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President nurtures seeds of success during all-college message


Midway through the academic year and at the on-ramp to a metamorphic new decade, transformation – the college’s internal modifications to enhance students’ life-altering opportunities – was very much on the mind of President Davie Jane Gilmour during Friday’s Spring 2020 kickoff. “Like any other organization or institution, we need to assess, adjust, change and adapt. This assessment is an ongoing process and will continue as we move through this spring semester,” she told faculty and staff assembled in the Klump Academic Center Auditorium. “I believe in our future, in the power of a Penn College education and in our ability to change lives.”

The following is drawn from President Gilmour’s Jan. 10 remarks:

Happy New Year!

I hope you had a wonderful holiday break.

Unfortunately, a few sad notes to begin – we unexpectedly lost two students over the break. Young lives gone before their prime.

We also lost two staff members. Last fall, we lost Jennifer Hammond. Jen was an amazing woman and touched many students across her career at Penn College. Just this week, we lost Kelly Morgan, a lead proctor in the testing center. Kelly cared about students and made a difference in her short career at Penn College. We extend our sympathies to their families and to those of you who had the privilege to work with them.

We need to remember to make each day count!

Of course, I would like to begin today’s remarks with a quote:

“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

What struck me about the quote is that things take time – new processes, procedures, relationships, alumni – all of these take time. We plant the seeds; it takes time to establish relationships with companies who hire our graduates, who come to us for workforce training and who sign up for apprenticeship programs that take years.

It is a long process of steps that lead to transformation. Sometimes, the moves must be quick and decisive, but the overall process is started by a seed. It is not one day or one change that happens that makes something transformational.

Transformation is the theme of today and, frankly, of Spring 2020, the beginning of a new decade for Penn College.

I try to paint a realistic picture of our student and enrollment status, but I also want to balance that with all the good work that is happening to meet our challenges. We have been doing a lot of good work for a very long time.

We are not faced with challenges because of a lack of effort or dedication. In some ways, we need to refocus, but in others, we need to think creatively to meet new challenges.

We know we are facing unprecedented times in the higher education landscape with lower high school graduation rates, costs for higher education, competition with business and industry for high school graduates, and the rising question about the value of a college degree.

We continue to offer majors that are recession-proof and that have a demonstrated need in our society. We need to continue our efforts to educate others about what a Penn College degree offers.

Our placement rates and testimonials from our graduates and industry partners demonstrate why our work is important.

We continue to seek ways to meet all aspects of these challenges:

  • We focus on keeping tuition low, responsible budgeting, continual evaluation and rightsizing.
  • We have the best marketing we’ve ever had!
  • We have expanded recruitment outreach.
  • Our focus is on strong academics. Core review, and investment of time in ensuring its implementation, is a testament to that!
  • We have a new approach to recruitment and enrollment to meet the changing nature of our traditional-age student population – just when we were getting used to millennials, Gen Zers came along, and they communicate very differently.

Retention rates are as important as recruitment. Students make a significant investment. While I am not suggesting we need to lower our standards – I hope I do not have to repeat that – I am saying we can always add to our student support and success initiatives to increase the likelihood of students graduating and entering their chosen careers.

The care and concern of our faculty and staff is no more apparent than in the use of our new early alert referral system. The implementation of a brand-new system, Starfish, was fully embraced, allowing us to make a significant impact in the lives of students. In just its first semester of operation, as a campus community we sent 15,075 positive messages to our students! This exceeded our number of flags or alerts, which was one of our goals.

We had 364 staff and faculty raise a flag, submit a referral or send kudos to our students. We had 1,057 first-year students complete the Starfish intake form as part of their First Year Experience course requirement; this is an 86% completion rate.

There is more to be done with retention; this was an area of great thought for me over the holiday break. Students are making incredible investments in their education. We need to refocus and clarify the priorities given to our retention activities. This requires a review of roles and responsibilities, and making this a key initiative for the coming year. We must maximize student success.

Some have asked, “How can we be doing all that we are doing and still be losing ground?” That is a valid question. But the world is very different in 2020 than it was in 2010. I would ask, “Where would we be if we had not been doing all that we can to be innovative, up-to-date, more efficient?” And, while the challenges remain, we must persist if we want to be hopeful about a different outcome.

One thing that we know we must do is expand our reach to areas of demographic growth. But that’s what every college is doing. So, how can we continue to be innovative, up-to-date, more efficient?

In one example, as part of our ongoing marketing and branding efforts, Public Relations & Marketing is working with Carvertise – America’s largest rideshare advertising company – on a campaign to spread the word about Penn College to major metropolitan markets in the Mid-Atlantic region.

Ten Penn College-branded rideshare cars – completely wrapped in striking designs that promote the college – are transporting passengers in the New York City/Newark, N.J.; Washington, D.C.; Philadelphia; Pittsburgh; and Allentown/Bethlehem markets.

