Monday, September 28, 2009

The Barnfest and Hard Work

Although this is only our third fall in this community, my family and I made what has become our annual trip to the Barnfest in Remsen City, USA.  Our Barnfest experience last year created a sense of anticipation as we traveled north on Saturday – the radio never went on as the conversation was chatty, lively and brisk the whole ride.  As we turned off Route 12 and proceeded down the road into town, we all commented on the earliest leaves that had already turned.  We parked at the Remsen train depot, just as we did last year, and found our way to the main thoroughfare.

We were met with scents of fried dough, gyros, kettlecorn and cheesesteaks – the overwhelming number of people descending on this small town was inviting.  As the afternoon passed, I alternated my time between packmule, foodhandler and mobile ATM as my family transitioned from one craft booth to another.  While they smelled the homemade candles and perused the handcrafted jewelry, I had a chance to take in my surroundings – tents, booths, crafts, and food along with garbage cans, powerchords, music, and smiling faces serving thousands of people in a slow moving river of willing shoppers.  My thoughts quickly focused on the incredible amount of hard work that was necessary to make this special community event a reality.  After exchanging “hellos” with a number of MVCC faculty and staff moving among the crowd, we bought a bag of cinnamon roasted cashews from an outgoing young man who introduced himself as an MVCC student who plans on transferring to Cornell next fall.  My thoughts quickly turned to the massive volume of work by MVCC faculty and staff that was necessary to get this fall semester off to such a great start.

This past week, I had the opportunity to get out on campus (both Utica and Rome) more than I have in the past few weeks.  I talked to a lot of students (including a monthly student lunch arranged through Student Activities) and chatted informally with a number of faculty and staff.  I got the palpable sense that faculty and staff are working extremely hard. So much effort has gone into accommodating 10% more enrollment than we did last fall.  Staff are fundamentally rethinking systems and processes – implementing waitlists and electronic billing helped us respond to student demand and serve students more efficiently.  As class sizes and the percentage of seats taken increased, faculty accommodated more and more students.  All this means significant increases in student advising needs, papers to grade, quizzes and tests to review, rooms getting cleaned more often, parking and other issues. When I say our community needs us more than ever, I also believe that means we need each other more than ever.  We’re being asked to work harder AND smarter, which often requires small changes that naturally follow the kind of big changes that are currently being implemented.

Like the stunning success of Remsen’s annual Barnfest here in the Mohawk Valley, the success of MVCC lies in a large group of people who share the commitment, determination, persistence, and willingness to work hard every day to make it so.

Accommodating community demand and enrollment growth, while simultaneously working together to improve service systems; further hone teaching and learning processes; and take on a number of important initiatives to help improve this unique organization requires each of us to bring our best to work everyday.  I can’t say how proud I am to work at MVCC, with so many people who bring the College’s very powerful mission to life on a daily basis.  If you have any thoughts on this post, please contact me at presblog@mvcc.edu.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Strategic Horizon Network Update

Last week the College hosted Pat Carter and Dick Alfred who were both on campus for their annual visit as part of MVCC's membership in the Strategic Horizon Network (SHN).  The SHN is a network of 14 community colleges interested in creative approaches to the future who are all committed to the development of their faculty and staff.  Through two annual colloquia and special learning site visits, MVCC has supported more than 25 different employees' participation on teams to these experiences during our first 16 months of membership.

The first purpose in Dick and Pat's visit was to have Pat facilitate different conversations last Thursday with a variety of individuals.  She spent the morning with two groups who spend a lot of time serving students - one in direct service with getting students enrolled and one group that works a great deal with providing student support to help them achieve their goals.  To make the most of the conversations, participation was limited to ten people or so identified by the Cabinet to have broad functional representation in the small groups.  Pat provided an overview of the SHN and some special initiatives currently underway in the Network.  She also facilitated a discussion about how we serve students and got people talking - perhaps in new and different ways than in the past.  She then had lunch with a group of directors responsible for many of the offices represented in the morning discussions.  Pat spent the afternoon in separate meetings with the support team and administrative team in Academic Affairs - not to assess the reorganization at such an early stage, but rather to simply check in and provide an opportunity for everyone to reflect on the changes underway.

The second purpose of Dick and Pat's visit was to have them facilitate the first segment of the Strategic Planning Committee's (SPC) annual fall retreat.  Dick did a very nice job of presenting the concept of abundance - a framework of analyzing organizational health on a continuum of wellness.  The pursuit of abundance focuses on leveraging strengths and building on what works through pursuit of the possibilities - in contrast to a deficit-correcting approach that always looks at what's wrong and needs to be fixed.  It was interesting to have Dick's abundance presentation first thing in the morning of the retreat to set the tone for the day.  It gave us a new vocabulary and a new way to think about things as the SPC considered where the College is currently and where we need to go given the external trends to which the College must respond.

