Innovative Thinking, Inclusive Action Vital to Institutional Success

On the cusp of Welcome Weekend and the start of Fall 2017 classes, Pennsylvania College of Technology President Davie Jane Gilmour kicked off the fledgling semester Thursday with an all-college message to faculty and staff. While recapping a busy summer of change and challenge, outreach and optimism, she also championed new and renewed opportunities to transform students’ lives. Alluding to the college’s pledge of a welcoming educational environment, she reminded her audience that those opportunities apply to every student. “We should ensure that all members of our community, no matter their skin color, sexual orientation, gender or disability, can say they are Penn College Proud,” the president said.

The following is drawn from President Gilmour’s remarks at an Aug. 10 gathering in the Klump Academic Center Auditorium:

Life has a way of making things interesting. Needless to say, when I went out to breakfast on Sunday, July 30, did I expect to hear from Chief (Chris) Miller that it was “raining” inside the Advanced Technology & Health Sciences Center?

A 2.5-inch sprinkler pipe had cracked, and 150 gallons of water per minute were emptying into the building. Within the hour, I was standing in 3 inches of water, wondering what would work and not work in the coming days. As we now know, we were lucky. The major equipment for nursing, dental hygiene, occupational therapy assisting and radiography was all fine. The faculty offices? Now, that was another story. But as you know, faculty are resilient and rose to the occasion. They demonstrated calm, determination, flexibility and adaptability. Thank you.

To the College Police, Health Sciences and nursing administration, Information Technology Services and General Services, I also say, “Thank you.” They responded with professionalism and were on the scene quickly to minimize damage and allow the cleanup to begin immediately. We are never fully prepared for a curveball, but we were as prepared as possible for our internal “rain,” and I am grateful for the leadership and support that allowed us to be ready for school to start.

Speaking of leadership, there have been significant changes on our campus in the past few months. To be clear, I want to introduce the new members of the leadership team and give their positions some context. Many of you know that Mike Cunningham is retiring in December. Mike has worked at the college for 39 years. A.J. Lacomba is the new vice president for information technology and chief technology officer. A.J. brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to us and will work with Mike as he finishes special projects until his retirement in December.

When Bill Martin retired as senior vice president a number of years ago, his position was not replaced. This past December, David Kay retired as vice president of college services. David is working part time to assist (this past spring) with faculty contract negotiations and (now) to assist me in supervising General Services. His vice president’s position was not replaced.

Pat Marty joins us as vice president for college relations. His portfolio contains Public Relations and Marketing, and Corporate Relations. Pat brings a considerable knowledge of marketing and PR in addition to his work in the political forum.

Human Resources is in the capable hands of Associate Vice President Hillary Hofstrom. Hillary has worked in HR and brings to this new role an understanding of the services, policies, needs and regulations required of today’s employers and employees. Hillary is reporting to Suzanne Stopper, vice president for finance and chief financial officer.

Tracy Brundage left Penn College effective Aug. 4 for a position at Keystone College as vice president for academic affairs and provost. Shannon Munro is now the vice president for workforce development and continuing education. Her work with us and within the workforce system prior to joining our staff positions her well for this leadership post.

Debbie Miller retired a week ago as vice president for institutional advancement. The good news is that Debbie agreed to work part time to assist us with corporate relations for the automotive restoration program and to work with the NACAT (North American Council of Automotive Teachers) conference scheduled for next summer. I am pleased that Loni Kline has agreed to serve as vice president for institutional advancement. Loni brings significant fundraising experience to Penn College.

The new executive director of the Penn College Foundation is Kyle Smith, and the new director of annual giving is Angie Myers. We have a full team of advancement staff and expect great things in the coming year.

Elliott Strickland has had the title of chief student affairs officer and, as of this summer, his title was changed to vice president for student affairs.

I have full confidence in our leadership team and ask you to support them, as well.

For those of you keeping track, that is one less vice president than our previous team. At the school level, we have two deans who are moving on to new adventures. Gerri Luke is retiring as dean of business and hospitality later this fall. Gerri, you have created a legacy at Penn College and, for that, we are grateful. I want to personally thank you for your leadership and vision. Please remember us to Broadway!

Marc Bridgens has made the decision to return to his first love: teaching. Marc will move to a faculty position in January. Marc, the School of Construction & Design Technologies has grown and evolved under your leadership. You have provided outstanding technical expertise, vision and direction to the faculty and your students. We are pleased you will be remaining at Penn College and continue to positively influence the lives of students. The new deans for these two schools will be announced later this morning at the respective school meetings.