Initial reports show that the fleet of Penn College-branded cars has averaged 1.85 million monthly advertising impressions in those areas, and the drivers of the Penn College vehicles are traveling about 2,800 miles per month: more than double the Carvertise average. As a bonus, each driver received a supply of Penn College Viewbooks to distribute to passengers.

To illustrate the personal impact our branded cars have made, one driver noted, “I noticed people will stare, and everyone at work has stopped to ask me questions about Pennsylvania College of Technology.” Another reported: “Once, I was parked at a Costco store in Washington, D.C., and a young gentleman approached me and asked if I taught at the school. He stated that the car looked cool, and that he was trying to continue his education in technology!”

I think Colin Powell is correct when he says, “There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work and learning from failure.”

Our students are experiencing opportunities like never before as a result of the collective generosity of our donors. I am proud of the philanthropic collaboration taking place across campus, benefiting our innovative tomorrow makers.

You may have seen promotion about the Tomorrow Makers Scholarship Contest for the Larry A. Ward Machining Technologies Center. Larry Ward is a Williamsport Area Community College alumnus and successful businessman. He is the owner of Packaging Progressions Inc. – the world’s leading manufacturer and supplier of high-speed interleaving and stacking machinery. Mr. Ward is extremely passionate about the future of the manufacturing industry in America and a true believer in applied technology education. Thanks to his generous commitment, the Machining Technologies Lab will receive all new equipment, paint, lighting and fixtures.

The Tomorrow Makers Scholarship Contest is his way of empowering student collaboration in the design and development of a sign or sculpture that will demonstrate to all who view it the vital instruction taking place within the Larry A. Ward Machining Technologies Center. The winning designer or designers will receive a $1,000 scholarship from the Penn College Foundation. I ask you to encourage your students to participate by visiting the student portal for details, and for everyone to begin calling the MAC by its new name, the Larry A. Ward Machining Technologies Center.

I would also like to thank faculty member Howard Troup for his vision for this project and his crucial partnership with Institutional Advancement to make it happen.

Institutional Advancement closed out the first half of the fiscal year with a strong response from companies, alumni, friends and loyal support of many of you in this room today. I thank you. Gifts and pledges are up more than $2.2 million compared with this time last year, with total commitments at nearly $5 million to date.

Most recently, the Penn College Foundation received a fifth grant of $500,000 from The Donald B. and Dorothy L. Stabler Foundation, bringing the scholarship fund to $2.75 million – the college’s largest endowed scholarship. Institutional Advancement is working hard on a variety of fundraising projects, but remains committed to the critical scholarship support necessary to create educational access for our students.

Last year, I announced the partnership between Alumni Relations and Enrollment Management to engage alumni in the student-recruitment process. To date, nearly 170 alumni have joined the Tomorrow Makers Program to identify and recruit the next generation of students. Industry needs more highly skilled Penn College graduates, and we believe our Tomorrow Makers create an invaluable network for sharing the power of a Penn College degree. However, we recognize the financial barriers students face when considering their pursuit of higher education.

Therefore, Provost Mike Reed and I have joined to embrace this challenge by creating the Tomorrow Makers Fund through our own personal philanthropy. As a testament to our belief in our alumni, we are proud to place the impact of these funds into their hands to provide a unique scholarship opportunity for future students.

The Tomorrow Makers alumni members carry Admissions Office business cards to provide to prospective students in hopes that they will explore a Penn College education. Each card will now promote a $500 scholarship, upon acceptance by the college. The scholarship awards, managed by the Financial Aid Office, will come directly from the Tomorrow Makers Fund. We are grateful for the commitment of our alumni volunteers, and we look forward to the results of this unique scholarship opportunity.

Philanthropic generosity and confidence in our mission empower students to pursue their dreams. People continue to invest in us because they believe in the value of our applied technology education. They see the return on their investment – successful alumni exceeding industry expectations and transforming the communities in which they work and live. I am most grateful for this support, including yours. Together, we are developing the next generation of tomorrow makers.

We have the opportunity to make a lasting impact on the lives of many children and youth who attend Penn College events on campus, such as pre-college programs in the summer, academic shadowing, high school students who are co-enrolled and athletic camps. Without your participation, we would not be able to sponsor such successful programs and activities. When we are responsible for the care and supervision of children, Pennsylvania law requires participating employees to have their proper child-safety clearances on file with the Human Resources Office.

Starting this month, the college has transitioned to a new background-check vendor, which will streamline the process for employees to obtain clearances. Earlier this week, an AdminWire announcing this transition was issued, along with recent updates to the college policies and procedures on background checks; please take time to review this important information.

Effective Jan. 1, the state no longer permits provisional contact with children. Therefore, new hires and current employees who require child-safety clearances will not be permitted to have direct contact with children until all the required clearances are received and determined to be satisfactory.

If you foresee the need for child-safety clearances – because you anticipate or would like to be involved with Penn College events that include children under the age of 18, or you are open to having co-enrolled students in your class – you are now able to apply for clearances at any time throughout the year, rather than waiting to obtain them immediately when needed. To do this, simply gain the approval of your supervisor, who will then contact the Human Resources Office to initiate the process.

