Waldemar Kostrzewa, Dean of Community Engagement, NVCC; Ken Curran, Director of Outreach for Congressman Chris Murphy; State Representative Arthur O’Neill (R-Southbury); State Representative Geraldo Reyes(D-Waterbury); President Daisy Cocco De Filippis, Ph.D, NVCC; State Senators Joan Hartley (D-Waterbury) and George Logan (R-Ansonia); Dr. Verna D. Ruffin, Superintendent of Waterbury Schools; Dr. Sarah Roy, Director of Danbury’s Early College Opportunity Program (DECO); David Celotto, Director of NVCC’s Bridge to College Office.

Nearly 50 state, municipal, and community leaders met at Naugatuck Valley Community College on January 11 for the college’s annual Leadership Breakfast. Approximately 30 NVCC students, faculty and staff, as well as members of the NVCC Foundation and Regional Advisory Council joined the conversation. The event focused on the importance of building partnerships in education, government, and industry to move the state forward.

The theme of “Partnerships Make Progress” surfaced topics such as the importance of united relationships, economic development, education as a bridge to upward mobility, community needs, adapting to change, and the need for the proliferation of early college-preparedness programs such as the Danbury Early College Opportunity program (Danbury ECO) and NVCC’s Bridge to College Programs which have proven track-records of student success.

Program speakers included: Dr. Verna D. Ruffin, Superintendent of Waterbury Schools; David Celotto, Director of NVCC’s Bridge to College Office; Catherine Awwad, Executive Director of the Northwest Regional Workforce Investment Board; and Dr. Sarah Roy, Director of Danbury’s Early College Opportunity Program (DECO).

NVCC President Daisy Cocco De Filippis, Ph.D. welcomed attendees and spoke about the vital role community colleges play in providing affordable, high-quality education and access to resources and opportunities for disadvantaged students.

She also talked about some of the initiatives NVCC has carried out that not only help its students, but make the college an engine of change in the community citing such achievements like the creation of city-wide evening bus service in Waterbury in 2011, the establishment of the College’s Center for Racial Dialogue and Communal Transformation and a Bridge to College Office.

“We are one of the many institutions in Waterbury, Danbury, and Connecticut,” De Filippis said, “where students, colleagues, and community members feel part of a mission to redress social class and race inequality challenges by means of access to quality, affordable education in response to the needs of our students and the communities we serve.”

Danbury high school students Alex Sanchez and Francis Sanchez spoke about their experience in the DECO Program and how they were introduced to the program when they were in the eighth grade.

“We thought we should take every opportunity that we had to move forward in our education,” said Francis Sanchez. The Sanchez brothers emigrated to the U.S. from Ecuador when they were nine and are thrilled that they will graduate from high school this year with associate degrees. The two have already applied to several colleges and are looking forward to embarking upon educational paths in computer science and the arts.

Salma Akter, a graduate of Waterbury’s Kennedy High School who emigrated to the U.S. with her family from Bangladesh, is currently a pre-Nursing student at NVCC and spoke about the way the GEAR UP program helped her get on the college path. GEAR UP is a partnership between NVCC, the Waterbury Public School System, and the Greater Waterbury community. The program’s mission is to create a college-going culture among Waterbury students and their families. “I’m the first one in my family to attend college,” said Akter, “GEAR UP helped me to complete all the steps to become a college student in the United States.”

Dr. Ruffin, said, “What I found very strong within our community here in Waterbury is that this is a community that’s very interested in making great choices on behalf of children.” She reflected on the growing strength of the district’s partnership with NVCC since her arrival, and about the opportunities available to the Waterbury students. “We want our students to be able to connect. We want them to be ready to attend college. We want them to be successful in fields that perhaps have not yet been created. We want them to be life-long learners. We want them to have skills that are marketable,” she said noting the importance of programs such as GEAR UP in creating opportunities and the need to continue the GEAR UP program next year.

The meeting was moderated by Waldemar Kostrzewa, Dean of Community Engagement at NVCC, and included comments from First Selectman Edward St. John from Middlebury, Prospect Mayor Robert J. Chatfield; State Senators Joan Hartley (D-Waterbury) and George Logan (R-Ansonia);  State Representatives Ronald Napoli, Jr. (D-Waterbury), Arthur O’Neill (R-Southbury), Joe Polletta (R-68), and Geraldo Reyes(D-Waterbury); and Ken Curran, Director of Outreach for Congressman Chris Murphy. Also in attendance was State Representative Lezlye Zupkus (R-89).

Naugatuck Valley Community College serves Beacon Falls, Bethel, Bethlehem, Bridgewater, Brookfield, Cheshire, Danbury, Middlebury, Naugatuck, New Fairfield, New Milford, Newtown, Oxford, Prospect, Roxbury, Sherman, Southbury, Thomaston, Washington, Waterbury, Watertown and Woodbury. The College is located on a 110-acre campus at 750 Chase Parkway, Waterbury, Conn., and in Danbury at 190 Main Street. The College is one of 17 institutions governed by the Connecticut Board of Regents for Higher Education. Visitnv.edu for more information.