Candidates share vision for Oakland Community College

By: Andy Kozlowski | C&G Newspapers | Published October 16, 2020


In the Nov. 3 election, seven candidates will be on the ballot for Oakland Community College’s Board of Trustees. There are two seats for which they are competing — each is a six-year term.

In a series of email interviews, the candidates discussed what they would bring to the table at OCC.

Shirley J. Bryant
One of the incumbents running for reelection, Bryant has served for 12 years now. She was first elected to the board in 2008, and then reelected in 2014.

The Farmington Hills resident is a retiree of the Birmingham Public Schools, where she worked as executive director of community relations. She has also worked as a high school English teacher. She has a master’s degree in educational leadership (community education) from Eastern Michigan University and a bachelor’s degree in English and education from the University of Florida.   

She said that OCC needs to create more community partnerships and implement stronger recruitment efforts for students. She also described the board’s current priorities. These include college readiness efforts, and making sure there are articulation agreements with four-year schools to ensure OCC transfer students have their credits transfer.

Other priorities include workforce training, student services programming and diversity efforts.

“OCC is extremely affordable thanks to the generosity of Oakland County taxpayers. OCC has the lowest tuition of any of the 28 community colleges in Michigan,” Bryant said. “As for accessibility, Oakland Community College is open to all and any students who choose to further their education. If they are not ready with the necessary skills for college work, we provide development programs and tutors to assist them.”

She said COVID-19 is a major challenge right now. OCC has moved programs online, but also provides hybrid opportunities that include face-to-face meetings as needed. With five campuses in the OCC network, she said “the sky is the limit” when it comes to continuing to develop student programs.

Jason Michael Deneau
A new person running for the board, Deneau is an Oak Park resident who works as an HR training analyst for Oakland County. He has a master’s degree from Oakland University in HR training and development and instructional design, a bachelor’s degree in public administration from Central Michigan University and an associate degree in business from OCC.

“I have a great love for OCC because I am a graduate myself and have personally benefitted from OCC’s quality instruction,” Deneau said. “The educational foundation from OCC properly prepared me to excel at the next learning level. … I am running for trustee because I have three young children and I want to leave a legacy of possibility and opportunity for them and many, many others.

“The goal is to increase access to educational opportunities for all Oakland County residents, as well as those with ambitions to attend this award-winning institution, all the while continuing to ensure OCC is affordable.”

He noted that when he received his degree from OCC, as a non-traditional adult learner, the limited online and blended learning options delayed his graduation. He said that as a trustee he will push for expanded non-traditional online choices and blended programs to help others complete programs in a timely manner.

He also wants to help grow the workforce by carefully considering employer needs.

“It is imperative for the college to work with partners within the county boundaries and beyond, to grow educational opportunities and thus career paths that benefit both OCC students and the county stakeholders,” Deneau said. “This mindful and purposeful planning for the future must be modeled from the top of the institution and downwards. That is where my experiences and beliefs would be most beneficial and useful.”

Dandridge Floyd
Another challenger is Floyd, a resident of Southfield who currently serves as the assistant superintendent of human resources for Oakland Schools. She has a master’s degree in social work and a juris doctorate.

“OCC is a gem in Oakland County, providing high quality post-secondary education options and workforce development opportunities. Despite quality programming, OCC has faced declining student enrollment over the last few fiscal years, and even with modest growth, it’s typically part-time students who face more hurdles in completing or earning transfer credits,” Floyd said. “While there are a variety of factors contributing to student enrollment — low unemployment, declining birth rates etc — OCC has an opportunity to increase student enrollment through increased awareness and intentional marketing strategies.”

She said her work at Oakland Schools has given her a deep understanding of OCC’s benefits by way of the programs the two institutions do in partnership, such as the Oakland Technical Early College and the Accelerated College Experience programs, where high school students can get an early start in post-secondary training and earn an associate’s degree while completing their high school diplomas, all at no cost.

“Programs such as these, and a multitude of others, are pathways to OCC, and they need to be developed and implemented with fidelity,” Floyd said. “With demonstrable experience in developing and supporting partnerships, I am uniquely qualified to provide strategic leadership to support OCC’s efforts to be the college of choice.”

To this end, she wants OCC to develop a targeted marketing and recruitment campaign for prospective students; enhance wraparound services for enrolled students in need of support in reaching a degree or transfer credit attainment; and increase apprenticeship programs to support economic workforce needs.

Floyd said she supports Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s “60 by 30” initiative, which incorporates programs that provide tuition-free pathways for industry certificates or associate degrees for Michigan adults 25 years and older, and a path to help graduating high school students with two years of tuition-free postsecondary education at a community college.

“As a trustee, I would promote and encourage bipartisan support of this legislation to ensure Michigan is a state of choice, and OCC is a college of choice,” Floyd said.

Susan Gibson
A resident of Lake Orion who previously lived in Clarkston, Gibson is a director of client services and business development at the business advisory firm Rehmann, with a bachelor’s degree in telecommunications from Michigan State University. She is among the newcomers running for a seat on the board.

“Colleagues and friends mentioned to me that my experience and skill set would make me a good candidate to serve the college and my community. I’ve always loved OCC and am thankful to live close to one of the best community colleges in the nation,” Gibson said.

