By Yadira Betances
---- — LAWRENCE — During a tour of Northern Essex Community College yesterday, interim U.S. Sen. William “Mo” Cowan listened attentively as students, administrators, trustees, local politicians and businessmen told how the school has had an impact on their lives.
“I’m so happy I came here,” said Emily Ramirez. Before Northern Essex, the Lawrence resident was enrolled in a state school and was one of 200 students in some of her classes She said it was different at Northern Essex, which was more conducive to her studies.
“I also liked how supportive everyone was, especially the teachers who stayed after class to help,” said Ramirez, who is studying engineering. “That motivated me to do more.” One teacher even encouraged her to run for Student Council.
Omar Anagam of Lawrence went to Northern Essex to learn English when he moved here from Morocco. After being laid off from his job in informational technology, he began taking classes in respiratory care. He graduated last week with high honors.
“I noticed if I made a change, it would open doors for me,” Anagam said.
Cowan, a Democrat, who was appointed by Gov. Deval Patrick in February to take over from John F. Kerry who became U.S. Secretary of State, praised the school for the work it is doing.
“Community colleges are doing a great job helping students get degrees and getting skills they need,” he said.
“We have a wonderful story to tell. This is a good opportunity for the state to know there’s a lot of potential for families and businesses to invest here,” said school President Lane Glenn said.
Also at the school yesterday was David Legg, vice president of quality assurance at Charm Sciences. The Lawrence company that does diagnostic tests for the food industry has hired Northern Essex alumni.
Legg said there is a need for lab technicians trained and educated in safe laboratory procedures.
“Many laboratory processes do not require the traditional four-year degree of a Lab Analyst,” he said, adding an Associate degree programs such as the Laboratory Science Program at Northern Essex can fill the gap between graduates with no lab experience or training and those with a Bachelor’s degree.
During the meeting, Glenn had a power point presentation showing how the Lawrence campus outgrew its space soon after it was established in 1991 at 45 Franklin St. The school now has five other buildings in downtown Lawrence, and another satellite at Riverwalk on Merrimack Street. Glenn said school officials have been in touch with University of Massachusetts, Lowell and Salem State University for the possibility of coming to Lawrence.
Lane said the increase in students, especially of Hispanic heritage is a trend across the country. According to the Hispanic Pew Research Center, 69 percent of Hispanics who graduate from high school attend college, compared to 67 percent Anglos. The high school drop out rate in Massachusetts decreased by 2.5 percent during the 2011-2012 academic year, compared to 3.1 percent in 2003-2004.
He then took Owen, his aides, City Councilman Dan Rivera, State Reps. Diana DiZoglio, D-Methuen and Marcos Devers, D-Lawrence on a tour of the school’s other buildings. Glenn showed them the former Registry of Deeds site which has been razed and will be used for parking and green space. That was followed by a look from afar of the Louise Haffner-Fournier Education Center on Amesbury Street. Across from it, the senator was able to see the construction of the Dr. Abrahim El-Hefni Allied Health and Technology Center at 414 Common St., which will open in the fall.
Glenn also pointed to 420 Common St., where the school is planning to open a book store for the public as well as a coffee shop.
“As we develop further in the city, our intent is to attract other investments and show that good things are happening here,” Glenn said.
When he became president, Glenn set a goal of graduating 1,500 students within 10 years. He accomplished that goal in just three with one-third of them majoring in the health field.
“Students are coming because of its proximity, convenience, affordability and quality of programs,” he said.
Rep. DiZoglio, who attended Middlesex Community College, said she is supportive of community college education.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for community college,” she said.