Staring into a sea of caps and gowns on Thursday night, Dave Hill focused on one face in the crowd. Kind and familiar, and adorned with the same…
Article by: DAVID PETERSON , Star Tribune Updated: May 20, 2013 – 1:22 PM Inver Hills Community College nestles into leafy valleys near some of the wealthiest neighborhoods in suburban…
Staring into a sea of caps and gowns on Thursday night, Dave Hill focused on one face in the crowd. Kind and familiar, and adorned with the same shimmering black get-up, he saw his wife, Leah. The Hills graduated May 16 with the Inver Hills Community College Class of 2013, earning Associate in Arts degrees and feeling ready to take the next step in their educational journey.
During Dave’s student address at the college’s commencement ceremony, he asked his fellow graduates to do three things as they moved on from Inver Hills: give back, push past excuses and accept challenges. He and Leah have spent their lives doing just that.
Both in their 30s, the Hills moved to Oakdale in June 2011 to be closer to family after having spent more than a decade in south Texas working as ministers. With big aspirations – Dave dreams of teaching, writing a book and becoming a public speaker, while Leah hopes to work in event planning or human resources – the pair felt the need to get an education that would help them turn their dreams into reality.
“We wanted to reinvent ourselves,” Dave said. “We felt that we weren’t living up to our full potential, and knew that this was the right step for us. Even though we were in our 30s, we knew that it was time, and if we waited, we would just feel regret.”
“We have loved going to school together; it has been a time of growth, even in our marriage,” he added. “We also work together, so we are able to keep up with a hectic schedule and still see each other.”
This summer, with associate degrees to their names, Dave and Leah will continue their educational journey when they start taking classes at Metropolitan State University. Dave will pursue a bachelor’s degree in Professional Communication with a minor in Training and Adult Development, and Leah will pursue her bachelor’s in Business Administration with a minor in Human Resource Management.
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Inver Hills Community College nestles into leafy valleys near some of the wealthiest neighborhoods in suburban Dakota County. But every Wednesday at noon, students like Christine Monroe and Muhammad Rashad quietly slip into the back of a truck to pick up bags of free groceries so they won’t miss a meal.
“The largest minority on this campus is the poor,” said Prof. Tom Reis, who for years has given food to hungry students. “They’re invisible, because there’s a stigma: No one wants to raise his hand and say ‘I’m poor.’ ”
The Brookings Institution on Monday released a study ranking the Twin Cities area among the nation’s top 10 major metropolitan areas for the speed at which suburban poverty is rising. Its analysis says the number of suburban Minnesotans living in poverty more than doubled between 2000 and 2011.
Although it won’t be part of the public release, analysts at the Washington, D.C., think tank say Shakopee and Apple Valley head the list of outer-ring suburbs seeing sharp rises in poverty numbers. Both places permitted wave upon wave of townhouse construction during the housing boom — nearly 2,000 units between the two of them from 2000 to 2005, according to the Metropolitan Council.
“The landscape of poverty has changed dramatically in the past decade, and public perceptions haven’t kept up,” said Elizabeth Kneebone, a fellow in the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings.
At Inver Hills, the Mobile Pantry springs from an assessment last November showing that 40 percent of its students identify themselves as in need of food assistance, with another 17 percent saying they’re not in need but have been in the past, spokeswoman Helen Ebert said.
The same story is repeated elsewhere. In far wealthier Scott County, a relatively new effort to link people facing sudden crises with those willing to help — to donate a brake job so someone can get to work, for instance — has doubled in numbers this year.
“This year, we’ve already assisted 78 families,” said Beth Loechler, executive director of the FISH program. “Our number last year at this time was 36.”
In affluent Plymouth, a nonprofit less than two years ago opened a 3,300-square-foot store at its new headquarters to raise money and serve rising needs. Local residents donate used goods, and hundreds volunteer as staff.
People offering services speak of startling turnouts. On Mother’s Day weekend, cars lined up for two blocks when a Lakeville church, Spirit of Joy, offered free oil changes to single moms. Hundreds assemble on Saturdays when a Burnsville church distributes food.
“We’re less than a mile from where the city spent millions creating an upscale new downtown,” said Mark Fagerwick, spokesman for Vineyard Community Services, which runs the food shelf. “Less than a mile from that spot, 300 people will line up for bread and staples to get them through the week.”
Bust after the boom?
Paul Mattessich, executive director of Wilder Research, a St. Paul nonprofit that tracks the same trends locally, agrees there’s an issue with suburbs. He finds the late decade jump there — contributing to a doubling in suburban poor from 95,000 in 2000 to 205,000 in 2011 — to be nothing less than “astounding.”
He notes, though, that our suburban poverty rate is still fairly low compared to suburbs across America, and well under that of the central cities. “The suburbs have big numbers, but lots of people live in our suburbs,” he said.
