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‘Common History’ Among Tools to Write College’s Uncommon Future

As Pennsylvania College of Technology draws ever nearer to the January 2014 start of its centennial year, President Davie Jane Gilmour said the “common history we create hour by hour, day after day” will carry the campus community through the changes, challenges and opportunities of the coming months. The president’s address, both aspirational and inspirational, also cited faculty/staff mentorship as essential in helping students become richly rounded – and helping Penn College realize national leadership in applied technology education.

(The following is drawn from President Gilmour’s remarks during a Jan. 11 all-college meeting in the Klump Academic Center to open the Spring 2013 semester.)

Happy New Year!

I trust you all had an enjoyable (although a bit snowy) and relaxing holiday.

Two weeks move very quickly and the year 2013 is upon us. I, for one, am grateful the world did not end. We have much to do this year, and, well, we need to keep moving.

In 2012, the college adopted a new vision statement: “Pennsylvania College of Technology, a national leader in applied technology education.”

Some of you may ask why – because evidence was clear we had reached our vision as “Pennsylvania’s premier technical college.” Vision statements should be aspirational – stretch goals, if you will. And we are more than a technical college.

Penn College graduates are expected to gain more than hands-on education. We expect students to experience new ideas, cultures and diversity in their academic, social and campus life. We want them to master problem-solving and communications of all types – interpersonal, technological and written. Through clubs, organizations and programs, students learn community service and volunteerism.

It is those aspects of a Penn College education that make our graduates different – some say better – than other college graduates. I agree, and will add that it is often the mentorship of faculty and staff that provides the richness to a Penn College education.

Employees will each receive a copy of  the vision statement in the mail; display it proudly as a reminder of what we strive for.

By the numbers, we are doing better. This past fall, we had 1,201 students on the dean’s list and 753 students received a letter from the provost noting their good performance during the first semester. That number is up from 599 in Fall 2011.

On the challenge side, 140 students had less than a 1.0 their first semester, compared with 201 in Fall 2011. A total of 261 students were suspended this past fall, compared to 370 in Fall 2011.

Our work for retention seems to be making a difference. MAP works, mentors, early intervention – all coming together with our focus on academic advisers and on maximizing student success.

We are still talking about standards, but in providing the resources to assist student success – students have to reach out and take advantage – we are making great strides to be certain our part of the agreement is fulfilled.

Some say students today are different – never hear the word “No” … don’t care about people, just things. I would agree there are some students like that, but look around and you will see students who care and make a difference at Penn College. Volunteering, community service and helping others— all part of what we do to instill the greater good and values that are vital for success in the future.

2013. What will it bring for Penn College? Change, opportunity, new ventures, focused planning and a bright future. Those are my predictions.

If you think about what lies before us, we have much to do … so let’s get busy.

I am pleased to announce that donations to the 2012-13 Penn College Fund Employee Campaign have reached $119,106, $10,400 above where last year’s campaign ended. These funds will be put to good use by supporting scholarship awards, academic programs and services, special initiatives in a school or a specific major, and the acquisition of new equipment and technology.

Since 1995, your generous support has brought the total cumulative employee giving to the Penn College Fund to more than $1,070,000. That means the Penn College Employee plate on the SASC Donor Wall will move to the Millionaires Society, the top level on our donor wall, in April.

As I mentioned at Fall 2012 convocation, in recognition of this generous support, we would like to invite employee representatives to our annual donor wall reception. At this April reception, we recognize donors whose names are being added to the wall and those moving up to a new level.

In early March, we will select five employees who are Penn College Fund donors, by a random drawing, to attend this reception as representatives of the college family.

You may have noticed recent announcements about scholarships being established by particular schools or departments. These new scholarships offer a unique opportunity for many of you to support majors or programs that have a special meaning to you.

If you have questions about the Penn College Fund or designating your gift for a specific purpose, including one of the newly established scholarships, please contact the Annual Giving Office.

Plans are under way for the 2013-14 Penn College Fund Employee campaign, which will kick off in April.

I am grateful for the support we have received from all employee donors. This April, I ask you to please consider adding your support to an area of the college that you are passionate about. Your gifts continue to enhance the Penn College experience for our students.

I hope many of you have seen the “Legacy of Leaders” book, the latest publication in our countdown to the college’s centennial celebration in 2014. I encourage you to pick one up, as it offers a rewarding look at the changing face of this institution through the eyes and actions of its presidents.

This president – not exactly thrilled to see her younger self reflected in the published photographs – can attest that those faces do indeed change! Differing hairstyles and eyeglasses aside, however, there is much that has stayed the same.

