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CCRI celebrates Professional Development Day with workshops, documentary premiere
April 14, 2015
April 10 marked the 13th annual Professional Development Day at the Community College of Rhode Island. Classes were canceled and normal college operations suspended so that assembled faculty and staff could enjoy 60 free workshops given by their peers and other professionals on subjects ranging in scope from genealogy to automated external defibrillator machine procedure to edible landscaping.
"It's simple: This is your day," said President Ray Di Pasquale in his opening remarks that morning in the Bobby Hackett Theater. "We're spread across four campuses and two satellites, serving 18,000 students. But don't forget that camaraderie – how we're all one team working together. Today, I celebrate you, by thanking you for being here and for all that you do."
After introducing his leadership team, union representatives and the student government representatives, student ambassadors and Student Veterans Organization leaders in the audience, Di Pasquale handed the floor to Scott Jensen, director of the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training, who was speaking on behalf of Gov. Gina Raimondo, who had a last-minute conflict. "This institution is the economic driver of this state," said Jensen, who went on to speak of the governor's awareness that workforce development programs and strong academic programs must have side-by-side seats at the CCRI table.
Di Pasquale echoed as much during his "State of the College" address, where, after a look back at the winter that wouldn't quit and the parade of successful 50th anniversary events – including the burial of a time capsule, a record-breaking Fall Golf Classic and a sold-out "Celebrating Alumni for 50 Years" event at Rhodes on the Pawtuxet – he closed by underscoring the college's mission to work with businesses and strengthen its academic programs at the same time.
"We should take a moment to think about what the next 50 years might look like," he challenged the audience.
There was, perhaps, no better way to imagine where we might go in the next 50 years than to reflect on how far we've come in the last 50. To do this, the screens of the theater were turned over to Norman Grant, videographer, and Ellen Schulte, public relations officer, both from the Department of Marketing and Communications. The pair spent nearly a year of work to co-produce an hourlong documentary, titled "Miracle on Promenade," which they premiered during this first session.
Combining crackly black-and-white archival footage, vintage shots from WJAR's coverage of the college in the 1970s and interviews from today, Grant and Schulte spliced together an engaging meditation on the creation of CCRI, starting from its humble beginnings on the oil-covered factory floors of the Foundry building in Providence. In a touching turn of storytelling, Grant's camera followed Sondra Pitts, a member of the first graduating class of the college; Ed Madonna, professor and chairman of Mathematics; and Bob Silvestre, former vice president for Academic Affairs; as the three walked into what is now a luxury apartment and office complex. Images of the old campus were superimposed on to the new spaces, which faded in as Pitts and company made their way through the building.
"It didn't matter about the building," said Lela Morgan, another former vice president for Academic Affairs who got her start in the old building under the auspices of Rhode Island Junior College, in an interview. "It was all about the students."
Some of those students, such as Screen Actors Guild Award-winning actor and Broadway star Lin Tucci '71, were featured in the video speaking of how much the environment, despite its educational purpose, reminded them of a family home. "The feeling I had was always of family," Tucci said. "They were always supportive. It was a diamond in the rough."
As much as "Miracle" traced the beginnings of that eponymous first location, it also was a story about growing up and moving out, beyond the rented factory space to a campus in Warwick. Pioneered by founding President William Flanagan, and later advanced by Presidents Ed Liston, Tom Sepe and now Di Pasquale, the controversial brutalist megastructure on the old Knight Farm represented a pivotal transition point and porthole into the future of the institution. "It looks like an ocean liner. And it was our ship of hope," observed Madonna in the documentary.
The Liston and Flanagan campuses in Providence and Lincoln, respectively, along with the newest campus in Newport County, were also featured with some stunning aerial footage, showing how they melted into the landscape of their larger home communities.
After the film, Grant and Schulte answered questions from the audience about the project, their process and plans for future screenings and distribution. "It's amazing and moving to see people who were here right from the beginning still working here," said Vice President for Business Affairs David Patten, a relatively new hire to the college. "What a great tradition to be a part of."
From the back of the theater came the voice of Francine Knowles, associate professor of Nursing, who was one of Madonna's math students back in 1972 in the Foundry building. "This evoked so many memories for me," she said. "It really was and is a family."
Jacqueline Russell, who has worked at the college just shy of nine years, recently has been accepted into the Radiography program. "The film was beautifully done," she said after the screening was over. "I remember years ago working in archives and looking at some of the history, but this really filled in those gaps that I didn't know about the college and how it grew. It makes me that much prouder to be a staff member. And it's going to make me that much prouder to be a student here, too."
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