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MCLA Expands Pittsfield Presence With New Location
By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff
06:31PM / Tuesday, March 12, 2019
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Professor Deborah Foss, state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer, Trustees Chairwoman Denise Marshall, MCLA President James Birge, North Adams Mayor Thomas Bernard, and state Sen. Adam Hinds cut the ribbon on the new space.


Professor Deborah Foss said the college has support adult learners for a long time.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Michael Steben earned an associates degree from BCC and then built a career in information technology.
 
He worked his way up in the industry and he got offered a leadership position, heading the IT Department for the city of Pittsfield.
 
It didn't take him long to realize that he needed to learn more beyond just technology.
 
"I've had a rewarding career as a technical person and I've recently been promoted to a management position. In my new role, I quickly came to realize that despite my technical prowess, I didn't know much about being a leader. I knew I needed to upgrade my skill set and I wasn't sure how to accomplish this," Steben said. 
 
He heard a commercial for Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts' degree completion program. The college was offering an interdisciplinary studies program with a concentration on business and leadership, an accelerated program for people with some college credit to earn their bachelor's degree. And to top it off, it was within walking distance from Steben's workplace.
 
He enrolled. Last fall, he'd leave work, grab something to eat downtown, and then go to class. He now eyes a bachelor's degree in 2020.
 
"As an adult learner, the opportunity to interact with professors who are also professionals in a number of industries has been invaluable," Steben said.
 
That program is just one part of MCLA's growing presence in Pittsfield. The former North Adams State College has had its toes in the county seat for years and solidified its presence in 2011 when it partnered with Berkshire Community College to offer classes at the Silvio O. Conte Federal Building. 
 
Shortly before that, the concept of a "fast track" program had been in development, according to professor Deborah Foss. The idea was to create a standalone program and those courses were taught in North Adams. Spurred along by the passage of a Massachusetts law requiring early childhood educators to get degrees, that program morphed into the degree completion program.
 
"We've always had a commitment to adult learners," Foss said.

MCLA Pittsfield's classrooms are located in the former firehouse on Allen Street.
A cohort of 15 women took classes for one year to get the credits needed for a bachelor's degree, Foss said. In the Conte building, MCLA has been offering a business administration program, and interdisciplinary degrees in children and family (early education), business leadership, and health and human services.
 
But the lease expired last summer.
 
College President James Birge said the Conte building was too restrictive and he had met with Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer and 1Berkshire President Jonathan Butler about finding a new home.
 
"Previously we've been at the Conte federal building but we were really limited by what we could offer there. We could only offer classes Monday through Thursday evenings from 5 to 8:30 or 8:45. It didn't allow any flexibility for daytime classes or weekend classes. So when we had the opportunity we decided to make a move but we knew we wanted to be in Pittsfield, we knew we wanted to be downtown," Birge said. 
 
1Berkshire had space in the former Central Fire Station, which was donated to 1Berkshire in 2012 by Berkshire Bank, on Allen Street and agreed to move upstairs and let MCLA take over the space it was occupying. In August, MCLA moved its programs there.
 
And now, the college wants to expand its reach in Pittsfield. 
 
"Having this beautiful space in downtown Pittsfield aligns with our strategies, assuring education is accessible to all and responding to student and community needs in ways that enhance MCLA's distinctiveness, it's role as a pioneering education leader, and its value as an engine for regional growth," said MCLA Board of Trustees Chairwoman Denise Marshall. 
 
Birge said the college is now adding more hours and more courses. Next fall three new certificate programs are eyed to be added to what is called "MCLA Pittsfield" -- accounting, network security, and arts management. Birge announced the programs and connected them each to direct requests from the local business community. 
 
While Marshall mentioned the location bringing more foot traffic downtown and increasing the college's visibility, Tyer was particularly happy with the accessibility for Pittsfield residents for such programming. 
 
"The ability for the college to really provide for more people, access for more people to more programs, is really vital to the work we are all doing right now around workforce training, ensuring we are preparing people of all skills at all levels for their future prosperity," Tyer said.
 
Tyer praised having Pittsfield in the title and North Adams Mayor Thomas Bernard joked that he sees the new location as "the North Adams consulate in Pittsfield." Bernard also praised the economic impact accessible education has on the entire Berkshire economy.
 
"We all know that education is the key to our economic destiny here in Berkshire County and MCLA's presence in Pittsfield will help students continue, to complete, and to compete as we build the future of our county," Bernard said.
 

Mayor Linda Tyer extolled the expanded programming and space.
Bernard said the new space and expanded programming is a "continuation of a longstanding partnership" between the two cities.
 
"There are a great number of people in the Berkshires who have a lot of college credits but don't have a degree," said Associate Dean of Graduate and Continuing Education Paul Petritis.
 
Petritis said between 70 and 95 students were using the space this past fall. The former 1Berkshire offices have been completely renovated to include five classrooms, offices, and a conference room.
 
Petritis said once the additional three courses are added, he expects "a few dozen" more students. 
 
"We have a lot of space and right now we are only using the space in the evenings. We would like to expand to use the space during the daytime and other times," he said.
 
In the future, Petritis envisions adding more programs at the Pittsfield location. But for now, the focus is to get the newest three going.
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