Monday, February 25, 2008

Changes Nobody Wants

Life on college campuses is not what it used to be - the past year has been one of intense activity in the wake of the Virginia Tech tragedy. Colleges are fortifying their campuses for unknown and unwanted attacks that are hard to imagine. The recent, horrific event at Northern Illinois University underscored the fact that colleges can not prevent many of these sad and tragic incidents - too often they can only hope to minimize the damage through levels of preparation. As an educator, I still remember where I was standing on April 20, 1999 when I heard about the Columbine High School shooting - as a Dean of Students at a community college just outside of Denver and less than five miles from Columbine. I remember standing in the airport last year watching the Virginia Tech tragedy unfold on April 16th...the day I was traveling to Utica to meet with the MVCC Board of Trustees for them to officially approve my appointment as President and assume responsibility for leading this College in such uncertain times. I found so many good things in place at this wonderful College and one I was perhaps most grateful for was the administration's attention to campus safety.

What's Been Done?
For many years, MVCC has had a Crisis Team in place. The Crisis Team is comprised of a group of senior administrators and staff who oversee plans and infrastructure for the College to handle emergencies. The College has a comprehensive Emergency Response Plan, with protocols for specific crisis scenarios. The plan has been updated to include the latest steps we are taking to improve safety and security on campus (for example, the Crisis Team met the afternoon of the NIU shootings to discuss various issues). Our crisis plan encompasses multiple phases that will significantly enhance the College’s ability to respond in the event of a crisis. The recent purchase of 29 security cameras brings the total number of cameras to 35 for the residence halls. There are 16 additional cameras are in place throughout the campus and 9 more were installed (5 in Utica and 4 in Rome) with the completion of the network upgrade this past fall. The Facilities office has reviewed all of the locks on classrooms, labs, and offices throughout both campuses and identified solutions to enhance safety through better locks.
As a preventative measure, we have created a Behavior Evaluation Response Team (BERT). The purpose of BERT is to proactively identify and follow-up on repetitive student behavioral issues. Faculty and staff are able to email a special committee with concerns about students who are exhibiting behaviors that put them at risk to their own safety or the safety of others. We have also installed and tested an outdoor warning system with siren and public address capabilities at the Utica Campus. I believe we are the first community college and the second college campus in the state of New York to implement such a safety measure. We have already identified monies to install a similar system for our Rome Campus.

What More Can Be Done?
MVCC is also joining NY Alert-a statewide system where students and employees have the ability to go to the college website and sign up to be notified of a campus emergency. This is a voluntary system that will allow the State Emergency Management Office to transmit messages via cell phone text messages, email, or fax. In addition, the Crisis Response team has completed the National Incident Management Systems training (NIMS). Team members have also attended a number of professional workshops on campus safety that has led to the pursuit of many of these initiatives mentioned here. With the regular meetings of our Crisis Response Team, our crisis plan will continue to be updated and we'll continue to identify future initiatives to increase our ability to keep our campuses safe.

With tremendous support from the MVCC Foundation, we have also secured dollars to implement other future safety measures. Our new telephone system will be able to serve as internal public address system and provide different messages to buildings and individual floors, offices or classrooms. The dollars will also allow us to place telephones with auto dial to public safety in every classroom and lab. In addition, we are reviewing our electronic signage internally and externally to be able to communicate better in the event of a crisis.

With so many changes in the world, it is abundantly clear that not all change is for the good. We often speak of the difficulty of trying to prepare for every scenario imaginable – a task now much more complicated when the unimaginable seems to be occurring on a regular basis. Do you have ideas for campus safety? If so, please let me know at presblog@mvcc.edu.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Significant Community College

