Jo Alice Blondin believes that every student has potential and that every student can succeed.
“I get really emotional about it, because I know when I was an undergraduate, I was told by a faculty member that I was stupid, and I’m not stupid,” the new Clark State Community College president said.
Blondin went on to be an honor student during her remaining 3 ½ years at Purdue University while earning a degree in English, and she received a 4.0 grade-point average while earning a joint masters and doctorate in rhetoric and composition in 18th Century British literature by age 27 from Arizona State University.
“I will never forget it. I remember thinking at that time I have a lot of potential; you’re not seeing the potential,” she said. “That experience definitely affected the way that I would become a teacher. It made me realize that I was going to be the teacher who cheered for the students, not against them.”
“As president, I feel the exact same way,” she said. “I think (at) Clark State, that is one of its strengths here — a very student-centered faculty and staff who are willing to help, but that’s true of a lot of community colleges.”
While at Arizona State, she took part in what was called the Preparing Future Faculty program that offered experience through various types of educational institutes. Through that she fell in love with Mesa Community College in Arizona, a feeling that’s followed her throughout her career and to Springfield.
“It was just a delight to work with the students and the faculty and staff. And I really felt like my goals as a faculty member and, frankly, as a future administrator were really shaped by that Preparing Future Faculty program,” she said. “And so from there when I graduated, I applied at community colleges because that’s where I wanted to go.”
Being from Carmel, Ind., a suburb of Indianapolis, and having a majority of family in the eastern part of the United States, she wanted to move closer, and found an English instructor job in 1999 at what was then Westark Community College in Arkansas.
“They had an English department opening for a faculty member, so I applied and felt really comfortable there, and it was a very visionary community college. They offered the first baccalaureate degree of any community college in the country,” she said.
There she met her husband, Andy Fox, an Ohio State University graduate and Wooster native, and step-daughter Helena Fox, now 17.
During her 4½ years at Westark, it merged with the University of Arkansas to become a four-year university.
“And I was pretty committed to the vision of a community college and just down the road about 30 miles was an institution called Arkansas Valley Technical Institute, it was this post-secondary technical center,” she said.
There she was as chief student officer and added programs and degrees that dovetailed with the area’s business needs. She later added responsibilities as chief academic officer and, in 2006, became chancellor of the institute, which by then had merged with Arkansas Tech University and became the Ozark campus.
“While I was there … we grew enrollment. When I got there there were about 270 students. When I left there, there were about 2,033. It’s an incredible story,” she said.
“But the real story is that we increased retention of our students, which is a real measure, from 17 percent to 60 percent. And these are 80 percent Pell Grant.” she said. “These are needy, needy students who are often first-generation college students. They don’t always have the academic preparation that we might want them to have, and so being able to retain those students, it’s not just a challenge, it’s our obligation to do that as and institution.”
It increased graduation rates too, to about 50 percent. Nationally, community college graduation rates are between about 15 and 20 percent, she said.
Her preference to teach freshman-level English classes dovetails with her inherent draw to community colleges.
“What I really liked was teaching writing, and I loved the first two years,” she said. “I was not interested in teaching those upper division classes. I loved meeting students their first semester in Composition I (and Composition II).”
Blondin has an identical twin sister Jill, also “Dr. Blondin,” she said.
Her step-daughter, Helena, will start her freshman year at Ohio State University this fall as a pre-veterinary major.
Her husband is a computer programmer for Data-tronics, which supplies computer information services to Arkansas Best Corporation freight company. He transferred recently to the company’s New Carlisle/Huber Heights location.