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An interview with the president of Lone Star College-CyFair

November 26, 2018

Seelpa Keshvala has been the president of Lone Star College-CyFair since March 2016. Keshvala previously served as president of Warsaw Campus of Ivy Tech Community College, as well as vice chancellor and executive dean. She has a doctorate in urban education with a concentration in educational administration, a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction and a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Keshvala answered questions about the current state of LSC-CyFair as 2018 comes to an end.

Since you started your term as president, how much has LSC-CyFair and its programs changed?

Over 80 percent of our students here at LSC-CyFair are transfer-intended students, which means that they are pursuing an associate of science or an Associate of Arts degree in some fashion, just generally speaking. Those programs are pretty set. Our opportunity, in terms of expanded programming and new programming is in the area of workforce. We’ve added new programs in IT, such as mobile app development, and we’ve also added cybersecurity and we’ve also added programming in visual communication, like web design and 3D animation, just to name a few of the programs in those two areas. These two areas are actually going to be housed at our new Westway Park Technology Center which is scheduled to open in Jan. 2019.

What are some of the larger challenges LSC-CyFair has seen since 2016?

The biggest challenge that we’ve experienced since I’ve been here is Hurricane Harvey. …What has been remarkable is our Lone Star College Foundation’s response to our employees and our students. For example, the foundation has awarded over $1 million to students who were impacted by Hurricane Harvey and the foundation also provided several hundred thousands of dollars to help our employees who were impacted. That is pretty impressive, but that has definitely by far been the biggest challenge.

…After Hurricane Harvey hit, I intentionally went to every office and met with whoever was there in terms of employees and there were employees who were here who had lost everything and were coming to work. I would say, “You know, you don’t have to be here, you can be at home and we are here to support you.” They wanted to be here because it provided a sense of normalcy to all of what was not normal. We even had students coming to campus. We had a student come and ride his tractor to the campus because he wanted to get to class. Our instructors thought that if our students are doing everything they can to come to class, how can they not come to class and teach?

I’ve never experienced anything like a hurricane. I’m from the midwest and I can do snow all day long. Water is a different situation, but I’ve never seen a community come together so closely and so sincerely like I’ve seen here. It’s remarkable.

…We were asked to be a shelter here. (Our police chief) asked me to put out a call for donations because if we’re going to have a shelter we want to have some donations to give folks in the community who are suffering. I put out an email and there was an overwhelming response ... We didn’t even really have a place to put all of what was coming in in terms of donations, and I was explicit in saying we need blankets and pillows and we got it. It filled the whole health sciences center, the whole first floor of the building. Then, we partnered with Cy-Fair ISD to kind of combine it after the fact and keep it in the community in terms of donations that we’re still giving back after the fact.

How does LSC-CyFair give back to the local community?

We have a blended library, the Harris County Public Library. Our patrons in the community are coming to this branch, which is great for us as a college because they’re prospective students that get to see the college and that’s always great. You don’t know who’s a student and who’s a patron, so it truly is a blended concept.

We also offer a Small Business Development Center. That’s another excellent resource because we offer no-cost services to business owners here in the Cy-Fair community. We also have our Academy for Lifelong Learning, our ALL program, which essentially offers enrichment courses for individuals in our community who are age 50 or better. We also offer some community leadership programs like Leadership North Houston. Lone Star College partners with local area chambers of commerce and intentionally try to train the upcoming leaders within various organizations for the betterment of our community. That’s another partnership that we have and value that I think has added to the community.

The other thing that’s really great is our college theater. We offer low-cost shows and performances to the community where our students are often times the actors. That’s another wonderful resource. We’re going to be partnering with Stageworks Theatre to offer some theater performances that we wouldn’t have offered otherwise. That’s a really unique partnership that started this academic year.

As Cy-Fair expands, are there any steps LSC-CF is taking to receive the growing population?

Lone Star College has been very proactive to know what the growth is going to be looking like, well before I got here. As a result of our bond (in) 2014, LSC-CyFair has two new buildings. Our Center for Academic and Student Engagement, which is our CASE building, opened up last fall to accommodate the growth that we were seeing and that we are experiencing. But, then our Westway Park Technology Center, which will open in Jan. 2019, is also a result of our bond 2014 and to accommodate the growth and the real specialized focus on workforce center of excellence.

We’ve been very proactive in that regard, but the other thing is that we are not at capacity yet here at the campus. We still have capacity to grow both at the main campus and at our centers. We are also increasing various modes of instructional delivery so we can ensure that we’re meeting demand. We’re doing pretty good in this area. We still have room to grow.

We’re good at Cy-Fair because we have the two new buildings as a result of bond 2014 and we’re not at capacity, but as a system we are opening up a new college. It was called College Seven but now it’s called Lone Star College-Houston North. It’s going to be combining some of our centers. Greenspoint and Fairbanks Center, which is part of LSC-CyFair, is going to be part of Houston North as well as Victory Center as well as East Aldine. These centers going to be coming together. It’s going to be our seventh college and it’s a very intentional focus to help our students who are underperforming, doing some really innovative programming to help them be successful and to also accommodate growth too.

We actually grew 1 percent this past fall here at Cy-Fair. We’re at 22,453 students here at this campus. We’re getting big. It’s larger than some four-year schools.

LSC-CyFair has many non-traditional courses that offer certification and professional development in specific fields, like IT and the fire academy. What value do these programs provide?

Part of our mission here as a comprehensive community college is obviously to be responsive to the needs of our community, which includes employers. We work really closely with employers to ensure we are developing the talent pipeline for the jobs that exist both today and in the future. So many of our students, once they graduate, are staying in the local community, securing jobs in their fields of study and contributing to the local economy. Our nurses are a great example of that. The IT professionals. Our fire academy students are securing jobs here and staying in the community. We are training for jobs that exist today and in the future.

The other thing that’s really great about that is the individual who secures his certificate, like a workforce credential, a short-term credential, if they decide that after working in the field that they want to come back and add to that, we offer stackable credentials. So you can get another certificate, which leads them to an associates degree. In the IT area, we’re going to soon offer a bachelors of applied technology degree.

…We are the community’s college and we are to be responsive and provide the access and affordability to anyone who wants to go onto higher education. It’s a different philosophy than a four-year college, but this is a model. This is a model of what we aspire for in our sector, for a place like this. To have the resources that we have, the quality faculty and staff that are dedicated and passionate about serving students. I have to pinch myself sometimes. I get to work here.

chevall.pryce@chron.com

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