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About Jefferson Community College: Past and Present
Jefferson Community College is located in Watertown, New York, the county seat of the College’s sponsor, Jefferson County. Nestled in the northern section of New York State, at the junction of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River, Jefferson County spans an area of nearly 1,300 square miles, making it the ninth largest county in the state. Jefferson County shares the St. Lawrence River boundary with the Province of Ontario, Canada, to the north and travel across the international border is facilitated by the Thousand Islands Bridge. The proximity of the Thousand Islands and the Seaway Trail, the abundance of recreational lakes and rivers and the rich history and natural resources of the area make travel and tourism among the region’s economic drivers.
Jefferson County is also home to the 10th Mountain Division, Light Infantry, stationed at nearby Fort Drum. Fort Drum is the largest Army installation in the Northeast and between the brigades of the 10th Mountain Division and tenant military units, the Fort serves more than 18,000 troops and an equal or larger number of family members. With the addition of a civilian workforce of more than 4,000, Fort Drum is the largest employer in Northern New York.
This Community’s College
A community college for Jefferson County was first proposed in the late 1950’s when, at the urging of a handful of advocates, the County Board of Supervisors agreed to put the matter to a vote of the people. In November 1959, the referendum to create a two-year college was voted down by a mere eight votes. That provided to be the impetus for a dedicated band of citizens to begin to crusade in earnest for the establishment of this community’s college. Through a door-to-door and mail campaign, meetings with organized labor and civic groups and televised programs with high school students, the Citizens Committee won the referendum in November 1961 by a landslide of nearly 3,000 votes.
Jefferson first opened its doors in September 1963 to 114 full-time and 200 part-time students and offered academic programs in Business, Engineering Science, Accounting, Liberal Arts and Secretarial Science. As the College leadership worked to identify the site for a permanent campus, the fledgling College held classes in a converted elementary school in downtown Watertown and competed in sporting events at the local YMCA and at nearby Camp Drum.
Building Community Building Success
In June 1964, groundbreaking ceremonies were held for construction of the campus on Coffeen Street. Phase I of construction included three buildings to house: Liberal Arts and Business, Science and Engineering and Administration and Library. Jefferson students selected school colors of cranberry and white and an athletic mascot, the Cannoneer, a reference to the region’s history and nearby Sackets Harbor which played a major role in the War of 1812. In 1966, then Congressman Robert C. McEwen presented the College with a Civil-War era 300-pound cast iron cannonball which now rests in the foyer of the College gymnasium. The next year the College received the donation of a War of 1812 Cannon, recovered from the bottom of the St. Lawrence River. The cannon is a focal piece of the College’s quad and each year on the eve of commencement, members of the graduating class covertly decorate the cannon as a testament to throwing off the rules of the classroom.
The College’s first commencement ceremony was held in the Science Building of the new Coffeen Street campus on June 12, 1965 and degrees were awarded to 36 graduates. That September, NY Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller presided in a ceremony to dedicate Phase I of the campus and the design for Phase II, Student Center and Library buildings, was already underway.
Through the remainder of the 1960’s and the following decade, the College continued to build academic offerings, adding Nursing, Data Processing, Retail Merchandising, Criminal Justice and Hospitality and Tourism; developed co-curricular student activities and athletic programming for students and articulated transfer pathways and one-plus-one programs with other Colleges and Universities. Jefferson was fully accredited by the Middle States Association in 1969.
The College’s Foundation, Alumni Association and Faculty-Student Association coalesced by the early 1970’s to round out services for students, providing scholarships, food service, book and retail operations, support for special events and alumni programming. A Small Business Development Center was located on the campus in 1986 and continues to serve the consulting and training needs of the small businesses and entrepreneurs of our service area.
As the College celebrated its 25th anniversary in 1986, enrollment had grown to 1870 full and part-time commuter students. Jefferson had expanded academic curricula to 20 associate degree programs and 6 certificate programs and the campus was bustling with student activity and special events. During this time notables Charles Kuralt and Ralph Nader made appearances on campus and the College hosted performances by nationally known musicians: Harry Chapin, John Denver, Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops, and Blood Sweat and Tears. Student government wrestled with campus life issues of the day and student activism and a student newspaper, The Word, thrived.
As the world of on-line learning opened up in the 1990’s, Jefferson joined the SUNY Learning Network to make individual courses and then entire programs available to students in an on-line format. Today, more than 5,000 credit hours of the College’s credit programming are taken on-line and six academic programs are offered fully on-line.
There’s More Here
Access to higher education for area residents has always been a focal point of the College’s mission. Jefferson has a robust concurrent enrollment program with area high schools and also offers college coursework to area high schools via ITV classes. The only college campus in a 50-mile radius of Watertown, Jefferson partners with both SUNY and private colleges to bring bachelor and master level programs to the community at the Jefferson Higher Education Center (JHEC). The upper division programs provide flexible and sometimes compressed scheduling to fit with working adults’ lives. Jefferson also enjoys a very close relationship with the U.S. Army 10th Mountain Division (L.I.) stationed at Fort Drum located just 10 miles from the campus. More than one third of Jefferson’s students are active duty military, family members or veterans of military service. The College participates in the Department of Defense, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, and the Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges’ programs for members of the military and their family members. On Fort Drum, college classes are conducted in five 8-week sessions per year and upon specific military unit request.
Jefferson continually assesses community and workforce requirements to ensure that its programs are meeting the needs of our region. In response to growth trends and employment opportunities the College has recently added curricula in Winery Management and Marketing, Renewable Energy and Sports Management. With the help of federal and state grant funding, the College has been able to expand its Nursing and allied health programs and to offer tuition assistance for nurses who want to pursue bachelor and master level nursing credentials.
Along with its credit-bearing programs, the College offers a variety of workshops, seminars, and workforce training opportunities. Cultural events, open to the public, routinely include film and theatrical events, lectures, seminars, and art exhibitions. Library resources are open to the public and community members are encouraged to use them. Personal, academic, and vocational counseling are provided to both students and the community. The Center for Community Studies at Jefferson conducts community-based research and provides a forum for the productive discussion of ideas and issues of significance to the community.
East Hall, the College’s first-ever residence hall, opened in August of 2014 and the College welcomes 294 students living on the campus 24-7. No longer just a commuter campus, students living on site will take the College in new directions for the future. A Collaborative Learning Center is currently in the design phase and the College has been working with community stakeholders on conceptual plans for a multi-purpose center located on the campus.
Jefferson Community College marked its 50th anniversary in 2011 and in celebrating its rich history recognized the efforts of those committed citizens of 1959 who advocated for a college for this community, the vision of the founding Board of Trustees in setting up a solid academic foundation and the steady leadership of just five College presidents in as many decades. At Commencement 2013, little more than five decades after admitting its first class, Jefferson Community College celebrated the awarding of its 20,000th degree, a testament to the value and impact that the College brings to Jefferson County and this region of New York State.