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President Embraces ‘Endless’ Opportunities on Other Side of Summer

On the eve of graduation, amid the annual celebration of first-rate faculty and staff, Penn College President Davie Jane Gilmour brought down the curtain on 2016-17 with a grateful and optimistic look ahead. Following Employee Recognition Week festivities, she briefly catalogued the year’s successes and initiatives – a new athletics logo, innovative marketing and fresh administrative faces, among them – and observed the campus community’s good fortune to educate and encourage tomorrow’s leaders. “Daily, we live in a world with a culture of respect and an eye for the future,” the president said. “Our responsibilities are many, our opportunities are endless and our mission is strong.”

The following is drawn from the president’s remarks during a May 11 all-college meeting to close the 2016-17 academic year.)

Good morning.

And welcome to that brief period between spring and summer that we call The Blurry Season. It comprises equal parts nostalgia and stress, pride and cardio, heightened respiration and sincere inspiration as we celebrate the accomplishments of our colleagues and our students alike.

On Friday and Saturday, in three ceremonies that will pass as quickly as they took to get here, our graduating students will cross the Community Arts Center stage – a symbolic bridge between the preparation that marked their college years and the promise that fuels their limitless tomorrows. We will cheer their achievement, as well as recognize our distinguished full-time educators and alumni who have taken the Penn College name well beyond our campuses.

We also take time now to commend our campus colleagues who do so much for our students and our national reputation: retirees, 25-year employees, a noteworthy faculty adviser, and distinguished part-time faculty and staff.

Let’s begin with our retirees.

Retirees
The 2016-17 academic year brings the departure of 14 faculty/staff members with more than 260 years’ employment among them. Five have been with the college for more than 25 years, three for more than 30.

Judy Fink, an alumnus who left us in January as manager of marketing communications, tops this year’s list with 35 years of service. Another winter departure was Barb Natell, director of occupational therapy assistant and a 31-year college co-worker. And Dave Kay put in 30 years before recently transitioning into a new part-time role.

I ask all of the retirees present to join me as I announce them … and to remain on stage until we can applaud the whole group.                   

Vinay Bahl
Lawrence K.Beaston
Patricia L. Bilbay
Judith A. Fink
Doris F. Hall
R. David Kay
William E. Mack
Debra M. Miller
Marion C. Mowery
Barbara J. Natell
Joan E. Shade
Sharon L. Truax
Edward A. Vavra
Thomas E. Wenzel

Let’s acknowledge our 2016-17 retirees together.

Quarter Century Club
Try as I occasionally might, I cannot ignore the calendar, which tells me that 2017 marks the 40th anniversary of my hiring as an instructor on this campus. So it is with a mixture of joy and melancholy that I celebrate a group of relative newbies: the faculty and staff who came along 15 years after my arrival.

You may or may not recall that 1992 was the year of Ross Perot’s third-party challenge to Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush. Miley Cyrus was born and Lawrence Welk died – I’m not making a connection there; just putting the year in perspective! Microsoft released Windows 3.1, “Barney and Friends” premiered on PBS and “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” aired its final show, and Charles and Di announced their separation.

Gasoline was $1.13 a gallon, “Aladdin” and “Wayne’s World” were among the highest-grossing movies, and these nine employees – the new kids on our block – joined me in the Penn College family:

From APT
Andrew M. Richardson
Janet L. Wool

From Classified
Vicki Y. Emick

And from Faculty
Richard J. Calvert Jr.
Michael A. Dincher
Terry A. Girdon
Kenneth J. Kinley
Paul E. Mach
Mary Jo Saxe

Please welcome this year’s inductees to the Quarter Century Club.

Part-Time Teaching Excellence Award
I now turn to presentation of a Part-Time Teaching Excellence Award to a most deserving member of our adjunct faculty.

This year’s honor goes to Cassandra J. Butters from nursing/practical nursing, impressively nominated by students and colleagues alike.

