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President Urges Recommitment to Excellence, Student Success

(The following is drawn from remarks by Davie Jane Gilmour, Pennsylvania College of Technology president, during a Jan. 9 all-college meeting to begin the Spring 2009 semester.)

Good morning and Happy New Year.

I trust you all had a good holiday break and are ready to embrace a new semester and the year 2009. There are a number of things I would like to share with you today, important information about what is happening at Penn College and in the world around us.

Thank you to all who worked over the holiday to keep our campus safe and sound for our return. Student Life and Penn College Police launched a safety initiative prior to and during the holiday. You may recall that, last year, there were a series of break-ins at off-campus student apartments. This year, pre-holiday activities took place to ask students to prepare for the break by taking some precautions. Police went door-to-door with the distribution of a reference handout, Community Assistants (off-campus Resident Assistants distributed information to our landlords) and our police focused their patrols in the off-campus residential areas. These, in addition to our regular electronic communications with students, we hope made a difference. As of today, we have heard of only one problem. We hope, as students return, they find all is well in their living quarters.

Fall was a busy semester, in addition to the national and local elections that kept the news media busy. You would be hard-pressed not to have noticed the incredible success of our student athletes. We can be very proud: Four teams (golf, men’s soccer, men’s cross-country and tennis) won conference championships. Three teams (men’s and women’s soccer and men’s cross-country) were invited to the USCAA National Championship Tournaments and performed extremely well. Nineteen of our students were awarded All-Conference honors, nine received All-American status and 15 earned Academic All-Conference or Academic All-American honors.

Many of you may have had the opportunity to meet our new director of athletics, Doug Byerly, who joined us from Bucknell University. Doug has done an outstanding job this semester with all aspects of our athletic program. There is one area in which he needs your help. The one thing that we consistently hear from our student athletes is that they wish the faculty and staff with whom they work would come out and watch them play. They are proud of what they do, and they respect you. They want you to share in their experiences outside of the classroom. I would encourage each of you to make time in your schedule to attend at least one sporting event this semester and find out if any of your students play intercollegiate athletics. This semester’s schedules will be handed out as you leave the auditorium. Our education extends beyond the borders of the classrooms and labs, and I think you will be amazed and proud of our students in action.

Our Stage X building program is alive and well. We remain fortunate that our building program can move forward. Some have asked could we take that money and use it for operating expenses (to avoid making other budget cuts); the answer is “No.” We are required to use these funds for capital improvements. Fortunately, our bids came in under original estimates; we are pleased with the bids and look forward to giving our Pennsylvania contractors the opportunity to provide employment for many workers as we move to improve our campus. As I have said before, there will be challenges. Our first will be parking and making room for contractor vehicles, job trailers and building materials. Remember the adage: temporary inconvenience, permanent improvement.

One change related to Stage X relates to the Career Expo this spring.

To address the loss of the former library space and to improve other aspects of the Expo, Career Services is pleased to announce a new and improved format for future expos, starting in March. The Spring 2009 career expo will move to a two-day event (March 24-25). Features of this new format include the following changes:

  • The Penn College Career Expo will become the Penn College Career Fair.
  • Expanded hours will be offered on main campus.
  • Employers have the choice of one or two days for the main campus fair.
  • A centralized main campus location will be used for the Career Fair. All main campus activities will take place in the Bush Campus Center.
  • Employer and employee check-in will be centralized, as well

We believe that this plan is the most attractive alternative in light of the current constraints of physical space, while holding distinct advantages for all stakeholders, as well. A change of this magnitude is not without its challenges, and we ask for your support and assistance as we move forward. If you have questions or concerns related to the Expo changes, please feel free to contact Career Services. More details will be available from Career Services as the semester gets under way.

Many college graduates are not finding the employment they desire, we continue to hear this is not the case for the most part for our graduates and this Career Fair is an important step in that employment-seeking process. It is important that we monitor the Career Fair and the opportunities available to students. Our reputation for providing “degrees that work” will suffer greatly if we do not do everything we can especially in a turbulent economy to help our students and graduates connect with prospective employers. We want to make sure our graduates continue to find success in the workplace.

