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Inauguration Address - Launching a Legacy

 

Dr. Cynthia S. Bambara Inaugural Address

 

Good afternoon! Welcome everyone and thank you for honoring me today!

Dr. Short, I especially thank you for your kind words and gracious introduction. It is because of you that I am here today. You introduced me to the community college mission almost 20 years ago and ignited my passion for our students and the work that we do to support their goals. Welcome home to your native western Maryland. I am thrilled that you are here to celebrate with us on this very special occasion. 

Thank you to our elected officials, both state and local who work so diligently to advocate for our institutions and allow us to fulfill the community college mission.  I very much appreciate your warm greetings.

Mr. Leonard, and our Board of Trustees ... thank you for the confidence that you have placed in me and for your unwavering support of my leadership.

To our foundation board members and generous donors, without you, we would not find ourselves in the strong position in both Maryland and Pennsylvania that allows us to serve our mission. 

To my colleagues from Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia, thank you for your presence here today and for representing your college or university. The need for collaboration among our institutions has never been more important to accomplish our collective higher education mission.

Dr. Sadusky, I am grateful for your presence here today, and I thank you for your warm greetings on behalf of Maryland Community Colleges.

To the outstanding faculty, staff, students and alumni of Allegany College of Maryland, thank you for being with me today to celebrate this moment in history.  I am especially grateful to all of you on the inauguration committee and all of the faculty and staff who have worked so hard to make today a special celebration.

Mom ... welcome to my College. I am so happy that you are here today to meet those in my new ACM family.  To my sister Kay, my brother-in-law Charlie, my nephew Kyle, and my niece Carly, who are sitting next to Mom in the front row, thank you for taking the time out of your lives and for making the trip from Tallahassee, Florida to be here to honor me today. Jean and Charlie, you have been dear friends to our family ... I don't know what we would have done without you. Thank you for driving my family to Cumberland to be with me today. To all of my family and friends, I thank you for your support, for your encouragement and for instilling in me the self-confidence that has allowed me to always strive for a new level of excellence.  

Timothy and Thomas, thank you for speaking on my behalf today. It was a calculated risk on my part, as there are many things you could have said that surely would have me blushing. I am grateful that you are good sons and that you followed my instructions. Thank you for being here and especially for your encouragement throughout the journey that brought me to ACM, while still allowing me to be your mom.

My final and most important thank you goes to you Michael, my husband of 38 years. Thank you for standing by me with your unwavering support in ways that have allowed me to reach for and realize my hopes and dreams.  

I have been at the college now for a just over a year. It is comforting to be able to look to my left and into the theatre and see so many familiar faces. I am privileged to work with a talented and dedicated group of individuals within a community rich in vitality and promise. It is my honor to serve Allegany College of Maryland as its fifth president and I thank all of you for the trust you have placed in me to lead this institution.

My community college career began on an October day in 1992, almost 20 years ago, when Dr. Short hired me for $9 an hour to spend 12 hours a week providing support services to a handful of students, in a refurbished barn, that became the Warrenton, Virginia home of Lord Fairfax Community College. It didn't matter to me what Lord Fairfax paid me, because I was excited to have an opportunity to reenter the world of higher education after spending the most important eight years of my life, as a full-time mom for Timothy and Thomas.

I was also excited to be working in a barn. After all, if you don't know this about me, I am a farm girl. Born and raised, through and through. I spent a lot of time in the barn on my family's farm, reflecting, dreaming, imagining what could and might be. So, this was a perfect match for me, a dream come true.

After a short time I soon realized there were many who made the turn toward the drive that led to that barn and then turned around. There also were those who made it to the parking lot, but never had the courage to get out of the car, to walk in the front door. But for those who had the courage to make their way up the winding road to the top of the hill, park their car and walk into that barn and open the door, I was that person, just on the other side of the front door. I realized soon it was how I met and embraced each potential student that became the transformational moment in the life of that person. Transforming lives is what has brought me to you today. I would like to share with you a few examples of courage and transformation:

Tricia was a mother of three, whose husband had recently been incarcerated. She walked up to that barn door with her three children in tow. She knew she needed to be in a better place. She opened the door and met me on the other side. In my early days working with community college students, I quickly learned that the most important thing for me to remember was to be non-judgmental. And, for Tricia, that is what made the difference. I helped her define and embrace her goals, as she became the campus president of the Phi Theta Kappa honorary society and as she completed her associate's degree to prepare for transfer with a 4.0 GPA. As I followed her, I learned that she transferred a local university, earned her bachelor's degree and landed a position with a respectable income that allowed her to support her family.

