Monday, April 11, 2016

Community's Diversity as a Window to Our Future

A community college is inherently designed to mirror its community. MVCC strives to not only mirror our community but also provide a window to our collective future. The City of Utica is the urban center and largest municipality in Oneida County. With refugees comprising nearly one in four city residents (in addition to the 500 annual newcomers from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic!), our community is incredibly diverse.

MVCC has embraced this aspect of our community through a variety of signature elements that all make the college a distinctive learning environment. Our Educational Opportunity Center at Third and Elizabeth streets in Utica is a hub of community partnerships, including the incredible On Point for College program, to provide a safe and comfortable first point of contact for many refugees and newcomers. The unique one-year certificate in English as a Second Language is a key rung on the educational ladder of success for numerous students who start their educational journey at MVCC.

What continues to give me great pride about working at MVCC is the incredible combination of rigor and support that has somehow been hardwired into our organizational DNA. Anyone attending our “Honors Brunch” celebration event the morning of spring commencement in May will see an absolute rainbow of ethnic and cultural representation in honor students who achieve at the highest levels. Many of them are living examples of hard work paying off, but also of reaching out and accessing all available resources to succeed. The Learning Center at MVCC is just one of several academic supports that the College provides to support students as they raise themselves up to the rigorous standards our faculty maintain in the curriculum.

The nationally recognized Cultural Series and Diversity and Global View graduation requirement at MVCC celebrate the diversity of our area — bringing the world to our campuses, students, employees, and community. Our current challenge, as set forth in our updated Strategic Plan, MVCC Catalyst 2020, is to “advance diversity and inclusiveness” to include diversifying our faculty and staff to better reflect our student population; look for more posts about this in the future.

As we provide innovative programs like mechatronics, semiconductor manufacturing, and unmanned aerial systems that are preparing the workforce of the future for our region, we are also providing access to opportunity for aligning our outreach and support systems to reflect our community. Refugees and newcomers add a distinct richness to our classrooms and campuses that enhance learning and overall student experience — our faculty do an amazing job of making it so. Just as the immigration of the early 20th century continues to define Utica (and our country) today, the influx of newcomers here in the past few decades most certainly will go on to define the remainder of the 21st century.

To further understand the magnitude and significance of the refugee experience in our community, I have provided a great PBS news story link featuring a few of our students as well as our own Ibrahim Rosic, Director of the Learning Center at MVCC.

If you have any questions or comments about this post, please contact me directly at presblog@mvcc.edu.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Organizational Resilience

I recently had the opportunity to chair an evaluation team for a Middle States Association accreditation visit. I treasure these experiences because they provide me with a chance to learn about another community college and — perhaps more importantly — reflect on my own institution, and this visit did not disappoint. 

While our primary purpose was to evaluate the institution against the 14 characteristics of excellence established by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, the real challenge is to understand the "story" of the place — where has the organization been in the past 10 years, where is it now, and how well is it positioned for the future? The team and I found more than your average story during our visit. We found an institution with incredible organizational resilience. Although resilience is not an accreditation standard, it was an overarching theme that touched all the other standards because the College found its way through a very challenging period without ever losing focus on its mission of serving students and the community. 

The notion of organizational resilience is an important one for all community colleges to consider in these difficult times. Beyond the institution we were visiting, we learned from colleagues that our peers at community colleges in Pennsylvania and Illinois have been working without state budgets since last April, meaning they have not received a dollar of state aid in almost a year. If colleges don't have enough fund balance to cover expenses, some are taking out lines of credit to meet their obligations. The resilience of community colleges across the country is being tested like no other time in recent memory.

What gave me a sense of organizational resilience on this particular visit is that after listening to more than 100 faculty and staff speak over three days, a few themes seem to appear. Organizations are able to thrive in challenging times when people stay focused on their responsibilities; keep students as the number one priority; don't spend time in the rumor mill wondering about "what if" and "maybe"; and try to find the positive by turning every challenge into an opportunity. I learned a phrase during my years in Omaha where I heard people say, "we got pulled through the knothole in the fence backwards" but we made it through somehow — and that's kind of what I saw on this visit. It was inspiring to see an organizational culture that had the resilience to persevere and the collective will to keep pushing, keep challenging, keep stretching to serve students a little better every day. 

