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Penn College President Embarks on Transformative ‘Year of Responsibility’

(The following is drawn from remarks by Davie Jane Gilmour, Pennsylvania College of Technology president, during an Aug. 12 all-college meeting tobegin the 2010-11 academic year.)

August 2010. As always, it is difficult to imagine that the summer has concluded and we once again gather to launch a new academic year.

This has been a challenging summer, and, as I noted in my May remarks, we expected one of the most challenging in our history.

Stage X: I don’t know where to begin; perhaps with sincere thanks for the countless hours of packing, unpacking, moving, relocating and organizing that has been done by faculty, deans, assistant deans and staff across campus.

Or do I begin with kudos to General Services for the logistical nightmare that kept them busy all summer? Don Luke and crew were masters of the move. Perhaps Walt Nyman, Andy Richardson, Frank Malara and Bill Martin, who have poured their heart and soul into this project, resulting in many sleepless nights and countless hours of strategizing, working and being creative to “make it work,” as Tim Gunn says.

Elliott Strickland and Brian Johnson have done yeomen’s work to get Dauphin Hall ready for students and I know they would credit their staff members for their hard work.

Penn College Police have spent the summer managing the extra traffic on campus and preparing for a new residence hall, the campus looks amazing (even though much of it is a construction zone) and we have the always-excellent grounds crew to thank for their tireless efforts.

And consider for a moment: Not only have we been involved in Stage X, we are well into the DATATel conversion including Procurement and they have done an incredible job to keep up. No one ever said we were not up to a few challenges.

I am so proud of the dedication of our staff, I cannot say, “Thank you” enough. I know you will be awed by these new academic and student facilities.

We will be hosting an open house for all across campus at a date to be announced. We want all of you to be able to see these outstanding facilities dedicated to our students and their success.

It has been a busy summer for everything “first-year.” The Foundations of Excellence Implementation Team has taken the FoE Final Report and run with it. Two of the 35 specific action items identified in the report have already been completed incorporation of a foundational goal statement into the strategic plan and creation of a first-year position to coordinate and align all of the college’s first-year initiatives. As we announced earlier this summer, I am pleased that Eugene McAvoy will serve in that position as the dean of academic services and first year programs.

An additional 12 of those 35 action items are in progress. These include offering professional development for faculty and staff on issues related to the first year, continuing efforts to develop more proactive academic advising, and more than doubling the number of sections of the First Year Experience course, FYE 101, as we move toward full integration of the course into all curricula next fall.

This initiative has the opportunity to be transformational for Penn College. FYE is an important step to that transformation. I believe so strongly that FYE is important I made a decision to teach a section of the course myself. I admit to being excited and a bit terrified, as it has been 27 years since I actually taught, but it is important, the professional development and resources for the course are excellent. I look forward to the time with students, and being in the classroom again.

You may have noticed one of the most significant FoE initiatives announced late last month: the evolution of our former Academic Support Services into the new Academic Success Center. The Academic Success Center will ensure that all academic support programs are offered to all of our students as we focus not on meeting the requirements of external organizations, but on meeting the needs of our students. As the academic year progresses, you will see the center reach across campus to develop even stronger partnerships with faculty from all academic schools.

Just a few of the improvements you can expect to see this fall include the initiation of appointment tutoring during which students may receive individual attention. Appointment tutoring will begin with math and writing and will expand as needs are identified and resources allow. Additionally, we will launch a Writing Center intended to assist students in navigating the writing process from initial concept through drafting and revision for classes ranging from Basic English to capstone courses. These services will be available on an appointment or drop-in basis. The tutoring center will continue to offer Supplemental Instruction, drop-in, small-group and online tutoring as well.

We will also launch our new SupportNET program designed to identify students who are experiencing academic or personal challenges so that we may take proactive steps to ensure their success. SupportNET can be used by any faculty or staff member at any time throughout the semester. While SupportNET should not be used to report emergencies or actions that require immediate attention, it should be used at the first signs of academic or personal difficulty. The referral form will be available through the Academic Success portal or the EIS.