Green is the color of this New Year and for our future. Whether it is our prominent role in working with the natural-gas industry as we position Central Pennsylvania and Penn College for the Marcellus Shale gas exploration/drilling or with our own conservation of materials and resources, green activities, recycling and energy-related activities are key to our future. Please visit PCToday to review a preliminary list of activities across campus. Get informed, participate and stay informed. I expect some of you will be surprised with all that is happening on campus and this is a “preliminary” list. Watch the portal for updates and more information as we move to green as our favorite color!

If green will be our favorite color in the future, “assessment” will be our daily word. Thank you for the progress you are making on assessment of learning outcomes. I know that many of you are involved in course- and program-based assessments with focus on improving the learning experience for our students. For those who have not begun participation, I encourage you to do so. It is smart business and truly is part of our everyday life at Penn College.

I understand that, following this meeting, the faculty will gather to take a closer look at using the National Survey of Student Engagement results. The review and analysis of the data we have from the NSSE tells us that each of us can do even more to affect real positive differences in the lives and learning of our students. Your personal involvement in this effort is important and I trust that you will engage fully in the discussion process.

While I ask you to engage in discussion, we know today that young people engage daily or hourly in the social-networking realm. This week, Penn College launched its first official social-networking presence on Facebook. This new communications medium allows prospective students to interact with the college in a setting in which many of them are very familiar and use on a regular basis. Visitors will find Penn College Web resources, videos, PCToday articles, upcoming events and more on the page, including The Wall where they can post comments and questions. How many of you have a Facebook site? If you have a Facebook profile, help spread the word of this new venture by becoming a Fan of the page. Watch for other additions to Facebook and other social-networking sites.

Our lives involve working and living with young people. Even if we don’t consider ourselves Facebook fans, it is important that we know how to communicate with those whose lives we influence every day. Recently, I was introduced to a YouTube video entitled “A Vision of Students Today,” produced by students at Kansas State University. The video brings the viewer face-to-face with the challenges we as educators have in communicating with a generation that is immersed in technology and frustrated by a system of education that fails to prove its relevance in a modern world.

I strongly believe that we at Penn College are in a position to greatly influence the future for our students and to influence the workplace of tomorrow. If America is to be a world leader for the future, we must have a vibrant workplace. As educators, we must be committed to engaging young people so that they realize their potential. If you’re not convinced of the urgency of our mission, take a look at the video on YouTube. It’s an eye-opener.

As we think about influencing future generations, I am reminded that the Penn College family recently lost two longtime members who undoubtedly influenced many of us. Dr. William Sprinsky died on Nov. 11. Bill was a character he always called me “Ma’am” even after I repeatedly told him that was not necessary, and who could forget his ever-present pipe! Bill was a wonderful faculty member; he will be missed. On Feb. 4, Bill will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors and the college will be well-represented. Ann Durinzi died just last week. Ann, too, was a character, and, if you asked anyone who worked with her in her various roles in Academic Affairs, they will tell you of her “diligence,” shall I say, with the budget, part-time and overload and just about anything else she did. I will always remember her scripted initial, with the smiley face added for distinction. Ann will be missed and was celebrated in a funeral service with her family and friends last Saturday.

As many of you know, we have a remembrance garden built by students just east of the Building Technologies Center. This garden honors students and employees who passed away while enrolled or employed. Just this fall, Barry Stiger and I were discussing creating a place on campus where retirees, like Ann and Bill, could be remembered along with alumni and friends of the college. I am happy to tell you we are planning such a place and hope to have it available in the fall. This announcement might come as a surprise to our General Services folks, but Mike, Andrea and Walt, rest assured: We will be in touch for you to work with the Institutional Advancement office in the planning and design.

Monday, Jan. 19, is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. About this time every year, I am usually asked one of two questions: “Are we closing?” Or, “What is Penn College doing to celebrate?”

This year, Penn College will participate in the King Day of Service. Initiated by Congress in 1994, King Day of Service is a nationwide effort to transform the federal holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. into a day of community service, grounded in Dr. King’s teachings, that helps solve social problems.

Penn College will participate with the City of Williamsport, AmeriCorps and STEP, Inc. in the first Martin Luther King Jr. Day Peace Walk on Jan. 19. After the walk, participants will have the opportunity to engage in various community-service programs throughout the Williamsport area.

