Friday, February 4, 2005

CSI guru departs, but keeps a close watch

Community education, a life-long mission

Express Staff Writer

Joan Davies Photo by David N. Seelig

Just retired, as the program coordinator for the College of Southern Idaho's Blaine County campus, Joan Davies has been the tie that binds education to community for over two decades.

"South Central Idaho traditionally has not been the place to get an education unless you leave it," Davies said Wednesday at her home on Second Street in Old Hailey, where she and her husband John Davies have lived for 40 years and raised three sons.

Davies has worked exhaustively to change the picture of post secondary education in the Wood River Valley and her efforts have helped community education evolve with the ups and downs of growth here.

Davies said to envision CSI as it is now with the possibility to earn a four-year degree in Burley, as well as Twin Falls, is surprising. Nevertheless, community support and technology have helped to change what is now available in Hailey, too. The current CSI extension office is located at the Community Campus, the former Wood River High School.

CSI, whose main campus is in Twin Falls, serves approximately 2500 students each semester. Its off-campus centers are located in Boise, Burley, Gooding, Jerome, and Hailey.

In the early 1990s, the Hailey extension center looked into expanding a medical technology training program, but at the time the student base was not present. Still, Davies helped the center roll with the times, and today health technology education is a viable option for students.

"The thing that's happening now with the Emergency Medical Council, just as I was leaving, training in the beginning levels of health technology (is available)," Davies said. "There is demand now."

Four decades ago Hailey had a population of 1,200 people. Today the number is over 7,400 and growing.

"Our needs are changing," Davies said. "CSI is a community college. I think it lives up to its mission to take education to the people."

Part of the CSI mission statement is to encourage its students "to lead enriched, productive and responsible lives."

Whether it is English as a second language, microbiology, an apprenticeship or adult literacy, Davies is proud that students continually have more opportunities to stretch themselves in Hailey, to address personal curiosities and to improve their lives through education.

"(CSI) has provided a service for students who might not have finished school or even started," Davies said. She recalls one troubled youth who earned a master's in counseling through the distance learning program and another who earned a four-year degree in nursing.

"Expanding the educated populous is empowering," Davies said, explaining that she sees even greater potential in the future given the wealth of highly educated citizens who make up the Wood River Valley community.

"In the future there could be the potential for a four-year school," Davies said, citing the master's in education program that the Blaine County School District has helped to initiate as a means for helping to keep quality school teachers in the area.

Davies also spoke highly of the construction academy, which is ramping up education in the field, which is highly applicable to the growing community. From experience at actual job sites to two-year degrees in construction supervision, the program epitomizes the viability of community education when it involves local institutions and resources.

"Through collaborative efforts offers of a broader range of education could happen," Davies said.

For now, expanding educational opportunities may be a matter of relying on distance learning technology. At the moment science students can engage in lectures happening in Twin Falls over a large screen, two-way television connection, but students still travel for laboratory work.

"It is phenomenal if you watch that system out there. It works really well," Davies said.

For Davies, who is still deeply involved in other aspects of her community, from emergency services to chambers of commerce, getting immersed is just part of being fully engaged in life. Much of her exposure to how Hailey functions began when she was asked to take the minutes for the Hailey Planning and Zoning Commission, when in the mid-1970s it was one of the first such planning bodies in the state.

Davies said her community involvement evolved from there because so many activities overlap in a small community. The Community Campus is concrete manifestation of overlapping interests with a common vision, she said.

"It is a good community asset," Davies said, commending the visionary people who helped make the transformation of the campus possible. "I was out there this morning."

Davies was participating in an exercise class called Fit and 60 with her husband.

"After us came the toddlers," she said, commenting on the diversity of activities available on the campus and the potential for the future. "It's like having a fun toy ... something I've been dreaming about with the talent in this community is a think-tank and enriched programming."

Davies said a hidden secret about CSI is that, as professionals have reached out to teach, programs have also helped business owners to find employees and increase their exposure.

"It has been an honor just living in Old Hailey and watching things change," she said. "As much as we think we might, we never arrive, education is life-long."

A stack of materials about what it takes to become an Idaho GEM community sat in a box inside Davies' front door. Clearly, she will continue to watch closely what happens to her community.

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