‘Week of Real Contrast’ Heralds Year of Reaffirmation

(The following is drawn from remarks by Davie Jane Gilmour, Pennsylvania College of Technology president, during a May 10 all-college meeting to end the Spring 2012 semester)

Good morning.

Whether translated as a blessing or a curse, the proverb, “May you live in interesting times” certainly applies to 2011-12 at Penn College.

With budgetary challenges, enrollment shortfalls and unenviable personnel decisions, it was a year that many of us won’t mind leaving behind. Still, not unlike the comparably mild winter just past, things could have been so much worse.

We are still here, obviously unbroken, freshly reaccredited (we hope) and newly resolved to keep this ship on course as it continues its mission on behalf of our students and our global community.

So we welcome this springtime finale to another instructional year, a season of rebirth that soon will give us time to recharge and recommit – both as an institution and as individuals – for fall start-up a few short months from now.

At this weekend’s three commencement ceremonies, we will affirm the very reason that we’re all here, launching another workforce-ready group of graduates into their varied professions. We’ll celebrate the full-time faculty members who encouraged and inspired those students on a daily basis and we’ll prepare to accordingly embrace a new class when it arrives for Connections and Welcome Weekend.

In the midst of this breathless bolt to the finish line, we pause today to commend our co-workers – retirees, 25-year employees, distinguished staff, part-time faculty and – for the first time this year – faculty members singled out by students for their encouraging advice.

It has become somewhat of a tradition in this valedictory address to look back at where we were two-and-a-half decades ago, when our newest Quarter Century Club members first ventured onto campus.

What did the world look like? Where were we headed? What occupied our cultural minds?

The Internet makes it all too easy to take that look back. Just Google “1987″ and you’ll find all manner of “stuff” to make us smile, reminisce or simply shake our heads at how much (or how little) things have changed.

It’s no revelation that gas was cheaper in 1987 – 89 cents a gallon, in fact. The best-selling automobile was the Ford Escort, priced at $6,895.

Not without controversy, a sitcom called “Married … With Children” debuted on a new channel called FOX; we were introduced to a fresh-voiced singer named Whitney Houston; and our movie theaters delivered “Fatal Attraction,” “The Last Emperor” and “Moonstruck.”

Andy Warhol died, Tim Tebow was born, Alan Greenspan was put in charge of The Fed and Margaret Thatcher was re-elected to a third term as Great Britain’s prime minister.

We could go on and on.

As we draw closer to the college’s centennial, though, I thought it would be fun to take a look at what we were doing closer to home during that 1986-87 academic year:

  • Back-to-back snowstorms prompted a rare two-day cancellation of classes at Williamsport Area Community College.
  • The Professional Development Center – designed, constructed and landscaped by students – was officially opened.
  • We added dental assistant, occupational therapy assistant and culinary arts to our curricular portfolio.
  • Poet Maya Angelou stood on this very stage as part of our Women’s Series.
  • The college received one of only four awards from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for vocational education. Accepting accolades from Gov. Robert P. Casey was a much younger (but no less distinguished) forestry instructor and future “Master Teacher” named Dennis F. Ringling, whose work with high school students earned us that “exemplary” designation.
  • A total of 83 faculty members and 11 students were named to six dedicated committees that formed a new internal governance structure. The first chair of College Council? Unsurprisingly, Veronica M. Muzic, then an English professor. (Yours truly, director of the Health Science division, was a charter member of the Student Affairs Committee.)
  • At a penny per vote, readers of the campus newspaper were deciding whether the publication should run “Peanuts” or “Garfield,” and students tried to reach a compromise between quiet study in the ACC lounge and the distraction posed by MTV blaring from a nearby television.
  • And Andrea Skrobacs, the longest-serving of today’s retirees, had already been here 18 years.

The ensuing quarter-century has not been without hiccups, but we have come a long, long way since then. In 1986-87, the college was still relying on school district sponsorship to sustain its fiscal livelihood; in less than two years, affiliation with The Pennsylvania State University would bring us into a bright new day.

And, as we note during every Employee Recognition Week, during every crisis that we weather together, we simply could not survive without one another.

