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Semester of ‘exploration, cooperation and collaboration’ begins

With the undeniable promise (and inevitable hiccups) of the 2019-20 year front and center on the agenda, Pennsylvania College of Technology President Davie Jane Gilmour met with faculty and staff Thursday morning to chart a confident course for the fall semester. After recapping a typically busy summer – marked by newsworthy accomplishments across the board, some of them record-breaking – she closed with a deliberative strategy for navigating the not-so-smooth path. “We have serious challenges ahead,” the president told her all-college audience in the Klump Academic Center Auditorium, “and we can meet them with a commitment to our mission and to continued exploration, cooperation and collaboration. It will require careful and measured use of our resources. I have full faith that we will respond to the urgency at hand.”

The following is drawn from President Gilmour’s Aug. 15 remarks:

Welcome back. I hope you all had a wonderful summer. Around campus, the summer was busy, and you will certainly hear about many of the things going on in the next few minutes.

We lost an icon this summer; the passing of Veronica Muzic was difficult for all who were privileged to know her. Veronica was the epitome of the “Master Teacher,” an outstanding administrator and, overall, a wise and amazing woman. Many described her as “a force.” With that, I completely agree. I miss her and think of her often. There are two places on campus where you can take time to reflect in her honor: at Veronica’s Garden on the second floor of the Student & Administrative Services Center – a beautiful indoor garden created by our talented grounds staff – and at a tree planted in her memory outside the Klump Academic Center.

When we last gathered in this auditorium, we recognized retirees, Quarter Century Club members, Distinguished Staff, Assessment Award winners and part-time faculty. At our Spring Commencement ceremonies later that week, we recognized our full-time faculty. The Veronica M. Muzic Master Teacher Award went to Ryan Good; selected for Excellence in Teaching Awards were Drew Potts, David Richards and Terri Stone (Terri was presented with her award last Saturday at Summer Commencement.)

Paul Starkey and Naim Jabbour have returned to faculty roles to pursue their passions within the classroom, and Lisa Andrus announced last week that she has accepted a leadership position at a college in Tennessee. This presented us with an opportunity to review sustainable models and to address mission-critical needs.

For the School of Business & Hospitality, Tom Gregory will assume interim dean responsibilities for one year. This will provide the necessary time and support to ensure our Business & Hospitality initiatives continue to move forward, as well as to evaluate our long-term needs.

With Naim returning to faculty, the School of Construction & Design Technologies modified its leadership model and replaced the assistant dean position with a coordinator of matriculation and academic operations. Phil Berry recently began in this role.

Sue Kelley began her tenure as dean of the School of Sciences, Humanities & Visual Communications on July 1.

With Tommy Gregory assuming interim dean responsibilities and Paul Starkey returning to faculty, this presented an opportunity to realign Academic Affairs. A more sustainable, mission-focused leadership structure was chosen, featuring a vice president for academic affairs/provost, dean of curriculum and instruction, and assistant dean of academic operations. In July, Mike Reed accepted the role of provost and, last week, Joanna Flynn accepted the role of dean of curriculum and instruction. The assistant dean of academic operations position is currently being advertised.

Something new that Mike is doing this year: On Friday, from 10-11:30 a.m. in the One College Club portion of Le Jeune Chef, there will be a Coffee & Conversation event with the new provost, reinforcing our commitment to transparency and collaboration.

We have experienced a record-breaking year across campus – creating endless opportunities for our students. Thanks to your collaborations with our Institutional Advancement team this past year, commitments from alumni, corporate partners, employees, parents and friends totaled $6.6 million, the largest amount raised to date in a single year. This generosity inspires me. Every dollar raised benefits future generations of tomorrow makers.

Donors enabled the Penn College Foundation to increase the budget for scholarship awards from $767,000 in 2018-19 to an anticipated $1.1 million in this academic year. The Golf Classic alone experienced another record-breaking year, topping $125,000 in revenue for the endowed fund that now generates more than $65,000 annually for scholarships.

Penn College at Wellsboro, The Woodlands Bank Innovation Lab, the Shell Polymers Rotational Molding Center of Excellence, UPMC Field and our newly equipped welding labs are all opportunities created thanks to donor support.

