JCCC Board of Trustees candidates on the issues: What’s your motivation for seeking a board seat?

A sculpture made of recycled materials displayed on the JCCC campus.

Last month, we asked our readers what issues they wanted to hear the candidates running for local office address ahead of the August primary. Based on the (ample) input we received, we developed a five-item questionnaire for candidates running for Johnson County Community College board of trustees.

Today we share the candidates’ responses to question five:

What’s your primary motivation for running for the JCCC Board of Trustees?

Colleen Cunningham

I know firsthand the power of public college education to provide an opportunity for social mobility, and the benefits to communities that extend from that. My primary motivation for running is to ensure that JCCC remains affordable, so that other students and families have access to the “step up” that I had.

When I was in middle school, my dad lost his job without any warning. Fortunately, we were able to access help while he looked for a new job. Because of this help and our strong schools, my progress as a student wasn’t impeded, and I went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology, with minors in sociology: social work, and music. I worked with teenagers and young adults with disabilities for a few years before going on to graduate school where I studied special education, and educational policy and leadership studies. I continued to give back to my community through volunteer work with “at risk” students, as well as adult and teenaged immigrants, while attending graduate school. After earning my master’s degree in education, I moved to Overland Park to teach. I met my husband, took a break from teaching to focus on our new family, and started to volunteer for several organizations as time has allowed. Without access to strong public education, my story would not have been possible. I want to join the Board of Trustees because I wholeheartedly believe in its mission of inspiring learning “to transform lives and strengthen communities,” and believe this can best be achieved by ensuring the programs at JCCC maintain their high quality, and are accessible to everyone in our community, regardless of income.

Jameia Haines

My motivation to run for the Johnson County Community College Board of Trustees is that I care about the College and believe that it is a vital part of our community. The College is an outstanding institution and I would like to be a part of its mission to help students succeed. As a member of the business community and parent of a student entering the College Now program, I understand the value of relevant educational offerings that prepare students for jobs of the future and are responsive to the workforce needs of our community. It would be my honor to be a member of the JCCC Board of Trustees.

Nancy Ingram (incumbent)

As a life long Kansan, we moved from Wichita to Kansas City when I was seven. My parents taught me there were many ways to support our community for the “greater good”, and I remember their voting on the community college. I remember because it was not without pushback, and they were supportive of the future, and the education it would provide for those who attended. It may have been a school in the middle of a cornfield, but my parents believed it would provide opportunity, and Johnson County was a place where opportunity served its people well.

My history as an education advocate is well documented. A great deal of my background has been tied to education, both professionally and in my personal time. My time spent in the classrooms at Emporia State University as a part-time lecturer provided a unique setting for many of the reasons that higher ed is so important to me. The gravitation toward investing in education has simply been the right place for me to share my time, talent and treasures.

As a board member of the Olathe Public Schools Foundation, our work within the district toward mental wellness, led me to becoming a member of the Johnson County Mental Health Center Advisory board, and some concentrated effort toward how we might better transition students from Johnson County to the college during a very vulnerable time in their lives. I am committed toward this effort, among many others, to support our students, faculty, staff and administration through student services, scholarships and initiatives that will continue to better serve our campuses, for the greater good.

My primary reason to seek another term as trustee at Johnson County Community College is to serve our community with experience. Our community and economic development has been shaped by the impact of access to all stages of education and the development of an educated workforce. Johnson County Community College faces some exciting changes and challenges the next four years, and my experience has laid the groundwork for understanding the relationship of JCCC to the community, and vice versa. I look forward to supporting JCCC in a variety of ways, for many years to come.

Greg Musil (incumbent)

My primary motivation is my kids and grandkids, and yours. We must have a high quality, affordable and sustainable College to succeed in maintaining our quality of life and offering opportunities here for the next generations. Our economic strength doesn’t just happen – it requires collaboration between education, business and government. We’ve done that since the College started in 1969 and I want to expand that effort.

I have been involved with our College since the early 1990s, raising money for scholarships and working on making it better. I understand how the College has grown to its preeminent status and am fully invested in making it even better. Much has been accomplished in the last eight years since I was first elected – our budget is tighter and more sustainable, we’ve established accountability measures and our student focus, we’re improving our physical facilities and classrooms, we’ve recruited, rewarded and retained excellent faculty, we’ve achieved reaccreditation, and we’ve done better in maintaining enrollment in a strong economy than most every other community college. I want to build on and improve those accomplishments. I will continue to question College policies, tax rates and expenses to promote accessibility and affordability for students.

I have always said the Board’s two greatest responsibilities are selecting a president for the College and establishing a sustainable and prudent budget that spends what we need but also recognizes the people who pay the freight – in JCCC’s case 66% of the budget is paid by property taxpayers and two-thirds of those taxes come from homeowners and apartment residents. We set a budget and a tax rate every year, and it’s important that we do so carefully and don’t simply take every dollar just because someone’s home value increased. And in 2020 we will be selecting a new president to lead the College for years to come. Those fiduciary responsibilities motivate me to seek another term on the Board.

Every Johnson County resident, including me, has benefited greatly from a strong JCCC. I seek to continue that strength and to improve where possible. I have no personal agenda and I am proud of my record of public and civic service. It would be an honor to continue to serve.

