FM celebrates 50 years of evolution

JOHNSTOWN – While it’s relatively young for an institution of higher education, FMCC has gone through remarkable changes in its 50-year history.

This semester, the college is celebrating all the changes it has seen over the last five decades. Fulton-Montgomery Community College was established by a joint resolution of the boards of supervisors of Fulton and Montgomery counties on March 21, 1963. When the school opened its doors in September 1964, it was housed in the former Johnstown High School building on the corner of South Market and West Montgomery streets. In January 1969, the college moved to the present campus on Route 67 in the town of Mohawk, southeast of Johnstown.

“It was like designing a small town, or an intellectual community for two counties,” Edgar Tafel, the architect who designed the campus, is quoted as saying in an exhibit on display now the college’s Perrella Gallery.

History professor Jonas Kover has been teaching at the college since 1969, and those he is retired, he continues to teach part-time as an adjunct professor.

“The number of students has definitely gone up, and in the early years there was a debate about having to pass a test to get in here, but I’ve always thought everyone should be given the opportunity to attend,” Kover said. “The community and state paid for it, and it should be an open college, which it is, and I think it is very good. Everyone deserves their fair shake … this place gives everyone a chance, and if they do well, by God, they stay.”

He said he joined the campus faculty when the new campus opened and has seen a variety of changes over the years.

The college has came a long way since its freshman orientation in the late 1960s on the old Johnstown campus, at which all freshman were required to wear an FMCC beanie to identify their status.

While the beanies have become obsolete, the campus now identifies itself as a culturally diverse school that meets the educational needs for people of all ages and ethnic backgrounds.

Community colleges began to spring up all over the nation after soldiers came back from World War II and the GI Bill paid their tuition. At the time, many new students were older than the typical 18-year-old college freshman.

Like many community colleges, FM?has adapted to meet the expectations and demands of both recent high school graduates and working adults.

“We certainly had an interest in 18-, 19-, and 20-year-olds, but we did see a large number of returning students, and the GI Bill was certainly a large part of that,” college President Dustin Swanger said. “At one time not that long ago, the average age for FM was 28, and now it is about 24, so the average age in recent history has dropped.”

Over the years, the college has seen an increased variety of ethnicities and nationalities represented on campus.

Today, international students come to FM?from all over the world. The top counties represented on campus are China, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea and Vietnam, but the current student body also includes people from Europe, Africa and South America, said Arlene Spencer, FM’s director of international students and English-as-a-second-language programs.

Spencer said the college today has more than 140 international students on campus. The college initiated its ESL program in 1987.

“From that point on, the college itself has been recruiting our own students,” Spencer said.

Director of Collaborative Career Learning Sharon Poling was a student at the college in the 1970s and returned later to begin her career. She noted the diversity on campus is one of FM’s many strengths.

“We have stepped back and become more student-centered,” Poling said. “We created students spaces for student life.”

She said that has played a big part in bringing in more young students as well as students from various ethnic backgrounds.

“They have enriched the culture here,” Poling said of international students. “The diversity on this campus is not unlike what you would find on a major university campus.”

Kover and Poling said the international student population was non-existent when they first arrived on campus. Kover said the first wave of foreign students were from Middle Eastern countries, but that dropped off due to the political climate.

Kover said then Asian students began to frequent the college, along with more African-American and Hispanic students.

“The diversity is good,” Kover said. “The dorms were an excellent idea because it allows them to be close and has the college be a community of sorts rather than a destination.”

Mary Donohue, director of FM’s Evans Library, said over the 20-plus years she has been at the college, she has watched the campus become a “microcosm global environment” within the overall community.

Changing campus

Over 50 years, the college has seen a variety of structural changes. In the 1980s, the first student housing was built near campus; it was a new concept for community colleges at that point.

In 1996, the college began to construct its master plan expansion, which included the arts and communications building.

As the college began to see more students attend, it also expanded its classroom size by using the basement level in both the library and classroom buildings.

The college finished the new dormitory on County Highway 142 known as Raiders Hall in August 2012; it houses 144 students, bringing the number of residential beds to 293.

The $7.1 million project has doubled the amount of available beds and was completed after nine months of construction.

The college has regularly filled every bed since that point and even worked out an agreement with Microtel that will provide an additional 50 beds on the third floor of the Johnstown hotel, making it serve as an international hall for this school year, officials said.