Brian came to me as a "sort of" traditional student, but with a twist. You see, while he was of traditional age, he didn't graduate from high school. He had dropped out because he no longer could see his purpose and he was just bored. Instead, he earned his GED, yet he knew he needed to do something more. When he walked through that barn door, he said to me, "I doubt that there is anything you can do for me, but I am here just the same." He felt that by dropping out of high school, he had ruined his chances of ever advancing himself through higher education. The difference that I made as I met him at that barn door is that I listened to his hopes, his desires, and I saw his potential.

Like Tricia, Brian also became a leader in the Phi Theta Kappa honorary society; he earned a high GPA, and transferred on to the University of Virginia to not only earn his bachelor's degree, but also a Master's degree. My latest citing of Brian found him teaching ESL in the local public schools and pursuing his doctorate at UVA.

My last story is about Jason, a Desert Storm veteran, who came to see me shortly after completing his military service. One of the brightest and most motivated students I have had, Jason had plenty of courage. He was on a new mission as he entered his local community college. He knew he wanted to study business, and together we mapped out his two year degree. After graduating with a 4.0 GPA, Jason went on to earn a bachelor's degree in business administration from George Mason University. Almost a decade after working with him, I had the pleasure of sitting next to him at our weekly Rotary Club meetings where we would often reminisce about the days in the barn.

Many more stories like these have brought me here today. We as community colleges and as community college professionals first touch lives by opening our doors to all who want to learn. Through the power of teaching and learning, we facilitate a transformation in the lives of our students and in turn we change futures for our students and for the communities where they live.  

While we are here to celebrate my inauguration, today is not about me, nor my passion for my work, nor my stories. It is about us ... this College that we love and the communities that we serve. 

Today, we recall a proud past as we have just completed a year of celebration in honor of the College's 50th anniversary. We recognize a solid present as we set the stage for a future of renewed energy and vision. Today, I would like to share some reflections of our past, thoughts of what distinguishes this College today, and set a vision for our future.

A Proud Past

It was in 1961, when ACM launched its first legacy on Frederick Street under the leadership of the first president, Dr. Robert Zimmer. This was a modest start in a small, former school building where people from the community came together and not unlike my experience in the refurbished barn.

My predecessors grew enrollment from just over 100 students that first year, to exceed 4,000 students today. To date, ACM has awarded over 20,000 degrees and certificates in our credit programs and has served over 250,000 individuals through continuing education and workforce training.

Our rich history of past accomplishments at this College provides us with much to celebrate. The College has had many successes along the way during those first 50 years and today we find ourselves in a ...

Solid Present

My predecessors of this College and the dedicated, caring and committed faculty and staff, have placed ACM in a strong position to serve our students and our communities. As we examine the present, our students tell us that they are highly satisfied with their ACM experience, the services that they receive and the quality of their education. Employers tell us the same. They are highly satisfied with the preparedness of ACM graduates for the workplace. ACMs performance is strong with completion rates among the highest in the state of Maryland. Taxpayers should be happy to know that ACMs efficiency is also strong with the cost of graduating each student among the lowest in the state of Maryland.

ACM has exceptional support through its foundations here in Cumberland and at our Pennsylvania Campuses in Somerset and Bedford counties. ACM's Cumberland foundation is among the most successful in Maryland's community colleges with the highest contributions, net assets and endowments per full-time equivalent student. This holds true in a region where the median household income is the lowest in the state of Maryland. That says volumes to the tremendous support of our College from the private sector in our community. Many of you, our supporters are sitting among us today, and on behalf of the College and ACM students, I thank you. In today's economy, we could not possibly serve our mission without your support.

Today, ACM is strong and fiscally sound. We are a highly effective and efficient organization, and all of us at the College are committed to seek ways to improve. There is no question that this College is in a very strong position to move forward into the next half century to serve as a powerful driver of the economic engines in our regions.

Yet, we cannot be content to rest on our past accomplishments. With any commemoration comes an opportunity to look forward to what lies ahead. Even as we recognize our significant achievements, we acknowledge that there is still a great deal of work to be done as we have many future generations of students to educate!

A  Future of Renewed Energy and Vision

As we launch a new legacy, we must look to a future of renewed energy and vision. Quite frankly, as we move forward, we face a new reality.  It is my responsibility to set the tone and the trajectory for how we as a College will continue to serve our mission, our region, our state, and our country in this new reality.