This meeting, this celebration, this weekend ahead represent the very best of who and what we are. And when we look back at the challenges that have momentarily threatened us … and look ahead to the inevitability of more clouds on the horizon … we can stand together in the knowledge of safety and strength in numbers, and of the absolute necessity for selfless cooperation and a laser-like focus on giving our students a life-affirming return on their trust in us.

We begin, appropriately, with our retirees.

Retirees
Speaking of numbers, 41 of our esteemed co-workers – with an incredible 943 years of combined employment – are leaving us for a much-deserved transition into the next chapter of their lives.

Twenty-two of them have been in the college’s employ for more than 25 years, and six of them – Andrea, Joan L. McFadden, Dennis E. Fink, Donald O. Praster, Rae Ann Karichner and Edward L. Roadarmel – have been championing and/or teaching our students for more than 30.

I’d like to ask all of the retirees here today to come to the stage as I call their names … and to remain until we can acknowledge the entire group with our applause.

William R. Barrett
Stanley G. Boler
Dorlan F. Books
Patricia A. Bracey
Sandra L. Britton
Steve P. Campbell
Susan K. Clark-Teisher
M. Patricia Coulter
Jim E. Cunningham
Asesh K. Das
Arlene L. Deppen
Sharon M. DiMichele
Gary R. DiPalma
Charles A. Duda
Dennis E. Fink
DeWayne C. Greenawalt
Ronald L. Hartzell
Rae Ann Karichner
Linda L. Kepner
Steven T. McDonald
Marlene McElroy-Rook
Joan L. McFadden
Virginia L. Michael
Lisette N. Ormsbee
Juliann T. Pawlak
John C. Phillips Jr.
Donald O. Praster
Harry L. Rall
Edward L. Roadarmel
Gary R. Rockey
Candy V. Rook
Steven R. Shadick
Andrea J. Skrobacs
James E. Temple
Glenda D. Twiss
Barbara Wayne-Mellott
Linda S. Weaver
William P. Welch
Mary E. White
Karen E. Williams
Dina L. Wilson

On behalf of the many students and colleagues whose 943 collective years you have enriched, I hope you will accept our most sincere gratitude.

Please join me in honoring our retirees.

Quarter Century Club
It also is my privilege today to single out those employees who joined our institutional family 25 years ago.

I ask them to come up on stage as I call their names and to remain until we recognize all of our new Quarter Century Club members.

From Administrative, Professional and Technical staff:

James J. Folmar Sr.
R. David Kay
Stephen A. Manley
Kathryn M. Reed
Dana R. Suter

From Service staff:

Ronald A. Bubb
Todd Campbell
Steven R. Shadick

And from Faculty:

Linda M. Barnes
Jack E. Fisher
Joe (Gustav) Loehr
Regis C. Kohler
Abdul B. Pathan
Jeffrey L. Rankinen
Wayne A. Smith
Timothy E. Weston

Please welcome this year’s class of Quarter Century Club inductees.

Part-Time Teaching Excellence Award
Next, I’d like to introduce the 2012 winner of our Part-Time Teaching Excellence Award: Tammy A. Miller, who has been an adjunct biology instructor in the School of Integrated Studies since 2008.

Tammy is part of an extended Penn College family that includes her husband, Nathan D., a 1999 graduate in plastics and polymer technology, and her father-in-law, William R. Miller, a forest technology graduate and a 2002 recipient of our Alumni Citizenship/Humanitarian Award.

Today, the spotlight is all hers … and I invite her to join me on stage as I read some of the comments from her nominators.

“If somebody had a question that Tammy wasn’t sure of, she would say, “I will look into that because I’m curious, too!”

“Caring, respectful and optimistic are all qualities … that I wish could be instilled on more teachers. I believe that learning requires responsibility on the student and also on the professor. Like Tammy says, ‘All the resources are here, you just have to find them.’”

And from a faculty observer: “I noted that she had a strong understanding of the material she was teaching … and that she was gifted in putting that information into terms that the students could easily understand. She routinely tied in real-world applications of the material, which gave the students a chance to see how it related to their chosen fields of study. She had a good rapport with her students, and there was a constant give-and-take interaction between them as they discussed the material. Overall, (she) did a great job of actually teaching microbiology.”

Please join me in congratulating Tammy Miller, instructor of biology, and our 2012 Distinguished Part-Time Teaching Excellence Award winner.

