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New Year’s Onset Brings Presidential Muster: ‘Let’s Get to Work’

President Davie Jane Gilmour opened the Fall 2015 semester with an all-college address to faculty and staff in the Klump Academic Center Auditorium, renewing a campuswide covenant to enthusiastically attract new students and efficiently engage those already enrolled. “We need to openly and carefully examine what we do, how we do it, and how it relates to our mission with students,” she said Thursday morning. “It’s not the time to lessen your commitment to the college or our mission. On the contrary, now more than ever, we need each person in the room focused on our work and our mission. Our future depends on it.”

(The following is drawn from the president’s remarks during an Aug. 13 all-college meeting to begin the 2015-16 academic year.)

Good morning.

Welcome to the 2015-16 academic year at Penn College. This convocation ceremony signifies the beginning of a new year, and with it comes opportunity for Penn College and our students. Thomas Edison once said, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

We get that at Penn College – so let’s get to work.

As you will see around campus, some of our work continues. The Advanced Technology & Health Sciences Center is having its atrium updated after those pesky leaks in the lobby skylights. That work should conclude by the end of September. The entrance to the Keystone Dining Room – from the campus mall – is under construction. The brick was deteriorating, and the side walls were, shall we say, “listing.” New double handicap-accessible ramps are being installed, providing better access and lighting. That project, too, will continue through the month of September.

Other projects of note – Dave Stabley created two beautiful mosaics in front of Bardo Gymnasium and the Lifelong Education Center. Thank you, Dave; they are stunning! You will see new planters in front of the College Avenue Labs building and many other interior renovations. Thank you to our General Services staff for a job well-done. And what about those flowers and grounds? Another spectacular summer of blooms making our campus simply more beautiful!

As College Transitions (formerly Outreach for K-12) continues to expand and see growth in the potential for K-12 student contacts, we need your sustained assistance. Last year, for the first time, we broke the 1,000-student threshold at Career Day. Additionally, we doubled the number of students taking college courses through Penn College NOW. In just one year, we increased participation from 352 to 783 students. Faculty, we need assistance and your availability in providing creative and engaging activities when we host K-12 students on campus for any number of events and in delivering PC NOW to our secondary partners. Last year, we worked with 26 secondary partners; this coming year, we anticipate working with 36. We can’t do this without you. Last year, 42 percent of PC NOW students matriculated to programs at Penn College. When asked, please consider becoming involved in PC NOW and other K-12 programs that we host. This will enable opportunities to reach out to potential future students that will matriculate into your programs and majors.

The Office of Admissions recognizes the critical need for constant evaluation and subsequent change to improve the recruitment and matriculation processes. With these ideas in mind, Admissions – with the assistance of Enrollment Management – has begun to expand its recruitment and marketing strategies. While the primary responsibility for recruitment lies with Admissions, if we want to achieve our goal to be a national leader in applied technology, we must embrace recruitment as a campuswide endeavor. Leading the way will be our Admissions staff, and they have a number of new initiatives planned to provide opportunities for all faculty and staff to learn about recruitment processes and the role that each one of us plays in those processes. Joe Balduino and Lynn Frey have created a Campus Outreach Plan and Faculty Engagement Plan to increase the visibility of admissions on campus and to strengthen campuswide collaborations. Watch for opportunities to attend professional development offered by Admissions, regular portal announcements to learn more about Admissions events, and be sure to attend the SOS sessions offered this fall semester, all of which will focus specifically on Admissions.

The Admissions reps are gearing up to hit the road for the fall travel season. This year, travel will include national fairs in Florida, California and Texas. To increase accessibility to the application process, as of July 1, Admissions began waiving the $50 application fee for students who apply online. The ways we communicate with students, market to students and interact with interested students – both on and off campus – are all under review. Changes are being implemented daily to improve what we do.

I know that Admissions is working diligently to reach our enrollment goals. When you are called upon to assist, I am asking that you please respond positively. If you have ideas or suggestions, share them. I am also asking everyone on campus to consider how you can contribute to these efforts. To ensure that all employees are able to speak about what makes Penn College different – what makes us unique in the world of higher education – a handout illustrating the recently affirmed eight Points of Distinction will be delivered to all campus mailboxes. Throughout the semester, regular portal announcements will be posted to share more information about these Points of Distinction. Through this campaign, we hope that we will raise your awareness about what makes us distinctive and provide insights about the value of a Penn College degree. We then hope that you will share this information to spread the word about Penn College.

Increasing enrollment is a major institutional priority, and I am depending on all of us to secure the future of this institution through creative thinking, strong collaboration and willingness to work extremely hard. Since 2009, we have raised our student retention rates by almost 12 percent. That increase resulted from comprehensive, strategic planning. Once we get them here, we provide tremendous support to keep them here. Now, let’s work together in the same ways to inspire more to walk through the door, to see why we are a national leader in applied technology education.

