Friday, November 2, 2007

Access, Excellence, and Engagement

The inaugural/community event last week was a great experience for me. I appreciated the nice attendance and felt so fortunate to be joined by David Brancaccio for what felt like a very relevant conversation. I thought my blog would be a good place to post the substance of my formal remarks from the evening. I continue to be encouraged by the potential of this region and the position of Mohawk Valley Community College to serve the community in varied and significant ways.

Inaugural Remarks - 10/26/07
...thank you for joining me this evening…an evening that certainly marks the ceremonial aspect of becoming President of such a successful institution. I wanted to use this event as an opportunity to model what MVCC does so well – seize every possible opportunity to present some kind of learning experience. I think we will be able to do just that tonight with an exciting lecture and dialogue with one of America’s leading journalists, Mr. David Brancaccio.

As I assumed the responsibilities of this position, I have carried with me a quote from Howard Lowry, President of Wooster College in the 1940s – I’ve modified it slightly to bring it up to date... Lowry said, “A college is a corner of our hearts where hope has not died. Here no battle is yet quite lost. Here, we assert, endow, and defend as final reality the best of our dreams. Here lies our sense of community.” With that in mind, I’ve gone about my work here focused on three themes - Access, Excellence, and Engagement.

Access is the core value of the community college mission. As the gateway to postsecondary education in the Mohawk Valley, MVCC has educated thousands of people in and around this community; we know that thousands more have not had easy access to the college’s services for a variety of reasons.

It is my immediate goal to examine ways to improve access for those
unserved and underserved populations – whether the barrier is financial or administrative – we will do our best in the coming months and years to ensure that their dream of a college education is deferred no longer. We have a tremendous sense of purpose here – I will continue to emphasize our commitment to access so that we make sure that as the community’s college we are as welcoming as possible.

That commitment to access warrants attention to the second theme – excellence. Excellence creates a bit of a paradox within our mission of access, in that we are challenged to take students from the most diverse backgrounds of preparation and life experience and get them all to the same place – So that when they leave us, they meet the high standards of our four-year partners who will continue to educate them and the high expectations of our business partners who will employ them. For me, this paradox of access and excellence presents the wonder of community colleges. How do we account for this at MVCC? – In a word – support.

At MVCC our accessibility is reinforced by comprehensive support services to assist students in and out of class. We will continue to develop our talented faculty staff and refine our advising, tutoring, and other support services, so that access and excellence are not compromisein any way. As we increase our reach to underserved populations, we will have to sharpen our collective skill set to meet their needs and commit to providing even greater support than we have in the past.

This brings me to my third theme of engagement – to engage means to actively commit to something. I’ve spoken to faculty and staff here about this notion of engagement –it’s important in so many ways. As Vince Lombardi once said, “Individual commitment to a group effort -- that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” I want us to commit to pay even closer attention to the needs of our community. We are a community in transition and as a community college, we have to recognize that our programs and services need to transition as well and maintain that delicate, sensible balance of anticipating new challenges and responding to current demands.

Perhaps the most complex aspect of engagement is the extent to which we can engage our external community. I believe that for the College to be a great partner, we have to start with “yes” - It’s not so much saying yes to everything, but rather it’s more of an attitude that pervades the entire College – we’re going to give everything we have to try to make things work when our community needs us.

We already have some great partnerships in place here, but I know we can do more. The challenges faced by this region can rarely be solved by one organization. The potential to expand partnerships was a significant attraction for me when considering this position. I get excited when I think about the different connections that the College already has as the result of having a comprehensive mission.

We have the potential at the College to build on those connections and serve as a conduit that can connect multiple partners around common objectives and build creative solutions for our community. What I’m talking about is intentionally, actively seeking partnerships at every turn - making partnership a signature of how people perceive Mohawk Valley Community College – it’s top of mind for all of us – here on staff or for members of our community – that we’re all thinking, “how can MVCC be part of the solution?”

These three themes of access, excellence, and engagement will continue to guide my thinking as I learn more about the College and the community and hopefully connect some dots that have been waiting to be connected so we can make Mohawk Valley Community College that
• special place in the corner of our hearts where hope has not died;
• where no battle is yet quite lost;
• where we assert, endow, and defend as final reality the best of our dreams; where our sense of community - here in the Mohawk Valley - can be found at Mohawk Valley Community College.