President Tackles Adversity, Touts Diversity at Start of New Semester

(The following is drawn from remarks by Davie Jane Gilmour, Pennsylvania College of Technology president, during an Aug. 13 all-college meeting tobegin the 2009-10 academic year.)

Hot, sunny, rain, August Little League Baseball comes alive with all eyes on Williamsport and our world begins another academic year 2009-10 a year of change, a bit of chaos and, without a doubt, a year for accomplishments.

Welcome to the new academic year “¦ or, for some, the next phase of a short and odd summer. We did many of the same summer activities Connections, Pennsylvania Free Enterprise Week, summer camps, summer school and summer vacations but I have yet to talk to anyone who has not agreed that this summer has flown by.

Campus has been very busy. Stage X has consumed any number of people and I want to take time to thank the faculty and staff in automotive, welding, architecture, media and science. They have moved in and out of facilities and tolerated short turnaround times, and we are most grateful; their students will be most grateful. The leadership of Colin Williamson, Steve Wallace, Don Praster, Bill Mack, Marc Bridgens, Anne Soucy, Cliff Coppersmith and Eugene McAvoy has been tested and reinforced. Each person has worked above and beyond to be certain that we could be as ready as possible for classes. It has not been easy or smooth, but I know for a fact it has been a labor of love. Were it not for their commitment to the faculty, the students and the college, we would be in big trouble.

As an important note, welding classes are being held downtown at the Eureka building (the former site of Eureka Paper). What has been accomplished at that new location is remarkable. Please remember this if asked by students or parents, and there is bus travel to and from main campus to Eureka daily.

There are temporary classrooms we call MODS (Modular Units) on campus this year. If students have a building and classroom on their schedule called MOD 1, MOD 2 or MOD 3, these are temporary classroom spaces. You may encounter students looking for the MODS during the first few weeks of classes. These directions should help you get them where they need to go: The MODS are located together in the center of campus just west of the Victorian House and east of the Professional Development Center. These are fully equipped, furnished and air-conditioned modular units that will serve as classrooms particularly for selected science courses for the 2009-10 academic year. Signs will be posted about campus throughout Welcome Weekend and on the first two days of opening week.

General Services once again has stepped up to the plate and done the work of an army of people over the summer. Walt Nyman, Andy Richardson, Don Luke, Frank Malera (our “second” Andy), Charlie Kern, Mike Millerand their staff managed to survive their normal summer duties and the chaos of Stage X. “Thank you” does not express our gratitude.

Chris Miller and the Penn College Police kept us going and coming in different directions, dependent upon the construction demands of the day, and we are most grateful.

Without a doubt, the one person consumed with Stage X (and just a few other things) has been Bill Martin. His leadership, tenacity, patience yes, patience has been vital for our accomplishments this summer.

As you will recall, we are not finished. Stage X has another full year. We ask that you have patience as we experience temporary road redirection and possibly parking challenges. Temporary inconvenience, permanent improvement.

One topic that has been discussed throughout the summer is H1N1 the flu. As students come back to campus, it is appropriate that we spend a few minutes talking about what we can and should do. First, we do expect a vaccine. And college students are No. 3 on the list of priority. The vaccine will be given in two doses a month apart. However, we cannot expect this to be the answer. I will be communicating with parents; we have information for all of you and for all students. In the meantime, there are things to do: cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you sneeze or cough, then throw that tissue away; wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze (you may also use alcohol-based cleaners); if you are sick with flu-like symptoms, stay home for seven days after your symptoms begin or until you have been symptom-free for 24 hours, whichever is longer, (seek medical care if necessary). Encourage students to follow the same guidelines. While some of you have very clear attendance policies, the last thing you want in your class, lab or clinical environment is a student with the flu. I fully recognize you have prepared your syllabi and already noted your attendance policies, I ask you to be flexible. You will need to find ways to accommodate ill students; forcing them to class will be the worst thing you can do. We have incompletes, independent studies and makeup work opportunities; you owe it to yourself and the fellow students. Students who are not well should be sent to Health Services, and we need to expect students to be absent. Heroes of the faculty and staff are not doing us any favors, and forcing students to attend ill will contribute to larger and more complex issues.