Excellence in Advising
Faculty members attending any of these recent all-college meetings will vouch for our intensive refocus on advising students. It clearly has been returned to our institutional priorities, and we have offered professional development activities to assist faculty in the completion of this most important responsibility.

Beginning this year, from a pool of nominations from students, we present Excellence in Academic Advising awards to deserving faculty members. Our inaugural honorees – both alumni in the very areas they now teach – are Charles R. Niedermyer II, instructor of baking and pastry arts/culinary arts, and Dave R. Cotner, welding instructor.

Both were among those who gathered at a congratulatory breakfast prior to this meeting, and I ask them to join me on stage.

There is perhaps no higher praise than that from students and co-workers, and the quotes from these nominators raise the bar for future advising awardees.

Of Chef Charles, his student nominator wrote: “During scheduling periods, he is very knowledgeable about his students’ curriculum. At the start of scheduling, he sends an email out to all of his advisees that details everything they should do before coming to the meeting. When we get there, he makes sure that each student has a clear idea on what they want to do the following semester before letting them leave.”

“When passing him in the hallway or walking past his office, it’s not uncommon for him to stop you and chat with you about how the semester is going or if we have any new plans for a job,” she added. “He not only takes the effort to get to know you as a student, but as a person as well. It makes it a lot easier to come to him for advice on goals and aspirations because he really cares about your success. He has had so much experience that he can almost always give you real-life examples, which helps out a lot when making important decisions.”

Dave is no less appreciated by his students, one of whom also took the time during a busy semester to nominate him for our second advising award: “I didn’t even have to approach Dave,” the student wrote. “Before it was time for me to make an appointment, he approached me and asked on a time that works for me. The night before I was supposed to meet with Dave for schedule planning, he planned out all my semesters ahead of time. I heard today that Dave spent an hour and a half rearranging a student’s schedule so that it would work for him, even though Dave had work of his own to do then.”

“Dave is constantly helping out students with their careers,” the nominator added. “He is always telling us about job opportunities and posting them on the board in the welding lab.”

One of his colleagues reinforced the nomination by saying, “When working on advisee schedules, he uses sound reasoning to effectively advise the student based on where they are in their education. Often times, Dave will map out several semesters of work for the advisee so that he or she is able to clearly see their path to graduation.”

Please join me in honoring the first-year winners of our Excellence in Academic Advising awards.

Distinguished Staff Awards
Now, we will present our 2012 Distinguished Staff Awards, which – since 1996 – have recognized excellence among Classified, Service and APT (Administrative, Professional, and Technical) staff.

Our distinguished Classified staff member is Sue Mahaffey, secretary to the assistant vice president for academic services, and a May 1983 graduate of Williamsport Area Community College’s secretarial science major. Sue, who also holds a paralegal certificate from The Pennsylvania State University and has worked at two Williamsport law firms, joined Penn College in September 2007.

“Guided by ethical standards which clearly include a commitment to treating all those with whom she interacts respectfully and fairly at all times, Sue’s daily display of professionalism is one of her greatest strengths,” one of her nominators said. “Whether it be offering a suggestion to senior administration about how to better serve students, to suggesting modifications to one of the numerous processes we are responsible for carrying out, to sharing ideas about how we might more appropriately support students, Sue is clearly comfortable and eager to invest in making Penn College the best possible environment for students to study and all of us to work.”

“Sue regularly interacts with students, parents, faculty, other staff and senior administrators.  Her ability to handle confidential situations, which can range from being rather emotional to extremely volatile, has largely contributed to her success in her position,” the nomination continued. “She maintains a high level of integrity and therefore treats others at all times with the utmost respect and care.  Her demeanor, particularly in the emotional and volatile situations, often results in diffusing student situations that have the potential to end badly.”

“Hands down, Sue is one of the best people I have ever worked with. Her approachability, commitment to high quality work, ability to work both with others and independently, critical thinking skills and general good nature make her an invaluable asset to our team,” this supportive co-worker added. “She is smart, friendly, compassionate, dedicated, trustworthy and respectful. Taken all together, she is simply a quality human being, and Penn College is a better place because of the contributions she makes.”

Please join me in congratulating Sue A. Mahaffey.

Edward J. Bergstrom, a General Services carpenter/maintenance worker/lead person, is our distinguished Service staff member for 2012.