The college has also renovated the athletic building in a number of ways, with the biggest addition being where the former pool was for a number of years. FM renovated that 6,600-square-foot space into what it now calls Raiders Cove – a student lounge with an Internet cafe, stage, pool tables, TVs and a modern design.

The dining area at the College Union also recently underwent a redesign. In the area known as the Mohawk Room, sunlight now streams through glass windows, allowing campus visitors and students to see the entire dining and lounge area.

The renovations result in a more contemporary dining setting and more college-like feeling, Swanger said. In short, the former austere cafeteria-style dining area has been transformed into a more attractive place for students.

The campus has embraced a number technological renovations, adding facilities that weren’t even possible when the college was founded.

State-of-the-art technology allows students direct access to equipment and labs that are being used in today’s most advanced technology fields – a clean room, an atomic force microscope, electron and inspection microscopes, a 3-D printer and advanced manufacturing and advanced electronics laboratories.

Academic programs have evolved to meet new demands.

Will Bonner, the infrastructure administrator for IT at the college, said the college has gone from having 20 computers when it first used them to now providing over 850 computers to the staff and students.

Swanger said students today often use the web for a variety of projects and presentations, so it is important the college is online, secure and well supported.

He said the college’s bandwidth has had to be increased three times since he came to the college about five years ago.

“The learning hasn’t changed at the college, but the process by which people gain information has changed, and that is because of the fast progression of digital technology,” said Bonner, who has been with the college more than 20 years. “Teachers’ goals remain the same, but the medium used to obtain that info has became simplified and faster.”

“We have evolved based on the needs of our community from a curriculum standpoint,” Swanger said. “There was a time when we had a leather-making program, and we don’t have that anymore. Then we had a secretarial science programs that focused on shorthand and typing, and that is no longer here because it has evolved into an office-manager type of program.”

Swanger said programs will continue to evolve because each year the college updates the curricula of three to five programs.

Battling hometown


Many students attending the community colleges in their home areas think the “grass is greener” elsewhere and what is available to them doesn’t compete.

However, Swanger said, the recent advances in technologies and yearly improvements to the curriculum have made FMCC a competitive higher-education institution that has paved the way for people to pursue further education and careers all over the nation.

“That has been a challenge for community colleges for a while,” Swanger said. “I think FM is gaining is a stronger reputation than it had in past. I think that is because some of the work we have done in our facilities and some of letting the public know what is happening on campus. When people see what we have to offer, they are amazed at what we have on campus, and I think there is real potential.”

“It seems to be that people don’t necessarily know what they have when they’re in their hometown,” Swanger added. “But I can tell you I have met with students from around the world, and they are so pleased at what FM has to offer.”

The future

FMCC has always strived to offer a personable atmosphere for the student body and state-of-the-art programs and technologies that are relevant in today’s competitive job market and will continue to do so, Swanger said.

What will FM be like in another 50 years?

“I think we are on a trajectory to continue to grow,” Swanger said. “We will put more of an emphasis on international students, which I think is an important market, and I think there will also be more involvement from the college in community development.”

Swanger said there have been several internal conversations about a permanent solution for additional housing. While he wasn’t ready to announce any specifics, he said when he does, “it is going to blow people’s mind.”

Swanger said the science labs have become extremely outdated, so the college hopes to bring them up to modern standards soon.

One of the bigger projects in the master plan is the renovation of the Evans Library.

Many of the projects will need funding from the two sponsoring counties while others will be paid in part by the FM Foundation, state and federal grants and the Fulmont College Association.

Last week, faculty and guests filled the theater at FMCC for the 50th anniversary Kick-off Community Celebration, the first of several events marking the anniversary during the 2013-14 school year.

In the coming months, several events have been scheduled as part of the college’s celebration of its 50th anniversary.

On Oct. 9, Richard Russo, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist who grew up in Gloversville, will speak at the college.

On Oct. 12, Raiders Reunion Day will welcome back alumni with the annual 5K run.

Other events include:?On Nov. 22, the Distinguished Alumni Awards dinner; on March 21, the Charter Ball; and May 21, the 21st Annual Golf Classic.

A variety of pictures and memorabilia celebrating the college’s 50th anniversary is on display now in the Perrella Gallery, which is open to the public during regular college hours.

Editor’s note: The Leader-Herald will publish a special section commemorating FMCC’s 50th Anniversary, which will be inserted in the newspaper’s Oct. 13 edition.

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