In my short but action-packed time here in Northern Kentucky, one theme has emerged: Gateway is valued and has a great story to tell. As I hear this over and over. Our community believes in the mission of Gateway because when Gateway succeeds, the entire community succeeds with a trained workforce, engaged and productive citizens and economic prosperity.
Gateway is much more than buildings and programs: we are a community where students find confidence, collaboration, compassion and success.
We cultivate learners and divergent thinkers, aware of their talents and equipped with the tools to share those talents in their communities.
We are integral to the economic success and growth of Northern Kentucky.
We are committed to listening, adapting and empowering our students and with the community.
We are providers of relevant education that not only improves student lives, but also the lives of those around them.
We are Northern Kentucky's only community and technical college!
President, Gateway Community & Technical College
Dr. Fernando Figueroa is the president of Gateway Community & Technical College in Northern Kentucky. He has served students in higher education for 25 years from classroom instruction to all aspects of administration.
Most recently, as vice chancellor for educational policy at Dallas County Community College in Texas, Dr. Figueroa worked to develop and expand dual credit and early college pathways, competency based education, student success initiatives and partnerships for workforce and economic development. As provost/vice president of instruction and student services at Del Mar College, he aligned academic and student services to ensure student success.
A native of New Orleans, Dr. Figueroa appreciates a good Cafe Au Lait and a great Rock n Roll riff. He enjoys playing guitar, and recording and publishing his own music. Other favorite past times include writing and collecting fountain pens because he believes writing is art in itself. Dr. Figueroa and his wife Debbie, a professional artist, share four wonderful children, three grandchildren and two fur babies.
Dr. Figueroa holds a Ph.D. and Master of Arts in English from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge and a Bachelor of Arts in English from Loyola University, New Orleans, Louisiana.
Today, we are celebrating Gateway Community & Technical College and the values we hold dear which reflect the values of our Northern Kentucky community. We celebrate our hopes and aspirations for each of our citizens as they work to find their way to a better life.
And with all the energy felt in our region in this "our time," to paraphrase the NKY Chamber's theme for this year, Gateway pledges to be a force for good as we work to make this wave of economic prosperity raise the aspiration and attainments of all who live here.
I say a force for good because we can sometimes get lost in the forms of our enterprises. We can get so confused that we construct buildings, start businesses and initiate programs but forget that these are just forms. They matter because they represent our values. They show us what we believe.
At Gateway, we know we are more than buildings and programs. All of Northern Kentucky is more than just the forms of business and education and government. We are a community. A family. The buildings, businesses and programs exist to create the community we want for ourselves and our children.
I believe that we can create anything if we remember that the forms are not what matter. We are what matters. Forms can change. We can change them. Our desire for the good of the community is what will help us navigate the challenges facing our region today as we ask, "what's next?"
As Gateway explores its emerging role in what's next, it is amazing how students and the college share a similar journey. Like our students, we are finding our way in the emerging education and workforce development landscape. We are also being molded by the disruptive discoveries in technology and the rapid pace of change in our key industries, and even in the ways we govern ourselves.
Manufacturing, transportation, construction, logistics, IT, business and health fields have all experienced radical shifts in the ways they operate, and higher education is no different. We may have proceeded more slowly than many of these industries, but our colleges and universities, like our students, are challenged to adapt now to the current and anticipated future needs of our communities.
Like our students, we are looking for pathways that support our values and will give us energy to face the challenges that face us. We both face the challenge that many don't know us well enough and what we can do just yet: the challenge of making our stories known. We share the desire to find the power of our talents and apply them to meaningful work and careers that span our lives rather than the lines in a resume.
I also would propose that our Northern Kentucky community is in this similar journey to define and grow into its next act. We are looking for our best self that promotes the economic vitality and well-being of all of our folks. The future is wide open. So much is going on and many pieces are in play. At Gateway, we are focusing on what is essential to make sure we are the drivers of the community we want to create and are not merely reacting to the forces bumping up against us.
Some of you are aware of my affinity for Asian culture and especially Tai Chi. Tai Chi has given me healthy ways to accept and use what can often appear to be overwhelming energies and opportunities. For you can be sure that opportunity often carries the face of chaos on first glance, hence the Chinese curse, "may you live in interesting times."
I think that is why the martial arts were born. Through its own history of chaos and opportunity, the Chinese monks developed ways to work and ground the energy and make its usable for the greater good. Tai Chi taught me to enter any adventure with a bow to the "opponent." Note, I did not say enemy. For in Tai Chi, there are no enemies, just an awareness that there are always energies that support us and confront us, and both giving energy to mature and grow stronger.
I have also learned from my Tai Chi practice that just taking the time to pay attention to the energy in play is often the hardest and most rewarding practice. Not to always jump into action, but to allow the situation to emerge, to pay attention before going into action. Only then, can one act in a way that makes use of the energy given for good. Otherwise, we can flail and act unawares, often leading to unintended consequences that undermine our original intent.
Another practice I am reminded of here in this “dare to be great” moment for Northern Kentucky is the work of Joseph Campbell and his study of the stories we all share, the hero's journey.
We need only remember that George Lucas founded his Star Wars saga on this mythology. And our fascination with super heroes today shows us in stark relief how tuned in we are to this idea of the hero's journey, even if we are sometimes thinking it occurs only on the big screen.
I would argue that this next phase for Gateway, our students and our Northern Kentucky community share some key elements in the hero's journey.
