ODENWALD: SMC is making progress

Published 9:25 am Saturday, October 31, 2020

A year ago, the trustees of Southwestern Michigan College entrusted me with serving as the college’s eighth president. I immediately began working with President David Mathews, meeting with community leaders, legislators, our strategic planning committee and others.

In spite of the COVID-19 pandemic, you can be proud of the collective accomplishments of your college in the past year. The virus has brought about positive changes that may have otherwise taken longer to transpire. Let me share several of these developments.

Our dedicated faculty, staff and students navigated six weeks of remote learning last spring. Many continued to teach, advise and learn online during the summer. Course success rates were comparable with traditional in-person success rates, and student services, including tutoring, continued in a virtual format.

Several campus committees, including the academic space force, the emergency operations committee, and the instructional technology committee re-engineered our campuses to deliver face-to-face instruction this fall. In addition, our maintenance and custodial staff reconfigured spaces and implemented enhanced sanitizing practices.

Our faculty developed the first fully online courses in the college’s history. These will help us navigate the impact of the virus into 2021 and expand access to an SMC education to working adults and others who need or prefer this learning modality. Speaking of adult students, Michigan Works! now has an office on our Niles campus, which will enhance our mutually beneficial partnership.

Our Office of Information Technology, marketing team and members of all departments on campus launched our new website. The college is also implementing a new customer relationship management system and an advising tool to help us better attract, retain, develop and graduate students.

We adopted a new strategic plan, the first since the early 2000s, titled “Embracing Our Mission.” We endeavor to enroll 2,021 students in the fall of 2021, as we seek to improve educational attainment in the college’s district and beyond. We have a medium-term goal of 2,500 students by the fall of 2025. 

We are launching many new initiatives for fall 2021 to support our strategic plan. Two new allied health programs will be available largely online. A soon-to-be-named program will seek to develop minority student leaders, appealing to underrepresented in-district students. We have fully embraced the State of Michigan’s “Futures For Frontliners” program that provides free college tuition to workers who helped all of us adjust to difficult conditions this past spring.

We received official approval from the National Junior College Athletic Association to re-introduce men’s and women’s cross country in the fall of 2021. We have hired a highly qualified coach who will begin service immediately. We look forward to rekindling relationships with former athletes as we seek to win national championships again.

This past year, we’ve seen the best of SMC. I’m thankful for the progress we’ve made toward becoming a stronger institution. We’ve cut spending and increased our reserves while avoiding layoffs and pay cuts. I can only imagine what we will achieve together when we aren’t dealing with a 100-year pandemic.

Dr. Joe Odenwald is the president of Southwestern Michigan College.