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President Opens Fall Semester by Looking Back – and Confidently Ahead

Adding a touch of the visual to her vision for the coming academic year, President Davie Jane Gilmour opened the Fall 2012 semester with a “highlight reel” of recent successes – and a challenge to build on nearly 100 years of student-centered tradition. Supplementing her 2011-12 recap with slides and video clips, she urged her co-workers to spread the word about the transformative power of a Penn College degree and steadfastly maintain focus on the institution’s national pre-eminence in applied technology education.

(The following is drawn from President Gilmour’s remarks during an Aug. 16 all-college meeting to begin the Fall 2012 semester)

It’s been an amazing year.

The images we just saw are of our graduates and their success.

We sent more than 1,400 graduates into the world. We accepted one of our largest donations: a FedEx plane. And, as you are aware, we have concluded our decennial accreditation evaluation, and the Middle States Commission on Higher Education reaffirmed our accreditation this past June.

The successful self-study and subsequent team visit were accomplished by the hard work of hundreds of faculty, staff and students. We sincerely appreciate their efforts and, while we are glad this huge task is over, there is still much work to be done as we strive to maintain compliance with the Middle States’ standards and, more importantly, improve what we do for our students’ success.

Our self-study – you can read it on the portal – has identified four recommendations related to governance, distance learning, developmental courses and assessment of our general education core.

The one recommendation from the visiting team asks us to look at our student learning assessment processes and ensure we use assessment to improve student learning outcomes.

There is much work to be done in all of these areas, and we cannot afford to rest on the laurels of a successful reaccreditation.

As we continue our work in these critical areas, we would ask that you help whenever you can, in whatever ways you are able. Your expertise, insights and plain hard work will make us successful in these areas, as well, and our students will surely benefit from our efforts.

One way we are recognizing our commitment to assessment is through a new award being offered beginning this academic year: The President’s Award for Outstanding Assessment of Student Learning.

All full-time faculty and staff are eligible for this award, either through application or nomination. Group or individual assessments may be submitted, and they can be course-specific or program-focused. The assessment must have been conducted within the previous four years, and the award itself is special designated professional development/travel funds, in addition to recognition at the May all-college meeting.

You can read more about this new and important award on my Web page, the Quality Through Assessment Web page, and the Assessment Research and Planning portal site following this meeting.

Assessment is our key to success. It tells us how we are doing, are we true to our mission and are our students getting what we say they are — important touchstones for us for the future.

We gained reaccreditation from Middle States – with accolades including being used as an example this year for Chair Training and Self Study institute. Again, thank you to all who made this possible.

How were we able to accomplish so much? Because people like you make a difference.

Today, my message will be a bit different. Thanks to Chris Leigh and Cindy Meixel, I am sharing the message verbally and visually. I do hope you will enjoy our different presentation.

As we move to fall startup, there is much to tell.

I hope you all read the news this summer that the college’s Fitness Center will now be available to all students at no additional cost. We are also excited that we can offer memberships to employees and their dependents (over the age of 17) for a membership fee of $40 a semester or $120 for the entire year (only $10 a month).

We encourage you to drop by the Fitness Center to see the new equipment that is being installed at this very moment. Membership forms can be found on the portal. This is an important advantage to all on campus and advances our wellness initiative.

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.

The David London My Last Words Lecture Series asks student- or alumni-nominated faculty to share with us their final thoughts if he or she knew it was his or her last chance to impart wisdom and life lessons.

This year’s David London My Last Words Lecture will take place at 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 15, in the ACC Auditorium. You will all be receiving invitations to this event in the next few weeks. It has become a tradition that we announce the selected faculty member at our August convocation, and I am very pleased to introduce this year’s David London My Last Words lecturer: Chef Charles Niedermyer, faculty in the School of Hospitality. Congratulations!

The next several weeks may be the most important in our academic calendar if we are to have successful student retention, graduation and placement rates in the future.

First impressions and first-year experiences matter. These times are important and they are a lot of fun. Ask anyone who volunteers; we blend a lot of hard work with a great deal of pleasure at college events and activities.
I want to share information with you about MAP-Works.

