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President Greets 2011 With Industrious Balance of Optimism, Practicality

(The following is drawn from remarks by Davie Jane Gilmour, Pennsylvania College of Technology president, during a Jan. 7 all-college meeting to begin the Spring 2011 semester.)

Happy New Year and welcome to the Spring 2011 semester. I hope you had a restful and enjoyable holiday. As I walked around campus throughout the week, I heard many favorable comments about the wonderful time off, but also heard many express the desire to return to work for, generally, one of two reasons: First, “structure” seems we work better with structure. And, the second reason, children teenagers in particular. The lament was clear: Work beat independent teenagers or college students home on break. There was one wish expressed often for public schools to start back “¦ before we did!

To begin today, I would like to introduce Jim Finkler (annual giving officer); College Council Chair Gerri Luke would also like to make a few remarks. As you know, immediately following this message will be an all-employee meeting relating to our Middle States work.

But first, a look back and a bit ahead to see what is in store for Penn College in the coming year.

I did survive my first semester in the classroom in over 32 years teaching FYE (First-Year Experience). I loved it.And I was challenged each session to engage students and connect with them to make a difference. I started the semester with 21 and ended with 20; I was pleased. More importantly, I learned firsthand the value of FYE. While they were quiet in the classroom setting, I would receive e-mail messages day and night from my students with questions on any topic. How do I replace my meal card? What do I do if I am sick? Where is my school office?

Now, some of you will say they should know this if they attended Connections or toured campus they just should know. We need to be reminded this is ahuge transition for young people. To a person, they shared this wasnot what they expected in college. Some did not know what to expect, others thought this was going to be “easy like high school.” Homework was foreign to many, as was “taking care of themselves.” One young man wrote in his final paper that he now can prepare food and do laundry. We laugh, but, if no one took time to teach him or “require” him to learn, why are we surprised?

As a former full-time faculty member, I have always had the utmost respect for faculty. Well, my respect has increased as a result of my experience!

To do it right, you have to prepare and not underestimate the students; they know when you don’t. A great experience, one I highly recommend for every faculty member, dean, assistant dean, director: Step up and teach FYE; you will be glad you did.

It would not be an all-college meeting if we did not talk of the portal. I have learned to love it and what it can do for work groups, communication and my overall keeping current. I encourage you to take time daily just a few minutes and check the portal for what is really going on over campus. Whether it is news on our wellness initiatives and the upcoming start of Weight Watchers back on campus, or events and activities that involve our students and talented faculty and staff, our athletic activities or just general campus information. It is worth your time, and it is a responsibility to stay informed.

One announcement coming via the portal is a photo contest, open to students and employees, for art to be hung in Dauphin Hall. If you have not yet seen the new residence hall and the Capitol Eatery, you are missing something special. In late January, we will announce via the portal a photo contest for that facility. Each winning piece will be framed and displayed in Dauphin, and with each selected photo will be a name plaque with the photographer’s name. A committee of students and employees will make the selections; please share your talent and enter.

Don’t forget you can also submit your photographs to be considered for our website home and audience pages. Our website has already featured the photos of many students, employees and alumni.

While I am talking about technology you are, I hope, aware of our social networking presence Le Jeune Chef now has a Facebook page. You are all welcome to become “likers” yes, you don’t “friend” a restaurant, you “like” it!

I invite you to watch the television broadcast premiere of our newest episode of “degrees that work TV” on public television station WVIA on Thursday, Jan. 20, at 8 p.m.

“Going Green: Green Technologies & Sustainability” is the first of two episodes on “green” career opportunities that we are producing.

The Jan. 20 premiere episode will also kick off a two-hour marathon of “degrees that work” episodes.

If you haven’t already watched the award-winning, public television series produced by our College Information & Community Relations Office, this is a great opportunity to see all the shows at one time.

You also can also go online to view the episodes and download teacher resources that we share with educators around the state in an effort to help them make their students more aware of emerging career opportunities.

I know I will like the Harry Potter World Exhibit coming to the Madigan Library on Feb.13. Don’t miss this wonderful exhibit and related activities that will take place up until Open House on March 26.

Our commitment to the first year continues. We have developed a plan for completing the action items that resulted from last year’s Foundations of Excellence Final Report, and completion of this plan has been incorporated into our institutional Strategic Plan. Work on these actions has progressed rapidly in the past semester, and just a few of the items we have accomplished thus far include introducing professional development on first-year issues for all faculty and staff, implementing a series of seminars on effective strategies for teaching first-year students, expanding the FYE course in preparation for all new students to take the course in Fall 2011, and increasing the scope and availability of student support by providing all services for all students in the Academic Success Center. Some of the new services include one-on-one tutoring in math and writing, mentoring for students who could benefit from a formal relationship with a professional staff mentor, and new and expanded study and enrichment skills workshops.

