EMPOWERING EDUCATION: River Parishes Community College dean wants more St. John student participation

Published 12:08 am Saturday, March 17, 2018

RESERVE — With his heart set on pursuing welding, Lutcher High School senior Jeremiah Jackson visited River Parishes Community College in Reserve Wednesday to survey educational and career opportunities at a community fair showcase.

He said representatives from Shell and Turner Industries were able to answer his questions about the workforce outlook and degree options, helping him plan out his postsecondary education.

Jackson was one of the prospective students who turned out for the CMT Empowering Education Tour’s RPCC Reserve Campus event, which featured an industry fair, testimonials from former students and a free concert from Louisiana native country singer Courtney Cole.

Drawing a crowd of about 75 people, the event was successful, according to Campus Dean Penelope Shumaker. However, she said it left a lot to be desired in terms of participation from St. John the Baptist Parish students.

Lutcher High School senior Jeremiah Jackson, center, poses with family members Lashana Jackson, left, and Zamecca Stafford while visiting the career fair.

The statewide Empowering Education tour featuring Cole is a multifaceted partnership between CMT, Louisiana Community and Technical Colleges System and Louisiana Calling aimed to increase the number of work ready residents in Louisiana.

Only six high school prospective students entered a scholarship drawing and were subsequently awarded $1,000 each, according to Shumaker. Five of the six entries came from motivated students in St. James and St. Charles parishes, leaving just one St. John Parish scholarship recipient.

“We had a good turnout, but it’s disheartening that we didn’t have more participation from the students,” Shumaker said.

She said job opportunities are awaiting local students who earn degrees or certification.

“Local industry wants to hire local people, and they’ve said they don’t have a big enough pool to hire from in the technical college system,” Shumaker said.

Courtney Cole performs a free concert to a crowd of approximately 75 people as part of CMT’s Empowering Education Tour.

The local potential student population and prominence of industry careers are reasons the Reserve college was chosen for the Empowering Education tour, according to workforce development chairman Mike Palamore.

Shumaker attended Thursday’s School Board meeting to open lines of communication and brainstorm ways to get St. John Parish students involved.

Other participants who turned out for the industry fair before the concert were current students, including instrumentation student Vanessa Faucheux.

Having previously obtained a general studies degree, Faucheux learned of South Central Louisiana Technical College Reserve, now known as River Parishes Community College, at Shell’s Date with Destiny women’s career and education forum.

Faucheux said studying instrumentation is fine-tuning the qualities that make her hirable.

RPCC student Vanessa Faucheux learns more about Turner Industries.

Four former students shared their success stories during a panel to highlight the value of a technical college experience.

Recent graduate Keiara Neal studied business office administration and quickly secured the title of campus technical program coordinator.

After two unsuccessful years at Southern University balanced with raising her young daughter, Neal was left discouraged.

During the panel, she spoke about how she regained control of her education in Reserve with an amazing campus support system.

“The instructors get that life happens,” Neal said.

“They work with you and your schedule. It truly is a different experience from a university. It’s more intimate. They take you on like you’re their child and want you to succeed.”

With new River Parish Community College degree programs coming in May with the finalization of the merge between SCLTC and RRCC, Shumaker said the Reserve campus has a lot to offer.

New programs include but are not limited to criminal justice, arts and humanities, general studies and physical sciences, Shumaker said.

A significant new addition is the Louisiana Transfer Degree Program, which allows students to earn their associate’s degree close to home before transferring to a four-year university.

Shumaker said the program eases a student’s transition to college and saves a considerable amount of money.

Campus coordinator Carin Fernandez said she hopes Empowering Education lessons on the value and flexibility of technical college also reached older, nontraditional students who are unemployed or underemployed.