By Jill Adair
Special to The Arizona Republic
Contributed by Jill Adair, a freelance journalist and an associate faculty member at Arizona State University’s Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
Members of the Mesa Leadership Program recently learned about local education and its impact not only on a community, but on the nation and the world.
“Education is a global issue,” said Dr. O.T. Wendel, senior vice president of Strategic Initiatives and Planning A.T. Still University School of Osteopathic Medicine in Arizona.
He said in a world of vast information, the challenge is to train students where to find it and also how to evaluate the information they find.
“Get good information,” he said. “But also get good knowledge.”
Wendel said the educational process and setting is changing and quickly evolving into the future.
“It’s going to look different than we remember it,” he told the group meeting on the ATSU campus, which is an osteopathic medical school at 5850 E. Still Circle in Mesa.
Also speaking to the class was Dr. Roger Yohe, acting vice president of Academic Affairs with Mesa Community College.
The community college meets the needs of a group of students with varying educational and career goals, including those interested in earning an associate’s degree or credits to transfer to a four-year university, to obtaining a certificate in their field of work or learning skills through the Career and Technical Education programs.
“Not everyone needs a bachelor’s degree,” he said. “What our economy needs is a skilled workforce.”
Mesa Community College is the largest of the 10 community colleges in the Maricopa County Community College District. There are two campuses in Mesa – the Southern and Dobson Campus and the Red Mountain Campus; two smaller learning centers – one in downtown and the other near the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport; and an online, eLearning program.
Leadership class member Pei Hsieh, a manager with Good Neighbor Insurance, said she was impressed that both institutions are promoting and expanding their scope of influences beyond academic training.
“They want their graduating students to continue involving in social justice, serving greater good and underserved communities and participating in cultural and global engagement,” she said.
February’s Mesa Leadership class, held Feb. 5, started in the morning with speakers and a tour of the ATSU campus and concluded in the afternoon at the East Valley Institute of Technology campus, 1601 W. Main St.
After lunch the class heard from Mayor John Giles, who recently announced that Arizona State University is planning to open a satellite campus in downtown Mesa.
ASU already has a Polytechnic campus in east Mesa, but Giles said after several months of meetings, University President Michael Crow and other officials are in the process of determining what would be a good fit for ASU downtown.
“Those discussions are fairly far along,” he said. “We’re getting close to deciding what that is, but deciding what that is, is, frankly, just the beginning of this process because then you have to figure out how to pay for it.”
He briefly discussed the challenges of funding education across the board in Arizona, and noted that local schools have no funding for early childhood education.
He said a recent city task force’s preliminary report found there is a problem and a need for more resources and opportunities for pre-k education in Mesa.
“We’re noticeably below the (national average) with kids involved in early childhood education or pre-K,” he said.
He suggested a possible pilot program that brings the nation’s “best practices” to Mesa schools.
After a tour of some of EVIT’s programs, Leadership class members heard a panel discussion that included Dr. Sally Downey, superintendent of EVIT; Jared Taylor, business manager of charter school Heritage Academy with a campus in downtown Mesa; and Dr. Michael Cowan, superintendent of Mesa Public Schools.
Taylor said of education in Arizona: “There are pockets of excellence; there are pockets that are hurting.”
He noted that challenges come in the form of lack of funding, changing demographics and a teacher shortage in certain areas.
Downey called on local residents and leaders to take an active role.
“Make education the No. 1 priority,” she said.
Cowan said politicians often see the effects of the disintegration of the family and neighborhood problems and lay the blame on educational institutions.
“It requires awareness and a ‘link-arms mentality’ to make families successful,” he said, challenging class members to consider education along with other future leadership opportunities.
“Get involved!” she said.
Taylor said: “Any school can be criticized. Find a place to make a difference in public education and make a difference in a child’s life.”
Leadership class member Patti Oskvarek, a personal, business and leadership coach, said she learned from this experience that having passionate and empathetic teachers and educators are the key to successful education programs.
“These teachers and educators are making a difference in people lives by sharing their gifts and talents, which help their students succeed in life,” she said.