Chronicles: Trading Up - Delgado Hits 90

Delgado Community College went from a trade school to a major force in Louisiana higher education

PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY THE HISTORIC NEW ORLEANS COLLECTION, TOP LEFT; PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY DELGADO COMMUNITY COLLEGE, TOP RIGHT; ALEXY SERGEEV PHOTOGRAPH, BOTTOM

As a man in his 20s who’s already running his own business, Tracie Sanders knows the importance of spending wisely. He is taking classes at Delgado Community College because “it’s a very good value for your money. It’s a good price for education,” he says. “My major is business, concentrating on real estate. What I want is to be a property manager and I want to dabble in real estate myself.”

Sanders is just one of nearly 20,000 students enrolled at Delgado in this, the school’s 90th anniversary year. Second in enrollment only to Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, Delgado is part of a growing national movement to emphasize community colleges. As education costs rise, students can get the benefit of lower tuition in their first two years of college study. The school is also placing new emphasis on easily transferring credits from Delgado to Louisiana’s universities. And for those not intending to go to college, career training is a necessity in today’s technologically sophisticated workplaces.

Delgado offers a wide range of courses, from culinary arts to health care, to specially designed courses for companies needing workers with specific skills and a range of hands-on training for personal enrichment or a new career.

Dr. Michael Mizell-Nelson is now a history professor at the University of New Orleans, but he taught history and basic writing at Delgado for 13 years. “I learned so much about New Orleans from my Delgado students,” he says. By using oral histories of family members, or researching the family business, Delgado students gain skills in research and writing, while learning more about their own community. Delgado’s closeness to its community was, and still is, immediately apparent. “When the Schwegmann stores were open, it was like every customer could be in your classroom.”

Aimee Buckle teaches math at Delgado, and she sees it as a supportive institution. “I love that my chair and my dean have my back, and I’m honored and respected. I know that they care,” she says. Students can also expect support. “I come into class, and I deal with the fear some of them have of math. We take time, and we take a few deep breaths so we can focus. Then we start class.” (Students like this process: “If I forget, a student will say, ‘Aren’t we going to do that breathing thing?’” says Buckle.)

Students experimenting difficulty with their studies have options. Delgado has a tutoring center – and the tutors themselves are students, too.

Delgado opened in September of 1921 as the Delgado Central Trades School. Businessman Isaac Delgado gave funds to the City of New Orleans, and the brick building, still located at Orleans and City Park avenues, was constructed.

One of Delgado’s early triumphs was in airplane design. Famed early Louisiana pilot Jimmie Wedell was friendly with Byron Adams, who founded Delgado’s aviation program in 1931. The Delgado Maid and the Delgado Flash were two racing planes designed for Wedell and built by Delgado students. Although the planes were constructed, they never successfully raced. Photographs of the planes are exhibited at the Louisiana Aviation Museum in Patterson, La.

During World War II, Delgado-trained welders found work building boats at Higgins Industries, constructor of the Higgins Boat landing crafts used in the D-Day invasion of Europe. The Higgins plant was located on what is now part of the Delgado campus, and a monument commemorates the spot.

By 1970, Delgado was under state control, and was accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools in ’71.

Delgado is one of the top 50 schools in the country in granting associate’s degrees in five academic areas, and ranks in the top 100 schools granting one-year certificates of study. In 1990, the century-old Charity School of Nursing became part of Delgado and today ranks in the top 50 schools graduating registered nurses.

Outlying campuses have been added through the years. There are campuses on the West Bank, in Covington and Slidell, and on the East Bank of Jefferson Parish. Maritime training facilities are in New Orleans East.

Delgado also serves people wanting a second career or just looking for a new skill. “I think Delgado is a gem!” says Lindsey Rohm, who took courses in web page design and graphic design. “The teachers were very good. People did not take these classes lightly – if they signed up, they went.”

 Lisette Carriere Oser had a degree in art history from Vanderbilt University. “Over the years, I had helped people do things with houses. I wanted to get a degree in interior design and Delgado was the only place in town that offered it.” Today, she does residential and color consulting work, and with fellow Delgado alumna Lisa Woolfolk, has a firm, “Stage 2,” that stages houses for sale. “Studying at Delgado was fun, but it was a lot of work. We took art classes, I did a lot of drafting, and we did computer-aided design (CAD.) In the final year we designed a little hotel,” Oser says.

One of the tastiest items on Delgado’s menu is Culinary Arts and Hospitality, today directed by Mary Bartholomew (recently named Conseiller Culinaire Provincial in the Chaine des Rotisseurs international gastronomic society). Delgado has a well-known chef apprenticeship program requiring 40 hours of work in a restaurant (not fast food) kitchen and one day of classroom work each week. Other programs can lead to a final degree at UNO.

Chefs in training at Delgado are serious. “Typically they are coming to learn the European techniques. We have American regional cuisine, and a section for Cajun and Creole cuisine,” says Bartholomew.

 New Orleans cooking “always seeps in all the classes,” Bartholomew admits, just as Delgado itself is an essential ingredient in the city’s culture.
 

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