EAU CLAIRE — The way Dr. Sunem Beaton-Garcia, the incoming Chippewa Valley Technical College president, sees it, there’s a lot of work to do when she arrives full time in Eau Claire.
That’s not, she was quick to say, a reflection on anyone. Any time a new president comes in, there’s work to ensure that person gets to know the community and the community gets to know her. Then there’s the normal business that marks the weeks just before a new academic year.
This year, there are even more layers. Students, staff and faculty will be returning to traditional, in-person class after a year of uncertainty and pandemic precautions. Throw in CVTC’s work on the new transportation center, and there’s plenty to keep anyone on their toes.
Beaton-Garcia’s solution? Listening. A lot of it and in multiple environments.
“I’m going to go on a listening tour,” she said. “Not only internally, but externally.”
Community colleges and technical schools have long occupied a unique niche in terms of training and providing work-ready graduates to local industries. That’s the goal behind things like the transportation center, to prepare students who can perform well in rapidly-changing industries.
Technology is moving fast. Things like artificial intelligence may be moving faster. Preparing a student isn’t as simple as knowing how to replace a transmission, not anymore. If they aren’t comfortable around computers there’s a good chance they won’t even be able to find out what’s wrong with new cars. And, as enhancements like computer-assisted driving become more common, that requirement will only grow in importance.
Business and industry knows the changes are coming, and they know what they’re likely to need in the coming years. That’s why Beaton-Garcia said she plans to meet with groups like the Chamber of Commerce and the business community “to see what their needs are and see how we can help.”
“Certainly partnerships are welcome,” she said. Such steps can also ensure students are training on equipment similar to what they’ll use on the job, easing the transition from student to employee.
The CVTC Board of Trustees selected Beaton-Garcia to lead the school earlier this month. She succeeds Bruce Barker, who announced his retirement last year. Barker led the school for 12 years. Beaton-Garcia brings a unique background to CVTC. She’s the first woman to be named president, and the first Latina.
It’s a long way from Cuba, which her family fled more than 40 years ago. Beaton-Garcia, who is a first-generation college graduate, called that move a defining moment, impressing upon her the need for good education.
“I have an understanding of the transformative power of education,” she said. “When we came here all the opportunities opened up for us. A lot of that was education and training.”
Beaton-Garcia formally begins July 1, but she’s planning to arrive a couple weeks before that deadline. The first step is to let her son, Gabriel, finish this year’s classes. She said he has already embraced Eau Claire, and was a bit disappointed he had to return to Florida to finish up the academic year.
Once classes wrap up, Beaton-Garcia, Gabriel and her husband, Carlos, will pack up and start the long drive from Florida to Wisconsin. It’s going to take a couple days, and shipping the family’s belongings north will follow.
Then the work begins.