She said that as a lifelong resident of the county, she benefitted from OCC starting as a student at Harrison High, having access to facilities as an athlete, attending theatrical and culinary programs as a community member, and supporting educational programs as a business professional.

“I would bring a broad set of skills to the board,” Gibson said. “My active experience with Leadership Oakland, the Michigan Diversity Council, the Asian Pacific American Chamber of Commerce, the Marketing & Sales Executives of Detroit, and other metro Detroit organizations encourage me to listen and collect information to make sound and collaborative decisions,” she said.

Gibson said she wishes to maintain OCC as “the best and most affordable path for continuing education,” and that it’s also important to support the faculty and staff to make sure protocols are in place to keep OCC safe. She wants to increase awareness at all levels of the community regarding the program offerings at OCC, and collaborate more with businesses searching for talented employees in fields such as robotics, IT, health care, emergency services, culinary, advanced manufacturing and more.

“Our entire society and its institutions are obviously experiencing unprecedented challenges. History has shown that every challenge provides opportunities to be innovative and create new ways of doing business,” Gibson said. “I’d like to help OCC continue to work with faculty, students, businesses and the community to constantly raise the bar to serve one another.”

John P. McCulloch
The current chairman of the OCC Board of Trustees, McCulloch is a lifelong Royal Oak resident who works as a certified public accountant and attorney, and who currently teaches accounting courses in the undergraduate and graduate programs at Madonna University in Livonia.

He has a bachelor’s degree in accountancy from Walsh College and a juris doctorate from Michigan State University Law School. He also served 10 years as a county commissioner representing Troy and Royal Oak, and 12 years as Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner.

“OCC has made tremendous progress, particularly in the last three years. The financial condition and enrollment of the college has stabilized. We have new leadership both in administration as well as on the board. We have a long-term strategic plan providing a roadmap for the college’s success. I was actively involved in this transformation, and would like to contribute to the college’s continued success,” McCulloch said.

He said that OCC is aggressively developing its non-credit and continuing education programs, and that the school needs to continue crafting customized training contracts with local companies, helping train the next generation of workers for employers in southeast Michigan.

He also noted that OCC has experienced dramatic growth of dual enrollment programs for high school students, and that OCC will continue to expand its role vertically by providing education to high school students and in some cases post-associate degree students.

In addition, OCC has one of the lowest tuition rates in Michigan, he said, and by transferring their OCC credits to a four-year college or university, OCC students can often complete their degrees with minimal debt. He plans to keep OCC affordable, while expanding its developmental educational offerings for students who need remedial help.

“I believe I am qualified to serve as a board trustee of OCC based on my public and private sector experience,” McCulloch said. “My background as a CPA, attorney, and a professor of accounting provides a unique perspective in dealing with the challenges facing OCC.”

E. Wadsworth Sherrod III
A West Bloomfield Township resident who works in TV production and newspaper delivery, Sherrod is running to join the OCC board. Sherrod is currently working on becoming a certified sign language interpreter.

“Many of my supporters and family suggested I should give (running for the OCC board) another try, as well my pastor at my home church. I’m qualified because I know exactly what students need and don’t need because I was one of those students, and I know firsthand what faculty need and what they don’t have due to budget cuts,” Sherrod said.

More outreach to Black students should be a priority, Sherrod added, noting that many are being pushed toward vocational training programs rather than a degree. Sherrod wants to create or restore positions for a chain of command that brings the board better feedback in terms of what’s happening on the campus. Finding more ways to lower tuition and help students pay for it is another goal, as is diversifying the school’s offerings and doing more to market them.

“The challenges facing the college is more schools are advertising on television or radio with campaigns reaching out to people to become new students with new programs that OCC doesn’t have or they used to have but were terminated due to cuts,” Sherrod said.

John D. Tolbert
A Southfield resident and senior pastor, Tolbert is a graduate of Southfield-Lathrup, has a bachelor’s degree in social work from Western Michigan University, and a masters of divinity and doctor of ministry from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville.

He said he is running for the board because he feels change is needed.

“Many of us — myself included — have waited and hoped for the best. We hope that current leaders share some of our morals and values. We hope that their decisions and appointments would be inclusive and benefit all who they serve. We hope, but many times we’re disappointed,” he said. “Through unswerving prayer and encouragement from my community, I have decided the time is now for me to come off the sidelines and get in the game. To be the change I want to see in the world! I’m a community leader, a critical thinker, and a catalyst for progress.”

Tolbert also said “it’s time for us to have healthy conversations about diversity,” in a way that reflects the community. He said that access to education can help current and future generations break the cycle of poverty. He said OCC should increase its outreach to urban communities.

“What this pandemic has taught us is there is a major digital divide,” Tolbert said. “We need to find solutions. We need to guarantee that all students have equal access to the technology and equipment needed to successfully learn, even virtually.”

Tolbert said he is also committed to establishing the Oakland County Promise, where county residents can attend OCC for free. He wants this to include a bachelor’s degree program. He feels more diversity is needed too, including more people of color in positions of leadership, and that more can be done to recruit and retain faculty and staff.

“If OCC continues to do what she has been doing, then she will continue to get what she has been receiving,” Tolbert said. “Change has to happen in order for the college to be reflective of the community. Diversity has been slow to evolve at OCC.”