Ed began his college employment in June 1981, and has experience with several local contractors in construction, kitchen/bathroom remodeling, and roofing and spouting.

“During his 31 years here at Penn College, his work performance has been nothing less than exemplary at all times,” his nominator wrote. “Ed is always prepared for any job assigned to him, always organizing his work activities, whether it involves a major renovation or simple task.  Ed is thorough on every job that he undertakes, with his materials and tools sorted and ready to go at any time, to best utilize every minute of his day.  His accuracy and neatness are evident in every job he finishes. His reputation as a ‘Master Carpenter’ speaks through his work.

“Ed is one of the best finish carpenters this college has ever employed, as he has completed entire renovations of classrooms, hallways, offices, kitchen and eating areas, and he has worked on such projects as the Victorian House, PDC and, most recently, the Stage X Project,” the nomination continued. “He is very conscientious and takes pride in his work, as his work is exhibited throughout the campus, and remains error-free.  He has never been called to return to a job because it wasn’t repaired correctly or constructed correctly, or completed to the requestor’s liking. His talent and skills are top-notch and he has saved the college much time and materials with the manner in which he performs and completes all tasks given him.”

“Ed possesses a self-confidence in the skills he has mastered through the years, but he is never boastful or obnoxious, thinking he knows more than the others. In fact, Ed is one of those people whose reputation precedes him, never needing to “toot his own horn,” as others admire and are in awe of his work – realizing his true value.”

Please show your appreciation for Ed Bergstrom.

Our distinguished APT staff member is Kathy S. Wurster, assistant director of counseling.

Kathy, who joined us in January 2005, has a bachelor’s from Bucknell University, a master’s from Springfield College and a doctoral degree from the Illinois School of Professional Psychology. She has experience as a clinical psychologist/therapist in a university setting, and is certified in critical incident stress management and psychiatric emergencies.

“While exploring the impact that Kathy’s presence has had upon the college community, it has become increasingly clear that the value of her service extends far beyond the responsibilities and duties expected of her,” a co-worker wrote. “Take for instance the large number of students who were in danger of failing out, or dropping out, of Penn College. Some of these situations were due in large part to the enormous impact of their psychological issues which were creating personal, familial, social, spiritual and academic difficulties. As a result of her capacity to cultivate growing and trusting relationships, Kathy has been more than willing to enable our students to create a plan of action to work through their painful moments in a responsible and successful manner.  After meeting with Kathy, these students were able to create opportunities that ultimately altered their decision to leave Penn College, while eventually meeting their graduation requirements, earning their diplomas, and then going on to become successful and productive leaders.”

“When a student is experiencing a crisis situation, the most important moment to respond is during our student’s moment of need. In other words,” the nominator wrote. “If it’s a serious moment for our students, it most certainly becomes a serious moment for our college.  I can recall no occasion when Kathy hesitated, even for an instant, to rearrange her personal and family life in order to accommodate the health and well-being of our campus community.”

“The challenges facing college counseling centers have increased dramatically during the past two decades,” a colleague from another institution wrote. “In addition to increased demand for services, there has been increased concern about disruptive behavior and the potential for violence. Counseling center administrators must constantly balance the ethics of our profession, individual interests and the safety of the greater college community. It takes a special person to successfully navigate these troubled waters, and Kathy is just the right person for the job.”

Please join me in congratulating Kathy Wurster.

On behalf of our entire Penn College family – students, faculty/staff, administration and alumni – I thank all of our celebrated co-workers for the gift of themselves on behalf of our students and our very reputation.

With one more round of applause, let’s congratulate our 2012 distinguished staff and part-time faculty, our honorees for excellence in advising, and our retirees and Quarter-Century Club members.

There is an ancient proverb that says, “Storms make oaks take roots.” This year, we certainly grew roots.

It is wonderful to celebrate milestones and to recognize our fellow employees. Yet this has been a week of real contrast – a week of celebration and sadness. The past five days have been some of the most difficult for us in the 14 years I have been president.

From day one, I have told you the truth. When the truth was difficult or frankly hurt, we stood by the honest facts. Today, I stand before you again with honest facts. We had to make very tough decisions – decisions that impacted lives, families and friends.

