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RCC celebrates 40th anniversary

Former Virginia Governor Linwood Holton (left) chats with RCC’s founding president, Dr. John Upton.
At 12:30 p.m. on January 9, 2010, Dr. Elizabeth Hinton “Sissy” Crowther, president of Rappahannock Community College, called on college founders, community leaders, and RCC representatives assembled for a festive lunch at Bethpage Camp-Resort near Urbanna to clink their glasses in celebration. That date and time in 1970 marked the first meeting of the original RCC College Board, and the beginning of the college’s existence.

To honor RCC’s 40th anniversary, Dr. Crowther summarized its proud history of service to its region, and gave details of innovative and well-crafted plans for its future.

In September 1969, representatives of each of the 13 Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula counties met with Dr. Dana Hamel, first chancellor of the then three-year-old Virginia Community College System (VCCS), to choose board members for a Northern Neck area community college. The selected local dignitaries met at the Urbanna Inn the following January to make plans for the new institution, which they named “Rappahannock Community College” after the river that divides the region in half.

Two members of this original group (Patty West of King William County and Helen Murphy, wife of Tayloe Murphy, of Westmoreland County) were able to attend last Saturday’s celebration, and two more (Bobby Layman of King George County and Richard Gouldin of Richmond County) were represented by family members. Each of these received an engraved cup to commemorate the occasion.

In September 1971, 433 students enrolled at the just-finished Glenns Campus (Warsaw students attended classes in the Chinn House from fall 1972 until the main building opened a year later), and by June 1973, 55 students from both Glenns and Warsaw Campuses were awarded degrees and certificates in RCC’s first graduation ceremony. Richard Owen “Rick” Darnell of Gloucester County represented the Class of 1973 at last Saturday’s 40th-anniversary celebration.

The academic year of 1973-74 saw RCC achieve full accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools which, Dr. Crowther said, was “pretty quick for an institution of this type.” By 1975, the college was well established as a workable alternative to four-year institutions, with 2,500 students attending both campuses.

Over the last six years RCC’s enrollment has grown considerably (37%); the latest available figures, for the academic year of 2008-09 show 4,500 students taking credit coursework, and another 2,500 participating in workforce training.

The number of degrees and certificates earned has risen by about 60% over that period—10 to 20% higher than the average VCCS member college—and the number of transfer degrees earned (leading to enrollment at four-year institutions) is up by 33%.

Dr. Crowther attributes the college’s success to its efforts to make its programs as relevant as possible to students’ needs; to its up-to-the-minute institutional technology (ranked first in the state and fourth in the nation); and to the Guaranteed Admission Agreements that assure RCC graduates of easy transfer to Virginia’s finest universities.

RCC’s Workforce Development programs are thriving as well. In Fall 2009, RCC received the “Vendor of the Year” award from Canon Virginia Inc., recognizing the college’s training program for Canon’s new plant in Newport News, which employs 1,100 workers.

Though this recent period of growth has been gratifying, the college has also weathered state budget downturns totaling 30% over the last three years. However, efficient use of the available funds has enabled it to expand flagship programs such as nursing and engineering, while private scholarships and ongoing fund-raising efforts from the RCC Educational Foundation continue to assure student access and activities.

Crowther said she would like to see even greater public use of the campuses—a critical enhancement to community life in a rural area.

To secure the next 40 years for the college, Crowther says RCC will ensure student access by building scholarship endowments and expanding the science and health wings to accommodate science instruction needs, and will maintain excellent instruction overall by directing more private funds to support its programs.

One reason for this optimism is the major gift campaign, “Soaring Together,” that RCC has been conducting over the last few months. Already, $2.8 million has been raised to be applied toward strategic college projects, including a General Scholarship Endowment Fund that will be available to meet any need not covered by specific donations. At the anniversary celebration, Crowther announced that this campaign will now be open to contributions from the public (individuals who wish to donate should call the foundation offices at 804-333-6707), with the goal of raising $3 million by the end of April.

“This is the first time we have ever asked individuals in the community to support specific projects at the college,” Crowther noted, adding that if the college is to continue being exceptional in what it does, the whole community must become involved.

Singled out for special praise were RCC Foundation Board president Chip Minor and dean of college advancement Victor Clough, under whose leadership the foundation’s assets have increased from $1.7 million to $4.4 million.

Crowther praised Dr. John H. Upton, RCC’s founding president (who attended the celebration), for setting such high expectations at RCC—for students, a solid academic experience with a curriculum relevant to their needs, and varied and engaging collegiate activities; and from faculty and staff, challenging and professional instruction and guidance.

“You set a tradition that continues,” Crowther told Upton, assuring him that the expectations he established still exist at RCC.

“I was lucky enough to work for Dr. Upton,” she said, referring to the position she held as an RCC administrator in the early 90s, “and I felt those expectations. I feel that I have a sense of where you would like to have things go.”

Further thoughts were offered by former Virginia Governor Linwood Holton, who spoke about the period in the 60s and early 70s that led to the creation of the Virginia Community College System and RCC. “I had more money than you could shake a stick at,” he said, referring to the sales tax instituted by Governor Mills Godwin. “I could build more colleges than any other governor.”

Judge R. Michael McKenney, now serving as Juvenile and Domestic Relations Judge for the 15th Judicial Circuit of Virginia, spoke about the important benefits he gained from his RCC Associate of Science Degree (Class of 1982).

Other distinguished guests included Delegate Harvey Morgan of Virginia’s 98th District; Dr. Simeon “Bud” Burnette, an early vice chancellor of the VCCS who also served as Central Virginia Community College’s first president and as president of J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College from 1978 to 2002; and Pat Perkinson of Topping, who was Governor Godwin’s assistant during the critical discussion about starting the community college system and later became Dr. Hamel’s assistant while he was Secretary of the Commonwealth. Perkinson also served as an RCC College Board member.

Also attending were the former Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources, and 18-year delegate for the 99th District, Tayloe Murphy; several past and present RCC Educational Foundation board members; and members of RCC’s staff, of whom Dr. Crowther said, “Things are going in a good direction because of these folks.”

Also in attendance were several current and past college board members, including Prosser Crowther, Dr. Crowther’s father. “I got my introduction to the community college from him,” said Dr. Crowther.

posted 01.13.2010

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