Faculty will have brief reviews of emergency procedures for classrooms and laboratories in their respective school meetings. Once this process has been reviewed for all faculty, you can expect to see meeting announcements to provide the same information to all staff across campus. All classrooms and laboratories have the new emergency guide sheet and all employees will receive in the maila wallet-size reference card. Please be certain you find the sign in your respective class or laboratory and, if necessary, additional copies can be obtained from Student Affairs.

As you are aware, we do not yet have a state budget. Some have asked what that means to us. First, no appropriation payment””not an increase, decrease or anything, no payment. At last year’s 6-percent reduction level, that is $12,317,000 (the 6 percent is $786,000). No PHEAA money for students/us $4,330,000. We are crediting students’ accounts and allowing the registration process to continue. Grants are in jeopardy ACT 101 is the first in line as a problem. We have continued those employees for 60 days, hoping for a solution. IMC employees are uncertain of their funding.

We have done a cash-flow analysis and we are fortunate; we have the cash reserves to manage this time period. How long can we go? Again, we are OK for now, but each month makes it more challenging and then we lose our investment income on the funds we need to use for operating.

What we will not do is change tuition. We will live within our means and not pass this burden on to students midyear. I will continue to keep the campus community informed and I will continue to be open and honest with you as information comes forward. Put students and instruction first and we will sort this out as necessary.

We budgeted a 2-percent decline in enrollment this year, as we expected the full realization of the programs we eliminated over the past few years to manifest itself. We are looking to the future with optimism. Our new majors are doing well and the Marketing Planning Work Group has been very busy.

You may recall that, last fall, we announced the approval of a new Marketing Plan to guide our marketing and recruitment efforts. I’m pleased to say that our first year of implementing the plan has been very successful.

One of the most significant undertakings of the year was to identify programs that we felt could benefit most directly from increased marketing attention. Dean’s Council identified eight programs it felt were not reaching their full enrollment potential and another five programs that it saw as “bright ideas” that would arise to the forefront because they are very timely with what is happening in our world and in our economy.

The deans identified a faculty champion for each of these selected majors and, together, the deans and faculty have been working with the Marketing Planning Work Group conducting an analysis of our chief competitors in these program areas. They have compared our offerings to our competitors, developed key points of differentiation, and identified recruitment and marketing strategies for the coming year.

This has been a very productive initiative and a really good example of how departments (in this case, the schools, Admissions, and College Information & Community Relations) can work together and share resources in order to create new opportunities in a cost-effective and efficient way.

While most of the initiatives will be conducted in the coming academic year, one marketing initiative was started over the summer. It was developed for the Dental Hygiene online B.S. degree completion major; it involved advertising online and in industry publications, as well as mailings to licensed hygienists. I’m happy to report that we attracted more than 325 visits to our Web site as a result of the campaign; those visitors came from all around the country as far away as California, Texas, Georgia, and Illinois which is just the kind of response we want to build enrollment in this distance-learning B.S. program. Three of those students took action and enrolled for this fall semester.

Some other Marketing Plan initiatives that are under way are: a commuter campaign with advertisements, fliers and e-mail communications designed to attract greater interest from individuals who live within driving distance to the college by expressing the idea that “you don’t have to travel far to get a great education;” and a poster campaign for career technical schools that is designed to encourage students in these schools who may think they can get a job without a college degree to consider how their potential for advancement will increase with a “degree that works” from Penn College. The exciting thing about this campaign is that College Information & Community Relations worked with Outreach K-12 to pretest images for these posters with students in some of these schools. We got an idea of what kind of images they responded most positively to and then we designed the posters around those images.

I’m pleased to say that our outreach to secondary schools has never been better. Outreach K-12, Admissions, College Information & Community Relations, and the Academic Schools are working very closely together to promote Penn College in school districts throughout Pennsylvania and in other states, as well.

We received some very exciting news this summer when we learned that our award-winning public television series degrees that work will become part of an online educational resource called Teacher’s Domain. This resource, funded by the National Science Foundation, is managed by Boston Public Television (WGBH). Officials at WGBH saw our broadcast online and decided it was a perfect fit for the Teacher’s Domain which provides a global outreach and will give us access to an entire new audience of educators around the world.

