Editor’s note: There are two contested races for Kirkwood Community College board of trustees in Tuesday’s school election. The Gazette Editorial Board invited the four candidates to submit guest columns outlining their background, reasons for wanting to serve on the board, and ideas/priorities for the college. One of the candidates, Joel Thys, District 6 challenger, declined to submit a column.
JOHN SWANSON, DISTRICT 9 (INCUMBENT)
Many years ago, I had the opportunity to spend a few minutes with four-time Indianapolis 500 winner, Al Unser. Since it was just the two of us, I asked a somewhat silly question: “What’s the biggest difference between me driving 70 and you driving 200 miles per hour?” Barely hesitating, he replied, “I’ve got to look farther down the road.”
Initially I felt he had blown me off, but while attending some driving schools, I learned that is precisely what is required. As time went on, I realized “Big Al” had taught me a valuable lesson in what it takes to be successful. So to me, “taking the long view” has become an important aspect in decision-making; a required consideration as you work to move things forward. My connection to Kirkwood Community College goes back more than 40 years. The first 15 were as an employee, then a 24-year period as the spouse of a professor in the business department, and the last four years as a board of trustees director.
Having worked for three of the four Kirkwood presidents and having had strong relationships with all three board presidents, I feel comfortable in stating the college has always had the wisdom and ability to look farther down the road.
In the early 1970s, founding President Selby Ballantyne predicted that in a future year, Kirkwood would have an enrollment of 15,000 students. People scoffed, but it came true. Founding Board President B.A. “Bud” Jensen told the Iowa Legislature, “I am a bricklayer, but why should I and others like me be denied the opportunity to learn poetry or to study literature”?
Today, nearly half of the students who transfer to the University of Iowa from all Iowa community colleges come from Kirkwood. In addition, approximately 1,100 students annually transfer to the University of Northern Iowa and 600 more continue their studies at Mount Mercy University. For many, starting at Kirkwood led to a college degree they otherwise could not have afforded.
Our founders created a culture around the concept of a comprehensive community college, with emphasis placed on the first two words. The subsequent presidents, deans, faculty and staff have continued to take that long view.
l That’s why: Kirkwood awarded more than 500 high school equivalency diplomas last year. Many were earned at centers across its seven-county district, as well as by inmates at two correctional institutions.
l That’s why: When it became apparent many high school students needed “something more,” the
college began building regional centers providing college coursework and technical training to
students while they were still in high school — and at no cost to them or their parents.
l That’s why: When the economy takes a downturn or a local employer closes its doors, Kirkwood can respond immediately, either with standard training or rapid-response, customized content.
l That’s why: Volunteer firefighters, emergency responders and others providing critical public services can come to the college for certification upgrades, learning new techniques that make our world safer.
Over the years, innovations and advances have occurred largely because the college understood a big part of its job was looking farther down the road. Anticipating needs, listening to employers, forming partnerships with community service agencies, responding to student suggestions and being ready to shift gears to complete the process — the long view has certainly paid off for the citizens of Kirkwood’s seven-county area.
Kevin King, district 9 (challenger)
As a candidate for the Kirkwood Community College board of trustees, I am eagerly interested in helping shape the future of our community. Kirkwood is a recognized leader in providing outstanding educational and training opportunities that have and continue to shape tomorrow’s leaders.
As trustees, I believe our role is to direct and not manage. In my mind there is a huge difference between the two. As a member of the board of trustees four years ago, I had the opportunity to build strong personal relationships with students. Watching them grow, mature, and determine their future aspirations was a personal highlight for me. I believe the role of a trustee is to support the innovation and excellence Kirkwood enjoys because of the talent and commitment that emanates from the leadership down.
It is no coincidence that Kirkwood is one of the best community colleges in the country, as evidenced by its membership on the board of the League of Innovation. Started in 1968, this organization is dedicated to improving community colleges, and Kirkwood is the only community college in Iowa represented at this level. In my experience, I have found the faculty and staff talented and innovative in their thinking and approach to learning.
