By Keith McGilvery
While the campus has moved, Burlington College President Christine Plunkett says its mission remains the same.
"For 42 years the college has been in existence and the mission has always been focused both on student-centered learning, small classes and on civic engagement," Plunkett said.
In 2011, the college relocated to a 32-acre lakefront campus-- the former Catholic Diocese Headquarters on North Avenue.
"Having a campus, you know that now has a large piece of land and a facility that we can open to the public and the community is great for us," Plunkett said.
Plunkett took charge of the campus last spring. She's working on ways to bring recreational space and student housing to campus while taking on one of her biggest challenges-- paying for the purchase of the $10 million campus.
"We've always been on a financially tight string," Plunkett said. "We're used to operating that way; we aren't accustomed to an endowment that funds are scholarships, so we have always had to build that into our budget."
Plunkett says the school will need to find new opportunities for revenue. She would like to see the student body grow from 220 to 300 in the next few years. And with Burlington High School just up North Avenue, she is pursuing dual-enrollment opportunities that would draw high school students to campus.
"I can picture high school seniors walking over here taking an in-depth, challenging college course, walking back to their high school and playing on the football team if they want to," Plunkett said.
Plunkett says the college is also boosting its numbers by creating a niche for first-generation and refugee students. Muhamed Abdi is a refugee from Somalia who says he's finding success in the school's small classes.
"I am the first in my family to go to college, so it is very challenging. So I am trying all I can," Abdi said.
Burlington College is also looking for grant opportunities to help it expand. This spring the school launched a pilot program that's helping students learn English. It's added nearly a dozen students to these classrooms.
"Right now, there is a great connection between Burlington College and the refugee communities. The college provides guidance, where we can grow our own food, and also there is ESL class," Abdi said.
Plunkett says the new ventures are important, but so, too, is what she says the school has always done best-- educate students in the creative arts in an environment where the community feels welcome.
"You're a part of a community where you can walk straight into the president's office and ask questions, you can walk into any office in the building and find somebody who will engage with you," Plunkett said.
If you want to meet Plunkett yourself, she hosts a community breakfast once a month.
Plunkett says the school is also exploring ways to raise additional revenue by leasing campus space for things like weddings and corporate events.