My last post seemed to hit a nerve with some people who responded and shared their insights and passion for what makes community colleges, and MVCC in particular, so successful - I appreciate all of the responses. Part of what is playing into what I hope is a change in the perception of community colleges is the fact that the community college itself is changing. The common theme of "success" brings to mind the quote Jim Collins used in his book Good to Great. He opens the book by saying that, "Good is the enemy of great" - it's easier to go from mediocre to good than good to great. Along a similar line, two colleagues and I wrote an article a few years ago that argued community colleges are indeed successful. However, amidst turbulent change of all sorts, our communities need us more than ever and therefore, community colleges must pursue a level of significance that goes beyond success. We titled our article The Significant Community College. https://email.mvcc.edu/exchweb/bin/redir.asp?URL=http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0HCZ/is_1_33/ai_n15623952
An excerpt from the introduction of our article is as follows: "American community colleges face a future marked by contrasts. Demand for services is increasing. Support from communities is strong. Business and industry leaders are increasingly turning to community colleges as their workforce providers. Large foundations are increasing their support. Projections for further growth challenge the projections for future resources. But demands for accountability continue to accelerate. And while as community college professionals we pride ourselves on being more responsive and more nimble than our four-year brethren and while we brag about our role as the gateway to opportunity for the underserved and underrepresented, we have to face the fact that our job is more challenging than ever.

Graduation and retention rates are largely unimproved. The aging baby boomers and dynamic demographics of our communities are increasing the pressure on our models for workforce development. Our K-12 partners are struggling to address the new challenges of less prepared students and more transient families. In this complex environment, Barr and Tagg's (1995) Change article provided a direction during the past decade as community colleges engaged in the learning paradigm, a shift from emphasizing instruction to focusing on learning. Community colleges are now more respected, better understood, and better positioned than at any other time in their history. But our challenges have risen with our status, and we must now impose a new paradigm upon ourselves."

This series of postings on my blog provides the background and context for something I've been thinking about for a number of years now. In the 1990s, everyone said things were changing and would continue to change at an accelerated rate. Everyone generally seemed good with that and worked hard to stay on top of it. This year I complete a four-year term as an officer on a national board for community college instructional administrators and the view I take from that wider perspective is that we, as a collective group of American educators, seem somewhat fatigued with managing change - perhaps hoping someone will tell us that what we're doing is just fine and we can keep doing it the way we've always done it.

In contrast, when I hear our students speak and then listen to the needs of our local employers, I again feel that sense of urgency that, as our community's college, we must do everything we can to stay out in front...or at least stay even with the change curve. Somehow, we need to find ways to weave a certain comfort level with change into our internal beings - so that we can cope as individuals - as well as within the collective fabric of our organizational culture. Only by finding ways to receive feedback, develop new strategies for change and make the ability to change part of who we are will we be able to move MVCC from a successful community college to a significant community asset.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Changing Community College

Last fall I received an email on my blog from a student here who absolutely loved her MVCC experience. She loved the small class sizes, the personal attention she received, the full sense of an active campus community and the engaging content of her classes. What prompted her email was the great concern she had when her younger sister came home from high school, here in Oneida County, and shared that her teacher told the class that MVCC was "only for the people who couldn't get into any other school" and further proclaimed "it's a different way to finish high school level courses, if you've failed in high school." When asked if he'd ever stepped foot on the campus, the teacher meekly responded..."never."

This teacher demonstrated extraordinary ignorance of MVCC and community colleges in general - sadly, his view is shared by many in this country. However, I am encouraged by the frequency with which this uninformed perspective is changing for the good. The Community College is like jazz - a uniquely American invention that has a positive effect on our individual lives in different ways. One major struggle MVCC and other community colleges have faced for years is the fact that high school teachers and counselors all have at least a four-year degree and many (along with many parents), in their influential position with teenagers assume that a four-year degree is a base standard. If that were true then why is it that for the past three decades no more than 25% of the adult population has earned a four-year degree? In 1985, Dale Parnell wrote a book entitled, The Neglected Majority. Parnell drew attention to the fact that Americans hold the four-year degree as a far-reaching ideal that fails to meet the educational needs of the vast majority of our population. If everyone should go to a university, then why are more than 50% of all first-year college students in America currently enrolled in community colleges?

Community colleges around the country have taken various paths in their development. From technical /vocational schools to junior colleges set up for transfer, community colleges now enjoy the wonder and complexity of a comprehensive mission - basically doing it all to meet the various needs of the individual and the community. MVCC's own path began as a technical institute in 1946. Today, that side of our mission provides for a comprehensive array of career and technical programs that prepare trained workers in health care, business, transportation, information technology and many other fields. The liberal arts and natural sciences part of our comprehensive mission allows students to gain their first one or two years of credits at MVCC and transfer to a four-year school. Regardless of the program, student learning is our focus and we strive to not leave student success to chance.