Thank you all for your many forms of contributions to our students each year.

Alumni Relations and Enrollment Management are teaming up to engage alumni in the recruitment process. To date, more than 130 alumni have joined the Tomorrow Makers program to identify and recruit the next generation of students. Alumni are some of our best advocates, and we look forward to the progress that the outreach to their personal and professional networks will make.

In June 2019, Workforce Development was recognized for its intense work in developing quality apprenticeships with an award of nearly $8 million over four years for one of only 23 grants funded in the United States to expand apprenticeships. Administered by Penn College and shared with our partner, New Jersey Institute of Technology, this grant, known as MIDAS, will serve more than 3,200 apprentices. The apprentices trained by Penn College are required to be employees of the companies served. I repeat – apprentices are working people. MIDAS is focused on advanced manufacturing in occupations such as CNC, mechatronics and plastics processing technician, among others. MIDAS programs will also serve nontechnical topics such as project management and supervisory skills.

At Penn College, we help companies address skill shortages. Our graduates fill critical needs for new hires and we offer the existing workforce a continuum of education and training opportunities to improve competencies.

One very important piece of the apprenticeship credo at Penn College is that apprentices will have a credit pathway defined for them. This key component of all Workforce Development grant proposals resonates strongly with funders. Will all apprentices take advantage of credit opportunities? No. Are some of them already taking advantage of them? Yes. Do apprentices already have degrees? Yes, many of them do.

Receiving this grant is great news for us. It adds to many successful awards to increase the number of apprentices, who raise the profile of the college across Pennsylvania, the U.S. and internationally. With interest in apprenticeship increasing, as it has year after year, we have competitors following our example. We must continue to stay in the forefront and be the preferred choice for companies looking for high-quality, successful training for their apprentices. This connection to employers, who also hire our graduates, is critical to maintain as we strive to be their comprehensive partner in building an elite workforce.

Financially speaking, Workforce Development had its best year ever. With the fiscal year closed out, this funding goes to support important functions at the college that may otherwise have gone unfunded. In a down economy, we see academic enrollment numbers increase. We are now at the lowest level of unemployment in history, with baby boomers retiring at a rapid clip. In contrast, this is when Workforce Development programs become more vital to employers – for retention, for attraction and to positively influence their bottom line. Workforce Development and academic programming at the college are both required for our current and future success.

Information Technology Services has been busy this summer getting our systems ready for the new academic year.

As Windows 7 will no longer be supported beyond the end of this calendar year, ITS has upgraded computer labs and classrooms with the Windows 10 operating system. You can expect the process to continue into the fall, including updating faculty machines. Every effort is being made to minimize disruption, keeping the same look and feel as much as possible.

ITS has also reorganized to better reflect the needs of our faculty and students. As part of that reorganization, we have combined the Student Help Desk and the Faculty/Staff Help Desk. This will streamline operations, enhance response time and provide more hands-on experience for student workers.

Along with the reorganization, ITS has rolled out a new service platform. Within this site, you will be able to submit a problem, request a service and learn about what is available from ITS. This new tool offers users an improved communications experience, an easier way to find information technology resources and an opportunity to provide feedback. You can find the link on the myPCT portal.

Late last spring, ITS rolled out Multi Factor Authorization to all staff and administrative positions. MFA requires entering a texted code or the use of an app to authorize access to our systems from off-campus locations. This will not be necessary for internal connections to the college network.

Starting in mid-September, MFA will be extended to all student and faculty accounts. The use of MFA significantly increases our data security from the endless, ever-growing-in-sophistication threat of cyberattacks.

The security of the college’s data – as well as our students’ and your own – is a top priority for ITS. For more information, visit the ITS service desk site available on the portal.

To better represent the entire college and increase the ease of access, ITS is rolling out new SSIDs (Service Set Identifiers) – the names used to access the campus wireless network.

They will be as follows:

  • PCT will replace Wildcats. (It has the same functionality.)
  • PCT-IOT will replace PCT-Registered. (Now, our students will be able to self-register their devices.)
  • PCT-Guest (This will now be an open network; passwords are no longer required to connect.)

