Monday, January 25, 2010

Springing Forward

A number of exciting events always mark the start of a new semester. Among many activities last week, I had the opportunity to welcome students at New Student Orientation; talk with staff facilitating our first-ever academic recovery program for students; and help a few students find their way to an office or classroom. One of my favorite experiences of the week though, was meeting the incoming cohort of new employees for the spring semester. By way of welcome, I found myself talking about our vision and mission statements and the five priorities of our Strategic Plan - not just reciting them, but exploring the ways in which I see them coming to life every day. In particular, our vision statement has been carrying me through much of the fast-paced activity and collective effort of late. The vision that is guiding and connecting some incredibly hard work at the College is, "to transform lives by creating an innovative learning environment that meets the rapidly changing needs of our community." Here's what's on my mind.

Meeting the Rapidly Changing Needs of Our Community

Many attributions to our current 13% enrollment this semester (on top of a 9% increase last spring!) are made to local unemployment hovering around 10%. While I'm sure that is true to an extent, I think some recent efforts by faculty and staff are fueling that increase as well. Last spring we piloted a waitlist process along with priority registration, allowing us to respond to increased demand quickly. By watching waitlists, new class sections were opened on demand (5% more total sections than last year). That change moved more than 3,000 registrations from waitlist to enrollment. In addition, more than 400 fall enrollees participated in academic recovery workshops last week to re-focus and sharpen their educational goals.

Creating an Innovative Learning Environment

Innovation is critical to long-term institutional achievement. Over the past three years, all classrooms have become Internet connected and the number of smart classrooms (presentation/projection systems, etc.) have increased by 49%, making 75% of all classrooms (and many of our academic labs) equipped with the best teaching technology available. In addition, more than 15 state-of-the-art smartboards have been installed and many faculty have been trained to use them. Our Information Technology staff has expanded the College's Internet bandwidth five-fold in time for the first day of spring semester classes! We're also having discussions about new classroom furniture and piloting some new arrangements this semester to see how the physical environment can better facilitate the innovative learning environment we're further developing at MVCC.

Transforming Lives

All together, these efforts speak to what happens at MVCC each and every day. Students from different walks of life come through our doors (physical and virtual!) to enroll in classes. Here they find both a rigorous course of study and an incredible system of support and encouragement. When engaged and completed, the overwhelming majority of our graduates transfer successfully to college or university study, or enter the 21st Century workplace fully prepared to contribute to their employers, their families and their communities!

I'm often struck by the comments I receive semester after semester. Many say, "MVCC is harder than I thought it would be." What sets us apart is our daily commitment to insure that, when they complete their course of study at MVCC, every student finds him or herself in a place very different from where they began...in short, "lives transformed."

We still have a long way to go, but as many recent changes College settle in, our collective efforts will continue to align themselves and we'll see an even greater return as we pursue this inspiring vision. If you have any thoughts, please contact me directly at presblog@mvcc.edu.

Monday, January 18, 2010

A Little Better Everyday

I believe that, as an institution, we are very good at carrying out the College's mission of promoting "student success and community involvement through a commitment to excellence and a spirit of service." To me, a commitment to excellence means that, each and every day, we challenge ourselves – individually and collectively - to serve students; to carry out our responsibilities; to work effectively with each other; to do our jobs better than we did them yesterday. Last week's employee enrichment program, the 2010 MVCC Spring Institute, is a shining example of how deeply and sincerely MVCC faculty and staff hold that commitment!

This year's Spring Institute offered two sessions of five concurrent workshops, mostly focused on the needs and interests of faculty. The sessions covered topics from curriculum and classroom management, to educational technology and teaching students with autism. More than 150 members of the MVCC family deepened their connections, attending various sessions throughout the day, including an informal lunch of pizza and wings.

Amidst all the energy and engagement, the mid-day plenary session left a particularly deep impression on me. We were so fortunate to have nationally recognized consultant and award winning teacher, Dr. Idahlynn Karre, speak on active learning strategies. She spoke in the Utica Campus Theater which, although beautifully suited for live performance, is not an ideal venue for an audience interaction/participation presentation. Despite that fact, Dr. Karre demonstrated that the principles of active learning can be dynamically employed even in a relatively fixed environment.

