Our College Canvas

Down on the edge of Pittsboro sit the red brick buildings of Central Carolina Community College (CCCC), which is an institution that we can view a couple of ways.

For many educated folk the state’s Community College system is a “second string” academy. Here in the shadows of UNC, Duke, NC State, Meredith, Elon et al, it is a place for the poor performers. It is often viewed as the Junior Varsity of educational institutions.

This view is sometimes reinforced by those employed by the Community College System. It is, after all, encumbered by state mandates, which include everything from low pay, to teaching contracts that do not include benefits, to a bureaucratic demeanor.

It’s easy to throw darts at the college. But there is another way to view our college. It can be viewed as a canvas, on which we get to paint our ideas.

One of the great painters of our Pittsboro college canvas was Harvey Harman, who introduced the Sustainable Agriculture Program. Harvey is the proprietor of Sustenance Farm, and one of the results of his work at the college is a growth in the number of farms in Chatham County. Surely we need to credit a whole bunch of people for the success of the Sustainable Agriculture Program at CCCC. What started as a vision became a land lab, complete with a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, a working farm, and a curriculum that has become renowned on the eastern seaboard.

In an era of vanishing farmland, where local foodsheds are embattled by encroaching golf courses, our college is inspiring people to go into sustainable farming.

Thank you CCCC. Its administration, its staff, and the institution itself helped enable a remarkable program.

The same thing happened with the Biofuels Program. Rachel Burton was innocently running the Automotive Program at the college, when she invited Leif Forer to jump in, since he shared her passion for biofuels.

Together they built a program that not only endures, but draws students from all over the country. The curriculum developed by Rachel and Leif is now freely available to the academic community. It has been replicated in Alamance County, and is sought after by instructors nationwide.

One of the offspring of our community college is Piedmont Biofuels, which has accidentally become an award winning national leader in sustainable biodiesel production.

In many ways the relationship between Central Carolina Community College and Piedmont Biofuels is exactly the relationship envisioned by the founders of the Research Triangle Park. One of the ideas behind the park is that the academy would spawn industry, and industries would in turn hire graduates of the academy.

Bingo. CCCC just received a big chunk of funding from the North Carolina Legislature, thanks in part to Senator Bob Atwater and Representative Joe Hackney, and the college is currently bringing a biodiesel analytics program online under the auspices of a biotechnology pro- gram. It’s no surprise that Piedmont Biofuels, and another dozen biodiesel projects across the state, are in need of lab skills, from people who are intimate with the biodiesel specification and the properties of the new fuel.

As a canvas, CCCC is designed to create jobs for the people of North Carolina. It allowed Rachel and Leif to paint the broad strokes, and it is filling in the colors of a masterpiece underneath.

Classes at the college are only the beginning of the educational piece. They also host work- shops, and conferences, and from Piedmont Biofuel’s perspective, the outreach and education never ends, including free tours of the Moncure Coop every Sunday afternoon—an event that brings thousands of visitors to Chatham County. What is next on the easel? Green building is gaining speed. Alicia Ravetto and Paul Konove, along with Harvey Harman and a cast of others are working on a Certificate Program in green building. Not a bad idea for a town of 2500 which has10,000 building permits issued

Here is a different view of CCCC: The college is our canvas. It sits on the edge of town inviting our ideas, and our talent, and it assists us in creating our community and our economy into whatever it is we want them to be.

Did I hear something about an arts incubator in Siler City? Was that a cooking school I heard rumors about? Filmmaking, anybody? In a culture that is quick to enumerate our problems, perhaps we should consider counting our assets, and when we start doing that, let’s put our Community College on the top of our list.

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"Industrial Evolution shows how the key to the very survival of our civilization lies in the rational, incremental return of commerce and innovation to the realm of the real-world, human-scaled community."
Douglas Rushkoff, author of Life Inc. and Future Tense