As we look forward to celebrating our 70th year in operation, I'm proud of the resilience I see here at MVCC, and this visit provided me a wonderful opportunity to reflect on just how important it is for us to keep that in mind during challenging times.

If you have any comments or questions on this post, please contact me directly at presblog@mvcc.edu.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Liberal Arts to the Rescue

As the sad and dramatic increase in frustration, anger, and hate reaches new levels through the presidential debates, I can’t help but notice it everywhere now. All the angst we collectively carry around follows us into the modern workplace — with rumors, stress, conflict, brinksmanship, and dark humor preventing many from doing their best cooperative work. It seems Stephen Covey’s famous principle, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood” is increasingly a lost art — which is why I believe the liberal arts are more important than ever.  

Aside from following national politics, the little television I do watch is usually for laughs – Saturday Night Live, Modern Family, The Middle, or Brooklyn 99 are all a nice release for me to laugh with my family.  

However, my odd bliss includes historical documentaries and formulaic makeover shows. I used to like Extreme Home Makeover, and now I’m hooked on the Food Network’s Restaurant Impossible — people with failing restaurants contact the star of the show to transform their restaurant in 48 hours with $10,000 and some tough love on how to make over their business. I love the formula where the star of the show comes in and finds things in shambles; from the d├ęcor and the service to the menu and quality of food, it’s all a hot mess. About halfway through the show, he surfaces that the heart of all the problems comes down to the quality of the relationships between the people working at the restaurant. The business isn’t broken, the people have just lost themselves and each other, along with perspective on the big picture. He facilitates some critical conversations, and in no time the crooked places are made straight and it all comes together beautifully. It chokes me up nearly every time.

With each passing year in my career as an educational administrator, I couldn’t be happier with my decision to have pursued a broad liberal arts undergraduate education. The perspective I gained through those classes helped me consider the variety of perspectives needed for problem solving, sparked a desire to be a lifelong learner, and created a deep appreciation for the human condition and the gifts that others bring to this world — the essence of a liberal arts education.

When I find myself in a conversation with a parent who wants their child to “just pick a career,” I often say “everyone in their own time.” The most important thing in discovering your path in life is passion, and that may take time to find. To this end, MVCC helps students discover their strengths at the very beginning in orientation. For those who discover that their passion and talents have led them to a certain career or technical field, we have a broad array of outstanding career and technical programs that lead directly to jobs in the workforce. And I’m proud to know that the liberal arts faculty at MVCC believe that liberal arts programs lead to great jobs as well. Our faculty help students understand how the cultivation of the creative process gives birth to the revolutions of design thinking and problem solving. With its broad base of education spanning a wide range of academic areas, the liberal arts help people to develop critical thinking skills and learn how to learn so that they may continue learning beyond the classroom. In today's landscape, this is more important than any skill that can be taught because technology, and the workplace in general, changes so rapidly that adaptation, understanding, critical reflection, and personal reinvention are absolutely necessary for job success.

On the simplest level, we cannot reinvent ourselves, or the world around us, if we have no understanding of these things to start. Where at one time creating workers was enough, today we need a generation of thinkers if we are ever to tackle the problems we face as a society. Additionally, these skills help foster better interpersonal relationships and develop emotional intelligence that nurture safe and understanding environments where creativity and effective problem solving flourish. With an increased influence of the liberal arts, the modern workplace — regardless of whether it’s a restaurant or a college — would have exponentially less friction and frustration, and the soul-wrenching polarization of our society would be replaced by thoughtful debate and progress. 

If you have any comments or questions on this post, please contact me directly at presblog@mvcc.edu.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Why Rome?

