A Publication of WTVP

A recent article in the EDUCAUSE journal suggested 11 strategic challenges for higher education. Listed among these challenges is the ability to develop strategic alliances with others. These alliances can take many forms. They can be partnerships between sister community colleges or community colleges and four-year institutions. They can be collaborations between business and industry and the community college. They can involve high school districts, legislators, private citizens, or non-profit agencies. Today, Illinois Central College is involved in all of these. Last month, however, we celebrated a key strategic alliance: partners that made the addition to the Agricultural & Industrial Technologies building a reality.

The construction of the AIT addition was made possible only through the collaboration of several entities. Rep. David Leitch; Sen. George Shadid; Caterpillar; Lee and Mary Morgan; the Illinois Central College Educational Foundation, through the generous support of area businesses and individuals; and the State of Illinois all invested time, intellectual capital, and real dollars into making the building a reality. While it’s easy to take this collaboration for granted, this project was possible only because each of the players shared the same vision and coveted the same goal for central Illinois: creating a high-tech facility and a relevant curriculum for students interested in agricultural and industrial careers.

The addition to the building provides central Illinois with a learning place for specialized vocations and professions. Within the structure are high-tech classrooms that meet the needs of a multitude of professions. Welding, electronics, automotive, and diesel-powered engine technology labs provide hands-on learning for students who will serve our state in the industrial sector. State-of-the-art multimedia classrooms, computerized graphic design studios, and graphics labs are available for those who will present and process much of the information we take for granted. Sophisticated computer-assisted design labs prepare students for careers in drafting, engineering, mechanical engineering, and architecture. Soil labs provide experience for those who will seek careers in agriculture and agribusiness. The variety and kind of learning that goes on in the new AIT building is awesome.

The key point is that members from various parts of the community worked together to make this building a reality. There was a radio commercial playing in the eastern U.S. that touted the kinds of jobs a building like AIT produces. The spot asked questions like, "Can a surgeon form the steel that creates a skyscraper? Can an MBA repair a million-dollar tractor?" The spot asked several questions like these and then answered with the professions that can accomplish these Herculean tasks. The point was not to disparage professions in business or medicine, but to acknowledge that all of us rely on those who work with their hands in skilled trades, agriculture, and industry more than we think.

We might ask another set of questions: Can a legislator build an AIT addition? Can a retired executive and his wife teach hundreds of students about industrial electronics? Can the state give a young person a career in mechanical engineering? Can a foundation show people how to produce interactive CDs? Can an industrial giant teach a person how to repair sophisticated machinery? The answer is a resounding "yes" when they come together to create a partnership of knowledge and resources that result in programs such as AIT.

Will creating strategic alliances be a challenge of the future? You bet, but ICC and central Illinois already have a good model in the AIT collaboration on which to build. IBI