As we begin our summer season, we can all agree that, so far, 2020 has been an unimaginable year. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected everything we do as individuals and as a community over just a few months. Now, in the past couple of weeks, we are experiencing another significant upheaval in response to the video and death of George Floyd.
In February, I held my regular, semiannual meeting with the managers of Waubonsee Community College. I use these meetings to hear from managers and to share with them my current thinking on a variety of topics. In that meeting, I shared some thoughts on living in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) world and thoughts on transformations needed in higher education. Many of these thoughts came from an insightful presentation delivered by Timothy J. Nelson, the recently retired president of Northwestern Michigan College, during a college professional development meeting. On that day, I had no idea that we were on the front edge of one of the most VUCA times in recent history.
For students, that VUCA experience has been multiplied and compounded with making adjustments at work, at home and within their educational experience. Like most colleges and universities, Waubonsee’s classes currently are being delivered online and through alternative delivery methods. Academic and student support services are also virtual.
This transition to online learning was not a simple adjustment or lesson in self-motivation for many students. Many of our community college students do not have at-home access to the technology resources that are needed for online learning, and this could have created a barrier to the achievement of their degree or certificate. Working together, Waubonsee’s library and information technology staff created a checkout system that allowed students to request and pick up laptops, wireless hotspots, and other technology needed to continue their learning uninterrupted.
Another barrier for many students was the unexpected loss of financial resources, either through their own or a family member’s job loss. Utilizing federal CARES Act funding, as well as an emergency needs fund, created by the Waubonsee Community College Foundation, students have been able to apply for financial assistance. The generous support of employees, community members and others in creating the Waubonsee Emergency Needs Fund means that students who aren’t eligible for federal funding can receive vital financial support, as well.
In addition to the many public health issues, the economy has been hit hard. And it all happened stunningly fast. States, cities, and businesses are grappling with how to recover economically. Waubonsee Community College commits to playing a leadership role in providing the education and training for the workforce that our businesses need to rebuild and thrive. In addition, we must also work together as communities to address the disparities that exist in access to education and training.
We all need to learn how to live, work and thrive in an increasingly VUCA world. Our challenges and opportunities are enormous. As Waubonsee Community College works with our communities to build our path forward, we continue to be guided by our strategic goals of student equity and success, community connections and employee and organizational excellence.
Although we may now be living, learning, working and connecting in different ways, Waubonsee remains part of the larger community, a wonderful and richly diverse community. The author Deepak Chopra is quoted as saying, “All great changes are preceded by chaos.” We look forward to working together for great change.
• Christine J. Sobek is the president of Waubonsee Community College.