We are already taking several steps to improve retention. One of the most significant steps is our migration from SupportNET to MAP-Works as our early-alert program. We will now use the powerful tools available in MAP-Works to better identify students throughout the college who need assistance, to develop customized interventions for them and to communicate more effectively with all of the people responsible for helping them succeed – especially academic advisers.

For most of us on campus, this process will begin with a referral.

As you can see, to submit a referral, you will link to MAP-Works from the portal and log in using your network user ID and password.

On the opening screen, select “Go” to issue a referral. This will take you to the “Manage Referrals” page. To issue a referral, click on the “Issue Referral” button. Using the “Step 1: Find student(s)” field, enter either the student’s last and first names, Penn College email address or ID number, and select the correct student by clicking in the drop-down box.

On the “Referral” screen, enter any comments you would like to share regarding the student. Select a category that best fits the situation; leave the “Assign to” and “Status” boxes alone, and select the appropriate response to the next five prompts before clicking “Save.”

Because we all have different functions and responsibilities, your screen may look a little different from these, but the functionality is exactly the same. It really is that easy.

But if it doesn’t seem that easy right now, don’t worry. We will be offering lots of professional development throughout the semester on using MAP-Works, and I ask you to commit today to attending one of these sessions during the fall.

A second initiative I want to tell you about is an ongoing series of AdminWire announcements about Best Practices in Retention.

The series will look at those things all of us can do to improve retention, and it will also regularly explore the crucial role of advising in keeping students moving forward on their academic paths. When you get back to your offices, you will receive the inaugural message in the series. I ask you to read – and put to use – the information and suggestions that this weekly series will offer.

Why should you read these? Because in the rush of the semester, all of us tend to focus on what lies immediately before us. Sometimes, we overlook the routine but important things that can make the difference between a student leaving or remaining at the college through graduation. This series will keep retention immediately before us and provide concrete ideas and actions to help our students thrive.

While it may seem self-evident, retention is at the heart of each of our jobs. We really can perform miracles with students, but only with the students who are with us. None of our efforts matter for the student who is not here.

Now, about something that will not be here any longer: the VHS tape, a thing of the past.

It is not cost-effective for us to maintain obsolete equipment, so the VCRs that used to play VHS tapes will no longer be maintained or replaced for classroom use. In line with this decision is the need to stop using all VHS tapes, so the library’s VHS collection will be completely removed from the shelves and discarded.

No later than Oct. 1, faculty must let their subject librarians know via email which VHS titles they want replaced by DVD or streaming. If neither DVDs nor streaming is available, the subject librarians will work with faculty to find alternative, newer titles. Please be sure to prioritize requests, due to budget constraints, and remember – getting permission from vendors to make DVD copies or secure streaming rights, as well as doing the actual conversion and streaming, can be a lengthy process, so it is strongly suggested that requests be made as early as possible.

After Oct. 1, the library will implement the final stage in phasing out VHS by removing any remaining VHS titles from the shelves. By Jan. 1, all VHS titles will be gone from the library collections. Following this convocation, librarian faculty will be meeting with their respective school/department faculty to answer questions and begin the process.

While VHS tapes go away, we had quite a year last year … and here is a quick review of some highlights.

Our involvement often extends beyond our campus, and our activities touch lives – not only for Penn College students, but also for people of all ages throughout our greater community.

I want to talk for just a moment about our ongoing efforts in the area of diversity and cultural life. This is an area that we continue to grow and develop, and one that I hope you take notice of in the upcoming year.

We recently published a new Diversity and Cultural Life website that covers what are currently our four key areas of diversity outreach: religious life, multicultural awareness, gender awareness and GLBT services. We have another year of high-profile social and educational events planned that will continue our effort of creating a campus community where faculty, staff and students have an awareness of, and respect for, the diversity on our campus and in our community.

We are also excited to welcome Malinda Love, our new assistant director of student activities for diversity and cultural life, who joined us this summer from Missouri University of Science and Technology. If you have an interest in supporting the college’s effort in this area, please reach out to Malinda. As always, you can find her contact information on the Student Activities website or on the portal.

Our year will be filled with new opportunities and challenges.

