Students in Austin Hill’s Intro to Information Sciences class were given an assignment to watch a video on a topic that can help them improve their daily lives or impact lives in a positive way.
For public speaking experience, they had to present their thoughts on the videos, and how they can put them to use in a TedTalk-like session to their classmates during Wednesday’s class through Harford Community College at the Edgewood Library.
Intro to Information Sciences is one of four new credit courses HCC is offering this semester as it tries to extend its reach not only in Edgewood but the entire southern and eastern portions of Harford County, said Kelly Koermer, dean of community education, business and applied technology at HCC.
HCC completed a feasibility study in the past year to get a better understanding of what citizens in that area of the county wants as far as a presence in Edgewood and one of the results was that there is a demand for HCC credit classes, particularly in cybersecurity, transportation and logistics, advanced manufacturing, construction trades and automotive repair, she said.
“We have some funding available to really do a planning year and focus on how we can have public/private partnerships to have a greater presence in Edgewood,” Koermer said. “But in the meantime, we wanted to quickly respond to the needs down there and we thought the best way to do that is to increase our programming at Edgewood public library.”
The library already hosted 14 non-credit classes through HCC and this semester added four for-credit classes — Intro to Business, Intro to Information Sciences, Intro to Psychology and English Composition.
To Hill, expanding the college into Edgewood and southern Harford County shows a commitment to the community.
“HCC at Edgewood means something different to me. I live here, I shop here,” Hill said. “It’s investing in the growth of Edgewood overall and it shows a commitment to looking at the study and helping to move that forward.”
Hill’s full-time job is director of the Academy of Finance at Edgewood High School. Through HCC, he teaches two classes — Information Sciences and Business — three days a week and serves as a community liaison and resource on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons in the library.
Seven students are enrolled in Wednesday’s computer class. The youngest graduated high school in May and the oldest is a retired teacher who substitutes and still wants to maintain her certification, which requires her to take classes.
Rosemary Dougherty, the retired teacher, didn’t use a computer in school, not even in college. She can email, use Microsoft Word and access websites, but beyond that, it’s complicated for her.
So she’s taking the class at HCC in Edgewood, not far from her home, “to be more fluent in using computers,” she said.
“If I don’t know it, I don’t know all I could know,” Dougherty said.
She thought it would be hard — and it is, she said — but Hill is very helpful and works with her.
Thompson Sinpraseuth is working toward an associate’s degree in cybersecurity. In addition to the Wednesday computer class, he’s taking English on Tuesdays and Thursdays, also in Edgewood.
“To me, it’s close, it helps,” said Sinpraseuth, who lives in Aberdeen and works in Belcamp. “It’s more just logistics for me.”
It fits in with his work schedule and the courses are two weeks shorter than the same classes at the main HCC campus in Bel Air, he said.
Theresa Woodson lives right around the corner from the library and enjoys the classes there.
“I like it because it’s smaller, it’s more comforting,” said Woodson, a registered nurse who is working to enhance her skills before going back to work. “It’s really convenient. The people in class, I feel like we have a lot in common, our goals are the same.”
The Edgewood classes also work for Cory Townsend, who lives in northern Harford County. He’s a paramedic whose schedule isn’t ever regular, so trying to fit in a class just one day a week and take the others online was ideal.
He’s working toward an associate’s degree in technical applied science, which he hopes to finish this semester.
A May graduate of Joppatowne High School, Mustapha Kah attends school full-time and works part-time, he said.
Kah, 18, is splitting his class time between the Edgewood library and the HCC campus. Edgewood is more convenient, since he lives nearby.
Woodson said she intends to take as many classes as she can in Edgewood, especially if Hill is teaching them, she said.
“He’s awesome, very patient,” Woodson said. “He has that special talent for people.”
Harford Community College is making its presence in Edgewood known, with signs installed outside the library to clearly indicate classes there.
“It’s reflective of the overall investment,” Hill said, adding that the building is also being refreshed inside.
Hill’s role leading the Academy of Finance includes numerous contacts within the Harford business community, which are needed as the HCC@Edgewood program is developed, he said.
In both roles he is part of the community, talking with the business partners he has developed through Edgewood High to find out what they need in terms of workforce development that can be done through Harford Community College, he said.
He is in the Edgewood Library two afternoons a week to help bridge that gap and find out what the residents want.
“You have to build trust, especially in the Edgewood and Joppatowne communities,” said Hill, who became director of the Academy of Finance in August 2017, said.
He’s seeing the fruits of the work, based on enrollment. Classes that had two to three students the first day now have nine to 10, he said.
“People are starting to see that Edgewood and HCC are involved in creating classes and the excitement is there,” he said.
The students in the Edgewood classes are diverse, Koermer said.
“Austin’s first comment back to me is there’s such a diversity of any type of demographic you would expect — age, race, life experience, returning worker to high school student,” she said. “So we’re seeing a lot of diversity in the people taking advantage of it.”
Some aspects of Edgewood often get overlooked, Hill said, like its stellar students, stellar scholars and outstanding programming.
“The goal is to build up the community of Edgewood,” he said.
Edgewood, slightly north of Joppatowne, made sense geographically and logistically to branch into rather than Aberdeen or Havre de Grace, since it is a little bit farther away from the main campus, Koermer said.
“Even with progress the county has made with public transportation — they really have shortened the time it takes — but it still takes more than an hour from the southeast part of the county to [the main Bel Air] campus,” she said. “In this day and age, time is valuable. Whether it’s time that could be spent at work earning money, time for a babysitter or day care, it really is about an accessibility issue.”
It’s also about workforce development, Koermer said, “to provide a more highly skilled and knowledgeable workforce, so people have more opportunities and employers have better workers to support their missions and their revenues.”
About 30 people total are enrolled in the four classes, the most popular of which was Intro to Business, Koermer said.
“That’s a good number, even a little bigger than we expected,” she said.
Especially since they did little in terms of advertising other than Hill sitting in the library two days a week to talk to patrons about what would be offered.
The computer information class meets at 3 p.m., to help bring in students finished with high school for the day and interested in dual enrollment. The other three classes meet at night.
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None of the non-credit classes, A+ and Net + certifications as well as adult basic education classes like GED prep and ESOL, have been discontinued with the addition of the credit programs, Koermer said. The demand is high for them and some are offered through grants.
The non-credit courses in Edgewood with openings are the Saturday and Monday classes on the introduction to the construction industry, Koermer said.
“Employers we talk with, they need qualified people in the various construction trades, whether it be heavy equipment operators, carpenters, masons, those are the hard-to-fill jobs,” she said.
The long-term goal is to have a more full-service presence in Edgewood, a larger space with more course offerings as well as student services such as a registrar, advisors and testing.
Koermer and others at HCC are working with their business, government and community partners to determine where that might be.
The first phase, according to the study, would be a space of about 7,000 square feet with an initial budget of about $3 million for classrooms, offices, conference space and student wraparound services, she said. It should begin to be profitable around the fourth year, the study showed.
“At this stage, we can’t say we will be building a new building,” Koermer said. “We are looking, through public and private partnerships, to find additional space opportunities to provide more full services and an expanded curriculum.”