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Faculty/Staff Implored to ‘Answer the Call’ on Students’ Behalf

(The following is drawn from remarks by Davie Jane Gilmour, Pennsylvania College of Technology president, during a Jan. 8 all-college meeting to begin the Spring 2010 semester.)

Good morning and Happy New Year,

I would like to begin 2010 with a great video I found over the holiday. Make sure you read … as well as listen … forward and backward.

A palindrome reads the same backward as forward; this 1-minute, 44-second video reads the exact opposite backward as forward. This amazing video was submitted by a 20-year-oldand won second place in a contest “u @ 50” conducted by AARP. So simple and yet so brilliant words of hope, encouragement and inspiration for us to begin 2010.

2010 Remember when we were fussing about Y2K? Would the computers crash? Would the world end? While we have faced challenges during the past few years, we can be proud of where we are and what we have accomplished.

Just before the holiday break, we got the good news that our appropriation was approved for this year a welcome resolution to our budget challenge. Unfortunately, much has been lost from July until December. We are in sound financial shape and had enough money to continue full operations, but lost significant investment returns. Where does that leave us? Today, we are whole from an appropriations point of view. The governor will unveil his next budget in February; all indications are that the problems facing Pennsylvania will be worse than this year. That does not bode well for the future. We need to re-evaluate where we are, what we are doing and how we do things. Just like in our personal lives, there is no money tree. We must remain steadfast in our review of budgeting priorities and do whatever we can to keep tuition from escalating.

Budget-building will not be easy this year. Hard decisions have to be made: What do we really need versus what would be nice to have. Instruction is the cornerstone of our mission; we must focus our dollars carefully, while, at the same time, continuing to provide services to complement the instructional mission. Read the paper or online publications we are so much better off than many other colleges, but we will not remain so if we are not careful stewards of our resources. Now is the time when strong institutions will survive and thrive, and the weak will fail.

What can you do?

Give more than 110percent. When you are asked to help with a recruiting initiative, tour students, think outside the box for ways to bring prospective students or teachers on campus, answer the call and rise to the occasion. Everyone in this room must respond for us to be successful. Some of you have consistently said “No.” “Not my job,” “I am too senior.” “Nothing will hurt me or my position.” Not so.

We are continually looking at our curriculum portfolio. I have said many times we cannot be all things to all people and we must continue to evaluate, add, subtract and modify to respond to the global and workforce demands on our graduates. For the faculty and staff just a few who think someone else will take care of your program or position, now is the time. Your future just may depend upon your actions and innovation.

What lies ahead for us, for Penn College? I, for one, am optimistic that 2010 will bring us a new provost. During the week of Jan. 18, we will interview our finalist.The first interview was very successful and there is some real excitement about this candidate. Please take time to attend the collegewide open reception at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 19, the regularly scheduled President’s Forum. Give me your feedback and take time to review the previous presentation and resume located on the President’s Office portal page.

Now, I used the word “portal,” a powerful and wonderful tool that many of you have embraced and love, yet some of you well, there lacks a bit of love. Wendy Cunningham has done a great job with the portal. It really is pretty amazing, and saves time and money. Watch for Wendy’s professional development; she will ease your pain and help you join us regular portal users!

Professional development is something you will hear more about forever. I hope you read of the reorganization in Human Resources and our creation of the Employee Relations Department with responsibilities including professional development. I want to publicly thank Sue Mahaffey and Kathy Stahl for helping me this past year with professional development. We are transitioning this responsibility to Linda Morris and her staff.

For a full description of the responsibilities of David Kay and Linda Morris and their respective separate departments, one easy reference is the recent press release you can find on PCToday.

Along with the portal, PCToday is an important source of news and information that I strongly urge you to read. Our News Bureau (including Tom Wilson, Joe Yoder and Jennifer Cline) keeps us well-informed with new photographs and news stories on PCToday every day. But you won’t know if you don’t take time to read it.

One of the two big professional development initiatives that we planned before the transition are a new and exciting brown-bag lunch series in Spring 2010, and we need your help!

Penn College continues to grow and change new majors, new resources, new buildings, new student organizations, and, of course, new employees! While faculty and staff are familiar with the services and resources offered within their own departments, it is important that everyone becomes acquainted with the opportunities available to students in other departments and schools. In doing so, we will gain knowledge about the entire college and improve our communication with current and potential students, their parents, and others who are seeking information about Penn College.

Our brown-bag lunch series will begin Feb. 3 and will take place every Wednesday from noon to 1 p.m. Each week, a different department, school or activity will be highlighted and information will be presented.