All our activities take us back to our mission: to provide opportunities for lifelong, hands-on learning … impacting students, industries, even children.

We dedicated the Children’s Learning Center – the Robert and Maureen Dunham Center, named for our retiring board chair and his wife. They did so much for Penn College; we are most grateful.

Dr. Robert Secor was named the new chairman of our board and will continue to provide strong support for Penn College and our mission.

While we look toward the future, we connect to our history as we countdown to our centennial.

Watch for information on Homecoming this year, and let’s take a look back at some history as a reminder of where we have been.

For nearly 100 years, we’ve created opportunities out of challenges: World War I … the Great Depression … World War II … postwar recovery … the social change of the 1960s … economic challenges throughout our history (and today).

We’ve done more with less, all for the benefit of students whose lives were forever changed. We will continue to do so.

The world economic outlook is not without challenge today. We have to be self-sufficient, careful with our money, and steadfast to the values we cite for Penn College and ourselves.

Thanks to all of you, we are going to make history again this year in another way.

I am pleased to announce that donations to the 2011-12 Penn College Fund Employee Campaign totaled $108,708 – a 4.5-percent increase over the 2010-11 employee campaign. These funds will be put to good use by supporting scholarship awards, academic areas such as the library or the Dunham Children’s Learning Center, special initiatives in a school or a specific major, and the acquisition of new equipment and technology.

Gifts and pledges to the 2012-13 Penn College Fund Employee Campaign currently stand at $88,973. This is nearly $5,000 ahead of where the campaign was last year at this time. Since 1995, your generous support has brought the total cumulative employee giving to the Penn College Fund to over $1,070,000.

That means the Penn College Employee plate on the SASC Donor Wall will move to the Millionaires Society, the top level on our donor wall, in April.

In recognition of this generous support, we would like to invite employee representatives to our annual donor wall reception. At this April reception, we recognize donors whose names are being added to the wall and those moving up to a new level. In early March, we will select five employees who are Penn College Fund donors, by a random drawing, to attend this reception as representatives of the Penn College family.

Please watch for upcoming announcements on new scholarships being established by particular schools or departments. These new scholarships offer a unique opportunity for many to support majors or programs that have a special meaning to them. We have also seen an increase in participation in our scholarship program from business, industry and friends.

I am grateful for the support we have received from all employee donors. If you have questions about the Penn College Fund or designating your gift for a specific purpose, please contact the Office of Institutional Advancement.

Your generosity has contributed to our student success.

Student success depends upon our quality in the classroom. Facilities, laboratories, faculty, instruction, interaction – combined with development of individual – create the potential for success in the workplace and world.

The future is bright for us, but we must be mindful of the world around us. We must maintain an open environment, foster open dialogue and communication. If you see an issue or problem, bring it forward, use the ombudsman office, and do not let it go unchecked. Our future depends on us all making the right choices.

Last spring, the college announced employee reporting guidelines for incidents of child abuse.

This summer, we finalized employee reporting guidelines for both student sexual misconduct incidents and for student harassment and discrimination incidents.

And, later this semester, we will announce our reporting guidelines for campus crimes under the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act (commonly referred to as the Clery Act).

When something bad happens to students, they often reach out to those that they trust (their faculty, advisers, coaches, mentors or just someone that seems to care). In short, they will reach out to you! I would ask each of you to please make an effort to review these reporting guidelines, which are available on the Student Affairs departmental portal site. It is critical that we work to ensure that our campus community is as safe as possible, and that begins with creating an atmosphere in which crimes or other inappropriate behavior are addressed and dealt with immediately.

We’re providing degrees that work, meeting our long-held vision of being the state’s premier technical college. The question is, “Where do we go from here?”

A new vision statement will come before College Council this month. Our proposed new vision statement establishes a new direction for us: “Pennsylvania College of Technology, a national leader in applied technology education.” As we look to be a national leader, we need to keep our focus on our students and doing all we can to provide an exemplary educational experience, both inside and outside the classroom.

We are the best at what we do, and it should be our daily desire to share our story and tell the world. Tell the world that Penn College transforms lives; we are a place to make a difference.

Join me for an exciting and ever-challenging year as we continue to make our mark across the nation.

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