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President Maps Direction for Institutional Success, Cooperative Commitment

Pennsylvania College of Technology President Davie Jane Gilmour opened the Fall 2016 semester Thursday morning with an all-college message to faculty and staff, enumerating their collaborative progress in attracting the students who are key to the institution’s sustainability. “I know that, together, we will continue to develop a strategic approach to recruitment – an approach that will seek new ways to respond to our challenges, an approach that will highlight the value and distinction of a Penn College degree, and an approach that will be successful because of the contributions of every single one of us,” she said.

The following is drawn from President Gilmour’s remarks at an Aug. 11 gathering in the Klump Academic Center Auditorium:

Good morning and welcome to the 2016-17 academic year.

We have had quite a summer. A very successful Antique Automobile Club of America car show – over $50 million of vehicles on our campus. Special thanks to Roy Klinger, Brett Reasner and staff in the School of Transportation & Natural Resources Technologies, Liz Verbos and Debbie Miller, to name the principals, on their work and dedication to make this national event a huge success. Following the car show, we had a very successful week of camps for young people on campus. Thanks to the school deans, assistant deans and faculty for providing these incredible opportunities, and again to Liz for her leadership in making the camps run smoothly.

Connections – our new-student orientation program was held again across the summer, and kudos to Kim Cassel and staff in Student Activities for a great experience. The “Links” – students who take an active role in this program – were terrific. We received many compliments from parents and new students regarding this program.

Just look around campus – we are blessed with incredible staff who have made our workplace a beautiful setting. I hope you have seen the new “tree sculptures” by the Madigan Library and Thompson Professional Development Center. This spring and summer, we were visited by Sen. Bob Casey, state Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera and Gov. Tom Wolf. All commented on the beauty of our campus. Thanks to the grounds staff, under the leadership of Andrea Mull, for making Penn College a showcase.

We had a number of other projects completed this summer:

  • The Athletic Field was “reworked” – strip and replace all turf and upgrade water meter for savings on fees.
  • ATHS Brickwork – remove, repair and replace all brickwork around the top because of water damage to the masonry and iron work; correct flashing defects and expansion problems that developed over the years.
  • ATHS Dental Hygiene – a brand-new clinic. Expand from 16 to 20 stations, all new cabinetry and state-of-the art chairs, dual monitor computers at each station and a new clinical-status lighting system, and new overhead LED lights.
  • Addition of Welding Lab E, allowing us to accept more students.
  • LEC Keystone Dining Room – entrance patio completion.
  • Le Jeune Chef – sign added at Maynard Street main entrance.
  • New emergency call boxes – all new call boxes and monitoring cameras. Some have moved. Please refer to the campus map for locations.
  • CAL/128-129 – create a new PC lab and new Product Design classroom/lab.
  • Complete paint out of the ERC Automotive Engine Repair Center, new wall and overhead lighting, overhead hose reels added, west garage door replaced.
  • BTC/114 – paint out, new benches and wall workstations, enhance overhead lighting, rework cylinder storage area with additional shelving, add exhaust ventilation system.
  • Earth Science Center Head House rework – ceiling, paint out, new floor coating applied, overhead projection and screen.
  • College View Apartments ­– 12 new kitchens, 36 units, complete paint out.
  • Clinton/Delaware/Juniata halls – new vanities.
  • ATHS/W236 – Surgical Technology Lab, new video monitoring and recording system.
  • Upgraded instructional technology in six math classrooms in the ACC.
  • ETC/123 – computer installations at workbenches.
  • LEC/B119 – cooking lab new video display monitors.
  • ATHS/E203 removal of sink and gas line, painting and new instructional podium.
  • ATHS/E230 – conversion to dual-projection screens, computer replacements and a complete paint out.
  • ACC Auditorium – new lighting system with digital controls and repainting.
  • Digital menu boards in Penn Central and CC Commons.
  • Dual campus internet connections with double the bandwidth and Netflix caching.

All of this evidences it was a very busy summer. I want to thank Don Luke, Charley Kern and their staff for an incredible amount of work and for their roles in making Penn College a special place.

I know you are expecting me to talk about enrollment, and I want to share some important information with you.

Increasing student enrollment has been made an institutional priority and remains paramount to our sustainability.

Over the past year, I have asked each one of you to consider your role in student recruitment and to respond positively if called upon to assist in any way.

We have made significant progress.