Prior to the march, the college’s Cultural Life Committee will sponsor a breakfast celebration that will feature Dr. Terrell Jones, vice provost for educational equity at Penn State University, speaking about Dr. King and his influence upon our nation.

The Cultural Life Committee also will sponsor two programs by nationally known lecturer Tim Wise on “White Privilege” an open lecture on Wednesday, Jan, 21, and a professional-development program on Thursday, Jan. 22.

When you leave today, you’ll receive a handout with more details on all these programs. These are important programs, relating to important issues. I would encourage you all to participate and please encourage student participation, as well.

As many of you know, one of the most significant additions to student life over the past year has been the expansion of Greek life. We now have three recognized fraternities: Phi Mu Delta, Sigma Nu and Chi Phi. We are looking forward to what these students will bring to the college in the areas of service to our community, scholarship to their members and positive social opportunities for the campus. Academically, the Greeks did very well, all three organizations’ members’ semester grade-point averages exceeded the college GPA for all males and all females.

We are now in the process of inviting national and international sororities to visit campus. Three groups will interview: Delta Phi Epsilon, Alpha Sigma Alpha and Sigma Sigma Sigma. We will select groups from these interviews to start recruiting female students in the fall. Faculty and staff are welcome and encouraged to attend the sorority presentations and to give input to the selection. Watch for the portal announcements for the times, dates and locations of those presentations.

Now “¦ let’s talk about the elephant in the room: the economy. We already have experienced budget cuts from the commonwealth, reducing our current year’s budget by more than $800,000. I want to thank our cost-center administrators for creatively rethinking their budget needs and I want to thank all of you for doing your part to reduce costs and balance our budget in spite of the midyear cuts in our state appropriation.

The December President’s Forum was dedicated to the topic of cost savings. Great ideas were generated and are being fully explored or implemented. Among them was a suggestion to reduce costs for printing and mailing One College Avenue especially since we launched an online version of the publication in 2008. We have contracted production at a specified quantity through this spring; but we have every intention of reducing quantities of the magazine by summer. So, you’ll be seeing just one magazine delivered to each department; you’ll not be receiving a copy at home if you work on campus even if you happen to be an alumni or donor. We appreciate the suggestion to reduce our costs of production and we strongly encourage you to read One College Avenue online where you will also find “Web exclusives” that are not featured in the print version of the magazine.

Rumors are a part of life, and I hear many on any number of topics. This past fall, two particular rumors were buzzing about campus. The first was that I wanted my legacy to be a conversion of Penn College to a full Penn State campus and the second was that we already were taking steps to make that change. I have issues with these false reports on two fronts. First, I am not quite old enough at least I do not think so to be discussing legacy; 55 years of age is fairly young by today’s standards (I hope). And second, I cannot imagine why we would want to change our status. We play a unique and important role in the Penn State system and we are in a position to respond with great flexibility to the needs of our students and our local community. We are independent, we pay no one at the university for services, we can establish our own curriculum portfolio and we set our own tuition (lower than Penn State’s). So I am clueless as to the justification for these rumors. Let me say emphatically: I am proud of Penn College for what we have been, for we are today and what we are yet to become under our own identity. So much for the rumors. Don’t trust the grapevine; ask the right people and you’ll get an honest answer.

Believe it or not, July 1, 2009, will mark the 20th anniversary of the establishment of Pennsylvania College of Technology. How many of you in the room were here for that historic event? The affiliation with Penn State was a monumental step for our growing college; there were many questions, many uncertainties at that time. But I suspect that each you who lived through that time would say that these 20 years have been good ones and that we feel blessed to have been part of such an incredible story of success.

I think it is important that we look back once in a while, just to encourage ourselves to move forward. That can be especially true when times are tough.

There was an uninvited guest at our new-year celebrations in 2009 it was the growing concern about our economy and our future.

Families, organizations and governments (even us here at Penn College) all overburdened by rising costs, and uncertainty about living and doing business in a changing world wonder if there was any reason to celebrate.

When difficult times arise, human nature compels us to look for someone or something to blame. When fingers point in many directions without resolving any of the challenges before us, we experience a failure of confidence on many levels.

None of us is blind to the facts. It will take great deal of personal commitment and patriotism to restore our confidence, our communities and our country.

