June 24th, 2019

ken trzaskaGUEST COLUMN, Dr. Ken Trzaska, SCCC President


Geographically, Kansas lies at the heart of the United States, critically important but often overlooked. National attention rarely comes, unless natural disasters prompt an emergency. In this week’s issue of the “New Yorker” magazine, the writer Ian Frazier shares his experiences on the High Plains after the extreme wildfires of 2017. 

The story is long, and familiar if you live in this part of the world. Since I came to Seward County Community College in 2015, I have learned a little bit about tornados, straight line winds, snow that falls “sideways” instead of piling up like it did in the upper peninsula of Michigan, where I lived for several years. I have also learned about the dangers of prairie fires, which are all too common in the area that SCCC serves. 

In a nutshell, that ever-present danger to rural communities and family farms is why SCCC partnered with Seward County Fire & Rescue to start a Resident Firefighter program this fall. Rumors around town have suggested that the program is a burden on taxpayers, a free ride for college students.           

However, it’s exactly the opposite. The program’s big vision is to equip a new generation of community firefighters who can protect their hometowns, and their neighbors’ homes. 

As the economic winds change over time, the real winds never stop. The oil boom and bust cycle, the emergence of new technology that automates process, and the constant struggle to keep young people in the regions means Southwest Kansas and the Oklahoma Panhandle face a dangerous and expensive pair of problems. Wildfires aren’t going to stop, even if the volunteer firefighter crews number nearly nothing. At the same time, staffing fire stations requires money. 

Bringing in more personnel and equipment would mean increases in the tax burden far beyond the investment in the new partnership program. In Seward County, the fire and rescue department is a tax-levying entity, which means it can increase the mill levy if necessary. How much better is it to train young, motivated firefighters who are ready and willing to serve for the two years they attend SCCC, and open a pathway for them to stay in the area? To Fire Chief Andrew Barkley, our Vice President of Academics, Dr. Todd Carter, our board of trustees, and me, the answer is clear. 

Outsiders like the writers and publishers of the “New Yorker” magazine might find it hard to understand our way of life, but this community continues to impress me with its “can do” spirit and its famous generosity. Instead of watching the formation of our new resident firefighter program at SCCC with grudging suspicion, I hope to see the people of Seward County and the region cheer us on. We want to give back to our communities, and so do our resident firefighters. 

As we move forward institutionally and look forward to ground-breaking for the Colvin Family Allied Health Center and, soon after, the Sharp Family Champions Center, the college and the community are poised to flourish. As we near September 2019, and the 50th anniversary of the first set of students to enroll at SCCC, we are anticipating celebration. 

Along the way, the everyday work continues. Our Saints athletes in tennis and volleyball are contending at the national level, and men’s and women’s basketball teams are off to a brilliant start. Enrollment is open for spring, and we are eager to welcome students back, and introduce new students to the “Seward County Way.” We were also one the colleges that experienced an increase in overall enrollment this year, a testament to the diligent and collaborative work by our campus team. We were also one of the Kansas colleges that experienced an increase in overall enrollment this year, a testament to the diligent and collaborate work by our full campus team.

It’s often said that there is a time for everything, and we see the truth of that at SCCC. This is a time to build, and, with our resident firefighter program, a time to preserve and protect. When you see those red fire trucks parked on the south edge of campus, you know your community college is looking out for you, now and in the future. 

Pick your language/Elige su idioma