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New Year Begins at ‘College of Tomorrow-Makers’

Taking “a trip down memory lane” through 20 years of change since her first all-college speech as then-interim president, Davie Jane Gilmour officially ushered in the Spring 2018 semester with a Friday all-college message for faculty and staff: “Do not doubt for a moment that we are a force with which to be reckoned.” Detailing two decades’ worth of growth – in such far-reaching areas as enrollment and retention, facilities, credibility for intercollegiate athletics, and workforce development – she reminded faculty and staff of their vital role in shaping the future. “I am confident history will write that we made a difference,” the president told her morning audience. “That our students were innovative, tenacious and hardworking and made their mark in their careers and in life.”

The following is drawn from President Gilmour’s remarks at a Jan. 5 gathering in the Klump Academic Center Auditorium:

Happy New Year! I hope you all had a great holiday and are looking forward to the new year, as I am. Today is a bit of a milestone for me. Twenty years ago, I stood on this stage as interim president and gave my first All-College Meeting address.

To put those 20 years in context, I did some Google searching. In 1998, the Dow was at 9,181. Interest rates were 8.25 percent. Gasoline cost $1.15 per gallon. The Winter Olympics were held in Nagano, Japan. “Titanic” and “Saving Private Ryan” were the big movies; “ER,” “Friends” and “JAG” were hit television shows; and from a technology perspective, Windows 98 was released, Google was founded, and the iMac was unveiled.

In preparing for today, I am struck by the changes, the differences and the place we, as an institution, are today, compared with 1998.

In 1998, we had eight academic schools. The largest was Construction & Design Technologies, followed by Industrial & Engineering Technologies, Business & Computer Technologies, and then Health Sciences. The tables have turned; Industrial is our largest today, followed closely by Health Sciences, then Transportation & Natural Resources, and Construction & Design Technologies.

We had 4,704 students, compared with 5,465 today, and only 23 percent were baccalaureate students, compared with 55 percent today. We had 40 percent female students 20 years ago and 36 percent today, and only 169 out-of-state students, compared with more than 500 today.

I can only imagine the types of changes that will be recounted when we – well, some of you, anyway – gather here again in 2038. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus, from the Sixth Century B.C., is credited with being the first to say, “The only thing that is constant is change,” or words to that effect. (Thanks, Google). That adage holds just as true today.

We have had several recent changes in the leadership of three of the academic schools.

Dr. Gerri Luke retired as dean of Business & Hospitality at the end of October.

Dr. Lisa Andrus accepted the leadership role. Lisa had joined the faculty last January after several years at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Lisa brings professional and higher-education experience in both hospitality and business administration.

Marc Bridgens returns to his faculty position this semester after 14 successful years in leading the School of Construction & Design Technologies.

Dr. Carol Lugg, formerly the assistant dean in Construction & Design, is now dean. Carol has been at the college in a number of roles for several years. Carol is currently conducting a candidate search for the assistant dean position.

Dr. Ed Henninger has agreed to take on a number of new responsibilities as special assistant to the provost, leaving his role as dean of health sciences.

Dr. Sandy Richmond, formerly the assistant dean of nursing, was named dean of health sciences in December. Sandy’s leadership team includes Dr. Valerie Myers as assistant dean of nursing and Wendy Miller as assistant dean of health sciences. Across this semester, you will see us transitioning the school name to the School of Nursing & Health Sciences. We believe that, given our focus on nursing, this is an appropriate change, and the timing is ideal.

I am pleased to announce that Jennifer McCracken is the new director of The College Store and now reports to Elliott Strickland, vice president for student affairs. Jenny has done a great job in the interim role, and we look forward to her strong leadership.

David Kay has fully retired. I am most grateful for his assistance this past year in our faculty negotiations and his help with a number of areas. With his retirement, I am happy to have General Services reporting directly to me and the Safety Task Force and Health Care Consortium to Suzanne Stopper, vice president for finance/CFO, and Hillary Hofstrom, associate vice president for human resources, respectively.