To ease the transition, PCT/Wildcats and PCT-IOT/PCT-Registered will overlap for at least one month.

A new tool is going online that will significantly simplify the creating of new class attendance rosters in P.L.A.T.O.

ITS has been installing outdoor Wi-Fi access points with the goal of completely covering the campus by the end of the calendar year.

Remarkable news came our way in late June: We received a $4 million increase in our state appropriation. These funds will not be used for operating expenses. As I told a group of students Tuesday, this is like winning the lottery. You do not use this money to pay your bills; you use this for things that will make a long-term impact. In our case, it will be to invest in instructional laboratories enhancing the delivery of our programs directly impacting students. We are currently reviewing the needs and equipment lists. I will share more information on our investments in the coming weeks.

We begin classes this year with an incredible new welding facility. A special “thank you” to the welding faculty and staff and General Services for the long hours and hard work to get the facility ready for classes. Let us not forget ITS and its work in the computer labs and classrooms. You will also note an updated look to the exterior of Bardo Gym – the masonry was cleaned and repaired. CC Commons dining unit has been refreshed – a bright new look for our students. This fall, the Bush Campus Center will get a much-needed new roof and, of course, we will unveil the “Bases Loaded” Little League sculpture on our campus this Friday. All are invited to this short ceremony.

Over the past year, we have seen some significant improvements in our athletic facilities. A new artificial turf field, new scoreboards, and air conditioning in Bardo Gym, to name just a few. The biggest changes we have seen in athletics have been with our student-athletes. Our average student-athlete GPA this past year was a 3.07, the highest in Penn College history, with 120 students above a 3.0, 21 students with a 4.0, and 64 who earned North Eastern Athletic Conference Academic All-Conference recognition. We were notified this summer that our Wildcats finished third in the NEAC President’s Cup (which ranks the best overall athletic programs) including a first-place finish in the community service category and a second-place finish in the sportsmanship category. As we begin our third season of NCAA Division III play, I think it is important to share how proud we are of our student-athletes on the court, field, course and mat, but more importantly, academically. I hope you will make time to come out and cheer on the Wildcats this season.

As many of you know, our new students have a convocation celebration on Saturday evening. This represents the students’ official entry into the Penn College community. As students enter the ceremony in the Rose Street Commons courtyard, we would love to have faculty, staff and alumni join us in lining the sidewalks. (This event is family-friendly, so feel free to bring spouses, partners and kids!) This is a great time to cheer on and offer encouragement to our incoming students. Last year, we had more than 125 volunteers welcoming students, and this year, we are hoping to grow that number! Convocation includes music, words of wisdom from administrators and students, fireworks, and a hypnotist. Please mark your calendars for Saturday, Aug. 17, to arrive at the Rose Street Commons courtyard by 8 p.m.! Wear your Penn College gear!

You will see a new office name around campus: the Office of Student Engagement. With some staffing changes, we have combined the Office of Student Activities and the Office of Campus & Community Engagement into one area. Anthony Pace, now director of student engagement, provides leadership to this area, which combines our existing student activity offerings with the areas of diversity and cultural life and community service and engagement. I would like to thank “Pace” and his staff for all of their hard work, especially over the summer, related to this reorganization. We believe this change will allow us to expand our impact for students through greater collaboration, while saving significantly on staffing and budget.

Over the past year, I hope you have noticed all the positive changes in The College Store. The outcomes have been amazing. The College Store increased its used textbook sales and its Snap-On individual tool sales by 206%, and it decreased student fees for textbook rentals by 266%. The College Store now provides all student uniforms in-house, which is saving students money and shortening their wait times. With a renewed focus on our internal customer service, Jenni McCracken and her team set the goal of providing support to faculty, staff and departments that echoes what we provide to our students. The newest service includes providing design and purchase of employee uniforms and student organization clothing. If your department or student organization is considering new clothing, please check with The College Store to see if it can do it cheaper and easier!

