ARCHBOLD Chancellor Henry Shannon has his own successes to talk up as the head of the largest community college system in the state of Missouri.
But the leader of the 120,000-student St. Louis Community College knows two-year schools like his still face image problems and he s looking later this month toward President Betty Young, the head of the much smaller Northwest State Community College in Archbold, for help in combating those issues.
Ms. Young, who gained national attention in May when she challenged comedian Jay Leno to a motorcycle ride so she could put a stop to his negative jokes about community colleges, took her promotional idea a little further recently when she and others at Northwest State started organizing a cross-country trip to see the comedian.
Ultimately, Ms. Young plans to end up on Sept. 27 at Mr. Leno s offices in California, with high, but yet unconfirmed, hopes of meeting the comedian or better yet even appearing on his show. She said her main mission will be to visit towns across the United States, stopping and spreading the news about community colleges and what they do.
To be honest with you, the goal of the Lessons for Leno [tour] is not to get on the Leno show. If we do and that happens, that s great, Ms. Young said. The goal is to raise the profile of what we do in community colleges by transforming peoples lives.
Ms. Young and two other college employees plan to depart after a kick-off event on their campus Sept. 19 and will stop along the way in Joliet, Ill., St. Louis, Little Rock, Dallas, and Phoenix. They will be appearing at community colleges in each of the cities, where events will be held and officials as well as local alumni are expected to speak.
The president will ride her own Harley-Davidson motorcycle on some of the tour but will put it in a donated trailer during other times.
When she arrives in St. Louis, Mr. Shannon said at least a half-dozen employees will be waiting to ride their motorcycles around the campus with Ms. Young. The trip is unusual and could produce results, he believes.
We ve done our research across the country what people think about community colleges. People like us think we offer quality education, but a lot of times people don t think about us as the first choice, Mr. Shannon said by phone from St. Louis last week. For us, we haven t been aggressive in touting our institutions.
The American Association of Community Colleges is helping to organize the tour, Ms. Young said. Association President George Boggs was the one who started the entire Leno campaign in the spring when he posted a letter to the comedian on the association s Web site.
Ms. Young said the event wasn t devised as a recruiting mission for Northwest State, but she said the exposure sure won t hurt. She will ride in a donated Dodge Ram truck, dubbed the Northwest State Express, which features pictures of recent graduates on its sides.
While Ms. Young acknowledged there are some skeptics of the trip, as well as of recent Northwest State advertisements that show herself on her motorcycle, she knows it s at the very least getting peoples attention.
The motorcycle is simply a tool to get people thinking, she said, noting that the trip s theme is to show the economic engine of community colleges.
Gretchen Boose, president of the Northwest State Community College Association, said some union members have their own goals for the trip. With college-union relations strained at Northwest State, she hopes administrators take note of the successful union-company relations of the trip s focal point, Harley-Davidson.
We re just hoping that if we re looking to Harley as a vehicle to launch community colleges, let s look to Harley as a means for us and them to work together, Ms. Boose said.
College leaders are planning to cover the estimated $10,000 cost of the trip with private donations, which they intend to have in hand before departing. The truck was donated for two years by Terry Henricks of Terry Henricks Chrysler Dodge in Archbold, Ms. Young said. Harley-Davidson in Napoleon donated the trailer for Ms. Young s 1992 turquoise Harley-Davidson bike.
This is really an opportunity for us to have a grass-roots, national campaign with a fairly low budget, Ms. Young said.