The new president of Southeast Arkansas College said that the school is currently wrapping up a five-year plan, and the next plan, which will be the first of his administration, will “look different” from those in the past.
Steven Bloomburg, who began the job in January, was the speaker at a recent Coffee with the Chiefs, sponsored by Interested Citizens for Voter Registration and held at St. Luke United Methodist Church in the Dollarway area.
One of the first things that will be different is the introduction of a food pantry, which will be open within the next two weeks.
He said coming from his last school in Oklahoma, he saw hungry students, and SEARK will be working with the regional food bank in an effort to help.
“It's difficult to learn if you're hungry,” Bloomburg said.
He said that sometimes college students, particularly those who are first generation students, make bad decisions. He said he knows of students who were living in their cars because they've exhausted their resources.
“It's better to raise them up than to put them behind bars,” Bloomburg said. “We need to intervene earlier than later.”
Another new innovation will be what he called a “career closet” so that students who go out on job interviews will have appropriate clothing to wear. Bloomburg said the school will be asking for donations of suitable clothing as well as personal hygiene items.
“That way, people who need it the most will have it,” he said.
Bloomburg said the national average for a student completing college is six years.
“A lot can happen in six years,” he said. “For a lot of students, they're one flat tire away from dropping out. One little thing and their life spirals out of control.”
To correct that, Bloomburg said he is working with the SEARK Foundation and hopes to create an emergency loan fund for things like flat tires and dead car batteries.
“Different people need different things,” he said.
Bloomburg also talked about the Go Forward Pine Bluff initiative and how SEARK can help.
“As someone who understands economic development, I know that companies are looking for a skilled workforce,” he said, explaining that when companies look for a new location, they look at the available workforce and if that is not available, that city is crossed off their list.
“We want to make sure they don't cross our name off the list,” Bloomburg said. “My wife and I are here because we chose to be here.”
“I see a future that is great but it's not going to change overnight,” he said. “We're going to partner with (the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff) UAPB and build this community.”