I have been asked this question more than I can count over the last few months — “Why are you spending $30 million on a construction project at the Rome Campus?” Depending on how much time I have to respond, the answer is multi-faceted. The immediate response is important to clarify that construction projects like this are financed through the capital budget and are completely separate from the operating budget. So the financial constraints we face in the operating budget that result in difficult decisions about programs, services, and personnel are unrelated to major building projects — we are not allowed to save jobs with construction dollars.

The short answer is the Rome Academic Building is long past its usefulness — I use that term loosely, because it probably was useful as a county hospital when it was built 90 years ago, but four patient rooms (with knocked down walls) does not a modern classroom make. Last year, the ceiling in a vacant office collapsed due to heavy rains that had leaked (flooded) inside and brought the dropped ceiling to the floor. This building is inconsistent with the level of excellence we strive for in every other corner of MVCC. 

The long answer is centered on the students and programs at the Rome Campus. The nearly 1,000 students who pay the same tuition as other MVCC students deserve a modern learning environment. Contrary to the belief of some, most of these students would not just “go to Utica.” The student profile at the Rome Campus has an older average student typically with more family and work responsibilities and cannot easily accommodate an extra hour of roundtrip commuting. With space constraints at the Utica Campus, the unique programs in Rome (hospitality, educational sign language interpreting, health information technology, surgical technology, truck driving and airframe and powerplant) could not easily relocate to Utica. Additionally, the Rome Campus is located in the geographic center of Oneida County, just one mile from the Griffiss Business and Technology Park that is home to more than 60 businesses with more than 6,000 workers along with one of six federally approved sites in the country to test unmanned aerial systems (UAS) in commercial airspace — making the redevelopment of the MVCC Rome Campus a sound strategic investment in the future of the region. 

A little longer answer is rooted in our Facilities Master Plan. The original buildings on the Utica Campus are nearly 60 years old with classrooms, floorplans, and heating/cooling systems in need of modernization. We have made a number of investments to modernize the classrooms (all with full technology capacity) and renovate countless areas across the campus. However, no “swing space” exists to implement a comprehensive approach to modernize the campus. The Master Plan calls for a strategic domino effect that calls for a new building next to Payne Hall. The new building would allow for much of Payne Hall to temporarily go into the new building to completely renovate Payne Hall. The Academic Building would then go into Payne Hall over two phases to completely renovate the Academic Building. This sequenced approach would require a multi-year commitment from the County and State easily totaling over $100 million over a five-year period — an amount that’s difficult to comprehend in the current economic environment. 

With one nanotechnology firm getting ready to break ground and the unmanned aerial systems sector still in the early stages, a $30 million investment by the County and State was a welcome and proactive opportunity. Fast-forward into the near future with one or two more chipfabs being built, the nanotech supply chain amplifying the local economy, a large UAS manufacturer or two landing at Griffiss International Airport, and a multi-year $100 million investment in the Utica Campus of MVCC — the most important workforce development asset in the region — is a little easier to comprehend.

If you have any comments or questions, please contact me directly at presblog@mvcc.edu.

Monday, January 18, 2016

What Would You Tell Your 18- to 20-Year-Old Self?

"What would you tell your 18- to 20-year-old self?" 

I fielded that question from a 20-year-old recently, and found myself stumbling for a response. The first thing that came to mind was that I’d tell my 18- to 20-year-old self to wake up and focus. I had to laugh because I said, “I don’t think my 18- to 20-year-old self would care enough to listen!”

However, after another moment of reflection, the answer came to me: I would tell myself to “find your passion – start searching for what matters to you, and everything else will start to connect and come together for you.” And I think my younger self might have even listened to those words of wisdom. 

My parents gave me similar advice that since has solidified in my memory as “find work you love to do and it will feel like you never work a day in your life.” 

As with most things parents say, they seem to have more value as you grow older. I’ve always enjoyed being around people, which probably influenced my decision to major in communications as an undergraduate. Pursuing graduate degrees in community college administration primarily came from my own empowering experience at Mott Community College in Flint, Mich. And as my parents now know, I most certainly love what I do. 

