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President Issues ‘Life-Changing’ Challenge at Fall 2013 Kickoff

Mindful of the struggles and successes throughout the institution’s near-century, President Davie Jane Gilmour urged co-workers to make a life-altering commitment to students through The Penn College Scholarship Campaign. In an all-college message to open the Fall 2013 semester – and continue the ticking countdown to next year’s centennial celebration – the president announced a campaign to increase scholarship aid by one-third at the end of 2014. “We know that a Penn College education provides a significant return on investment, a pathway to a fulfilling career and life-changing opportunities for our students and their families. Still, we must acknowledge the extreme sacrifice that many students and families make in order to have the benefits of a Penn College degree,” she said. “The Penn College Scholarship Campaign is our opportunity to help prospective students have access to a brighter future. The success of this important campaign will help make a Penn College education more affordable for anyone willing to pursue a ‘degree that works.'”

The following is drawn from President Gilmour’s remarks at an Aug. 15 all-college meeting in the Klump Academic Center Auditorium:

 Good morning.

The Convocation message for this 2013-14 academic year is going to be a bit different. Instead of weaving my message among announcements and news about the coming year, we are going to focus on our future and how we get there. Immediately following this meeting, there will be a PCToday announcement with a significant amount of important information you need to begin the semester. Please take time to read this information. Just because I did not mention it this morning does not reduce its importance. Again, please review PCToday for important information.

I suspect, unless you are a new employee, you are well aware that we are counting down to our centennial. One hundred years. To look to the future with intent, we need to reflect upon and understand our past. As I would typically do when we gather today, I would like to give you an update on gifts and pledges for the Penn College Fund Employee Campaign.

Since the campaign kicked off during the Spring 2013 semester, employees have committed a total of $104,892 in gifts and pledges to the campaign. For your generous support of our students, I thank you.

Yet, there is another campaign I am very excited to talk about today. As many of you know, two years ago, the college launched the Penn College Scholarship Campaign in conjunction with our Countdown to the Centennial to raise additional scholarship support for our students. Our initial goal for this campaign was to add $3 million to the scholarship program by the end of our centennial celebration in 2014.

I believe the following video provides an excellent background on why support for this important fundraising initiative is so critical:

President Gilmour announces campaign to boost student scholarships.
President Gilmour announces campaign to boost student scholarships.

I am pleased to inform you that, over the past two years through the silent phase of the campaign, we have exceeded our original goal. To date, we have raised more than $3.36 million in gifts, pledges and planned gifts. As we begin the public phase of the campaign today, we are announcing a new goal of $3.75 million. By achieving this goal, we will be able to increase scholarship awards by at least one-third.

You know the value of a Penn College education. That education requires significant personal and financial commitments. Consider this: One-third of our students come to us from families where the total annual household income is $30,000 or less. That means their total earnings for a year could be equal to the cost of earning a two-year degree! They must believe our degrees have tremendous value. We know that a Penn College education provides a significant return on investment, a pathway to a fulfilling career and life-changing opportunities for our students and their families. Still, we must acknowledge the extreme sacrifice that many students and families make in order to have the benefits of a Penn College degree.

Our history is filled with stories of sacrifice and success. The Centennial Celebration is an opportunity to both look back at our evolution as an institution and dream about what we can aspire to in the future. The Penn College Scholarship Campaign is our opportunity to help prospective students have access to a brighter future. The success of this important campaign will help make a Penn College education more affordable for anyone willing to pursue a “degree that works.” Not only a degree that works to help our graduates secure employment, but also works to provide them with the quality of life that comes from understanding, cooperation and compassion.

In addition to your annual support of the Penn College Fund, I am asking you to make a commitment to this campaign by giving to an existing scholarship, to the General Scholarship Fund or by starting your own named scholarship.

You will be receiving campaign materials in interoffice mail today. I ask that you carefully review that information and invest now to change lives forever.

Please contact the Department of Institutional Advancement with questions and visit the campaign website.

During our last academic year, we revised our vision statement: “Penn College, a national leader in applied technology education.” Now, we must ask ourselves what we will do during this academic year to move forward and achieve this vision.

If that is our vision, are you willing to work every day in a manner that will position us as a national leader?

What part of your day yesterday fostered that vision? Unfortunately, I am not sure we can all answer that in as direct a way as we should or would like. Regardless of what we did or didn’t do last year or even yesterday, we can begin to foster that vision today and to take it with us all the days of the coming year.

None of us is perfect. But I sometimes worry that we do not set our standards or aspirations high enough or hold ourselves accountable enough for our actions. Because our actions DO dictate our future. It is easy to become caught up in the daily drama of routine operations. But it is important that we remember why we chose this profession in the beginning. Why did we choose to be educators? Are we working in ways that will establish our legacy … just as our forerunners provided a legacy that we were proud to embrace when we first joined this organization?