We also welcome 12 new faculty and one new counselor to campus. You can watch PCToday for their information.

If the flooding of the ATHS was not enough, General Services’ staff was very busy this summer with renovations. There is a new Innovation Lab on campus, a number of electrical and programmable logic controller labs had their infrastructure updated as we move to a complete renovation this year, the Brewing and Fermentation Lab is in process, and we have a new Digital Radiography Laboratory, just to name a few of the “big” projects undertaken this summer.

A major renovation of the second floor, south side of the Bush Campus Center, took place this summer, as well. This newly envisioned space for Career Services allows for dramatically expanded facilities for increased services to our students and our business-and-industry employers. The renovation in Counseling Services will provide greater confidentiality and a more welcoming environment for students. And, the updates to the HVAC system will mean that everyone visiting that area will be comfortable in offices and classrooms.

I would like to thank the staff in Career Services and Counseling Services for their flexibility and patience during this process as they moved entire office operations for the summer. And a huge “Thank you” to General Services for its quick and professional work, which allowed us to continue our busy summer of camps, conferences, Connections and work with virtually no interruptions!

Thank you to all of General Services for your hard work and dedication to a crazy summer schedule. And, of course, to the grounds crew – our campus is simply stunning.

While our campus is a special place, there are other special places in the world to explore.

Did you know that some of our students …

… and while earning Penn College credits?

At Penn College, we seek to educate global citizens. In an increasingly shrinking world, it is more important now than ever before that we embrace and promote global learning and cross-cultural experiences. We can do that by encouraging our students to participate in our nine existing Study Abroad programs. I would encourage you, as faculty members, to educate your students and advisees about Study Abroad opportunities. In your conversations, remind students that Study Abroad courses can be used to fill the cultural diversity elective, as well as a variety of other electives. I also encourage you to develop new Study Abroad opportunities in your areas of expertise. Contact Shanin Dougherty, coordinator of international programs, for more information.

To get students enrolled to have those opportunities, we need to get them to attend Penn College. That is where enrollment management and admissions come into the picture.

We are excited to welcome our new associate director of admissions, Audriana Marmuscak, to the Admissions Office. The Admissions Office is now fully staffed and geared up for a busy and exciting fall travel season. Several new software systems have been purchased to aid in our outreach and recruitment of new students – STEM Premier, a site that allows colleges and industry to connect with high school and college students seeking to further their education or professional employment in STEM-related disciplines; Keystone Academic Solutions, a site that markets U.S.-based educational opportunities to international students; and Slate, our new CRM (customer relationship management) system to replace Hobsons.

Slate is a full-system CRM that will allow us to collect even more details about our interactions with prospective students and we are excited for the opportunity to use a more data-driven approach to our recruitment strategies. We will also now have the ability to offer a completely electronic check-in for tour guests. This is sure to make Open House an even more streamlined event, along with the addition of the Open House mobile app that was introduced in the spring. Be on the lookout for training dates related to Slate, as Admissions plans to open up access to the new system to many of you across campus who participate in prospective student outreach, recruitment initiatives and tours.

One new way to have students and incumbent workers gain their education is through apprenticeships.

In May, Workforce Development & Continuing Education finished the training component for the first of four years of a registered apprenticeship program in mechatronics with a consortium of companies in the Bloomsburg area. The results of the mechanical components portion concluded with over 90 percent (38 of 42) of the employees proceeding to the second year of the program after displaying content mastery during the assessment process. This is one of several registered apprenticeship programs that WDCE is working on this year. If you are a faculty member interested in teaching for an apprenticeship program, please contact WDCE.

After many months of hard work, the Core Curriculum Review Committee has forwarded its recommendation for a significantly revised approach to general education at Penn College. The proposal has been forwarded to the Academic Standards & Issues Committee for consideration. This group, led by Joanna Flynn, has done outstanding work, and I thank them for their efforts.

Maintaining our curriculum is a critical part of our vitality as an institution, as is being certain we comply with federal regulations and laws when it comes to our instruction, administrative functions and daily work. Frankly, for me, it is much more than complying with the law; it is the right thing to do. All individuals should have equal access to a Penn College education.

In mid-July, I sent a message to faculty addressing the accessibility initiative that the college launched in response to our Accessibility of Electronic Information and Web-Based Services Policy. In my message, I mentioned that a common request from faculty has been to have the opportunity to collaborate with a colleague who has a comprehensive understanding of how to make course content fully accessible. We listened to that request.

We have created faculty accessibility facilitator positions for interested full-time faculty. The faculty accessibility facilitators will be resources to their colleagues to learn how to modify course content and/or delivery modality in one-on-one or small-group settings, on an as-needed basis. You can get more information regarding the position from your deans.

