SWTJC Chief Financial Officer and Dean of Instructional Services Hector Gonzales says his recent trip to the nation's capital was a learning experience from start to finish.
"I had never been to Washington, D.C., so the entire trip was a great experience for me," Gonzales said. "Things definitely move at a quicker pace in Washington than they do in our part of the world."
Gonzales traveled to D.C. to participate in a roundtable discussion in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, hosted by the White House office of domestic policy as part of it's "Champions of Change" program. All 10 national finalists for the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence were represented, along with other community college experts and White House staff.
"There were a total of 16 college representatives and with the White House staff it was definitely crowded around that table," Gonzales said. "I did much more listening than talking."
The roundtable discussion, which was streamed live on the White House web site, was moderated by Melody Barnes, Director of Domestic Policy.
"Prior to the official roundtable discussion, we had a more informal meeting with just the Aspen finalists," Gonzales said. "At that meeting I got to hear some of the things our peers are doing to get more students in college and help them be successful in completing a degree or certificate."
Offering adult basic education graduates one three-hour class free of charge is one idea Gonzales heard that he hopes to implement at SWTJC.
"This would be a good way to give some our GED graduates the opportunity to get their foot in the door and hopefully help inspire them to continue their education," Gonzales said.
Gonzales also plans to explore a partnership with Sul Ross State University - Rio Grande College similar to an agreement between Valencia Community College and the University of Central Florida.
"UCF won't admit transfers from Valencia unless they have completed their two-year degree, but they are automatically admitted if they receive an associate's degree," Gonzales said. "I look forward to visiting with officials at Rio Grande College about the possibility of a similar arrangement."
Creating new partnerships and expanding existing ones is something Gonzales said all Aspen finalists agree will be a key to meeting the Obama Administration's goals for increased college graduation rates and workforce training.
"SWTJC's partnership with local and area hospitals and health care providers to train vocational nurses, radiologic technicians and registered nurses is one example I shared on how we are meeting the challenge of working together to meet the needs of the region," Gonzales said.
The college's 1 + 1 programs in career and technology fields with area high schools, which enables high school students to complete work for a one-year college certificate by the time they graduate from high school, is another SWTJC partnership Gonzales shared with his peers.
"This partnership allows our career/technology-minded students entrance to the workforce at a much quicker pace with their certificate or, if they choose to complete an additional year of coursework, an associate of applied science degree," Gonzales said.
In addition to sharing ideas, Gonzales believes the personal contacts he made with representatives from Aspen finalist colleges, as well as administration staff from the departments of labor and education, were an added benefit of his trip.
"I exchanged business cards with numerous people and I look forward to future conversations with them," Gonzales said.
While in Washington, all Aspen finalists were also told to keep Dec 5 and 12 open on their calendars. "The way I understand it, the announcement of the overall winner and runners-up will be made at the White House and all the finalists will be invited to attend," Gonzales said.
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