Following its well-coordinated fundraising pitch and low-key two month gestation, the Robert G. Freeman Center for Career and Completion, a newly remodeled and renamed space in the existing IT building near Hill Avenue, opened May 16 as a hub to cultivate students’ academic progress and career growth. The Freeman Center (FC), its informal name, features a large, bright open space with several glass walls. There are small private offices with windows and doors, semi-private seating, rolling whiteboards, and a retractable screen for presentations. The feel is open, flexible, and collaborative, with distinct aromas of new paint and carpet to accompany the FC’s planned meetings and activities.
“One of the main goals is employment for students,” said Katherine Swain, FC career counselor. “Part of the plan and the design is that there will also be a good deal more marketing.”
Job development and outreach with local employers is managed by Salvatrice Cummo, PCC’s Executive Director of Economic and Workforce Development. Other services in the FC include resume writing, job placement strategies, and interview preparation workshops.
The FC is the new home of PCC’s internship program for graduate students in counseling programs from area universities. Interns from CSULA, CSUN, CSULB, and Azusa Pacific University come to PCC to work with students. “They’re here to do career counseling, career advisement, and employment readiness,” said Swain. “We really like it. Students are really liking it.”
The FC also improved safety over the career center’s former location. “It solves a number of problems. One of them was just the crowded environment, which really wasn’t so safe for students with disabilities,” Swain said. “It was pretty crammed in there. We would be moving chairs in an emergency. There would be backpacks and stuff … it was likely to create a hazard trying to get out.”
Hiring of new permanent staff is also underway. Salaries will not be covered by donated funds, Swain added.
Kris Pilon, graphic communications technology professor, was pleased with the new FC. “It is a great project that will benefit the students,” Pilon wrote in an email to committee and college leaders.
Fundraising is an important leadership responsibility at PCC. “I work very closely with the Foundation. Bobbi Abram, the Executive Director, is part of my executive team,” said Superintendent-President Erika Endrijonas. “I attend all PCC Foundation Board and Executive Committee meetings. I meet regularly with current and potential donors, too.”
Those meetings, along with a powerful fundraising team, formed the Freeman Center. “The donation of $300,000 was a request to the donors Molly Munger and Steve English as part of the Foundation’s IMPACT major gifts campaign,” said Abram. “Dr. Jack Scott, chairman of the campaign, Dr. Rajen Vurdien (former PCC superintendent-president), Senator Carol Liu, Salvatrice Cummo and I met with them and gave them a tour of the proposed remodel several months ago.”
Munger and English are longtime civil rights attorneys and activists for equality. Munger wanted to honor her late stepfather, PCC alumnus Robert G. Freeman. He was also active in civil rights and public education with the Pasadena Unified School District in the 1960s. “They have been previous donors to the Foundation,” Abram noted, adding that English and Munger are also husband and wife.
PCC sees the Freeman Center as a model for future investments on campus. “The college would love to be able to provide that sort of learning environment for our students, as much as we could. I think it comes down to funding, honestly,” said Alex Boekelheide, Executive Director for Strategic Communication and Marketing. “At the moment, we are at the tail end of our existing bond which was issued in 2002. And so any facilities or improvement money we have comes from the state. And that’s a pretty limited pot.”
Donations for naming rights is a potential future revenue source. “As the Major Gifts Campaign comes to a close this June, I imagine there will be a series of opportunities that might come up for discussion then,” said Boekelheide. “It’s a tradition in academic settings to honor your donors in that sort of way, and I think we’re just proud to be able to do the same thing.”
The FC’s inception and evolution remained low-profile during the college governance process. “This was not a shared governance project,” Pilon said. “In fact, it has not appeared on the [Academic] Senate agenda this year.” The FC appeared as a consent item in the PCC board of trustees (BOT) meeting agenda on March 20. Consent items require an aye or nay vote from BOT, and do not have public comment or discussion during the vote. With the simple unanimous vote of “aye,” the BOT approved the Freeman name change in a group with 28 other unrelated business matters, according to the March 20 public meeting minutes.
Board policy (BP) and administrative policy (AP) govern how the college conducts business. Donations made to PCC are subject to BP/AP 6620. This document gives the BOT the power to decide which buildings or structures can be a “naming opportunity.” It then authorizes the BOT to approve any proposed name change request accompanying a donation. BOT approval is the final step in the process.
In the two months since the BOT’s approval, the FC became more visible. During its launch, a multimedia blitz began online and on campus. A video-oriented webpage debuted, including a brief text overview of Freeman’s background. Signage with specific Freeman branding was placed above the IT building’s entrance. Sidewalk decals were laid out on The Quad. Posters promoting the FC’s services and brand were put up across campus.
People-driven events included the start of student-oriented career sessions, one of the FC’s core services, in the Creveling Lounge. The FC’s opening featured an added element.
“There was an event on campus last week where a ribbon was cut,” said Boekelheide. As word spread of the FC’s opening, conversations began between faculty and administrators. “There are a few faculty members who are concerned that they were not consulted before the naming was approved by the board. However, the board of trustees has purview over naming rights,” Endrijonas said. “I am meeting with one faculty member next week to discuss her concerns.”
Endrijonas plans on a personal presence at the FC. “Overall, I think the feedback has been positive, especially when folks actually go inside of the Center and see how awesome the space is,” Endrijonas said. “Beginning in the fall, I am going to hold a couple of office hours each month in the Freeman Center to offer advice and mentoring for anyone thinking about moving into a leadership role and/or who sees leadership in their career path. I look forward to being part of the excitement there.”