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‘You May Have Only One Chance to Make a Difference’


(The following is drawn from remarks by Davie Jane Gilmour, Pennsylvania College of Technology president, during an Aug. 14 all-college meeting tobegin theFall 2008 semester.)

Wow, what a summer!

We have had an incredible summer since we last met as a group in this room. It is very difficult to grasp that August is upon us and we are poised to begin another semester. I would like to begin with saying, “Thank you.”

Summer seems to fill quickly with special projects large and small; virtually every office and work group on campus accomplished a great many projects in addition to their normal work load. I am most grateful for your excellent work and tenacity that allows us to start the semester with much accomplished. In addition, we hosted a number of activities on campus that were outstanding successes:

  • Connections was another great orientation program for our students; parent and student feedback was excellent. It is refreshing to hear from parents that “This is my fourth son/daughter to college and never have we participated in such a well-organized, thorough orientation.”
  • We hosted the North American Council of Automotive Teachers 200 delegates, 100 family members, 70 presenters and 55 exhibitors visited campus. Their experience was incredible and we certainly made lasting positive impressions.
  • In addition, we hosted a week of Pennsylvania Free Enterprise Week an excellent opportunity for Penn College to showcase our majors, facilities and employees to a statewide group of almost 250 high school juniors and seniors, in addition to business and industry representatives. This experience also required yearlong planning and a total campus commitment to make it successful and, by all indications, we were a huge hit. I was fortunate to attend the closing banquet and hear students make remarks such as, “I have attended Student Council conferences at a variety of colleges across Pennsylvania and never have I been to a college like this!”
  • Our final group of guests was from Boston C5 their two-day tour was also an excellent opportunity to showcase our majors and campuses and, again, we sent a bus full of students away with pride and accomplishment.

To all who worked tirelessly to make the summer come together and to offer a positive Penn College experience, I say, “Thank you.”

But the summer is over, and we are now ready for the start of a new academic year, an academic year that will be one of the most challenging in recent history. With the challenges come incredible opportunity, but what lies before us will require a recommitment from all of us to insure our continued success.

The new year brings much work on already well-progressing initiatives. Our Quality through Assessment work advances and is important for the campus community as a whole. Watch the Web site for best practices; last year’s goals and a report will be posted shortly, as will this year’s work plan. Step 1 is completed and Step 2 is under way for the survey-review project. Wewill ideallyposition ourselves with a comprehensive outcomes-assessment plan; keep informed about our assessment work via the QTA Web site.

The Planning Work Group has made excellent progress on the work for an assessment of our planning process and will look this year at mission, vision, philosophy and values. A data-driven Academic Program review is in the pilot stages. This important work is foundational to our work in curriculum revision and development, in positioning our majors in the marketplace, allocation of resourcesand inthe advancement of quality instruction.

I am thrilled that we will be launching a wellness program this year and thank those serving on the Wellness Committee: Kathy Kelsey, Patti Haefner, Judy Quinti, Emily Miller, Kristi Hammaker, Jim Temple, Chad Karstetter, Marc Bridgens and LaDonna Caldwell. Please mark your calendars and watch for announcements as we hold the employee introductory meetings on Sept. 23-25. This is an important initiative for all of us.

The Marketing Planning Group has delivered an excellent marketing plan for the college. Early reviews are outstanding. The group followed”An Integrated Marketing Workbook for Colleges and Universities” by Robert Sevier and has positioned us well. The next step is full strategy development to accompany the approved recommendations, including the assignment of tasks and timelines. Watch for a special Marketing Portal to keep all of the college community informed on the progress and activities associated with this work. Ideally, the portal will be your one-stop location to keep informed, submit ideas and track results. Thank you to the group for a commendable and usable piece of work.

One aspect of the plan that is very important is the identification of key talking points that address Penn College’s points of differentiation in the market. I want to share these today:

  • Degrees that work lead to good job opportunities/advancement/continuing education
  • Penn State affiliation
  • Hands-on applied technology education/students have access to the latest technology in classrooms, labs, library, study areas
  • Experienced faculty, NOT teaching assistants
  • Students may choose eithertwo- or four-year degrees
  • Full college experience is available to our students for those who want on-campus housing, athletics, activities, Greek Life. The campus is modern and beautiful, and security is provided by armed police officers 24/7.
  • Wide variety of student support services available to assist students in their college experience
  • Small class sizes, excellent faculty/student ratio: personal attention from the faculty

Everyone across campus will be encouraged to use these talking points when communicating about the college.

Following this meeting today at 9:30, Provost Liz Mullens is holding a collegewide faculty meeting to review the results of the National Survey of Student Engagement. This body of data is very valuable to us and allows us to examine the engagement of our students. In addition, the session will focus on the Pocket Guide NSSE produces with questions for colleges and I am certain we will benefit from this presentation.

