Story by David Kirk – Times West Virginian Newspaper – Fairmont, WV

FAIRMONT — Pierpont Community and Technical College looks to refocus with a fresh start this year.

Pierpont’s Advanced Technology Center was abuzz with over 200 incoming students and their families to take part in the college’s Monty Day, which filled the ATC with fun, food and an introduction to the institution.

Kathleen Nelson, Pierpont’s interim president, kicked off the festivities Saturday by welcoming the students and families. Nelson was selected in July as the college’s second interim president in two years, and promised to “hit the reset button” this year to realign the college after a turbulent six months of uncertainty.

“Perhaps the word ‘refocus’ might be a better term than ‘reset,’ as we are, collectively, refocusing on our mission and vision by providing more opportunities for students,” Nelson said in an interview. “We are creatively designing ways to flexibly meet the needs of our students so that learning completed at Pierpont is simply another step in individuals’ lifelong learning journeys.”

Workforce development and leaning on the college’s strengths was the name of the game at the press conference held for Nelson’s hiring in July. Now that Pierpont is welcoming new students to the first semester that is not overshadowed by COVID-19, there are a lot of things that need to be ‘refocused.’

COVID caused a dip in the enrollment in higher education institutions across the country and Pierpont was not exempt. COVID forced many normal practices within the college online or cancelled altogether. Provost Michael Waide said he and his office have heard these concerns from the students and are working to address them this year.

“One of the things we heard students share was how COVID prevented them from coming together within a learning community,” Waide said. “Pierpont has been intentional with creating opportunities for students to reconnect and re-engage. We have been utilizing enrollment and registration events that have brought students together as a community.”

Saturday was one such event. In addition to the usual things that come with a new student orientation, Monty Day included introductions to resources Pierpont offers, engagement with faculty and staff.

There were plenty of recreational things to do, including food trucks and bounce houses and other fun things.

“We want to welcome everyone to the Pierpont family, so it’s important for us to make sure they feel welcome and know that this is where they belong,” Jennifer McConnell, executive director of admissions and student engagement at Pierpont, said.

But six months ago, inflatables and food trucks were the last thing on the mind of the Pierpont administration. After a battle in the state legislature that hung the fate of the institution on the brink of dissolution failed to pass, the college’s board of governors was left scrambling to get the school in shape for the new semester.

The addition of Nelson to the administration seems to do just that, with a unified sense of direction coming from the board, the administration and the faculty — three parties who were at odds just a few months prior.

Waide hopes that that sense of direction passes down to the students.

“After last spring, we want to push the message forward and make sure our students, employees and community know that we are a vital, sustained presence in our communities and we will be here supporting our students,” Waide said.