Black to the future |

Black to the future

Steve Puterski
Sherry Black started Jan. 20 as the director of the Fallon campus of Western Nevada College and spoke about her goals and the challenges facing the school.
Steve Puterski / | LVN

There is much to be done, and it starts at the top.

In December, Sherry Black was tabbed as director of the Fallon campus of Western Nevada College.

On Jan. 20 Black, 52, officially took the reins and aims to propel Fallon’s brand forward. As the leader of the campus, Black bares the responsibility for her plans charging ahead.

Her first week back in Fallon, though, has been one of excitement and relief, as Black spent the past two years commuting to the Carson City campus as the director of Career Technical Education (CTE).

“It’s been great,” she said of her first week. “The Fallon campus holds a special place in my heart for many reasons, but most of all because Fallon is my home.”

Getting the nod

Black was just one of a number of candidates vying for the coveted position at the Fallon campus. Already in place as director of CTE in Carson City, plus her four decades of experience at WNC made her an ideal candidate.

The WNC brass agreed and hired Black to take command of the Fallon campus.

“Obviously, Fallon is very important to the college,” WNC President Chet Burton said. “Through the budget cuts the last several years, some of the needs have been neglected, and I’ve heard that loud and clear. Sherry, with her years with the college … was just the perfect person to step in and reverse that decline.”

As a result, Black has numerous plans to drive community support, class expansion and enrollment.

“Students matter and the public matters,” she said. “We want them to feel welcome and that we have something to provide them.”

She said an advance welding class is full, is working to establish Emergency Medical Services (EMS), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) classes and grow the online presence of the school.

“For example we met with the fire department and what they are asking for is an EMS class,” Black said. “It’s not easy for them to take a traditional class … what we are working on is a three- or four-weekend EMS class. If you have 10 firemen that are certified, that’s better for our community.”

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges, though, is re-establishing WNC’s commitment to the Fallon campus, Black said.

She aims to increase the “customer support” as everyone employed at the school represents the vision and goals of WNC.

Black said engaging the community is a top priority as is continuing to grow partnerships with local businesses, the Churchill County School District and city and county agencies, among others.

“The campus has suffered from bad press as far as when we were faced with some tough budget issues a few years ago,” she explained. “The community got the impression we were going to close and that it wasn’t supported.”

Part of her public relations drive is reaffirming the residents their campus is here to stay.

“The college as a whole has always supported all the campus,” Black said. “The community needs to know we are here for them because this college is all about the community. It’s nothing without this community.”

Long term, Black said focusing on construction and other programs and classes centered on the wave of new businesses such as Tesla coming to Northern Nevada is imperative for WNC to help establish and educate the workforce.

WNC offers a bachelor’s program, the only one at the school, in construction management and leads to an infrastructure need.

“I’m hoping to bring some of the construction program here so that our students and community can be prepare for those types of positions,” Black explained. “Construction is on the rise, it’s slow, but it’s going to hit and when it hits, we need people prepare to take those jobs.”

In addition, Black has already engaged Churchill County High School, which has a construction class, about possibilities of transitioning those students into WNC.

Much like the construction hopes, Black is also excited about the Jump Start Program in conjunction with CCHS. The program allows high school juniors and seniors, who have academically qualified, to take college courses and earn dual credit to their diplomas and Associate’s Degree.

“We have about 36-40 students,” Black added. “When they move on to college, they already have a big chunk of their classes financially and academically done. We have great instructors teaching that.”

On March 17 from 9 a.m.-noon, WNC is partnering with the Churchill Economic Development Authority and CCHS for a job preparation summit for about 160 CTE students.

Black said the event will cover resumes, interview preparation, guess speakers and workshops.

Burton, though, said WNC has also been in discussions with Naval Air Station Fallon about courses for junior sailors and dependents of those stationed at the base.

“Years ago we had classes for active military and dependents and that went away after 9/11,” Burton said. “We’ve been in discussions with folks on the base about educational needs there.”