As I stated earlier, this will be one of our most challenging years. We are not where we would like to be with enrollment. The world and daily economy is resulting in student decisions and behavior that is defying our predictability models and counter to our expectations. All of us are feeling the economic reality of our world on a personal level; institutionally, that is no different and, in many ways, is magnified. I was walking across campus the other day with someone who remarked that I would probably be happy if we had more students. My response was, “I want us to provide quality service to those we do have.” Students are not like commodities that we can go buy more of if we run short.

Choosing a college is not something that should be done in the 11th hour without careful thought and assessment. It is more than, “Where do I enroll?” We are seeking a match of students that can be successful and thrive in our environment. Yes, we could have more students in some majors, but, most importantly, we need to provide an exceptional experience for those who have chosen Penn College.

I have a mental exercise for all of us this morning. Each of you knows your own salary;keep that number in your mind. Now I hope most of you know our tuition and fees, but I will help you: On average, a full-time student pays $11,790 in tuition per year this is only the tuition and fees, not housing, books, tools and living expenses. So let’s consider those numbers again; how many students does it take to pay your salary? Now, to yourself, answer these questions: Have you helped that many students today? This week? Next time a student “imposes on your time,” I ask you to stop and consider if that is the one helping to pay you.

College campuses are like fine grape vineyards well-established vines create connections and foundations throughout the buildings and campus parts. It is no surprise to any of you that we have a very healthy grapevine; one of the often-heard laments is “I was interrupted by a student or family today for a tour,” not scheduled and not expected, an intrusion in our busy lives.

I have a story to share: At my first evening parent Connections session this summer, I asked a group of parents if they had any questions. The response was, “No,” but one mother said, “I need to tell you how we came to enroll my son at Penn College.” They were part of a scheduled tour group on a Friday; the student ambassador with the group happened to be in the major of interest to the prospective student and, while on the tour, the guest asked tovisit the facility for the major. The request was accommodated by the student ambassador and they broke away from the tour group toward the end, heading off to the Business and Computer Technologies wing of the Advanced Technology and Health Sciences Center. Don’t panic; this is a good story! Scott O’Connor(computer information technology faculty) met up withJ.C. Phillippy(the student ambassador) and the prospective student/family and spent the next 45 minutes with them … on a Friday afternoon. The mother proudly told me that, after that experience at the son’s insistence they canceled all previously scheduled college visits and the son was declarative this was the place for him.

Each of us can and does make a difference; we cannot take anything for granted. A prospective student or family is never an interruption but an opportunity. You may have only one chance to make a difference, why pass that up because you may be inconvenienced. What is more important than positioning the college as the place of choice?

The Stage X building program also will be one of our greatest challenges this year and, frankly, for the coming few years. We are in the final stages of design, and construction documents are under development. All at a time when raw-material prices are skyrocketing, fuel surcharges are increasing weekly, and delivery requirements more and more complicated. And that is only half of the story. This set of projects is by far the biggest in the history of the college it will take our 1970s facilities into the new world, allow us to enroll additional students and provide some of the most challenging logistics we ever have had to manage. We are going to need to make the ultimate accommodations over a period of two academic years to pull this off.

Veteran employees in the room will recall when we renovated this very building, and, depending on the time of year, the women’s and men’s rooms were interchangeable. That will be mild compared to what we face for “temporary inconvenience, permanent improvement.” Patience, please; it will be worth the wait and struggle.

In my summer reading, I came across a number of articles and quotations for my collection. One was by the ever-popular author, “Anonymous” “Some things never change. Don’t be ‘some things.’ ”

Change is part of our everyday life. We have experienced staffing changes, office changes, campus changes, community changes, economic changes … and that just covers the past 30 days.

Change gives us the opportunity to dust off old models, create new ones, explore the unknown and, yes, even take some risks. All of which are healthy and developmentally sound actions for organizations and individuals.

Another interesting article I discovered this summer was one called “Enforced Summertime” by Alice Villadsen, published in the August edition of Leadership Abstracts. To be honest, what caught my eye was the first sentence, “I recently sustained a stress fracture in my right foot and in the dreaded black boot.” Having spent two summers in a black boot, I owed it to Alice to read on. The summary is this: sometimes we have to stop, take stock, assess, and rest often we drive to the point of exhaustion organizationally and personally. This former college president suggests that it is important to take time to do the following and I could not agree more.

  1. Sitting rather than running Give everyone time to do what they are here for, thoroughly and completely, with quality not haste
  2. Absorbing rather than radiating Take time to read and reflect, creating a more calm work environment
  3. Pondering rather than fixing (this one is especially hard for me) Fine tune patience and wonder, learning from the examination as well as fixing the problem
  4. Listening rather than talking Organizations have that grapevine I mentioned. We all need to listen to each other, clearly listen, be good stewards of the information, sounding boards, vessels for the frustration. Today, we may be the listener; tomorrow, the person in need of someone to listen.

Moving forward is imperative, breakneck speed is dangerous and, while thrilling for some, disabling for others. As our world changes, we need to take time and use our gifts wisely, we may only get one chance.

As we well know, three people left our lives these past few months. Kay Lumley, director emerita of the Penn College Board, passed away a few weeks ago. Kay was an ardent supporter of The Williamsport Area Community College, Penn College and, of course, Reading Is Fundamental was her lifelong passion.

