Dr. Lisa Jones became president of Colorado Northwestern Community College (CNCC) on July 15, 2021. During her first months on the job, she prioritized meeting with students, faculty, and staff at both CNCC campuses to learn more about their goals and the impact of the college on them. She also immersed herself in the surrounding community and experienced first-hand the critical role the college plays in the Northwest Colorado region.

We wanted to get to know Dr. Jones a bit more and asked her to share about her background, how she’s been since assuming the role of president, and what message she wants to send to students.

Q: For those of us who haven’t had the chance to meet you, please tell us a little about yourself.

Dr. Jones: I was raised in a family of eight. I am the second oldest with my sister as the eldest and four younger brothers. I am a first-generation college student and raised with very modest means in Detroit, Michigan.   

The odds were heavily stacked against me, but I was able to rewrite my story through community college. It’s from that experience that I realized that community colleges play a pivotal role in transforming lives and communities, especially in rural areas.

Q: What have you learned about your new community and the local impact of CNCC?

Dr Lisa Jones with two students at a rodeo

Dr. Lisa Jones (center) with two students at CNCC’s 2021 Rock’n Bulls event.

Dr. Jones: Since my arrival, I have met with CNCC’s dedicated faculty and staff, and it was a pleasure seeing this outstanding institution and learning about this beautiful region through their eyes. Many shared stories about their family’s experiences across several generations.

I have also met with small business owners, industry leaders,  local elected officials, K-12 parents and leaders, and many others to understand the needs and goals within our region. I listen to understand, ask how we can help, and then we come together and craft strategies to meet economic, educational, and career-ready needs that are student-focused and industry-relevant.

A recent visit to the Tri-State plant in Craig was eye-opening. I was impressed with how vigilant the leadership has been to support employees who will not be retiring by 2030–when this plant will close for good. These employees are losing more than jobs. They are losing the ability to earn a similar salary without additional training; the “family” that they have known for their lifetimes (many who work there are second or third generation); and a way of life. For them, this transition is devasting, and it is difficult for them to accept the future and plan accordingly. Tri-State has been forward-thinking by running an in-house apprenticeship program that ensures employees develop high-tech, high-need, and transferrable skills. In partnership with them, CNCC is conducting skills mapping and designing programs that are contextualized to the appropriate industry and account for the needs, interests, and availability of the employee.

It is through personal interactions like these that CNCC will continue to have the most impact on our community.

Q: What message do you want to send to future and current students?

Dr. Jones: I want students to know that they can go anywhere from a community college. Yes, “YOU!” No matter your background or aspirations, there is a path forward for you here.

Yesterday’s community college focused narrowly on vocational training and personal enrichment. Today, though the mission remains the same, the needs of community members, K-12 institutions, and business and industry leaders has evolved, requiring community colleges to transform their offerings as well. Today, at our (CNCC) community college, you can:

  • Begin college study while still in high school with an opportunity to graduate with a degree at the same time you finish your high school diploma–with no college debt.
  • Earn a 20-30 credit certificate in nine months (in less time than for-profit schools but for a fraction of the cost, earning regionally accredited, transferable credits) and go directly to work.
  • Get paid to learn in one of many apprenticeship programs offered to students.
  • Benefit from hands-on training and small class sizes.
  • Earn one of the over 350 associate degrees.
  • Earn bachelor’s and even graduate degrees in specific areas.
  • Transfer to one of your top choice universities to continue your education.

In short, when it comes to a job, career, or academic pursuits, you can achieve your career aspirations and go anywhere from a community college.