Last year, the college sponsored a number of faculty and staff to take part in the acclaimed Eureka Ranch program in innovation. Their work there, and in a subsequent workshop through the University of Maine, has resulted in the development of a minor in innovation leadership that will launch this fall. The first of a sequence of four courses (INV 310 – Create Innovation) is being offered on Tuesday and Thursday evenings at 5 p.m. Chip Baumgardner will be the lead instructor, but he will be assisted by a number of the other faculty who journeyed to Eureka Ranch. The minor, and the corresponding professional certificate, are open to students in all majors, as well as to faculty and staff of the college. Contact Chip or Bill Mack for additional information.

A representative group of faculty from across campus will be reviewing the general-education core goals this fall. This is part of our ongoing commitment to ensure that a Penn College education is of the highest quality possible, and that all graduates have a sound, fundamental general-education foundation.

Speaking of travel: New travel guidelines and policies are in effect, beginning this year. Take time to review the new policy and procedures on the portal, or better yet, attend a professional development on the subject.

Travel reminds me of retirement. Let me clear up a rumor I heard multiple times throughout the summer – no, I am not retiring. Some may be pleased, some disappointed, but we have work to do, and I plan on doing my part.

But for those of you who are interested in retirement, tomorrow we will announce a new early retirement incentive program. Details will be outlined in a portal message. One note I will make: There will not be another early retirement incentive for at least two years.

We have a new Web design that is the first major redesign in more than five years. It was designed to support changes that improve the site’s navigation experience for prospective students and their families. The new design especially enhances usability on mobile devices, particularly smartphones, since most prospective students are viewing the website on their phones.

I just read an article that cites most college-bound students, on average, use up to seven different devices to look at sites.

It is important to note that it is a work in progress with ongoing, incremental “tweaks” anticipated, based on Web analytics and user input. Questions about the new website may be emailed.

The myPCT portal was upgraded to SharePoint 2013, Microsoft’s latest version. The new version comes with a new look, new features and improvements to existing features. Finding things on the portal is easier with a new search engine that is capable of searching and displaying more than before. It allows you to preview results, and it can even remember favorite searches. You can expect to see professional-development offerings and more information about new features and tools released on the portal in the future.

P.L.A.T.O., the College’s learning management system, saw a few significant enhancements this summer. Item analysis for quizzes and exams now includes standard deviation, discrimination and point biserial calculations. Additionally, Desire2Learn Capture has been adopted as our new instructional video management system. Features include a desktop capture client, a user-friendly closed captioning tool, and full integration with P.L.A.T.O. To learn more about these systems and other educational technologies, watch the myPCT Portal for upcoming training events hosted by the Office of Instructional Technology.

If you are downtown starting the week of Aug. 17, the Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce has relocated to the corner of Pine and West Fourth streets. The Lycoming County Visitors Bureau is also in the building, and Penn College will have a presence in the Visitors Bureau space. We have 1,000 square feet to showcase the college. You can purchase logo items and see an amazing display of what makes Penn College special. This first exhibit will feature the Bugatti race car replica built by our students – made more famous with the picture of Jay Leno in the driver’s seat.

We are already off to a great start with the 2015-16 Penn College Fund employee campaign that kicked off in April. To date:

  • 11 employees became first time donors
  • 82 employees increased their gifts (this is an all-time record)
  • 304 total employees have already given, totaling over $90,000

An interesting fact about our Penn College Fund employee donors that demonstrates your commitment to our students is greater than ever: This year, 265 employees are giving to the Penn College Fund through payroll deduction, and 230 of those payroll deductions are auto-renewing, meaning that your commitment is ongoing. On behalf of our students who benefit from your commitment, thank you!

If you have not yet supported the employee campaign, or if you are a payroll deduction donor who is considering an increase, I encourage you to do so.

As always, for more information about the employee campaign, contact Institutional Advancement or visit the IA portal page to use the online payroll deduction form. Thank you for your continued support.

For the third consecutive year, Penn College is participating in the Lycoming County Insurance Consortium’s wellness program known as BeHIP (Better Health Incentive Program). This is a voluntary program for all health care insured employees and their spouses and is going on now through July 31, 2016. This year, you can earn points through an even wider assortment of wellness categories to accommodate a variety of fitness levels and interests. The program incents activities such as biometric and other preventative screenings, physical and other annual exams, nontobacco use pledge, wellness-related educational sessions, and new to this year, physical activity and health condition management. In all, there are 22 different opportunities to earn points. Also new to this year, there are three different levels of points and reimbursements. There is the Bronze level, which is 450 points for $150; Silver, 525 points for $225; and Gold, 600 points for $300. If you want to learn more about the BeHIP program, contact LaDonna Caldwell in the Human Resources Office or visit the Wellness portal site.