“Sandy is a model of professional positive behavior,” a full-time faculty member observed. “The students’ faces light up when they come to share their experience with Mrs. Butters. I do not have to inquire about (it) – the students just flock to me to tell me! She does not talk at students, she talks with them, and she is successful in persuading the students to use their own critical thinking skills.”

“Working with her is fun, inspiring and worry-free,” the nominator added. “The independent initiative she takes to make the learning experience better for our students is incredible. I have worked with many different faculty and APT staff in various capacities (and) have been very happy with many of my teammates, but Sandy still stands out!”

“Mrs. Butters ensures that her student evaluations are individualized and personalized, providing positive feedback,” another colleague noted of an often-underappreciated (but no less integral) responsibility in dealing with our students. “She is very gentle in her approach to discuss individual challenges.”

Her nominators have painted a consistent picture of engagement, invention and dedication by this year’s honoree, and I will give the last word on the subject to a student. As I think we can agree, that perspective provides an important barometer when we assess our workplace effectiveness.

“Our time with Mrs. Butters in the clinical simulation was one of the best experiences I have personally had this semester,” she wrote, adding to the chorus of praise for the instructional and inclusive skills of this year’s recipient. “Her way of teaching the material makes me feel much more confident in my knowledge and ability in that area of nursing.”

Please join me in congratulating Cassandra J. Butters, who has made an indelible mark in her short time among us, as evidenced by this year’s award for excellence in part-time teaching.

Excellence in Academic Advising
We now salute another nursing faculty member who was nominated by a student and endorsed by a colleague for Excellence in Academic Advising.

This year’s recipient is Joni J. Pyle, assistant professor, nursing programs, selected from among the many faculty members who consistently and compassionately steer our students to their ultimate goal of commencement and career.

“My professor goes to great lengths to make sure I reach my goals and supplies me with resources and referrals so that I can be successful,” an advisee wrote. “You feel comfortable approaching her, she has an open-door policy and is always there to help when in need, and responds to questions and concerns in a very timely manner.”

And lest we fall into the false societal notion that younger generations universally want to be coddled, the student adds, “Dr. Pyle speaks frankly; no sugar-coating, which I love. She is as real as it gets.”

A colleague in the School of Health Sciences amplified that candor and accessibility in saying, “Joni works to ensure students understand their course options and expected program completion date.” And in a nod to those juggling their vocation and their education, she added: “Joni communicates outside of normal business hours – weekends and evenings – to ensure the nontraditional working RN receives a reply that meets their needs.”

Please join me in recognizing Joni Pyle, who helps her advisees problem-solve their way to smoother sailing.

Distinguished Staff Awards
We move now to the college’s Distinguished Staff Awards, which single out exemplary performance by our APT (Administrative, Professional and Technical), Classified, Service and part-time staff.

Dawn M. Dickey
Dawn M. Dickey

This year’s distinguished APT staff member is Dawn M. Dickey, assistant director of disability services, whose nominator employs words that any of us would want associated with our name: Outstanding. Excellence. Commitment.

She has been a leader on multiple fronts, most of them groundbreaking, in making sure that our students – ALL of our students – gain entrée to the same educational resources and opportunities. She is instrumental on the Accessibility in Information Technology and Media Committee, in working with the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, the creation of the Autism Spectrum Postsecondary Interest Experience, and the launch of Accommodate (the new online Disability Services management system) not to mention professional development and interpersonal encouragement.

“She is patient,” her nominator understated. “She listens and asks for input. Not one of our programs runs without some kind of survey or assessment at the end. She continues to strive to make whatever she is working on the best it can be. She will stop what she is doing if someone in the office … or a student needs assistance.”

She once helped a student move from his dorm room to another building and, just recently, helped a student who missed his ride home to Connecticut for Thanksgiving. After working the phone with his father and the bus station, she was able to get him a ticket and drove him to the bus station so that he could keep his date with family for the holidays. (She also went to Wendy’s and purchased him dinner so that he did not leave campus hungry!)

