Western Nevada College’s president is bullish on Fallon.
Vincent Solis touted the role of WNC and its commitment to rural Nevada during a presentation at the August breakfast of the Churchill Economic Development Agency’s Business Council.
Solis, who became WNC’s president in 2018, brings more than 25 years of service in higher education. He attended Chemeketa Community College and then Texas A&M-Kingsville where he received his Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Sociology. He earned a Master of Science in psychology, and his Doctorate in bilingual education.
Before coming to Nevada, Solis said he lived in an area similar to the Lahontan Valley. Driving into Fallon for the breakfast, he took note of the early morning activity of a small, rural area.
“At 6:15 this morning, I look over to my right, and I see farmers in the field working the land,” he described. “Then I go a little further out and truckers are picking up the feed and taking it to the rest of the places. These folks are already out there working.”
Solis called their dedication part of the community spirit of working hard, being committed to the mission and ensuring places like Fallon and other communities succeed.
“The rural mission continues to be central to what we do,” Solis said, showing a correlation between the two.
During the coronavirus pandemic, Solis said decisions were made to cut some of WNC’s budget, but Fallon was not affected. During the Great Recession between 2007-2009, the Fallon campus took several major hits to reduce its course offerings and faculty, but not this time.
Solis said Fallon endured it share of cost-cutting measures during the Great Recession, and he didn’t see the need for it. He said Fallon's campus is operating in the black and is doing well within its budget thanks to Holly OToole, the Fallon Campus and Rural Outreach director, and the executive team. He said everyone has donned multiple hats to ensure the campus mission succeeds.
“We have over 300 students, but more than half come from Oasis and our partnership with Churchill (Churchill County High School),” Solis said. “The dynamics of what we are doing is changing.”
Solis said the partnership developed between WNC and the two high schools, Oasis Academy and Churchill County, has resulted in the Jump Start program where students can earn both high school credits and a two-year degree.
The program has generated interest with its results. Solis said the normal success rate for WNC’s non high-school students is about 30 to 35%, and the best community colleges show a 40% success rate. The Fallon campus students, he said, shows 97%.
“Those numbers are off the charts,” he pointed out.
Solis said 120 students have graduated with both associates and high-school degrees and, at the same, time, avoided debt. The WNC president said he would like to see this model replicated for the rest of WNC’s service area and the entire state.
“When we’re talking about investing limited resources, what would you rather have as a taxpayer, 35% return on your investment or 97% return on your investment," Solis rhetorically asked. “What happens in Fallon works.”
It’s the thinking outside the box which has helped both WNC and Oasis. Several months ago, WNC and Oasis entered into an arrangement for the academy to rent classroom space in Piñon Hall for its high-school aged students. Rochelle Tisdale, executive director of the College Prep High School, engaged Dr. J. Kyle Dalpe, WNC’s provost and vice president of Finance, with a discussion on New Year’s Eve about the academy using space in the hall. One discussion led to another, and both schools agreed on a plan for Oasis to rent the building for its secondary students.
The Fallon campus agreed to rent space for 167 freshmen through senior students. The hall’s floor plan shows nine large classrooms, two smaller ones in the center of the building, office space and a lounge. Smaller offices for faculty were built into the original floor plan.
“It’s been fun working with you and building a strong relationship and strong program,” Tisdale said.
Tisdale, though, expressed her dismay with the coronavirus and how it has been affecting the regular school concept of having students fill the seats; instead, many students may have to attend classes via distance learning.
“Let’s hope COVID dies,” she said.
For the time being, though, freshman and sophomore students will be in classes in Piñon Hall while many of the junior and senior students will be in the main WNC building taking their college-level courses.
“Everything we’ve been doing is about the students and getting things done,” Dalpe said.
Dalpe said the relationship among WNC, Oasis and Churchill County High School keeps the community relationship going. He calls WNC Fallon a robust campus as it and the community both continue to grow.
He commended Tisdale for her tenacity in wanting to rent Piñon Hall even with the coronavirus pandemic.
“Rochelle wanted to keep the project going, and we worked it out,” he added.
Jeffrey Downs, vice president of Student Success and Support Services and mathematics professor, is familiar with the plight of the WNC campus and how it climbed out of the ashes like a Phoenix during the recession. He echoed Dalpe’s assessment.
“I really appreciate the partnerships we’ve been developing,” he said.
Downs, who taught math on the Fallon campus, said the partnership with Oasis speaks to the spirit of the community.
O’Toole thanked the WNC administration for their support, but she recognized the work of former WNC deans Bus Scharmann and Michelle Dondero who believed in the college’s mission and put their efforts into keeping a viable campus in Fallon.
Attendees also received a tour of Piñon Hall after the presentation.