The following commentary was originally published in the Morning Call newspaper.
By Dr. Mark Erickson
In early October, Northampton Community College celebrated its 45th anniversary with a cavalcade of events and activities including my inauguration as the college's fourth president. It was a week that was filled with a series of what I would describe as "goose bump moments" when the impact of the college and its focus on transforming the lives of our students and the community took center stage.
Many government officials, business leaders, educators and people who have taken classes at the college came to campus to participate in the festivities. It was gratifying to see the interest and pride they take in Northampton. They feel it is their college. And it is.
The week ended with the presentation of Community Fabric Awards to some remarkable organizations and individuals whose commitment to making a difference for others is an inspiration to us all. That evening - and at the 16 other events that took place during the anniversary celebration - it was evident how closely Northampton and the communities we serve are interwoven.
No wonder people describe Northampton as a "college of the community." I love that phrase. It captures the essence of who we are.
One of our most important roles is preparing the workforce to serve this community. One out of every four graduates of public high schools in Northampton County attends NCC. Unlike the graduates of many four-year colleges, 89 percent live and work here after they graduate. When you count them all, more than 360,000 area residents have taken classes at Northampton over the last 45 years. You read that correctly. The exact number is 363,555.
While many of those students came to us right out of high school, others were adults in transition. Northampton is the largest provider of workforce training in the region. We are proud of our partnerships with hospitals, auto dealers, dentists, school districts, and hundreds of companies and nonprofit organizations who rely on us for training.
Because we can respond rapidly and effectively to workforce or community needs, we are one of this community's greatest engines for economic development. It is a role we embrace.
Service to the community was one of two themes that were apparent throughout Northampton's 45th anniversary celebration. The other was our laser-like focus on helping students succeed. With modest tuition and with significant financial aid to ensure that our reach is wide and deep, we are committed to giving all who want to learn an opportunity to climb the educational ladder. And we have the faculty to do so. In two of the last three years, the Pennsylvania professor of the year has come from Northampton.
The themes of serving the community and helping students succeed were evident in the college's presidential search process. They are what attracted me to Northampton.
I honestly believe the most innovative, exciting and important work of the next decade will happen at places like Northampton. The alignment of our values, a culture that encourages risk taking, innovation and teamwork, and the needs of this community, make us a perfect partner for moving the Lehigh Valley forward.
Education like ours dramatically changes the trajectory of the lives of students who come here. Our programs for displaced homemakers or our tuition assistance to those who are unemployed speak to the heart of this place and the values that lie at our very core.
The work we do is important work, inspiring work. I have worked in education for 35 years and have felt blessed every moment, but I have never been more motivated or focused than I feel here.