First, there is a call to action. Something has happened to wake the hero-candidate, an awakening that there is more out there than what has been seen before. She encounters an event or "message" that challenges her to seek something "over the rainbow." The would-be hero resists at first and gets lost in details of housekeeping, paying bills, doing their expected duties until they can no longer resist the draw to discovery, that first step through the looking glass, onto the millennium falcon, or out of the Shire.
Then the fun begins. Experiences soon pop up to dissuade, discourage, challenge and sometime threaten the life of the hero. Loss of a mentor or magic item brings her to her knees, and she wonders how she will navigate her next steps. The way seems too dark, the challenges too daunting.
During this time, though, a team comes together, each with distinct talents: sometimes bow and axe and magical staff; sometimes a force and lightsaber; sometimes wisdom, heart and courage. And the coming together of this team, this fellowship of the ring, is what gives the hero the needed support to take one step further into the unknown.
All this wandering with purposeless purpose leads to a culmination where all her talents are tested. Her resolve reaches to its lowest point. Here, she can finally peel away all the distractions and find that still silent voice inside that guides her through the greatest challenge of all, facing the reality of herself, warts and all. In that moment, she can proclaim, "it's all good." With the chaos, all good. With the doubts, all good. With the highs and lows, all good.
It is with this awareness that she then can return home, a person initiated in the talents and wisdom necessary to help her community grow in love and empathy. While breaking the limits of what was once thought impossible to achieve, she helps her community (as our colleagues at CVG have claimed as their brand) to "embrace what's next."
I think it is important to remember that we are all sharing this hero's journey. Our students, the college and our community walk this path together. And together we will succeed if we remember that we are in this together.
I believe we are at this point in Northern Kentucky. Here and now, many talented and wise folks are coming together to ensure we learn how to wisely use the vast amounts of energy from all throughout our community (and even across our rivers). We will embrace that energy and our tools to paint the canvas of the new Northern Kentucky and Greater Cincinnati area.
This journey will not be easy. No hero's journey is, but when I get lost in the static, I like to recall the story of the Zen Archer.
When entering into the competition, the eminently skilled Archer who focuses only on hitting the target is able to do so time and time again. But once the Archer thinks about winning the brass buckle, his hands shake and he misses more than not. When the Archer focuses on the gold prize, he sees two targets and then goes blind.
We at Gateway believe that the doing is what is important. We focus on helping our students, faculty and staff to see what is before them first, and trust that doing the right things for the right reasons will lead to great work: community of folks confident in their talents and designs for their lives.
Where are we on this hero's journey? Gateway is embarking on its journey that demands we reach beyond our comfort zones to embrace our role not only as an institution of higher learning, offering quality programs that lead to a great careers. We are recognizing our steps into the unknown, developing programs never before seen, such as our Enhanced Operator program built with our industry partners. We are focusing in on our role in Northern Kentucky as a force for good, and then creating the infrastructure of programs and facilities that will bring that good to life.
Where is this force for good going? We believe that Northern Kentucky must develop a comprehensive and integrated talent network to ensure a dynamic and adaptable workforce. We believe that this workforce must be given the opportunity to discover their talents and strengths that serve their best selves and the community where they make a contribution.
We must also develop curriculum that provides these pathways to hone talents. We must create designs that work for the dual credit world and for the elusive 25-34-year-old workers who need a path from low-skill jobs to middle skill jobs and points beyond, if that is where their aspiration and talents take them. We have awesomely talented people working in Northern Kentucky on pieces and parts scattered throughout our region. The challenge is to bring them together in a reliable network of opportunities.
Northern Kentucky will find Gateway as a tireless partner and advocate for developing this talent network and workforce development pipeline for our region. To that end, we are working to convene business and industry sectors and discuss how we update our curriculum and adapt delivery of that curriculum to meet the needs of the region.
We are focused on the five sectors identified by the governor and the opportunities provided by the Work Ready Skills initiative and the Work Ready Scholarship program. We will work with our business and industry partners, our legislative caucus and local elected leadership to develop a coherent regional strategy for Gateway and the use of its campuses. This collaboration can help us develop program sponsorships with job pathways lined out as part of our curriculum and not just as a next step after graduation.
What do we need from the community? Bring us your ideas. Bring us your passion for the region. Give us a chance to tell our story and share that story with your networks of committed and awesomely talented teams. We will have asks for our community. We are working to be worthy of those asks.
We would love you to consider serving on our Foundation Board or on one of our program advisory groups. Or helping us make stronger connections to parent groups at our local K-12 partners. This is the time to tell our stories, Northern Kentucky! We promise to make our parts of the story worth the read.
I will end with this. I have been blessed to make some new friends in Northern Kentucky. Many of you are in the audience today. I will risk naming one because what he shared with me from his experience with Toyota sums up nicely this moment for Gateway. Dave Fleischer shared at Toyota, there would be long deliberations and considerations of multiple plans for a global company thinking about next steps. But all deliberation stopped when the person designated for making the final decision would lean forward and say one word, Yosh! That one word sets the plan in motion, with all units pulling in the same direction.
At Gateway, the role of saying that word belongs to the president, hence the importance of the whole installation thing. This speech is my Yosh. I agree with the NKY Chamber. There is a palpable energy growing in Northern Kentucky. Gateway feels it too. We are using that energy to cultivate talent, engage our community, and change lives.