Bellanca announces pair of federal grants from Department of Labor – one for $899,737 for economically disadvantaged youth in Ypsilanti, another for $300,000 to fund apprenticeships in Advanced Manufacturing – among other community achievements.
BY TAYLOR ROBINSON
While Washtenaw Community College President Rose Bellanca is normally used to sitting among the college’s board of trustees, she recently gave a presentation to Washtenaw County’s Board of Commissioners about the impact WCC has on not only its students, faculty and staff, but also the surrounding community.
“Ypsilanti is very near and dear to our heart,” Bellanca said. “It always has been and it always will be, and, early in our history we wanted to make an impact.”
WCC partners with various organizations in the community including businesses, non-profit organizations, community centers and more. Because of these connections, WCC is the recipient of many awards, scholarships and grants in varying amounts, highlighted by Bellanca in her speech.
Most recently, WCC received $899,737 from the U.S. Department of Labor which will fund a three-year program designed for teaching construction skills to disadvantaged youth in Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township while students work toward obtaining a GED, according to its press release. WCC is one of four colleges in Michigan who has been awarded part of the grant. This was just one of the many accomplishments Bellanca presented to the commissioners. Alongside the $899,000 grant, it was stated in a press release from WCC early last week that the college had received another $300,000 grant, also from the U.S. Department of Labor to fund apprenticeships in advanced manufacturing. Because WCC realizes the diversity of its students, it opened its doors to distance learning in 2000, according to Bellanca. The demand has grown by more than 50 percent over the last five years.
“(At) our college the average of the students are 28 years old. We know they really do need that convenience of working online,” Bellanca said. “Maybe people are taking care of families still and some are taking care of children or parents. (Students) are very busy so this helps and helps them with their jobs.”
Similar to U.S. President Barack Obama’s words spoken at Macomb Community College earlier this month, Bellanca mentioned the point that the world is evolving at a quicker pace, particularly in the fields of advanced manufacturing and technology.
“It isn’t good enough anymore to just have a degree,” Bellanca said. “You have to keep upgrading your skills and talents so we’re there for that, any way (students) need us.” She adds that she’s very proud of the faculty to be accommodating to students through various media options and continuing to provide quality educational learning opportunities.
These educational opportunities even include the option for some students to work toward graduating from high school and simultaneously working toward a college degree. Bellanca expressed to the board the importance of dual-enrollment.
“The reason it’s so critical in the community is really two reasons,” Bellanca said. “One is, of course, we give students who are ready for college the opportunity to get started and to do that in a very affordable way so that (some) can get their associate degree done before they graduate from high school.”
She also adds that taking any number of classes can benefit them. If they plan on going to a different college or university they will still have some transferrable credits at a lower cost to them and their families.
In addition to having highly ranked dual-enrollment prospects, WCC has been ranked number one among 28 community colleges for three years in a row, in terms of percentage of increase in performance-based aid awarded by the state. Private citizens have donated around $8.5 million in the last two years, which was invested in student success and teaching innovation.
Washtenaw Commissioner Conan Smith commented that some places in the county struggle with philanthropy and with WCC‘s collection of millions in donations. He asked Bellanca to share how this has been possible.
“Washtenaw County is a very giving place,” Smith said. “But I think it’s fair to say that from a philanthropic perspective, all of us have struggled to convince our colleagues to invest in efforts like yours, which was extraordinarily successful.”
Bellanca summarized this success with two reasons: conducting feasibility studies and that she’s found that some people simply do it because they know they are contributing to a good cause.
“People are so wonderful and generous and everyone has something that’s important to them, it’s just figuring out what it is to make their own dream come true,” Bellanca said. “These scholarships are all about the donors giving to students and their feeling so good because they know someone is going to prosper because of them.”
Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners Vice Chair Yousef Rabhi echoed the great job that WCC is doing in partnering with the community, providing a “springboard” to further build upon. Rabhi said it reminds him of the first governor of the state of Michigan, Stevens T. Mason, who wanted to develop a system of publicly-owned education as opposed to privately-owned so that students could not only attend just K-12, but also public colleges.
“I think what you’re doing is the exemplification of that spirit that was set forth when the state of Michigan was founded, and so you are continuing that good work and looking toward the future,” Rabhi said. “50 years behind you, many more years ahead of you. I congratulate you on the work you have done and your leadership, and our community having such a valuable resource in the midst that we all can use.”