You may wonder if any of these new programs and services are making a difference. I believe just one example is quite telling. At the beginning of the fall semester, we implemented the new SupportNET program that provides all employees of the college with a means for identifying through the EIS those students who may need intervention to ensure their success at the college. Last semester, we received 433 SupportNet referrals on 376 different students. Of these students, 78 percent were first-year students. Through our various ways of reaching out to these students, we wound up speaking with 71 percent and meeting with approximately 30 percent to identify plans for helping them succeed. While it is too early to determine the effects of these contacts on GPA and retention, initial feedback indicates that the rollout of the program has been effective in helping us identify and intervene with students who need our help.

We have also added staff in the Assessment, Research and Planning Office to support faculty-assessment needs and expanded the ARP portal site to provide easy access to assessment and institutional research reports. Additionally, we have expanded our diversity programming through open forums on topical issues and other student events, and improved the frequency and quality of collaboration between Academic Affairs and Student Affairs to ensure that our diversity offerings are intentional and that our curricular and co-curricular diversity programs are mutually supportive. We are also exploring making our commitment to diversity more explicit in our institutional mission and values statements.

I am also very pleased to announce the development of an Academic Advising Professional Development series that will be offered this semester for all faculty who serve in this very important role with students. The series will include sessions that range from the purpose and role of advising, to best practices in advising, to campus resources, policies and processes available to support academic advisers. As both research and personal experiences remind us with great regularity, the quality of academic advising makes a difference in students’ educational experiences. We have heard the request for more resources, information and support on this topic and believe that this new professional-development series will be just the first step toward our goal of strengthening our academic advising process.

While all of these initiatives grew out of or are related to our involvement in the Foundations of Excellence program, they will clearly benefit the entire college population, all students, as well as faculty and staff. If you would like to follow our progress in fully implementing the FoE Final Report, you may do so by visiting the FoE Update page on the President’s Office portal site.

As I mentioned earlier, the college has continued its focus on issues related to diversity and multiculturalism both on our campus and in society at large.

I want to take a few minutes to talk to you about three specific opportunities for you and our students.

From Saturday, Jan. 15, to Monday, Jan. 17, the college will be celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service. The three-day event includes collaborative community-service projects with the Community Alliance for Progressive Positive Action on Saturday and a “town hall meeting”-style discussion on “Religion & Civil Rights” on Sunday at 7 p.m. in Penn’s Inn. The highlight of the celebration is a keynote address by Lonise Bias titled “Living Beyond the Dream: A Message of Hope for Families, Communities and the Nation” on Monday at 7 p.m. in the ACC Auditorium. Bias’ commitment to reclaim her community was forged in the deaths of her two sons: Len, the University of Maryland basketball player who died June 19, 1986, of cocaine intoxication two days after being drafted by the Boston Celtics and Jay, killed in a December 1990 drive-by shooting. She has worked with the faith-based community; the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency; the U.S. Department of State; the U.S. Office of Personnel Management; and the White House Office of Drug Control Policy; as well as numerous colleges, universities and schools. This event is free and open to the public.

On Feb. 8, as part of the college’s Black History Month Celebration, we are hosting what I am sure may be one of the most controversial events we’ve had in some time. The play, NWC, (our working title in discussion) “N*gger, Wetb*ck, Ch*nk,” is being sponsored by the College’s Cultural Life Committee at 7 p.m.

With an intentionally provocative title and I know some have taken offense the play blends “theater, hip-hop, stand-up comedy, slam poetry and true-life stories” that take on “racial slurs, stereotypes and the concept of race itself.” The show’s three co-writers and cast members explain: “The show traces the origins and evolution of three derogatory terms that shaped our lives and took the place of a genuine understanding of our cultures.” I can assure you that everyone who attends this event will walk away with new perspectives and understandings of race in our society.

Finally, I’m excited to tell you about a new resource available through the Madigan Library “Village of 100” is a 3½-minute DVD and multimedia package that comes with activity sheets, a facilitator’s guide and PowerPoint presentation. The basic concept of the DVD is what a village of 100 people would look like if it was truly representative of our entire world.

I have to admit, I was shocked by some of the information in this short video. Only one person would have a college education and 67 would be unable to read? Five people would have 32 percent of the world’s wealth, and they’d all live in the United States; while 33 would be trying to live on only 3 percent of the world’s income? I found myself asking if any of us would want to live in a small village like this, yet it is the world we live in today. I am excited about the role this resource can play in classes and programs across campus.

