Monday, February 22, 2010

The "Community's College"

Community colleges around the country often refer to themselves as their “community’s college” – MVCC is no different. However, many community colleges also often refer to themselves as “the best kept secret in town.” In contrast, I’ve never heard that statement in reference to MVCC and that is something special to me. Although we may not be the best kept secret around (what do you think it is?), most people only understand the part of MVCC with which they interact and remain unaware of the full scope and magnitude of our programs and services.

Credit Programs
For the past 64 years, MVCC has offered a comprehensive array of career programs that help students – young and old – to develop skills for the workplace. From Accounting to Welding and most things in between, students can find their career of choice here. Our transfer programs continue to expand – whether it’s creating new agreements with the likes of Cornell or Syracuse or continuing long-established agreements like we have in engineering, as three of our students were recently recognized by the Mohawk Valley Engineer’s Executive Council for winning scholarships and competitions at Clarkson and RPI.

College Prep and Specialized Training Programs
Through the Center for Corporate and Community Education (CCED) at MVCC, nearly 2,000 individuals received some form of specialized training last year through our partnerships with more than 50 local companies - much of this training was delivered on-site at the workplace. In addition, college-prep courses are offered by many of our academic centers for those students who need to complete an English or Math sequence of courses to prepare for college-level work. Similarly, the number of English language learners continues to grow in this community and the College is responding with quality English as a Second Language courses, as years ago, MVCC was the first to offer an ESL Certificate program in the state.

Community Education
Perhaps the best kept secret about the College is that we serve about two-thirds as many students in our non-credit courses as we do in our credit courses. More than 1,000 individuals enroll in our swim courses and thousands more enroll in our wellness and community education offerings – from aerobics to yoga and finances to social media. In addition, we expect more than 200 area youth to explore their future career choices in our third summer of career camps, as part of our summer College for Kids program.

Creative partnerships are one of the five strategic priorities in our Strategic Plan at MVCC and they have produced some wonderful results. On our Utica Campus, the Mohawk Valley Police Academy has been training cohorts of future police officers for communities both locally and regionally for close to forty years and the ARC of Oneida and Lewis Counties operates the CollegeWorks program. At our Rome Campus, SUNY-Canton runs their Dental Hygiene program and Sage Trucking runs a tractor-trailer driving school. CCED takes the lead in many of our community partnerships, some of which receive special funding, that include offering employability skills and introductory human services classes on site at Johnson Park; partnering with Mohawk Valley Community Action to deliver training for soon-to-be-released inmates at local correctional facilities; partnering with the Veteran’s Center in Utica to renovate parts of the former YMCA to create an Internet CafĂ© and housing for veterans; partnering with Workforce Investment Board and Working Solutions to secure funding and provide services for unemployed and underemployed individuals seeking career changes; and the City of Rome to develop incubator space for small business development. The list of partnerships continues to grow, but I’ll stop here and save some for another post.

As the winter sun reveals itself on this beautiful morning, I could continuing writing (I haven’t even touched on our successful athletic programs, our amazing cultural series, exciting partnership with Kien Giang Community College in Vietnam, community contributions of TeamMVCC, and so many other special pieces to the MV puzzle.) but I’d be interested in what you think about what truly makes us our “community’s college.” You can share your thoughts with me at presblog@mvcc.edu.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Beyond the Meetings

A significant part of my job consists of a daily calendar filled with meetings that leave little chance for genuine interaction with students. Fortunately, I’ve been able to seize opportunities and create others to keep me grounded through meaningful student conversations. These experiences provide me with tremendous perspective and insight into the student experience at Mohawk Valley Community College.

With the help of our student life office, I’m into my second year of monthly luncheons with 4-6 students. It is here that I receive the most direct feedback. In 90 minutes over a sandwich in the residence dining hall in Utica or at the Rome Campus, I learn the story behind the returning adult student and the record of the presidential scholar. I gain perspective on registration, advising, classroom and non-classroom interactions, course offerings in Rome, and of course…parking. One thing I’m always struck by is when the students say, “MVCC is harder than I thought.” I can then share stories of recent alums who stop by my office or come back to visit campus and comment on how well prepared they were for their next step. It’s the same for those that transfer as it is for those who are in the workplace – they’re ready.

In addition, I joined members of my Cabinet and the MVCC Board of Trustees for our annual dinner with student leaders. The small group discussions provided all of us with valuable insight into the student experience here. With the great support of Sodexho, I joined about 10 MVCC staff members who came in around 10 p.m. to serve a “midnight breakfast” for students in our residence halls just before final exams last December.

Our student clubs and organizations are another opportunity for me to meet students. Whether it’s talking with our Student Trustee or attending a Student Congress Officers meeting, I get feedback on how we’re doing as a College and how we can improve the student experience. And when I attend an event of our Black Student Union or production of our theatre students, participate in an induction ceremony for our Phi Theta Kappa honor society or athletic awards banquet, I get to enjoy and celebrate the growth and accomplishment of our students – making all of my daily meetings worthwhile.

