With the holiday season upon us, homes and businesses have been transformed with strings of bright lights and fresh cut pine trees. That lively change reminds me of the transformations we see every day here on our campuses at Central Lakes College.

We've seen students transform from being quiet and scared, sitting in the back of the classroom to advanced thinkers, and as Ghandi espoused, ready to "be the change they want to see in the world." They've become leaders in the classroom, as student leaders, as change advocates, and by encouraging others to get involved.

That transformation doesn't happen on its own. It takes willpower and it takes persistence. CLC students have these qualities and so many more. They inspire us every day! It also takes amazing people guiding them along the way. Of course, these are the employees at Central Lakes College. This dedicated group knows students by name. They say hello and offer a warm smile in the hall. If you visit our campuses, they'll ask you how you are and truly care about your response.

I've seen so many examples of staff and faculty reaching out to our students in need. I recall one instructor sitting down next to a student in the Fireside Lounge. He saw the stress on the student's face. They sat together, talking it out until the student felt better. Recently, another staff member noticed a different tone in a student's "hello." Of course, this led to a long conversation about a recent heartache in the student's life.

These are just a few examples of the true compassion and heart that our employees bring to our campuses. They're what bring to life our "culture of caring."

We cultivate this unique campus culture through striving to make sure each student has at least one faculty or staff member they can reach out to. They build these relationships to a point where it's not uncommon for a group of students to show up at an instructor's office with a pizza and good conversation.

Our students are more than numbers. They're vital members of the college community. We want each student to feel like they belong, whether that be through their courses or extra curricular activities like student life events or one of our many student clubs.

Providing this comprehensive experience is important to us. It provides the foundation for students to succeed as they transform their lives. After all, our mission is to "build futures" by helping students successfully reach their goals.

We are so serious about student success that we have an entire day dedicated to it. While Student Success Day has no classes, all students are invited to connect with our employees to learn the skills and knowledge they need to be successful both inside and outside the classroom. Topics range from selecting a program of study, reviewing academic requirements for graduation, study skills and even life skills, such as maintaining health and wellness.

Our students work hard to be successful, every day. CLC is proud to offer a wide range of resources to help students wherever and whenever they face a challenge. These services range from the TRiO lab, which offers one-on-one advising, tutoring and other great services to first generation or low-income students, to our expansive library, Learning Commons, computer lab, and Veteran's Resource Center. The Student Link connects students with great advisors to talk about programs, services, financial aid and much more. And, our Student Life Center is a hub of activity where students can relax, play games, and get to know one another. There's also the food pantry, where we've handed out 17,000 pounds of food to our students in the past year alone. This great program is run by our Student Life Department, with key partners America's Second Harvest and Kids Against Hunger.

New this year, we've added free, 24/7 online tutor access. While traditional in-person tutoring sessions will always be available, this new option helps students who can't come to campus or simply need tutoring services outside traditional hours. We've also added programs to help students when the semester doesn't go as planned. Through our new Raider Student Value Program, known as RSVP, our advisors reach out to students before they go on academic warning. They offer additional support, resources and advice to help these students be successful.

At CLC, we know that when our students have access to excellent instruction, great services, and the opportunity to connect with the college, they then have the power to transform themselves and our communities. We've seen this come to fruition recently, when our students organized efforts to ensure kids had warm winter clothes and gifts for the holidays, worked to fight mental health stigma, increased awareness about sexual assault, volunteered many hours in our communities, and educated the campus community about other cultures. This month, our students made sure that countless children could celebrate the holiday with a party just for kids. They do so much to make us proud.

Transformation is part of the fiber here at CLC. The work of our students, employees, and community partners makes this a place where all are welcome and anything is possible. Please visit our campuses to feel the "culture of caring" and see the transformations happening every day.

From all of us at Central Lakes College, we wish you happy holidays!