Celebrating 50 Years
In October 1970, Howard Community College opened its doors, welcoming 594 students to its one-building campus, surrounded by farmland with roaming cows and wooded areas dotted with trees. This historic moment marked the successful efforts of key supporters including many local and state government officials – and the vision of Columbia’s founders for quality higher education in Howard County.
As a nascent city planned by Jim Rouse with input from national experts, Columbia had a core goal to create an environment that would help people grow to their fullest potential. “In all that Jim Rouse did, that was his first priority,” said Barbara Kellner, former director of the Columbia Archives. “So you can see how bettering people through education across the full spectrum with lifelong learning became the genesis of having a college in Columbia.”
HCC broke ground in 1969 on land purchased for $300,000, which had originally been used as a family farm. The first building, now the James Clark Jr. Library Hall, housed all of the college’s classrooms, offices, labs and cafeteria.
“From my office, I could see a pasture and woods, with woodchucks, deer, foxes,” says Vlad Marinich, the college’s first faculty hire. “On the other side of the building was a farm, and the president and staff would sometimes have to go out to chase the cows off the college property.”
For nearly 43 years, Marinich served as a HCC professor and became the college’s historian and firsthand witness of the many changes. Over the years, the campus expanded from one building to 14 buildings and a central quad. In its beginning years, the college listed courses in a four-page catalog, including subjects like secretarial sciences, which have evolved into more modern programs such as office technology. Now, courses fill a book-length catalog and multiple webpages online. As the college’s student body has grown to 30,000 combined credit and noncredit students, its reputation also has grown significantly, earning accreditation and accolades such as the Great College to Work For honor from ModernThink for 12 years.
“I am absolutely convinced that Howard Community College is the best community college in Maryland, and one of the best in the United States,” Marinich says.
Always Striving for Excellence
In 2019, Howard Community College received national recognition for its performance excellence as a winner of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, and yet the roots of the college’s dedication to excellence began in its earliest days.
Before the first classes started in 1970, the college’s first president, Alfred J. Smith, set the vision for an institution centered around best practices in student learning. Faculty shaped their courses around effective education strategies and continuously adapted and refined lessons as time went on, says Dan Friedman, HCC’s first chemistry professor.
“We always had a culture of excellence in learning,” says Friedman, who later served as chair of the science department and retired in 2011. “It wasn’t just lecturing content to students, but recognizing that everyone learns differently, and using alternative strategies to help students gain skills that they need.”
In Friedman’s classes in the ‘70s, that sometimes meant providing students with recordings of how to do labs on audio cassettes and teaming up with library staff to create musical jingles about chemistry formulas. These creative approaches helped make lessons more memorable and accessible.
At the class level, “we’d always evaluate ourselves, evaluate the courses, and find ways to improve our teaching,” Friedman says.
Throughout the past five decades, faculty members’ dedication has had a lasting impact on students like Chiara D’Amore, AA ’99, who began taking classes at HCC after leaving high school in tenth grade.
“This transition was one of the first ‘adult’ decisions I made in my life and opened up a sense of empowerment and excitement around my education that had previously been lacking,” says D’Amore, who graduated in 1999 and was a Rouse Scholar. Faculty members leading the honors program “really got to know me personally, understood what my interests and passions were, and encouraged me to bring my curiosity and best effort to my studies.”
Through this experience, D’Amore says she was well prepared to succeed at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, where she went on to earn a bachelor’s and master’s degrees. She also earned a doctorate in sustainability education from Prescott College. Today, she is the founder and executive director of the nonprofit the Community Ecology Institute in Columbia, which grew out of the Columbia Families in Nature program she started in 2014.
Her passion for environmental work also took root at HCC, while co-founding an Environmental Club with a fellow student and faculty support. “HCC is where my general awareness turned into direct action and activism,” she says. “Getting more involved in community environmental work definitely solidified my path to focus on environmental science for my bachelors, masters, doctorate and career.”
As faculty focused on providing the best education in the classroom, at the institutional level, the college also adapted quickly to technological developments, as evidenced in the shift from simple calculators in its early days to graphing calculators and computers and now online learning. Highly credentialed faculty continued to join the college, and thoughtful master planning led to an expansion of state-of-the-art facilities.
“When faculty from four-year universities have seen our Science, Engineering, and Technology Building, they have been blown away by what we have to offer,” says Patti Turner, who joined the faculty in 1975 and now serves as dean of science, engineering, and technology. With research-grade telescopes and analytical instrumentation, a rooftop observation area, engineering build room, and more, the college provides students with opportunities to learn with sophisticated equipment and spaces.
The college’s dedication to excellence and improvement also continues to remain true today across all facets of operations, says Lynn Coleman, vice president of administration and finance.
From event setup staff who created an online inventory of furniture to make obtaining used furniture easier – to housekeeping, administrative professional, and technical staff who took initiative to organize their own annual professional conference – to facilities staff implementing a construction-management-at-risk approach to construction that would help keep costs in check – “HCC is unique in how so many ideas and decisions grow organically from the staff,” Coleman says.
“I hear this a lot: ‘You guys are so lucky,’” Turner says. “And I think some of it is luck, but a good bit of it is hard work and good decision-making. These are two things that characterize us at HCC.”
Prioritizing Student Success
Just as Jim Rouse’s plans for Columbia centered around people, HCC has always centered its work around its students, according to Marinich. From the college’s start, faculty members saw themselves as “managers of learning, rather than professors who would come into a classroom and profess our knowledge in a lecture.”