Examples of information to be presented or explored are:

  • Majors offered within our schools and what do they entail? (i.e., What is Plastics & Polymer Engineering Technology or Electric Power Generation Technology?)
  • What role does Greek life play in a student’s college experience?
  • Why is Connections important to a student’s first semester? What information is presented?
  • What relationships have been built with area corporations and how do these relationships benefit Penn College students?
  • How does Distance Learning work?
  • What services does Academic Support Services offer and how can a student take advantage of them?
  • How can students travel internationally as part of their education?

Be part of the brown-bag series be informed.

The second activity is one I asked to be created and I am requesting that all full-time APT, Classified and Service employees attend one of these sessions between February and December. My inspiration was a conversation with an employee and the question, “Have you helped a student today?” We often focus on our “external” audience and, in particular, being certain that we are courteous, helpful and positive with our students and families. This workshop will build on that and remind us that those same behaviors go a long way when we deal with each other. Ask yourself: When did you last transfer a telephone call, to get the person out of your life into someone else’s, when you probably could have answered the question with a quick look at the home page or portal?

I participated in a presentation over the break and the DASCO company shared its values a key part of what it does. I was struck by the wording of one value statement respect: “Employees and employers have shared obligations for creating respectful and courteous workplaces. Colleagues are treated like esteemed clients. Requests are responded to with urgency and candor. Differing viewpoints are respected. Individual skills and contributions are recognized and valued. All individuals are treated fairly.”

A great reminder to all of us to review our value statements and make them part of our everyday work life.

The sessions begin in February and are titled “Have You Made a Difference for a Student Today?” including such topics as:

  • How to provide good information to students, whether in person or by phone.
  • Making the moment memorable.
  • Relating or relationships with students: Bridging the age gap/embracing differences.

The sessions will be led by Dennis Gilbert and are required for all classified, APT and service staff. Please watch for e-mails and portal announcements about this important initiative.

At our last all-college meeting in August, I announced the reorganization of the college’s Cultural Life Committee and the Multicultural Society. I’m now excited to tell you about an upcoming program that is being sponsored by these groups.

Jan. 18 is the Martin Luther King Day of Service. As you know, the college is open that day and, in the spirit of service to others and education of self, there will be several events that day to honor King’s message:

  • At 8 a.m., a Community Breakfast will be hosted at the Campbell Street Community Center, followed by a Community Service Fair from 9 a.m.-noon.
  • From 1-2 p.m., the college will be sponsoring a professional development session for all faculty and staff. The program, “Empowerment Through Education,” will be presented by Malikah Shabazz, youngest daughter of Malcolm X. Shabazz regularly speaks on issues of diversity and education. She has a Ph.D. in Educational Administration and Human Development and a master’s degree in Mathematical Science. Information on registering for this event will be out soon; please watch for it, as seating will be limited.
  • Later that evening, from 6-7 p.m. in the ACC Auditorium, Shabazz will present a college- and communitywide lecture titled “Dr. King’s Message.” We ask that you all encourage your students to attend this important lecture.

As I saidin August, we don’t talk enough about these issues. This is an excellent opportunity for our campus to come together in a supportive environment that fosters a respect for our differences.

In the fall, I shared that Penn College had been selected by the John Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education to participate in the Foundations of Excellence program.

Since then, more than 100 faculty, staff and students have been organized into nine working committees that comprise the FoE Task Force. Their charge was to explore every related aspect of what we do with first-year students. To assist them, selected students, faculty and staff were issued a survey and the response rates were very positive.

Additionally, the Task Force has been systematically pulling together campus data to identify what we do well and where we might have missed opportunities to make a difference for our students. Because retention remains an area in which we know we can do better, we should all look forward to the data-based recommendations that the Task Force will provide later this semester. To all those who have contributed to the process thus far, I thank you. And I encourage all who are asked to be engaged in the process this semester to respond positively when called upon. The retention and success of our students is a responsibility that lies with all of us.

Students’ success is often tied to the planning of their academic life. A number of years ago, we “moved” to online scheduling a great time-saver and great use of technology. However, students are a bit too savvy and have found that they can save more time by skipping the adviser, creating the schedule they believe to be the “best” and, when they fall short, of course, it is everyone’s fault but their own.

Beginning this semester, when students schedule for the fall, they will be forced to see their adviser each profile will have a specific code generated forthe studentandthe student will be unable to schedule without it. This intervention will take adjustment, but we are confident advisers once again will have active participation in the scheduling process. Further instructions will, of course, be coming via school offices.

Did you enjoy the Go M-A-D With Governance contest? The goals of the Go M-A-D campaign are education and participation. The contest was a fun way to educate us about the difference that our shared governance system has made (and is still making) in campus life, and to show us the importance of personal involvement in the program. I congratulate the student, staff and faculty winners of the contest, and thank the Elections and Communications Committee for its work in putting the contest together.