Over 100 years, we have grown. We are no longer a vocational-technical program, we are no longer a technical institute, we are no longer a community college. We are a college of technology with few peers in the world. Our students learn to apply technology as part of their education, but their experience must be grounded in general education. That is not a new idea on this campus; it was the vision George Parkes had for the vocational-technical program that began in this building in 1914. We educate our student for careers; for changes in the workforce; for science, technology and society. We have institutionally taken steps to change. They are today – as they always have been – deliberate and data-driven. Our more recent decisions to adjust placement requirements modify our recruitment focus and move toward a conditional acceptance initiative in Fall 2014; all are intended to maintain our focus on positive outcomes for our graduates. There is a reason we have such high positive placement numbers, and we need to realize that our graduates are our biggest and best evidence of the value of a Penn College education.

This is my 35th year at Penn College and I, for one, am tired of hearing we are the best-kept secret. We have 100 years of history behind us. We all should be proud of our history, proud of what we are as an institution today and proud to invest in our future. Or we shouldn’t be here. It is time we make a focused initiative of spreading the word about who we are, what we offer and why we are the best at what we do.

We are not a private, four-year, liberal arts college. We are not a state university. We are not a community college. We are Pennsylvania College of Technology with a proud history and a future that is filled with potential. How do we send our message to the world?

We are using social media; we are ever-present on the web; we are expanding the prospects we market to, both electronically and via paper. But it is not enough to advertise our products and services to the public and prospective students. Each of us, in our individual roles professionally and in our personal lives – when talking to our friends and neighbors and within our families – should be acting as ambassadors and sharing our vision for the future. Because our vision can impact the future – not just on this campus, but in our community and around the world, in the communities where our graduates work and live.

I believe in the power of words. But I also believe words must be followed by action. I can tell you that I want you to be positive and future-focused. But I also must show you that I mean what I say. To that end, I am announcing today the Strategic Initiative Fund – $100,000. This fund will be “administered” by the Quality Through Assessment Committee. It is a source to provide funding for initiatives developed by any employee who wishes to present at or attend a national meeting, professional organization conference or to present colloquia on campus. Criteria for the funds are simple: Your trip/project/presentation must relate to our strategic plan/initiatives and achieving our vision; you must agree to present your “benefits” of the activity at a President’s Forum following the trip/event; presentations are first priority, attendance is second priority. QTA will review all applications; the simple application can be found on my home page early next week. This is a great opportunity for you to become actively involved in helping the institution achieve its vision of national leadership.

I also would like to offer you the opportunity to become involved in an effort to increase our outreach to each other and to the public through a new Centennial Colloquia. This idea was proposed to me just weeks ago by the group considering nominations for a Centennial book project. The Centennial Book project I announced in January has “grown” into the Centennial Colloquia. The 25 book suggestions and ensuing discussions led to the unlikelihood of a single book’s use in multiple classes, in support of course outcomes. The prospect of book-based presentations, however, would retain the focus and would reach a wide audience. Moreover, we would see – in this centennial year – a return to the Faculty Colloquia series that had engaged faculty and staff with students and community back in the 770s and ’80s.

The committee has suggested two faculty/staff presentations and one “guru” presentation each semester. These would be formal, well-promoted events. A prospectus is being developed and will be available online; watch for the announcement and consider participating. The Colloquia’s focus is Technology and Society. The Strategic Initiative Fund will provide a $500 stipend for presenters. The Strategic Initiative Fund is not a travel junket fund; it is a funding source for activities that enhance our outreach and support efforts to achieve our vision to be a national leader.

While there is real value in connecting to your related professional organizations – new ideas, new perspectives, networking for possible new colleagues and returning to campus with a renewed sense of mission – not all of us will be able to reach out in this manner. To that end, we are also looking to identify a leadership-development program on campus: an established recognized program to provide leadership development to allow growth, development and more comfort for those in or aspiring to leadership roles. Watch for announcements about the Leadership Academy. My goal is to begin no later than Jan. 1.

John Ratzenberger
John Ratzenberger

Jan. 1, 2014: the beginning of our centennial year! Wait until you see what is planned for the year. We will celebrate for one full calendar year. Beginning, as is appropriate, with a celebration for all of you – our employees. You got us to where we are; it is right and fitting we begin with our employees, followed by our student kickoff. Then, the community and campuswide celebration begins on Jan. 23 with John Ratzenberger – yes, from “Cheers” and, most recently, from Travel Channel’s “Made in America” series. He is a proponent of remembering America’s proud traditions and reimagining the potential of today’s workforce: ideas we certainly embrace.

"Marketing With a Mission"
“Marketing With a Mission”

In your mailbox today is a flier offering you a sneak peek at the upcoming year’s events.

Coming this year at Homecoming 2013 are creative and beautiful Centennial items in The College Store and the third edition of our book series, “Marketing With a Mission.” I confess I saw a proof copy and it is amazing! It will remind us all of how far we’ve come and yet how much of our unique mission remains true to our heritage.