The center will also offer academic mentoring for students facing difficulties transitioning to college. The service will provide academic coaching for students who request or are referred by faculty or staff to a mentor. A new special population’s liaison will offer a “one-stop shop” resource for students in groups requiring targeted attention. We will begin this fall with a liaison for transfer students and expand to include other populations as needs are identified and resources permit. Finally, the Academic Success Center will offer a variety of study and enrichment workshops in a variety of formats and locations. One of the most exciting initiatives is the development of group project training, consultation and facilitation for students in courses requiring team assignments.

Full details on all of these programs will be offered via CollegeWire, in-person visits to various meetings and classes, and, of course, the Academic Success Center page on the portal.

If given one last chance in your lifetime to speak to the Penn College community, what would you say? What is something that you are passionate about, that is dear to you, that is so important that you just have to share it with others?

That is the goal of the faculty member chosen to give the annual talk at The David London My Last Words Lecture. This program, named for David in the spring of 2008, is a collegewide event, where students are asked to nominate and select the faculty member that has made a positive impact on them and that they would most like to hear from.

This year’s David London My Last Words Lecture will take place Tuesday, Oct.19, at 6 p.m. here in the Academic Center Auditorium. You will all be receiving invitations, and we hope you will attend and encourage your students to attend.

It has become a tradition that we announce the person selected to deliver The David London My Last Words Lecture at the Fall Convocation. And so, it is my honor to announce this year’s speaker, who was nominated and selected by our students: Dave Sims.

Congratulations, and we are looking forward to hearing from you!

For the second year, Student Affairs will be sponsoring PC3: three weeks of fun, three weeks of friends, and three weeks of involvement. The intent of this program is to engage students socially and co-curricularly in campus life as quickly as possible. We know how critical student engagement is in both student retention and satisfaction. You will be receiving the PC3 schedule in your mailboxes; please encourage students to come out and get involved!

As you may notice, there are quite a few missing staff members today. Staff from around campus, especially Student Activities and Residence Life, are, as we speak, moving students into their residence halls and checking them in to our last Connections summer orientation session. On Saturday, all first-year students will arrive to move in and attend Welcome Weekend activities. Welcome Weekend is a monumentally important day for our students and I am proud to say that we have had record volunteers for the weekend. If you are working or volunteering over Welcome Weekend, please stand so you can be recognized. Thank you again!

Speaking of on-campus housing, you are going to be amazed by Dauphin Hall. And we can’t wait to show it to you. This state-of-the-art residence hall will be a national model for living and learning environments. Please watch your mailboxes for invitations to an Open House in Dauphin Hall in October. You will have the opportunity to tour the building, see the grounds and have lunch in the Capitol Eatery. As we like to say, you’ll see college students in their natural habitats!

One important note, it is important that we all have the same message as we work the balance of this week and weekend moving students to campus and the message was sent ahead of time and is posted all around Dauphin Hall:

When you move in, please excuse our dust, as we are still putting the final touches on Penn College’s newest residence hall and dining unit!

See you on campus. Go Wildcats!

Even as we open our new residence hall, Dauphin Hall, we should not forget our commuter students. We estimate that approximately 25 percent of our students commute from home. We are excited that, this year, services and programs provided for those students will be enhanced even further. Under the direction of Katie L. Mackey, coordinator of off-campus student housing, we will be expanding programs and service to commuter students and off-campus students who live in the neighborhoods just off-campus.

Penn College will provide a new dedicated space on campus this fall specifically for commuter students. The Commuter Lounge, located in the Bush Campus Center, provides a comfortable site where students can go before, between or after classes to socialize, study or just rest. The Commuter Lounge offers study tables, comfortable furniture, computer and Internet access, and an information center, and it’s centrally located to the college’s dining units.

It is sometimes difficult for off-campus students to find their “niche” on-campus, so please help us inform our commuter students of this new resource.

A Middle States update is in order: A large portion of the research for the Middle States self-study will take place during the upcoming semester, and it will give us the basis for another all-college information and feedback session for the January 2011 start-up activities. I want to thank those who continue to serve and provide leadership for this important initiative.