As I reflected further on the question at hand, the notion of passion, for me, goes deeper than just loving what you do. The democratic roots of this country that empower people to achieve whatever they can imagine has always been with me through the years with my enduring interest in American history. I’ve come to believe that nothing is more empowering than knowledge and learning – a college education and degree. My passion is empowering others and working at a community college allows me to connect with that desire on a daily basis when I walk through the door to work each day. 

Working at community colleges over the past 25 years — and more specifically at MVCC for the past 8.5 years — has provided me the good fortune of working with amazing people helping thousands of students find the empowering agent of education. I don’t know if my path would have been any different if I was able to answer the question for myself all those years ago, but I feel lucky to have found the answer over the years. 

What would you tell your 18- to 20-year-old self?

If you have any comments or questions, please contact me directly at presblog@mvcc.edu.

Monday, November 16, 2015

SUNYCON 2015 – A Window into the Future? (Part 2)

-->Like past SUNYCON agendas, this year’s theme of “Building a New Business Model for the Academy: Partnerships, Affiliations, Mergers, and Acquisitions” planted the seeds of what likely will grow into fundamental change for the SUNY system. 

The biggest question of all is, what change will that be? I don’t come by this prediction lightly, as it is based on my experience of the past four SUNYCON events. The conference provides an active learning environment with powerful speakers and “creative collisions” at the breaks to consider the shifting sands of the postsecondary sector and what will be needed for the SUNY system to clarify and pursue the change necessary for the future.  

Consider the SUNYCON themes and related subsequent actions over the years: 

SUNYCON 2011 – Universities as Economic Engines. Not too much later, we experienced the passing of the Start-Up NY legislation, and today we have 143 new companies that have created more than 4,000 jobs throughout New York.

SUNYCON 2012 – Harnessing Systemness and Delivering Performance. We’ve seen continuous progress toward systemness with the work on shared resources, IT platforms, and the seamless transfer initiative. 

SUNYCON 2013 – Building a Smarter University: Big Data, Innovation, and Ingenuity. Not too much later, we saw the development of SUNY Excels and the Performance Improvement Plans. 

SUNYCON 2014 – Executing Change to Drive Collective Impact. Today, SUNY has more than a dozen communities with active partnerships in the Cradle to Career Alliance across the state. 

SUNYCON 2015 – Building a New Business Model for the Academy: Partnerships, Affiliations, Mergers, and Acquisitions. We shall see.

The not-so-subtle pattern of a connection between the SUNYCON theme and some significant forward progress within SUNY is an interesting signpost and source of inspiration for everyone to consider answering the Chancellor’s top ten questions sooner rather than later, because the future will not wait for us.

If you have any questions or comments, please contact me directly at presblog@mvcc.edu.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

SUNYCON 2015 – A Window into the Future? (Part 1)

I always find the annual SUNY Critical Issues Conference to be a mind-expanding experience as well as a divination tool to gain insight into the future before it unfolds completely. This year’s SUNYCON 2015 did not disappoint.  
While the panels and speakers were powerful and made for an action-packed, thought-provoking day and a half, it was Chancellor Zimpher’s context-setting welcome remarks that stayed with me. She told us that the sessions would promote new ideas and could be considered as an intentional collective brainstorming session about the future – and to get us started, she offered her “Top 10” considerations:
10. How do we meet students where they are? – Think of the convenience banking offers.
9. How can we create the equivalent of a universal student record? – Think of the move to a common individualized medical record in health care.
8. How can we right-size our college campus infrastructure? – 232 public and private physical college campuses in New York State … perhaps a few too many?
7. What are the implications of learning by doing? – Think of the power of simulations, internships, and service learning.
6. How do we best secure public/private partnerships? – Think of Start-Up NY and the countless partnerships throughout the SUNY system.
5. How can we better share resources for common goals? – Think P-Tech and the notion of “braided” funding that ties organizations together through integrated funding streams.
4. How can we better incentivize innovation and investment? – SUNY received more than 211 proposals of nearly $500 million in requests for the $100 million total available through the SUNY investment fund.
3. How can we incentivize changes in student behavior? – Think of the Finish in 4 program at the University at Buffalo or the notion of a possible Finish in 2 program for community colleges.
2. Is there anything to be learned from the for-profit education sector? – Think of their successes in recruitment and outreach.
1. How can we unpack quality and pitch our value proposition to the public?  - This underscores the need for higher education to find a better way to create a public message and unpack quality.
As the Chancellor shared in her 2015 State of the University address last January, we need to find ways to “become the best at getting better.” The answers to these 10 questions will move us in that direction. Finding the answers won’t be easy, and that message was reinforced throughout the SUNYCON 2015 agenda.  
If you have any questions or comments, please contact me directly at presblog@mvcc.edu.