In addition to our outreach to traditional-age students, the Marketing Plan also has set our course for reaching out to more adults and transfer students. We joined PATrac an online resource that will allow students who are looking to transfer to find information online about what courses will transfer to and from Penn College. We also have increased our outreach to veterans and to Career Links in nine regional counties. We are already gaining referrals as a result of these efforts. In November, we will host a week of activities honoring and celebrating nontraditional (adult) students.

I also told you last year that we were pleased with our venture into the world of social networking. Our Facebook site now has more than 2,100 fans; Todd Leister in Admissions is doing a fantastic job keeping these fans informed about what is happening at Penn College. Todd answers questions, shares news stories, video clips and more to ensure that we have a very active network.

The Marketing Planning Work Group expects to have another very busy year. Its members invite you to follow their progress through the Marketing Department portal on myPCT. On that portal site, you can find a copy of the approved marketing plan, along with task and timeline updates, as the group continues to work on the goals established in the plan. There is also a recommendation form on the site, which you can use to share ideas you might have for future marketing initiatives.

Let’s shift gears to the present.

If given one last chance in your lifetime to speak to the Penn College community, what would you say? What is something that you are passionate about, that is dear to you, that is so important that you just have to share it with others?

That is the goal of the faculty member chosen to give the annual talk at The David London My Last Words Lecture. This program, recently named for David, who passed away in the spring of 2008, is a collegewide event, in which students are asked to nominate and select the faculty member that has made a positive impact on them and that they would most like to hear from.

This year’s David London My Last Words Lecture will take place Tuesday, Oct. 13, at 6:30 p.m. in the Academic Center Auditorium. You will all be receiving invitations, and we hope you will attend and encourage your students to attend.

It is a new tradition that we announce the person selected to deliver The David London My Last Words Lecture at the Fall Convocation. And so, it is my honor to announce this year’s speaker, who was nominated and selected by our students, Dr. Gerri Luke. Congratulations Gerri, and we are looking forward to hearing from you!

PC3 a clever name? Moniker? Regardless of what you call “it,” worth hearing about.

While our core mission is clearly education, one cannot deny that a significant part of student success revolves around socialization. Our research and NSSE data confirm that our students (especially freshmen) fall short when compared nationally and to select peer institutions in the area of personal and social development. National research also tells us that involved students persist and graduate at higher rates and are more satisfied with their educational experience. We need to do a better job engaging students the minute they set foot on campus. To that end, I am excited to announce a new, collaborative program call PC3. PC3 is a partnership among Student Activities, Residence Life, Athletics and Dining Services to provide intentional program planning and seamless collaboration during the first three weeks of the fall semester. The goal is to get students (especially freshmen) involved and engaged earlier and more deeply in campus life. You can help this effort by reinforcing the importance of students getting involved in positive, social activities like these. Thank you to those who agreed to pass out to students the PC3 flier and I hope you can encourage student participation.

I would like to talk for just a moment about a topic that, quite frankly, we should be having more often throughout campus. The topic is diversity and the conversation should focus on a student-centered way to ensure a campus environment that fosters a respect for difference. As you all know, one of our articulated values specifically states that each member of our college community is entitled to and expected to contribute to a supportive environment and to cultivate an appreciation for our differences.

I am very proud that we continue to develop new programs and initiatives to live up to this value and to meet our Strategic Plan and Goal of identifying and implementing activities to enhance and expand opportunities for participation by diverse members of our college community and their allies. In addition to our long-standing efforts through Academic Affairs, International Programs and Student Affairs, recent additions include the creation of the College’s Cultural Life Committee, our first campus celebration of Martin Luther King Day last January, and a variety of new professional-development programs.

I would like to recognize Kas Williams, coordinator of residence life, who is the chair of the Cultural Life Committee and who this year will advise the MulticulturalAssociation student organization. For the first time this fall, we will be hosting a welcome social for students of diverse backgrounds and those who have an interest in diversity; 471 invitations have been sent out to all students that self-identified as a minority student, but everyone is encouraged to attend. The social will take place Wednesday, Aug. 19, from 5-6 p.m. in Penn’s Inn. We need to work so that all students feel welcomed to our campus.

We are going to talk about student success today in a number of contexts. First, Middle States: I am very pleased to announce that Tom Gregory and Elizabeth Meyer have agreed to co-chair our self-study. The self-study process will begin this fall with the naming of the steering committee and the completion of the design document. Assessment is a key focus for all accreditors, and Middle States is no different.

