Helena College's new dean wants to put the "community" back in "community college."
Dr. Laura Vosejpka was selected as dean in May, and her first day of work in the position is Monday, Aug. 12.
Vosejpka is taking a measured approach to becoming Helena College's new dean. When asked what she thinks could change at the college, Vosejpka said that's something she would have to find out over time. She has no intentions of making changes as soon as she begins her new position. Rather, she hopes to observe what works and what doesn't at Helena College and make adjustments from there.
"The place has good bones. The foundation is good. The people are committed," Vosejpka said. "The college has all the parts to make that next move."
Vosejpka described Helena College as a place with "a strong track record of finding a direction and moving forward." She thinks this headstrong attitude and her unique background as both a classroom educator and administrator at Mid Michigan Community College, Northwood University and Alma College make her a great fit for Helena College.
One thing that stood out to Vosejpka is that Helena College's first program, aeronautics, is still around after 80 years. This is a sign of resiliency and community support, Vosejpka said. She also mentioned Helena College's nursing program, which was recently named the No. 1 associate's degree in nursing program in the country by RNCareers.org. Vosejpka said having a program of that size and cost being a top program says a lot about Helena College.
Vosejpka attributes a lot of Helena College's success to the community of Helena. As she moves into the position of dean, making Helena College an even bigger part of the overall Helena community is one of Vosejpka's major goals.
"Two-year colleges are ahead of the game. The community piece is a big part of what we do. Universities don't always enjoy that same luxury," Vosejpka said. "Being a part of the community is one of the most important things the college can do."
One upcoming event Vosejpka said she is looking forward to is Helena College's celebration of all things science, technology, engineering, arts and math in October. Vosejpka said she has always been a big arts and sciences person, holding bachelor's degrees in both chemistry and English from Ohio State University, and she wants to see the college involved in the arts community. The month-long event culminates on Nov. 8, which is both National STEAM Day and the date of Helena's fall art walk.
"I'm pretty geeked about it," Vosejpka said. "We want the community to see all the things we have to offer. Get together and work together."
The community involvement Vosejpka hopes to nurture extends beyond the arts community. Private businesses and four-year universities are also on Vosejpka's list of potential partners. Vosejpka said that making more connections between two-year and four-year institutions and collaborating to improve overall resource access is a big part of what she wants to do. She hopes to hit the ground running on furthering these relationships.
This also includes nurturing the public/private partnerships that interim dean Kirk Lacy made a priority for the college.
"Dean Lacy did an amazing job laying the foundation," Vosejpka said. "It would be crazy for me to not continue his work."
Vosejpka is coming hot off the heels of working at Kettering University in Flint, Michigan, an institution established by General Motors with a deep background in apprenticeships. Vosejpka said she believes that nursing is the paragon of public/private partnerships and is what people think of when they consider the apprenticeship model. She also mentioned the reinvention of Helena College's automotive program. She said that was a proactive move that makes sense and is indicative of the people working at Helena College.
"Each group needs to feel like they are gaining something. That is where the dean comes in and can make sure that everyone benefits," Vosejpka said. "These same types of partnerships could work for students transferring after two years as well. We should have them leave with practical skills beyond their general education."
Practical skills are something Vosejpka said she values highly.
"Some worry about the death of the liberal arts education model and I don't necessarily disagree," Vosejpka said. "But the fact is you will eventually graduate and you have to support yourself. Everything we learn is what makes us who we are. This includes skills."
A balanced approach to the programs at Helena College is something Vosejpka hopes to bring to the table. It's something that Vosejpka will think about when considering new programs at Helena College. Vosejpka said she isn't going to have to convince anyone at the college what the key pillars of success are, but she will have to ask where the job market is headed and where the jobs will be in a few years.
"I'm going to be doing a lot of listening and questioning in the first six months," Vosejpka said. "We might not have a lot of money, but we can be nimble. We can change on a dime. It's one of the benefits of being small."