And whether it’s meeting students who join us on our annual safety walk at night to evaluate improvements we can make on campus for safety measures or student athletes who I’ve come to know from attending games, the size and scale of MVCC is such that I don’t get lost in that calendar of meetings. Rather, I have the good fortune to meet so many of our incredible students and learn their individual stories that stay with me throughout my days at the College. After all, our students and their stories are why we come to the College each day to do what we do on their behalf.

If you have any comments on this post, please contact me directly at presblog@mvcc.edu.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Success Behind the Scenes

During the past twelve months we have witnessed wonderful examples of teamwork, collaboration and alignment at the College. For so many different areas to accommodate the significant influx of new students in such a short time should be a real point of pride for all involved.

When I arrived at the College nearly 3 years ago, I received a great deal of input from many perspectives. One thing that stood out was the need for better communication, better alignment, and focused strategy. Experience teaches that these things cannot be willed or mandated. This kind of change requires individuals throughout the organization to make the conscious choice to engage in open dialogue, the free sharing of perspectives, and a willingness to collaborate for the benefit of the College.

While there are a number of examples from the past year, efforts in the Information Technology area come to mind as week after week, it seems, a new milestone reached. Often, in the world of IT, milestones come and go with little fanfare. Here, I want to shine a bit of “bloglight” on them.

In previous posts I’ve mentioned the significant impact “priority registration” and “waitlisting” have had on our enrollment increases. These increases have, however, been assisted through other system improvements, like online payment; online placement testing; online access to financial documents; automated phone-call reminders to students (thanks to the good work of the business office); web notifications for cancelled classes; online registration and payment for non-credit classes; and server upgrades to support self-service applications.

During the recent semester break, we expanded bandwidth access 500%! In addition, wireless access for laptops was expanded in all common areas as well as some outdoor areas.

Campus safety has also been enhanced by fully implementing the NY Alert emergency notification system and creating an online safety reporting system for our Airframe & Powerplant program. We’ve also significantly expanded the number of web-based security cameras at both campuses.

Computer labs are being upgraded at a swift pace, with the creation of two new Mac labs and increasing the number of computers for tutoring and libraries. All STEM Center labs have been upgraded this year, along with adding two new facilities. Significant upgrades have been made to computer hardware and software for students, faculty, and staff. And new computers are planned to be installed in all open student computer labs by the end of spring break. Both campuses will be completely ready for Windows 7 upgrades this summer or when that final decision is made.

While we still have many planned improvements ahead, all of this has been accomplished with effort, focused prioritization, patience and collaboration among departments. None if it could have occurred without the expertise, time, and commitment to service leadership in the Information Technology department. To each of them, and to all those who collaborated with them, your work is gratefully received and deeply appreciated. If you have any thoughts on items in this post or technology in general, please contact me at presblog@mvcc.edu.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Breaking Barriers

The Karen New Year celebration at our Utica Campus this past weekend, coupled with a meeting I attended last week, spotlights the notion of breaking barriers for me. The Karen ceremony was beautiful and to see the faces of hundreds Karen refugees was an inspirational sight – thinking of them celebrating the Karen New Year 2749 here in their new hometown. I met one Karen MVCC student who I’ve come to know and met another refugee who has already gone through our ESL track and, then, completed his Associate’s Degree in Computer Information Sciences. Watching the crowd file in from the frigid cold temperatures, it was easy to reflect on the barriers they all face with regard to everyday life – let alone engaging in college study and career planning.

Similarly, last week I joined a number of creative staff in a conversation about their experiences serving students and the most common barriers to student success at MVCC. It would be nice if all students could just go to school full-time and have no other responsibilities beyond “finding themselves.” That scenario, however, is far from the common student profile. Work, sometimes multiple jobs; child care; elder care; financial constraints; transportation; and personal history sometimes combine to make pursuing a college education nearly impossible…or so it seems.

From passing the proposed American Graduation Initiative to securing private financial support, the coming years will see us turning much of our collective energy toward breaking barriers for students (and potential students) with the most challenges. We must strive to make our campuses (Rome, Utica and Virtual) as welcoming as possible and enhance them with innovative programs and even unexpected support services that meet both normal and non-traditional needs of our students. With that kind of effort MVCC will be even more significant. Tomorrow’s students will have more success than today’s, and our community will benefit in ways we’ve only begun to explore. To paraphrase the great composer Ludwig van Beethoven, “…. Barriers are not erected which can say to aspiring talents and industry, ‘Thus far and no farther.’”

Ni ta tha’ thah pwii (Happy New Year). If you have any thoughts on barriers that need to be broken or solutions that break them, please contact me at presblog@mvcc.edu.