In addition to the innumerable learning opportunities available, Kirkwood serves as an economic engine covering a seven-county area. One of the biggest challenges currently facing all of us is the “re-skilling” of our midlevel workforce. We must be preparing these workers for our modern, ever-changing work environment. Simply put, our father’s manufacturing skills are no longer competitive in today’s technology heavy environment. According to a recent study by Iowa Workforce Development, roughly 50 percent of today’s jobs require a two-year degree, but less than 33 percent of our workforce carry those credentials. I believe wholeheartedly in Kirkwood’s mission: “to identify community needs, provide accessible, quality education and training, and promote opportunities for lifelong learning.”
Professionally, I have spent the past 30 years in the banking industry (currently Vice President of Private Banking, Bankers Trust Co., Cedar Rapids) developing strong leadership skills, building mutually beneficial relationships, and I pride myself on my strong communication skills. I am committed to growing our youth and have spent much of my free time volunteering by coaching, Sunday school teaching, and mentoring.
I am a member of the Kirkwood Foundation and have remained active in seeing this valuable institution succeed in the region.
I live by the adage “people will not always remember what you did for them, but they will always remember how you made them feel.” I would appreciate your vote on Tuesday.
Elaine Harrington, District 6 (incumbent)
I have been the District 6 representative for Kirkwood Community College for 10 years. I have been married to my husband, Terry, for 44 years; we have three daughters, three sons-in-law and five wonderful grandchildren.
I am a lifelong resident of Benton County; I came from a farm outside of Vinton that has been in my family for more than 150 years. Together, my husband and I continue to run a successful farming business that has been in his family for more than 130 years. During our years of farming, for more than 20 years, I also maintained a successful upholstery business.
In addition to the Kirkwood trustees, my background includes being on a K-12 school board at Benton Community School for six years. I serve on the Facilities Foundation Board at Kirkwood Community College. I serve on the board of Cedar Valley Habitat for Humanity-Benton County Chapter and am chairman of the Family Selection Committee for Habitat-Benton County Chapter.
One of my most recent humbling experiences was to be honored with nine other women for 2013 Corridor’s Women of Influence. I was honored to be a part of that group and feel an obligation to be an influence in the future with my passion for education.
Kirkwood has maintained its reputation in innovation by remaining a leader. We have proudly been at the front of the line instead of a follower when it comes to investing in technology and improvement projects to better serve our students. It’s because of this drive and passion that Kirkwood graduates the state’s second- largest number of students in the agriculture field.
While serving on the board, we have implemented numerous innovative projects such as:
l Kirkwood building remodel to improve energy efficiency.
l The opening of The Hotel at Kirkwood.
l Class Act Restaurant upgrade to better prepare and develop our students of the Culinary Arts, Restaurant and Hotel Management department.
l Wind turbine installation, which offsets about 25 percent of our electrical consumption.
l New regional centers in Washington, Johnson and Linn counties
l New Kirkwood Continuing Education Training Center for our truck driving classes, fire training, etc.
l Ballantyne Auditorium remodel.
l Establishment of The Vineyard winery, which produces more than 16 grape varieties annually.
Going forward, Kirkwood will continue to work hard for articulation agreements with the regent and private colleges of Iowa. Also, we will increase partnerships with manufacturing and industrial business in the Corridor, as well as the surrounding areas.
The challenges we face going forward will be different from the past. I believe that technology will play a key part in the continuing success of Kirkwood and I will continue to be in the forefront of making that happen.
My major focus while on the board is to make sure that every student, whether traditional or non-traditional, receives an education. While the many projects and investments that are being made and implemented to better serve our students and community, it is still important to remember to keep the costs of tuition at an affordable rate.
Throughout my tenure on the board, I have seen numerous situations in which our students have overcome some very hard obstacles in their lives. This is what keeps my drive, determination and passion. This is what I will continue to strive for.
It has been a privilege to serve on the board of trustees and I ask for your vote on Tuesday.
Comments: Elaine Harrington email@example.com