We learned over the summer that Jenni will be leaving us to start a new chapter in her life; we wish her well. This change allowed us to examine the staffing structure of the store and to capitalize on the great talent we have internally. As we eagerly anticipate the hiring of a new director, Erin Trunzo has accepted the move to assistant director of The College Store, focusing on staffing and operations, and Maddie Januchowski has assumed responsibility for our tools and general merchandise programs, as well as marketing and merchandising within the store. They continue on the team with Kim Ergott, our textbook specialist, and Mark Dauberman, in shipping and receiving, to make your interactions and use of The College Store the best possible. Please visit The College Store and see what they can do for you!

I am betting that some of you did not have breakfast this morning. Dining Services is providing a new service that will make sure you do not go hungry. A declining-balance plan will be available soon to all employees. The plan can be purchased directly or through payroll deduction, and it provides all employees a 20% discount on any purchases when you use your ID card to pay. You can sign up for the plan through the portal, or call the Dining Services office for more information!

What is new, different and exciting from Admissions?

On Aug. 1, we launched our First-Year Common App application for Spring 2020 and Fall 2020. The Common App, which is a centralized college application service that allows students to search for and apply to colleges on one platform via one application form, receives over 1 million applications a year. We join a diverse community of Common App members, including more than 900 institutions of higher education from all 50 U.S. states and 20 countries. We have been told to expect a 20% increase in applications in our first year of implementation. This wider applicant pool means we will need to work harder, smarter and more efficiently than ever to provide quality service to students and, ultimately, to convert them. Since launching, we have received seven applications: six for Fall 2020 and one for Spring 2020. Of those, four are from international applicants hailing from India, Cameroon, Ghana and Turkey. This demonstrates the potential for us to expand our reach and build awareness in new markets we have never hit.

With higher education being more competitive than ever, we know that we must make bold, innovative decisions to remain not only relevant, but to emerge from the crowd. To help accomplish that, for the first time ever, we are introducing an admissions counselor for international and emerging markets position that will be regionally based in the Mid-Atlantic area. This individual, once hired, will serve as a road warrior, representing Penn College in new, untapped markets both domestically and abroad. This counselor will help build awareness of our brand and promote “a future made by hand” near and afar.

The widening skills gap within Pennsylvania and nationwide tells us that industry needs our graduates now more than ever. That, and Pennsylvania’s goal to improve the number of Pennsylvanians with a certificate or degree to 60% by 2025, proves that Penn College is uniquely positioned to help.

Over the next year, our recruitment efforts will be strategically focused to target markets that we know have potential to produce. First, we are committed to saturating all areas within Pennsylvania. We will place a concentrated emphasis on career and technology centers (CTCs) throughout the state, and particularly those with strong program alignment. We are developing new relationships with community-based organizations, such as Philadelphia Futures and PA Career Link. In our out-of-state recruitment efforts, we are putting stock in the transfer-student population. We are also analyzing demographic information including population density, socioeconomic status and likelihood of students to move out-of-state. We are using historical data on top feeder zones and forward-looking data on future applicants to inform a strategic approach to recruitment.

While we finesse our recruitment efforts, we are also working diligently to get our house in order. The Phase I and II work that has been done on modernizing the admissions and enrollment processes will be in place for our Fall 2020 applicants. This includes implementing greater structure into our admissions process through application and intent-to-enroll deadlines, shifting the timing of placement testing, and building advising into Connections. The introduction of a new student dashboard, possible through Slate, our CRM (customer relationship management) solution, will allow students to track the status of their application requirements and next steps in the enrollment process – including placement requirements and financial aid forms and awards – from the point of application submission to confirming their intent to enroll. The dashboard is customizable based on applicant attributes, allowing for personalized communication and the ability to deliver decisions, and to store decision letters, in one online home base. The dashboard complements the SIS (Student Information System), to which students will transition upon confirming their intent to enroll.

The next phase of work in evaluating our admissions and enrollment processes will dive into the financial processes and procedures influencing enrollment. This includes financial aid packaging and communications, our scholarship process, streamlining students’ ability to use financial aid credit toward book and toolkit purchases at The College Store, payment plans, and the semester startup purge process of unregistered students.

A committee is in place to develop new opportunities to streamline and promote pathways to Penn College through partnerships, agreements and general collaboration with other institutions and organizations. This committee is simultaneously evaluating current pathways – such as articulation agreements, competency assessment and program of study – for their effectiveness in attracting students to the college.

