Kenai Peninsula College welcomed students back to school Thursday with its annual fall barbecue at the Kenai River Campus in Soldotna, offering the community an opportunity to register for fall courses, tour school facilities and meet the people who provide lifelong education in the central peninsula.
"It's just a way we can open the campus," said Suzie Kendrick, KPC's community relations director. "It's a bonus for students signing up for classes, and it gives people in the community who maybe haven't been on campus for a while the opportunity to see changes and the new things we're offering."
Among the new features this year are at least one new degree program and a couple new faces, Kendrick said.
The new degree, an associate of arts in digital photography, kicks off with its first class this fall, taught by photography professor Jayne Jones. The Kenai River Campus is the first in the state's university system to offer the degree.
But perhaps of even more importance to the campus community are the new people coordinating education at the school.
KPC, which includes the Soldotna campus, as well as the Kachemak Bay Campus in Homer and an extension campus in Seward, is one of several community colleges associated with the University of Alaska Anchorage, which has a new chancellor this year.
Dr. Elaine Maimon, who replaces longtime Chancellor Edward Lee Gorsuch, officially joined the UAA staff two weeks ago, overseeing directors of the Anchorage and community campuses. Maimon made one of her first official duties a stop at the KPC kickoff barbecue, where she took time to share her goals with community members.
Maimon said one of her biggest goals in her new position will be improved communication and cooperation among the UAA campuses throughout the region.
"I believe the structural marriage of the community campuses and the Anchorage campus is the strength of the system," she said. "We have an opportunity here that's really very exciting."
She said she wants to make the university a "public square."
"The university should be everywhere. It should be a second home for cultural exchange," she said.
"KPC is doing a really good job of that," she said. "This barbecue is a perfect example."
But while she said KPC does well at being part of its immediate community, she also would like to see the entire university system play a bigger role in the state by working together more.
"Each community campus ... is truly embedded in its community," she said. "When we put them all together ... we have the opportunity to make the whole more than the sum of its parts."
Specifically, she said, she hopes to improve services to students on the larger scale.
"(We need to make sure) students on any one of the campuses understand the opportunities on all campuses," she said. "We're working together for students' benefit to get the right students to the right campus at the right time.
"My philosophy is to always look to how whatever you do helps students," she said.
That philosophy fits well with the addition of another new face at KPC: Student Services Director Bill Howell.
Howell, who joined the KPC staff last week, is rekindling a position absent from the college for about 20 years, taking last year's campus remodel which centralized the Soldotna campus' administrative departments a step further. He will oversee all Student Service departments, including admissions, registration, financial aid and the Career Center.
Though only officially on the job three days as of Thursday's barbecue, Howell said he has a vision for the future of the departments.
"Our goal is to make students satisfied," he said. "We are here for them. My big philosophy is to give students what they need."
Kendrick said the college staff is excited to see both new faces around campus, though Maimon will be based in Anchorage.
Kendrick said she looks forward to Maimon's commitment to bridging the campuses and heightening awareness of UAA's community campuses.
"We're really looking forward to the opportunity to access some resources at other UAA campuses," Kendrick said.
"(Maimon's selection as chancellor) is just really exciting for all of us," she said. "I think it shows her commitment to her words by the fact that she's here today."
As for Howell, Kendrick said she believes he's the leader the college needs to meld the Student Services departments.
"I told him, 'We've been waiting for you.'"
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