Russell George glimpses learning-style changes as CNCC president
George plans to retire as CNCC's president by the end of the fiscal year — so long as a successor is ready
Craig — As Russell George prepares to retire as president of Northwestern Colorado Community College, he’s looking back on a cluster of years that saw great educational change. He also sees the college as something that will continue to grow, reaching out to more students in more places than it has before.
“The college is a living creature,” he said. “It does not take care of itself.”
George, 69, became president of the college in January 2011, having served terms as the director of the Colorado Division of Wildlife and as the executive director of the state’s Department of Natural Resources and Department of Transportation. He also represented Colorado House District 57 from 1993 to 2000, serving as speaker of the House in 1999 and 2000.
George said his work at the college involved executive responsibilities similar to those he’d assumed in other positions. But he added, “Subject matter is a whole different conversation.”
The process of education, George said, has been changing since the 1960s, and his work at CNCC brought him into contact with some of that change.
“A lot of it’s technology driven, but I don’t think it’s only that,” he said. “I think there’s a social-cultural shift that seems to have started during the ’60s with the various changes that occurred there. It has propelled itself, so that students are learning differently.”
George said his observations come not only from his work, but also from his family. He’s raised four children who have given him additional windows into the educational system.
“We ask the question, ‘How do you learn?’ first,” he said. “Then we ask, ‘What do you want to learn? What do you need to learn?’”
The how, he said, might not focus on lectures and textbooks, as it once did.
At CNCC, George said changes have taken place at instructional and administrative levels, with intensified programs and centers, such as the Gateway Center, to help students learn course material and also to develop larger learning goals and strategies. George also mentioned a fairly new position at the college called a technological support specialist.
“We have a person who is learned in several common software programs used to connect the student with the class, with the instructor,” he said.
Keeping up with that sort of change can be a challenge for a rural college, George noted.
“It’s harder to keep pace,” George said. “Resources are generally harder to come by. In our case, we probably have only one person on each task, where in a large organization, you have a team.”
George mentioned a few key areas of concentration in his remaining time at the college. One involves technology. He wants to get the technology team formed fully and get it funded.
He also noted the budget.
“I timed my own departure to be sure that I left a new, fully funded budget, so we’re working hard on that right now,” he said.
George is also overseeing the beginnings of a project to build student housing on the Craig campus.
“The model we like is a 34-bed unit,” he said. “That size, when done right, will pay for itself, if you can keep it full.”
Two of the beds would be devoted to residence life staff members, and the rest to students. George also noted the possibility of working with other community members to create a new senior center on the college’s grounds, in which case, the two facilities could share common dining resources.
George said the college will continue to serve as an inclusive tent for all sorts of students. Once the housing is in place, those students may come from beyond the immediate community.
“The whole access question remains paramount,” George added, noting the parent with children at home and the young high school graduate not yet ready to leave home both need a place where they can pursue their college careers.
George, whose home is in Rifle, plans to retire June 30. But he said he would stay longer if the college has not found a new president by then. He used a relay-race analogy to explain how he presented the situation to college staff members.
“If you have the successor to go on June 30, then I’ll hand over the baton right then,” he said. “If you do not, then I will stay a while.”
He said he’ll maintain his activity in a number of organizations after his retirement.
“I have been asked to renew my seat on the Colorado Water Conservation Board,” he said. “I would be willing to do that, if that’s what the governor wants to do.”
George has already been active in the community outside of the college. He’s taken on the role, for instance, of facilitator for the Moffat County School District stakeholder meetings, designed to gather community feedback on the upcoming budget.
George said he and his wife, Neal, will also continue church activities and other volunteer projects.
“We’re not quitting,” he said. “We’re just quitting the day-to-day heavy, earning a living piece.”