Skip to main content

President Welcomes Year of ‘New Ideas, New Approaches, Constant Questioning’

Detailing a variety of initiatives to bolster the Pennsylvania College of Technology community – including intervention for students in mental-health crisis, emergency funds for employees beset by challenges and a call for civility toward one another – President Davie Jane Gilmour opened the Spring 2017 semester with an all-college address to faculty and staff. With vision enhanced by 39 years on campus, she also looked optimistically toward meeting tomorrow’s challenges together. “I have been through more difficult times than we face today. What encourages me is all of you – your commitment, your passion and your support,” the president said. “Let us join energy and work to make 2017 a year for the record books for Penn College. Success is not enough; we need to thrive to attain our vision as a national leader in applied technology education.”

The following is drawn from President Gilmour’s remarks at a Jan. 6 gathering in the Klump Academic Center Auditorium:

Happy New Year!

I gave this message a great deal of thought. Doing something different was on top of my agenda. I confess that, as I gathered the notes and announcements, I gave full consideration to parading the originators to the stage for them to announce the items. Then, I thought – “the provost” – he could make these announcements. I did not ask him or suggest it, as I thought better of that idea. I do not need an announcement-maker. Maybe an email to all of you would work – or PCToday. But as I reviewed the items, I realized as president, these all mean something to me. They are important, and, if I take a few minutes today to share them with you, they may become important to you, as well.

The college, along with the Beloved Community Council, Lycoming College and STEP AmeriCorps, is joining for our annual Dream Week celebration. We encourage staff and faculty to participate in our Peace Walk and Martin Luther King Day of Service on Monday, Jan. 16. We will also welcome the Rev. Dr. Jamie Washington as our honored keynote Dream Week speaker on Thursday, Jan. 19, for both a professional-development session and a keynote evening address. Details for all of these events and more can be found on the portal. I will be participating in the Peace Walk and encourage you to attend, as well. If there is one thing 2016 taught us all, it’s that we need to continue to strive for civility, peace and respect.

Students and staff are selling yellow ribbons outside the auditorium this morning in anticipation of our Yell(ow)-It-Out, men’s and women’s basketball games on Wednesday, Jan. 25. The games are in support of suicide awareness. Staff and faculty who purchase a ribbon can participate in a dress-down day on the Wednesday of the games. Proceeds go to our local chapter, the Lycoming County Suicide Prevention Coalition, and don’t forget to wear yellow. We lost two students this past semester to suicide. This is a tragedy in our society and right here on our campus. You can help; join us in the fight and remember to listen, reach out and help those in need.

The mental health of our students continues to be a priority, and the additional losses our college and community suffered to suicide this fall remain a stark reminder. The data tells us that student mental-health issues are on the rise, but it also tells us that there are predictable indicators of a student in need of support and intervention. All of us must be observant and responsive to those around us, recognizing the signs of distress and how those signs can come to compound one another over time. Faculty, who have the privilege of establishing long-term relationships with students, are uniquely positioned to both observe and intervene, but we can all make a difference.

The principle is simple: When you see something, say something. If students don’t seem themselves – if they’re routinely missing class or not turning in assignments, if they seem to lack connection or have lost motivation – talk to them. Ask them how they are doing; if they say, “Fine,” tell them what you’ve noticed and see if the answer changes. Questioning shows caring. 

As you question, communicate. Submit a MAPWorks referral with your observations, check in with colleagues to see if they have noticed similar changes in the student’s demeanor, and share what you know. Often, it is not one big indicator, but a series of several smaller indicators that reveal a student in need.

Finally, get the student connected.

MAPWorks is one avenue, but also remember that students can benefit from a vast network of support that includes counseling services, health services, the Academic Success Center and others. Connection can bring hope, and we know that hope saves lives.

For some, questioning and referring can feel overwhelming or intimidating. For this, there is training. I encourage you to take advantage of the professional-development opportunities available to build the skills and confidence necessary to effectively intervene. In particular, I encourage you to consider becoming QPR-certified. QPR – Question, Persuade, Refer – is an evidence-based training program that empowers everyday people to step in when they notice someone experiencing depression or having suicidal thoughts. I have completed this training myself, as have all members of President’s Council, Dean’s Council, Student Affairs, Enrollment Management and several academic departments. To date, 637 people on our campus have become QPR-certified, and I encourage you to do the same.  

Counselors will be visiting school meetings in the coming days, providing an excellent tip sheet on making referrals, as well as a small batch of counseling referral cards you can keep on hand to share with students in need. I encourage you to use these cards as often as you notice a need for them, and I assure you that Counseling Services will be happy to re-supply you with new cards.

