In her annual State of the College address last week, Joliet Junior College president Dr. Judy Mitchell spoke of the institutional initiatives and progress made over the last year.
Among the areas of note in her presentation were advancements in technology, academics and diversity and inclusion.
Mitchell said that change was difficult, but it was necessary.
“We’ve survived and thrived over 117 years, not because of the historical foundation but because those before us understood that to thrive in fluctuating and challenging environments, we needed to understand our world and understand the changing educational needs of the world,” she said. “They also understood that to bring us to where we are today required thoughtful and inclusive decision-making in a variety of challenging situations. They remained mission-centered looking to community needs and student successes.”
Mitchell acknowledged that the educational world has evolved in recent years and said she challenges the “college to think beyond convention and embrace the opportunity inherent to the swiftly changing time.”
Among the new advancements reshaping the JJC experience are artificial intelligence and virtual reality products.
JJC is regularly working not only to assess its academic and career programming, but also the tools students use in the classroom to learn the curriculum.
Mitchell said virtual reality technology is becoming an increasing driving force for classrooms and curriculum in the departments of nursing and computer office and information systems.
“Our faculty have been working to incorporate this into our other curricula, including coursework for computer programming students, technical students dissecting the parts of an automobile or a machine, and psychology students distinguishing differences between parts of the brain,” Mitchell said.
Colleges and universities across the nation are often considering and implementing new operational models.
Mitchell said the use of collaborative classroom spaces is a large departure for JJC, but is one they are embracing.
As for academics, JJC is working to rollout two, new programs for students in the areas of diesel technology and medical assisting.
“Creating new academic programs to adapt to evolving labor markets and community needs is not new to JJC or to the community college system, it’s foundational to what we do,” Mitchell said. “We work with advisory boards, we assess the needs of local business, and we develop programs to respond to the ever-changing market.”
The college is currently embarking on a feasibility study for the diesel technology program.
Mitchell said this will affirm the preliminary data JJC has gathered over the years to suggest this is a high-wage, high-demand industry.
In May, the college issued a request for proposal for a curriculum design consultant and is expecting the process to be completed by the year’s end.
As for the medical assisting program, the anticipated start date is fall of 2019.
“Our clinical partners, including Silver Cross and Edwards [hospitals,] have expressed strong support of this program due to the shortage of these heath care professionals in the area and new facilities coming on line in the coming years,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell took time to make note of college’s continued efforts to support diversity and inclusion. She said JJC has strengthened outreach to undocumented students, while navigating the shifting-political landscape around the issue.
“All students are truly important contributors to our campus community and our District,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell touted the college’s creation of the College Community Partnership Initiative.
“The purpose of this group serves to strengthen college community partnerships and outreach within the district, bring awareness of the academic programs and comprehensive support services offered at JJC, and address the educational and workforce needs of the diverse community we serve,” Mitchell said.
The committee is made up representatives for the Harvey Brooks Foundation, the Noah Center, Spanish Community Center and the African American Business Association.
“All agencies have been amazing ambassadors and partners and are looking forward to what we can do together in the coming year,” Mitchell said.
Currently, JJC is preparing to sunset its current diversity and inclusion plan to allow the creation of a new one. The effort is to be spearheaded by the college’s 22-member, President’s Diversity and Inclusion Council. The college has also restructured a position in the President’s Office that will devote 50 percent of their duties and activities to the implementation of the goals outlined in the plan.
Mitchell said it’s important for the college and the community it serves not to “become tangled in the roots of our tradition, but rather remember that innovation and change are part of our institutional DNA.”
She continued, “We are leaning into a new era of education and a new day at Joliet Junior College.”