celebrating our students and seeing the images that we have captured of their faces -- illuminated with their passion for the career skills and knowledge they are acquiring.

It does take a village to raise a child. We're part of a village that reaches out with special STEM programs for young girls in middle school who come to our campus in the summer and learn about electrical technology and machine tool technology, learning how to solder circuit boards and test electricity voltage or how to use 3D printers, machine drills and hi-tech computerized equipment, making nameplates and items they have designed themselves. They learn it is something they can do if they are just given a chance. Our carpentry students couldn't be more proud each time they volunteer as a class for a service learning project or opportunity -- like when they recently partnered with the United Way and rebuilt a badly deteriorated bathroom floor and a patio/porch for a woman in the terminal stages of cancer. I bring this up because our students made the local news and that's another way we can align with the community and reach out to others so that they can see that heroes just don't come in sports uniforms and helmets -- sometimes they're wearing neon safety vests and hardhats.

Our students excitedly collaborate with each other across student organizations, major programs and with other agencies to promote learning, the College, and the idea that higher education can be for anyone. This past fall, the Saint Paul College Five Star Chapter of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society developed a fantastic Honors in Action Project. PTK collaborated with our Culinary Arts and Carpentry programs and the on-campus Early Childhood Center run by Children's Home Society & Family Services. The Honors in Action Project had the ultimate goal to help preschool children and their parents discover tasty ways to use fresh herbs in healthy cooking. In the first part of the project, our Phi Theta Kappa students went to the Early Childhood Center to help preschool children plant cilantro, basil and chive seeds in small containers. Then, in early November, the children and their parents attended and participated in a cooking demonstration led by our Culinary Arts students and faculty to make the easy, tasty recipes using the herbs that the preschoolers grew. At the end of the cooking demonstration, the children and their parents were sent home with a window container garden for their kitchens, built by students in the Carpentry program, and filled with the herbs grown by the children, and recipe cards so that they can make the recipes at home. Everyone won that day. Faculty. Staff. Students. Parents. Children - who happened to be as excited as anyone participating in a sporting event.

Saint Paul College will always collaborate with the community that surrounds us. It's imperative. The more people we reach about the great opportunity that college can be for them, the stronger our city will be. Education needs to be part of the equation of what fuels the mind, brings excitement, hope and interest in learning to the lives of people in our community. Sporting and special events and education aren't mutually exclusive. They're all necessary to sustain us even in long, cold winters of Minnesota -- they are all re-creative experiences. I feel a big cheer coming on!