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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The new Mandia Family Learning Commons — a special space for success

Built for success

Where do our students go to identify and find academic support on their pathway to success? It is the place where they can find experts in coping with learning — and life — obstacles to graduation, in a new, inviting space with familiar, welcoming faces.

The Mandia Family Learning Commons is the newest and coolest space for MVCC students on the Utica Campus. Located in the Information Technology Building, the Commons is a multi-functional, collaborative learning space for students to be with each other, with faculty, and with staff to help them advance on their path to success.

As it was in the former Learning Center, the heart of the Commons is the staff who inhabit the new fresh and inspiring space. With full-time professional tutoring in the Math Lab and Writing Lab, the Commons is a tremendous resource for students. Additional tutoring is available in most any discipline or program we offer, and students now have the added benefit of customized space to work with their tutors at computers, if necessary. Open computers are available for students who need to work individually or collaboratively with others.

And the Commons has much more — because of the people who are there to help. 

Four full-time faculty members have relocated their offices within the new space. Representing the disciplines of Reading, Math, English, and Physics, the faculty housed in the Commons are "all in" for student success. They are joined by three Completion Coaches from our Pathway to Graduation Project to help students with issues both in and out of the classroom. For the more complex issues, students can go to a Case Manager from the C3 (College-Community-Connection) Program who can leverage a robust network of community resources related to food, health, housing, transportation, child care, and other barriers that arise to threaten the success of students.

And that's not all! Students and faculty also will benefit from the talents of a librarian and instructional design professional who can provide tremendous resources and guidance to all. While students will draw on the "in-house" librarian talents, faculty can utilize the instructional design resources as they use the "iTeach" lab to explore new technologies and teaching methodologies, and hone their craft for the benefit of students.

While we wait for the last few pieces of furniture to arrive, the positive energy and excitement surrounding the Mandia Family Learning Commons will continue right through and beyond our ribbon-cutting, which is scheduled for Thursday, November 17, at 1:30 p.m.

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

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Organizational Self-Study: Time to Reflect

Accreditation is the “good housekeeping seal of approval” for colleges and universities. Without it, our credits would not transfer, employers would not recognize our graduates, and the U.S. federal government would not process the millions of dollars our students receive in financial aid each year. To obtain and maintain accreditation, colleges must undergo an organizational “self-study” every 10 years and assess itself against seven standards, as defined by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE). Colleges produce a self-study document that is sent to MSCHE and an evaluation team comprised of peers from other community colleges in the Middle States region (excluding our neighbors here in New York who are part of the same SUNY system). 

As one of seven regional accrediting agencies, MSCHE is under the same pressure as the other regions to demonstrate to the federal government that peer evaluation and accreditation have teeth — rigor and consequences are tangible. The self-study process is a two-year organizational endeavor involving more than a quarter of full-time employees in significant committee work; more than half in meaningful participation; and nearly all in one way or another in addition to a variety of opportunities for students and community members. Our self-study will be in complete draft form by the start of fall 2017. We'll host the evaluation team chair in the fall and receive feedback to finalize our document by the start of the spring 2018 semester. The process will be complete when the team visits us in the spring of 2018 and makes their recommendation to the MSCHE Board for action at their July 2018 meeting. 

Although accreditation, and the standards it requires, may have seemed like a "spot check" on organizational operations in the past, this is no longer the case. With a variety of external accountability forces driving change in community colleges (and higher education as a whole), the self-study process for accreditation is increasingly becoming about demonstrating how colleges are continuously undergoing self-study for institutional improvement. The accreditation standards simply provide the minimum standards and guidance for what every good institution of higher education should be and do.

MVCC does not shy away from this shift to continually assessing itself and striving to improve. Our self-study workgroups working very hard to ask the tough questions and distill an accurate reflection of where the college has been over the past 10 years; where we are; and clarify our challenges and opportunities for the future. As a college, we are increasingly recognizing that we need to continue developing our systems, programs, and services because we have data to inform our thinking that we're doing the right things, for the right reasons, with the right outcomes. Accreditation does indeed provide that external stamp of approval for the college but to truly thrive in these changing times of paradox and uncertainty, we need to be doing things because they're what we need to do to be a great institution well into the future.

