College Community Reminded of Vital Role in Student Success

(The following is drawn from remarks by Davie Jane Gilmour, Pennsylvania College of Technology president, during an Aug. 11 all-college meeting to open the Fall 2011 semester.)

Good morning and welcome to the Fall 2011 semester.

While I likely say it every year, this summer has flown by faster than many I recall. That could be my recollection or, in fact, reality. I recently did some travelfor Little League and attended the Big League Softball World Series in Kalamazoo, Mich. Leaving from State College packed with only a bursting carry-on bag and the start of this message on a thumb drive, I found myself sitting in the airport for an extra hour while they examined the plane for damage from a bird encounter on the landing. More on that story another time, but I was struck (no pun intended) by the airline employee who was doing all he could to entertain us, cajole those who were missing connections and help us pass the time. He began his remarks with the now-famous cheer, “We are,” and awaited a response from the terminal crowd. They rather meekly responded, “Penn State,” but, upon prompting, they produced the requisite response and with more enthusiasm.

I began to work on my notes and it occurred to me that I wanted to begin today not with a cheer (I know you are happy), but with a mantra that is important for us to remember: “We are Penn College.” But, actually, let me correct that “YOU are Penn College.” How many times a day, a week, do you hear, “the college?” “They changed this, they did that, they should do this, they should do that.” Honestly, it is a pet peeve of mine. “They” IS “us” you, me and the people sitting in this room control our own destiny. You and I are all Penn College. There are not mythical people making decisions with no regard for you or students; we have work groups, teams, divisions of staff, departments and academic schools who collectively organize and operate this educational enterprise. So take time today, tomorrow and every day to stop and realize that you are the college. Why not pick up the piece of trash to keep our campus beautiful, remove the expired sign that you walked by for 10 days so as not to confuse guests, believe in the mission, and advocate for us and for future students? It is important that we all adopt the daily life that our job is not a narrow scope of responsibility and has no impact on others or other areas. Please don’t walk away literally or figuratively; engage in what we do and how we do it. Your voice, your talent and your commitment is necessary for us to succeed.

Begin a new approach and start with today and our Middle States meetings following this all-college message.

There will be a series of focus meetings in the Klump Academic Center to discuss the self-study findings and solicit comments and feedback from the college community, from 9:30 to 11 a.m. All are encouraged to attend.

Today will be one ofyour last chances to provide feedback to the hard work of the study groups before our final draft is prepared for the visiting team, who will arrive on April 15. Please participate, share your voice and own your part of Penn College.

You can expect to see continued work on implementation of the action items from the Foundations of Excellence self-study. You may recall that, in May, I reported 12 of the 37 FoE action items had been completed. Work has continued over the summer, and with FYE spreading across campus and Debo Powell, our new assistant director of student activities for diversity and cultural life, arriving on campus we have already completed two more of those items. This year, we will also form the First Year Advisory Committee to provide support for the alignment, coordination, oversight and assessment of our first-year initiatives.

One of our most significant first-year initiatives comes of age this month. After six years as a pilot program and hundreds of hours of study, deliberation, preparation, assessment and professional development by literally scores of people, our First Year Experience course hits the big time. It has already been incorporated as a graduation requirement for all programs, and, beginning Monday, 41 full-time employees and eight part-time employees will begin teaching 63 sessions of FYE. Among these are 17 full-time faculty teaching 21 sections of the course, meaning that our full-time faculty coverage of 33 percent is well above the national average of about 12 percent.

I thank all of you for volunteering to teach this course. You are our starting team, and what you do this semester can make a huge difference in our students’ lives.

Obviously, support of our students extends outside the classroom, as well. And to enhance that support this fall, we will begin a phased implementation of MAP Works, a Web-based student retention and success program that will supplement SupportNET. MAP Works will enable us to identify at-risk students early in the semester and to intervene more efficiently and effectively by minimizing the time required to diagnose problems. It will also allow us to coordinate intervention efforts and to communicate more effectively among those faculty and staff with a vested interest in a particular student’s success. But MAP Works is not only about what it can do for us; it is also about what it can do for our students. MAP Works will allow students to gain insight about themselves and understand those elements of their behaviors and attitudes that affect their social and academic success. And it will help them identify and reach out to on-campus resources that can help them address their problems. Look for upcoming announcements about professional development opportunities to see how MAP Works can help you better and more efficiently meet your students’ needs.

