Monday, March 17, 2008

Learning About Change

Two weeks and seven Campus Conversation sessions later (with close to 150 participants) I feel much more informed as I continue to think about change and the enormous potential of MVCC. The Campus Conversations of the past two weeks allowed me to share my thoughts on things related to the changing community needs, the myriad ideas for change internally, and receive feedback and insights from faculty and staff. Along the way, I came across a couple of turns of phrase that warrant further exploration.

The Center of the Community

In one Conversation, someone said, "We need to put the community at the center of MVCC and MVCC at the center of the community." Wow. I love this phrase as it captures so much of what originally intrigued me about this place - the community seems very willing to embrace an even larger, more significant role for MVCC in community and economic development efforts and many working at the College are anxious to find ways to strengthen our connections with the community. Like many colleges, our systems are set up to serve the students we serve. However, we have reached a point that to move from a successful community college to a significant community asset, we need to review our systems and structure to be more intentional about reaching those parts of the community that we currently do not serve. Embracing the community in new and different ways will allow us to serve the community in ways we probably never thought possible, as long as we keep "community" at the center of Mohawk Valley Community College.

The Value of "And"
Another conversation surfaced the notion that many of our past and current efforts at the College have centered around an either/or dynamic. The solution is either "this or that" without spending enough time exploring the extent to which the solution could combine "this and that"? It would seem that it's as simple as working on compromising - that's an oversimplification and misses the point. An illustration of this for me is how I compare MVCC with all of the other community colleges where I've worked. It seems so many of the things MVCC does well were things we struggled with at the other colleges (e.g., recruiting recent high school graduates from local high schools) and areas where MVCC could do better were in full bloom at the other colleges (e.g., serving returning adult students). If we spend less time focusing on the OR and more on the AND, we might find some very interesting solutions that would refresh many of the old and tired internal dynamics that prevent us from reaching our potential. I don't know all the specifics, but I know we'll stretch our thinking to new solutions if we spend more time considering the value of AND.

Focus vs. Results
It was noted in one conversation that we spoke for 90 minutes about change and the need for change and we never once mentioned "the need to change is to increase enrollment and the relationship to increased budgets as a result." In another, one person asked that there was no mention made of increasing student retention - we then explored that a little. Through the conversation, we landed on the notion that if we focus on our mission - why we're here, who we're trying to serve and how we're trying to serve them - students will be successful. Our collective conclusion was that if we focus on our mission, student retention will likely increase - retention and enrollment increases are the result, not the singular focus.

Perhaps my favorite insight was in the conversation where someone stated that perhaps if we actually go through change on a more regular basis, we would all become more familiar with change. If we become more familiar with change then perhaps we will therefore increase our ability to change. All of these and other insights that surfaced during the Conversations are worth reflection. I hope everyone who attended found our time together as useful as I did. I've appreciated everyone who has responded to my blog with additional thoughts and perspectives over the past two weeks. I'd welcome any additional ideas you might have as there remains a great deal to consider in the next two months
- presblog@mvcc.edu.