Since The Cupboard at Penn College opened to support our students with food insecurity, you have responded with not only gifts of cash, but many of you also buy groceries to fill the shelves of The Cupboard when you fill your weekly grocery order. This is an important initiative on campus. I am not confident, in spite of our best efforts, that students are aware of The Cupboard and the resources. I have asked each member of President’s Council to adopt one day a week to supplement the hours of The Cupboard with late-afternoon hours. I hope that expanding the hours will allow more students to access the food, and I encourage you to continue to support this great resource on campus. Watch for announcements of the expanded hours.

Mark your calendars for Friday, May 19, from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. for the annual employee picnic. We will celebrate the end of another academic year with a picnic catered by Acme Barbecue. There will be Quizzo, bingo and raffle prizes, and you will be able to earn extra raffle tickets by donating nonperishable food items to support The Cupboard.

Speaking of summer, July 4 falls on a Tuesday this year. We have made the decision that July 3 will also be a day off for all of us. I wanted you to know for planning purposes: the college will observe the holiday on July 3 and 4. More information will be coming with the official 2017-18 holiday schedule.

When members of the Penn College community realized losses from the flooding last fall, you responded by making gifts to the Penn College Emergency Relief Fund and by supporting the mug auction in the gallery, which raised over $800 to support this fund. I want to thank Dave Stabley for organizing the event and the faculty for creating the one-of-a-kind mugs that were sold via silent auction. We have established procedures for an ongoing emergency fund through the Penn College Foundation.

We have asked the Compassion Leave Committee to oversee the fund, and we stand ready to help our Penn College family members should the need arise. Thank you again for your generosity and support.

The Financial Aid Office staff is again coordinating their very successful February dress-down day fundraiser. Previously, they raised enough money to endow the Mary Beth Saar Memorial Scholarship. This year, it is again raising funds to support the Penn College Patriot Scholarship with Red White and Blue Jean Monday. Thanks to underwriting from The College Store and its vendors, all funds raised through these T-shirt sales benefit our veteran students. Pre-orders for T-shirts totaled 105 just before the holiday break, and there is still time to participate in this effort – check the portal for details. Financial Aid staff members are modeling the T-shirts today.

When asked if I would continue the current dress-down Fridays, the decision was easy – yes, it remains one of the most popular decisions I have made as president. (I hope there are a few others!) One note please: We are asking people to be reasonable; we may have gotten a little too casual for Fridays this past fall. Please use good judgment. However, this is one decision I am smart enough not to change.

Penn College continues to participate in the Lycoming County Insurance Consortium’s wellness program known as BeHIP (Better Health Incentive Program). This is a voluntary program for all insured employees and their spouses and is going on through July 31. You can earn points in a wide assortment of wellness categories to accommodate a variety of fitness levels and interests. There are three different levels of points, which result in a tier of reimbursements of $150, $225 or $300. If you want to learn more about the BeHIP program, our LCIC Wellness Coordinator, Carmen Terry, is set up outside of the auditorium to provide you with information on the program. She will be available after this meeting if anyone is in need of more one-on-one assistance.

In order to be competitive, responsive to trends, able to meet student needs and fill industry workforce demands, the world of higher education demands us to be creative and ever-evolving in the work that we do every day. One of the things at Penn College that remains the same through our evolution to become a national leader in applied technology education is your commitment to give back to our students. Since the 2016-17 Penn College Fund employee campaign kicked off last April:

  • 19 employees became first-time donors
  • 75 employees increased their gifts
  • 345 total employees have given $139,079

With the generous support that employees have shown this year, I am thrilled to share with you that cumulative employee giving to Penn College has surpassed $2 million – $2,135,000 has directly affected the lives of our students because of your generosity and, for that, I thank you.

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. Gifts to the Penn College Fund can support any area of the college that you choose. 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 of our students.

Intellectual property surrounds us. It touches our lives. Just stop for a moment and look around.

  • Can you see anything not created by someone else?
  • Can you share someone else’s email?
  • Can you scan an article and put it on your online course page?
  • Can you download a favorite song and share it with a group of friends?
  • Can you make a 3-D copy of that object?
  • Can you post your media remix on YouTube?
  • Is it OK to share that news article on your website?

We want to respect the rights of creators and be sure we are ethically and legally using these protected works. The Copyright and Fair Use Advisory Group, in coordination with the Madigan Library and Human Resources, invites you to attend an interactive presentation in which a group of panelists – Austin White, attorney, McCormick Law Firm; Bernard Oravec, publisher of the Williamsport Sun-Gazette; David Whitnack, operations director, the Community Arts Center; Eric Albert, Penn College faculty, the Machine Tool/Automated Manufacturing Program; and Kevin Derr, Penn College faculty, the Legal Assistant Program – will introduce topics pertaining to intellectual property and the use of third-party works. Members of the panel, as well as the audience, can add to the discussion by contributing their own comments or experiences and asking questions. Mark your calendars for Tuesday, April 11, from 3 to 5:30 p.m. in Penn’s Inn.