Workforce Development & Continuing Education has finalized its leadership structure. Working with Shannon Munro, vice president for workforce development, Chris Ray is executive director for business development and Beth Bittenbender joins us as operations/special projects director.

Twenty years ago, we had concluded our Women’s Series, and were wondering what was next. Today, we have the Technology & Society Colloquia Series, honoring former Master Teacher Dan Doyle, which will continue in the coming academic year. As always, we invite our colleagues here at Penn College to propose a presentation. The flyer with a call for proposals went out in the campus mail just before the holidays. Proposals are due March 12. Contact Paul Starkey, vice president for academic affairs/provost, for more information.

I encourage you to participate in this semester’s colloquia presentation on April 10. Rebecca Strzelec, professor of visual arts at Penn State Altoona and the 2016-17 Penn State Laureate, uses advanced 3-D printing technology in the creation of her art. This intersection of art and technology is a great fit for our work here at the college. Rebecca’s presentation will be here in the auditorium at 7 p.m. on April 10.

In December, WDCE completed a pilot program, funded by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, called DNA for Business, a new tool developed in-house to assess employee skills; prioritize training needs; and recommend specific, customized solutions to meet the needs of employers of any sector. Thirteen companies were engaged in the pilot, with more than 1,000 assessments completed. Because of the DNA pilot, 214 employees received training aimed at improving competencies in topics identified by the program to reflect significant areas of opportunity for their respective companies. With the pilot complete, WDCE plans to offer the service to companies from any sector who have an interest in targeting their training budgets toward the most critical areas of need.

When I think of two decades ago and athletics – six men’s and women’s sports then, 15 now – it is difficult to imagine where we are today: a full member of NCAA Division III, with student athletes making a difference on our campus and for all students. Last September, the offices of Institutional Advancement and Athletics teamed up to establish the Wildcat Club. The Wildcat Club is a donor society, which gives special recognition to anyone who makes contributions of $50 or more to Wildcat Athletics or to a specific sport. Since the official launch, 110 members have joined the Wildcat Club, collectively contributing more than $50,000 for our athletic programs. Of those 110 members, 46 are Penn College employees. Whether you support our student-athletes as fans at the games and/or as Wildcat Club members, we are grateful for those in the campus community who are champions of support for Wildcat Athletics.

Twenty years ago, we did not celebrate Martin Luther King Day and Dream Week in the comprehensive and collaborative way in which we do today. We attended classes and had speakers, but now we bring the clarity and focus needed for today’s world. The college, in partnership with the Beloved Community Council, Lycoming College and STEP AmeriCorps, is again sponsoring our annual Dream Week celebration in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I would like to encourage staff and faculty to participate in our Peace Walk and MLK Day of Service on Monday, Jan. 15. The walk will take place in the morning, here on campus, and service opportunities will be available afterwards throughout the Williamsport/Lycoming County community. This is a great event that I look forward to every year; I hope you take time on your “day off” to join our students in showing the power and unity of our community.

However, I may be even more excited about our Dream Week keynote speaker. One of my favorite movies is “Remember the Titans.” Starring Denzel Washington as coach Herman Boone, it chronicles the true story of the integration of a Virginia high school football team in 1971. We will be showing the movie and welcoming the real coach Herman Boone, who will share his words of inspiration in a keynote titled, “Community Unity: Inspiration for ‘Remember the Titans.’” The lecture is on the evening of Thursday, Jan. 18. Please mark your calendars and encourage your students, family and friends to attend this special event.

In 1988, the National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience & Students in Transition conducted its first research on the subject. In 1998, we had no concept of what we would do with First-Year Experience. Today, FYE is a part of our fabric and our retention efforts.

Do you have a passion for student success? Are you willing to work collaboratively to help improve students’ retention and academic performance? If so, you may be the ideal person to teach a section of FYE 101, our First-Year Experience course.

