Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Paying it Forward

Since moving to the Mohawk Valley over three years ago, I have been amazed at the giving spirit of this community. From nationally recognized events like the Boilermaker and the Great American Heart Walk/Run to local telethons and efforts like Operation Sunshine, the ability of this community to come together and give of its time, talent and resources is inspiring. The faculty and staff at Mohawk Valley Community College are active members of this generous community and, as a result, that same community spirit resides in our college culture as we try to model it for our students.

A little more than two years ago, three staff members Dennis Gibbons, Jeri George, and Ann Popeo joined with Jed Kimball, the then-chair of the Professional Association community outreach committee, to coordinate MVCC’s presence at the Heart Walk/Run. We went from not knowing how many MVCC staff and/or students were participating in the event to having more than 100 participants and raising over $2,000. The event led to the creation of a group named TeamMVCC that has expanded from the original four members to an active standing workgroup at the College. TeamMVCC now coordinates faculty, staff and student participation in community events and fundraising opportunities throughout the year. We are very fortunate to be part of a special place like MVCC and TeamMVCC helps us bring meaning to the power of “paying it forward.”

TeamMVCC’s results this past year reflect the “paying it forward” giving spirit of the Mohawk Valley. Here’s a sample of their work:
• Making Strides against breast cancer – 160 participants raising $4,703 for the American Cancer Society.
• United Way Campaign – 119 donors (increase of 52% from the previous year) with an increase of nearly 40% from the previous year in the dollars raised.
• Salvation Army holiday bellringers – 45 faculty, staff and students ringing that bell!
• Heart Walk/Run – 125 participants raising $3,874
• 13th Annual Ted Moore Run/Walk was the most successful ever with 230 participants (20% faculty and staff) who helped raise more than $7,000 for the Ted Moore Scholarship Fund.
• MVCC Student Congress and TeamMVCC quickly assembled a raffle to raise funds for the American Red Cross Haitian Relief Efforts and raised $3,430.
• Food drives, toy drives, and support for the Special Olympics and World Refugee Day were also highlights throughout the year.

In total, TeamMVCC coordinated the participation of over 400 volunteers and participants; collected over 200 toys for local children; 11 boxes of food for local food banks; and raised more than $68,000 for local charitable organizations.

The importance of community service is making its way into our employee recognition system as well. Our Hawks that Soar! Awards program includes an Aeries Award for the college employee who most exemplifies a commitment and spirit of community service with the $1,000 award from the MVCC Foundation going to the local charity of choice in the name of the recipient. In addition, our Wings of the Hawk teamwork award went to our Welders Among Community student welding club for their incredible commitment to community service. We recently held a special recognition event for our first-ever “MVCC 4-Runners Club” for the 34 staff who contributed to both the MVCC Foundation and United Way annual campaigns and participated in at least two TeamMVCC approved events and the 20 students who participated in at least four TeamMVCC events.

We’ve seen tremendous results over the past year with an ever-increasing presence of MVCC faculty, staff and students in the community. The future is likely to see even more activity with possibilities emerging for new opportunities in service learning and a greater connection to student clubs and organizations. In the larger sense, TeamMVCC provides a wonderful mechanism to see that MVCC faculty, staff, and students continue to reflect and promote the giving spirit of the wonderful people of the Mohawk Valley for years to come. If you have any thoughts on this post, please contact me directly at presblog@mvcc.edu.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

More Than an Anecdote

Anecdotes are short, interesting stories about real incidents or people. We all possess a few. Stories abound, amongst the community college crowd, of students who've overcome this barrier or that, and those who arrived a certain way, grew, developed and achieved their personal happy endings. I rely on anecdotes all the time to find inspiration for my weekly posts. As I write this week I'm overwhelmed with pride, having recently heard about the success of an old colleague. Her story is much more than an anecdote. To me, it reflects the simple, unvarnished power of the community college experience to transform lives.

