Dundalk president welcomes challenge

Head of 2-year college, the smallest in system, moves toward changes

January 13, 2000|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

While Eugenia Proulx was preparing in August to take over as president of Dundalk's community college, her mother came to visit and asked a favor: Could they visit Martell Avenue?

Proulx believed it to be a curious request, but the two drove to the street. Suddenly, she noticed tears in her 74-year-old mother's eyes. Only then did Proulx discover that her parents had begun their married life more than 50 years ago in a modest home a few blocks from the Dundalk campus.

Proulx tells the story often to illustrate her connection to the gritty blue-collar community that is home to the smallest campus of the Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC).

Whether building new partnerships with steel workers in a union hall or honor students at the local high school, Proulx is spreading the gospel.

"Part of my job is bringing people into our learning experience," she said. "That can mean a retiring steel worker who wants to learn computers, or a student who earns college credits while still in high school."

Proulx is one of three campus presidents hired by Chancellor Irving Pressley McPhail in June to form a leadership team for Maryland's largest two-year college system, with an enrollment of 60,000 students.

"She will help establish a new niche for the Dundalk campus," said McPhail. "And Gena brings a talent of collaborative work from her former post, a single-college, multicampus system like CCBC. And her academic background is strong."

Teamed with Andrew Jones, president of the Catonsville campus, and R. Wayne Branch, head of the Essex campus, Proulx is expected to revise course offerings and help boost enrollment and the school's reputation.

Officials say Proulx faces the biggest challenge. Dundalk has about 4,000 full- and part-time students, and until recently, had an uncertain future.

During a contentious reorganization of the campuses three years ago, rumors persisted that the Board of Trustees, nudged by county officials, would close Dundalk because of declining enrollment. The campus was spared when the schools were merged.

Proulx, 54, arrives well-prepared for sensibilities of Dundalk. During her previous assignment as vice president for academic affairs at Erie Community College in upstate New York, three schools were merged into a single system.

A former colleague, Salvatore Manuele, who succeeded Proulx at Erie, said she was a "high-energy, dedicated" executive who promoted academics and economic development. While there, Manuele said, Proulx worked with local officials to develop the Advanced Training Center, an off-site facility dedicated to work-force training.

Proulx's description of Lackawanna, site of one of three Erie campuses, could apply to Dundalk. She said a steel mill closed, while another steel plant and several factories laid off thousands of workers. As in Lackawanna, demographic projections for Dundalk show no population growth.

"Sadly, Lackawanna was dying," Proulx said. "There were the same tugs and pulls, challenges for us to change and meet the needs of new students. Things are not as bad in Dundalk, but the work force here has been reduced by tens of thousands."

Dundalk needs to adapt to educational requirements of a changing population, she said. "Degrees aren't as important as professional people reskilling, learning new ways to do their jobs with advancing technology," Proulx said. "People are surprised how strong they can be and how they can change to fit their lives. And we have to be there with them."

Diane Lane, Dundalk's senior director of enrollment management, added: "We're already looking at how to expand the public transportation routes around the college. We want to reach the growing Hispanic population in Fells Point, make it easier for residents in Turners Station to make it to school on a bus."

For starters, Proulx examined the 37 courses at Dundalk and found that enrollment was dropping in 32. Eleven courses showed declines of more than 25 percent.

Some courses might be discarded, Proulx said. They also might be offered instead at the two other campuses, or at the system's extension centers.

Dundalk also could start courses at a four-year institution, similar to an arrangement Catonsville has with Frostburg State University. At Frostburg, students study a Catonsville-generated parks and recreation course by computer. And, the Dundalk faculty will likely become "circuit riders" to all CCBC facilities while based at Dundalk, Proulx said.

Proulx, whose husband Bill is a retired superintendent of an upstate New York school district, favors year-round schooling. She would like to accelerate some two-year degrees at Dundalk, allowing students to earn degrees in 1 1/2 years. She's also exploring an early start in August for students entering from high school.

The Proulxes, parents of three grown daughters, live in Timonium. "I have it figured out," she said. "There are 20 miles to drive to my campus office, 20 miles to the Catonsville campus where the chancellor's office is. I want them to know I'm available."

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