I am particularly pleased with the creative, critical thinking that has been demonstrated to develop new initiatives. I am equally grateful for the increased collaboration among many campus offices to partner in new ways to extend our outreach to prospective students. The outcome of these efforts have resulted in a completely redesigned electronic communication plan and printed marketing materials.

Another example is the new strategic approach to calling students to guide them through the application and enrollment processes. Admissions, Public Relations & Marketing, and the school deans and faculty have been instrumental in these particular initiatives.

Thank you to all of you and to everyone who is participating in our efforts to increase enrollment.

We are making a difference. For this Fall 2016 semester, we have increased the number of total applications to the college by 33 percent over our Fall 2015 total applications (up from 5,356 in ’15 to 7,106 for ’16). And, we are currently trending ahead – by 93 – in the number of students who have satisfied their tuition bills and moved to enrolled status. These numbers will change daily as we make the final push to help students through the last steps of the enrollment process. Attention to helping these students is critical over the next five days.

All of these changes are significant and map the direction for our continued work. I am also thrilled to welcome the leadership of Ashley Murphy, who recently joined us as our new director of admissions.

I know that, together, we will continue to develop a strategic approach to recruitment – an approach that will seek new ways to respond to our challenges, an approach that will highlight the value and distinction of a Penn College degree, and an approach that will be successful because of the contributions of every single one of us.

Alumni are an important connection for us – for any number of reasons. Please remember, especially faculty, that connections with alumni should be shared with Institutional Advancement and our new director of alumni relations, Kim Cassel.

Another important change that will impact recruiting and enrollment is Early FAFSA.

Have you heard those words – Early FAFSA? This refers to the significant changes coming to the financial aid world that will have implications not only for students, but also for the ways many campus offices conduct current processes.

This past spring, the federal government introduced the concept of moving the date for students to start filing for federal financial aid from the typical beginning of the calendar year back to the previous October.

What this means is that students will be able to file their upcoming academic year FAFSA three months earlier, beginning in Fall 2016 for the 2017-18 school year.

The overall intent is to make the college shopping consumer more aware of both costs and available financial aid resources earlier in the college decision-making process. All colleges will be shifting to this new timeline. With this shift, there is an expectation that students will begin to make decisions about college much earlier.

So, what does this mean for Penn College?

First – we need to think about targeting and engaging high school juniors differently in recruitment processes.

Second –we need to rethink almost every aspect of how we recruit and matriculate students.

And third – that we need to alter our annual financial aid timelines.

Please watch for campus announcements from different offices about upcoming changes to recruitment and matriculation processes and financial aid deadlines. And, especially in reference to Financial Aid, please don’t assume the same dates for deadlines, as they will be changing.

Student and parent questions can always be referred to the Financial Aid Office for assistance. Please also watch for professional development opportunities to learn more about the Early FAFSA.

We pride ourselves on complying with all laws and regulations. For many years we have sought to be a leader and to be an example of best practices. One area I need you all to understand and participate in our compliance is in our information accessibility.

The Accessibility in Information Technology & Media Committee continues to address the complex problem of ensuring that the technology and media we use every day are accessible.

This area touches nearly every aspect of the campus, from course material to enterprise systems for registration and financial aid to public webpages. Solutions to creating an accessible campus environment require a full campus effort.

A video is being developed that will share the philosophy behind the importance of accessibility. Accessibility requires effort on the part of everyone in our community. The video, which stars some of our own faculty, staff and students, should be ready to share with the entire college in early September, so please look for that announcement, and watch the video when it comes out.

The Accessibility in Information Technology & Media Committee has openings for faculty representation and any interested faculty member can contact the committee by email or by contacting a committee member listed on the Accessibility of Information & Media portal page.

Another area of compliance that is critical for us is the Clery Act.

Amendments have been made to the Clery Act, and the Department of Education has issued guidance related to Title IX, requiring institutions to train employees on sexual misconduct, harassment and discrimination. To meet this requirement, the Human Resources Office will be implementing a new training platform to offer content that is relevant to the situations faced on college campuses. Not only is this training a requirement under law, but also we believe it promotes a community in which employees and students can interact and work together in an inclusive environment.

We will become familiar with the legal definitions of consent, sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking, and we will learn how to identify and report sexual and interpersonal misconduct against students. We will gain practical tips on helping to maintain a safe, inclusive environment for work and in the classroom, including options for bystander intervention and advice on using inclusive language.   Look for an AdminWire in the fall that will further detail this training requirement.

