CLC: Charlier in charge

New Central Lakes College President Hara Charlier has been in her position for little more than a week, but she's already spoken out about her desire to keep costs down for students.

New Central Lakes College President Hara Charlier poses for a photo in her freshly painted office at CLC’s Brainerd campus Friday. (Brainerd Dispatch/Spenser Bickett)
New Central Lakes College President Hara Charlier poses for a photo in her freshly painted office at CLC’s Brainerd campus Friday. (Brainerd Dispatch/Spenser Bickett)

New Central Lakes College President Hara Charlier has been in her position for little more than a week, but she's already spoken out about her desire to keep costs down for students.

In a July 5 letter to the editor in the Brainerd Dispatch, Charlier wrote about the college's embrace of open educational resources, which will help reduce textbook costs for students.

Open educational resources have been around for about five years, Charlier said Friday. As textbook and material costs have grown, information freely available on the internet has become more powerful, she said.

"Can we not leverage those and put those together?" Charlier said.

It's a different way of thinking, Charlier said, to find external sources to support learning. Instructors need to put these resources into a format that's accessible, updated and doesn't violate copyright laws.


The college is currently working with partners to secure grants which allow faculty and staff to spend time exploring different open educational resources, Charlier said. One of those partners is the National Joint Powers Alliance. The college's goal is for entire programs to have little or no textbook costs, but there's much to do before the goal is achieved.

"Whenever you start a new initiative, I think the early adopters do really the bulk of the work, they're paving the way," Charlier said.

An entire program using open educational resources looks similar to a current program, Charlier said. Currently, a student goes to the college bookstore and rents or purchases books, or purchases books online. If costs are too high, students will ask instructors whether they really need a book or not.

"Finances are important to today's families," Charlier. "So we want students to ask those questions."

In the past in higher education, students just accepted the fact they needed to buy all the books for a course, Charlier said. Now, rising costs are making students and instructors ask if purchasing a $250 textbook is worth it for students. Community college instructors want to find books that meet student needs while also being affordable.

"Otherwise they're creating barriers," Charlier said. "That is really contrary to our mission."

A program with open educational resources means a student doesn't have to hunt to find the sources they need for a class, Charlier said. They can see the materials they need in the bookstore and through the online Desire2Learn learning management system.

"They have immediate access to it," Charlier said. "They can spend their time learning, studying, growing, instead of trying to navigate 'where are these resources, what do I click on, that link is broken.'"



New in town

Charlier took over as president at CLC on July 1. She follows Larry Lundblad, who served as the college's president for a decade before his last day on June 30. She said she was "so excited to join this very special college," and people have welcomed her with open arms. "They've been extremely warm, extremely welcoming," Charlier said. "And have demonstrated a tremendous commitment to students and individuals in our community."

Charlier and her husband Russ own several dogs, including two Newfoundlands, "so rental was really not an option for us." They bought a home in Nisswa and have two daughters, ages 19 and 16. Her husband, a watchmaker, is working at E.L. Menk Jewelers.

"Things seem to be falling into place and we think it's the right place for us," Charlier said.

Charlier grew up in upstate New York and spent much of her career on the East Coast, as well as some time in Ohio. She and her husband spent a month in Minnesota while one of their daughters was at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. They became acquainted with Minnesota and it resonated with them.

"We were struck by the culture, the commitment to the outdoors," Charlier said. "The state, we just knew, would resonate with us."

Charlier enjoys kayaking and her husband likes mountain biking, so a trip to the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area is on their shortlist of things to try soon.



Starting off

Forging relationships with partners in the community is extremely important, Charlier said, and it's something she's already started working on. The community college exists to benefit the entire community, she said, so it's crucial to truly understand and get to know the community. She also sees students in the community as belonging to the education community as a whole, and not as separate high school or college students.

"To me, they're our students and it's our job to work together and make sure that they have those pathways they need to be successful," Charlier said.

It's typical for new college presidents to start in July, so they can be prepared for the academic year to kick off in the fall, Charlier said. It's a much quieter campus in the summer, which is an adjustment for Charlier, a self-described people person.

"Some people would say it gives you an opportunity to settle in," Charlier said. "For me, I'm a people person so I crave seeing people."

When Charlier first started looking at CLC, she said the college's commitment to its students was obvious. She also saw the college cared a lot about its community, which was evident in its programming and its partnerships.

"But when I came here, I was even surprised at the extent of those things," Charlier said. "The passion here for students, community and working together is very powerful."

Charlier's first task as president is to focus on building relationships at the college and in the community. The community college is all about people, she said, and can't do anything without engaging those people. She will continue to direct the college's focus on students and their success, as well as look at ways to improve the student experience. She'll also continue to focus on building enrollment and retaining students once they enroll.

"How are students succeeding here?" Charlier said. "Our goal is not just to get students in the door in higher education anymore. It's to make sure they have the tools to finish their goal."

All new leaders need to take the time to learn about their environment before they try to change something, Charlier said. It's not about looking to change something in the present, she said. It's more important to ask how the college got to where it is and why it made the decisions it made.

"I would be very presumptuous to come in and say 'here I am, just arrived from Virginia and this is what we should do,'" Charlier said.


Engaging environments

Prior to coming to CLC, Charlier served as vice president of instruction and student services at Virginia Highlands Community College in Abingdon, Va., since 2012. She taught biology and microbiology at different institutions before having the opportunity to work at a community college.

Both CLC and VHCC are comprehensive community colleges in rural areas that care about students, Charlier said. Community colleges can serve as an "economic engine" for an area, she said, by training students to succeed at businesses and industries coming into the area.

"Partnering with those companies to make sure we are providing the talent that they need to be successful in this region," Charlier said.

The passion for students at CLC is striking, Charlier said. The interview featured hard-hitting questions, she said, which made her think "there is no way I'm getting that job."

"But it also made me say 'boy do I want it,'" Charlier said. "Because they're really passionate about the work we do here."

Charlier has spent time as a student, faculty member and administrator, which informs how she views things at the college. Administrators exist to facilitate what happens in the classroom, she said.

"We're here to create that magic between our employees and our students," Charlier said. "That's what's going to help the students be successful."


SPENSER BICKETT may be reached at 218-855-5859 or . Follow on Twitter at .

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