Oneonta, Ala. – In a historic day in Blount County that caused Denny Kelley, founder of Hometown Bank, to observe, “Wallace State is to Oneonta what Mercedes was to Alabama,” Wallace State Community College celebrated an Open House at its new Oneonta campus on Tuesday.
If the excitement among the huge crowd of community members and potential students that turned out for the event is any indication, that analogy is already proving true.
Wallace State administrators and employees joined Oneonta city leaders during the celebration as Wallace State opened its first satellite campus. A ribbon-cutting was held by the Oneonta-Blount Chamber of Commerce.
“Three years ago I received a visit from Mayor (Ross) Norris asking Wallace State to be present in Oneonta,” said Wallace State President Dr. Vicki Hawsey Karolewics.
In order for this day to happen, however, Wallace State needed help from Oneonta and Blount County leaders in breaking down the invisible service area lines, which they found to be a barrier to their economic development efforts. So Oneonta officials met with Chancellor Mark Heinrich of the Alabama Community College System and made establishing a physical location in Oneonta to serve Blount County possible.
“City leaders have a vision to make Oneonta an Alabama Community of Excellence, which requires an intense focus on workforce development, among other stringent criteria for success in achieving goals of their economic development plan, and I really commend them for that,” Karolewics said.
“Why is it important for a city to have its own higher education center? If you look at all counties in the state of Alabama, those places where higher education centers exist have higher education attainment rates. When 65 percent of jobs in the state of Alabama require some level of postsecondary education beyond high school – those middle skill jobs – and that education is not accessible to a community, it makes a difference as to whether you can change lives and create opportunity and elevate hopes and aspirations through jobs,” Karolewics said, “great jobs like welding, for example.”
In fact, Wallace State will receive a special legislative appropriation to begin a welding program in Oneonta. “We appreciate Senator Shay Shelnutt for his support,” said Karolewics. The college also plans to offer CDL truck driver training beginning as early as this summer, and hopes to partner with Alabama Power to offer lineman training. Additional short-term and career technical programs, both credit and non-credit, will be added to the full complement of academic courses leading to an associate degree already scheduled for the new center.
Wallace State has also committed to support job development through a business incubator/entrepreneurial development partnership with Blount County Economic Development Council going forward. The college is working to secure adequate funding for an initiative designed to grow small businesses and high technology jobs in the area because, as Karolewics noted, small businesses are the backbone of Alabama’s economy.
An economic impact study by Alabama Power estimates that the Wallace State-Oneonta campus will bring an additional $4.4 million in spending with local businesses and an additional $1.9 million in related salaries.
“This is the perfect example of community and college coming together to meet the needs of the community,” said Dr. Russ Rothamer, Chief Academic and Student Affairs Officer for the Alabama Community College System.
Probate Judge and Chairman of the Blount County Commission Chris Green, himself a product of Wallace State, said that coming to Wallace State as an adult student studying music education “opened doors for me that would never have been opened otherwise.” His two daughters, now teaching in Blount County, also attended Wallace State. He is just one of several community leaders who are alumni of Wallace State.
Karolewics recognized the impact the late Eldridge Bynum had on Wallace State and on countless students in Blount County through his encouragement and help finding scholarships for those who otherwise couldn’t have afforded to go to college.
“When he had a vision, he made sure it happened,” said Christopher Bynum, grandson of the late Eldridge Bynum, who was four-term mayor of Cleveland, Ala. in Blount County.
“I think my grandpa would love this Oneonta Center,” said Bynum, who will graduate from Wallace State–Hanceville with a degree in nursing next week. “This has been a dream of his for many, many years, and he’s worked tirelessly to make this dream come true.”
Christopher’s aunt, Robin Bynum, agrees. “I think he’s smiling down on us,” she said. “His goal was that any child that wanted an education could go to college.” That more students in his home county will get that chance through Wallace State makes it more special. “He had a heart for Wallace State,” Robin Bynum added. “He and Dr. Karolewics were very close, in fact, he called her Dr. Vicki.”
Students from Cleveland Elementary raised the flag to kick off the event and were recognized by Dr. Karolewics with a scholarship to attend Wallace State once they graduate from high school. “We want you to come to Wallace State,” she said. “But the important thing is that you go to college.”
Scholarships were also presented to Kelli Whitmire, as the first student registered at the new Oneonta center. Jeffrey Ben Horsley, a Blount County student currently attending Wallace State, was presented the UAB Honors Choice Scholarship.
Cierra Marie Barrios, also currently attending Wallace State from Blount County, was presented the Alabama Presidential Transfer Scholarship, a full-tuition scholarship to the University of Alabama. Barrios spoke to the audience about her experience at Wallace State and expectations for the future.
Barrios had wanted to go directly to a four-year college after graduating from high school, but her family’s situation made it a better financial and personal decision to attend Wallace State instead. “I’m so happy I chose Wallace State,” Barrios said. “I met some of my best friends here and I really found myself when I came here and found what I wanted to do.” She now plans to study Hotel Tourism Management. “I am so excited to represent Wallace State. I will always have Wallace State in my heart and I will always be ‘in a Wallace State of Mind’,” she said.
Dr. Karolewics thanked community members for the outpouring of support that made the day and the new campus possible.
“We could not do this without the support of Mayor Ross Norris, the City Council, Ed Lowe, Brandon Horton, the City and County Boards of Education, Judge Chris Green and the County Commission, Don Mitchell and the Economic Development Council, Danny Kelley and Hometown Bank, Aimee Wilson and the Oneonta-Blount Chamber of Commerce, local superintendents, Brother Bud Jones of Hope House, our local legislative delegation and Congressman Palmer’s office, and so many others,” said Karolewics.
The Wallace State Singers and Jazz Band entertained the audience during the event to a standing-ovation.
Hot dogs were provided by Hometown Bank, chips by Golden Flake, drinks by Coca-Cola and Milo’s, and the Hometown Market stored the food. City workers helped to prepare the facility, which has been loaned to Wallace State by Hometown Bank.
“And we have just received our first donation for Wallace State-Oneonta — from Ameri-Tek Document Solutions,” Karolewics said. “Thank you!”
Following the ceremony, tours were offered of the facility, which has been adorned with the work of local artists.
“As this campus grows, it is our prayer that Blount County grows and prospers with it,” said Dr. Kelley Jones, Director of the Wallace State-Oneonta campus.
Onsite registration officially begins at Wallace State-Oneonta on Wednesday, May 4. Classes begin May 26.
Students can also register online at www.wallacestate.edu.
The Wallace State-Oneonta campus center is located at 728 2nd Avenue E., on Highway 75 in Oneonta.
To register or for more information about Wallace State-Oneonta, call 205.625.4020, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
To access additional pictures from Tuesday’s event, visit here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/wallacestate/albums/72157667299833250
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