Housatonic has a new president

Brad Durrell, Editor, Bridgeport News

October 11, 2007

Running an urban college with a $22 million annual budget is a long way from milking cows on a Wisconsin farm, but Anita T. Gliniecki finishes the journey this week when she is formally sworn in as president of Housatonic Community College.

"Housatonic is a great institution, and we're in a transition phase of becoming bigger and better," Gliniecki said.
Gliniecki, 56, grew up in rural eastern Michigan. Her father was a small-town teacher and her mother ran the family business - a 160-acre farm with cows, pigs, wheat and navy beans. Gliniecki had farm chores to complete every evening, such as milking cows and feeding cattle.

She said her parents, now deceased, always stressed the importance of doing well in school to her and her two siblings. It was assumed that all three children would attend college.

"The main pusher was my mom, who only had an eighth-grade education," Gliniecki said. "She would tell me to get my education because then I could take care of myself whether I got married or not."

The Monroe resident has been married to Robert Dombroski, a retired attorney, for 35 years. They met at the University of Michigan when he was in law school and she was an undergrad. The couple has two daughters, ages 23 and 20.

They were involved in social activism in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a time of anti-war protests and changing roles for women and minorities. Dombroski represented poor people as a young attorney with Legal Services.

Gliniecki originally was a registered nurse, but she said she always wanted to teach. She began working as a professor and administrator at academic institutions in Michigan, then came to Housatonic in 2003 to serve as academic dean, overseeing all credit courses, library services and academic advising. The move allowed Gliniecki's husband to be closer to his elderly father, who lives in central Connecticut.

Earlier this year, Gliniecki was selected from among 41 applicants to be Housatonic's next president. She has served as acting president for 13 months, replacing former president Janis M. Hadley when she retired.

The college has planned a series of public events late this week to mark Gliniecki's inauguration. Activities include lectures, musical performances and films.

College expansion

Housatonic has seen enrollment increase in recent years, with 4,475 students attending credit classes during the current semester. The cost of attending Housatonic is about $3,000 per year.

The state-supported, two-year college is going through its biggest expansion since moving to a new downtown campus from an old East Side factory in 1996.

A new $51 million, 170,000-square-foot building should open in the fall of 2008, doubling the college's size and, officials hope, relieving a chronic shortage of classroom and office space. It will add 30 classrooms, 10 computer labs, meeting rooms, lounges, another cafeteria, a bookstore with a street entrance, and offices for three of the college's five academic divisions.

"It's critical because right now, if [something] can be enclosed, it's been made into a classroom," Gliniecki said.

There aren't enough classrooms available at the peak times of weekday mornings and early evenings, so classes take place seven days a week. And non-credit course offerings have been scaled back due to the limited space, according to Gliniecki.

The expansion project at the former Sears site is on time and within budget, Gliniecki said. "In the last few weeks, you can start to see where the rooms will be," she said.

She is excited about other development taking place in and near downtown Bridgeport, pointing out Housatonic's move to the city center 11 years ago helped improve the area's image.

Housatonic's presence in the central business district, with its academic and cultural vitality, makes the city a more desirable place to live, work and visit, she said. Housatonic students and 300-member staff also help create a stronger retail market downtown.

Meeting community needs

Gliniecki said the role of a community college is to meet a community's needs and to work with students at their beginning level to help prepare for jobs or transfers to a four-year university.

All students are accepted for admission at Housatonic, but they must take a placement test before they can enroll. Based on the test results, some students may have to take developmental - or remedial - courses at the start of their college career.

She said a community college is a low-cost alternative to get people through two years of college, and an associate's degree has value. She cited nationwide studies show that today's 24- to 34-year-olds are less educated than those slightly older due to the increasingly high cost of college.

Housatonic has agreements with about 20 four-year higher education institutions that accept credits from Housatonic courses.

Housatonic also works with local high schools to better prepare these students for college. High school seniors can take math or English and reading courses at Housatonic. The community college also is part of the Achieving the Dream program, enabling Housatonic officials to go into urban high schools and discuss the role of higher education, financial aid, placement tests and career planning.

About two-thirds of Housatonic students are female, which Gliniecki said is partly due to lower high school graduation rates among males.

She said getting a job that can support a family is almost impossible today without some college education. "It's the only way they'll be able to survive in this economy," she said.

Housatonic officials collaborate with the local business community to offer courses that teach the skills companies want workers to possess. The college also hosts short-term business seminars and workshops to train workers.

"Education is critical to economic vitality," said Gliniecki, stressing that businesses want to locate in areas with skilled workforces.

Boosting student success

A key goal for Gliniecki has been to increase student success. Now, about 33 percent of students who enter Housatonic either graduate or transfer to another college in the course of six years.

She said she is proud Housatonic has won awards for its support services, such as tutoring, academic advising and career planning.

The college has changed its methods for teaching math, with an emphasis on allowing students to go as fast or slow as needed to comprehend different math concepts. Many incoming students have weak math skills, Gliniecki said.

She said Housatonic - one of 12 community colleges in Connecticut - must never lower its standards but "keep upping the bar, knowing our students can meet them if we help them."

The community college, through its private, non-profit foundation, is seeking to raise $1 million to increase scholarships, target emerging technologies, work with high school students, and conserve and better exhibit its art collection.

Housatonic has what is considered the best art collection of any two-year college in the country, appraised at $11 million. Started by the late professor Bert Chernow, it includes works by many famous contemporary artists. Art work is displayed throughout the college campus.

Gliniecki said exposure to art helps teach critical thinking skills. Students may look at a painting and form an opinion, articulate their view and then contrast it with those of others. "These aren't just pretty pictures they look at," she said.