The state of Northern Marianas College
First of a three-part series
Editor’s Note: The following is the transcript of Northern Marianas College president Galvin Deleon Guerrero’s speech that was delivered at the State of Education Address on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022, at the Saipan World Resort.
Many of you may be familiar with the parable of the Star Thrower by Loren Eiseley. As the story goes, one clear morning, hundreds of starfish were found washed ashore after a torrential storm struck the night before. A little girl walking along the beach feared what would happen when low tide hit around noon and the sun would bear down on the shore, effectively killing all the starfish. So she proceeded to throw starfish back into the ocean, one starfish at a time, one by one. As she did this, she came across an old man who was astounded by what she was doing by herself. He looked at the hundreds of starfish strewn along the shore and asked her what she was doing. She responded that she was saving the starfish. In disbelief, he told her that there was no way she could save all of them. In response, she looked out at the ocean, looked at the old man, looked down the shore, picked up another starfish, and threw it out into the ocean. She turned back to the old man and said, “Well, I saved that one, and with your help, I can save more.”
Over the past year, I’ve shared this parable with many audiences, and I share it with you today because when I think about the state of Northern Marianas College, when I think about the state of education in our islands, when I think about the overall state of our islands, this parable of defiant optimism says a lot about where we, and who we are, as a Commonwealth.
You see, that girl on the beach was exercising an incredible amount of agency, an agency that we all possess, especially here in the CNMI. Sure, there are forces that seem beyond our control—climate change, economic turbulence, and global catastrophes like the COVID-19 pandemic. And sure, we could choose to feel victimized by those forces. Or, as that little girl did, we can take charge of our destiny and act as agents of change who fight to save our planet, who fight to ensure economic prosperity, who fight to keep everyone safe and healthy.
At Northern Marianas College, we have chosen not to be victims. We have chosen to be agents of change. And, as agents of change, we have triumphed despite all that has come our way. Despite the devastation caused by Super Typhoon Yutu and other disasters, we have recovered to continue serving our students and our community, and are on the precipice of building brand new facilities. Despite all the financial uncertainty brought upon by the global economy, not once did we lay off or furlough any of our employees. And despite all the challenges of the pandemic, we kept everyone safe and we kept sailing on. As a testament to what we have accomplished, we were recognized by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges with a historic eight-year accreditation term without a mid-term visit, the longest in the college’s history.
We accomplished all of this because we did not give in to victimhood. We embraced our role as agents of change. Because the state of things, or the status quo, is not just about what exists today. It’s a challenge to imagine what can exist tomorrow. Will we, like the old man, stand there in disbelief, paralyzed by the overwhelming state of things that lies before us? Or will we make a difference, and save one starfish at a time? In other words, will we embrace our role as agents of change, entrusted with the stewardship of our islands and the islands of future generations?
At Northern Marianas College, we have made stewardship the heart of our new strategic master plan, which focuses on three strategic priorities:
• Take care of our people.
• Take care of our resources.
• Take care of our community.
And it is around these priorities that I will discuss the state of the college.
Let us begin with what we are doing to take care of our people. Taking care of our people first means taking care of our students and empowering them to succeed. To do that, we need to offer a wider range of engaging programs, develop more targeted student support services, and provide accelerated curricular and career pathways.
To empower students to succeed, the college’s Student Support services, led by Dean Charlotte Cepeda, is leading the way, particularly with programs like Project PROA, which provides a wide range of services and activities, including mentoring and tutoring, for high school and college students. And, with support from Gov. Torres and the Legislature, the Board of Regents has launched the Proa Promise Initiative, which provides a last-dollar scholarship to new students, enhances wrap-around student support services, and improves job placement rates.
The success of our students starting smart is reflected in enrollment figures that continue to climb while other colleges and universities are seeing declining numbers. In particular, we have seen a 20% increase from a little over a thousand in 2016 to the most recent figures passing 1,300. When we take a look at graduation rates for our primary associates degree programs, we see that graduation rates have more than doubled in the past decade. As interim dean for Academic Programs and Services Vilma Reyes has noted, our faculty are working even harder to bring these numbers up even more.
Beyond these numbers, the stories of individual students reveal much more about their success, like Norman Tanghal, a 2021 graduate from NMC’s nursing program, who recently passed the NCLEX-RN test. Like many of his peers who have also passed the test, he attributes his success to NMC’s Nursing Program, where class lectures from his instructors, the skills lab, and the Kaplan test tools all helped him prepare.
To be continued
Galvin Deleon Guerrero (Special to the Saipan Tribune)
Dr. Galvin Deleon Guerrero is the president of Northern Marianas College.