Eleven years ago I was the new Chief Academic Officer at a large community college in Omaha. The secretary's position in my office was vacant and I needed it filled sooner rather than later! While visiting one of our campuses, getting to know faculty and staff, I was introduced to a recent graduate from the College, who had just begun using her office professional associate degree as a secretary. After talking with her, she agreed to come work in my office. Her name was Jody. Barely in her early twenties, Jody was very friendly, seemed to know everyone, and loved the college. As we worked together, her work ethic, positive attitude, willingness to help others, and instincts made Jody a valuable member of an increasingly effective team.

A few years later, she entered a baccalaureate program, catering to working adults, at a local university. Even before she completed that program, she set her sights on a master's program in Community College Administration at the University of Nebraska. Then, upon completing her master's degree, she enrolled in the Community College Leadership doctoral program at Iowa State University. Jody was on her way.

She played a significant role in the College's accreditation efforts, program reviews, assessments of student learning, and greatly expanding our adjunct faculty support. Jody also developed a great interest in the professional development of faculty - an interest that eventually became the topic of her dissertation. Over the eight years we worked together, her career blossomed - from faculty secretary, to Assistant to the Vice President, to Projects Coordinator (where she held positions of Interim Assistant Dean in two different divisions) and, finally, Associate Dean for Program and Curriculum Development (later completing a stint as an Interim Dean of Visual Arts), and last spring she accepted the position of Vice President of Instruction at a rural community college in Nebraska.

Last week she successfully defended her dissertation at Iowa State.

When Jody walks across the stage to receive her Ph.D. in a few weeks, her story will be much more than an anecdote about how the community college experience can change someone's life. Jody found her career path through her community college experience because of faculty who practice the ever-evolving art of teaching (the primary responsibility of community college faculty); a personalized learning environment (one of the primary commitments of every community college); advisors who helped clarify educational goals; food service, facilities, and safety staff who work hard to create the safe, healthy environment necessary to support good teaching and learning.

Jody's story is certainly more than an anecdote. Jody's story is the community college story. It's a powerful story of the magic, the wonder, and potential that the community college experience has to offer to all who come through the doors. Community college can unlock the first door and provide keys to many more! It can accelerate careers and bring those who study and learn there to places they may never have dared to dream.

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

Monday, September 13, 2010

Effective Governance

I’ve always loved Yogisms from the famous New York Yankee catcher, Yogi Berra. His statements of the obvious and his wordplay bring a smile to my face – “just slice that pizza into four pieces because I’m not hungry enough to eat six” or “nobody goes there anymore because it’s too crowded.” The closest thing I’ve said to a yogism is, “when you work at a college, you get to work with a lot of smart people.” The notion of being around a lot of smart people at MVCC drives me in my hope for making our collective decision making process better. As the new year gets rolling with our monthly College Senate meetings and the more than 30 or so Senate committees, college councils and workgroups commencing their work, my thoughts have turned to what makes an effective governance system.

In the summer of 2009, the President’s Cabinet (Administrative Leadership) and the Senate Advisory (Senate Leadership) met for the better part of two days in a retreat format to review all committees of the College Senate. We reviewed the by-laws of each committee and transitioned all committees to charters that more simply stated the role, purpose and membership of each committee. We also looked at groups outside the Senate and determined that some standing groups with a college-wide impact should be called Councils (Grants Council, Enrollment Management Council, etc.) and others that didn’t fit in either category would be called workgroups, think tanks, design teams, or other names. Membership on governance groups is a blend of elections (primarily in the Senate committees) and appointments. Over the past two years, the committee appointments designated to come from the Senate Chair and the President have been integrated through a new process. The current Senate Chair, David Katz, and I jointly review each committee’s composition and the election results. We then collaborate to make informed decisions in an attempt to maximize the talent and perspective for all appointments.