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

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

New campus dining choices feature local products

John Lehmann, right, general manager of Sodexo Campus Services at MVCC, talks about the new dining options at MVCC's Utica Campus. Also pictured, from left: MVCC President Randall VanWagoner, MVCC Vice President of Student Affairs Stephanie Reynolds, and Carla Wevang, District Manager from Sodexo.

Everything is better with good food — including learning. That is why one of the biggest changes to our Utica Campus this fall is within our food service areas.  

Our partners at Sodexo surveyed students, faculty, and staff last spring, and the results were clear: Changes needed to be made. Based on that feedback, we've added Wholly Habanero; replaced Pizza Hut with the Pizza Joint; and replaced Zime Bistro with Sammies for great subs. 

These new choices feature local products no farther away than Syracuse, with everything made fresh daily — cooked and cut meats, fresh breads and pizza dough, vegetables, and other items prepped and chopped every morning. In addition, these eateries provide more flexibility on cost, with choices like a single taco or pizza by the slice. And the food plans are much more flexible now, with lower cost plans available through the use of HawkDollars on your student or employee ID card.


The changes are dramatic and timely to help get the new academic year off to a great start. Hopefully, everyone will take advantage of the new offerings and enjoy themselves.  After all, everything is indeed better with good food.


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


Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Ceremonies as a Tether Amid Change

Next week, we will welcome students to MVCC at our New Student Convocation. Although I imagine this may have been done in the early days of the College, a ceremony like this has not been held at MVCC in recent memory. It’s an important ceremony to anchor the college experience for new students and frame their time at MVCC to get them off to a great start. New Student Convocation also provides a perfect pairing with graduation — the most visible and significant ceremony of a college experience. 

As another start to an academic year begins for us, I am reminded of the importance that ceremonies, events, and celebrations have for our organizational culture. We live in an age of change, and MVCC, by our very nature as a community college, is constantly engaged, staying ever nimble and responsive to the changes in our community.

This summer, we’ve experienced a number of major changes — a $30 million redevelopment of the Rome Campus; a renovated bookstore and food service area at the Utica Campus; a transformation of the Utica Campus Learning Center into the new Learning Commons; a full replacement of the platform and support columns on Payne Hall; and a redesign of the Academic Affairs administrative structure that also resulted in nearly 70 full-time employees changing offices.

We’ve also recently added new academic programs like small Unmanned Aerial Systems (sUAS) Associate in Applied Science degree and Mechatronics Certificate to respond to the region’s emerging UAS and nanotechnology industries, and we’ve relocated our thINCubator and Carpentry/Masonry programs to adjacent spaces on Broad Street in Utica’s Bagg’s Square. In addition, we’ve received major programmatic grants like Title III: Pathway to Graduation Project, College-Community-Connection (C3) program, and the Advanced Institute for Manufacturing that serves manufacturers in the six counties of the Mohawk Valley region — that’s a lot of change!

With so much change in motion, ceremonies, events, and celebrations tether us and provide a certain level of consistency and community that unites us and serves as a reminder of the importance of our mission and connects us to our vision of transforming lives through learning. This week we’ll all gather for our annual Fall Opening and August Institute, which signal the start to the new academic year. Student Welcome Week, Completion Day, Phi Theta Kappa honor society induction ceremony, and other student-focused events help create a rhythm to the fall semester that closes with graduation and our bi-annual Celebration of Success. Our annual Data Summit and January Institute for faculty and staff kick off the spring semester, which winds down with an annual scholarship ceremony, athletics banquet, student honors brunch, and other events that culminate in our large graduation ceremony, Summer Institute and recognition luncheon, and year-end Celebration of Success that all then give way to the altered rhythm of summer in Upstate New York.

The daily experience of working in a community college can be inspiring. Helping students and our community clearly presents a feeling of being part of something bigger than yourself; however, ceremonies, celebrations, and events add something special to the culture of an organization. The addition of New Student Convocation will add a distinctive element for the College and serve as yet another reminder of why change is important in the first place — to enhance the student experience and increase their chances for success.

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

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.