BCC Alumni and Friends Newsletter
Liliana Atanacio was instrumental in starting a new scholarship in honor of MSSO's coordinator Eleanore Velez, who had a deep impact on so many students' lives. "We wanted to honor Eleanore for all the work she had done at MSSO, but moreover for the inspiration in our life to do more for ourselves and as a result for that, give back to the community." As part of the Student Government Association Liliana received the transfer scholarship from the SGA and is planning to transfer to UMass Amherst next fall to get her bachelor's degree in Chemical Engineering.
Liliana Atanacio '18 (left), Eleanore Velez '06 (right)
Do you know what the motivation behind opening BCC was?
The State Representative who represented Pittsfield, Tom Wojtkowski, saw the power of education and recognized a need for providing a college education, particularly for the people in his district. Being a savvy legislator and negotiator and a really smart man, Tom secured key partners and support in the legislature and rallied support to create a network of community colleges in Massachusetts. BCC was the very first community college to be opened in the Commonwealth.
How is today's BCC different than when the college first opened 60 years ago?
When the College first opened, almost every student was of a traditional age, attending full time and completing a degree within two years. Many were transferring to a four-year institution. Today, the campus looks really different; most of our students attend part time, half are traditional age, over 60% are woman, and 25% are people of color. Our students come to us for some many reasons and at so many different moments in their lives. While some do come directly from high school, some transfer from other colleges. Some are in a work transition. Some were home schooled. Some come after raising a family. Some are raising a family while attending. They may be veterans. They may be retirees. Every student attends with their own purpose. Sometimes that purpose changes or is delayed by life circumstances, but we find that many students who have left eventually return — sometimes in a semester or sometimes decades later--to complete a degree or certificate.
How can alumni contribute to BCC today, and why should they?
Alumni can actively engage with the College in so many ways! Once we are past the COVID-19 crisis, , alumni can serve as advisors and mentors, sharing their experiences with career advice, awareness of internship or work opportunities, or general support. Many of our scholarships were set up by alumni who wanted to help students who were just like them, often facing challenges to quickly complete. Alumni can also serve as ambassadors in our community to share experiences and help make others aware of the opportunities offered by the College.
What are the most pressing needs of today's students?
There are many pressing needs, but I will focus on two: time and money. So much is said about the concept of time that we can overlook the impacts on our lives of not having enough of it. There are challenges to focusing on learning and assignments, clinicals and internships while managing full and part-time work, family commitments, personal wellness and mental health. Money can be described in a similar way…not enough, and an unending need to sacrifice to pursue an education that could improve the availability of both time and money in the long term. I am in awe of the focus and determination so many of our students bring to the College. Many students discover a love of learning, curiosity and, dare I say, an appreciation for demanding faculty. Students and alumni often share that it was a faculty member who told them that they could do better, or recognized in a student a different, and sometimes previously unrecognized, intellect. Our students never cease to amaze me.
What is your favorite change that occurred as part of the recent upgrades?
The Connector is the most obvious change, and its name says what it does. In some ways it is as if Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville had been standing slightly and awkwardly apart and now they have linked arms. The ability to flow between the buildings and then to have this glass cube with natural light, seating for solitude or with new and old friends, and a fire place…it is very special. Overall, though, I would say the College's ability to remain faithful to Benjamin Thompson's brutalist architectural design, while breathing new life, light and color into these anchors of academic learning, is one of my favorite outcomes!
What do you hope will be your BCC legacy 60 years from now?
Honestly, I am not about that. BCC has been blessed with very special Presidents; Tom O'Connell was the founding president and from what I have heard and read, a force of nature. I have been incredibly fortunate to spend time with Jonathan Daube, Cathryn Addy, Barbara Viniar and, of course, the President who hired me, Paul Raverta. They each have been an influence on me and sometimes a sounding board. We would all say that our legacy is actually to support - and provide an infrastructure for - the efforts by the faculty, staff, boards and donors to create a rich and responsive learning environment. It is never about a single person or one person's efforts. It is about a collective willingness to address challenges, place our students at the center of decision-making, and provide opportunity to respond to and identify new opportunities and programs for Berkshire County.
What is your most and least favorite part of this job?
I love watching students discover their intellect. I love when a student turns to me with complete wonder after a faculty member suggests they enroll in an honors course or encourage a student to continue their education. The student sometimes shares that, until they arrived to BCC, no one believed in them or in their capacity to grow, learn and be an engaged student. I love when our faculty, staff or boards are faced with a challenge, and they find a way to address it or solve a problem or take a risk to bring new opportunities to our students and the community. I love that Berkshire Community College has a seat at the community table, to participate in responding to the challenges our community faces. I love how proud our alumni are to say they spent time at the College and share the name of a faculty member who completely changed their life. The list of what I love is endless. I don't keep a list of the things I don't like, but it would be a very short one. My biggest challenge is to allocate limited resources among so many good ideas that would make BCC an even better place.
How has this role been different than you anticipated?
The position is even more rewarding than I could have imagined. It is also more demanding than I could have imagined. There are no side hustles for Presidents! It is a 24/7 gig.
Have you always worked in higher education?
I was an active undergraduate at North Adams State College, now MCLA. MCLA has a very special place in my heart. It brought me to the Berkshires 40+ years ago. After graduating and working summers on that campus, I went to work for the VP of Administration and Finance. I spent 20 years working at the college, the last seven in Alumni and Development. I met so many fascinating and passionate alumni and learned how powerful alumni are in ensuring the reputation of the college, recommending it to family and friends and advocating for support to the legislature and just about anyone willing to listen. I spent a few wonderful years in public radio, and then with a health care foundation before finding my way to Berkshire Community College. BCC is a place that changes lives every day, and I believe it is a gift to me every day to be a part of it?
What was your favorite event or fun fact about BCC from the last 60 years?
My favorite "event" at BCC is our commencement at Tanglewood. The Boston Globe singled us out one year for having the "Coolest Commencement Venue." People are so excited when they learn about that. It is also magical for me as students cross the stage. Many share that this is the most special moment they have experienced. They have worked so hard to have this moment. I love that the faculty and staff form a gauntlet of honor through which the graduates pass on their way out.
My favorite "fun fact" is that the quote by Robert Lewis Stephenson at the corner of Koussevitzky and Field. "…[I]t is a better thing to travel hopefully than to arrive…" is a concept we are wrestling with as higher education is evolving. Our goal is to make sure every student "arrives" at their individual goal. We are there for them to help them achieve that. There is nothing wrong with hope. It keeps us going, but it is the hard work done by students, faculty and staff that secures arrival. I think about this a lot! The joy of discovering an interest in something or having your belief system completely changed by your educational studies…that is all part of "traveling hopefully"…and many of us believe the journey never ends…