Dundalk provides 'work-force literacy'

One on one

January 07, 1991

One on one is a weekly feature offering excerpts of interviews conducted by The Evening Sun with newsworthy business and civic leaders. Martha A. Smith is president of Dundalk Community College.

Q. You recently received an award from the Regional Council of Governments for your work with the council and at Dundalk Community College. Can you briefly describe this work?

A. They linked it (the award) to my participation in the Strategic Assessment Advisory Committee, which was put together maybe a year ago.

Q. Could you tell me about that?

A. Yes. The idea was to establish some indicators that the Baltimore region could look at, on maybe an annual basis, to indicate how well the region is doing....We compared this region with 30 other metropolitan areas across the country. We looked at things like infrastructure, transportation, economic vitality, entrepreneurship -- how healthy we were in those areas -- and family and social concerns like infant mortality and recreation. We identified a number of them in this fairly lengthy report.

Q. Can you summarize what you found? How healthy are we?

A. There's the usual good news/bad news scenario. And I think overall, the Baltimore region is very positive, very healthy....In terms of business vitality, business start-up, business retention -- that's pretty healthy. The educational climate and environment -- very healthy in terms of research universities....But in terms of public education, secondary, it has some work to do, primarily given the fact of the high drop-out rate in the City of Baltimore....The issue of disparity is a real problem for us regionally. Another thing that I was particularly interested in was the level of entrepreneurship among minorities and women, which is lower than our comparable metropolitan areas. Our reputation for a low cost of living is really losing credibility, so we're losing ground in that area....Of two major problems, one involves family/social concerns, such as the very high infant mortality, teen-age pregnancy, and drug abuse on that side, and then the public education issue in terms of disparity and drop-out rate. Those are the two areas that we need to work on.

Q. I understand you also were recognized for your work here at the community college. Could you tell me about that?

A. I'm most proud of the work that Dundalk Community College has done in work-force training. I think that's been very extensive. The college, itself, has been a pioneer in the state and I would be so bold as to say in the country in work-force training.

Q. Give me an example of that program.

A. We started about eight or nine years ago going out and talking to CEOs and directors of community development to see what should we be doing....We have a mandate and a mission that is very different from other segments of higher education, so we are charged to be responsive and on top of what's happening. In fact, for the first couple of years in the early 1980s, this college was the leader among the state's 17 community colleges in the number and kinds of customized training and courses for business and industry.

Q. As you started talking to these businesses leaders, what did you find that they were asking you to do?

A. They were asking us to do two levels of work. One was to provide for specific skills and upgrades and those were mainly along the lines of basic skills -- reading, writing and math. Translated: "work-force literacy." One of those pioneer programs with General Motors, called the GM/UAW/DCC/GED, was one of the first projects where management, labor and an educational institution got together and said, "This is a problem, this work-force literacy, and we're going to work together and solve it." And so GM took the lead in providing time during the work day for their employees to participate in GED (General Equivalency Diploma) courses. It was very successful, close to a 90 percent graduation rate. That program is continuing and has been expanded to other business and industry.

Q. What else were businesses asking you to do?

A. Many of the businesses did not know what they needed, so the other level was for us to move in with design teams, assessment teams, to help them determine what kinds of skills or knowledge their workers needed to do their jobs today and in the future...And for that process we used what we call DACUM. This is an acronym standing for Developing a Curriculum. And we have about 26 career programs at Dundalk Community College....The guts of the DACUM process is getting 12 to 15 experts in the field, spending two days with our facilitators to identify precisely what kinds of skills, knowledge and abilities they need to perform a certain job. We take that and then work with it to develop a training education program designed to provide those skills.

Q. How successful do you think you've been in the programs that you've begun?

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