Monday, November 19, 2007

Creating a Culture of Partnership

Each week I have the good fortune to tour local businesses and agencies, as well as some of our own instructional labs to learn about community needs and MVCC's ability to respond to those needs. These experiences have helped expand my thinking on the notion of partnerships. While I will continue to gather information through the many meetings and tours that are scheduled in the weeks to come, I wanted to share some possible answers to the interesting questions - what does partnering mean and what does it take to create a culture of partnership at MVCC?

I have recently met with representatives from BOCES, SUNY IT, Utica College, many local businesses, particularly in the important healthcare sector, as well as individuals at the Resource Center for Independent Living, Upstate Cerebral Palsy, the Refugee Center, and others covering the full spectrum of potential partners for MVCC. From these meetings, I've found that partnering can mean a number of things - MVCC providing direct training to meet an employer need; MVCC breaking down barriers so that those served by various agencies have increased access to our educational programs and services; MVCC and a partner joining forces around some initiative or idea to strengthen our community; or at the most basic level, simply establishing a common connection based on like interests and a commitment to help one another, thus creating an environment that sets the stage for some future undefined activity that could only be brought about through partnership

If we are to reach out to unserved and underserved populations in ways that this community so badly needs, we are not going to be able to do so through standard operating procedures. Serving these populations will require us to think differently, act differently, and for many quite possibly feel differently. A focus on an expanded notion of partnership will allow MVCC to serve these communities in the Mohawk Valley in new and different ways. Partnership will require streamlined curriculum and program development systems, the removal of barriers that we may not even think exist (until we look at things through the eyes of those we are not currently serving), a streamlined intake system, and an unwavering commitment on the part of everyone at MVCC to serve others. I like the saying that success yields more success. I believe this is especially true if it results from intentional efforts like creating a culture a partnership, for it is through partnering that we will be able to expand our abilities to serve others and realize success beyond any of our current expectations.

If you have any thoughts or insights on partnerships or anything else, please share them with me at presblog@mvcc.edu.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Parking - the third rail of campus life

The third rail provides power for electric trains. If you touch a third rail, it isn't a pleasant thing. We recently had an interesting case study in organizational communication that surfaced the third rail of campus life - parking. My blog seemed fitting to capture it for the ages and attempt to clarify a few things. After participating in this effort to a point, hearing of the situation as things unfolded, and sorting the alluser emails and individual emails (thank you to those of you who chose to communicate with me through my blog email - I appreciated your insights!), here is what I have gleaned from this memorable week.

The Payne Hall lot gate is old. No tracking mechanism exists and we have difficulty if a new card needs to be made with the old system. As part of a planned project, we secured funding to purchase a new gate. The project was discussed at an Executive Committee meeting where it was recognized the manner in which this was communicated and "rolled out" would be important not to cause any confusion. As part of the (mis)communication effort, it was reported at the Safety Committee. It was mentioned that there was a list of names who could park in the lot and reference was made to contractual issues with parking. The question was then asked "does this mean that classified support staff won't get new cards and will have to find a new place to park?" Unfortunately, no clear answer was provided and people were left to their imaginations which were then further fueled by the article in Communitas. The article said that professional staff would be able to park in the lot after the new gate was installed. The meaning of the word professional in the article seemed to imply members of the professional association, which was untrue. The term professional staff was an inclusive phrase intended to reinforce the fact that MVCC is a community of professionals - all of us.

I believe the ambiguous wording in the article coupled with the ambiguity from the safety committee meeting led people to paint current events with a historical brush - interpreting today with a yesterday lens. I tried to communicate in a selective fashion through particular email aliases, which was quickly escalated to an allusers chatroom format. This then further escalated the commentary to surface parking issues associated with other areas on campus. All I can say there is that in the short term we will have a new gate for the Payne Hall lot; Long-term, we hope to update the Campus Master Plan, at which time all of our parking needs will be assessed to identify strategic solutions to parking issues.

The intent was to install a new gate. The intent was not to imply that one employee group was more important than another. I remain committed to developing systems and structures and managing symbols to the best of my abilities that reinforce the critical importance of all employee groups, of all job classifications, of all individual employees in supporting our students clarify and achieve their goals and serve our community in creative ways to help our region thrive. When we're able to look back on this week, that of tricks and treats, I hope the only change we will have on this is a new gate and common memory affirming two things that we do know in this world of so many unknowns: 1. communication, both sending and receiving messages is critically important to our success as an organization and 2. parking is the third rail of campus life.

If you have any further reflections on parking, please share them with me at presblog@mvcc.edu.

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.