The Middle States Commission on Higher Education requires Penn College to reapply for accreditation every 10 years. Our next visit will be in Spring 2022.

As has been our tradition, a Self-Study Steering Committee will be led by two co-chairs, one individual from the full-time faculty, and another from staff/administration. The co-chairs will lead the Steering Committee and Working Groups, consisting of representatives from across campus. I am pleased to announce that Mary Jo Saxe, associate professor of dental hygiene, and Tracey Amey, director of the Madigan Library, have accepted my invitation to serve as Steering Committee co-chairs.

The Steering Committee and Working Groups will conduct research and analysis, compile evidence and prepare reports that document our strengths, our ability to meet Middle States’ new Standards for Accreditation & Requirements for Affiliation, and form recommendations for self-improvement and innovation.

The collective contributions and talents of our entire college community are essential for a successful self-study, and there will be many ways to be involved. I encourage you all to participate however you can, and to become familiar with the accreditation standards.

In the near future, all faculty and staff will receive a survey from the Steering Committee to gather input from all stakeholders to determine the priorities that will drive the self-study process.

Thank you to all those who will support this important opportunity to examine how well we meet the Middle States standards, to highlight our many strengths and to identify goals for ongoing improvement.

In December, Workforce Development secured approval from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry’s Apprenticeship Training Office to be the sponsor of two new apprenticeship programs – Plastics Process Technician for Extrusion and Injection. With these additions, the total number of Penn College-registered occupations is now seven. These plastics occupations were included in the $8 million U.S. Department of Labor Scaling Apprenticeship grant awarded to Penn College last June.

This grant is transformative, and it further secures our relationships with companies who know that, in addition to being a source for talented graduates, Penn College is able to meet their needs for apprenticeship training. Along with state and federal funding support, companies are investing in apprenticeships, and we are well-positioned to respond to this need to upskill their employees.

Important reminders about apprentice programs: Workforce Development is working with many companies that are farther away than would be feasible for apprentices to travel here for traditional classroom instruction while they are employed full time. Much of the training is live, through Iris, our remote delivery platform. The large majority of hands-on apprenticeship training occurs on the job, with the employer leading the effort. The company and/or grant funding is supporting the cost of the training specifically for apprenticeship – not necessarily to attain a college degree. However, there are apprentices that are interested in pursuing college degrees, and that is why we are creating pathways to make it as easy as possible for this transition to occur.

Coming this spring, Wildcat Athletics and Information Technology Services will unveil the Wildcat Den, a new venue for our varsity esports program. It is located in the Madigan Library on the second floor in the open computer lab, Room 203. Our teams will compete in the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE) conference in Apex Legends, Fortnite, Hearthstone, League of Legends, Overwatch and Rocket League.

This facility will open new doors for recruiting students and for retaining current students. Please check the portal announcements for staff/faculty tours, educational sessions and, of course, gaming.

Following an extensive search, the Community Arts Center Board of Directors selected Chuck Still to become executive director of the Arts Center, effective this week. Chuck has 35 years of leadership experience with an eclectic collection of venues nationwide, most recently in founding executive director positions at the Midtown Arts & Theater Center Houston (MATCH) in Texas, and the Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center (“The Kate”) in Old Saybrook, Connecticut. Chuck holds a Master of Fine Arts from North Carolina School of the Arts and a Bachelor of Arts from Davidson College.

The Election & Communication Committee is preparing for the 2020-21 Internal Governance general election.  Nominations will begin on Jan. 27 and run through Jan. 31. Committee members were in the hall before today’s meeting and will be there again afterward. Governance is important to our community, and I encourage you to take time to look at the election opportunities.

Late Wednesday, we announced the restructuring of academic schools, effective July 1. The ability for this and any organization to respond to outside forces is key to future growth and success. These changes will position us for the future in Academic Affairs. I strongly believe we will be able to communicate more clearly with students and streamline processes and procedures to allow our daily work to be completed more effectively. Yes, we reduce expenses, but not at the cost of service to students.

Of course, we will continue to market and promote our academic offerings by individual program, which is the only way we can truly showcase the breadth of the college’s offerings, and directly relate them to individual student interest. And our new division names within the three schools will serve to reinforce this range in as logical and consistent a way as we can, given our extensive reach.

Like any other organization or institution, we need to assess, adjust, change and adapt. This assessment is an ongoing process and will continue as we move through this spring semester.

As we begin 2020 and the balance of the academic year, I do not have all the answers. Collectively, we have the personnel and resources to make our future a positive one.

You have heard of our successes today, and of our challenges. We all have a choice. I read a New Year’s tweet to the effect that, “My personal actions and decisions will determine if I have success in 2020.” That is true for all of us – personally, and for the college.

I believe in our future, in the power of a Penn College education and in our ability to change lives. That is our story, and we continue to look for ways to tell it to the broadest audience that we can.

Many of you contributed to the making of our new enrollment marketing video, produced in partnership with the talented 160/90 team. Already being shown in targeted markets, here is “Looking Good”:

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