Book Recounts Rise Of Manchester Community College Despite Doubters

Manchester Community College teacher releases book about school's history

Susan Phillips Plese started teaching at Manchester Community College in 1969, six years after the school opened in 1963.

Plese, 68, of Manchester, still teaches journalism at the college and released a book this month about the school's history titled "Education That Liberates and Ennobles: A History of an American Community College." The book was written in conjunction with last year's 50th anniversary of the school.

"We didn't even have a campus," Plese said about her early years teaching at the school. "But everybody carried on as if it were real. And it was real."

Before the current campus existed, Manchester High School and other school buildings in town served as classrooms for the college. Its main offices were on Hartford Road in a building now home to Fuss & O'Neill engineering consultants.

Plese remembers the doubters in Manchester, those who didn't think the town could support a community college. Her book details how Manchester Community College was able to grow from having 122 students in its inaugural class to the more than 15,000 students enrolled last fall.

"It's because of that optimism," she said. "It was a feeling that we were all together in this. Nobody said, 'We can't do this' except for the townspeople. It was always this sense of we're going to do it and nobody can stop us. Nobody ever thought of failure."

Plese, who became a full-time professor at the college in 1989, has also worked for The Hartford Courant and the now-defunct Manchester Evening Herald and Hartford Woman magazine.

The nontraditional college students she has taught over the years all came from unique backgrounds, she said. Those students were inspiring to her, she said.

"It was a fascinating position to be a teacher with so many differences in students," Plese said. "They weren't right out of high school. It was wonderful, because I got to know my students and they got to know me."

Plese said the book includes anecdotes from her own teaching career to demonstrate how individual the students were. She refers to marches for peace, acts of goodwill between students and more.

Plese said a special "thank you" must be sent to all of the current and former Manchester Community College faculty and staff who contributed their memories to her research. She also received help from her husband, Charles, who is a retired dean of the college.

"I just said write whatever you remember," Plese said. "I learned so much about my fellow workers."

The 158-page book, which includes a DVD collection of oral histories and photographs, can be purchased online for $55 at

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