I’d like to take a moment to speak directly to those of you who serve as academic advisers on this campus; our role in this capacity is of the utmost importance. For those of you who regard advising simply as the need to distribute scheduling access numbers once a semester, it is time to change your approach. Those assigned the role of academic adviser have a tremendous opportunity to significantly impact the personal, intellectual and professional development of our students. Reach out to your advisees early and often. Consider meeting with them before it is time to discuss scheduling. When they email you, respond. Getting to know them will allow you to more quickly identify when they are in need of additional help. You may not be the one to directly to help them, but you are the ones who should know where to direct them for help. Make the referrals “¦ it could be the difference between a student staying or leaving us. We have heard your request for additional support and have created resources to assist you with this part of your job. Tomorrow, you can follow the Academic Advising professional development track. Information about a fall professional development series will also soon be distributed. Now available to you all is an Academic Advising Resource Manual, located on the Academic Affairs department portal. When we piloted the spring professional development series, we heard rumblings of “The sessions sound great, but I just don’t have the time to go.” I hope that you will make the time to take advantage of opportunities to arm yourselves with information and skills that result in the highest-quality academic advising students anywhere in the country receive. Just like the students, I am depending on you.

Many of you recall we implemented a new strategic planning process last year that is initiative-driven and more purposefully connects our planning and budgeting. I am pleased to report that our progress is noted on the Strategic Planning link of the Assessment, Research and Planning portal site and can also be found on the college’s website in summary form. This process is inclusive and very transparent for the entire community. I am hoping you take time to visit the page and look at the annual update. Our work last year, as always, was impressive and is worth a review by the campus community. We will be updating the strategic plan and taking those updates to Governance and the Board of Directors in the coming month.

At our end-of-the-year all-college meeting, I spoke about our new Onboarding program, a comprehensive new employee orientation program that has come to life from the Employee Relations Office. In addition, we announced the Ombuds or Ombudsman program (also out of Employee Relations) and I encourage you to watch for professional development and announcements on both programs via the portal. Great benefits to us all.

As we looked to trim our budget this past year, we made a conscious decision to reduce the number of One College Avenue publications from four to three. I am confident, with the popularity of the online version of the magazine, that we will continue to reach our alumni, donors and prospects. We are expanding the editions that will be published and I want to remind all of you to submit articles for consideration. We would really like to increase the number of articles written by people other than College Information and Community Relations staff. Please submit your ideas to Jennifer Cline or go online and click on “Share your Story.”

CICR produced many new materials for the fall recruitment season, including new viewbook, admissions displays, postcards and mailer, and videos for use on campus, off campus and online (accessible via YouTube). The materials are great and I hope you take the time to become familiar with them and how they are used in recruitment.

Please remember that, if you have marketing ideas you would like to suggest, you are welcome to go to the Marketing Department portal, where you will find a recommendation form that makes it easy and convenient for you to share your ideas with our Marketing Planning Work Group.

As many of you have probably noticed, the addition of Capitol Eatery in Dauphin Hall has caused a monumental shift in when and where students are eating on campus.

For instance, once Capitol Eatery opened, we saw a 54-percent decrease in sales in the Keystone Dining Room (and 72 percent of those sales occurred before 2 p.m.), and we saw a 49-percent decrease in sales at CC Commons. We also saw a dramatic increase in the demand for late-night dining options. So, to respond to both student behavior and student requests, significant changes have occurred in Dining Services operational hours:

  • Capitol Eatery will now be open until 9:30 p.m.
  • Keystone Dining Room will no longer be open for dinner, closing at 3 p.m.
  • CC Commons will no longer be open for lunch, opening now from 4:30-11:30 p.m.
  • Bookmarks will no longer be open on Saturdays to coincide with the Madigan Library hours.

Allow me to digress: As a result of careful consideration of use and data elements, Madigan Library is not open on Saturdays. Traffic was very light, if at all, and use was for other than academic purposes. I am confident through online services and other weekend hours, we can clearly continue to meet the needs of our students. Back to dining:

  • All other dining units, including Wrapture, Fresh, Wildcat Express and Penn Central, will maintain similar hours to last year.

A new program from Dining Services that you might all be interested in is a declining balance 25-percent incentive plan for faculty and staff. If you purchase a $100 declining balance plan at the beginning of this semester, Dining Services will add $25 to your balance. The intent is that you will use this extra $25 to invite a colleague or student to eat with you at a meal. We all know that breaking bread is a traditional way to connect with others; this program allows you to do that right on campus!

For more information on Dining Services’ new hours or to sign up for a declining balance plan, please visit the Dining Services portal site.

Back to the library for a moment: Watch for the Wildcat Comic Con, April 13-14, right here on campus, and check out the website.

The Gallery at Penn College will host the first Alumni Exhibit over Homecoming Weekend, with 29 alumni pieces representing all three institutions: Williamsport Technical Institute, Williamsport Area Community College and Penn College.

Homecoming Weekend is Oct. 7-9 and Parent and Family Weekend is being held Sept. 23-25.

Another great gallery exhibit is the “Out of This World Solar System” traveling exhibit in March, which will offer great collaborative learning opportunities for students and children on our campus and in the surrounding community.