Faculty attended many trainings on teaching with this student-focused approach. Classes were interactive, and students had assignments designed to demonstrate their learning. “And it worked,” says Marinich, who taught a wide variety of classes in his career including sociology, computers, and history. “This set the culture of HCC being a truly student-oriented institution of higher education, and that has continued throughout the years.”
While faculty at some institutions might feel competing pressures to publish papers or take on additional responsibilities, at HCC, teaching and supporting students has always remained the top priority, says Turner. Starting from the early years, faculty members constantly evaluated their challenges and success, and shared what was working.
“We met every week as a faculty to talk about all kinds of things,” Turner says. “Because we were building this campus and this institution, we had a lot to discuss.”
This student-focused approach to teaching made all the difference for alumni like Wayne Jenkins, AA ’77, who enrolled at HCC in 1972 and studied in what was then a brand-new biomedical engineering technology program.
“HCC gave me a direction in my life,” Jenkins says. “Being a young married kid just out of high school, not knowing what you’re going to do, and having a family with responsibilities – you have to get yourself grounded. That’s what this program and professors did. They gave me that drive and that foundation to be a better person and have a career that has been unbelievable.”
Through his courses, Jenkins gained hands-on experience fixing equipment like ventilators, patient monitors, and lab machines in a hospital and learned how to work effectively with nurses. He also recalls a seminar on human potential with Professor Peggy Armitage that resonated throughout his career. “She helped me and all the students realize that inside of us, we could be more than what we thought we could be,” Jenkins says. “It gave me the confidence to go out and do what I knew I wanted to do.”
A few years after graduating with his associate degree, Jenkins took what he learned to pitch Carroll Hospital on why they should hire their own in-house biomedical engineering staff to maintain equipment more effectively and efficiently. He got the job and launched the hospital’s BioMed program, managing it for 40 years. During his tenure, Jenkins also continued to hire other HCC alumni from the same program.
“Looking back on the past 50 years, I’m amazed at how well the college has expanded, and I hope that continues,” he says. “I am so grateful that HCC’s faculty was there to point me in the direction of a career that gave me purpose and made a great life for me and my family.”
A Place for Everyone
Today, one standout quality of HCC is the diversity of its student body. Reflecting the greater Howard County community, students come from a broad range of ages, races, and backgrounds, including representation from over 110 countries.
HCC’s beginning student body also brought together people with different backgrounds from the local community and beyond. From fresh high school graduates to older students with children to international students, classes reflected Columbia’s ideals of diversity from the start.
Chuck Sharp, who earned an associate of arts as part of HCC’s first graduating class of 1972, had just returned from serving in the U.S. Army in Germany when he enrolled at the college. “When I left for the Army, Columbia was on paper,” he says. “When I got back, it was a reality. And I think the diversity came from the county transitioning from an agricultural county to a more urban county via Columbia.”
Sharp grew up on a dairy farm in Glenwood and continued working on the farm while taking classes. “Every morning I got up to milk the cows, ran up the house, took a shower, went to take my classes, and went back home to milk the cows,” he says.
Despite the busy schedule, Sharp enjoyed his experience at HCC so much that he got involved with starting a veterans’ club and served as student government president. He also continued taking classes even after receiving his associate degree in general studies, learning skills in areas like residential construction and retail sales.
“I benefited immensely from the retailing class,” says Sharp, who continued running his family farm and turned Sharp’s at Waterford Farm into a destination for educational farm tours, events, and market goods with his wife, Denise, whom Sharp met while attending HCC. “I ran into the professor years later and told her, she made me more money than anything else I had studied.”
Innovation and Responsiveness
From establishing a renowned nursing education program in the 1970s to pivoting to fully remote classes and services in 2020 to address the coronavirus pandemic, HCC has long demonstrated the ability to meet community and student needs and to tackle challenges with creativity and tenacity.
Staff and faculty spearheaded many efforts to encourage student scholarship and growth that continue today, such as establishing specialized honors programs, pairing students with staff and faculty mentors through the Step UP program, and launching an undergraduate research program to provide hands-on research experiences and publication opportunities.
HCC also established a strong cultural arts presence, hosting its own professional theatre in residence, Rep Stage, and attracting high-profile exhibits including Rodin sculptures.
With growing opportunities in trade occupations, HCC continues to expand its apprenticeship programs to provide students with paid, on-the-job experience and training while earning a certificate.
Partnerships with the Howard County Public School System and four-year universities in the region also have strengthened HCC’s ability to serve dual enrolled high school students and to help students transfer to a university to earn a bachelor’s degree.
As executive and professional coaching began emerging as a popular career choice, HCC offered a coaching certificate program, attracting new students like Kashonna Holland, AA ’17, Cert. ‘17.
“I was excited because I knew that it would take my business to the next level,” says Holland, who serves as a coach, motivational speaker, and author as president and CEO of Simply Kashonna. “I was already operating as a coach, but I believe in sharpening my skills to become better. After graduating from the program, it did exactly what I anticipated. My business was made better because of the amazingly knowledgeable instructors and hands-on experience. As a result of that, I have increased my coaching business clientele and revenue.”
Just as HCC’s earliest students found support and flexibility from faculty, staff, and peers, Holland found her experience also reflected the college’s dedication to meeting the needs of its students.
“As an adult nontraditional student with a very active family and working as a full-time entrepreneur, amongst other community involvement, it was important to find a program that would allow me to flourish and provide me with flexibility,” says the 2017 graduate.
Fifty years after its founding, the college continues to demonstrate the importance of lifelong learning envisioned by Jim Rouse and continues to embody the timeless mission of providing pathways to success for all students.
As Former First Lady Michelle Obama said during a 2015 visit to the college, “Howard Community College is one of the stars.”