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First dean of CCAC's new center looks at things differently

| Sunday, Feb. 17, 2002

As an occupational therapist, Richard Allison sees things differently than most people.

The Community College of Allegheny County administrator said he tends to look at things functionally, as either aids or blocks to the goals someone may have set.

He'll bring this perspective to his new job, and he hopes it will benefit students and residents in Washington County.

Allison, 48, is the first dean of the college's Washington County Center in North Franklin Township, having just finished his first week on the job. Although the college has offered evening classes in schools throughout the county, it opened the new center at Washington Crown Center, offering day and evening classes, last fall.

The center's second semester began at the end of January, and things are looking up. Enrollment has doubled from 100 to 210 this semester. While Allison is trying to get acclimated in his new office, he wants to offer more classes.

"I'm looking for things that are going to be important to that area," Allison said.

Allison, a native of Derry, Westmoreland County, has worked for the college for more than 20 years, as a professor and administrator at the Boyce campus in Monroeville and as an administrator at the main campus on the North Side of Pittsburgh.

Allison helped the college put together an electrical training and apprenticeship program with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Currently, more than 600 students are involved in the program, which offers an associate's degree in science and is considered the first program of its kind.

Martin Olshinsky, executive dean of the college's South campus in West Mifflin, said Allison built up the college's allied health program in addition to the electrical engineering partnership with the union. He said it was that experience that made Allison the ideal candidate.

"He's able to grow programs for us," he said.

Currently, 739 Washington County residents take classes at the college, either at the North Franklin campus, at night classes offered at various Washington County high schools or going into Allegheny County to take classes.

Allison hopes to offer some practical classes at the Washington campus, as well as the general liberal arts classes currently offered. However, he doesn't want to see class offerings outstrip demand or enrollment.

"We don't want to overdo it the first year," he said.

He wants to offer classes in skills that are complementary to the area and its job opportunities. He cited court reporting and paralegal classes, skills that could be useful in Washington.

Jeff Kotula, director of economic development for the county, said that in luring new businesses or having existing businesses expand, industrial parks and financial incentives are universal. What could be the deciding factor in Washington County, he said, is the quality workforce, and the college's Washington County campus has been assisting in training the county's workers.

"We have been working with CCAC in terms of trying to provide for workforce training," said Kotula, who looks forward to meeting Allison.

The college is one of several institutions of higher learning in Washington County, and Allison sees the classes offered in North Franklin as a complement to other four-year colleges nearby. Currently, the community college has a dual enrollment agreement with California University of Pennsylvania. Allison said the Washington County center will fill a niche, appealing to students who can't go to a four-year college, attend school full-time or go away to school — at least, not initially.

"I think we're going to be a good feeder," Allison said. "I don't really see us as being competition."

Allison, an Oakland resident, is looking forward to his new assignment, but not necessarily the commute. However, he said he has some books on compact disc to pass the time during his drive to the mall, which he described as nice.

The mall, formerly known as the Franklin Mall, had undergone a renaissance in recent years. Kaufmann's now is one of the anchor stores, and in addition to the new campus, an athletic complex is springing up behind the mall, abutting Interstate 70.

Allison said the center has garnered some interest among the crowds at the mall. People are stopping by, he said, and he wants to capitalize on the interest.

"I'm unpacked and ready to go," he said.

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