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LC-CDA executive director strives for academic success locally

Cyndie Hammond: “We’re helping people refresh, re-energize and redefine their careers.” (Kathy Plonka)
Cyndie Hammond: “We’re helping people refresh, re-energize and redefine their careers.” (Kathy Plonka)

When she was 54, Cyndie Hammond became the second person in North Idaho to earn a doctorate in education through the University of Idaho in Coeur d’Alene. Since then, the longtime Inland Northwest resident has spent eight years as executive director of Lewis-Clark State College in Coeur d’Alene and the state’s five northern counties.

LCSC, which has its main campus in Lewiston, is one of the main colleges in Coeur d’Alene’s fledgling higher education corridor – a collaboration that will enable students to enroll in the combinations of courses they need without having to travel outside Kootenai County. Construction is under way now on new streets, curbs, sidewalks and signal lights expanding campus access to Lewis-Clark’s Coeur d’Alene site and connecting it directly with the North Idaho College campus to the south.

LC-CDA offers baccalaureate degree programs in conjunction with NIC, which provides lower-division courses while Lewis-Clark has the upper-division courses. Majors include business, education, communications, nursing, justice studies, social work and applied science.

Hammond talked about her job, her passion for education and LCSC’s role in the community.

S-R: How did you end up working in higher education?

Hammond: I was in K-12 education for about 30 years and decided I wanted to go back to school for a PhD. My husband Jim was so supportive. We sold our home on the river about a year before it was worth a million dollars or more. We did a little sacrificing. He supported me while I was a graduate assistant at the University of Idaho, and I loved the experience.

During that time he served on the State Board of Education. I attended several meetings and met then-LCSC President Dene Thomas. She watched my career, and when this position came open they called me. I was in the middle of writing my dissertation. They allowed me to finish it, then hired me and I was given the opportunity to work with this wonderful community.

S-R: What does your job look like, day to day?

Hammond: I make friends, listen to staff, listen to students, listen to the community and pay attention to what they need from our graduates. Then I relay to faculty and staff and senior administration how we can improve services. We listen before we act.

For example, we’re going to put on a “business of listening” tour, bringing faculty from LC and North Idaho College in front of the Post Falls Chamber of Commerce to ask what they expect from new employees. What should our graduates demonstrate? We’ll listen. Then we’ll try to do the same thing in Coeur d’Alene and Sandpoint.

S-R: What’s your favorite part of your job?

Hammond: Seeing the success on student faces. The majority of our students are women, going back to school part time to reinvent or refresh their lives. That’s who I was. I was a single mother living on food stamps going back to school for my master’s degree part time. It’s the best to reach across the table, grab a hand and say, “Take a breath, you can do this.”

S-R: What’s the most difficult part of your job?

Hammond: I like results and I’m fairly impatient, so probably the policies and structures and bureaucracies of any institution and organization.

S-R: What’s something about you that might surprise your students?

Hammond: I went to a one-room country school with all eight grades together and an outdoor bathroom, just outside of Green Bay, Wisconsin. S-R: When did Coeur d’Alene get a Lewis-Clark State College extension?

Hammond: We’ve been here since the early ’80s when General Telephone and Electric requested training for business executives. We were originally housed in a GTE building, then moved to the North Idaho campus. We’ve been at five or six different locations.

S-R: Where are you now?

Hammond: We’re in the same building with the University of Idaho, in walking distance of North Idaho College. It used to be the Osprey restaurant. Now it’s referred to as Harbor Center. We’ll be here until there’s a joint building in the CDA education corridor.

S-R: What is Lewis-Clark’s involvement with the CDA education corridor project?

Hammond: It’s totally a partnership. But the physical site isn’t the beginning. We’ve been collaborating for quite some time.

S-R: What are some examples of that collaboration?

Hammond: The five schools collaborate to provide student services. We serve students who need testing, who need counseling, who need health services. We have a committee of recruiters and marketers that work together.

We listen to students and residents to find out their career goals, then point them in the right direction. It may be to one of the other schools. I had a student come into my office with a goal in psychology. I said, “Meet the people from the University of Idaho.”

Personally, I’ve had that sense of collaboration ingrained. I have two degrees from the University of Idaho, my kids attended NIC and one graduated from UI, and my mother attended Lewis-Clark. I’ve lived that collaboration.

S-R: As a public school, how has the recession affected Lewis-Clark State College?

Hammond: With the recession, as unemployment rates increase, so does our enrollment. We were up 8.8 percent this semester. We’re helping people refresh, reenergize and redefine their careers and enhance their individual economic vitality, as well as that of our communities.

We accept up to 85 credits from NIC, and as a community college their costs are significantly lower. If students get their first two years at NIC, then come to Lewis-Clark College, we’re the most affordable 4-year degree in the region.

S-R: How do you see public higher education changing over the next few years?

Hammond: We’ll be paying as much or more attention to the individual and community needs, their economic needs. We’ll provide input to faculty, particularly business faculty, so coursework meets those needs. We’ll be delivering more education, perhaps online, to meet the needs of rural students.

S-R: You’re married to Idaho state Sen. Jim Hammond. Do you talk about education funding?

Hammond: Jim isn’t on the education committee. He’s on the transportation committee. But when he was on the joint finance and appropriation committee, setting the budget, I talked to him about compensation for state employees until he told me I had to register as a lobbyist.

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