Monday, November 2, 2015

From the Internet of Things to big data and the quantified student

As I mentioned in a previous post, the Hawk Vision group keeps an eye on the future for MVCC and identifies trends worth watching. This is the first of what will likely be several guest blog posts in the future that warrant our attention. Enjoy.

The Internet of Things is happening all around us, and it has been for some time now. It is a movement to connect physical things to the Internet and to each other through wireless technologies to form a seamless, coherent experience  (http://www.entrepreneurial-insights.com/internet-of-things-future-data/). The future of the Internet of Things raises questions regarding big data and what we do with it. There is much discussion about how everything connects through wireless technology, but what happens with all the data that gets collected? Is there a place for the Internet of Things in higher education? And if so, what? 
According to a white paper written by software company Oracle (“This paper provides an overview for the adoption of Big Data and analytic capabilities as part of a ‘next-generation’ architecture that can meet the needs of higher education institutions”) on enterprise architecture, “Institutions have traditionally measured students by grades and attendance. Students facing severe academic challenges are often recognized too late. Many institutions are now starting to look at Big Data solutions to better understand student sentiment (gathered from social media) and other aspects of the campus life experience. For example, sensors in buildings enable tracking of students and the time that they spend in the classroom, in their dormitory, in the cafeteria, or in the library. The effectiveness of their instructor can be partly determined by analysis of student sentiment. Problems can be detected and corrected earlier, with less dire consequences for all involved.” (For the complete report, click here.) Although written and researched by a for-profit company, the implication of the direction of one of the largest data companies is staggering. 
So does the Internet of Things begin to quantify our students? Can we use the examples of a quantified self to increase student performance and completion? What is quantified self and what data are used to quantify one’s self? Currently the trend in quantified self is using personal data, such as fitness trackers, calorie counters, etc., to track one’s fitness and health. According to the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), “Quantified Self describes the phenomenon of consumers being able to closely track data that is relevant to their daily activities through the use of technology.” It is enabled by wearable technology and the mobile web. This is a notable trend because it gives us a glimpse of what our daily lives will be like in the near future, in which many of the emerging technologies that we are just getting used to – the mobile, big data, wearable technology – will come together for a seamless consumer experience. (Full article
Only when the Internet of Things, quantified self, and big data come together in a student profile can we begin to understand how much impact the data can have on higher education. In the near future, we will have to address how these three come together to better aid our students in study habits, health habits, and academic planning to truly enhance the entire student experience. The future beyond big data will be the true quantified self through learning experiences, and competency-based education through just-in-time learning and creating a fully quantified self that will serve as an e-portfolio of a person’s true qualifications and ability. The future of higher education will be credentialing competency-based education, experiential learning, and lifelong learning. Self-tracking websites such as LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com) give us a peek into the future and the quantified self. 
Do you have any comments or questions about the Internet of Things and the quantified self? Hawk Vision would love to hear from you! Share your thoughts with us at hawkvision@mvcc.edu.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Anticipating the Future

The world is changing fast, and change in the world of community colleges (and higher education as a whole) seems only to be accelerating in pace and complexity. One question that might give many community college presidents pause is, “What mechanism do you have in place to anticipate the future and build capacity to position the college accordingly?” I’m proud to say that the Strategic Horizon Network is the primary mechanism for MVCC, and more recently, Hawk Vision is the newest piece to our future-anticipating puzzle.

