Special to the Wallace State website. Reprinted with permission from The Cullman Times.

By Trent Moore | Posted: Friday, March 27, 2015 5:45 am

HANCEVILLE — Sitting in her second floor office recently discussing Wallace State Community College’s future, President Dr. Vicki Hawsey Karolewics rattled off a laundry list of accomplishments and future goals for the institution of higher education — all prefaced with the humble note that she can take “no credit” for the monumental growth the school has seen during her 12 years at the helm.

“Not mine, but the college’s greatest accomplishments during that time are transformations in the learning environments for our students,” Karolewics said. “Engagement, technology rich and collaborative learning environments that lend itself to deep reengagement with students. That’s been our goal from day one.”

As the college celebrates its 50th anniversary, Karolewics’ work at Wallace State has had an enormous positive effect throughout the Cullman County community. Coupled with her strong commitment to participate in numerous civic, business and charitable organizations she has earned the distinction of being named The Cullman Times’ 2015 Distinguished Citizen of the Year.

Under her leadership, Karolewics has taken Wallace State from a mid-size community college to what local officials now proudly call the “crown jewel” of Cullman County. Karolewics’ tenure has seen the school hit record enrollment numbers, enhance its status as a healthcare training leader, add several new workforce training initiatives and career technology courses, and build modern classroom facilities to reflect the campus’ progressive growth and maturity.

“As I was driving through campus recently, I noticed there’s nowhere to park in welding and diesel mechanic. That’s a great thing to see, because it means there are so many students in those programs,” Karolewics said. “Early on, there were about six students in diesel mechanics, now there are 60. The culinary program had eight, today there are 58. I can’t even count how many are in welding now. It’s about serving the community. That’s what a community college is supposed to do, and that’s what we strive to do.”

Karolewics has a love for books that mirrors her passion for education, and her home is filled with bookshelves of first editions and decades-old classics. Despite that healthy respect for what’s come before, Karolewics is also fiercely invested in what comes next.

With an eye always toward the future, Karolewics said Wallace State is currently developing the campus master plan that will outline expansion and growth for the next several years. Initiatives that include an industrial training center in the industrial park for “flexible training,” a new facility for welding and manufacturing training, a new CDL training facility and several renovations to existing buildings.

Chancellor of the Alabama Community College System Mark A. Heinrich said Karolewics is a tireless innovator who has taken Wallace State to new heights during her time at the college.

“She is one of our most innovative presidents. She has had a vision for Wallace State in Hanceville, and has met every one of the goals she has set forth for that institution,” he said. “Frankly, I have as much admiration for her as anyone I can think of. She’s a giant in her field, there’s no question about that.”

Heinrich added that one of Karolewics’ greatest strengths is a fearless approach to taking on new challenges.

“So often, when there’s an innovative or special project opportunity out there, she’s the first to say ‘I’ll do it,’ and carry that through,” he said. “She just seems to have endless energy and a heart and love for the community college system, and ultimately that goes back to a love for students.”

Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce President Leah Bolin, who has worked with Karolewics on numerous initiatives, said the college president “exemplifies the best this community has to offer.”

“She has vision, heart and determination,” Bolin said. “She goes above and beyond her role as college president to ensure there is an abundance of opportunity for success — not only for WSCC — but for our entire community. I am thrilled she is receiving this honor.”

Assistant Director of the Cullman Economic Development Agency Dale Greer said Karolewics has an innate ability to “understand industry” and the role a local college can play in training, recruitment and retention.

“She always offers to assist, and it doesn’t matter if it’s short-term training, a certificate, degrees — if they’re creating jobs, she’s going to help them,” Greer said. “What a remarkable asset, because for every industry, the final determining factor for them is workforce. The people. So many other places are comparable with having the right buildings, or the right transportation arteries. But it’s the workforce that makes the difference, and that’s where Wallace and Dr. Karolewics play a key role.”

Hanceville Mayor Kenneth Nail said Wallace State has grown into one of the greatest assets within his city, and noted much of that success can be tied to Karolewics.

“There’s no doubt she’s a champion for Wallace State, which in turn is a champion for Hanceville,” he said. “We appreciate all she does in trying to promote the college. It’s a really big deal, and she’s so great to include us in things for the college. She definitely does her job, which is to look out for that college.”

Nail noted the college’s success under Karolewics has created an almost tangible effect on the city, touching everything from business growth to industrial recruitment.

“Hanceville without Wallace, it would just be hard to describe. It’s meant so much to the city, it really has,” he said. “Not just the land growth, but you can be in Hanceville one day when the college is closed, and look over at McDonalds or the other, local eating establishments and see that. Then, come over one day when Wallace is in session, at lunch time, and see the impact it has on Hanceville. It’s a tremendous impact.

If I had to choose between having Hanceville by the interstate, or to have Wallace State, I’d pick Wallace State. Hands down.”