Chicago Tribune Local
September 22, 2011
By Mary Owen
Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon and her husband, a teacher at a community college, visited Joliet Junior College last week as part of her tour of all 48 community colleges in Illinois.
“So often, community colleges are not on people’s radars,” Simon said. “I’m excited to call a little attention to community colleges and see what we can do better.”
JJC was Simon’s 30th stop. She said she plans to make recommendations to the Gov. Pat Quinn and the state legislature based on what she learned during her visits.
The visit also comes as the college awaits $23 million in state funding that will go towards the construction of the new JJC downtown campus. While the project is at the top of the list for education capital projects, Simon and school officials could not predict when a capital bill would pass the state legislature.
During the two-hour visit Sept. 22, JJC officials showcased two of their marquee departments: the culinary program, which has won national distinctions, and the nursing program, where 100 percent of graduates pass their state exams.
At one point during the tour, Simon put on a stethoscope and listened to the “heart beat” of “Stan,” the nursing program’s new life-size dummy – called a high-fidelity human patient simulator.
“He’s OK,” she said.
The tour was book-ended with visits to the college’s new 350,000-square-foot Campus Center, which opened this summer. JJC officials say the new Campus Center has transformed students’ experience by centralizing basic services such as admissions, counseling, financial aid, registration and tutoring.
JJC President Frank Zeller, who replaced the late Gena Proulx, touted the new Campus Center to Simon and credited Proulx for her efforts. Proulx died in August after battling fallopian tube cancer.
“This is worth bragging about,” Simon told Zeller, who looked around the open Campus Center lobby as sun beamed through the skylight.
Simon said that while each community college has something special to showcase, each school struggles with bridging the gap for students coming from high school and those headed to a four-year university.
A handful of JJC students spoke about how the college has helped them.
“I love JJC because when I finished high school, I wasn’t the brightest student and when I came here teachers said, ‘You can do whatever you want,’” said Daniela Raia, 20, of Plainfield. “I think this was a wonderful transition.”
Non-traditional students, such as Jason Almazan, 29, who returned to school ten years after graduating from Joliet West High School, said he received a lot of support at JJC.
“JJC has made it easy to get through,” Almazan told Simon.
After the tour, JJC officials presented Simon with a bound book of the history of JJC, which is the country’s first community college. She said her husband, Perry Knop, the chairman of the Social Science Department at John A. Logan College near Carbondale, has joined her on many of her visits, but was particularly interested in visiting JJC because of its historical significance.