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Birthday college

Oklahoma City Community College celebrates its 40th anniversary.

Mia Ledet October 3rd, 2012

Oklahoma City Community College has been a metro fixture for decades, and this year it celebrates 40 years of making a difference in the community.

In 1969 petitions circulated through south Oklahoma City, urging the state Regents for Higher Education to establish a junior college. The response was overwhelming, directly resulting in the construction of what was initially known as South Oklahoma City Junior College until a name change in 1974.

OCCC opened its doors for classes on Sept. 25, 1972. The school was designed with an open-floor concept and graded with a mastery system, both of which have since been replaced.

“The open floor showed that this was a new, nontraditional school that was accessible. Instead of walls and doors, when you walked in you saw people, offices and professors,” said OCCC President Paul Sechrist.

In the past 40 years the school has added several buildings, its newest project being a performing arts theater that seats 1,000.

The college was intended as a way for those who worked or who had limited finances to pursue higher education.

Tuition costs remain reasonable today and the schedules flexible.

Konni Gardner, a retired English teacher, was in the first graduating class of OCCC — a group that totaled five students. Gardner also served as the college’s first receptionist; she even helped move furniture into the building before its opening.

“Our experience at the college was probably the best thing that happened to a lot of us,” she said. “The opportunity was so welcoming. The professors, the staff, everybody was so nice and everything was student-oriented and all about your success.”

Gardner received the college’s first scholarship of around $500, which paid for a couple of subsequent semesters at the University of Oklahoma. She obtained her master’s in English and education, and went on to teach in schools across the state. She even wound up teaching a few courses at OCCC.

OCCC boasts a faculty of distinguished professors. Among them is Gray Frederickson, Oscar-winning co-producer of The Godfather: Part II, who heads the film and video production program. Frederickson began as a temporary artist in residence at OCCC, but that grew into a permanent position.

As college costs continue to escalate, Sechrist said he believes that OCCC may be even more important for the next 40 years than it has been for the last 40.

“Students are still choosing to go to OCCC for the same reasons implemented 40 years ago,” he said. “This shows that though the school has changed in many ways, its philosophy remains the same.”

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