by Alexandria Zine

The joy of the past forges 4C’s current optimistic core. Photo courtesy of President Cox

The college routine has adjusted to pandemic life and remote learning. Please name a couple of updated highlights and lowlights.

Our greatest highlight was the ability to rally the community and adjust to a virtual learning environment enabling students to progress while maximizing our commitment to health and safety. On a personal note, I am grateful that we were able to navigate the pandemic, especially in the early months when the economy melted down and ensure no one was laid off or furloughed.

The lowlight remains learning of the struggles, the loss of life, and the devastation on families as COVID has ravaged the lives of 116 million individuals and killed over 2.6 million people. Think about it, nearly a year ago this wasn’t even on our radar. Today, it’s forever altered our families, communities, and economy. I am optimistic with the increased availability of vaccines globally that we will be able to manage COVID 19, but as we see the rise of the variants of the virus, it won’t be eliminated completely, and we cannot let our guard down.

Do you think remote learning is here to stay, at least as an option between online courses and those that are offered on campus?

Remote and virtual learning is here to stay. Honestly, it was here before the pandemic, just not ubiquitous as we experience now. Many have adapted and welcomed the technology and the flexibility it can create with our schedules. As the technology continues to evolve, we will see a need to further address the digital divide to ensure equal access to the internet. I am confident there will be a strong core of remote learning options as the College develops the schedule of classes for each semester and quick term.

What are the chances that all of us will be back on campus physically for the fall semester?

The Fall is looking more optimistic. More people will be back on campus. Given that we’re continuing to ramp up vaccinations globally, it is not likely that we will achieve the necessary herd immunity to open up completely and we’re following the new variants that have arisen. Further, when you think of more classes and labs on campus, remember, we’re still envisioning the mask, the social distancing, and deep cleanings. It’s going to take a bit more time to approach what we saw in campus activity in November 2019, but we are getting closer.

A recent article from the website Inside Higher Education stated that enrollment at community colleges, nationwide, is down about 9.4 percent, and 23 percent among first-time students. How does enrollment compare at 4Cs, and does the trend worry you?

There are too many people sitting on the sidelines during this pandemic. Yes, I understand that there are issues with social distancing, online education, financial obligations, unemployment and uncertainty, but in life we do not get a due over for time elapsed. We will not get to add a year to regroup for education after the pandemic. I’ve talked to students encouraging them, acknowledging their individual challenges, trying to keep them enrolled to move closer to finishing their degree or certificate.

Our challenge is how to re-engage potential students who have opted-out of higher ed. We want to enable discovery and refining your interests as you pursue your education, completing that certificate or degree, positioning you for success, particularly as the economy recovers.

4Cs is fortunate that it did not see the same level of decline that so many other Colleges experienced, and that coming after last year when our enrollment was actually up. This says a great deal about our faculty and staff’s ability to make the timely change to virtual education and build on that experience over the past year.

As we move closer to more face-to-face and hybrid courses, it will increase the comfort level for re-engaging in college for those who need that option. With the economy beginning to rebound, there will also be comfort in stability with the jobs market, and as the children in the household return to school, that should enable more people to return to higher education.

The PTK proposal to establish an orchard at the college appears to be gathering steam. What do you think of the idea, and do you think it will happen?

Growing up, in high school I left my job washing dishes at Bob’s Big Boy to work on the farm. It was great; everything from the ballet of pulling the bales out of the hay baler and stacking them in the trailer as you bounced around over the field, heading back to the barn to lift and stack these hay boulders manually for winter feed, to the tension of tagging the new calves, getting bruised on a few occasions as they thrust their head up with such force despite having their heads restrained as I pierced the numbered disk through the ear, bending the backing so it stayed attached. This experience gave my rise to absolutely no interest in body piercing for me! We could always identify the calves by their ID.

I also spent some time tending to the care and maintenance of the cherry trees in the orchard. There’s a good deal of trimming, irrigation particularly in the early life of the Cherry tree, and there is debate of the variety of cherry trees to grow. Nothing is more inviting than eating fresh fruit picked right off the tree. And for our sake, the second most inviting option is a decent peach cobbler!

In case my preface to your question isn’t complete enough, the PTK proposal is welcomed. The students have been working with Director of Facilities, Joe MacKinnon, and there has been a good deal of homework, analyzing the ideal location and the proper long-term care and feeding necessary to support success. There are a great many parallels between growing the successful peach and enabling a successful college graduate.

The challenge for PTK and the Orchard Club will be to maintain the on-going level of interest, transitioning between semesters and academic years so that the legacy of on-going peach production continues and even expands. It takes a while to grow a great peach. It’s all about doing the homework and taking the necessary care realizing the delayed gratification that lies ahead, not just for current students, but our future students as well. There are many parallels we can learn from creating the orchard and caring for the plants to reach that ultimate peach production and life. I’m looking forward to our first College-grown peach harvest.

We find that more students are seeking mental health counseling with COVID-19 and other issues. Is the college providing enough help?

Mental health issues have continued to rise, fostered in part through the crises of COVID 19, the pandemic economy, the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and our nation’s reawakening to address racism and equity. These crises have influenced our reactions and make the future seem more uncertain, increasing psychological distress particularly among college students.

We are working to ensure shared responsibility and a holistic understanding to support students in a healthy learning environment. We value the well-being of every student. We know it’s been rough. We have introduced the new 24/7 mental health support line for students with Christie Campus Health. Students can call anytime, from anyplace, especially in times of crisis, at 1-833-434-1217. We also have the TalkCampus App available through the College web at https://www.talklife.com/cape-cod-community-college that provides peer to peer support at moments when you just need a friend.

Our Wellness Office and the work of Dr. Weir and the Crisis and Life Management Team are available at 774.330.4550 or wellness@capecod.edu. In addition, there is the ability to complete a self-evaluation that screens for the most common mental health conditions at http://www.ulifeline.org. Our student clubs, through the Active Minds Club and the Collegiate Recovery Club and the work of the Food Pantry are also available to share with others committed to your mental health and wellness.

As we know, living life so constrained, isolated as a social being, we’ve expanded our wellness capabilities to ensure outreach even during this time of remote operations. We strive to maintain engagement, albeit in a more virtual sense at this time. Speaking of engagement, I know many of us really missed the Autumn Feast with the full Turkey dinner served up by the College Leadership Team on linen-covered tables in the Grossman. I always enjoy serving our students, faculty, and staff and dropping in on some of those tables to hear the conversation. We did a curb side pick-up dinner this year; a bit different but we adapted to our moment in COVID 19, trying to socially connect while ensuring good public health practices. Be on the lookout for our Spring Food Pantry Curbside event.

Please update us on the progress of the new science building and the timetable for completion.

The Frank and Maureen Wilkens Science and Engineering Center project is on schedule and within budget. Construction is ramping up to keep us on the late Fall 2022 completion. We have received State approval to include the Toilet of the Future which will become the first commercial application of the Gates Foundation’s Reinvent the Toilet Initiative in North America where we have partnered with the developers at Caltech. This will be a pilot project and hopefully provide a segue to new options to help address the Cape’s wastewater issues. Through the work of our faculty and IT staff, we are adapting the latest technology in the classroom and labs that integrate with virtual education, extending from our commitment to modularity in the new Center. And, we’re working on options to reduce our carbon footprint even further.

I deeply appreciate all the people who have risen to the occasion, providing support for the new Center in terms of their generous contributions to move this project forward. Through the concerted efforts of 4Cs’ Educational Foundation, we are about 3/4th of the way to our $10 million goal in fundraising to support our project. Our community has clearly demonstrated their commitment to our future and our students.