Carmen Simone is used to change.
After serving for several years as president of a community college in Colorado, she began a new job Jan. 2 as executive director of the University Center-Sioux Falls (UCSF).
During the first week of April, UCSF’s name was changed to USD Community College for Sioux Falls and she was given new roles as USD vice president and dean associated with the new college.
During Simone’s interview with the Plain Talk in early April, the new college hadn’t yet been formally named USD Community College for Sioux Falls. The name had been a mystery, but the school’s mission was not.
“That (a community college) is the purpose,” Simone said. “We’re trying to fill that gap right now that’s there in higher education in South Dakota. We’ve got four phenomenal technical institutes in this state. They are nationally renowned, the best at what they do, very workforce-programming focused, AAS degrees, terminal degrees that give students great skills.
“We’ve got six really good public universities in this state,” she added. “They are phenomenal at what they do, but there’s a gap in between. That gap in between is typically where community colleges fill in all of the states around us. Community colleges are typically doing two year transfer degrees so students can start there and then move into a university and transfer those credits.”
Simone came to South Dakota after serving five-and-a-half years as president of a community college in Colorado.
“I was at Trinidad State Junior College for the last five-and-a-half years or so and served as president there as part of the Colorado Community College system,” she said. “I was just looking for my next (career opportunity) and why I looked in South Dakota, I really can’t answer. I don’t know, because I knew there were no community colleges in South Dakota, but South Dakota has a special draw for me.
“My family lives here; my parents are over West River and just one day, on a fluke, I looked to see what job openings might be open in South Dakota and saw the advertisement for the executive director of the University Center.” Simone said. “I started studying up on it a little bit and found the strategic plan that’s online that talks about the future of the University Center. It talks about the community college mission. That’s what attracted me.”
Simone, who grew up in North Dakota, said her move east from Colorado has her feeling like she’s home again.
“I love Sioux Falls. It’s a great community, even when we had the polar vortex, the bomb cyclone (of last winter),” she said. “I keep telling people it takes more than that to scare me away. It’s been a lot of fun.”
Her goal now is direct the USD Community College for Sioux Falls towards its mission of workforce training that benefits not only local students, but also local employers in Sioux Falls.
“We work with businesses and identify a training gap in their employees and then help fill that gap, not with a semester-long credit course but with a two-hour course or a one-day course,” she said. “We design it with the businesses and work hand-in-glove with them.
“That life-long learning component for the community that we’re serving is critically important,” she said. “We have that with the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) in Sioux Falls. It’s been in place for over a decade, I think, but it offers learning for the love of it.”
OLLI, Simone said, is targeted for people 50 and older.
“They have really good programming that networks the community together,” she said, “and people come and learn about whatever topic it is that day. It’s a really phenomenal program, but that’s what community colleges typically would do for a community.”
The path toward forming a community college in Sioux Falls began being cleared about two years ago, Simone said, following a future work strategic work process which brought together several community representatives and groups.
“They had those discussions about what Sioux Falls needs and that’s when they decided as a group that the community college mission and to become more community college-like was the direction they wanted to go,” Simone said. “We’ve been on this pathway for a couple of years now.”
The partnerships that have been forged involving USD, SDSU and DSU, she said, need to continue to serve Sioux Falls.
“It’s not just about USD. It’s about what we can all do together to build the workforce in Sioux Falls. For example, the SDSU nursing program is phenomenal and we don’t want to lose connection with that in Sioux Falls,” Simone said. “SDSU is a great partner so we want to keep those programs in place.
“DSU is so well known for what they do in computers and technology,” she said. “Sioux Falls needs that expertise. We want the programs for DSU to be strong partners with this new college, also. STI (Southeast Technical Institute) is an important partner, too, and we don’t want to lose sight of that.”
It is more than likely, Simone said, that the students being served by the new community college will likely be residents of Sioux Falls.
“Once they finish, they really can go anywhere,” she said. “We hope they stay, but we’ve opened doors for them so if they decide they want to move and pursue and education or occupation somewhere else, more power to them. It really has to be the students’ choice.”
Simone said she and the new community college are committed to keeping up with the growing education and employment needs of the Sioux Falls population.
“We’ll take it one day at a time and make the best decisions we can for our students going forward,” she said. “If we have to narrow our focus, we narrow our focus because no matter what we do, we want to do it very well.”
Simone said she will be paying close attention to the college’s AAGS degree.
“That’s the general studies degree that opens doors for students,” she said. “It’s a powerfully flexible degree program. That’s where our focus is right now and that’s what we really want to grow.”