During the past decade, the poverty rate in both central cities rose from about 16 percent to about 23 percent. The suburban rate was about 8 percent.
Brookings, a leading source of analysis of urban trends, stresses that the large suburban numbers are important to notice, and notice early. Its report is based on U.S. Census data.
Its national list of fastest-rising metros for suburban poverty includes ailing areas like Detroit and Sun Belt foreclosure hot spots such as Las Vegas. But it also includes some prosperous, well-educated areas such as the Twin Cities, Denver, and, close to the top 10, Charlotte, Portland and Madison.
Brookings’ Kneebone said she thinks it’s an aftereffect of earlier success.
“These regions were growing, particularly before the downturn. There were jobs in the suburbs: jobs in construction, in services,” she said. “In places like Atlanta, a diverse population responded to that, and then when the economy turned down, a lot of people either were without work or finding work that pays less.”
Spectrum of need
The suburban poor fall into at least two types, Kneebone said: new and less affluent arrivals, often taking advantage of foreclosures and falling prices, and longer-term residents suffering from a change in circumstance.
The Mobile Pantry at Inver Hills sees both.
Muhammad Rashad, 20, is an Egyptian immigrant, drawn here by the presence of family in the area, but finding it difficult to find work in this economy as a full-time student. He hopes to transfer to the University of Minnesota and earn a degree in accounting.
For the moment, though, he said, “this is so important. I did just start working for the college, but it has been hard to get food.”
Christine Monroe, 45, of Inver Grove Heights, has been a Minnesotan “forever” but is supporting a daughter in college after losing a job in the optical industry. She’s retraining to be a nurse, but for now, she’s in need. “This is absolutely awesome,” she said, seated on the grass beside the truck. “My daughter does work at McDonalds, but before this, there was some skipping of meals.”
At Vineyard in Burnsville, said Fagerwick, “we have the capacity to double what we’re doing right now, and make a real impact on the hunger gap.”
One particularly gratifying thing he’s seeing is the phases experienced by immigrants.
“Our Hispanic population has grown dramatically in Dakota County. Our church now has a separate church for Hispanics,” he said. “And they are a huge part of our beneficiaries — but also, now our volunteers. Thirty to 40 percent are now Hispanics serving their own neighbors and friends in need, as they move into self-sufficiency.”
[As published in The Word, the Inver Hills Student Newsletter, March 28, 2013. Contact email@example.com]
Borinda Khay, known as Bee, is an outstanding student and Career and Enrollment Services worker. Born in Cambodia and raised as a teenager in America, Bee recognizes the challenges of “growing up” in the United States—those differences in language, culture and the way of life—but appreciates them wholeheartedly. His story is one of true perseverance and hard work. Here’s an excerpt from our interview:
S: You were just telling me on our walk here that you were born in Cambodia. When did you move here to the United States?
B: I was born in the capitol city, Phnom Penh, and I came to America, I think, in April of 2007. When I first came here it was different. I kind of want to go back, but I’ve gotten used to it here. When I visited Cambodia last year, I felt a little bit different because I got used to America.
S: How long have you been at Inver Hills?
B: I’ve been here for three years now. My first year here I took more English classes for my English because at that time my English wasn’t that good. Now, I’ll be finished with an A.A. degree this summer.
S: Do you have a plan to transfer?
B: Yes, right now I’m looking at Concordia University, Hamline, St. Thomas and Metro State. I’m just looking at a couple different universities for a degree in Business Management and a minor in International Business.
S: What do you see yourself doing as a career?
B: Well, throughout my family—my grandfather, my dad, my uncle—they’re all in business. My family wanted me to be a doctor, but I told them I don’t know because when I see them [the doctors] cutting and taking care of people, I get kind of scared! So, what I’m planning to do is look to people who are already successful in their goals—like my cousin and his brother-in-law. They go to school, they study and they go to work. Once they get one degree they keep going up. Now they’re all managers in business and stuff like that. So this is what I’m trying to do: I will study and go to work until I get my master’s degree, and if I have the chance, I will go for my doctorate degree in Business. And one day I want to have my own business.
S: You work in Career and Employment Services. What do you do there?
B: I put in data from grad surveys after they graduate. I’ll call them and ask them what they do now and what school they went to. Also, I do projects for faculty and any other departments like Financial Aid, TRiO, and iConnect. If they ask me to help with something, then I will do it.
S: Do you think your job at Inver Hills is going to be helpful for you in your future?
B: Oh yeah, it’s really helpful because throughout my experience of working—I used to work at Dragon Star [the grocery store]— this job at Inver Hills has put me in office positions, which is what I want to do. I want to work in an office. And it gives me a lot of experience in things I didn’t know and it taught me how to do them.
