Old-school Thinking Wasn’t Working


In many ways, it’s easy to see why a relationship most often described with the word ‘adversarial’ — and usually with an adverb in front of it for good measure — developed between Holyoke Community College and Springfield Technical Community College.

After all, when the latter was established in the mid-’60s, there were many people, including most everyone associated with HCC, which was established 20 years earlier, who wondered out loud if another community college was needed just seven miles away from HCC.

Actually, they did more than wonder. They answered that question with a definitive ‘no.’

But STCC was created anyway, and it’s fair to say that it began its life with a sizable chip on its shoulder. It had to prove it was not only needed, but that it could deliver a high-quality education and effectively serve the region.

It took a while, but this was accomplished. And during the lengthy tenure of President Andy Scibelli, the school rose to national and even international prominence, especially through the emergence of its technology park.

Through all of that, the adversarial relationship prevailed as the schools competed fiercely for students across a number of common programs, but also for funding, capital projects, and recognition.

To their credit, Ira Rubenzahl, who succeeded Scibelli, and Bill Messner, who followed David Bartley as president of HCC, saw that, while the schools would always compete, and that such a rivalry was good for both schools because it helps promote continuous improvement, the animosity between the institutions was unnecessary and, indeed, counterproductive for the region.

‘Counterproductive’ is a strong word, but it’s applicable here because, while both HCC and STCC are fine schools, there are many things they can do if they work together, but not if they remain islands unto themselves.

The best example of this, of course, is that nagging and ongoing challenge known to all as the skills gap. We’ve said it many times before, but it bears repeating: this is probably the most pressing problem facing the business community at present and the largest single impediment to growth for companies, business sectors, and the region as a whole.

Businesses cannot flourish if they don’t have a reliable pipeline of quality workers. Working independently, neither STCC not HCC could create such pipelines. But by working together collaboratively, they can address the problem much more effectively, and they have, through the TWO (Training & Workforce Options) initiative (see story, page 15). It has assisted a number of individual businesses and sectors through creation of programs to provide individuals with the specific skills needed to meet recognized workforce challenges.

And while both schools and both presidents (each set to retire in a few months) are very proud of the Deval Patrick Award for Workforce Development, awarded by the Boston Foundation, which they won together for TWO, they’re far more proud of the way the program has provided answers for the business community.

There are many other examples of how the schools have worked collaboratively in recent years, and together they make a statement — one powerful enough for us to note that, while Messner and Rubenzahl will be recognized for all they did for their individual schools, they may be best remembered for what they, and their institutions, did together.

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