Penn College has demonstrated a long-standing commitment to opening the door to higher education. That is needed more than ever in today’s climate, in which we know that the cost of a college degree can be prohibitive for some families. This, in addition to the fact that high school graduates are being offered so many more opportunities to enter the workforce directly out of high school, presents us with a challenge to seek new ways to help alleviate the pressure of cost in making a Penn College degree possible.

Our partnership with Army ROTC – through our membership in the Bald Eagle Battalion – is a great example of how we can do this and make a positive impact on both recruitment and retention. We are set to welcome 17 new cadets this fall, making this our largest entering ROTC class in the history of our program. And among this class are four Army ROTC Scholarship awardees. This first-year class will nearly double the size of our ROTC program. Over the summer, our upper-class ROTC cadets spent several weeks training and participating in cultural immersion experiences all around the world. Austin Weinrich, a residential construction and technology management student, earned the Recondo award at Army Advanced Camp at Fort Knox, Kentucky. This award is bestowed upon only 1% of the 7,000 cadets who complete this key prerequisite to being commissioned as an Army officer, and it recognizes the highest achievement in all aspects of training. We are very proud of Austin and his accomplishment. We are thrilled to share that, at the beginning of the fall semester, we will have seven students on ROTC scholarships and two cadets with nonscholarship contracts. This fall, five more of our students are expected to earn Army ROTC scholarships. An invitation to their contracting ceremony will be posted on the portal.  This would bring our total number of Army ROTC scholarship recipients to 12, which is an incredible representation of the quality and accomplishments of our students.

As important as expanding our recruitment efforts is to meeting our enrollment challenges, so, too, is the need to remain vigilant in our commitment to supporting current students through effective retention efforts.

StarfishIn an exciting new campuswide initiative, Penn College is launching Starfish, a college success and retention program. Starfish will allow faculty and staff to “raise a flag,” identifying students who may need additional support in order to achieve student success. Starfish also helps celebrate student achievements by “sending kudos,” a message indicating that students are doing well. Students will receive automatic emails from Starfish when flags identifying concerns or kudos recognizing successes are logged by faculty and staff. These emails will trigger students to reach out for support or to enjoy the recognition of a job well-done. The email will also alert the Academic Success Center or others in the student’s network of support to provide outreach or connect the student with resources. Each of you has access to Starfish through a new icon on the portal or through a P.L.A.T.O. link. Led by Randy Zangara, Katie Mackey and Joette Siertle, and through collaboration with ITS, Academic Affairs and Student Affairs, the implementation of Starfish has been no small feat. I would like to thank all of those involved for your commitment to the project and for your commitment to student success, which, I know, has been the motivation for making sure the system was up and running for the start of the semester. Knowing that retention is a common goal for all of us, I strongly urge you to utilize Starfish to its fullest and to be that person who makes a difference and utilizes all the tools available to give students the opportunity to succeed!

We know that students are not always comfortable approaching a faculty member, a counselor or staff for assistance. However, we do know that we have an incredible slate of resources in place to support students both in and out of the classroom. I encourage you all to become knowledgeable about campus programs and services, so when you encounter a student in need – and you will – you are prepared to help in a meaningful way. The ongoing development of a collegewide retention plan, driven by data that highlights where and why we lose students, will continue to be a focus for the fall semester. We have countless examples of the impact we make in the lives of our students, demonstrating the incredible role we all play in guiding them on the path toward graduation. Retention is, after all, one of the greatest responsibilities we bear, and I thank you for your invested commitment to the success of our students.

Safety needs to be a priority in everything we do. To continuously promote a safe environment, Human Resources offers a monthly safety professional development and publishes a quarterly safety newsletter. Additional safety information and resources can be found on the Human Resources portal page under the title “Safety Committee.” For emergencies that require intensive, immediate medical treatment, call 911. Your call will be sent to the appropriate service, including our own Penn College Police and Health Services, quicker than if you call the office. In an emergency, always call 911. Less severe injuries or illnesses should be reported to College Health Services during normal hours of operation or to College Police when College Health Services is closed. Please look for an AdminWire message that will include additional details on proper procedures for reporting workplace injuries or illnesses, as well as links to a variety of safety resources.

