When the Slidell Regional Education Center offered its first for-credit courses earlier this year, it was not the first time college classes had been held in the Camellia City.
It was, however, the first time that the state’s flagship university had planted its flag in Slidell.
Louisiana State University, as well as the University of New Orleans, are partners in the Slidell Regional Education Center, which is located on Gause Boulevard adjacent to the former site of DISA and Textron operations.
The City of Slidell, the Slidell Economic Development Alliance, the East St. Tammany Chamber of Commerce and the Gulfcoast Regional Education and Training Consortium also are part of the collaborative effort to return college offerings to the Slidell area.
Previously, UNO Metropolitan College had classes in Slidell, as did Delgado Community College. The Louisiana Technical College has long been shuttered, however, and though Northshore Technical Community College draws many students from the Slidell area, the campus is located north of Lacombe in central St. Tammany.
The Slidell Regional Education Center offers higher learning options near what may be the city’s busiest intersection (where Gause and Robert boulevards meet.) Not only does the facility offer several classes for the typical college student, it also provides an opportunity for members of the local workforce to enroll in continuing education classes.
City employees are making use of the education center as well, by enrolling in a professional development class this fall that aims to help participants improve their communication skills.
Mayor Greg Cromer said that type of training will help create better employees in both the public and private sectors.
“Having the education center in Slidell helps us attract the people we want to bring into our area,” he said. “It gives us instant credibility with technical and STEM-minded businesses out there. It gives (employers) an opportunity to come into our community and gain advanced training from top-notch universities ...
"And from our public service (perspective,) it’s about city employees making a better living for themselves both inside and outside of government.”
Cromer said the city’s police and fire departments also can make use of the education center. People in those departments take continuing education courses and often had to travel to do so. Now, they can take the classes less than two miles from their respective stations in Olde Towne.
“We’re going to save on travel and on time getting over and back (to Baton Rouge,)” Cromer said. “That gives officers and firefighters another day of service to the community. That’s definitely one of our goals.”
Margo Guilott, an educational consultant and a member of the Slidell Economic Development Alliance, said the education center was born from a summer 2017 meeting among Alliance members and UNO President John Nicklow. The Alliance went to UNO to gauge interest in beginning classes in Slidell.
The timing was perfect, she said.
“We told the president we would love to have the university have a presence back in Slidell,” Guilott said. “He told us ‘Well, we would have approached you if you hadn’t approached us.’ He put us in touch with Mark (Stahl, who is a business development consultant for LSU and UNO,) and the wheels started turning.
"We went to see (former Slidell Mayor Freddy Drennan) and he said he could repurpose some space for us at the (St. Tammany Parish) Coroner’s old office right there next to (the DISA/Textron building.)”
The following months were spent getting the facility and curriculum in order. Project leaders also met with East St. Tammany Chamber of Commerce leadership, who helped survey local business owners about the types of classes they would like to see available to them and their employees.
Guilott and Stahl said that flexibility for prospective students to have a say in what classes will be offered at the Slidell Regional Education Center will be key to its success.
“As the needs of the community evolve, so will the curriculum,” Guilott said.
Professional development courses scheduled for this fall include the strategic communication course, a course on grant writing, one on the essentials of project management and a five-day Certified Occupational Safety Specialist training program.
College-credit courses this fall include Service Organization Management in Hospitality; Introduction to Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Administration; and Introduction to Management and Organizational Behavior.
“This is a huge asset to our community, and a huge marketing opportunity, too,” Cromer said.