It is imperative that you know the decisions were made on a position basis; a function basis not a personal basis. We examined our operations, our functions and our services, and made our staffing reductions accordingly. That is why we said “Goodbye” to colleagues with little experience, as well as experience of over 20 years. Functions and services drove our assessment.

The college will do all it can to ease the burden for the 19 people whose positions were eliminated. The facts: They are on paid leave through June 30. It is difficult to ask them to work while explaining their situation, answering questions and speculating about the future. All employees whose positions were eliminated will receive one month’s salary and health benefits through September. If they or their dependents are enrolled in Penn College classes, their tuition benefits will continue through June 2013.

We have to face the financial reality of our situation and, rationally, we can intellectually see that I am confident. But there is the emotional side and we must take that into account, as well. First, the sadness of the colleagues we will not be working with and, second, the thoughts and fears that are very real: Am I next? Will this happen again?

Let me be clear. The leadership team worked hard to assess, study and decide. Our goal is to do this one time, so, as of today, there is not round two, no second wave of staff losses. That does not mean we will not continue to examine how we do our work, modify structures and make changes, but hear me, we do not plan to make additional staffing cuts at this time.

It is imperative that we improve our enrollment; that we function at peak performance, that we all work as hard as possible to reinforce that Penn College is the place to further your education. Your degree that works begins here and we are positioned to offer you a first-class education at the nation’s premier technical college.

The decisions were not easy, and the process was very difficult. We, as a group, must come together and recognize that we have been through similar times in the past; we are strong and we will get through this again. We are organic; we grow, change, adapt and adjust. We can be stronger and rededicate ourselves to our mission. I ask you to join me in looking toward the future. Our future depends upon it.

Our work in recruitment, retention and assessment has never been more important. Please don’t be the person who says not to worry; “someone else will take care of it.”

The year has been one of challenge and accomplishment: Our Middle States visit was a resounding success. We took a hard look at ourselves and made changes. The team visited and affirmed our self-study, citing countless strengths and making some suggestions for us to consider. One recommendation was made for us, and our final accreditation determination will be made in June when the commission meets. We can be proud of our work and our accomplishments.

I want to thank Elizabeth Meyer, Tom Gregory for their leadership of the Steering Committee: Bill Martin, Carolyn Strickland, Daniel Brooks, Elliott Strickland, Eugene McAvoy, Gerri Luke, Gregory Miller, Kathleen McNaul, Lisette Ormsbee, Mary Jo Saxe, Megan Hawn and Nancy Grausam. A special thanks to Veronica Muzic, Charlene Peters and Valerie Baier for their work with the entire process.

We had great student success in academic and cocurricular activities, as well as on the athletic field. We had a year of great accomplishments and I look forward to sharing them with you in a very different way at our fall convocation.

We have much to do this summer to be prepared for fall and the future. The Energy Technology Education Center opens on May 18 – a training site located on the Earth Science campus, and the location of a new facility to train first responders and workers in the natural gas industry.

We will welcome a new Board of Directors member – Tom Poole, vice president for administration at Penn State – in June when Dr. Robert Dunham, our current board chair, will retire after serving since October 1997. Bob has been an ideal chair – prompting, asking great questions and leading us for the past 15 years. He will be missed. We were pleased to recognize Bob and his wife, Maureen, on April 26 with the naming of the Robert and Maureen Dunham Children’s Learning Center.

Our new chair will be Dr. Robert Secor. Bob retired from Penn State as vice provost for academic affairs. Bob has worked with me and Bob Dunham for the past year as chair-elect and I am confident he will be a great new chairman of the board.

The state budget remains to be finalized this year. As of now, we are scheduled to be flat-funded. That means our appropriation is expected to remain the same amount as we received this year. Our budget-balancing is nearly complete. We always remain hopeful that additional funds could come our way.

This summer, we have Connections, Senior Visit Days, First Year Institute, Summer Teaching Institute, Pennsylvania Free Enterprise Week, camps and other campuswide activities – plenty to keep us busy and preparing for the future.  Each day we need to make a difference. We need to touch a life, a future, and be certain we have done all we can to fulfill our mission. Some days will be more difficult and some more fun; that is what makes life so rewarding.

I wish you all a summer of productivity, some rest and rejuvenation, and some great dreams. Harriet Tubman said, “Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars and change the world.”

I look forward to seeing you all again in August, when we will join forces and dreams to make our world an even better place.

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