Tuesday, Sept. 1, is “Penn College Pack the Park Night” at Bowman Field. Join us as we celebrate our new school year and the great game of baseball. Speaking of baseball, we will host the Little League World Series teams on Wednesday, Aug. 19, prior to the Grand Slam Parade through downtown. We look forward to the event, when we welcome the world to our community.

Perhaps the biggest baseball news: Our team, under the leadership of coach Chris Howard, won the NEAC championship. Congratulations, and to all of our coaches, best wishes for a great fall season. If you have not taken time to attend a Wildcat athletic event, I encourage you to do so. These are talented students representing Penn College. As we move into our second year of NCAA Division III provisional membership, we continue to enjoy the benefits of student athletes on our campus.

In 2008, the My Last Words Lecture Series was renamed the “David London My Last Words Lecture Series” in honor of former associate professor of speech communication/composition David A. London. David, who joined the Penn College faculty in 1990, was a popular teacher, a former chair of College Council, and a strong proponent of the Internal Governance system.

Each spring, students and alumni are invited to nominate an inspiring professor who has made a difference in their life. The purpose of the lecture series is for faculty members to share with students, and the college community, their final thoughts if they knew it was the last chance to impart wisdom and life lessons.

This year’s David London My Last Words Lecture Series is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 8, here in the Klump Academic Center Auditorium. This date occurs during Homecoming Week for alumni who wish to attend while here for the weekend’s festivities.

It is tradition that the selected faculty member is announced to the campus community at the August convocation. So, in keeping with tradition, it is my pleasure to introduce our 2015 David London My Last Words lecturer – assistant professor of English-composition, Bruce A. Wehler. Congratulations, Bruce!

As I began today, I noted we will face challenge and opportunity this year. One key component is to take a very hard look at our work – what we do, how we do it, and who does what. Our enrollment has remained constant, and yet we have added staff and faculty. Economically, that does not calculate in our favor. Many of you know, I am not a fan of talking about numbers and enrollment; I much prefer to focus on the students we have and our commitment to their success. But, I fully understand the current models are not sustainable. We have a low faculty-to-student ratio and small class sizes. That is our hallmark. But, we cannot continue to have under-enrolled classes. Pedagogically, small classes of two, three, four and five are not sound, and financially, they are a hardship.

Let’s look where we are budgetarily. The state has no budget yet. Our enrollment this year will be less than last year – potentially significantly less – and, notably, in some of our flagship programs. Fixed costs are rising – health care, utilities, insurances – and we have a new insurance this year for cyberattacks. We are going to undertake a strategic rightsizing assessment. Through this assessment, we will look at all departments across the campus – every single one – to be certain they are meeting the mission, providing the needed services and doing so in the best possible way. Every academic program will be looked at for cost recovery and meeting mission. We need to openly and carefully examine what we do, how we do it, and how it relates to our mission with students.

When you read about this fact facing virtually all of higher education, you hear terms like “unsustainable,” “shifting spending priorities,” “careful strategic planning,” “new regulations with compliance costs.” What is essential? What is nice to have? There are times when funds have to be spent on less glamorous items – sidewalks, roof repairs and infrastructure – and we still need to maintain our equipment, laboratories and staffing to meet our mission of student-centered, hands-on education.

What functions are mission-critical? Is the workload evenly distributed in each office? Evaluate overtime; is it necessary or convenient?

These are a few of the questions we need to ask ourselves on a department-by-department level. I have asked that the bulk of this assessment be completed by Nov. 1 to allow us to build next year’s budget on realistic numbers.

You heard about our Admissions work; this is one area that can mitigate our position. More students can, and will, make a difference. Please take advantage of the professional development, please talk about the “Points of Distinction,” please volunteer and assist whenever possible.

There are difficult decisions to be made. I am confident that, as a group of community members, we can do the assessment and make the decisions.

This is not the time to overreact. It’s not the time to lessen your commitment to the college or our mission. On the contrary, now more than ever, we need each person in the room focused on our work and our mission. Our future depends on it.

I will communicate regularly with you all throughout the fall on our progress. This year, I am hosting two lunches per month – an open table, if you will. One will be to lunch with students, and one with employees. My treat – not the college – but my treat. I want to hear what is happening, answer questions and have a chance to visit more often. The first lunches will be at the end of September. They will be limited to 12 people each time, and you can simply save a seat by sending an email. Watch the portal for the announcement.

I’d also like to make a special invitation for all of you, and your families, to attend our new student welcome program this Saturday evening at 8 p.m. As part of a new Penn College tradition, we will line the walkway inside Rose Street Commons as all first-year students process in. There will be a very short program to welcome the students to the college, then we invite you to sit back (or lie back, if you want to bring a blanket) and enjoy one of our most popular campus traditions, our welcoming fireworks display. I hope to see you all there!

Let’s make 2015-16 one for the record books. Charles Darwin once said, “It is not the strongest of species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the most responsive to change.”