Part Two of the program starts now. Nominations for open Governance positions will be held later this month. When you came into the auditorium this morning, you received a sheet of paper listing all the open seats. You have two weeks to consider yourself or someone else as a candidate for a spot. Feel free to volunteer, but keep in mind that, if two or more people volunteer or are nominated for the same seat, there will be an election to determine who will fill the position. Nevertheless, this is your chance to really go M-A-D and make a difference with Governance.

If you work an average full-time schedule here, you spend a full three-quarters of your waking hours at Penn College. For many of us, the percentage is even higher. Don’t you think it’s worth investing an hour a month and a little cranial energy in working on the improvements that continue to make our school Pennsylvania’s Premier Technical College? Nominate! And then be sure to vote during elections. Watch the portal for upcoming information.

2010 brings DATATEL to campus. This financial-management system will replace Lawson in Financial Operations and in many aspects of Human Resources. The conversion will be great deal of work for staff directly involved and I am grateful for the leadership and tenacity that will be necessary to convert the software and processes. This is important to the college and will require all of us to be adaptable and flexible; things will be different, but better. I ask for your full cooperation and patience.

I am sure many of you did as I did and took time over the holiday to catch up on some reading. There was a flurry of news about the hot careers for 2010 and, interestingly, a series of articles highlighting the value of two-year degrees degrees that work!

Top 10 careers for the decade from an NPR story include registered nurses, home health aides, food preparation, accountants, nurse aides and college teachers. Another source (Career Explorer) lists network systems/data administrators, physician assistants, health information technology, fitness trainers, database managers, dental hygienists all areas in which we provide degrees or certificates. The outlook is positive, our new degrees are right on target, we are connecting with the Marcellus Shale play and what is driving the economy in addition to doing it right.

I also read a great piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education on academic freedom, written by Gary Olson “The Limits of Academic Freedom.” We have permission to post the article and I encourage all full- and part- time faculty and academic administrators to take the time to read it. This is an excellent piece and is written from a great perspective. Academic freedom is important. What it protects is fundamental to education; what is not covered is worth a review by all of us.

As you have read from previous announcements, we are about to begin in earnest the process of reaccreditation by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. This important effort is a process that examines how well the college conforms to the 14 published Standards of Excellence that Middle States proposes as the hallmarks of institutional excellence. The Middle States Association has generated these standards and evolved them over the years so that, when taken as a whole, they tell a story of the ideal institution:

An ideal institution has a focused mission and goals [Standard 1], a plan and resources to meet those goals [Standards 2 and 3], and the leadership and staff to accomplish the goals [Standards 4 and 5].

The work of the institution is done with integrity [Standard 6] and the results are assessed and analyzed for effectiveness [Standard 7].

The institution recruits and admits the right students [Standard 8] and supports them in achieving their goals [Standard 9]. Competent faculty are recruited and supported [Standard 10] to offer quality educational programs that support the institution’s mission [Standard 11], including comprehensive general educational requirements [Standard 12].

Students may have a variety of educational options and choices [Standard 13], a nd, perhaps most importantly, student-learning outcomes are assessed to determine if the institution is fulfilling its mission and achieving its goals [Standard 14].

The examination of our compliance to these standards is accomplished through a self-study a comprehensive review of all aspects of our activities to determine our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and challenges in how we go about fulfilling our mission. The self-study will engage the entire community, and will be led by five study groups composed of faculty and staff from all departments and schools within the college. Over the next year and a half, they will be asking for your participation in activities and events that will gather data to generate a clear understanding of our compliance with the Middle States Standards.

Today’s sessions will be the kickoff to the self-study process, and the information gathered will be used to develop both specific charges to the study groups, and questions we need to raise and answer regarding our compliance to the standards. These charges and questions will guide us in the self-study process, which will begin this semester under the direction of the study groups.

We have chosen to do a comprehensive self-study, examining in depth our resources, processes and outcomes in great detail, and the study will take place through the Fall 2011 semester. We can anticipate a visit from a Middle States evaluation team in the spring of 2012. It may seem like a long time from now, but we have not done a comprehensive study in many years and the work involved is significant.

Today’s sessions focus on specific groups of the 14 Standards of Excellence, and, as the group facilitators will explain, you will have the opportunity to help us find and focus on issues we need to examine in the future. Your input is a valued and necessary part of this important process, and we hope you will continue to support the work in the future when you have the opportunity.

Again, we sincerely appreciate your assistance and hope you take the opportunity to participate today.

We began today with an optimistic view of the future.

While I respect and regard history as an important intellectual and practical part of life, I am often asked what energizes me. Honestly, it is the future and making new history. Thank you for your support on behalf of our mission and our students; now, let’s go make some history!

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