She referenced Harvard University research, which showed the normal adult attention span to be only about ten minutes. The study suggests that active learning requires teachers to change their method of delivery every ten minutes or so. Dr. Karre’s reference to the work of Pat Cross and Tom Angelo, with Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs), was an important reminder as the CATs accelerated my own effectiveness in the classroom, to be sure!

Throughout her presentation, Dr. Karre emphasized the perspective that the best teaching and learning occurs when our focus moves past "just covering the information." By recognizing that talent and experience shapes individual meaning, we can help our students "bolt" new information, fresh ideas, and expansive concepts to their knowledge "infrastructures", making learning personal and, thus, relevant. That’s how we all learn. Karre referred to community colleges as the “Hopeful Enterprise” and closed with the affirmation that our students, all students, have great potential. Part of our job - as the faculty and staff who make up this wonderful institution, is to recognize it and nurture it.

At the conclusion of Dr. Karre's presentation I turned and saw a sea of talented faculty and staff, clearly energized by what she had to share. The whole experience makes me proud to work in a professional community that isn’t afraid to learn; to risk; to take the chance that - through "a commitment to excellence and a spirit of service" we can get a little better each day. If you have any thoughts on this post, please contact me directly at presblog@mvcc.edu.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

One Student at a Time

Sometimes blog posts are written in my head before I begin typing. This is one of those where I couldn't type fast enough. The significance of my experience at our December Commencement program lingers. Yes, the ceremony was as nice as ever - tough to beat seeing the faces of graduates close-up walking across the stage after so much effort to complete their degrees or certificate programs. It was the reception after the ceremony, however, that caught me. We have a small reception for our December graduates and their families in the lobby of our IT/Theatre Building. I stay in my academic regalia and make my way out to congratulate a few of the graduates I've come to know and inevitably get drawn into various picture-taking opportunities with them and others. The stories I heard and the interactions I witnessed made a lasting impression. So many holiday movies speak to "the true meaning of family, etc."; well, this reception was like the end of a movie about the true meaning of community colleges!

It started for me when I spotted Janet Visalli, our Director of Adult Learning Support Services, walking over to say hello. I asked her if she was here to support some of our older graduates. She replied, in her normal, understated manner, "we have a couple here for sure...oh, here comes one right now!" At that moment Kim Maxwell walked over in her cap and gown, family and friends clapping for her as she pointed to Janet and said, "it's all because of you!" Kim went on to talk about how Janet set up a table in Kim’s company cafeteria to provide information about degree programs at MVCC to working adults. Janet was there for Kim every step of the way - through the highs and lows - and finished it off by wishing her well as she readies herself to enroll at Utica College next semester. After that story there wasn't a dry eye in the group.

As I continued through the crowd, Professor Bill Judycki pulled me aside. He's been working so hard with his colleagues to launch a new Facilities Management Program and introduced me to the first graduate, Traci Chandler, who received her Certificate. After the pictures, I asked what's next for her and Traci replied, "a few more classes in the spring and I'll see you at the May graduation for my Associate Degree!" It was great to be part of that little nugget of MV history - the first graduate in a brand new program! Significant.

I then saw a small crowd gathered around graduate Claire Hayes. Art faculty Duane Isenberg, Scott Seldon, Larry Migliori and others were with Claire and her family recounting all the special memories she made on a significant personal journey through one class after another to finish her Associate Degree in Individual Studies. The pride being experienced by everyone standing there was moving. Jane Morales' graduation was a triumph as well. Her mom traveled from New York City and I know that the Residence Life and Auxiliary Services staff at the College share in her accomplishment. I didn't get to say hello, but it was fun to watch faculty member Rosemary Fucco congratulating her armada of Administrative Assistant graduates - many of whom gave a few shouts and hollers to their families and friends as they walked across the stage earlier that evening.

And finally our student commencement speaker, Eva Maria Tobin, was inspiring. I encountered a number of people who took great pride in helping her successfully pursue a full-ride scholarship to Howard University in Washington D.C. Multiple people at the reception asked me, "where's my Eva?" as they searched through the crowd.

The power and significance of these individual stories amplified and captured the essence of what makes Mohawk Valley so special. In the end, student success occurs one student at a time. And yet, as much as we feel our counsel and guidance helps shape our students' success the reception, in so many ways, reinforced for me that our students shape our lives as well! If you have any thoughts on this post, please contact me at presblog@mvcc.edu.