Governance. It’s for everyone. And when everyone participates, we know decisions represent the entire college community.

Learn about the five Governance Committees on the Portal, and then get involved. A perfect way to get involved is to participate in annual elections; a Governance campaign will run from September to December, so watch for e-mail notices.

The campaign will again include an electronic scavenger hunt with prizes, which could come in handy right before the holidays!

Participate in Governance. Let your voice be heard.

I hope you take time to visit the Gallery in the Madigan Library. The current exhibit, “Full Deck,” 250 skateboards, is garnering rave reviews.

This fall, we are going to be asking the deans of each school to help identify a student from 47 majors to help create the large piece of installation art that artist-in-residence Antonio Puri will craft during his week on campus in October.

Up to an additional 100 students from any major will also be included in its creation. The piece will be unveiled during Fall Open House and will hang in a prominent location on campus.

Another exciting exhibit coming to the Madigan Library this year is an exhibition that uses materials from the National Library of Medicine to explore Harry Potter’s world, its roots in Renaissance science and the ethical questions that affected not only the wizards of Harry Potter, but also the historical thinkers featured in the series.

The Madigan Library will showcase this exhibition from Feb.13 until March 26. During that time, a number of events are being planned:

  • More Than Just Love Potions? an herbal medicine forum
  • Harry Potter and the Magic of Technology a presentation by Bill Astore, associate professor of history
  • The Williamsport Symphony will be performing the theme from Harry Potter on March 15 at the concert sponsored by Penn College.

Watch the portal for future developments on these and other events. This exhibition is brought to you by the National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, curated by Elizabeth J. Bland.

Throughout its history, Penn College has depended on the vision, leadership, experience and generosity of individuals who believe in the value of a hands-on, technical education.

As we begin the countdown to our centennial celebration, I am pleased to announce the establishment of the 1914 Society to recognize the donors who have made leadership gifts of $1,000 or more annually.

Members of the 1914 Society continue the legacy of those who have made Penn College what it is today and will serve as an example for those who will usher in Penn College’s next 100 years.

As always, employees lead the way: Of the 138 founding members of the 1914 Society, 31 are employees. Thank you.

As an employee of Penn College, you are invited to join a “unique” new organization, the ONE College Club (OCC), located at Le Jeune Chef Restaurant.

What makes it unique? The club offers you the ability to enjoy the convenience of a declining-balance meal program at a 20-percent discount. Come and enjoy a quick buffet or order off our special club menu featuringthe signature Bison Burger Melt with your friends and colleagues in a distinct, private setting. Members may also partake in special functions throughout the semester, including the “Gathering Hour” held every Friday from 4:30-5:30.

You are invited to take advantage of a special Grand Opening-Trial Membership promotion. Simply fill out a Trial Membership Application Form found on the OCC portal. The portal site is located under Sites/Resources on the MyPCT home page.

The College Store is pleased to announce that MATCO tools have been added to the tool offerings in the College Store in addition to Snap-on. Both MATCO and Snap-on are extending their discounts to students enrolled in any Penn College program, and enrolled in nine credits or more per semester; and are also extending their discounts to all full-time and regular part-time employees. Eligible students, faculty and staff may purchase various Snap-on and MATCO tools at discounts up to 50 percent off full retail price. For a full list of eligible tools and complete details of the program, please stop by The College Store. (EDITOR’S NOTE: The College Store subsequently offered Snap-On’s Blue Pointtools as its lower-cost product line.)

“[C]opyright assures authors the right to their original expression, but encourages others to build freely upon the ideas and information conveyed by a work.” Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Feist Publications, Inc. v. Rural Telephone Service Co., 499 US 340, 349 (1991)

As an educational community, Penn College subscribes to the belief that intellectual-property rights should be respected, and that fair and appropriate use of copyrighted materials is both a legal and an ethical obligation that should be observed by all employees and students. (Pennsylvania College of Technology, Policy Statement VII 7.17)

During this past year, a group of copyright enthusiasts (some not so enamored of copyright as others) from various departments on campus were empowered to establish a Copyright and Fair Use Advisory committee for the purpose of monitoring copyright law, recommending changes to college policies and procedures, and providing general guidance to college employees and students regarding copyright and fair use. The group tried to come up with a really good acronym, and decided it would be CFUAG (see-fwaug). Many people may feel like they are in a fog when it comes to dealing with copyright issues. However, students and employees will find helpful information, policies, laws, forms, tools (like a fair-use checklist), and other resources related to the effective and legal use of copyrighted materials on the Copyright and Fair Use site, which is available from the Madigan Library portal site.

