New dean joins Three Rivers, eyes improving retention

Norwich — There is a phrase Robert Farinelli suspects his colleagues at the College of Southern Maryland got tired of him uttering, and he suspects the same will be true for his new colleagues at Three Rivers Community College.

He doesn't recall where he got the refrain, but he likes to say, "Access provides education but completion changes lives."

It reflects one of his top priorities as the new academic dean at Three Rivers: to boost retention.

"It's the right thing to send students out there with a degree or a certificate, as opposed to just a collection of credits," Farinelli said in an interview with The Day last week.

He wants to make sure there aren't barriers to completing course registration, to keep students from "leaving with 20 extra credits than their degree calls for," and to eliminate roadblocks that can send students out the door.

Farinelli, 55, began as dean of academics at Three Rivers on Nov. 30. He took over the role from Jerry Ice, who served as interim dean for two and a half years.

Farinelli, a Pittsburgh native, came to Three Rivers from the College of Southern Maryland, a community college where he had worked since 2003. He rose from math professor to STEM director to associate vice president of academic affairs, and felt that serving as dean of academics was "the next step logically."

Upon interviewing at Three Rivers, he felt the college would be a good fit, citing the collegial atmosphere and the management style of President Mary Ellen Jukoski.

As for his own management style, Farinelli commented, "I'm not a micromanager at all; I would call myself a macromanager, if that's a word. I like to empower people."

He also liked that Jukoski said he could still teach two classes every semester; he is teaching algebra and statistics in the spring. Farinelli said staying in the classroom keeps him honest and helps him understand what issues could arise from different policies.

At the College of Southern Maryland, one of Farinelli's proudest achievements was working on developing the engineering partnership with the University of Maryland and the U.S. Navy.

He explained that the Navy struggled to keep recent engineering graduates at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, because they'd come from other states, get a few years of experience and then leave.

With the partnership, students can take courses their first two years at CSM, and then the University of Maryland offers courses for juniors and seniors at the Southern Maryland Higher Education Center. If students entering their junior year are accepted into its internship program, the Navy provides tuition assistance and a stipend for books.

"Engineering used to be one of the lowest of our programs at CSM," Farinelli said. "Now it's one of the top five programs."

Another project in which Farinelli was involved at CSM was starting a new math program for non-math majors, which involved putting together a quantitative literacy and reasoning class.

"It's giving them math that's meaningful for them, so instead of doing high-powered simple manipulation, they're doing things that are relevant to their lives, their professions," Farinelli said. He added that his favorite remark from a student was, "You snuck in the math when we weren't looking."

Farinelli noted that communications majors were typically taking botany or zoology as their science requirement, and so following the math model, faculty developed a course on science in society.

At Three Rivers, Farinelli's goals for this semester are to "just get to know the faculty a little more, and figure out some different ways we could improve student retention." He also wants to keep students on campus more, making the library "the hub of activity."

"The most successful way to do things is to do small, incremental changes over a period of time," he said.

e.moser@theday.com

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