One of my favorite Kay stories involved a commencement ceremony. Prior to the Community Arts Center, commencement was held in the Bardo Gymnasium. One year, the late Sen. John Heinz was our graduation speaker; following the ceremony, we proceeded to the Thompson Professional Development Center for a reception. Kay was well-prepared for the ceremony and strolled confidently into the PDC afterward to discover that under her academic gown was a full-length black slip ONLY. As Bardo Gym was well-known for sweltering heat, Kay wisely, she thought had omitted her dress for the occasion. It took some maneuvering, but her dress was retrieved from her home and all was well, but I recall the look on her face as if it were yesterday when she quickly removed her gown to enter the Mountain Laurel Room. Kay is in a better place and we are better for having her pass through our lives.

Cherie Davison left our world too quickly. Many of us knew Cherie as a member of the Computer Services/ITS or any other of those department names in a variety of roles; she spent since April 2001 working as a Research Database Specialist in Institutional Research. She, too, left us with a void and will be missed.

There is an American proverb that says, “Time heals, all wounds.” While this may be true, our community is still feeling the effects of the loss of Professor David London last spring. David’s reach was felt well beyond the walls of his classroom. The scholarship fund for David is coming along and, as I stated in May, one way we are providing a legacy to David and his work across campus is the renaming of the college’s “My Last Words” lecture series to the “David London My Last Words Lecture Series.” This program, which has been held on campus for the past three years, spotlights faculty (who have been nominated by their students) to present a one-hour lecture on their thoughts, beliefs, advice and insights. In short, what would their “last words” to the campus community be? I believe it such an honor as a faculty-member to be selected by students to give this type of talk. This year’s inaugural David London My Last Words Lecture Series will take place Tuesday, Oct.14, at 6:30 p.m. here in the ACC Auditorium and will be followed by a reception. I would personally like to encourage you to attend and for you to encourage your students to attend this annual event. “Save the Date” cards will be distributed as you leave the auditorium today. I would like to thank the planning and selection committee which is a partnership between Academic and Student Affairs, and includes Cliff Coppersmith, Sandra Lakey, Kim Cassel, Shadra Smith and Elliott Strickland. They have worked swiftly to coordinate what will quickly become a tradition on the Penn College campus. As part of this new tradition, I have been asked to announce the individual selected to present the lecture each year during our Convocation. The person selected does not know that he or she was nominated, let alone selected. The committee received a great number of nominations from students for many of our outstanding faculty members. The decision; however, was an easy one. Now, I have to pause here to tell you that there has been a great deal of subterfuge in this process to ensure that it was a surprise to the person selected. It is now my pleasure to announce that the faculty member chosen to present the inaugural David London My Last Words Lecture Series is Sandra Lakey. As you can probably tell, this comes as a surprise to Sandi, but we all felt there was no one better to begin our tradition of honoring David’s legacy and reminding us of the impact faculty have on students’ lives daily.

As we look ahead this year, we have some events worth noting:

  • For the golfers in the room, eat your hearts out, all puns intended 11 hospitality students will be at the Ryder Cup this year in Louisville
  • Penn College Pack the Park is Thursday, Aug. 28, and we want to have a great showing
  • Tonight, the Little League World Series kicks off with the parade and Penn College will be represented by students and members of the admissions staff, with grateful assistance by our Penn College Police. By the way, thanks to the efforts of our police department actively patrolling our campus and surrounding areas, we are seeing a decrease in a number of areas of concern, I am grateful for their work to keep us safe and to provide the appropriate environment for our students.
  • Aug.14 is the opening of the Brad Holland exhibit in the Gallery at the Madigan Library, with a reception to meet the artist Aug. 26. This artist is regarded as one of the most influential illustrators of the 20th century. Visit the gallery Web site for details and make time to see this exceptional exhibit.
  • Most of you will remember from our last meeting in the spring, I announced an opportunity for Penn College employees to showcase their creative talents in the first Penn College Employee Exhibitthat will be held in The Gallery from May 14-June 30. For those of you who are new (and those of you who may have forgotten), this Penn College Proud Showcase is your chance to display your original work. The Gallery Web site has a list of the rules of entry, as well as a Statement of Interest form that you are asked to fill out and submit online by Dec. 5. We will then look forward to attending the opening reception for the exhibit at the close of the spring semester to view the varied works by our talented employees.

In closing today, I want to welcome our new faculty and staff to Penn College and refer you all to PCToday and the portal for more information on our new colleagues.

I also want to conclude with my personal “Thank you” again for your commitment to Penn College. I look forward to a year of change, a year of opportunity and a year of renewal.

Consider this, I promise,my last quote of this message. Steve Wozniak has said, “Wherever smart people work, doors are unlocked.” Our institutional philosophy is all about unlocking doors and creating opportunities for our students and our community. I have to believe that all of us together smart people, caring about other people can unlock many doors. We have the potential to make a real, positive impact on our world. Let’s start the new academic year committed to doing all we can to make that difference.

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