The consistency of our mission, for one, the resolve of every administration … from Dr. Parkes’ to today … from the limited confines of this building’s basement to the bustling campus that we enjoy today … to prepare our students for their place in the working world.

To help connect our campus community to that history, to the time-tested reputation on which we build each day, we’ve begun to feature PCToday tie-ins to our milestone observance.

Some are lighthearted, like the archival photo of Santa Claus atop a WTI building. Some are poignant, like the future WTI alum who first warned of the impending air attack on Pearl Harbor. Some, like tidbits plucked from long-ago issues of the Spotlight student newspaper, will even make us veteran employees a little nostalgic.

All are designed to help us appreciate what came before, realizing the cause for celebration in the common history we create hour by hour, day after day, as years add up to a century.

Some of you might believe that history is just a random collection of names, dates and dusty photographs … or that PCToday is just another island in a sea of websites. I’d like to think our history is a relevant reminder of why we do what we do, and that PCToday is one of the ways in which we honor those shared accomplishments.

Please continue to make it a regular part of your workday.

From its launch in the Fall 2001 semester, our official news and information site has grown to include more than 7,000 items that include press releases, institutional achievement and some uncommonly beautiful photo galleries.

PCToday is updated throughout the day by College Information and Community Relations, which also publishes our award-winning One College Avenue magazine. The magazine, in its 22nd year, exemplifies our values and vision through stories about students, alumni and employees.

You can help further the college’s story.

As employees, each of you receives a print copy of One College Avenue in hopes that you will become informed about other areas of the college … and then pass your copy on to someone who might have interest in learning what it’s like to be part of the Penn College family.

Hand it to a high schooler who might one day become a student here. Give it to an alumnus who might reconnect with his or her alma mater. Share it with a business associate who might become a supporter.

One College Avenue’s website is also a great means for sharing the college’s story. You can “like,” share and comment on stories via Facebook, and enjoy “Web Extra” content like videos and photo slide shows of the amazing experiences our alumni and students have had.

In the current issue, for instance, you can find a moving memorial to Mike Fischer, recapping many of the stunning images he gathered during his tragically shortened employment as a student photographer. Mike died in August, but we will always have his unique perspective to remind us of his talents and of the beautiful campus that surrounds us.

Another recent “Web extra” was an interactive map of local trails and a multimedia slide show of readers’ favorite outdoor destinations.

As we continue to look for ways to attract students and market the college on a regional and national level, it is important that we expand and capitalize on successful programs both inside and outside of the classroom.

The college has selected Desire2Learn as its replacement for the ANGEL Learning Management System.

The Office of Instructional Technology will be leading the transition effort over the spring semester in preparation for full deployment for Summer ’13 classes. Numerous training opportunities will be provided starting in February, so watch the myPCT portal announcements and your email for more information on those upcoming training events.

Since its reintroduction in 1992, intercollegiate athletics is one of the areas that have flourished outside of the classroom.

Since 2004 (the year we joined the Penn State University Athletic Conference), Penn College has won 35 conference championships; and since 2008 (the year we joined the United States Collegiate Athletic Association), the Wildcats have made 23 national tournament appearances, earned 48 “Coach of the Year” awards, and have had 117 all-conference and 317 academic all-conference student-athlete selections.

The Penn College Wildcats have won the PSUAC Chancellor’s Cup every year it’s been awarded and have placed in the top seven of the USCAA Director’s Cup each year of membership. Both awards are given to the most successful all-around athletic program.

Our student-athletes also perform well where it really matters, inside of the classroom.

Student-athletes consistently earn, on average, higher GPAs than the student body as a whole, and student-athletes have higher first- to second-year retention rates (76 percent) when compared to first-time, full-time baccalaureate-degree students (66 percent) or first-time, full-time associate-degree students (57 percent).

Amongst all this success, the most common question we are asked about athletics is, “When will you be going NCAA?”

We are asked this question by current and prospective students, parents, alumni, community members, and the media, as well as faculty and staff sitting in this auditorium.

Last year, we felt it was time to answer that question, and, in December 2011, the Board of Directors approved an initiative to the college’s Strategic Plan to “explore NCAA affiliation and provide recommendation to the college outlining a potential timeline, possible level of participation (division level), costs and benefits, and impact on student-athletes.”

Last year, a committee was charged with answering this initiative, and I have received their recommendation that Penn College pursue membership in National Collegiate Athletic Association at the Division III level.

The question that will now be asked is, “Why go NCAA?”