The good news is: history is filled with stories of Americans facing challenges and finding new paths to success. Giving up is not the American way; it is not the Penn College way.

American institutions government, business, industry and higher education must be advocates for positive change. By acting as partners in their communities, we can play vital roles in restoring the well-being of our workforce and the confidence of our citizens.

Penn College is a modern iteration of “the Williamsport Plan,” a nationally recognized program developed to fight the effects of the Great Depression. The idea of partnering education and industry to support workforce development a basic foundation of our college mission today was unique in the 1930s and 40s.

It is our challenge now to inspire the vision, develop the strength of character and encourage the persistence required to succeed in a changing world. Our leaders must join hands to restore greatness to our community. Our goal must be to increase opportunities for our citizens. We must encourage the growth of business and industry. We must ensure that local residents have access to job training and education that can help them secure employment that offers family-sustaining wages. We must provide higher education to inspire hopes of advancement for those who live and work in our local community.

It will not be easy. Mending broken systems and building bridges that will carry us into the future will require some heavy lifting. We must be prepared to reinvest in ourselves and in each other. We cannot afford to do the same things we have always done and expect different results. It is time to re-educate ourselves so that we know how to live in a world that has drastically changed.

This is a defining moment in time for Penn College. Your challenge and mine in 2009 is to be a part of the solution. How are we to do that?

First and foremost, be good stewards of the resources we have. Think twice before we “need” to purchase or “toss” something. If you do not need it, does someone else across campus? Are you doing all you can on a daily basis to maximize your personal productivity?

I spent a good deal of my holiday with family and friends, but, in between too many cookies and cheesecake, I spent time reviewing numbers, budgets, projections and plans. Eleven years ago, I stood at this podium and refused to discuss numbers, enrollment and budget. No more lectures on credit hours, FTE and “rounding up students.” I firmly believed that, if we took care of the students we have, do our jobs and work to make Penn College the best that is can be, we would have enrollment, success and make a difference in the world. I still believe I was right, and am proud of what we did. Then, external forces brought us to this day.

Today, if I were not to discuss the economy and budgets, I would be irresponsible. It is imperative for us to face the reality at hand and to take care of the students we have.

To date, the commonwealth has rescinded 6 percent of our appropriated funding. I want to quantify that for you. In real money that will not come to the college this year, totals $869,520. I compared employee salaries to tuition in my last address, so let me apply the tuition formula again. The loss of revenue is equal to the revenue generated by the tuition of 152 full-time students. To help you put that number in even better perspective, 152 is equal to all of the students in the accounting associate degree, electrical technology associate degree, occupational therapy assisting associate degree and aviation technology associate degree added together. I give you this example as a way to explain how enrollment and the appropriation affect revenue. You see, when we see a reduction in revenue be it from a loss of state appropriation or a decline in enrollment we must reduce our expenses equally. The budget must balance. If we are to grow, we must do so under our own initiative; we cannot count on taxpayer dollars to sustain future growth.

I do not expect that this is a short-term challenge. The governor will reveal next year’s state budget in February, so we wait to learn from where we start in 2009-10. We are not alone and I submit to you, we’re better off than many colleges and universities across the country. Some of you have forwarded to me notices from your alma maters with their financial problems and what they are doing about it. Others, I am certain, have read the recent Chronicle of Higher Education that outlines the results of a survey showing a cross section of what is happening across the country.

We are better off. More than anything, I want to stand before you today and tell you no one will lose his or her job. I don’t have a crystal ball and I cannot make such a guarantee. What I can say is that I firmly believe we can keep everyone who is currently employed full time, employed. Everyone may not be in the same chair they are in today, but my goal is to maintain employment for all. In addition, raises have gotten a great deal of attention in the press lately, and I know that is on everyone’s minds. I intend to begin to build the budget including increments raises for everyone. I have committed myself to treating employees of all classifications equally and I am not willing to waver on that. We will maintain our benefits and even explore new ones as the opportunities present themselves.

To do this, you and I face the challenge to make it happen. So, I encourage each and every one of you today: be the first not the last to make a difference. If you see a way to save money, tell us; if you can do more work, tell us. It is our responsibility to ensure that this institution survives in order to serve our students and our community. I fully believe we will be here to celebrate many more anniversaries; but, just as we have changed tremendously over the years past, we must be willing as an institution and as individuals to continue to change to ensure our future.