Mike Reed and I have been talking this summer about the concepts of “hope” and “urgency.”

Google dictionary defines “urgency” as “importance requiring swift action.” Conversely, “hope” is defined as “a feeling of expectation or desire for a certain thing to happen.”

Hal Lindsey noted we can live about 40 days without food, about three days without water and about eight minutes without air, but only for one second without hope. If that is true, we can spend a few moments considering the nature and function of hope.

French philosopher and poet Jean-Marie Guyau captured this notion when he said, “When we hope for something grand, we draw from the beauty of the goal the courage to brave all obstacles.”

I have some thoughts on hope and urgency that may resonate well with you.

Hope: Industry needs more of our graduates – increased, campuswide collaboration is essential to identify how we meet this need. Individuals across all departments are conducting a wide range of outreach efforts, and Enrollment Management and Academic Affairs are working more closely to identify prospective students who have a Penn College passion.

The urgency: We need to increase collaboration across all areas and help educate the masses on the power of a Penn College degree.

We are closing the gap with new, first year full-time students – perhaps a result of Admissions’ tireless efforts, coupled with collaborative support across all areas.

Hope: Our graduates are doing extremely well, and our people make the difference.

The urgency: Our retention numbers dropped. Our economy is strong, and some of these students left for employment opportunities. However, many of these students were doing well and left during their second and third year, citing reasons for which we had quality support systems available. We missed opportunities to position these students for long-term success. This drop reduced Perkins Grant funding for equipment and our overall campuswide enrollment. We need to revisit our focus on student advising and more effectively utilize our early-intervention support systems.

Hope: We are all one team. Workforce Development had a record-breaking year. Without its return on investment to our collective team, we would be in a more challenging role. Our current workforce is in need of extensive training/development, and we have the expertise through our faculty, staff and partners, and the mechanisms in place to meet this need.

The urgency: There is a fear or reservation – with some – that Workforce Development competes against our programs and, therefore, many of our colleagues are resistant to offer their expertise to meet this demand. Workforce Development’s output is essential to keep our labs up-to-date and helps place our college in a position to be the national leader in applied technologies. While we may unintentionally lose a student directly to industry on rare occasions, we often miss the fact that Workforce Development commonly works with an audience that is already in industry, and that it has brought in multiple students from industry to complete their associate and bachelor’s degrees. We are all one team, and we have a unique opportunity to capitalize on our collective expertise for the betterment of our institution, to help meet the growing demands within our current workforce. If we do not, someone else will.

I am certain that many of you could illuminate your own hope-and-urgency strategy for Penn College. We have serious challenges ahead, and we can meet them with a commitment to our mission and to continued exploration, cooperation and collaboration. It will require careful and measured use of our resources. I have full faith that we will respond to the urgency at hand.

Do not misunderstand me. Hope is not a strategy; we have a living strategic plan to guide us and a team of Penn College faculty and staff second to none.

I leave you with Martin Flynn’s “Seven Ways to Develop a Sense of Urgency”:

  1. Up Your Tempo. We all have a natural tempo; find yours and make a conscious effort to increase your tempo.
  2. Develop A Bias For Action. Most people talk the talk, but never really walk the walk – get started.
  3. Don’t Wait For Things To Be Just Right. Truth is, nothing will ever be just right.
  4. Develop Momentum. Generate energy and motivation – it can boost your sense of urgency.
  5. Think, Plan, Execute. Planning is important and cannot be overstated; daily, weekly, and by the semester, we need goals, direction and outcomes.
  6. Get Into A State Of Flow. This is the magic place; once here, you can approach things effortlessly; we often think of this as the learning curve.
  7. Energize Your System. Take care of yourself, your team – we need to work in an environment that inspires forward movement.

The list can apply to you at work and on a personal level. I look to the future with hope and urgency, realizing that Penn College transforms lives and contributes to the greater good of our students, our communities and our own workforce. Together, we insure the future for “tomorrow makers.”

Have a great semester.

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