The efforts here at MVCC and at community colleges around the country have finally given this unique sector of higher education some traction in the American psyche. A few years ago when the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, spoke in Omaha, everyone in attendance was anticipating amazing insights from the Chairman about key indicators that would drive the future of our economy. Mr. Greenspan focused on education, and community colleges in particular, as the foundational element to a trained workforce and related robust economy. With the increasing costs of a four-year education, community colleges are finding their way into the mainstream. People are now realizing that master's prepared faculty members teaching first and second year college courses as their primary professional focus are actually more likely to provide a better educational experience than the first and second year graduate student teaching assistants found in so many freshman seminar courses at a university. Likewise, the "real-world" experience provided by our career program faculty is second to none in preparing students for the world of work.

Rather than sharing such an uninformed perspective with his students, that high school teacher would have done much better by those students to encourage them to make their own judgment. For many reasons, more and more students are finding their way to community colleges and finding meaningful and memorable educational experiences - Americans are changing and giving community colleges a second look and liking what they see. What do you think? Let me know at presblog@mvcc.edu.

Monday, February 4, 2008

MVCC's Changing Workplace

Building on the notion of changes in the workplace, I want to focus this post on our own changing workplace at MVCC. We recently had the good fortune to have Mr. Frank Pastizzo from Warm Up the Workplace, Inc. (http://www.warmuptheworkplace.com/) visit our campus and share his own inspiring and humorous insights on the world of work. One line that stuck with me during his two-hour presentation to faculty and staff was when he said, "They say misery loves company...well, so does joy." I hope to have that notion of joy pervade our workplace in the coming years. It will take time and commitment on everyone's part to make it happen.

Frank Pastizzo reminded us that we spend more of our waking hours at work than we do with our families, so why not make the most of it. His jokes, stories, and music seemed to put many things in perspective for us. In the weeks since, I've had many faculty and staff send me notes and emails about how they went in to Frank's presentation a little skeptical and came out feeling energized and inspired to be part of what's going on at MVCC. Frank Pastizzo publishes a free online newsletter that you can subscribe to from his website. One of his recent newsletters really captures the essence for me. With his permission, I have included an excerpt here:

"(We all have) worries about children and grandchildren and bills and college and home maintenance and family health concerns and pet ailments and births and funerals and school issues and problems with the car...All of us seek stability in these areas, and everyone coming through the door at work is dealing with these same issues. Some have friends at work who are good listeners and who take some time to help them with their difficulties so they can re-stabilize. Some use good, hard work as their escape. Some find ways to revitalize themselves through intense concentration and study. Some plunge into physical activity.

Whether it's a school, factory, office, health center, or farm, when people get together to do work, we quickly find ways to minimize our personal screens and work on the professional tasks at hand. It increases the structure in our lives. It results in community production and community accomplishments. It can temporarily take us out of our own complications or instabilities, refocus the strongest parts of us, and give us valuable time and perspective from a group-energized place of order. Ideally, we incorporate our group's positive momentums into our personal circles. We come up with new plans and resolutions and bring more considerate, decisive, and positive energies back to our home lives.

Understanding that work can have this revitalizing effect, it is hugely important that we each strive to create and protect our workplaces so that they contain and preserve these kinds of rejuvenating energies. We all need to remain respectful of this group space and its far-reaching functions and its place in the community continuum. If we cannot create in our work culture the energies where each of us can really do our work at our best, then we should be perhaps looking harder to find somewhere in our lives where we can. Going to work and communing with others requires all of us to honor the environment and to be at our brightest and our best. When we do it well, we bring home the same for ourselves and send home the same with others. Thus, going to work is an incredibly important part of an energizing cycle in life. It's where many perform at their most constant, which helps all of us."

That is a powerful message. The power however is quickly lost when people fail to internalize the message and leave it externalized - thinking the message is for someone else. I have indeed heard some people say that they were so glad to hear Frank speak because their co-workers could really benefit from his message. Creating a positive and engaging workplace doesn't just happen and it doesn't happen overnight - It takes time. The message is for each of us to reflect on and think about how we live that message every day, one interaction at a time. We all can view work differently, how does this all work for you? Let me know at presblog@mvcc.edu.