The annual Summer Teaching Institute will be held May 16-17. We are pleased to announce that Rose Cameron, director of online and outreach innovation at Penn State, will be the keynote speaker. Rose is a dynamic presenter whose expertise focuses on the differences between genders and generations. She will address the complexities of teaching and learning with our current student population, Generation Z and Millennials. Please watch for announcements about registering for the Summer Teaching Institute through the Professional Development Office.

When I think about what keeps us headed in the right direction for the future it is our Mission, Vision and Values. In addition, we have added Points of Distinction that we share periodically to remind us all of what makes Penn College a special place.  I do hope you take time to read and articulate those points.

This past fall, College Council worked hard to provide us yet another opportunity to distinguish ourselves and commit to a common statement of purpose. In your mailbox today, you will receive a copy of the Penn College Community Pledge.  I encourage you to display the pledge, which you will see in publications and across campus, and to embrace the statements and standards. Let us make models for our students and each other.

Now, this is when I am to smoothly switch gears and move into the motivation, goal-setting and inspiring part of my message. Trust me, there is no adequate transition – it is an annual challenge.

I am going to share an interesting story. We held our commencement ceremony on Dec. 17 amid dire weather predictions. We committed to the day for our students and families … and we made the right decision. Yes, it was a bit slippery early in the morning, but, by 10 a.m., things were fine. We conducted our awards ceremony and readied ourselves for a great commencement. I went down to the lobby early and awaited the others from the platform party. We took pictures; Sen. Yaw tweeted photos of our graduation speaker. I took a seat on the bench in the lobby and happened to be alone. A guest walked over to me and said, “Congratulations; it is nice to see someone your age completing your college degree.” I looked up at him and said, “Thank you.”

A few minutes passed, and I let the others in on my accomplishment of the day, and we all laughed. What went through my mind is first, how kind he was. Second, how old I must look. Third, what his reaction would be when I would be introduced at the podium. And, finally, how those nontraditional students must really feel among the young people.

I must say it was a fitting end to the semester, and we had a rousing ceremony complete with Darth Vader and Santa Claus in the end.

Many days I feel like the resident historian. To my colleagues in the history department, I do not mean as you are, but as the college historian. In November, I began my 39th year at the college. That brings many thoughts to my mind. It is flattering to be here, alive and well. It has been a fascinating journey to work through two college entities, a sponsorship crisis, two presidents and our move to baccalaureate and, now, graduate degrees. Personally, many hair colors, styles and glasses – and three name changes for me. I often get the question, “Do you remember?”

“Why did ‘they’ do this?” “Do you have a copy of the 1986 memo from Academic Standards and Issues?” Seriously?

In 2017, I do not want to be a historian. History is important, but, right now, my eyes are on the future, and I would like to write some. There is a quote by an unknown person I will modify that says, “There is a reason the rear-view mirror is smaller than the windshield – where we are headed is much more important that where we have been.”

We have big issues in our future. The Penn College curriculum portfolio boasts recession-proof majors. That positions us for continued success, even when our educational counterparts are struggling. Yet, we know there is a cost for our distinctive programming. Equipment, talented faculty, student support, dedicated facilities. We all read daily about fixed costs. In our own homes, we see what we can and cannot control. Just this week, talk began in New York about “free college.” I am confident everyone in the room realizes that nothing is free. Someone pays for everything. 

When I think about Penn College, I think about our Mission, Vision and Values and, most of all, our people. We strive daily to put students first. I try to say, “How can we do something?” instead of “No.” We know that engagement in campus life is important for our students, and it is for all of us, as well. Have you attended an athletic event? If you have not witnessed a capstone presentation, you are missing a real treat.  Some of you in the room have never helped with an Open House or Welcome Weekend. There are valuable roles to play on those days for all of us, making an impact with our prospective students and their parents.

There is no question that enrollment is vital to our continued success. Why? With educating our students, we are continuing the legacy of Penn College providing the world with women and men with well-rounded educations contributing to society, clearly creating a future for us and for others. We strive to keep tuition low, continually focusing on quality and outcomes to celebrate our success.

This is how we distinguish ourselves. Our success takes all of us. We need new ideas, new approaches and constant questioning, “How, why and why not?”  In 2017, I am going to ask more questions – push all of you, and myself, for more than success – and you all need to do the same. To accomplish our strategic plan, we need to do more and do better.

For this semester, tuition deposits are down by 10 percent, or 41 students, compared to last spring. For Fall 2017, applications received to date are down by 5 percent, or 158 students. There is no question that Enrollment Management and Public Relations & Marketing are addressing this issue. We all need to do our part.

I remain eternally optimistic about our mission and our vision. I, too, remain optimistic about our future. I am up for the challenge of funding, enrollment and resources. In those “history” years I referenced earlier, I have been through more difficult times than we face today. What encourages me is all of you – your commitment, your passion and your support.

Let us join energy and work to make 2017 a year for the record books for Penn College. Success is not enough; we need to thrive to attain our vision as a national leader in applied technology education. Join me; I look forward to the journey.