Chris Gray, Ph.D. l Founding President, Erie County Community College of Pennsylvania

This week marks the last week of summer classes at EC3, and as I mentioned last week, it marks the end of many of our “firsts” as a college. We’re heading into our second year of classes starting in August, so there’s definitely a feeling of completion in the air.  

At the same time, there’s a new energy that I feel in the halls. To be sure, students are working hard to complete their classes and getting ready to sit for exams. Summer faculty are winding down their courses and preparing for the onslaught of grading to come soon. What’s different, though — and I’ve seen this at every institution where I’ve worked so far — is that back-to-school season is starting. There’s a vibe in the air that feels different from that of just a couple of weeks ago. 

Despite not even being halfway through an astronomical summer, it somehow feels like fall is already knocking at the door. The school supplies are front and center at the big box stores (side note:  I recently saw a display of Halloween candy corn for sale and cringed, and not just because it was candy corn). Students are choosing and registering for their Fall coursework. Faculty who are not teaching summer semester classes are meandering in to work in their offices as they start to think about the changes and transformations they will make to their curriculum after last year’s successes and struggles. Something just happens around this time of year as the days grow incrementally shorter while the heat blazes on; teachers at all levels start preparing for the new school year.

While EC3 offers classes throughout the year, with classes starting approximately every two months, this is the traditional start of the new academic year. A time of excitement and anticipation, many new students will be joining us, and they will bring their hopes, fears, and dreams along with them. We get the honor of being a small part of their journey.

This year also brings new excitement for EC3 as we have grown our programs, our staff, and our locations. In future blogs, I’ll highlight some of our faculty for you so you can see the rich diversity, technical expertise, and scholarship our faculty add to our region. I’ll also share our plans to begin moving some operations to our EC3 Erie West Campus on West 8th Street as that seems to be the question on many folks’ minds! 

The short answer is it will start to look like an EC3 campus soon, but classes may not begin for a while. We will need to ensure the technology is in place to support learning, that we have the classrooms designed appropriately to support our wide variety of classes, and that we have the support staff in place to support students and staff alike. And there’s that whole supply chain issue we’re facing that makes many answers to these questions unknown! My best guess is that classes for our October term could begin at EC3 Erie West and that staff will report there to work prior to that. We’ll still have a variety of classes at EC3 Erie East, Summit, and Corry for those that prefer in-person learning. And our wide array of online offerings serves those who prefer that learning mode!

All higher education “upped” its online game when the pandemic hit, and I am proud to say the quality of EC3’s online learning leads the pack. This summer, our faculty have been busy standardizing course shells to ensure easy navigation for students, working diligently to institute best practices to ensure that we engage our online learners, and going to training themselves to be better instructors! I began teaching online in the early 2000s and am blown away at how far the technology has come. Back then, we (instructors) thought it was best to try to replicate the in-person experience in the online environment so many classes consisted of recorded lectures, discussion boards, and then quizzes and tests. And how dis-engaging is that?!? Now, our faculty are creating interactive assignments, using the software to “nudge” students into deeper learning, encouraging students to explore the class contents and ideas and contextualize these ideas into their own life experiences and dreams. Now, the tools we have used in online learning are shaping in-person instruction as we are able to take the best of both worlds and use them across modes. 

As you can see, the traditional downtime of summer in higher education doesn’t fully apply to the EC3 model but it does provide us an opportunity to pause, reflect, and have a new beginning to a new academic year. We are still enrolling students for the fall term which begins in a few weeks, and we look forward to welcoming these students to the EC3 family. As we continue to solidify our four campuses, I’ll share about the programs available at each as the future continues to look bright for EC3.