Quite honestly, the benefits are clear: the potential for a significant positive impact on enrollment through the direct recruitment of student-athletes; greatly improved perceived reputation of athletics and the institution as a whole; greater interest in athletics by college and community members; and increased college exposure locally, regionally and nationally.

Looking at Division III is also clear. D3 places the highest priority on the overall quality of the educational experience and on the successful completion of all students’ academic programs. This parallels our goals at Penn College, and NCAA affiliation will not alter our view that student-athletes are students first.

There are, however, potential drawbacks, and cost is high on the list.

In our next budget year, we will increase funding in athletics by just under $150,000 as part of this initiative. These costs include moving our casual part-time coaches to regular part-time, increasing our recruiting expenses, making some facility improvements and paying NCAA fees.

However, we anticipate that, over several years, the additional tuition and fee revenue from these student-athletes will more than offset the additional costs and provide significant additional revenue to the college.

Let me be clear on this final point, the path to NCAA membership is a five-year process, and we have only committed ourselves to the first-year exploratory phase. We will be regularly assessing the benefits and drawbacks that NCAA affiliation will have on Penn College. If, at any point, we feel that NCAA membership is not in the best interest of the college and our students, we will withdraw from the process.

I would like to thank the members of the college’s NCAA Exploratory Committee: Joe Balduino, Ed Henninger, Jami Hughes, David Kay, Scott Kennell, Becky Shaner, Suzanne Stopper, Elliott Strickland, and students Logan Gresock and Kelly Hebert.

To learn more about this initiative or to ask more detailed questions, please watch the portal for announcements on NCAA Affiliation Information Sessions that will be presented by Athletics and Student Affairs.

In reading the self-study, I am sure you then know that our internal governance system is key to shared planning and decision-making, and you know the importance of shared governance in reaccreditation.

Upon entering the auditorium this morning, you received a colorful flyer listing the open positions for this year’s Governance elections.

There are positions for all employees: faculty, APT, classified and service. There is even one position open on the Academic Standards & Issues Committee for deans and assistant deans.

You have two and a half weeks to learn more about Governance. Visit the Governance portal and read about the committees and their activities; contact a committee member and ask questions.

Think about all of your coworkers and who you believe would make a positive contribution. Then, beginning Jan. 30, visit the Governance portal and nominate someone. Or nominate yourself. Or both.

Governance is shared planning, decision-making and evaluation. It does not work without your involvement. Don’t be shy. Let your voice be heard, and contribute to the process.

If I wanted to make a huge impression on all, I know the one thing I could do to make everyone (well almost) very happy: I would change our dress code to jeans every day. Why is it we are more productive without ties and pantyhose?

I won’t do that – at least not today – but I am pleased to announce Dress Down February for the Mary Beth Saar Memorial Scholarship. This scholarship provides awards to students who experience a financial emergency that might jeopardize their ability to remain at Penn College.

For $20, you can dress down every Friday in February (Feb. 1, 8, 15, and 22) and earn a bonus day on March 1. To be eligible for all five dates, you must purchase the package on or before Feb. 1. (After Feb. 1, you may purchase the remaining dates at $5 per day.)

Tickets go on sale campuswide today. We will have a table in the ACC lobby to sell the dress-down package after the all-college meeting. You can purchase the package at various locations across campus; please reference the portal. Any questions, or for additional information, please contact the Financial Aid Office.

2013: One year until our centennial. Stop and think about that, and about your own role in our history.

We will appropriately celebrate our centennial beginning in January 2014.

One of our first orders of business is to begin planning for the Centennial Read – yes, our own version of the Big Read.

I am asking for volunteers to assist in selecting a book that can be used across campus by faculty and staff as a part of our celebration. We would like to give the group time to select the ideal book, then give faculty time to incorporate the title in their plans for 2014. Please send Veronica Muzic an email no later than Feb. 1 if you are interested in serving on the committee.

Speaking of reading, I am very pleased to announce that Tracey Amey has agreed to serve as the director of the Madigan Library. Tracey will bring expertise, leadership and vision to our library, and we look forward to great things under her leadership.

Summer 2013 – yes, I want you to begin to think about the Summer Institute focused on Assessment and Critical Thinking: a great opportunity to learn and explore new ideas with your colleagues from across the college. Watch for announcements in the future.

In closing – yes, I found a number of quotes over the holiday, and this one really resonates. Naquib Mahfouz won a Nobel Prize in literature in 1988 and was an Egyptian novelist and screenwriter: “You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions.”

May 2013 provide you insightful questions and answers as we write the future of Penn College.

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