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Completing the agenda

Dr. Ronald Harkness to advance Wayne County Community College District’s 2020 Completion Agenda

By David C. Butty

Dr. Ronald Harkness

Dr. Ronald Harkness

Dr. Ronald J. Harkness loves to be challenged! When he is not at work or at home among his family and friends, he enjoys helping to make a difference in the lives of people with disabilities by helping them learn and retain information they learned.

At Wayne County Community College District (WCCCD), where he serves as the provost of Career Preparation and Campus Operations, Dr. Harkness, Ph.D., CRC, has accepted the challenge of leading the 2020 Completion Agenda.

He is very attentive to the task. His office planner is filled with various assignments, and his white board is home to numerous clippings and reminders of the different types of assignments that must be completed and by what time.

The WCCCD 2020 Completion Agenda — an initiative aimed at closing the skills gap and positively impacting the educational and economic competitiveness worldwide — is one of his very important assignments.

It is no mistake, therefore, that Dr. Curtis L. Ivery, chancellor for the five-campus, 72,000-student District, has entrusted Dr. Harkness with the task of chairing the District’s Completion Agenda Task Force.

“I talked with Dr. Ivery about wanting to take on a challenge that would make a difference for the students that we serve,” said Dr. Harkness. “When Dr. Ivery assigned me with this task, my first reaction was ‘great!’ There are so many ways we can impact our students and lead them to greater success. My passions are helping persons to learn and in making a difference in their lives.”

Dr. Harkness’ doctoral concentration has prepared him to specialize in helping individuals improve their cognition and retention of learning. “I think that when you help someone not only learn but retain the information, you have started them on the path to a brighter future,” he said.

By the year 2020, according to President Barack Obama, the Completion Agenda will increase the number of students earning college credentials by redesigning educational service delivery and strengthening the college experience for students at each stage of the educational process — from entry to exit.

“I think the biggest thing that most persons need to understand is that the Completion Agenda is all about educated choice,” Dr. Harkness explained.

“You see, it is imperative that we help educate those within our institution and community about the value of a degree or certificate and how this can lead to a sustainable living wage for them and their families,” he said.

“We have a responsibility to share this message with all: faculty, staff, students, community partners and other community members. By informing others about educated choice, we provide them the ability to make an informed decision about what is best for them, not only for today but also for their future.”

Today, through the work of Dr. Harkness and the Task Force he leads, you will find students, faculty and staff proudly wearing the “I’m a Completer T-shirt.”

“Students who identify a program of study and complete a plan of work will be given a certificate,” Dr. Harkness said. “This certificate can then be handed in at the administration office where the student receives the T-shirt.” The initiative even has its own quarterly newsletter, a logo and letterhead.

“Simply stated, the Completion Agenda is a national initiative to help increase student success ending in a degree or certificate,” Dr. Harkness said. “As an educational institution, it is our mission and goal to help students become part of a larger learning society.”

His energy and leadership style reminds me of Michigan’s weather — one moment you are basking in the sunlight, and the next moment you are tossed about by an unexpected storm determined to blow you off course. But as a project leader, Dr. Harkness knows how to stay the course regardless if it is sunny or if that storm comes along.

Those who have been around Dr. Harkness know the professionalism and stewardship he brings to assignments. One has to engage him in an intellectual discourse to dive into his depth of knowledge and experience. He is like the lever that moves the Completion Agenda forward and the pendulum to make it swing for all to see.

He won’t be shy to engage you in a scholarly debate to get his point across as to why the Completion Agenda is important to the District or to get you to buy into the Agenda. He creates a lot of buzz about the initiative, and it shows.

Dr. Harkness leaves no stone unturned for the cause of education — not only in the production of degree holders but gathering better data that will allow the District to enact policies and procedures that increase graduation rates. Asked whether the Completion Agenda is measurable, Dr. Harkness is quick to point out, “Absolutely!”

He said there are many things the District does that lead to student success and are measurable.

“We can measure such things as the change in the number of students that complete a degree or certificate, the number of individuals that transfer to a four-year institution, the number of students that become licensed or certified within their area of concentration, the number of students that declare a program of study and much, much more.”

Unless you sit with him in a one-on-one scholarly conversation or engage in an intellectual debate, you will never know the depth of knowledge that Dr. Harkness has. Most say he possesses the quality of a leader because he inspires a shared vision and has the ability to clearly articulate whatever assignment he is charged to implement. He is a good communicator with great integrity, and above all, he fills each day with enthusiasm and passion.

Dr. Harkness said he is very proud to chair the Completion Agenda Task Force. “I am happy that our campaign has been so successful. I know that there are thousands of persons (students, staff, faculty, community members) that now know about the Completion Agenda as a result of what we’ve done.

“What is exciting for me is the opportunity to enlarge this pool as we move forward. I’m not sure how long it will take to get everyone on the bandwagon.

“I just know that I want to be along for the ride as we add more and more persons to the ‘Completer’ category.

“I’m thankful for the chancellor’s faith in my ability to put a ‘face’ on the Completion Agenda, and I look forward to the new opportunities ahead that will support such a noble cause.”

The Completion Agenda has been identified as a priority for the District, but it is not, however, the only thing on Dr. Harkness’ plate as he juggles other assignments.

“I have tried to find creative ways to launch the Completion Agenda awareness campaign while maintaining my responsibilities within the Division of Educational Affairs. The days and weekends are definitely longer, but right now, the extra time and effort is needed to launch such a noteworthy initiative.”

David C. Butty is executive dean for International Programs/Media Specialist at Wayne County Community College District. His column appears in the Michigan Citizen monthly.


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