Since 2008, MVCC has been a member of the Strategic Horizon Network (SHN), a small group of community colleges from the Eastern and Midwestern parts of the country that twice a year bring teams of faculty and staff together in fascinating colloquia. I like to call it common learning through uncommon experiences, because the premise of the network design is that in order to more effectively anticipate the future, we must go beyond the boundaries of higher education to get exposed to new ideas and concepts necessary to help us do so.

For example, about six years ago, SHN took us to California to spend time with IDEO – a design firm in the Silicon Valley that helped create Apple’s first mouse and several other products that have helped to change society. We learned about their use of design thinking. On the surface, one could say design thinking is a modern form of brainstorming, but it’s so much more: It’s a process to understand the root cause of an issue that needs to be addressed; it changes the problem-solving process by continually asking “how might we?” and adds the value of accelerated prototypes. A recent article in the Harvard Business Review highlighted design thinking as a necessary tool for creatively building organizational capacity for the complexities of the future – six years after our first contact with the topic. 

About five years ago, SHN spent time hearing from researchers on abundance and positive psychology work with the Gallup Strengthsfinder. The colloquium experience gave us a view of how it all applied in a food company in Ann Arbor where they operate eight different businesses (deli, creamery, bakery, restaurant, etc.) and explored similar application in the culture of Quicken Loans. Simultaneously, we began to more intentionally prototype our use of the Gallup Strengthsfinder with our employees and students. As a result, we launched the use of the Gallup Strengthsfinder with all degree-seeking students in our ED 100 College Success Seminar class, and “Strengths” is part of MVCC. This past summer, a Time magazine article focused on these topics and espoused that 457 of the Fortune 500 companies use the Gallup Strengthsfinder in some manner. In a world of growing similarities among colleges, MVCC students have a distinctive experience when they discover their “strengths” and learn how to apply them for personal and academic success.

Now we have Hawk Vision.  Similar to the InnovationWorks group at fellow SHN member, Montgomery College in Maryland, Hawk Vision is a small group of faculty and staff with a significant role at MVCC – to continually scan and explore trends that will shape the future of community colleges; identify where innovation is occurring at MVCC and find ways to amplify it and help bring it to scale. As the first community college in New York State, MVCC takes great pride in anticipating the future, and with the Strategic Horizon Network and Hawk Vision in place, we’re increasing our odds to continue that tradition. 

If you have any questions or comments on this post, please contact me directly at presblog@mvcc.edu.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Advanced Manufacturing: The Future is Now!

The headlines read that the jobs are coming!

Yes, more than 2,000 jobs will emerge from the developments at Marcy Nano and Quad-C with the recent announcements from Austrian company AMS and General Electric. It’s all somewhat overwhelming for a community that has been longing for news like this for more than a decade. 

What’s just as exciting is the skills in demand to fill these new jobs are many of the same skills that are already in high demand from existing employers. MVCC has been placing students at nanotechnology giant Global Foundries in Malta, N.Y., for a few years now – with our graduates receiving great entry-level salaries with opportunities for overtime and swift promotions with excellent performance.

Recently, MVCC participated in the extremely successful Advanced Manufacturing Day at SUNY Polytechnic Institute, where we had the chance to tour scores of high school students through our high-tech, state-of-the art labs. Until the recent announcements, advanced manufacturing has taken different forms in different business lines. From brewing to yogurt, and paper to machine parts production, there is a common set of skills that are essential to the heart of our local economy.

All of these skills can be acquired through enrollment and completion of our many degree and certificate programs related to advanced manufacturing. To learn more about all that MVCC has to offer for careers in the economy of the Mohawk Valley's future, just watch the video above.
If you have any questions or comments, please contact me directly at presblog@mvcc.edu.