S: How has Inver Hills helped you in your experience as a student?
B: I think Inver Hills is a pretty great school. They have good professors and good people here. And it’s like every nation is here, so you learn a lot of things that make you become a better person. This school is not too like “wow”—people are focused in school and they are nice people. I enjoy it.
S: How was it coming to America and enrolling in college? Because I imagine it would be difficult to come to a school that speaks English and then have to study in English, learn in English.
B: When I was in Cambodia I took some English classes, but the accent that they teach is totally different than here in America. When people speak to me I would understand a little, but when I’d speak to them, they totally didn’t understand what I was saying because I had a totally different sound—even now I still have that accent. And people will be like, “Huh? What are you saying?” And I have to slowly say it out, spell it out, or explain. I think it’s something that you will be challenged with throughout your life, but it’s a good thing because English is spoken throughout the world.
What my family wanted me to do in America was to get an education—a better education. My country is not a big country, so it’s not that great in education. So they wanted me to get an education here, that’s why I’m here. And I think I’m pretty lucky to be here.
S: It’s good to be grateful, but I’m sure it’s still hard to be away from where you grew up.
B: That’s true—my mom is still over there, too. But I think she’s planning to come here soon. I feel like I grew up here and not in Cambodia because I came here when I was 14 or 15, so I can say that from 6 years old to 10 years old, I didn’t really know anything—I was still a kid, you know? And I think America teaches you a lot of things, like how to be independent. Because when I was in Cambodia, the parents always take care of you and there’s no experience in working. The parents say, “Just eat, survive, go to school and get an education.” Any money is provided by the parents. So when I was in Cambodia, I don’t think I really learned anything besides going to school. But when I came to America, I went to high school and my dad was busy working. So, I had to do things on my own and I feel like you can become lonely because most of the stuff I had to do, I did by myself. My dad doesn’t speak English too well, so I had to fill out all the forms—like when I applied to Inver. I do things for myself and I learn it myself, so I think I’ve learned a lot throughout my life by coming here. I really like it because learning new things is always good for me.
S: It sounds like family is a big part of Cambodian culture, like it’s very connected. Do you still feel like you have any of that with your new independence?
B: Oh yes. We call each other—for like 2 or 3 hours—and we still want to talk. Family is a very big thing for us. And I’m sure in America family is a big thing, too.
S: It sounds like you have a good balance of being connected with your family and learning new skills to be an adult.
B: Yeah, that’s how I feel. When I visited Cambodia, my grandfather and mother said, “You have changed now. We’re proud of you. You have become more independent. You’re not a kid anymore.” They also said, “OK, we trust you. And be sure that what you’re doing is right for you.” What my grandfather wanted was for me to go and study and come back successful. He wanted me to bring him the certificate so he can die peacefully. When I first went to visit him, I had just graduated from high school and I brought him the certificate. He was very, very happy about it. He took my certificate and printed it out so big and put it in his house. I think education for my family is really big because they don’t care about what you do, but they want you to take care of yourself, be safe, and to focus on school and not forget about it. I didn’t know English back then [growing up in Cambodia], and everyone was worried about how I would go to school and if I would be successful because of not knowing the language. But today, before my dad left [at the airport], he said, “You know, I want to thank you for not throwing away your education and you keep fighting through it even though it’s hard.” Sometimes I even feel great about myself!
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Eight Inver Hills Community College students participated in the second-annual Minnesota Conference for Undergraduate Scholarly and Creative Activity last month at Minnesota State University, Mankato. The students presented research papers on topics ranging from Shakespeare’s Hamlet to post-war American suburbia.
The students were able to attend the conference thanks to the newly formed Research Across Disciplines committee at Inver Hills. The committee was formed in response to changes across the United States that have challenged two-year colleges to provide more and better research training and opportunities.
Congratulations to the eight students who presented on behalf of Inver Hills Community College!
Inver Hills Community College’s Leading and Developing Readiness (LADR) program helped Rosemount High School earn the 2012-13 Star of Innovation Award from the Minnesota Association of Secondary School Principals. The award was presented to RHS Principal John Wollershiem and Assistant Principal Kimberly Budde.
LADR allows students who place in the 30th to 70th percentile in their class to take college preparatory courses and, ultimately, college-level courses for credit at their high school. The credit courses fulfill requirements for the Minnesota Transfer Curriculum and are specially developed to meet both high school and college requirements. Credits transfer easily to Inver Hills, other community colleges and four-year universities.
LADR is offered at nine area high schools, including Apple Valley High School, Burnsville High School, Gordon Parks High School, Lakeville North High School, Lakeville South High School, Prior Lake-Savage High School, Rosemount High School, Simley High School and AGAPE High School.
Rosemount High School was one of 22 middle and high schools from around the state that were considered for the Star of Innovation Award.