CNCC Charts New Path During the Pandemic

Colorado Northwestern Community College Charts New Path During the Pandemic

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At first softly, then with growing strength, my mother and I began singing:

“you just gotta ignite the light, and let it shine. Just own the night, like the Fourth of July, 'cause baby you're a firework. Come on show 'em what you’re worth…”

By the chorus -- “Boom! Boom! Boom!” -- our off-key rendition of Katy Perry’s song Firework had the full attention of the other patients and nurses in the long-term wing of the psychiatric hospital where my mother – Pamela Nelson has lived since 2008.  

As fireworks exploded across America’s night sky’s this past weekend they, like the song, remind me of the sparks of light and hope to be found in the darkest places during a challenging time.

My darkest moment arrived on March 13 when we had to halt all community programming at Colorado Northwestern Community College. A sense of grief and loss rose up in me that Friday afternoon in March.We’re all facing challenges like balancing personal liberty with the need to protect the vulnerable all the while or work and personal lives must mutate at the pace of a virus.

After a summer and fall 2019 full of hard choices to stabilize community programs, we’d just started to turn a corner. Classes were filling. We’d announced the creation of the Workforce Training and Community Programming Department. This initiative is intended to position the college to re-align our non-credit, community programs to support skill training for current and future jobs while keeping the very best of our enrichment and lifelong learning classes.

Then COVID-19 hit.

Under the stay at home order, struggling to see a path forward, I found myself clicking the playlist I’d created for my mother. Firework was followed by Korean singer PSY’s Gangnam Style. I recalled my mother’s laughter when she watched the pony dance in his music video.

These memories renewed my sense of perspective, joy, and hope. In those moments I knew, I would join educators across the globe galloping in new directions.

Workforce Training and Community Programming, in eight short weeks, metamorphosed into a fully online program.

We sourced, negotiated, and executed a contract with a nationally recognized creator of high-quality learning, worked to rewrite significant parts of our website, created two new sites:

 We crafted a modestly funded marketing plan to support this new endeavor.

And in early May we launched our non-credit online, skills-based, COVID-proof personal and professional development courses and advanced career training certificates.

There are hundreds of classes to choose from including:

Speed Spanish, American Sign Language, WeldingPharmacy Tech., Introduction to Guitar, Drawing for Beginners, and many, many more.

We introduced the program with 10 free classes.

In seven short weeks, 135 people enrolled more than 330 times, across 15 of the most popular class.


We’re back to providing learning opportunities for our communities.

The response to COVID-19 has made staying connected also a challenge. Working from home, rather than traveling to in-person meetings has impacted communication and relationships. Time saved has left moments for reflection. We used this time to create a statement of purpose and strategic plan for the new department.

Workforce Training and Community Programming will support the overall mission, vision, and values of the college specifically by focusing on non-credit programs creating opportunities for life-long learning, incubating innovative programming, and foster community involvement, and economic development.

CNCC Workforce Training and Community Programming Strategic Plan

The pillars of this framework are four objectives – focus on the learner, communication, partnerships, and sustainability -- supported by six projects with clear benchmarks and 20 clearly defined goals for us to tackle in the next 12 months.

Among its many initiatives, this plan proposes to:

·         Convene a Business and Industry Leadership Team (BILT) to ensure our efforts are highly aligned with existing and future jobs.

·         Develop a learn-while-you-earn apprenticeship program.

·         Create greater access to our most popular noncredit classes across all our communities.

·         Increase financial assistance to individuals and businesses.

·         To make data-driven decisions in identifying and testing new trades and other training programs.    

We’re planning for the fall semester. 

In addition to the new non-credit online courses, we expect to offer in-person instruction, remotely delivered live classes, and distance learning options. To become an instructor complete the form at:

We’re putting safety first and planning contingencies to help us adapt to mandates. Updates on CNCC’s response to the threat of COVID-19 are found at:

We expect to launch two new sections of our website – Community Programming and Workforce Training -- and a print-on-demand catalog. These resources are in production now and due out in August. 

I’m also, currently scheduling video conferences, calls, and, when COVID-19 precautions allow, visits with stakeholder groups to share and receive feedback on the departmental strategic plan.

It’s a lot to communicate at once. And there’s so much noise. I’m again reminded of the lessons I learn from my mother. Sparkler Image 2

Her health often hampers her ability to verbalize. Her joy, as we sang pop-rock, in the otherwise clinical setting of a psychiatric ward, reminded me to lead by doing. To show, not just tell. To create a department that empowers everyone to find their spark and ignite it.

Boom! Boom! Boom! 

Published July 13, 2020

About CNCC

Colorado Northwestern is one college in two Colorado communities. Depending on what you want to study, CNCC has the perfect surroundings and facilities to meet your needs. Founded in 1962 as “Rangely College,” CNCC now serves nearly 1,600 students on two campuses, two service centers and online. Our two campuses are located in Craig and Rangely and are 90 miles apart in the mountains and canyons of Northwestern Colorado.