Penn College will again host Little League teams and officials for a picnic, beginning at 4 p.m. Wednesday on the CC Lawn. Very colorful event you may want to bring a camera and stop by before leaving campus that day. (Please note, however, the food is for teams and officials!)

Teams will leave the picnic and go immediately to the staging area to begin the Grand Slam Parade, as Williamsport welcomes the world. Penn College will again have a float in the parade and volunteers will hand out new career-focused playing cards for kids designed by CICR.

For the third year in a row, to commemorate our involvement in the World Series, CICR has designed and produced a commemorative pin for trading throughout the series.

Earlier this summer, I approved a plan for the Developmental Semester and some proposed changes to enhance student success. This study group and resulting recommendations are an example of using data to drive our decision making. We looked at what we do with students who test developmental: How successful are they and do we have the right mix of resources and strategies in place to allow for their success? The group did an excellent job and has begun implementing the recommendations I approved.

What is important to remember: We are not straying from our mission, but clearly tightening our approach to student success. Experience and data have shown what works and what does not. We have an ethical obligation to be open and honest with students, offer options for remediation that honestly may not include Penn College and, remember, this is college our programs are grounded in math and science and require problem solving, higher order thinking and reasoning to be successful in whatever chosen major a student has. We are a college of Technology,not a technical school; there is a difference. We will continue to examine our intake processes, admission standards and overall matriculation process to be certain we are maximizing the opportunity for success for our students. It is our calling and our obligation.

Tomorrow is a day filled with activities. We are finishing our final Connections session; campus will be busy with final planning for Welcome Weekend and the start of classes. Please take time to assist where possible and make sure we are really ready to begin a new academic year.

All are invited to the annual fireworks kickoff to the new year on Sunday evening at 8:15 in the Rose Street Commons Courtyard.

One College Club is holding an open housefrom 11:30 to 1Friday for all employees/alumni and retirees. Refreshments will be served and all are encouraged to stop by the back half of Le Jeune Chef and learn about the club.

Change is, of course, in the air as we begin this academic year. Senior Vice President Bill Martin has begun his “phased” retirement. We are still counting on him for some critical leadership and planning activities, but are also accepting his “transition;” we will get to talk more about Bill at future meetings.

Many of those directly reporting to Bill have been realigned and are working now with new supervisors. Organizationally, things have changed in Workforce Development & Continuing Education. As we have become very involved in Marcellus Shale education and training, the demands on Larry Michael’s time have exponentially grown. I have reorganized the unit, and Larry’s full-time job is now special projects and the Plastics Manufacturing Center. Larry does a great job with outside agencies and with the multitude of speaking engagements coming our way; this reorganization allows him to focus on those special projects and keeping our name at the forefront of this opportunity. Larry reports directly to me and is serving as the assistant vice president for workforce development for special projects.

To that end, Tracy Brundage has been promoted to assistant vice president for workforce and economic development. Tracy is responsible for all operations in WDCE, with the exception of the PMC. Tracy, too, reports directly to me. I am very confident in this new leadership structure and what it will do for WDCE staff and the college in general. The importance of this area cannot be underestimated and our statewide and national reputation is greatly enhanced by their work. This new structure will allow us to be even more visible and present.

Enrollment what a topic this year. We have to increase our enrollment and we did an amazing job to reduce our operating budget to allow us to have the smallest tuition increase in years. We raised our tuition by only 2.99 percent. The worry is, was that still too much? Student enrollment continued to materialize late and, frankly, it is too early to tell how we will end up this fall. At one point, our applications were up significantly, then we started to see the “summer melt.” Numbers are not where we had hoped. Yet, as of Tuesday, we had students walking in the door wanting to enroll this fall, and they were ready academically and financially.

The next few weeks will be critical and could cause additional budgetary review depending upon our enrollment outcome.

We are continuing to focus on this fall and working with students to finalize their enrollment plans. But we are focused on the future, as well. We have added a director of recruitment in Admissions. Joe Balduino will report to Dennis Correll and will bring a new perspective and direction to our admissions processes and representatives. Retention and enrollment development are our clear priorities for the future.

We are truly providing degrees that work and, to fulfill our mission, we must translate that into reality. Each of us has a role to play in this process. Making sure we do our part and connecting with our students. Penn College is a special place and we are the bridge to success for our students. They need our help and guidance, but they also need our direction and encouragement. This is a two-way street and one that requires us to do our best. Our students, like all college students, are making a big investment in attending college. It is important they get a good return and the full benefit of their personal and financial commitment.

Please do not get me wrong, you heard me earlier speak of standards and accountability, and that is an important part of the lesson “¦ but we all need to be engaged in the process guiding, helping and directing to facilitate success.

As we begin the 2011-12 academic year, I encourage us to all muster the courage to change to be visionary, work with integrity, inspire and innovate. Our future depends upon it.

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