By Christopher C. Gagliardi, Staff Writer
I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Michael Redmond, the president of Bergen Community College, in regards to the new semester.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Chistopher C. Gagliardi: Dr. Redmond, it is a privilege for me to be able to interview you for the new semester. Since becoming president of the college, how has it been for you and what are you looking forward to this fall?
Michael Redmond: I thought it was busy when I came in as President and it seems like the scale of business just keeps increasing and doesn’t really slow down. We are the largest college in the state, have the widest selections and deepest opportunities for students more than any other community colleges, and probably more than four- year colleges.
CG: I have noticed the new STEM research center, it’s the first one in the nation, correct?
MR: We don’t believe that any other community college in the nation has a STEM center to support independent student research.
CG: We also saw the start of the tuition-free college program last year for the students who are enduring financial hardship. That is also a big accomplishment.
MR: Governor Phil Murphy campaigned for governor on a promise for tuition free college. We were one of the 13 community colleges selected to participate in this past spring. It was a competitive process so we had to win out over other community colleges. As a result, over 450 students had applied and received additional financial aid called “Community College Opportunity Grants” in the Spring that
came up to over $500,000. These are last dollar grants that they had to file through FAFSA (federal application for student aid). Eligible students had to come from a family with an income of $45,000 or less.
CG: We also saw that Phi Theta Kappa, one of the college’s honor societies, was recognized as number one in the nation. How does that make you feel?
MR: We received the distinguished chapter award which made our chapter number one in the world. It is an incredible thing. We did not know that we were going to win and we had some representatives and our members of Phi Theta Kappa Honors Society at the ceremony. That’s an incredible accomplishment and it is something that we are all very proud of.
CG: What are the expectations for the new fall semester for you as far as Bergen is concerned? What projects are we looking forward to seeing unfold in the new semester and what are the expectations you have for the students this year?
MR: First, one reason why Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) received that award was that the students worked with the faculty to design a new curriculum that would be the default curriculum for undecided students. Right now, we’ve been putting them into a program called A.S.P.S. Gen (Social Science, Professional Studies General Curriculum). This is not a bad curriculum, but I actually think it is not the best for the undecided student. I challenged PTK students two years ago to help us redesign it, then the faculty got involved and formed a joint committee. This curriculum has been redesigned and will go before the Faculty Senate either in September or October for a final vote. I expect it to pass the Senate and it will come to me for my signature and then we will begin to implement it.
CG: We also saw that this year you worked with the television and film committees in New Jersey, along with the filming of several programs such
as “The Enemy Within.” Should we expect more work with television networks?
MR: Bergen, like virtually any other major college in the country, is under major financial stress. We are having to look for any other revenue possibilities. So, when we have a TV studio come to us and they want to use part of our campus for filming, we don’t say no. However, we have to go through a very careful process to find exactly what they would need, making sure that it would be compatible with our mission and whether or not we can do it without disruptions of campus life.
CG: What are your hopes for the college? Will we see new projects or buildings?
MR: Regarding future projects, let me talk about a few of them. First, we are making an investment in upgrading our athletic facilities field. If you went out there right now, you’d see new turf, drainage and irrigation systems and other items. We were successfully able to repair four out of six courts. Afterwards, they’ll be available for the students to use. The other two we’ll have to tackle in a long-term plan.
We are also working to redesign the areas downstairs in the main building where registration, counseling and advising are located. The students have to stand in line out in the hallways and it’s very off-putting. We have a $4 million dollar project and are going to redesign the whole area with sitting areas and social areas. Construction will begin in January of 2020 and it will take nine months to complete.
The last major one we are planning is a $15 million culinary arts center at our Ciarco Learning Center in our Hackensack campus, along with a restaurant that will be for the public. I believe that it will be open in 2021 or sometime in 2022.
CG: What do you hope for people with special needs like myself, will there be any opportunities down the road including programs?
MR: One of the things that I am proud of is our Turning Point program where we have a number of students with special needs. They take some college courses and a curriculum that we devised here and work with businesses to find internship opportunities for them. We take in about 30 students a year and the program is an intense two-year program.
CG: With this much excitement, any parting thoughts of encouragement for the new students this year that you are willing to share that will help them to succeed?
MR: I don’t know if it will inspire them but it is something I believe deeply and that is, when you’re in college, don’t just get a degree, make sure you get an education along the way. Sometimes you can aim to do as little as possible and perhaps get through and get that degree, but that’s not getting an education. I grew up on a dirt farm in the mountains of North Carolina and the thing that made the difference was education. It opened my mind, expanded my horizons and it made the world a more exciting and thrilling place for me.
Since this interview, Dr. Redmond announced that he will be retiring as president at the end of this semester.