One step we are taking in preparation for Middle States, we have joined a select few institutions across the country (147 to be exact) selected to participate in Foundations of Excellence, a self-study on the first year of college. This voluntary process comes from the Policy Center on the First Year of College and our work will be mentored by John Gardner of the Policy Center. Many of you have no doubt heard of John and his landmark research in the area of the first-year experience. This is not an exercise; this is an aspirational model that promotes excellence. Throughout this fall semester, you will be contacted by those involved in this important assessment. Carolyn Strickland will take the lead on this project as our liaison with the Policy Center and Ward Caldwell will serve in the capacity of second-chair liaison. We hope that at least 80 individuals faculty, staff and students will participate in this assessment with the goal of an action plan for the college. Intentional activities, resources and services are the goal, and our work can be greatly enhanced by this process. First, we will take stock of what we already do, and that is significant. While we may not be intentional, we certainly know that there are activities across campus to assist the transition to college. Some will say we are doing this to improve retention; that is often one by-product. Others will say we are doing this to enrich the campus experience and I would sum it up in these words: students (and parents) make an investment in their education and it is important that we, too, invest in their success. This is not a lowering of standards, but, rather, examining what we do and making our collective work more intentional. Watch for a call for help, information on the process, a branding of our work and for the opportunity to participate; we look forward to the work and, most importantly, to the resulting plan and the chance we have to make a difference for our students.

Ibegan my remarks with reference to Little League. We announced in July that we will be working more closely with Little League as the world focuses on Williamsport. We have an entire division in the parade on Aug. 20; we will be hosting all of the teams for a picnic prior to the parade and, in downtown Williamsport, we will open for the parade and the first weekend a satellite operation of The College Store. Some of you may have seen the wonderful “store” at commencement last Saturday, and this extension again will be part of our reaching out into the community. Hours for the store will be 3-8 p.m. on the day of the parade and 11 a.m.-3 p.m. for Aug. 21-23. Stop by and support our reach into the community and support of Little League. You can consult the portal announcement for other volunteer opportunities associated with Little League. Let’s help our community put forth the image and identity we have come to love.

There is a bit of another moniker winding its way around campus P2, or big “P,” little “p.” On a serious note, our search for provost has closed. We were unable to identify a candidate to provide the academic and institutional leadership we desired. I want to personally thank the search committee and, most especially, Veronica Muzic and Bill Urosevich for co-chairing that activity. Our process was thorough and our effort laudable. I am most grateful to all who gave their time and effort to the process. We have moved on and hired the search firm of Greenwood/Asher and Associates Inc. Its charge is to bring us five candidates meeting the criteria developed by the search committee and deans. I have confidence in that approach and appreciate their flexibility to work in with our requested process. I look forward to the entire campus community participating in the on-campus interviews. Watch the portal for further updates.

Welcome Weekend is upon us. This is an important transition event for parents and students. To make the day as smooth and positive for students and families, we need countless numbers of volunteers. If you are able to give two hours on Saturday, we would be most grateful. You can sign up to volunteer with Shelley Bamonte in Student Activities.

Finally today, I will close with the great news of the summer. You will recall when I announced our participation in the Great Places to Work Survey, conducted by the Chronicle of Higher Education. The results are in we are a great place to work with a response rate of more than 59 percent (much higher than the average rate of 43 percent) we scored in the Top 10 ranking for 23 of the 26 categories ranked. For the other three, we scored better than our Carnegie Classification peers and had no ratings lower than “Good.” The number of Top 10 ratings for Penn College was greater than any other college or university in the study, regardless of size. Duke, Notre Dame, Cornell, Emory, Gettysburg just to name a few. Thank you to each of you for making Penn College a special place, a place where we respect our differences, celebrate our successes and focus on students.

As we celebrate the 20th anniversary of Penn College this year, I challenge all of us to make a difference in our daily work and, most importantly, for our students. Yesterday is history, today is well under way; we need to work for a better tomorrow in a time when the external challenges are many we could not even imagine. I have faith, and the belief that, with our focused attention to our mission, vision and values, we can continue to make a difference in higher education and our assessment measure: our students.

Have a great fall semester.

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