This year, we again will be hosting the Colloquia Series honoring Dan Doyle, which will continue this year with four presentations: two by our own faculty and two by visiting presenters.

The series kicks off on Oct. 4 with Dr. Gary Sojka, former president of Bucknell University, who will present “Feeding the Future: Can We Nourish 9.7 Billion People in 2050?”

Topics for the other three sessions include using science, technology and literature to manipulate time; the benefits and dangers of our increasingly visual world; and cyberattacks as weapons for criminals and terrorists.

The topics are timely and interesting – definitely worth your time. I encourage faculty to consider weaving the presentations into your course assignments and discussions. Watch your mailbox for information about all four presentations. This is an important educational opportunity for all. The community is invited and what a great supplement to your classes. Thank you in advance for your support and participation.

Another great opportunity to enhance your courses is the My Last Words Lecture Series.

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 to share with students, and the college community, their final thoughts if he or she 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 Tuesday, Sept. 27, at 6 p.m. in Penn’s Inn.

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 2016 David London My Last Words lecturer, associate professor of applied health studies, Dr. Tina Evans. Congratulations, Tina.

Support and participation are the key words for my next message: As the college’s fiscal year came to a close on June 30, so did the 2015-16 Penn College Fund employee campaign.

Last year, 468 college employees contributed a total of $180,823 to the college, with employees cumulatively donating over $1.9 million to the college since 1981.

Yes, you did hear me correctly: Since 1981, Penn College employees have given nearly $2 million to support our students.

That is something to be extremely proud of. Thank you.

We are already off to a great start with the 2016-17 Penn College Fund employee campaign that kicked off in April.

To date:

  • Six employees became first-time donors.
  • 65 employees increased their gifts.
  • 284 total employees have given $97,298.

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 Valerie Fessler, or visit the Institutional Advancement portal page to use the online payroll deduction form.

Thank you for your continued support.

This weekend is Welcome Weekend. We take time to properly welcome new students to Penn College. I love this weekend. I interact with the parents and just love their stories and approach to the “move-in” process.

I’d also like to make a special invitation to all of you.

Now, I have to be honest, I make this invitation every fall, and very few of you take me up on it. On Saturday evening at 8 p.m., you and your families are invited to attend our New Student Convocation, our formal welcome to our new first-year students. It is a Penn College tradition to 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. We want our entire Penn College family to be there, especially faculty and staff. I hope to see you all there!

I hope I don’t have to tell anyone in this room that classes begin on Monday. Data shows that the first few weeks of college are key to a student’s success.

PC3 is one of our most impactful initiatives related to social and co-curricular engagement of new students.

During the first three weeks of the semester, we plan an array of programs and activities meant to promote social integration among students. Since this program’s inception, we have seen a dramatic rise in the quality of engagement on campus. You will receive a flier detailing this year’s PC3 events, and I ask you to encourage students to take part!

While we celebrate the welcoming of new students we are keenly aware of the stress and pressures of college life. Our community knows too well of the tragedy of student suicide.

One of Penn College’s core values is to achieve a student-centered environment, and even the most casual observer understands the growing importance that the mental health and well-being of our students plays in their holistic educational experience.

Over the past three years, we have been faced with the tremendous loss of 14 Penn College students to suicide. This number is both astounding and heartbreaking. As we work to heal together from this loss, we are deeply committed to creating and maintaining a caring, responsive and proactive campus community.

In October, Penn College received the Garrett Lee Smith Campus Suicide Prevention Grant through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), which has provided the opportunity for our institution to expand our services and response to students in need over a three-year period. Preventing suicide and mental health crises is not only the work of Counseling and a few departments, but is a campuswide effort made by each and every one of us, and there are several simple ways that you can be involved.

One of the key grant activities that has seen significant success is QPR Training. QPR stands for “Question, Persuade and Refer.” These are the three steps in preventing suicide by someone you know: a student, a colleague, a friend or a family member. This suicide prevention training focuses on the importance of talking openly and directly to someone who is struggling with thoughts of suicide, and how to have a difficult, but essential, conversation about choosing to stay alive.

Since January, over 400 individuals, including students, have been QPR-trained through Penn College. I was one of the first people trained on this campus along with other members of President’s Council, and it was incredibly informative and empowering. This training is now available through the college’s Human Resources Professional Development Office, and it will be offered on an ongoing basis. I strongly urge all of you to go through this important training.

