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SMC Board reviews summer, previews fall engagement strategies

Southwestern Michigan College’s administration reviewed summer activities and previewed fall strategies at Monday night’s Board of Trustees meeting in the David C. Briegel Building on the Dowagiac campus. Summer started on a high note when SMC won “Best Local College” in Leader Publications’ 2018 Best of the Best Readers’ Choice Results, President Dr. David Mathews said.

SMC Vice President of Student Services Dr. Joseph Odenwald described enhanced student engagement strategies starting on Aug. 30 during Welcome Week and continuing through the upcoming academic year to connect each and every student with resources needed to succeed.

Odenwald listed onboarding efficiently, a resourceful spirit, major fluency, community to impact and capstone connection like a pyramid reminiscent of Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in psychology. “We have to be very intentional about onboarding,” he said. “Years ago people who went to college didn’t get any help moving in. You went, you were there and figured it out. Today, an army of student leader volunteers and staff meet you. Second, a resourceful spirit. Within the first week of school and beyond, we’re continually connecting students with resources that are going to help them be successful. This starts during Welcome Week with student-success seminars the second Friday and continues through a new initiative between (Vice President of Instruction Dr. David Fleming) and myself called academic intervention teams, seeking students to get together and work from a more holistic perspective. The key is resourceful students are more likely to do well.”

“Major fluency” refers to students selecting primary study areas “early in their tenure. On Tuesday of Welcome Week we’re having a majors fair with all the academic departments to really begin talking with undecided students about different options and what they can do with their majors,” Odenwald said. “The fourth level is community impact. Students, by and large, want to be somewhere where they can make a difference. They want to leave an indelible mark, so right out of the gate we’re doing community-service projects so they see they can make a difference on this campus and in this community. At the top is the capstone connection, where campus student jobs, internships, majors fair and those kinds of things converge to take students from SMC to a transfer institution or employment.”

Odenwald quoted former college president Robert A. Scott’s 2018 book, How University Boards Work, to highlight the purpose of college — careers, commerce (“the role institutions play in fulfilling workplace demands”) and community impact. “He says colleges develop character and prepare citizens to be good people who care, whether it’s voting or coaching tee ball,” Odenwald said.

Odenwald wore an “SMC loves Dowagiac” sticker to symbolize the college’s new Chamber of Commerce partnership, and also showed the board gold Roadrunner lapel pins student leaders will wear.

“No matter where life takes our students,” Odenwald said, “I want them to have a sense of how they can be part of maintaining and improving where they live. It’s character and citizenship education.”

Educational Talent Search Director Jeran Culina recapped summer enrichment activities for area students. Community Service/Leadership Camp served a dual purpose — to build leadership and teamwork skills in participants and to conduct, as a group, a community-service project while learning about non-profit community agencies. Students raised $190 in car-wash profits for the Roadrunner Kitchen, SMC’s food pantry.

ETS’ new Entrepreneurship Camp introduced participants to a panel of small-business owners and Dowagiac Mayor Donald Lyons as they brainstormed businesses inspired by items in a bag, then developed accompanying logos and marketing.

These new offerings took their place alongside perennial favorites such as Agriculture Camp, including drone mapping; CSI Academy, processing crime scenes with law-enforcement professionals; and Fire Academy in partnership with area fire departments, in which students became CPR-certified.