A NACCE Entrepreneurial President Profile
Eduardo J. Padrón, Ph.D., President, Miami-Dade College - Miami, FL
South Florida has a glittering reputation, highlighted by stunning images of sand and surf and the nightlife of South Beach. True enough, the images don't lie, but the full story of this community is far different than the media product. The work of Miami Dade College(MDC), where Eduardo Padrón has served as president since 1995, is central to this real story of one of the nation's bellwether communities.
Despite the glamour, the City of Miami is ranked as the second poorest large city in America when measured according to median family income. The city sits at the center of Miami-Dade County, which is home to some 2.4 million residents and doesn't fare much better economically. Add in a dramatically shifting South Florida workforce and economy and a dire recession that has hit Miami particularly hard, and you have an ominous outlook for the region.
In addition, the public school system in Miami-Dade County is the nation's fourth largest and is beset by enormous challenges that include a largely poor population, with many acclimating to a new country, culture and language. "These challenges are passed on to MDC, necessitating a major investment of resources in developmental learning," notes Padrón, who TIME magazine included on its list of "The 10 Best College Presidents," in 2009.
To meet the many challenges posed by these tough times, Padrón says, "What we're aiming for - always - is a culture of possibility. We make every effort to engage students - with the institution, their peers, the staff and especially the faculty. They have chosen to pursue higher education at a critical time in this community's and the nation's development. We want them to believe that they can be game-changers, that what they learn and contribute can make a real difference."50 Years and Counting
MDC will celebrate its 50th anniversary this year. One of the many factors that stands out is that 1.7 million students and counting have attended MDC, which came into being just as the demographic of South Florida was being transformed by waves of immigrants from Cuba and other locales. "Fifty years later, if you check the leadership in nearly every field of importance to the region, you will find people who began at MDC," says Padrón. "The overwhelming majority of these people had no other option for higher education, and that continues to be the case today."
MDC's student population has risen by nearly 20 percent since 2005. The college has the largest undergraduate enrollment of any college or university in the country, which has been the case for several years. And of course, quite a few people struggling to find work are coming back to school to develop new skills and employment possibilities.
"To keep pace with this influx of students and the changing needs of the community, we have created more than 70 new associate, baccalaureate and short-term certification programs over the past five years," says Padrón. "Of late, we have developed five new bachelor's degree programs in high demand areas including Public Safety Management, Film, Television & Digital Production, Supervision and Management, Physician Assistant Studies and Electronics Engineering Technology. Already in place were degrees in Education and Nursing."
History of Focusing on Entrepreneurship
South Florida commerce is dominated by small businesses, so the need to support these ventures toward successful operation is a long-standing priority for MDC. In 1989, the Entrepreneurial Education Center was established, later renamed MEEC in honor of Congresswoman Carrie Meek, who was an MDC faculty member before she won a seat in Congress.
"The Meek Center is a critical arm of the college," says Padrón. "Miami's unemployment rate is well beyond the national average and MEEC's offerings are more in demand. Today, more than 2,500 students are enrolled at the Meek Center and that number is growing regularly."
The center offers two comprehensive entrepreneurial training programs from the Kauffman Foundation to help students explore business potential, the FastTrac New Venture® and the FastTrac Planning® program. "Both programs are very hands-on, with seasoned entrepreneurs working with the students," says Padrón. "Students gain the advantage of valuable peer and mentor relationships."Spirit of Entrepreneurship Growing
MDC also works to establish an entrepreneurial spirit beyond the Meek Center. "In fact, the students in our credit classes are some of the most inventive at the college and the results prove their enthusiasm," says Padrón. "Our team at the most recent Phi Beta Lambda (national student business organization) national competition was the #1 team in the nation in small business management. The team's business plan for a fitness training enterprise won the day, besting the efforts of many of the top universities in the country.
"But it's important to think anew about the skills of an entrepreneur," adds Padrón. "If you read job postings across a full range of fields, you'll find that employers are seeking applicants with much more than just area-specific knowledge. They want people who are sensitive to multiple cultures, aware of environmental issues, excellent oral and written communicators, and able to work effectively in teams to solve problems. These, too, are the bottom line skills of successful entrepreneurs. We have established a set of 10 liberal education learning outcomes, as well as creative assessment modalities to measure successful learning. It's an attempt to connect the traditional foundation of liberal arts and sciences to a practical awareness of society's challenges today."
Corner Office Advice
Asked what advice he'd give to another president who is in the process of bringing entrepreneurship education to a community college campus," Padrón says, "First and foremost, I would hark back to the mission of community colleges. We are unique institutions, responsive to the needs of unique communities. Entrepreneurship education is a key element in supporting economic growth, especially in a community like Miami that is fueled by small business enterprise. My advice would be to reinforce connections with the business community and ensure that the institution is responding to the emerging workforce and business opportunities.
"Internally, we have no shortage of inspired faculty and staff to create programs and engage students," he adds. "But no matter the size of college, the key is the quality of communication among the key faculty and staff and the students. Entrepreneurship education is precisely attuned to skills and goals of many students, but they need to know the opportunities exist. That's our job, to create an environment of possibility with the awareness of how to take advantage of those opportunities."