President, Stark State College
Stark State College opened its downtown Canton well-site training center last summer, drawing international interest in its oil and gas curriculum. The college during 2014 was awarded millions of dollars in state and federal funds to promote workforce development. And last fall, Stark State College was honored along with other local universities in a national competition that recognized growth in degree attainment in the Akron area. Overseeing the institution’s success was the college’s fourth president, Para Jones, who began her community college career at Stark State in 1987. Here are her reflections on the college’s banner year:
Q. What stands out to you about the past year?
A. I try not to look at our students as a group—15,000—but to think about all the students I meet when I’m in classes and in hallways and on campus and so, I guess what stands out, what I’m proudest of, is the good work we are doing in looking at both education and training and support and what we do in the classroom and out of the classroom to ensure that our students are successful. For us, that means that they can attend, they can continue, that our programs are quality, and that they lead to rewarding employment.
Q. What can we expect to see from Stark State College in the next year?
A. We will keep growing because we’re looking at all the different needs in the community to expand programs. We believe there are some wonderful opportunities in health sciences, just because of all the different changes in health care. …You will see us doing a lot more with our high schools in terms of College Credit Plus, especially expanding the College Credit Plus opportunities for students in Stark County, but not just in those traditional college prep courses like (college composition, psychology, sociology) algebra—also in career tech so that we can really start preparing young people when they’re in high school for these high-growth, high-demand fields in IT, manufacturing, health care and automotive.
Q. What’s your typical workday like?
A. I’m a very early riser: 5 a.m—If I’m not up by 5, it’s an odd day. … I usually send emails to staff pretty early. They hear from me—depending what’s on my agenda, 5 a.m. is not unusual. And it is very rare for me not to have an evening activity. I would say a
12-hour day is very, very, very common for me. And evenings and weekends as is needed to do my job because I’m very involved in the community.
Q. What drives you?
A. I really, deeply believe in our mission, very very much. This is my 27th year in community and technical college education. I started here. … Immediately I saw the relevance of the college’s mission and how much sense it made and how many students we could help and how relevant we are to our region. And so I embraced the mission, and it just has become such a part of my value system, and I think a community college being practical, affordable, being really focused on meeting the needs of students and leading to gainful employment for students is something I feel is really very important to everyone—regardless of age, regardless of background. What we do is meet the needs of every student.