Our View: RCTC looks forward while celebrating centennial

Leslie McClellon

When Rochester School Board member Dr. Charles H. Mayo first proposed creating Rochester Junior College on Aug. 23, 1915, he set in motion a chain of events that continues to influence southeastern Minnesota today.

"We started 100 years ago with a definite purpose with the medical secretary program," said Leslie McClellon, who is beginning her second year as president of what's now called Rochester Community and Technical College . "Dr. Charles Mayo went out to California, saw this thing called junior colleges, brought that back and said, 'We need this. We need some of type of institution to serve the workforce.'"

Seventeen students began classes in the medical secretary program on Sept. 14, 1915, in the Coffman Building of Rochester High School. Today, RCTC has more than 8,200 full-time and part-time students enrolled in more than 70 technical and transfer programs and more than 120 credential options in liberal arts, health, business and technical careers on two campuses covering 518 acres on the eastern edge of Rochester.

Today, RCTC commemorates Centennial Day and welcomes the public to join a weeklong celebration of its founding. It will be a homecoming for most Rochester residents as "60 percent of people in the city have some type of connection with RCTC," McClellon said.

RCTC is the oldest community college in Minnesota and one of the oldest in the nation, but it remains a progressive institution as 30 percent of its courses are now offered online.


Another example of RCTC's forward-thinking approach was last month's ground-breaking of the Community Technical Education Center at Heintz. CTECH is a collaboration between Rochester Public Schools, Winona State University and RCTC to provide technical education in areas such as agriculture, residential construction and engineering. By fall 2016, classes in hospitality, information systems, manufacturing and health science with be added.

"Not all of the jobs that are here today, and to come, will require a four-year degree," McClellon said. "And we're not saying that's not important because we still have an important side of our college that promotes transfer to another institution."

McClellon wants parents and students focused on earning a four-year degree to understand that there are other viable paths to success.

"Students can earn a good living wage or even own their own business after going to a technical school," she said.

"I have gone to school, and I have worked in higher education, but I will never own a college or a university," McClellon said. "But a student can go through a technical program, become a plumber, a welder, get into the construction business, and they could go on from there to eventually own their own business. They could pass that business on to their children and grandchildren and really build a legacy."

McClellon is hoping former RCTC students share their legacies this week, especially by attending the Founder's Day celebration on Thursday, when she will be officially installed as RCTC's 10th president. Dr. John Noseworthy, president and chief executive officer of Mayo Clinic, will be the keynote speaker, providing symbolic continuity to the college's founding.

The celebration continues Friday with a Centennial Scholarship Gala at the Rochester International Event Center. It's a worthy event, as last spring the RCTC Foundation awarded more then 235 scholarships valued at $270,000.

The festivities build to a crescendo on Saturday with Community Appreciation Day , a classic car show and the homecoming football game against Vermilion Community College.


"I could not be more proud than to be the president of RCTC at a time like this," McClellon said. "I think it is just an awesome opportunity for the college and the community."

We couldn't agree more.

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