The SCCC campus' inner sanctum
Photo by Laurie Gordon
By Laurie Gordon NEWTON — Jon Connolly isn’t your average college president. He isn’t afraid to think outside the box and encourages his students to do so as well. He is a stickler for speaking his mind and encouraging others to do so ... and he’s really, really big on not just hearing, but listening. For the past two years, Connolly has been at the helm of Sussex County Community College and the things this president had facilitated as well as the plans he has for the future are as fast-forward and dynamic as he is. Connolly is creating a new paradigm for what a community college can be. At the root of his philosophy toward being president is hearing students voices and letting their voices be heard. Where, he said, other community colleges tend to stifle their students to a large degree, he wants SCCC students voicing their opinions and being as creative as possible. That’s why there are so many clubs and student groups on campus and fliers and posters around campus announcing new ones. “Our students socialize outside of class better than other community colleges because when they put the brakes on, ‘I say do,’” Connolly said. “I want our students to be outlandish and outrageous and voice their opinions. I want them to be challenged by their opinions because if you don’t get challenged you don’t grow.” The college currently offers six sports, but come spring of 2019, Connolly said men’s lacrosse will be introduced with another sport for the gals coming close behind in the form of either women’s lacrosse, cross country or golf. At the root of Connolly’s view of higher education is that certain principles have been forgotten that ensure greatness. This was his impetus to transition from a collegiate professor to administration and ultimately, two years ago, to president of SCCC. Believing that higher education had forgotten certain principles that ensured greatness, he accepted the challenge as a college and university administrator, and has now been engaged in higher education leadership for about 15 years. “At times, those working in higher education lose their way,” he said. “They forget the importance of being mindful of what is out there and what other people’s priorities are. They stop listening. You can not make a great decision if you don’t fully understand the situation and you can’t fully understand the situation if you don’t stop and really listen.” Commenting on the advent of technology and extreme prevailing of cell phones as it pertains to administrators, professors, students and the population in general, Connolly said, “It’s very different to carry on a conversation that is linear in contrast to what comes across in a text. Texting is like playing a strange game of ricochet.” FundingConnolly said that “theoretically” SCCC’s funding should come one third from the state, one third from the county and one third from tuition fees and grants. “In reality, it’s about 61 percent from tuition fees and grants and roughly 19 percent from the state and 20 percent from the county.” Opioids“Sadly, opioid abuse has become far too prevalent,” Connolly said. “We have both a VP of Student Affairs and a Dean of Student Affairs on the look out for this and plans in place should a student be determined to be abusing drugs as well as a judicial process that is implemented and stringently adhered to. Going one step further, through our Criminal Justice program, we will be having Narcan training on campus where we will have 10 to 15 people who know how to administer Narcan.” College degrees and community collegeCommunity colleges aren’t just stepping stones to move on to a four-year college, Connolly said. They’re vital institutes of higher learning that provide people of all ages and walks of life with the opportunity of education. Connolly talked about the vitality of a college degree and how community colleges come into play: especially since the Great Recession of 2007. “Without a college degree — with the exception of that rare mojo entrepreneur — you’re settling for much lower chances of a career and to be on a lower pay scale with less chance for advancement. Many people believe we have recovered from that recession.” The bottom line is, said Connolly, “if you want a good job and a career, you need a college degree and that includes an associates degree that is earned at a community college.” Community colleges don’t need to be the “other choice” for those choosing to go to college. They aren’t the cheap seats but a sound investment for high school graduates, dislocated workers who can’t find work and are looking for an educational avenue to help them find work and anyone of any age looking to take courses. As exemplified by its culinary program and new alliance with Subaru University, SCCC is a key to building a stronger and more competitive workforce, providing employers with the highly skilled and well-prepared employees that are ready to make immediate contributions to their field. The college’s fledgling culinary program will soon be spreading its wings to include components of the art that Connolly said haven’t been combined at any other institute of higher learning. The textbook and hands-on portions of the major are standard, but SCCC is adding learning how to utilize a catering kitchen, learning how to cook in a cafeteria setting, learning how to prepare food that goes out to patients in a hospital and actually working at a restaurant that the college is looking to create in downtown Newton. Through an alliance with Project Self-Sufficiency, which is located across the street from SCCC, students will learn to prep and serve food for several of the non-profit’s annual events. Thanks to a union with Newton Memorial Hospital students will both be preparing food in their cafeteria and to go out to patients including special dietary needs.