Adapting to the times

As the Internet continues to grow and becomes more ingrained in society, colleges and universities are adapting to students’ needs.

In addition, institutions are working to adapt to varying schedules and timetables for its students.

At WNC, Black said about 20-25 percent of the total enrollment takes courses online, which the brass has taken notice.

Like the EMS class, Black said it is critical to discover new ways of offering classes to allow for increased enrollment.

“When I was CTE director, I was trying to deliver the classes for the students, not put the classes up and the students will come. It’s when do the students need classes and what I’m finding is short-term classes and weekend classes, they tend to do really well.”

Black said flexibility from WNC is imperative as well as continuing to grow their classes online.

In her career, she said the tone of how, what and when students can attend class has shifted “a lot.” Black said finding ways to create availability for adults who may have jobs, raising children or other obligations is key for WNC’s continued success.

“Students want the flexibility,” she added. “The beauty of an online class is you can do it in your jammies and fuzzy slippers. We’ve seen nationally with online classes and it’s not any different here.”

Budget concerns

Although Black’s travel schedule will significantly reduce, her responsibilities grow as WNC faces numerous challenges starting with Gov. Brian Sandoval’s education plan.

The second-term governor announced last week his plan to lift the Silver State out of the educational doldrums, but no increased funding was allocated for community colleges.

Sandoval’s plan calls for an $800 million-plus increase in K-12 education, a medical school at UNLV and $13 million for the Desert Research Institution in Reno.

But like the drought squeezing the agriculture sector, WNC and its brethren are also coming up dry.

The lack of financial support from the governor stung, Black said.

“We’re disappointed that the governor didn’t recommend any more of the bridge funds to help with community college funding,” she added. “It puts us in a difficult position. When I talk about reaffirming to the community that our college is solid, it makes it difficult.”

In 2013, the formula funding model was initiated and significantly reduce funding for the rural colleges, Burton said.

To “so-call” mitigate those cuts, he said the stated gave WNC $2.3 million, which would evaporate next school year with Sandoval’s proposal.

Burton, though, is requesting a step-down process to $1.1 million in 2016 and $850,000 in 2017 to allow time for WNC to find other sources of revenue.

“It gives us more time to implement things like we trying to do in Fallon,” he added. “One reason I carved out money in the budget for Sherry is to meet the needs of the community and grow enrollment, which is what we need to do under the formula funding model.”

Black said “It would behoove” every community college in the state to join forces and lobby to alter the proposal so those institutions can receive their funding.

She stressed it’s her and WNC’s goal to take care of students, although she said Burton and others are working diligently with different legislators.

“There is nothing in stone at this point, but he is on it,” Black said of Burton. “For quite a while now, our college has been operating by doing more with less and although that speaks loudly to the dedication of the WNC personnel, it isn’t ideal for the optimum success of our institution.”

Road to the top

Black, a native of Elko, earned her undergraduate degree in Business Finance and Master’s in Counseling and Educational Psychology, both from the University of Nevada, Reno in the 1980s.

She started at WNC in a part-time capacity from 1987-90, and was hired full time in 1990 as a counselor.

Her duties as counselor included financial aid, course advisement, placement testing, scholarships, Associated Students of Western Nevada (ASWN) advisor and student government advisor.

As a professor, Black taught human development, education and counseling courses.

She then transitioned to a lead faculty position for six years covering social science, education, humanities, criminal justice and public service, where she also evaluated instructors and developed class schedules.

Black then returned to the classroom three years ago when she taught at the Fallon campus at night and online, and worked as a counselor in Carson City.

Continuing to climb the WNC ladder, Black took over as the director of CTE two years ago and commuted to Carson City. The job oversaw nursing, liberal arts and CTE, which covers business, education, human development, welding, automotive and criminal justice.

“It’s a very large and expansive area,” Black said. “It was extremely exciting.”

Once the Fallon director’s position became available, Black applied, citing for several reasons including she resides here and started her career at the Fallon campus.

“I think I can help recommit the Fallon (campus) to the community,” she said. “It’s just a great opportunity.”