Part of that welcoming environment starts with the first semester and the connection between the student and the adviser.

During College Hour on Tuesday, Aug. 22, Program Welcome will be held across campus. New students in every program will come together to start building relationships with their advisers and one another. Faculty who teach first-semester students are asked to help support this initiative by allowing new students time to attend Program Welcome. This may include allowing students to leave class early so they can get to various locations on and off main campus by 3:30 p.m. A bus will leave the Lifelong Education Center loop at 3:05 p.m. to take students to the Schneebeli Earth Science Center. For all who work hard to make Program Welcome a success for our students, I thank you.

 

With the help and support of Governance, we created the Penn College Community Pledge. This statement helps ensure that we all realize that the foundation of success at Penn College begins with a commitment to the highest standards of academic and ethical integrity among our campus community. That we must create a positive environment and culture on campus that inspires passion for learning and living. As contributing members of the Penn College Community, we must:

It is vital that we role-model this pledge for our students and actively work to promote these tenets to them in the classroom and lab, in the residence halls, at campus events, everywhere; it should permeate all that we do. We should ensure that all members of our community, no matter their skin color, sexual orientation, gender or disability, can say they are Penn College Proud. Please join me in ensuring a welcoming environment for all students.

One thing that has generated a great deal of student excitement on campus is the new Wildcat logo.

If you haven’t heard the news, we learned over the summer that the Penn College Wildcats will begin competition on Sept. 1 as full members of NCAA Division III. With the hard work of our athletics staff, we accomplished this goal a full year ahead of schedule. Because we met all their standards, the NCAA waived our final year of provisional status.

I predict this will be a stellar year for us in the North Eastern Athletic Conference, and I would encourage everyone to come out and support the Wildcats on the field or court. It is a great family-friendly environment, and I think you will be proud of how our students represent us in competition.

I invite you to join together as a campus community for the NCAA Celebration Event to recognize a new era of athletics and the launch of the Wildcat Club at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 13, on the Field House lawn for tailgate food and drinks. Following the event, “roar” on the Wildcats as the women’s soccer team plays Lycoming College at 7 p.m. on the Athletic Field; the women’s volleyball team will play Penn State Abington at 7 p.m. in Bardo Gym.

The fall semester is upon us. Ready or not, here they come!

This weekend, we welcome our new students. If you’ve never been on campus for freshman move-in on Saturday, you are truly missing one of the greatest days at Penn College. The culmination of that day is our New Student Convocation. It begins with all new students processing into Rose Street Commons as the sidewalks are lined with faculty, staff and student leaders applauding them. But to be honest, our turnout for employees has been dismal over the past few years. That is why I am personally inviting and encouraging you to come participate this year.

Convocation is a perfect event to bring your families to (including children and grandchildren). This short ceremony (less than a half-hour) includes music, words of wisdom, the singing of the Alma Mater and reading of the Penn College Pledge and, of course, it is topped off with fireworks. Supporters should plan to arrive by 8 p.m. on Saturday in Rose Street Commons for an 8:30 p.m. start. We encourage everyone to wear Penn College gear. Come out and show our new students why we are so Penn College Proud!

As the semester gets underway, you will notice several changes to the hours of operation in various dining units across the campus. These changes were implemented as a cost-saving measure to ensure we are being as efficient as possible while still providing this vitally important service to our students. If you receive questions or complaints, we would appreciate your support and understanding in helping communicate why these changes occurred.

As most of you know, this was the year our Periodic Review Report was due to the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, and a group of faculty and staff have been working on this important report for more than a year. The PRR represents a snapshot for the commission about how we are meeting the challenges and discovering opportunities that make Penn College what it is today: a national leader in applied technology education.

The final version of our report was sent to the commission and the reviewers at the end of May, and we received the responses from our reviewers last week. While the commission still has to take official action in October, we can be pleased that these initial reports were very positive, and we expect that the commission’s response will be affirmative, as well. Many thanks go to Mary Jo Saxe and the faculty and staff team that spent so much time gathering data and weaving it into the narrative of such a clear and concise report.

We have some great news to share on three fronts.

We were just notified yesterday that we were awarded a $2 million grant to expand our welding facility.

Naim Jabbour and his team of co-principal investigators were awarded a $1 million National Science Foundation S-STEM grant for scholarships and research for construction and design students.