FYE 101 is designed to specifically help new students with their transition to Penn College. The course offers an overview of strategies and practices to ensure a positive first-semester experience and continuing success for new students. Since the first time we offered FYE, we have consistently exceeded the national benchmark of the percentage of FYE sections delivered by full-time faculty. With the national benchmark at 12 percent, we are very proud that 30 percent of our sections are being taught by our full-time faculty.

Today, I am asking for your assistance in maintaining a strong faculty presence in one of our key retention initiatives. We believe this commitment of faculty support for FYE is a testament to the role the course has had in our unprecedented positive improvement in our retention rates. I have taught this course and know firsthand of the impact that FYE instructors have on student retention. I ask all full-time faculty to consider the possibility of teaching FYE.

I understand that this course may be outside of your wheelhouse. There are numerous resources in place to assist with the successful delivery of the standard FYE course. A short conversation with Paul Watson, dean of academic services and college transitions, will aid in understanding the expectations of the program before committing to a future assignment. I encourage you to reach out to Paul for more information. We thank those among the faculty – and staff – who have consistently stepped up to teach this important course.

In a few short months, when we begin the process of assigning FYE instructors for Fall 2018, I hope that we will see the addition of even more faculty who are ready to sign on to assist with this very worthwhile endeavor. Again, speaking from experience, I do not think you will regret it. You will be amazed by both the difference you make in the lives of students and the impact they have on you. Paul Watson is waiting to hear from you.

Students are our focus – our mission – and scholarships are often the key to their education.

We are nearing the conclusion of our three-year effort to endow the Patriot Scholarship, a fund that provides awards to veteran students who experience a financial need or have exhausted their educational benefits. We know that the recipients of the Patriot Scholarship are students whose ability to remain at Penn College has been in jeopardy. The collaboration of students, faculty and staff has resulted – to date – in raising over $15,000. With your continued support, we expect to reach our $25,000 goal and a full endowment of the Patriot Scholarship fund this year. To learn more about how to contribute, be on the lookout for a portal announcement about this year’s Red, White and Blue Jean Dress Down Mondays. Your contributions will live on through the success of these students.

College Governance was alive and well 20 years ago, but there have been changes. Just this fall, council approved the addition of an adjunct faculty seat and a part-time employee seat to its ranks. Nominations will be accepted for these roles in January. Watch the portal for the announcements and process.

This year, the Elections & Communications committee has a Governance table at the All-College meeting. Please stop by to pick up a list of Governance open seats for the upcoming election. Nominations for open seats start Jan. 24 and run through Jan 31. Thank you again for your continued support of Governance!

The Madigan Library entrusted me with the “only” copy of the 1997-98 College Catalog for my remarks research. What a trip down memory lane. One startling image was the campus map – in January 1998, there was no “main entrance” to campus. The main entrance was dedicated in 1999.

That sent me on a journey tracking the timetable for other significant changes to campus since then:

  • Schneebeli Earth Science Center renovation, 1999
  • Student & Administrative Services Center construction, 2003
  • Rose Street Commons construction, 2003
  • Klump Academic Center renovation, 2004
  • Madigan Library construction, 2006
  • Business & Workforce Development Center construction, 2007
  • Stage X renovations across campus, 2010

Wow! I am speechless – hard to imagine – when I think about the students, the people, the changes and the difference we have made in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and the nation. Do not doubt for a moment that we are a force with which to be reckoned.

As I said at our Fall 2017 Commencement in December, we are a college of tomorrow-makers – each of you, your roles and responsibilities, our students and their mission as they move into the world of educated women and men.

I am confident history will write that we made a difference – that our students were innovative, tenacious and hardworking and made their mark in their careers and in life.

I look forward to the future, as I hope you do. We have more to do – perhaps different from what we do today. That is what moves us forward, with vision and with passion. Tomorrow awaits!

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