From Mobile Trailer to 80-Acre Campus: A History of Carroll Community College
JoAnn Benjamin has been working in Student Affairs at Carroll Community College since before the Westminster campus was built. Now retiring from her position after more than thirty years of service, she was kind enough to share what the College was like at the very beginning.
N&S: How did you come to work at Carroll Community College?
JoAnn: I had been a secretary at the phone company for five years before I got married. After we moved to Carroll County and my boys got older, I wanted to work part-time and found a job working for a lawyer. Then in 1987 I saw an ad in the Carroll County Times about Catonsville Community College seeking clerical support for their Carroll County campus. I applied and was hired.
Carroll Community College started in 1976 as a campus of Catonsville, located in the old Robert Moton High School building at 300 South Center Street in Westminster. I have always worked for Carroll in Student Affairs. At first, I was the only support staff for all of Student Affairs. We had the testing center, financial aid, student life and advising all in one area, in a trailer.
N&S: In a trailer?
JoAnn: Well, it didn’t start in a trailer. It started in a basement at South Center Street. In a couple of months, we outgrew that. As more traditional students enrolled, the office was moved to a trailer outside in the parking lot. Continuing Education was also in a trailer. So we had just the two trailers in the parking lot.
Inside our trailer, there was an aisle down the middle: advisors were on one side, and I was on the other side, and behind me was a mainframe computer. It wasn’t like the computers we have today. It was hooked up to Catonsville so they would keep track of us. We were still using typewriters then; we didn’t get personal computers until 1988. We had a dot matrix printer in a closet. After I processed the students’ schedules, our student aide would run and get the printout from the closet and hand it to the students.
N&S: In those early days, before the Westminster campus existed, how many students would typically be enrolled at Carroll?
JoAnn: I would say fewer than 300. We just didn’t have the facilities; there were limited classrooms at South Center Street, so we held classes at different middle schools and high schools throughout the County. A lot of people were evening students, more non-traditional students. But then we started getting more of the younger students enrolling.
N&S: When was the Westminster campus built?
JoAnn: In 1990. This had been all farmland before. The County provided the funding to build the A building and to hire teachers. Catonsville had excellent teachers and a lot of them; once we became independent, more and more of them would come up here to teach. We were fortunate to have them on our campus! In ’93, we became an accredited college. We had a big celebration here and people came from all over the state!
N&S: So during those early days, we were poaching teachers from Catonsville.
JoAnn: [laughs] Essentially.
N&S: The A building was the first building built. That had to be exciting, moving out of the trailer. That had to feel like an upgrade.
JoAnn: It was exciting! What I think I liked the most back then was that you knew everybody. You knew every instructor by name, and they knew you. You got to know people on a more personal basis. We felt like family. We had what was called a “sunshine fund” that everybody contributed to, so if somebody got sick, we would send flowers. That’s how small we were then.
Student Affairs once took up the wing where Advising is now. If you look in the Advising area where the front counter is, two secretaries sat there at one time, me and Kathy. And we handled everything. We did all the add/drops. Everything! One time, the computers went down at Catonsville during winter break. When we came back, I think we answered close to 500 phone calls because grades didn’t go out to the students. The students were calling us—not Catonsville—with the same question about where their grades were.
N&S: How many employees were there at that time?
JoAnn: A lot fewer than now. When we first moved here, we were still a campus of Catonsville. In Student Affairs, we live by our FTEs (Full Time Enrollments). As we grew, they could see the FTEs growing. That’s how we really showed we could be self-supporting. During this time was when they brought in Colleague ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) software so that we could be independent from Catonsville.
After the A building, then came the M building. We stored the student files in the basement of the M building. And then came the C building and then the library. We didn’t have a cafeteria for a long time. You’d go out or you’d bring your own lunch. The owner of Maggie’s Restaurant would bring box lunches and sell them to us. Because we were so small then, he could get us enough box lunches.
We eventually got a café. It was by where we have the Food Pantry now, downstairs in A building. Where the vending machines are, there was a small café back there where you could buy food.
N&S: What were some of the biggest changes you have seen at Carroll?
JoAnn: The biggest thing was we bought Ellucian, or Colleague, but it was a time-consuming process. It took months to implement. The people who worked on it worked on it for a year. Then, in order for Student Affairs to use it, they trained us for 16 months. They impressed upon us how important it is, when we are handling student records, that everything needs to be as accurate as possible.
I look at where we are now. We’re trying to do as few paper registrations as possible. When I came back as a part-time employee in 2011, I helped in Admissions because they were just moving to their new office. Where Student Records is now, there were rows and rows and rows of file cabinets. We worked on putting everything in the scanner and digitizing everything. That took a couple of years to do.
N&S: Where was Admissions before that?
JoAnn: As we grew with more students, Financial Aid and Student Affairs moved down to where Student Life is now. Where Records is, that used to be Academic Services. And then Student Life got their own offices. The Career Center was later made into Advising and Admissions. And then Admissions got its own suite with their own secretaries. We just kept growing and growing.
N&S: What are you going to miss most about Carroll?
JoAnn: I’ll miss my co-workers. We have a wonderful office. We’ve always had. We work well together. The secretary I worked with 36 years ago—Kathy—we’re still friends. We’re meeting for lunch next week!