While in Asheville recently for a meeting, I took advantage of the place I was in and toured the Biltmore House. Being a North Carolinian, I felt I should see this magnificent example of architecture and design, which served as a home for the Vanderbilt/Cecil families. I was not disappointed in its splendor. What a place.
Looking through the bookstore there, I came across a biography of the landscape architect for the estate, Fred Olmstead, titled “Genius of Place.” The title alone sold me on the purchase, for it reminded me of several talks I have given to articulate my vision for Johnston Community College. In describing what we strive to be, my points seem to all begin with the letter P, three of which are purpose, people, place.
Six years ago, when arriving at JCC, I established a three-pronged approach to developing a “One College” philosophy. We began by revitalizing purpose. Our efforts focused on reevaluating what drives us as an institution, who we serve and what guides our service. We spent a year reflecting on our values, and we reaffirmed that what we hold dear are excellence; honesty and integrity; community; learners and learning; respect; communication; and team spirit.
Following purpose, we emphasized people. People are an important asset to any organization, and the right people in the right places are imperative for success. It’s the people at JCC who accomplish the college’s mission and assist in making students’ dreams come true. Every person at JCC has an impact.
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With much attention having been placed on purpose and people, the year ahead will focus on making JCC a PLACE for effective and productive learning. There is bright potential for JCC as place. Master-planning activities have already produced opportunity to consider campus facility and infrastructure needs, program development and locations for off-campus growth. These decisions, however, must be made with the philosophy of place well grounded.
Campus appearance is crucial, for example, to our branding identity. First impressions are essential to student recruitment, and facilities are vital to student retention. The place called JCC says to our students, “You matter.” It says you are important to us and you are worth the investment of time, effort and expense. Place also says to donors that JCC is worthy of investment, unashamedly and unapologetically so.
In short, the vitality of this institution in terms of place is as important as every achievement toward student success and completion. Our commitment to purpose and people is incomplete, flawed and inadequate without place – facilities that support 21st century learning practices, classroom equipment in support of 21st century job opportunities, an appearance that welcomes every individual.
If the statement is true that our place shapes us, then we have much work to do in shaping our place. The expectations of present and especially future learners depend upon it. Faculty, staff, students and you, our community, are worth the investment. Just so you know, this year at JCC is the Year of Place.
David N. Johnson is president of Johnston Community College.