As you leave, be sure to pick up a brochure with additional information.

“Assessment” has become more than a buzzword in higher education; it is a responsibility a way to respond to the calls for accountability and transparency. More significantly, it is an opportunity to advance our key objective student learning.

For many colleges, assessment has required a “from-scratch” approach. In our case, what is generally called “a culture of assessment” has been a matter of identifying and organizing what is in place; then layering on the missing components. The Assessment Plan and Process fills that need.

It has been twice reviewed by President’s Council and Deans Council; this morning, faculty and academic administrators will have their introduction; Student Affairs staff will do the same on Aug. 31. Thereafter, the document in its final draft will be available on the portal.

The Process and Plan focuses on student learning, both formal and informal, in the classroom and through co/extracurricular activities. It examines the range of campus decisions, activities and plans that affect student learning. Through assessment, we shall demonstrate improved student learning and improved retention and graduation rates.

As you see announcements regarding assessment website additions, professional-development opportunities, requests for information I ask that you review/respond/participate as a means of contributing to Penn College’s Culture of Assessment.

A number of you will recall when we did an assessment of department heads, program directors and administrators across campus. We used an instrument from the IDEA Center, and we will once again be conducting that assessment this academic year.

I ask your careful attention to the process and your understanding and attentive read of the surveys. They are standardized and some of the language is not parallel to ours, but you will be able to make the transition. For example, the documents call department heads “administrators” and we know that is not the case at Penn College. I am confident we can all work around the language and get results that will assist us all in developing and improving.

I have stated through the summer, at various meetings and messages, that 2010-11 is the year of responsibility. I made that note late spring, as I was beginning to think about what is next for us. As a college, we have defined our values, vision and mission. While we may in all likelihood modify them, for the most part, they will guide us as presented. We have a new strategic plan or direction for the future, one that involves all of us and holds us accountable via ongoing assessment for the tasks outlined. We have completed well, almost the most extensive campus renovation in the history of the institution. We have survived the economic downturn in fact, we are in much better shape than many colleges across the country. Our enrollment is what we are watching. We continue to monitor tuition; we are hoping that we have not priced ourselves out of competition. This is the one area that keeps me up at night. We have new opportunities for growth and development and refining of our curriculum portfolio, we are adapting to changing personnel and have a new provost to provide academic leadership along with the deans for the college. Our future is bright, but it is contingent on both internal and external forces. Externally, we must measure up through our reaccreditation and our meeting the requirements of the Higher Education Opportunity Act and, internally, we need to continue to provide the educational opportunity and services to students in ways that meet their needs, take advantage of technology and maximize our resources.

I am confident we have the opportunity, the desire and the determination to be successful, but we have to work together every single day to that end.

Theodore Roosevelt said to a group of school children in 1898:

“There are two things that I want you to make up your minds to: first, that you are going to have a good time as long as you live I have no use for the sour-faced man and next, that you are going to do something worthwhile, that you are going to work hard and do the things you set out to do.” Talk to schoolchildren in Oyster Bay, Christmastime

Teddy was right: Life is too short and we need to have fun AND yet make sure we are doing something worthwhile. The road is never easy, but the journey is part of the fun. This quote sums up my wish for all of you and for our coming year.

In addition, it would be what Genelle Gatsos would tell us today. Genelle will be missed; she was a wonderful asset to our students, a great friend to many, and she had a spirit and smile that conveyed her love of life. Our lives are better for having known her.

I ask each of you to make a difference in the life of a colleague or student today and every day as we fulfill our mission. Have a great semester.