“Dawn is an insightful, persistent, passionate and collegial team member who is consistently student-centered,” another colleague noted. Her “no-drama-get-it-done approach to her work is results-oriented. When a student needs a specific accommodation, they will have it. No exceptions; Dawn won’t have it any other way.”

Please join me in congratulating this year’s APT award-winner: Dawn Dickey, who empathetically and enthusiastically talks the talk and walks the walk for our students with disabilities.

Carrie A. Mayer
Carrie A. Mayer

Our Classified honoree this year is Carrie A. Mayer, secretary to the dean of sciences, humanities and visual communications.

She “is an adaptable team player that takes on a variety of assignments and delivers service in a responsive manner,” a nominator said. “Colleagues, students and administration have a genuine respect and appreciation for Carrie, and her ethics and efficacy bring out the best in everyone. Carrie enjoys new challenges and connects well with students, faculty and administration.”

Among her many strong suits noted by co-workers is her command of college rules and regulations, as well as the nuances and fluidity of curricular concerns.

“Carrie is the most knowledgeable staff member I know,” one colleague said. “Her knowledge base extends far beyond her work for SHVC and she is my go-to person for questions about virtually all college policies and procedures. Moreover, she always knows how to find information if she does not know it herself.”

“(She) is a collaborative team member with outstanding communication skills,” another wrote, “and her historical interworkings on our college is a continual asset.”

Please congratulate Carrie Mayer, who – with humor, efficiency and professionalism – maximizes resources to minimize hassle for students.

Thomas R. McFadden
Thomas R. McFadden

Our distinguished Service staff member this year is Thomas R. McFadden – a General Services carpenter who has left his mark for two decades in many ways, including the handcrafted oak benches installed across campus. His reputation as a Master Carpenter informs every job that comes his way and, as a nominator noted, is “validated by the many requests the GS Office receives specifically requesting Tom – only! – to complete repairs; adjust drawers; construct cabinets; fix tables or computer stands; or hang plaques, pictures and artwork. He even finds ways to repair or replace items better than when they were originally installed.”

Tom is heralded as “one of the best finish carpenters this college has ever employed,” and his work can be seen in such highly visible spaces as the new dental hygiene lab, The Gallery at Penn College, The Victorian House, in areas included in the Stage X renovations and the Procurement Office on Reach Road.

Genuine, gentle and good-hearted, and with a laugh that can only be described as infectious, he has an enviable rapport with the college community and the public.

“Many have observed Tom welcoming students, answering their questions, given them directions to their classes … and even unhinging benches to retrieve lost keys or cellphones that fell between them.”

Most of us would be surprised to know just how much of himself is in every project that Tom touches, as there are no plaques to trumpet his success. There is no mistaking the quality of his work, however, and it is my pleasure today to shine a light on a genial co-worker for whom perfection is an everyday template.

Thomas J. Matus
Thomas J. Matus

Our distinguished part-time employee this year is Thomas J. Matus, toolroom attendant for the heavy construction equipment and diesel technology majors in the School of Transportation & Natural Resources Technologies.

During the 11 years in which he has held the position, his nominator wrote, “All of the instructors have worked with Tom on a daily basis and have witnessed firsthand the knowledge and professionalism that he brings to our program.”

On a campus that can have three engine labs operating simultaneously, our honoree ensures that students at the Schneebeli Earth Science Center have access to workplace-quality equipment.

“Tom keeps the toolroom organized very professionally and does an excellent job of monitoring the condition of items as they wear … and schedules replacement items to be ordered before they are worn beyond use,” the nominator continues. “Tom also recognizes the need for additional special tooling and finds prices and availability for additional items completely on his own initiative.”

Matus, who came to the college from the commercial trucking industry, has also earned the respect of students – all of whom he knows by name and many of whom he engages in conversations about their classes and their lives outside of school.

Equally telling are these comments from from a faculty member, indicative of the esteem with which he is held: “Tom is one of us. He is as important to the smooth operation of our labs as we instructors are.”

