Note: This column originally appeared in the Merced County Times.
New buildings, new academic offerings, and new support services all came to fruition at Merced College in 2022, and our students will benefit directly from all of these additions. But as I reflect on the past year, I find myself reflecting most on the people who make it all possible.
We are blessed to have absolutely incredible people at every level of our organization, in every department, at every location, doing every job. And this year, we have worked harder than ever to keep every employee engaged and to help them find happiness in their lives and at work.
The science of happiness and the business case for joy tell us in great detail what our hearts already know— that choosing happiness and choosing to view the world through a positive lens has benefits that go far beyond feeling warm and fuzzy. Happiness isn’t something we get to feel once we’ve become successful —it’s something we must choose to feel if we are ever going to become successful at all.
That’s why we’re holding workshops to help employees find happiness within themselves, encouraging employees to start clubs with their colleagues, and spending one Friday afternoon each month gathering to reset, renew and reconnect with one another as human beings. We’re making a habit of celebrating each other’s successes, and we’re working to increase trust through transparent and open communication.
When people feel engaged at work, the hard times don’t seem so hard. Tasks and assignments become opportunities to serve and to learn. And the joy that comes from serving others leads us to work even harder— not because we have to, but because we want to.
We tend to focus on things like new programs and new buildings, but those programs and buildings don’t exist without the engaged, dedicated people working behind the scenes and on the front lines to support each other and our students.
Improving the Student Experience
The new Raj Kahlon Agriculture and Industrial Technology Complex is the most notable addition to the Merced campus, bringing together a number of related academic programs under a single roof with the latest equipment and technology.
And thanks to a significant federal grant in collaboration with the Central Valley Community Foundation, along with state funding secured by Sen. Anna Caballero, we’ll soon be developing new ag-related workforce training programs and building a new ag innovation center to serve even more students and help keep our region on the cutting edge of this important field.
This year we opened our new Equity Hub, a warm, welcoming space for all students to relax between classes, find support services, and enjoy special events and guest speakers on a variety of topics related to diversity, equity and inclusion. We also rolled out Student Success Teams, a new model for providing holistic academic support for students within their major or school.
Supporting students also means supporting our faculty, who have been nimble and creative in adapting to new online and hybrid course modalities. The pandemic forced us to move quickly to online instruction, and over the past few years, we have embraced that challenge and begun to innovate in order to make these classes as engaging and effective as possible for our students. Instructors receive training and support from staff and other faculty members, and this year we created two state-of-the-art recording studios to improve the production quality of online course lectures and presentations.
We continually work to develop new academic program modalities, in addition to our robust face-to-face options, to serve our students and meet the needs of our community. This year we established a new, fully online program called Relaunch, which is designed to help working professionals advance in their careers or find new ones in just 17 months. We also launched our new truck driving program and expanded our nursing program, enabling us to train more highly skilled workers for in-demand jobs in our region.
Looking to the Future
While we’re celebrating the past and finding joy in the present, we are of course excited about the future as well.
The new Isakow Plaza, a beautiful space near the front entrance of our Merced campus, is under construction and will be completed this spring. Our Vocational Building is getting a full renovation this year, and our Career/Transfer Center is moving into an expanded new space. Our Los Banos Campus is revamping its food forest, developing its own child development center, and preparing for its first-ever graduation ceremony.
Merced College in in the midst of wrapping up a five-year educational master plan and developing a new one that will guide our future growth and determine, to a large extent, what this great institution will look like five years from now. We’re also in the process of re-accreditation, which is a valuable opportunity to reflect on all the great things we’ve done and identify areas where we still have some work to do.
The coming year will no doubt bring unexpected challenges, but we will rise to meet those challenges with resilience and ingenuity, with a positive outlook, and with gratitude for the opportunity to learn and grow. We are not perfect, but we keep getting better at what we do, and we will keep improving our systems, processes, and facilities to ensure our students and employees have everything they need to succeed.
We love serving our students, and we love our community. We love Merced College, and it shows in everything we do.
Chris Vitelli, Ed.D., is president of Merced College.