Oakland Community College (OCC) Executive Director of Marketing and Communications Janet Roberts helms the public relations ship for OCC’s five campuses, including the Highland Lakes campus in Waterford Township. In addition to promoting services and programs in the community, she and her team strategically plan and target economic and workforce development through recruitment, corporate training and mentoring services. Prior to her post with OCC, Roberts worked as the Huron Valley Schools Director of Communications and Fund Development for 12 years. She played a key role in promoting and advocating for the district and its staff members. Roberts is a member of the American Marketing Association and Oakland County School Public Relations Association. She has earned a host of awards for her work in public relations.
What is your role as the executive director of marketing and communications?
JR: Thank you for having me and I’m happy to talk to you about Oakland Community College and specifically my efforts to promote the college. Specifically what my job entails is simply that — promoting OCC … as well as attracting students, and (making) the community aware of the services and all the programs, and all the opportunities we have for our community. What I do is basically capture that information and develop avenues to share that through a number of different vehicles and audiences.
What do you enjoy most about the job, and what is the most challenging aspect of it?
JR: I guess what I enjoy most is that OCC is such a fantastic organization in terms of what it provides to the community and I find it fascinating — I’ve only been here less than a year — to learn all of the different things that we offer. That’s what I get most pleasure of, learning those new things and sharing that information with the various audiences that we have.
I think the challenging thing is along the same lines — people don’t know all of the great and wonderful things that we do here at OCC, so my challenge on a daily basis is finding those gems and finding that avenue or audience that needs to know what we offer.
What are the main differences between your former role in Huron Valley Schools and your new position at OCC?
JR: There’s a lot of similarities and a lot of differences. Certainly from the educational aspect, there’s a lot of similarities in terms of striving for academic achievement, student success, promoting the services that both organizations offer to support the community. From a K-12 environment to a higher education environment, there’s a lot of differences there in terms of the type of student that we have. Our average student age is 27-years-old — that’s a very different student profile from the K-12 environment. We have adult learners and we don’t have a lot of parent involvement, which is very different from K-12 environment. But I do find that the administrators, the instructors all have that passion for education and student achievement, so from that perspective both are very similar.
OCC instated a smoking ban on its campuses effective Sept. 1. Why now?
JR: Actually we were a smoke-free environment in terms of our buildings, but we felt that it was important to take that next step, not only for the well-being of our students and our staff, but also from a more environmental perspective, as well. What we wanted to do is have a healthy environment and also a clean environment. We were finding that with cigarette smoking, people were not using receptacles. There were issues of cleanliness because of the smoking on campus. The next step was not only not to allow (smoking) in our buildings, but not on our grounds at all. We felt that was in the best interest of our staff and students.
What has been the reaction of students and faculty?
JR: Overall (it’s been) good, but unfortunately it is an addictive habit, so some are struggling with it. But we have stuck to our guns and (are) trying to help people make that transition to make sure they understand completely what the rules and consequences are and that this is going to be the position that the college has and they need to respect that.
We know there have been cases where some have defied the ban since it took effect. How difficult has enforcement been?
JR: Again, it’s a transition. Do we have students that are still struggling to acclimate themselves to it? Yes. But have we found an overwhelming problem with trying to enforce it? No. We take it on a case-by-case basis. If we see a student who is on property smoking, we remind them of the policy. If it becomes an issue that we have to keep reminding that student, then there is disciplinary action we can take.
What capital improvements projects are taking place at OCC, especially at the Highland Lakes campus in Waterford?
JR: There have been some improvements that have taken place. There’s not a lot of construction right at the moment. We’re completing several projects over there. We have done a lot of work at the Student Center over the last few years. We’re on a cycle of completing projects, so each year there’s projects carved out. This year’s focus has been much more on the Orchard Ridge campus than the Highland Lakes campus. Highland Lakes received a lot of changes and upgrades and construction work in different areas over the last few years, so it was time to move to another campus. But for example, at the Student Center, there was work done there, and work done in some other areas, some retrofitting, upgrades, a lot maintenance issues. We want to maintain the facility on behalf of the community.
Is enrollment up or down, and to what do you attribute the increase or decrease?
JR: We’ve seen a pattern of increasing enrollment, actually record enrollment, and that was tied to what we were seeing with the economy. Unfortunately, as the economy worsened, people were laid off, needed retraining, students were deciding to stay home and couldn’t afford necessarily to go away to college, so we saw a great uptick in the enrollment numbers — record enrollment. We saw those peak and then start to level off. Now we’re seeing a slight decrease. As the economy improves, we’re seeing people going back to work, the retraining programs have ended, people are able to send their children away, whereas before they would say the first couple years they can stay home because of the financial picture, and so (we’re) seeing those dips change. We’re seeing a recorded loss (of student enrollment at) about 6 percent over last year, but it’s something we anticipated. We expected that as the economy improves, we thought we’d see that dip. To maintain enrollment so we don’t see severe decreases, we’re stepping up our recruiting efforts and doing more in terms of new programs with our economic and workforce development training program by reaching out to companies. We have a whole sector of training we do for the business side and beefing up our efforts to kind of balance those losses.
Following your accomplishments in Huron Valley Schools, what initiatives are you personally working on for OCC?
JR: I guess I wouldn’t say “personally” only because the work that I do is directly related to the goals of OCC. I have key areas I’m working on — one is the recruiting and promoting various programs for students, and also the community relations side, letting the community know the various programs and opportunities on campus. We have gourmet restaurants, a fantastic Theater Program. We have community education programs, world-class speakers we bring in, and also again, the focus on economic and workforce development — the work the college is doing in the region to support growth, especially economic growth.
Tell us some of the unique education programs people are perhaps unaware of?
JR: Well I think there’s a combination of things. One that people may not be aware of (is that) we have the largest nursing program in Michigan. You wouldn’t think a community college would produce that number of nurses, but we do. Within the health care realm, we’ve expanded our offerings and (are) looking at a number of things with new technologies. We’re also looking at (things) from the manufacturing side, like mechatronics, biotechnology, nanotechnology, areas along those lines, too. Going back to health care side, there are new programs with, I don’t want to (say) radiology, but those types of sciences (with) the types of equipment used in operating rooms, laboratories, diagnostic equipment. There’s so many changes in the health care realm, and we’re focusing a lot of time and attention on those resources, as well.
Thirteen candidates are running for two open seats on the OCC Board of Trustees. Were you surprised by the number of candidates who decided to run?
JR: It’s always nice to have people that are interested in serving, and from that perspective we always welcome the opportunity to bring in board members who have a desire and passion for education and can bring something to the table.
Tell us about the board’s role in OCC oversight and management, and what the biggest issues for the board are in the coming years?
JR: The board’s role is an oversight (one). They are the ones responsible for carrying out the policies and procedures of the organization, so they hire a chancellor and the chancellor has a team of people responsible for day-to-day operations. The board’s role is to oversee that structure and to make sure we are providing a quality service and meeting the mandates we are required to and that we are accountable to the public for the resources we have and for the facilities and all of the budgets. That’s their role.
In terms of their agenda going forward, a focus area is student achievement and student success, and one of the things they’ve asked us to focus on is providing more developmental education. We have students who are coming who are not prepared to be in college, but we have an open enrollment policy and accept students and then find they need additional support when they get here, so that’s an area or goal of the board. Other goals are to continue to be accountable and efficient. We are looking at our systems internally to make sure we have the greatest efficiencies in terms of our operations and have cost cutting measures in place — things like that so we are accountable for those dollars and using them wisely. In terms of other areas of the college, we, again on the community side, make sure we are making people aware of all the programs and services we provide.