KCC president praises higher education at chamber banquet

Dr. Lori Sundberg, president of Kirkwood, was the keynote speaker at this year’s Monticello Chamber Banquet on Jan. 15. Sundberg shared the successes of Kirkwood and the importance of higher education. She said community colleges like Kirkwood help transform communities. (Photo by Kim Brooks)
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     Dr. Lori Sundberg, Kirkwood Community College’s first female president, was the guest speaker at this year’s Monticello Chamber Banquet on Jan. 15.

     The event was held at the Eagles Club.

     Sundberg spoke about the importance of education and the many positive things Kirkwood has done for the State of Iowa.

     Looking out over the crowd at the banquet, Sundberg said, “This demonstrates the dedication to the growth and overall economic hub of your community and region. This is a wonderful example of what makes the community and business leaders such great partners as you work together.”

      Sundberg has been working in higher education for over 20 years. She started serving Kirkwood and its regional centers in July.

     “Higher education changed my life,” she shared.

     Sundberg owned her own hair salon prior to going back to college and earning her bachelor’s degree.

     “Academia was a second career for me,” she explained. “When I was 30, I decided I wanted to go back and earn my bachelor’s degree. I never planned to change careers. I just wanted to get my bachelor’s degree (in economics). I had a successful business, I was part of the chamber, part of the business community.”

     Planning to retire as president of Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, Ill. (Sundberg’s hometown), the opportunity to serve as Kirkwood’s leader came up.

     “From my perspective, Kirkwood has made a legacy for itself, not just as a leader in the Midwest, but globally,” praised Sundberg. “It really has set the standard in community college education for all the other colleges to follow.”

     The history of community colleges began in the mid-1960s in Iowa, an idea supported by the Iowa General Assembly.

     “Kirkwood was part of that education revolution that brought the possibility of college education to the masses,” explained Sundberg. “It really transformed the landscape, not only of higher education, but it also changed the economic landscape of our district as well.”

     Reflecting on the heritage of community colleges, Sundberg said they certainly have changed over the past 50 years. What used to be just an extension of high school, a technical college, community colleges now offer so much more for people of all ages, from all backgrounds. Sundberg referred to community colleges as “powerhouses.

     “There’s almost no limit to what we offer to the people we serve,” she said. “There is something literally for everyone in the community. Hence the name.”

     This year, 2019, marks the 10th anniversary of Kirkwood’s Jones Regional Education Center here in Monticello. Sundberg shared several Kirkwood success stories, including that of Monticello graduate Samantha (Sami) Fritz.

     Fritz took part in and completed the Computer Programming Software Development Academy at JREC while in high school. She earned 42 credits that all transferred to the University of Dubuque, where she started as a sophomore. Fritz is now triple majoring at UD. She was also recruited to work at an artificial intelligence start-up company where she assists in developing AI for businesses all over the country.

     “She’s a talented young woman with a bright future ahead of her. The Kirkwood career academies really helped her find her way,” said Sundberg.

     Regional centers contribute so much to a town, a region, not only academically, but economically as well. Sundberg said the economic impact of Kirkwood in the state is close to $1 billion.

     She said the offerings available through the regional centers, particularly the career academies that Fritz took advantage of, not only provide college credit, but high school graduation credit as well. And the best part… it’s free!

     “The courses offer the perfect opportunity for students to get hands-on experience while getting a better sense for what career they might want to pursue after graduation,” explained Sundberg.

     She said earning free college credit also helps to offset the financial burden on families.

     During the 2017-18 school year, roughly 6,300 students were enrolled in Kirkwood’s career academies. This amounted to over 45,000 credit hours.

     “As a result,” said Sundberg, “the families in our service area saved more than $7.3 million in college tuition. That’s a lot of money that won’t be going into student loan debt. The savings create a ripple effect, which not only benefits the individual students and their families, but the communities they live in.”

     Looking back at Kirkwood’s first 50 years and ahead at what’s to come, Sundberg said their goal will always be the same: “To meet the needs of the people we serve.”

     “We’ve transformed individual lives. We transformed families. It’s transformed our communities,” concluded Sundberg.



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