College opening hailed

Rob Spilman (left), chairman of the New College Institute board, introduces Gov. Tim Kaine at Tuesday's classroom building opening ceremony.

October 25, 2006

"That (can-do spirit) is the reason we are here today." - Gov. Tim Kaine

By CHARLES BOOTHE - Bulletin Staff Writer

Using the analogy of a "loaves and fishes story," Gov. Tim Kaine said on Tuesday that establishing the New College Institute here was the result of starting with very little but working toward a larger goal.

"It took a lot of people to get here," he told a crowd of about 200 who braved cold and wind to attend NCI's open house ceremony on the lawn of the old courthouse in uptown Martinsville.

The governor used the biblical story of Jesus feeding a multitude with only two fishes and five loaves of bread to illustrate that NCI started small but made big things happen.

Kaine said NCI was created with a "can-do spirit" that came together in the community. "That (spirit) is the reason we are here today," he said.

Underscoring the humble beginnings of other state institutions of higher learning, he said NCI had "a small start, but a powerful start, with a great vision for the future."

"If the idea is right, the time is right," he said, quoting former governor and now Richmond Mayor L. Douglas Wilder, who made the comment earlier in the day as the two were talking about NCI.

Kaine said NCI not only will meet the educational needs of the area and Southside region, it will provide degrees "in fields that are needed all over Virginia," including nursing and teaching.

As governor, he meets with other governors, he said, and the discussions often focus on what each is doing.

"We talk about the future and what we want the future to be," he said. They agree, he said, that "the most powerful thing we can do" is focus on education not only to provide degrees but to enhance economic development as well.

Kaine, who is Irish, used Ireland as an example of what education can accomplish. He explained that most countries in the world have Irish immigrants because the country historically offered few opportunities.

But that is not the case any more, he said, because Ireland started boosting its educational opportunities, investing "in the minds of the young in the community."

Education, he said, is a "primary tool" for economic development.

Kaine, who was one of the first to start pushing for a new college in the region and has supported NCI since he was lieutenant governor, said it "was an honor to play a small part" in the creation of the college.

Dr. Barry Dorsey, NCI's executive director, also spoke at the ceremony and praised Kaine, former Gov. Gerald Baliles and members of the General Assembly for their help in getting the college off the ground.

"It would not have become a reality without the bipartisan work of the General Assembly," he said. "Against the odds and despite predictions, it opened a year ahead of schedule."

Dorsey said NCI is "not a panacea" for progress in the area, but it's an important part, along with such tourist destinations as the new Virginia Museum of Natural History and the Martinsville Speedway.

"NCI will make a difference," he said, in helping the area again become "a bustling, thriving, and educated" place.

Dr. Dan LaVista, director of the State Council for Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV), echoed Dorsey's assessment of NCI's impact.

NCI, he said, will help the area transform from dependence on the textile and furniture industries into "a new economy that would turn on the power of education."

That is because, LaVista said, NCI will teach all the skills necessary for a new economy, including the basic principles of education, such as thinking, computing and analyzing.

LaVista also said NCI has been made possible by the "tremendous cooperation between other state higher education institutes."

NCI offers classes through, among others, Averett, Radford and Longwood universities, Ferrum College and the University of Virginia. Many of those schools were represented at the open house.

The development of the college also was spurred by The Harvest Foundation, which offered a $50 million challenge grant to start a state-supported college here.

Gracie Agnew, principal of Magna Vista High School and a member of The Harvest Foundation Board of Directors, told the crowd that the foundation a few years ago looked "at our ability to compete in a global marketplace and found our area sorely lacking."

Agnew said "startling" statistics show that the number of area residents with a college education — 12 percent — is far below the state average.

Those facts made it clear, she said, that "highly available and innovative ways to earn a degree must be designed" for this area. "What a glorious thing (the idea of NCI) that was," she added.

H.G. Vaughn, chairman of the Henry County Board of Supervisors, not only praised the movers and shakers who helped transform "a piece of legislation into a place of learning," he also said NCI never would have happened without the drive of many local residents.

"We are dogged in our determination to get things done," he said, "and we will not go away easy."

But Vaughn said that since classes have begun, "now the work begins ... What we do with these opportunities is now up to us."

One of those opportunities, said Martinsville Mayor Kimble Reynolds, is in the area of economic development.

"We all know the historic significance of this event," he said of the ceremony. But a question that had been asked from the beginning was, "Can a college be an economic catalyst for the area and the region?"

After traveling to other parts of the state and hearing other people talk about NCI and how excited they were about it, he said he is convinced NCI will be a boost to the economy.

The educational opportunities offered by NCI also were showcased at the ceremony as two of NCI's first students spoke.

Josh Draper, a student enrolled in the nursing program at Patrick Henry Community College who plans to get his bachelor's degree through Radford University at NCI, said he was "happy to say we'll have a bachelor's degree (program) here in town and you don't have to move away."

Draper said he can get his degree here through classes at Patrick Henry Community College that will be "hands-on" instead of in front of computer. "Hands-on (instruction) is the way to go in nursing," he said.

Also, Draper said he is convinced that NCI will help make Martinsville "a city without limits."

Catiia Greene, who is working on a master's degree in education through NCI and Averett University, said the convenience of NCI is one of the reasons she enrolled in the program.

Greene, a sixth-grade teacher in Danville, said that since she is a teacher, wife and mother, the small class size and the accelerated 15-month degree program offered at NCI all fit into her schedule.

"I would not have asked for anything better," she said.

Rob Spilman, chairman of the NCI Board of Directors, said it was great to see NCI students. "It makes us all very proud," he said.

Spilman praised Kaine for his work in helping provide such an opportunity for those students. "Gov. Kaine and his staff worked tirelessly with the General Assembly (on NCI)," he said, adding that Kaine was a supporter early on. "His support for the institute has never wavered."

Del. Ward Armstrong, D-Collinsville, emphasized the point that colleagues in the General Assembly on both sides of the aisle worked together.

"This was very much a bipartisan effort," he said, adding that education is "the long-term solution" to economic problems in the area and region.

"This was not about politics, it's about progress," Del. Danny Marshall, R-Danville, said. "It was a wonderful project for a community that richly deserves this. And the best is yet to come."

State Sen. Roscoe Reynolds, D-Ridgeway, called the ceremony "a great event," and praised the work of the General Assembly and Dorsey who, he said, had the energy to get the job done.

Fifth District U.S. Rep. Virgil Goode, R-Rocky Mount, attended the ceremony and said afterwards that it was "a great day" for the area.

Goode said he was glad to hear Kaine talk about the "humble beginnings" of other state institutions.

"Some had less to start with than NCI," he said, adding that he thinks NCI will help provide an economic boost to the area.

After the ceremony, guests were invited to tour the NCI classroom building, which is housed in the former Shumate & Jessie building on Franklin Street.

Among the other dignitaries, board members, university and college officials from the area and elsewhere in Virginia recognized by Dorsey was Mary Lee Jessie, one of the former owners of the Shumate & Jessie building.


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