The same day as Pat's discussions with the small groups, the Cabinet joined the Board of Trustees in their annual fall retreat, which included a presentation and conversation with pollster, author and former MVCC faculty John Zogby at his headquarters on Broad Street.  John's recent book, "The Way We'll Be..." tracks changes in polling results over the last 20 years and our conversation allowed us to consider how those trends might effect MVCC.  Taking time out to reflect on where we've been, where we are and how we'll be is an important and energizing annual fall activity to keep the College's Strategic Plan relevant and useful.  If you have any thoughts on any of this, please contact me at presblog@mvcc.edu.

Monday, September 14, 2009

SUNY Visions

This weekend I attended the New York Community College Trustees Association Fall Institute in Albany. The keynote was delivered by SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher. When the Chancellor visited our Utica Campus June 5th, as the first community college visit and second overall of her sixty four campus tour, she openly shared her leadership philosophy, that "vision is critical for good leadership; vision should be created at the hands of many and, most importantly; bold action must be taken to bring that vision to life.” Her energy, intelligence, and warmth was inspiring.

Three months later, Dr. Zimpher has made good on her word and completed her tour of all 64 campuses, where she listened to the needs and perspective of each campus - collecting input for a new strategic plan for the State University of New York. Her next steps will be to conduct regional meetings, with the support of a statewide committee of 200 constituents. By the end of next spring the plan is to synthesize a voluminous amount input into a clear set of strategic goals to drive the plan. You can see just how much the Chancellor welcomes input into this process by reviewing the Chancellor's Corner on the SUNY website http://www.suny.edu/chancellor/.

A comprehensive strategic plan for the University will clearly define priorities, coordinate and focus the collective energy of the 64 campuses, and elevate the system to new heights. Dr. Zimpher likes to highlight what she calls the New York trifecta of public higher education in the SUNY system - education that is *high quality, *accessible, and *affordable. Everytime I've spoken with Dr. Zimpher and everytime I've heard her speak, I get excited about the emerging vision for SUNY and even more excited about the possibilities of actually leveraging the strengths of the largest, most diverse university system in the country to the benefit of our country, our state, and the local communities we serve.

MVCC has so many exciting things happening, it would be great if we could amplify our efforts as part of a more focused and significant University system. With Chancellor Zimpher leading the way, I have a renewed sense of hope for the potential of the SUNY system and I hope you do as well. If you have any thoughts about the Chancellor's planning process and the bright future of SUNY, please contact me at presblog@mvcc.edu.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Abundance and Potency

As we experience and respond to double-digit enrollment growth this fall it’s important to continue looking forward. Equally important is the consideration of how we might approach that future and the opportunities and challenges it will certainly present us. Will the focus of our approach be on what’s wrong or on what’s right? Our collective approach to this future will have a distinct and profound effect on the kind of institution MVCC will be, to both the students and the community we serve.

The Strategic Planning Committee will conduct its annual fall retreat later this month.  It will be facilitated in part by Dr. Richard Alfred and Patricia Carter from the Center for Community College Development – the two principals driving the Strategic Horizon Network (a national network of 14 community colleges, of which MVCC is a member). Dr. Alfred is also co-author of the recent book, “Community Colleges on the Horizon – Challenge, Choice, or Abundance.” Some key concepts from this book are central to the work of the Strategic Horizon Network and, I think, serve as important considerations for the future of MVCC.

Alfred and his co-authors write, “Institutions that work from a deficit-correcting perspective produce incremental gains as resources are committed to eliminating problems that stand in the way of getting work done. Conversely, institutions that work from an abundance perspective – valuing strengths and leveraging resources – generate outcomes that are disproportionate to the resources they are working with. The difference between creating the positive and eliminating the negative is subtle but potentially powerful, and it has important implications for organizational development in community colleges” (p. 29). We have many strengths that can easily be amplified into extraordinary outcomes, if we can only see them - and embrace them - together.

Alfred continues that “cynicism is apt to prevail and there is a tendency to focus on what the institution is doing wrong instead of what it is doing right. Negative experience somehow seems to occupy a more prominent place in our memory and to have a stronger effect on our emotions and cognition than positive experience. This tendency is not without reason: it is an oversight to ignore a positive event, but potentially an invitation to trouble to ignore a negative event. This can be likened to a ‘survival instinct’ and it helps to explain why leaders and staff are more likely to pay attention to negative aspects of organizational life than those that are positive” (p. 129). We can’t ignore what’s not working as we would like, but I believe when we focus on what’s working right and how we can make it better, things that aren’t working well automatically surface. It follows that the problems are easier to solve when we’re trying to make something better versus when we’re simply focused on the problem and trying to fix it.

Somewhat related, the authors also discuss the notion of potency that – “implies an ability to achieve or bring about a desirable result…it can perhaps be most easily understood as the difference between work and commitment. People will work for money, but they will commit to a cause. Institutions that are potent comprise committed people with a collective efficacy for results”(p. 28). The notion of commitment is at the core of my convocation remarks – if all of us think beyond our jobs and commit to the cause of MVCC's stated vision and mission and care for the whole of the organization, we will see potency in our collective actions that will astound our students, our community, and maybe even ourselves!

If you have any thoughts on these ideas, please contact me directly at presblog@mvcc.edu.