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UNCW 3C Hosts Third Annual Challenging the Paradigm Conference

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

“Partnerships for Success in a Changing World” was the theme of the third annual UNCW/3C Challenging the Paradigm conference, held April 7-8 at the Watson College. The UNCW/3C Collaborative is a university-community college partnership initiative created in 2019 to present new and innovative information and best practices with North Carolina’s community colleges. Sixty higher education leaders from across the state participated in the conference.

Stelfanie Williams, Vice President for Durham and Community Affairs at Duke University and Scott Ralls, President of Wake Technical Community College were featured speakers.

On the opening day of the conference, Dr. Williams spoke about the importance of using research, partnerships and a holistic approach in planning for the future.

“Too often we have a ‘streetlight’ mentality,” she said. “We give a green light through admission and create pathways. We operate on semester-based time, and address the issues we see, like rising student loan debt. But how do we see the communities and the people around us? Their lives aren’t semester-based; the issues persist. And, while it’s important to try to reduce the burden of the cost of attendance, do we disenfranchise students who can’t afford to study abroad or to participate in student organizations? Or the 30 percent that face food insecurity?”

Dr. Williams encouraged participants to look for the root causes of issues and to find partners who can help to address them in sustainable ways.

“Community colleges have limited resources, but at the heart of our work is developing people and providing support,” she said. “We should all lean into our natural inclination to want to reduce the burden of our neighbors. I am excited at the point where research and practice meet, and I am encouraged by the potential to partner with universities and community organizations in sustainable ways that better serve students and families.”

In his presentation, Dr. Ralls said community colleges should be proud of their past and find ways to build on it. “We are the ‘Great 58,’” he said. “We are open door institutions, created to provide education as a path to economic development. We take pride in our inclusiveness while others take pride in their exclusiveness.”

He encouraged community college leaders to change terminology as they plan for the future. Specifically, he said to change to to through, take and carry to reach and rally, comprehensive to connected, and access to success. “People don’t see us as a destination, but rather as a way to reach their goals of attending a university or finding a job. We can’t wait for them to find us; they don’t even know what the opportunities are. We need to reach out, pull them in and empower them. And, we can’t just be great sprinters; we are relay racers, and we need to make connections that work for them, including building on partnerships with dual enrollment community colleges and partnerships with universities that help our students find a successful path to the future.”

“We need to be more of who we are than ever before because our society needs us,” he said.

Other highlights included presentations on UNCW’s Community College Undergraduate Research Experience (CCURE) and the Black Lives Do Matter End Racism Now Art Installation; a presentation by Cape Fear Community College titled “Partnerships that Lead to Success;” and a panel discussion with nine graduate students enrolled in WCE's Community College Leadership program. Dr. Deborah Grimes, SACSCOC Liaison, Lenoir Community College moderated the panel discussion titled “Future Proofing and Future Ready Community Colleges: Seeing around the corners, importance of looking at trends and being aware of the future.” On day two, presenters included Dr. Kimberly Gregory, College of the Albemarle; Ivana Hanson, Adult Learner Specialist/Program Coordinator for REACH, and Dr.  Denise Henning, Director UNCW/3C and REACH Expert Consultant. Their presentation focused on the six state initiative including North Carolina REACH Initiative (Racial Equity for Adult Credentials in Higher Ed).

Denise Henning and Marilyn Sheerer planned and coordinated the conference. Henning is director of the UNCW/3C Collaborative, coordinator of WCE’s Community College Leadership Certificate program and a professor of practice in the Department of Educational Leadership at UNCW’s Watson College of Education. Sheerer is a professor in WCE’s Department of Educational Leadership.

For more information on the UNCW/3C Collaborative, visit the UNCW/3C website.