Penn College has also become a part of the JED Campus program, which provides a customized framework to enhance student mental health, and substance abuse and suicide -prevention efforts. As a part of this program, a committee involving representatives from across campus has been formed and is working to develop of an integrated mental health and wellness strategic plan.

Some of the other grant initiatives this year include training on at-risk students into the FYE curriculum, and the development of the SPIRIT Coalition, which involves Penn College and many of the mental health and drug and alcohol prevention resources available in the Williamsport community. The SPIRIT Coalition focuses on ongoing communication and sharing of resources, for a more comprehensive and informed approach for all community health providers.

On Oct. 22, Penn College will host a communitywide Out of Darkness Suicide Prevention Walk here on campus. This is a great opportunity to show our support to our students, both healing from our losses, and creating a safe space for them to go when struggling.

In the spring semester, we will host speaker Kevin Hines. Kevin attempted suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge and has written a book about his survival. He speaks all over the country about his struggles with mental illness and how he has managed to work with his demons and overcome them. It is our goal to educate our students on the best ways to care for their physical and mental health and better cope with the stresses and pressures that come with independent living and the academic environment, and we appreciate your support in these efforts.

It is fitting to take time today to talk about sports. Many of us are immersed in the Olympics; I, for one, need more sleep as I can’t seem to turn it off as the excitement continues. Locally, we are gearing up for all eyes of the world to be on Williamsport as the Little League adventure kicks off next week. First, on Wednesday with a picnic on campus for the teams prior to the amazing parade, and then the opening ceremonies on Thursday, Aug. 18, followed by the games. If you have never attended a game, it is worth the time and energy for the experience. And, on Saturday, Aug. 27, at 10:30 a.m., the Challenger Division plays. Steve Moff has been active in making this a great experience, and we are grateful for his involvement. That game alone is simply breathtaking. The smiles, the enthusiasm, and the passion are palpable.

Now, sports is an important part of what we do at Penn College, as well.

As most of you know, I give an update here every year on our NCAA affiliation process. We started our four-year provisional membership with the NCAA in Fall 2014, with the hopes of becoming full NCAA members in Fall 2018. We received amazing news this summer that we were granted a waiver of our third year of provisional membership. So, provided we continue our success, we will gain full NCAA membership one full year early. This rare waiver is thanks to the amazing work of our athletic administrators and coaches.

I have always said that, if the move to NCAA affiliation was not right for Penn College, we would not hesitate to stop our process. Looking back over the past several years, we have met and exceeded our expectations. Coaches are actively recruiting new students to Penn College, while ensuring student-athletes focus primarily on academics. Just this year alone, Wildcat Athletics boasted 49 NEAC Scholar-Athletes, while our student-athletes’ GPAs outpaced those of nonathletes. Add this to our athletic successes, and you can see while the NCAA believes Penn College is ready.

I would highly encourage you to come out, bring your family and friends, and support our student-athletes this season!

What else do you need to know as we begin the 2016-17 academic year?

We refinanced some bonds this summer. The savings was over $10 million, and that savings is in our debt service payments for the future. We have flattened out our debt, and that is very good for the future financial stability of the college.

I am very proud that for this fall we had the lowest tuition increase in the history of Penn College. The tuition and fees increase for Penn College was 1.71 percent. Thank you to everyone who worked hard to make this happen. And, we did not make up for it on the side of Dining Services and Residence Life. Their increases were 1.5 percent and 1 percent, respectively.

Twelve new faculty began as full-time or temporary full-time faculty this fall. I had the pleasure of meeting them at New Faculty Orientation this week. What is remarkable, and what I am so proud of, is seven of the 12 are alumni of Penn College. Simply amazing, and in total, all of the new faculty bring incredible experiences. Welcome to all of you.

We are not perfect. We work hard and make a difference. We assess our work, and we strive to be better and do better. I am proud to be part of this team, and I hope you are, as well.

For my Connections welcome this year, I used a quote by Sydney Harris: “The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.” I used that quote Saturday at Commencement, as well.

In thinking about today’s remarks, the quote seems to fit, as well. We could spend our days looking in the mirror – yes, some of that is good to reflect on our accomplishments and learn from the past – but it is the window to the future that will determine what is next for us. I encourage all of you to embrace the window and consider what the possibilities are as we look to the future. Remember, anything is possible with hard work, passion for what you do and a commitment to excellence.

Again, I welcome you to the new academic year.

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