As we build our next budget, we must keep any tuition increase to a minimum. Enrollment drives our budget every single student is important. We will not lower our standards, we will not compromise; but we must get creative, we must all accept the role of “marketer and recruiter” and realize that our actions often speak louder than our words.

One of my other holiday-break activities was a complete cleanout of all closets. Very satisfying work, but tedious and not always what I wanted to be doing. We all need to clean out our closets, literally and figuratively. Dust off old ideas, retest them, find new ones and be willing to part with the unworkable or overly burdensome to make room for new processes, products and opportunities.

Many of you work to heroic efforts. All of us need to work to that level every single day. We will emerge from this as a stronger, more agile institution of higher learning, focused on our mission and our students. We will look different because we took a hard look at our programs and services, made the changes needed, and were willing to take on new opportunities with optimism and excitement. For the few of you who spend your days complaining and you know who you are the jig is up. Our glass is half-full and I suspect you will be getting the peer pressure necessary to modify your approach “¦ or look out! We will move forward with or without you.

Today, we have examined the reality of the economy and the impact on Penn College. I want to leave you with some good news.

I want to tell you about a student, a veteran who has been in touch and what came of his contact. This is not a statement for or against war, but a real story of Penn College pride, worth telling over and over again.

In June, we received an unusual request from Robert A. Miller, a previous Highest Honors Graduate of Penn College, as well as a current student. At the time, he was serving with the Pennsylvania National Guard in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

Robert noted that, on some bases in Afghanistan, banners representing the soldiers’ colleges were being displayed and he wondered if we could provide a Penn College banner for his base. We responded quickly and in a big way. We did not send a pennant, but a real honest-to-goodness banner, and, after much correspondence, we agreed that Robert would collect signatures on the banner of other current or former students serving our country in the area.

Michael A. Johnston, a current welding student, Jeffrey T. Tudor, a welding graduate and current student, Bryan N. Laughbach, a current heavy equipment student, Edward T. Bendas, a former landscaping student, Trevor A. Sheleman, a current construction student, and Guston Bird, a current information technology student, along with Robert, had their photos taken with the banner and autographed it for us. Robert made our day when he arrived on campus just before we closed for the holiday and presented us with the banner; he hopes to resume his studies this spring. The banner will be part of a campus display honoring veterans. As of late fall, Joann Kay had certified 160 veterans for enrollment. In November and December, we saw a huge surge in veterans coming to (or returning to) Penn College from Afghanistan. As of today, we have approximately 40 new veterans coming to Penn College this spring. Staff in Financial Aid have been working very hard to get their financial aid and veteran’s benefits in line so they can attend school. We are serving a total of almost 200 veterans.

By the way, Robert Miller is not only a student but the spouse of Shawnalee Miller, who works in Academic Support Services.

As we read about colleges and universities losing investment money, losing money to the Commonfund, I want to share some news with you that is very positive for Penn College. I have been asked if our scholarships still will be available given the investment returns we have all seen and the overall economic impact on fundraising. I am thrilled to tell you that, because of sound management of our funds, we are in very good shape for at least three years to award all of our scholarships without ever having to sell a security. That is very good news for our students and one more example of sound planning for the unplanned rainy day.

Finally, I want to applaud all of you in this room.

Halfway through the year, employee support of the Annual Fund is continuing to soar.

This week, the 2008-09 Annual Fund Employee Campaign reached a total of $78,602. That’s nearly $8,000 more than the previous record for the employee campaign ($70,706, in 2006-07), and there are several months still to go in the current campaign.

There also are a new record number of employees supporting the Annual Fund 350 so far this year, up from 311 last year.

You can all be very proud of what you’re accomplishing. Students are facing unprecedented economic challenges, and your support of the Annual Fund helps them meet those challenges.

Contact annual giving officer Jim Finkler if you have any questions about the Annual Fund Employee Campaign.

Let’s face the coming year as a solid team committed to our students, to excellence in the classroom and the further success of Penn College. Collectively, there is nothing we cannot face. I ask each of you: When you leave here today, recommit to Penn College. Make every minute and action count. Help us stick to our mission; our graduates’ degrees that work start with you!

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