New Dean Plans To Focus On Students Not Politics

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Harry Swanson inherited a difficult situation when he came on board with Gila County Community College (GCCC) in mid-July as Payson Campus dean.

"It's important for me, for us, to get the message out that what we're about is providing the education to the students," he said. "I think all of the difficulties that were generated before are going to continue and factions will eventually find their answers or maybe a road map to continue whatever their particular focus is, but I want to be focused on education."

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Harry Swanson relocated from Cottonwood to Payson with his wife Nancy to take on the responsibilities of Payson Campus dean for Gila Community College.

Swanson has a bachelor's degree in cultural anthropology from the University of Alaska at Fairbanks. He earned master's degrees in applied anthropology and higher education leadership from Northern Arizona University, and a doctorate degree in cultural resource management from (distance learning) American State University.

Background in education

Swanson brings 10 years of experience in Arizona's community college system to his position as dean. He taught Southwest studies and anthropology classes at Yavapai and Mohave community colleges, and developed the anthropology program at Alaska's Prince William Sound Community College in the mid-1980s.

"I loved teaching the Southwest studies classes because I made them field trip intensive, and we all could experience the ruins, flora, fauna, ritual, and other concepts taught in the academic parts of the classes. I truly love watching the light of understanding dawn on a student. That look of ‘Oh, now I've got it' just gives me a rush. My joy of teaching anthropology comes from similar motivation. The study of anthropology is the study of humankind; what's not to like about that?"

His most recent college position was general manager of the Northern Arizona Regional Skills Center (NARSC) in Clarkdale for Yavapai Community College.

Paula Blankenship, NARSC communications manager, worked with Swanson there and served with him as a member of the Central Basin Regional Council. The council was an economic development committee made up of different chambers of commerce across the state.

She said he was an excellent communicator with people across the board, whether he was talking about people who were involved in trades, technology and manufacturing or students.

"I think Harry had great success with the Verde Valley Medical Center and Northern Arizona Healthcare partnership," Blankenship said. He helped develop a medical transcriptionist internship program there that is continuing now.

"He is also a poet and a writer... very articulate and funny," Blankenship said. "Harry is very adept at making good things out of difficult situations."

Yavapai College has been notified that it is going to receive an Excellence in Rural Development award from Gov. Janet Napolitano later this month. The award is for a manufacturing partnership that Swanson helped to develop and coordinate.

Dean's vision

Swanson said his vision for the direction of the college involves going out and talking to community members and listening to what is nearest and dearest to their hearts. So far he said he has talked to quite a few constituencies.

"We know that there is a need for a current technical education focus," he said. "We also know that there is a need to provide transfer education (to state universities) for people coming right out of high school."

Swanson believes that college students should be able to take classes that proceed logically toward a degree.

He has identified several areas for initial focus: firefighter training, a nursing program and what he termed "customized corporate training" -- classes designed to update skills, train or re-train workers.

Fire sciences

Fire sciences is one of the first programs Swanson and the college have reviewed. A meeting was held in July with Swanson, fire science instructors, personnel from Diamond Star and Payson Fire departments and the Northern Arizona Vocational Institute of Technology (NAVIT), which funds some vocational programs for which high school students are able to get college credit.

"We discussed what would be a logical sequence as far as degree programs... and everything appears to be going fine," town fire marshal Michael Winters said.

Swanson explained that the fire apparatus and equipment (course FSC120) schedules he first saw were based in part on recommendations from NAVIT.

He said that fire departments and trainers told him FSC120 was premature for two reasons. One, the students who had currently been through training are not prepared for that level of instruction. Two, most NAVIT students are too young to go into the fire truck driving aspect.

The fall class schedule includes five other firefighter courses in addition to FSC120.

Swanson eventually foresees a student being able to get an associate degree in fire science at the campus in Payson.

Nursing

Two dozen prospective students attended "Got Nursing?" the kickoff meeting to the college's licensed practical nurse and certified nursing assistant programs. Nursing classes are planned for GCCC's spring 2006 schedule.

Swanson said that ideally GCCC would start a second nursing program at a later date, but that the resources to do that are not currently available.

Applications for the spring licensed practical nurse program are due Oct. 15.

Swanson said that a passing grade on the nursing entrance exam is one of the requirements to obtain the associate of applied science in nursing degree. The exam will be given Sept. 2 at Eastern Arizona College's Thatcher campus.

Gila County Community College will be conducting the nursing entrance exam sometime this October and will announce the date in September.

Employee training

Customized corporate training is a role community colleges have taken on.

"Businesses will frequently need to have staff trained and retrained in simple matters like software changes," Swanson said.

Because Payson's economy is partially tourism-based, Swanson said that many businesses are interested in hiring employees who possess exemplary customer services skills.

Employers from Payson and the Verde Valley have told him that young people entering the workforce are not adequately prepared with "soft skills." He describes these skills as the ability of employees to communicate verbally within the business and with customers and a sense of responsibility to the job and employers.

Swanson helped implement and successfully execute a worker-certification program called WorkKeys®. WorkKeys® places high school students in an 80-hour internship at local businesses. It was sponsored in 2004 by the Cottonwood/Verde Valley Chamber of Commerce.

Swanson and small business development director Judy Miller are discussing how best to progress in this area. Swanson has been in communication with the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Going forward, he will continue to listen to local business owners to find out what programs they would like to see offered at the college.

"I am looking at lots of opportunities," he said, adding that his commitment to GCCC is to focus on meeting student needs, not the politics surrounding GCCC's financial contract with Eastern Arizona College.

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