I am pleased to also announce that Penn College’s Telly Award-winning public television series will return to WVIA this fall. A new episode, “Working Class: Why Math Matters,” will premiere at 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 18. This episode is one you will not want to miss. In addition to our own amazing faculty and students, it features mountain climbing, a math superhero and an interview with the founder of Atari, Nolan Bushnell, who began following “Working Class” on Twitter last year.

After confirming the Twitter follower was, indeed, the Nolan Bushnell who pioneered the home video-gaming industry in the 1970s, our producer requested an interview – and he accepted. What an honor! As one faculty member said, “I can’t believe I am in a video with Nolan Bushnell!” Well, believe it. “Working Class” is attracting interest from around the world. If you have not yet started to follow the “Working Class” TV series on Facebook and Twitter, please do so. If it is good enough for the founder of Atari, I know it is good enough for all of us.

The series is important to Penn College – not only because it wins awards and attracts a public television and social media audience. It is important because it highlights students, hands-on activities and our extraordinary faculty. So far, the series has featured more than 30 members of the Penn College faculty in just three episodes. There is no better way to promote the quality of a Penn College education than to share the expertise of individuals who teach our students.

We will invite more of you to take part in the “Working Class” documentary series this year. I encourage you to consider the invitation and become a part of this unique marketing and promotional outreach activity. I did an interview for a future episode myself over the summer. It is painless, I promise, and it supports our goal to be a national leader in applied technology education.

Painless participation, awards and recognition for our work, starting fresh for a new academic year – of course, these are the things I have been pondering for the past week or so.

Taking risks was a theme we heard from our speakers at commencement last Saturday. In addition to taking risks, they talked about the value of failure. How much we learn when the results are not what we expect, but nonetheless valuable.

Increased enrollment continues to be a goal for us. We have done outstanding work on our retention rates, and we continue to work hard to advance our name and our majors to attract new students. We have some success but are not where we want to be. We are hoping to be flat in our enrollment this fall. I will continue to keep you posted as we begin the semester and finalize our student enrollment at the third week of the semester.

I am often asked, “What can I do to help”? Volunteer; assist students; be aware of lost, confused or tentative students. Reach out and try and help. You may not have the answers, but you can get them. Help us create a student-centered environment where all students feel welcome.

In today’s world, we hear repeatedly, “If you see something, say something.” Please do not misunderstand, I do not want to trivialize that statement, but it applies to positive, as well as negative actions in our everyday world. We are a campus community committed to the success of our students. We tell all who will listen that we educate the whole student – we are interested in providing them the opportunity for a career, for a well-rounded education.

We remind people we are a college of technology, not a technical school. And when we see something, we need to say something. When you see a colleague make a difference, no matter how small a gesture, did you say something? Do you recognize when others go out of their way to make a difference?

It is the “sum of the parts” equation – together, we can be formidable – but we need to be aspiring for the same goals and moving in the same direction. I want to be clear: I am not asking for groupthink or smooth sailing. It is the storm, the discourse, the dialogue that gets us new ideas, new perspective and new directions. When we see something that is not working, we need to say something, as well. It is not left to someone else.

I had an encounter with a ladder this summer. Let’s just say it was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I suspect at least 50 people walked by the ladder and did nothing about it. If you see something, say something! This one small incident is now known as the “ladder talk.” If 50 people walked by, whose responsibility was it to note that the ladder was in a less than desirable place and should be put away? That encounter is an example of let’s not do things like we always have. Grace Hopper, a computer scientist often called the “mother of COBOL,” said, “Probably the most dangerous phrase that anyone could use in the world today is that dreadful one: ‘But we have always done it that way.’” How many meetings, gatherings, curriculum discussions, etc., have you participated in when someone in the group made that dangerous statement?

For this coming academic year, I would like to ask you to join me and abolish that phrase from our work and discussions. This is the year to find and try a new way – a new look, something we have not done before. Why? Because we can.

Education is transformational. We advocate lifelong learning, and to practice what we preach, we need to embrace change, new opportunities and the challenges we face. The world around us is changing at a pace that will define a generation. Technology is making life better, faster and perhaps more impersonal. Just last week, I heard about what technology is “doing” to young people and their social skills. When I talk to families and prospective students about Penn College, I tell them, “People make the difference.” I truly believe that.

Each and every one of you in this room contributes to our students and their success. Please take time to make a difference – for a student, a colleague or for yourself. Be creative, innovative and productive.

Juliette Gordon Low, who founded the Girl Scouts in 1912, said, “The work of today is the history of tomorrow and we are its makers.” I could not agree more. Join me in transforming our work into history.

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Pennsylvania College of Technology is a special mission affiliate of The Pennsylvania State University