Chris Roesel

I love JCCC. I have studied there since 2015. I’ve also lived and worked in Asia, Africa, and throughout the Americas and attended another 11 colleges and universities. My wife and daughter also attend. The college is good, but it can be far better with all our input and participation. Top-down decision-making brings only the top’s perspective to planning and evaluation. 360-degree decision-making assures we use all the information and values.

I am running because I have seen how decisions are made at JCCC. The process is basically elitist, exclusionist, and flawed. Having used and studied better processes to bring the faculty’s, students’, community’s, and business’s input into planning and decision-making, I would like to bring the college into the Twenty-first Century so that it can be the best in America, not just a good school. The future will be led by the best, not the adequate. That is why I am running for JCCC Trustee.

Cassandra Peters

Did not respond.

Laura Smith-Everett

I have spent the last several years caring for one of our children with very serious medical issues. Now that he’s stable, I’ve tuned into my local community and had a realization that every election and every seat up for election is incredibly important and deserves our scrutiny. I’ve been an educator for 16 years and the issues of equity and inclusion have been central to my passion in that profession. My father has been a Culinary Professor at the college for more than a decade and I’ve had many kitchen table conversations about how the college is doing, how amazing it is and what it offers. I also had the opportunity to teach ESL in the Community Outreach arm of the college for a semester. For me, seeking this seat is just an extension of my career and my passions to make sure our community continues to be a great place to live, raise a family and work.

Farha Azaz

JCCC has been the beating heart of our community for 50 years. With the wealth of studies available from welding, to nursing, to game design, there is a standard and quality of education we must maintain and preserve for generations to come. As a small business owner and a woman in STEM, I feel well-equipped to assist in shoring up these educational foundations.

With issues such as animosity between the administration, faculty and the student body, lack of transparency in hiring and spending decisions, and turbulent leadership (resignation of the President), I am genuinely concerned about the educational prosperity of our Johnson County family.

At present, the Board of Trustees includes 5 lawyers, and lacks representation of the diversity of experience and expertise that constitutes the fabric of Johnson County Community. The Board of Trustees is not a ceremonial role. We need skilled Trustees to contribute to the next 50 years of jobs and prosperity, just as it has for the last 50 years.

JCCC is at a crossroads. We need STEM focus and community inclusion. We need diversity and equity. We need friendly faces, fresh minds, new perspectives and innovative ideas to lead our vibrant Johnson County Community. We need leaders willing to study hard, to gaze into the future, and to anticipate trends.

I am a deep thinker and have been blessed with a voracious appetite for learning, and a deep understanding of the interconnections between engineering, mathematics, and medicine. I came to America in pursuit of higher education and started life as a single student. I have lived through the challenges and struggles students face while pursuing college education, and have first-hand insights on career preparedness, job placement and student debt. I want to be a part of the student’s struggle and be their voice on the Board of Trustees of JCCC.

I was raised amidst educators for two generations and I have experienced firsthand how education is a tool that changes peoples’ lives. I have seen – people who went from rags to riches and people who squandered family fortunes for lack of attention to education.

I am blessed to have 3 wonderful children who I will be putting through college. We all may be very different but EDUCATION brings us together.

I offer myself humbly, so that together, we may advance the education, freedom, and prosperity of this generation and generations to come. And together, we will strive to be worthy of this nation’s great motto – E Pluribus Unum.

Mo Azeem

My primary motivation is to serve the community that has embraced us since 2003 when we moved here from Los Angeles. My wife attended JCCC and fulfilled her requirements on her way to earning a masters degree in Art History from UMKC, my daughter took Math classes during summer while attending Olathe North High School and I took continuing education courses in the evening. I have the relevant academic background and work experience to be an effective JCCC Trustee, a bachelors in Physics from Reed College (Steve Jobs Alma Mater), a bachelors and masters in electrical engineering from Caltech (where Einstein once taught) and an MBA in Marketing from University of Kansas. I have worked for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL), SBC (AT&T), Sprint and Hewlett-Packard. I have held senior positions like EVP, GM and CTO for large international telecom companies and managed tens of million in budget. I am an entrepreneur and a small business owner who develops software solutions based in Olathe. I will work hard to enhance the experience of students, create a more inclusive decision making process by involving faculty and elevate the STEM education at JCCC.

Val Baul

As the only graduate of JCCC in this race, I am running to represent the community of parents and students directly touched by JCCC. I believe the community’s voice should be the loudest voice on the Board of Trustees and I believe my experiences provide the board with something it has been missing. I believe a significant reason for the the lack of trust in senior leadership comes from the students and faculty realizing their voice and experience can’t be seen by a board who has never had the experience of being a student at a community college. I want to make sure Johnson County Community College is accessible, transparent, and inclusive for all students, alumni, faculty, staff, and constituents!

Lori Bell

My primary motivation is that I myself attended 3 community colleges after my time in the US Air Force. I believe the community college system is set up to help non-traditional university students. JCCC has programs currently geared towards the tier of students with higher GPAs. These students take advantage of JCCC while in high school but then end up going to state colleges and universities. There is a subset of students in Johnson County that should be served better by JCCC. Missouri has the A+ scholarship program that is geared towards students who have a 2.5 GPA, 95% attendance rate and complete 50 hours of community service with a few additional requirements. These students are eligible for 2 years of tuition paid for if they attend a community college. I want to see JCCC be the leader in creating a similar program to serve the needs of all.