Community colleges mirror the nation that invented them. Often called "democracy schools", they offer open-door opportunity and access to higher education for people from all walks of life. We excel at educating lower-income students and students whose parents never attended college. We also educate students at any time of life, such as older students training for a new career and women returning to the workforce. Community colleges are innovative and flexible in meeting economic and workplace needs. We provide value and service to individuals and communities. Little wonder our community colleges are the fastest-growing segment of U.S. higher education and now enroll nearly half of all undergraduates.

As we look ahead, we face a new reality that poses a great challenge but also a great opportunity. A recent American Community College Association report lays out a clear message: "If community colleges are to powerfully meet student needs in a 21st century economy, education leaders must reimagine what these institutions can be." Here is the challenge. For generations the world leader in college-degree completion, the United States now ranks 16th in the 25-to-34 age range. In the STEM subjects especially -- science, technology, engineering and math - we are losing ground. Success in today's global economy depends on a well-educated citizenry. Now, the opportunity...by 2018 nearly two-thirds of all American jobs will require post-secondary education. Community colleges have a crucial role in seizing this opportunity. Our nation is called upon to add 20 million postsecondary-educated workers over the next 15 years. As we ensure that more of our students meet their education goals and complete their certificates and degrees, ACM and other community colleges help our country become more competitive. In the process, we reduce income inequality and reverse the decline of the middle class. It is our responsibility to help students identify educational goals that are relevant in today's workplace.

This community college report defines a "crucible" moment for leadership: We must reframe our schools and reimagine how we will accomplish our mission. It outlines a three-pronged framework for change - a new "three R's."

  • First is a call to redesign the students' educational experiences by increasing completion rates and dramatically improving college readiness.
  • Second is a call to reinvent the roles of our institutions by refocusing our missions and our role to meet relevant, 21st century education and employment needs.
  • Third is to reset our systems to create incentives for student and instructional success by investing in support structures to serve multiple community colleges through collaboration among institutions and with partners in philanthropy, government and the private sector.

There is much more detail to the Three R's, however, the important message today in that the re-imagination process at Allegany College of Maryland began with my arrival in March 2011.  We have been working on the "Three Rs" and we will continue to do so with special emphasis on relevance to the needs of our local and global economies.

Relevant to the Three R's, each year, we as a College develop our collective annual initiatives that move us forward in accomplishing our strategic plan. We have developed this year's initiatives that will allow us to continue reimagining our future. In the next year, we will complete our current strategic plan and begin the process of formulating the roadmap for our next chapter. Under the guidance of our BOT, we will gather wide-spread input from both our internal and external communities to form a shared vision for our future.

It is my hope that our shared vision will include a goal for ACM to be the "Best" community college of its size and kind in the nation. Best being defined by national benchmarks such as:

  • The Best Community Colleges to Work For sponsored by the Chronicle of Higher Education
  • The Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence
  • The Center for Community College Student Engagement  

I believe we can meet the benchmarks that define the "best" community college in the nation ...because, at ACM, we have a secret ingredient that is not easily defined nor replicated in these benchmarks ... and it is our culture. We have an unwavering culture that is committed to the success of our students.

In November of 2010, I walked on the Cumberland campus for the first time as I prepared for my interview for this presidency. The flags along the reflecting pools that greeted me as I entered the president's suite read "Your Success, Our Goal". That message resonated so closely with me, and as I shared with you in my stories, it is the care of our students and the commitment to their success that has been at the core of my efforts ever since I began work with community colleges in that barn back in 1992.

As we celebrate our past and our present, we do look forward and continue to reframe and transform our College so that we are able to accomplish our mission to serve the 21st Century higher education and workforce training needs of our community.

Today we launch a new legacy. Our future is bright as we collaborate with our educational institutions, local and regional government organizations and our community at large. We have all of the right ingredients to become the best community college of our size and kind in the nation.  We are a community who is resilient, we are strong and together we can accomplish anything that we wish.

I will close with a quote that has been most inspiring to me over the years from Francis of Assisi:

"Start by doing what's necessary; then do what's possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible."

In our past, we have done what is necessary, today we are doing what is possible, and tomorrow we will be doing the impossible. As you approach the door, know I am there to welcome you. Open the door, meet me on the other side, and let us create our future together.

Thank you for your confidence and for allowing me this most incredible opportunity to serve as your fifth president.