Please join me in congratulating Tom Matus, who does his job with a smile … and a literal willingness to help our students find the tools to succeed.

Let’s acknowledge once more our 2017 distinguished staff and part-time faculty, our honorees for excellence in advising, and our retirees and Quarter Century Club inductees.

‘We Have Lived a Great Year’
Another academic year has come to a close. We will remember this one for any number of reasons:

  • Snow – more snow and ice than we want, and always on a Tuesday.
  • The year of the tree – the recognition of Tree Campus USA, and the windstorm that wreaked havoc on our trees and fences across campus.
  • A new athletic logo and mascot, and success by our athletic teams and coaches.
  • A faculty agreement that positions us well for the next five years.
  • The retirement of three members of the leadership team and the addition of three new vice presidents.
  • Renovations across campus, and more to come this summer.
  • The conclusion of our Strategic Plan and the look forward to the roadmap for our future.
  • The submission of our Periodic Review Report for our Middle States accreditation.
  • The first graduate degree approved for the college.
  • The addition of new programs and the conclusion of some existing programs.
  • The continual assessment of our work processes and personnel needs across campus.
  • Increased efforts in enrollment and retention: Our enrollment continues to be behind for the coming fall, but we remain determined to work toward increasing our student population.
  • A stronger social media presence is evident for Penn College.
  • I did start blogging.

The list could go on and on, and will, in our list of institutional accomplishments that will be shared later this summer.

We have lived a great year.

Commencement is Friday and Saturday – wonderful celebrations of our success.

The International Programs Office has begun a new initiative to recognize graduating students who are international or who have studied abroad through one of the college’s Study Abroad courses or programs. Students from these categories are now receiving a patch to display on the right sleeve of their graduation gowns. This initiative began with the December graduation ceremony, in which nine students received the patch. The May 2017 graduation ceremonies will have 40 students displaying the patch.

We are exploring creative and innovative ways to market and advance our programs. As you entered the auditorium this morning, you received an Online Degrees flyer announcing a significant change designed to bolster enrollment among out-of-state students. Starting this fall, all students enrolled in an online degree program, regardless of residency, will be charged the in-state tuition rate.

The Online Degrees flyer provides talking points for you to reference when discussing online options with current or prospective students. If you have questions, I encourage you to visit the Online Degrees website or contact the Admissions Office.

As we celebrate Employee Appreciation Week, this is the perfect time to recognize employee giving on campus. To date, over 500 members of our campus community have generously gifted over $2 million to support the people and programs of Penn College. This personal commitment is a testament to the dedication of our faculty, staff and administrators, who carry out our mission each and every day.

The 2017-18 Employee Campaign launched two weeks ago with an overwhelming response. Thank you to all who have participated. If you have not yet participated, but wish to do so, please contact the Institutional Advancement Office. This collective support is something we should all celebrate, and I thank you.

As we shift to planning for the fall – yes it is inevitable – last fall, Program Welcome (a program-specific orientation for new students) was held collegewide for the first time. Student feedback was positive, indicating that we achieved the goal of helping students get to know their advisers (and one another) in a casual, non-intimidating environment.

Program Welcome will take place again this fall. Faculty have received information about the basic structure of the program and some ideas for activities they can use to make the session fun and interactive. This initiative is an important part of our efforts to improve retention, and I thank you for helping to make it a success.

It is time for summer. We are more than ready for some sun and warm weather. All of us should take time to refresh, renew and remind ourselves we are fortunate. We work at a college that makes a difference. We provide hands-on technology education and educate the whole student. We foster discussion and development in all aspects of student development and education. We face challenges, but with open minds and a vision for the future.

Perhaps most importantly to me, is that, daily, we live in a world with a culture of respect and an eye for the future. Our responsibilities are many, our opportunities are endless and our mission is strong.

Walt Disney said: “Around here, we don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things because we are curious. Curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”

I look forward to the fall and our new ventures.

Enjoy the summer; make a difference.