Desmarais Talks Economic Development, Ending the ‘Stigma’ of Community College

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Dr. Rachel Desmarais, president of Vance-Granville Community College, was on Tuesday’s edition of WIZS’ Town Talk program to discuss the college’s role in economic development and her vision for the future of the institution.

Beginning her tenure as VGCC’s seventh president in January, Desmarais brings with her over 20 years of experience in the community college system.

Once a community college student at Forsyth Tech herself, Desmarais said she never would have imagined that she would one day become the college’s executive vice president and chief operating officer.

“I had a liberal arts degree already and needed real-world skills, and I got that at Forsyth Tech. I’m living proof of how you can transition from one to the other. Being able to use those skills to recruit students, recruit businesses, brainstorm with the best in town and make asks of large-name companies to try to recruit them to the area was a really valuable experience.”

It is this experience, in part, that Desmarais said she’ll draw on to help implement economic turnaround in the local four-county area.

Dr. Rachel Desmarais, president of Vance-Granville Community College (Photo courtesy VGCC)

“Coming from the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County area, I have experience working with the transition from tobacco and old-style manufacturing into healthcare and biotech innovation,” Desmarais said.

For their part in this transition, VGCC will focus on building new relationships with businesses and organizations while strengthening relationships with current community partners. “We work with partners such as economic development and the Chamber to be the glue between people looking for jobs and people wanting to hire.

I’m going to leverage the gifts and talents that our people have here in the college to create more short-term workforce training to support our existing companies and to be a recruitment tool for economic development,” Desmarais stated.

To build the educated workforce best-suited for local employment needs, Desmarais said the college is reviewing its current offerings of programs and courses, including where courses are offered and program completion times.

“Our focus is on degree alignment, making sure we offer courses in the right format and in the right locations.”

According to Desmarais, other barriers to education – lack of transportation, extreme poverty and the general “stigma” of community college – also need to be addressed to ensure that everyone has an opportunity for educational advancement and/or career development.

“We have to end the stigma of community colleges. Community colleges are very valuable; if you want to go on to get a four-year degree, it’s cost effective. There is a lot of evidence that demonstrates that students from community colleges are just as successful as four-year college students, and in some cases, even better prepared.”

Desmarais said she also wants to work with four-year colleges on possible transfer credit agreements of Associate in Applied Science (AAS) degrees.

Similar to current agreements for Associate in Arts and Associate in Science degree credits, this type of agreement would potentially allow students with AAS degrees to more smoothly transfer their credit hours earned at a community college to a four-year college.

As for the immediate future, VGCC has several exciting events planned for 2019 in celebration of their 50th anniversary, including the college’s dinner theatre performance of “Company” by Stephen Sondheim April 25 – 26, the annual VGCC golf tournament to be held at Henderson Country Club on May 7 and open house events at all four VGCC campuses.

While excited to be joining the college in its 50th year, Desmarais said she is even more thrilled to see her passion for education and for the community college environment reflected in the community.

“I love the passion that I see here at the college; the love that people have for the college and what it has done in the community.”

To hear the Town Talk interview with Dr. Rachel Desmarais in its entirety, click here.

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