All of these opportunities help us in meeting our mission of “social awareness” and our core value as a “community of respect.”

There is no doubt that many in this room are watching enrollment numbers and looking at the budget. It is true: We were 100 students fewer in the fall than we had hoped. That translates to fewer students this semester, as well. Budgeting is not going to get easier but harder; we know that tuition is high, some say too high. We need to be as conservative in our budgeting as ever this year. When communicating with students, we need to speak about value and jobs we are “degrees that work.” Now is the time for everyone in this room to step up and do his or her part. You may ask “What?” That is simple: Do the very best job you can do and, if you can do it differently to save time or resources, share the ideas. Don’t wait for someone else to do something, do it yourself every day, we should be exploring a new idea, new method or trying to be better. We need to make that our habit,not an initiative no work group or task force, but personal responsibility.

I heard a speech over the holiday that used the quote, “What got you here, will not get you there.” This is actually the title of a book by Marshall Goldsmith and Mark Reiter. I would like to modify the statement for us today “What got us here will not get us there.” We need to change, consider alternatives, be creative, throw away the box not simply think outside the box. Whether it is how we do our work, what programs we offer, how we make ourselves attractive to students what worked yesterday won’t work tomorrow.

I remain an optimist, but grounded in reality at least, I tell myself that daily. One thing that has reinforced my belief in our students is the Penn College Student Government Association’s effort to establish a scholarship fund in memory of Tracy Garis, a dental hygiene student who was tragically killed in an auto accident on June 4, 2010. Student Greg Miller, who is vice president of internal affairs for SGA, initiated the drive to start the Tracy A. Garis Memorial Scholarship. Since August, student organization fundraising efforts have raised nearly $3,900 for this scholarship through activities such as the 2010 Homecoming celebration, a dress-down day, 24-hour rock-a-thon and others. You will see additional fundraising efforts this spring.

There have also been several contributions and pledges to this scholarship from donors and friends of the college. These include five Penn College Foundation directors who have personally agreed to offer a challenge contribution totaling $2,500 to match funds raised by students for this scholarship. I have also personally extended a challenge contribution for this effort. At $13,621, without considering the $5,000 in challenges, our students are well on their way to raise $25,000 to endow this scholarship by the end of the spring semester.

Needless to say, we are very proud of our student leaders and organizations for initiating this fundraising effort to remember a fellow student. We are also very encouraged that they are setting an excellent example for the entire community on the importance of “giving back” to the college.

Just before the holiday, a dear friend sent me what is reported to be a list of 11 rules for young people. The list, often incorrectly attirbuted to Bill Gates, is the work of Charles J. Sykes, author of “Dumbing Down Our Kids: Why American Children Feel Good About Themselves, But Can’t Read, Write, or Add” and “50 Rules Kids Won’t Learn in School: Real-World Antidotes to Feel-Good Education.” To whomever the credit should go, here are 11 rules I find fascinating for young people:

Rule #1 Life is not fair, get used to it.
Rule #2 The world does not care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something before you feel good about yourself.
Rule #3 You will not make $60,000 a year right out of high school. You won’t be a vice president with a car and phone until you earn both.
Rule #4 If you think your teacher is tough, wait until you get a boss.
Rule #5 Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your grandparents had a different word for burger-flipping: they called it “opportunity.”
Rule #6 If you mess up, it is not your parents’ fault, so don’t whine about your mistakes “¦ learn from them.
Rule #7 Before you were born, your parents weren’t as boring as they are now. They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes and listening to you talk about how cool you thought you were. So before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parents’ generation, try delousing the closet in your own room.
Rule #8 Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life has not. In some schools, they have abolished failing grades and they’ll give you as many times as you want to get the right answer. This doesn’t bear the slightest resemblance to anything in real life.
Rule #9 Life is not divided into semesters. You don’t get summers off and very few employers are interested in helping you find yourself. Do that on your own time.
Rule #10 Television is not real life. In real life, people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs.
Rule #11 Be nice to nerds. Chances are you will end up working for one.

I suspect there are parents in the room who want to hang this on the refrigerator at home, have it turned into an interactive poster for the techno-savvy teenager. Feel free as with all my messages, it will be posted on my Web page later this morning. But before doing that, remember: This list applies to us, as well.

We can do with a reminder that the world is not all about us. We are important players in this world, each with a purpose and mission. Daily, our mission is Penn College and delivering the quality educational experience our students deserve. It is meeting the needs of students, our coworkers and, yes, ourselves, but we are not or should not be first. We are accountable, responsible to make a difference.

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