It is somewhat ironic that our Strategic Plan is due to be reviewed/updated/rewritten this year leading up to the Centennial. If you look on the portal, you will see that significant progress has been made on many of the initiatives in our current plan and many have been accomplished. It does seem fitting as we reflect on our past 100 years that we look forward.

Where do we want to be in three or five years? Will we have achieved our vision and become recognized as a national leader? Will we have grown? Will our retention and graduation rates have increased? Will we remain accessible – academically and financially – to those who are ready and willing to work toward earning a Penn College degree?

Look to your left and right. The answer to these questions lies in this room with you and the person next to you. The leaders of this institution are not some distant “them”; today’s leaders are you and me. It is all of us, and, together, we have to chart a course and answer these questions.

In order to move forward and be successful, the institution must establish a sound financial base. Recent enrollment declines and the changing role of state government in appropriating higher-education funding have created instability that we must address immediately. Yes, we did receive additional funds from the state this year, but we need to understand that one-time appropriations do not take care of our future. We must plan to take care of ourselves. It is what we have always done and must continue to do. We are grateful to Sen. Yaw for the extra funding, but it is unrealistic to expect this every year. So we need to grow. That means keeping our curriculum portfolio current and advancing. We are recognized for our cutting-edge programming and we must keep – some say regain – that edge. We have eliminated programs, and that was hard. Will there be more? I do not have a crystal ball. We do program review; we use data to make those decisions. Programs need to be attractive to students and employers, and they must fit our mission.

I am often asked if we will do master’s degrees. We are not forbidden to do master’s degrees. But the act that created us does charge us with offering unique products in line with our mission, rather than duplicating programming available elsewhere in the state. As currently written, graduate degrees are not part of our mission. Could I see us doing a graduate degree? Yes. But only where it is a needed credential for an existing program and only where that program exhibits a standard of excellence that would withstand the scrutiny sure to come with such an offering.

To achieve our vision, we must work very hard. We must explore new ideas. We must collaborate with one another. We must find new ways of using our resources effectively to provide the best possible education for our students. What worked last year may not be enough this year or next year. The status quo is never a position of safety and security. That is an illusion. The only thing we can be sure of is change … and we must – as Gandhi said – be the change we wish to see in the world. Don’t be satisfied with “routine operations” – “business as usual” – I know that new ideas, new models, new approaches are scary. They involve risk, experimentation, stretching. To achieve our vision, each and every one of you will have to be willing to move to the scary side. I am not afraid of that at all, I find it challenging, exhilarating and rewarding. No risk, no reward.

This year, I am challenging all of you – supervisors, colleagues, everyone in every position on campus – to ask and answer these questions: Why do we do that? What would happen if we did not? Is there a better way? What are your ideas for new and improved ways? It is through this open and honest dialogue we can be a better organization, one that is growing and developing for the future.

I traveled a great deal this summer. I did some speaking engagements and Little League travel. I met some fascinating people: president emeritus from University of Illinois and former CEO of the American Council on Education, Stanley Ikenberry; a member of the HR Team at Google; Hall of Fame baseball player Tom Seaver; Kristen Benden-Hymer, now working for Leadershape and formerly of our own Student Activities Office; the Challenger team coming to Williamsport from Livermore, Calif., for a once-in-a-lifetime trip.

While traveling, I am often asked the biggest challenge as president of a college that I face today.

I know they expect me to say, “Funding.” Honestly that is not my answer. For me and for you, the biggest challenge is to get people to understand the value of a Penn College education – the value of an applied technology education.

The early years of my time as president were spent connecting Penn College to the community. I began by saying that we needed to focus on “walking on bridges that were there, but had not been walked on in a while.” Today, we are well-connected to our community because, together, we responded to that call to reconnect. Today, I am ready to expand my vision of “connection” to one that involves connecting to the public – young people, parents, K-12 teachers, anyone who will listen – to the value of applied technology education. Our unique form of higher education provides a solution to the challenge of how to grow Pennsylvania’s economy. We need to shout from our red rooftops that we are not only Pennsylvania’s premier technical college, we are on our way to becoming a national leader in applied technology education.

We all need to be shouting from those rooftops. I commit to you that I will do my part by taking every opportunity I can to travel across the country to lobby, present, testify and advocate for Penn College. It is my passion. It is my cause.

I need you to join me. We need your passion. We need your commitment.

We need to promote this cause together. If we remain united in our stand – just as our founders were successful in establishing their legacy 100 years ago – we will achieve our vision for the 21st century. We WILL make a difference.

It is a good cause for all of us, spreading our message and our mission. Changing lives through “degrees that work.” 2012-13 was a very good year. 2013-14 will be one for the history books.

I would like to leave you with a quote, of course, by a wise and famous scholar, Master Jedi Yoda: “Do or do not – there is no try.” Think about that powerful and yet simple statement. If we approached our life everyday with that statement in our minds, what could we accomplish?

This year will be filled with risk, reward and accomplishments as we aspire to become a national leader in applied technology education, one student and one team member at a time.

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