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Swartzendruber and Higher-Ed Peers Emphasize Community at Chamber Breakfast

Presidential Address

“We’re with you” was the main message college and university presidents had for Harrisonburg-Rockingham Chamber of Commerce members during an annual breakfast Wednesday [Aug. 7, 2013].

From tailoring or creating programs to meet workforce needs, offering continuing education opportunities or partnering with businesses on projects or to provide opportunities for students, all five local higher-education leaders detailed how they were making community connections.

“It’s so important for [the] economic and cultural value of an area to have institutions of higher education,” said David Zimmerman, director of National College’s Harrisonburg campus, who spoke first during Wednesday’s presentations. “The higher-education institutions provide the workforce.”

Each college leader was given the floor to update attendees about programs, construction or other developments on their respective campuses during the breakfast.

“The popularity of this event reflects a recognition of the importance of these institutions of higher learning in our community,” said Hobey Bauhan, chairman of the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors, who also serves as president of the Virginia Poultry Federation.

At National College, Zimmerman said students are benefiting from new associate and bachelor’s programs in the high-demand field of cybersecurity and a redesign of the school’s information systems engineering program.

Zimmerman also emphasized, as did other presidents, the importance of having students complete internships.

National College is a for-profit institution with 31 campuses throughout the mid-Atlantic and Midwest, and has been in the city since the mid-1980s. Its Harrisonburg location is on Country Club Road.

Blue Ridge Community College (BRCC) President John Downey said faculty members at the Weyers Cave school also were doing their best to meet identified needs.

BRCC is offering special support to children who came through foster care — only about 20 percent of those students succeed in higher education, he said — and first-generation college students.

“We’re trying to focus on reaching out to those special populations of students who are at the most risk for not finishing,” Downey said.

The college also has new supports in place for students who speak English as a second language, students who are 50 and older and for those who need to gain manufacturing training.

“The college reflects the community serves,” Downey said.

One way Bridgewater College (BC), Eastern Mennonite University and James Madison University (JMU) are serving community needs is through increased enrollment. BC President David Bushman, EMU President Loren Swartzendruber and JMU President Jonathan Alger all said their institutions would boast more students this fall.

Bridgewater and James Madison will both set records, Bushman and Alger said.

Other successes for EMU include recognition the university has received for building environmentally friendly buildings and for the high grade-point averages of the women’s cross country team, Swartzendruber said.

The university also posted a successful fundraising campaign in 2012-13. The fiscal year that ended June 30 marked Eastern Mennonite’s best year for donations in a decade, Swartzendruber said.

JMU also had success on that front. Alger said new donations and gifts from alumni increased this year, while about 40 percent of faculty and staff also gave to the university.

“That was a real show of the commitment that people have,” Alger said.

He also gave a brief rundown of construction projects, informed attendees that the university was in the process of crafting a strategic plan through 2020, and highlighted the importance of the campus’ involvement in the community.

“We want our students, our faculty [and] our staff to be fully engaged in the community; to be thinking about challenges … and to try to make a difference while they’re here,” he said.

All those who spoke Wednesday gave a special nod to their newest colleague, Bushman, who took over as BC’s president June 1.

Bushman’s rundown of Bridgewater news included the campus’ groundbreaking for a renovation of Nininger Hall, which houses sports facilities and the college’s Health and Human sciences, and a “revitalization” of general education programs.

Bushman also said he was looking forward to hearing from the business community as he transitions into the role of president.

“This is a unique community [that has] a diversity of higher- education offerings,” he said. “We could not do our job well without your support.”

Courtesy Daily News Record, Aug. 8, 2013

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