Heads up, Jay Leno – the Northwest State Express is coming your way, representing aggrieved community colleges everywhere.
On September 19, the president of Northwest State Community College, Betty K. Young, astride her Harley-Davidson motorcycle, will head westward on a seven-city tour, accompanied by a specially outfitted pickup truck emblazoned with pictures of students at her Archbold, Ohio, campus.
Her ultimate destination: Hollywood, where Young hopes to have a sit-down – on or off the air – with Leno, whose frequent jokes about the intellectual acuity of community college students have perturbed  supporters of the institutions.
Earlier this summer, Young, thinking her motorcycle riding might give her some common ground with Leno, who owns dozens of the vehicles, invited him to ride with her and talk about the institutions. Her challenge brought “e-mails from every corner of the country” encouraging her to continue it and raise the stakes, says Michael Brown, director of public relations and marketing at Northwest State.
So college officials, with the encouragement of the American Association of Community Colleges, decided to use the campaign to draw attention to the underappreciated sector of higher education. A local car dealer donated a Dodge Ram truck that will accompany Young on her trek. She’ll visit community colleges in Joliet, Ill., widely considered the birthplace of community colleges; St. Louis, Little Rock and Mountain Home, Ark., Dallas and Phoenix, before alighting to Los Angeles.
“The primary goal is to stand with community college presidents in all those cities to say, We have got to change the mindset, to get more people valuing the economic engine that community colleges are,” says Brown. Leno’s “apathy and misinformation sum up the way a lot of people feel. They don't respect us.”
As for Leno himself, Northwest State officials are working “through NBC friends” to try to get Young a few minutes with Leno. “I don’t know if he’ll give us the time of day,” says Brown, but if Young – who as an unemployed, 28-year-old single mother went on to a community college and, eventually, five degrees – “can’t get five minutes with Jay Leno, he doesn’t recognize the value of our institutions.”
Officials at NBC did not return messages seeking comment.