My hope is to have an effective governance system where the charters for all groups provide clarity of roles, responsibility, and membership. We need a healthy collaborative process of information exchange from the bottom-up and the top-down. If the Senate committees do not engage in meaningful work or fail to make informed recommendations, it begins to feel like the Senate is just being “talked to” by the administration without having any meaningful impact on its decisions. Conversely, if no information is being shared by the administration and the only action is the cabinet’s receipt of Senate committee recommendations, disconnects and frustration will emerge on both ends. Additionally, if no information by senate committees is shared with the whole senate, or if the committees are inactive, the Senate is reduced to having endless discussions with weak connections to decision-making – increasing friction and frustration. Finally, Senators must understand their role as elected representatives. With the agenda published in advance, Senators have the responsibility to actively seek the opinions of those they represent and inform their own opinions so that they can fully participate in the Senate discussions and add to the overall effectiveness of our governance system.

Over the past few years, the Senate has increasingly become the heart of our governance system. Elections are very competitive and attendance at Senate meetings has grown and remains strong on a monthly basis. However, the discussions are intermittently active and the committees are inconsistent in their effectiveness – some are very active and strong while others are lucky if they meet a few times a year. Additionally, the newly established Councils and workgroups are ironing out their charters and finding their focus, with many of them already yielding tangible results that are helping MVCC improve. An effective governance system in a place with so many smart people relies on everyone having a means to add their two cents – after all, “a nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.” If you have any thoughts on this post, please contact me at presblog@mvcc.edu.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Recognizing Each Other

This post was coming together in my head last week as I was thinking about life at the College, but it became more significant with the sudden and unexpected passing of MVCC's beloved Sam Drogo. I've heard countless stories from Professor Drogo's colleagues and friends about his contributions to the College, commitment to students, unwavering professionalism, incredible work ethic, and mentorship of so many individuals. Anytime I hear about or experience the sudden loss of someone close I often wonder if they knew what friends and family really felt about them. I am reminded of the Garth Brooks song, “…because I’ve lost loved ones in my life who never knew how much I loved them. Now I live with the regret that my true feelings for them never were revealed; so I made a promise to myself to say each day how much (they) mean to me. And avoid that circumstance where there’s no second chance to tell (them) how I feel.”

Last year we implemented a comprehensive employee recognition that's primarily based on colleagues sharing how they feel about each another. Like most colleges, MVCC has had a number of awards in place for years. However, many of them have been based on self-nomination or self-promotion. And our "years of service recognition" was a standard certificate like one might expect. Based on recommendations from our Employee Recognition Design Team a number of important changes were made to these processes, to create a more personal approach to recognizing the best work at the College. All awards were changed to a peer-nominated process that makes the success of our system work when each of us recognizes and nominates others excellent service and work beyond what might be expected. This is not an easy thing to do – it requires paying attention to the work of others and making the effort to speak up and speak out when we see work that inspires us.

Similarly, the years of service recognition went from an agenda item at a year-end luncheon to individual ceremonies that recognize the contributions every single one of us make when we come to work at MVCC each day. Years of service now involves colleagues, supervisors, and other senior administrators joining me in presenting a framed certificate (along with a "thank you" cookie and balloon) to individuals achieving 10 to 40 or more years of service (in 5-year increments). The new process adds an important dimension – rather than just reading a name and presenting a certificate, these individual ceremonies allow anyone present (friends, colleagues, coworkers, supervisors, etc.) to express a few words of appreciation, tell a favorite memory, or simply say, “thank you for all that you do” in the presence of others.

While we've already experienced times when we've shared a lot of laughs and heard some wonderful things about those being recognized, we’ve attended others when it appeared as though those present seemed hesitant to say how they really felt – holding back on letting the person know how much they are appreciated. Recently, when I privately expressed my surprise at the reluctance I'd perceived, someone said “the culture just needs time on this…we just need to find our collective voice for appreciation so that it becomes the norm and not the exception.” I thought that was a very insightful comment, but it’s going to take intentional effort on the part of all of us who care to build up this vibrant organizational culture we're seeking. We need to work together so that MVCC can increasingly become that place where every person knows how much they’re valued by their colleagues. We must move away from that circumstance where we need a second chance to tell that friend, co-worker, colleague how much they inspire us and help to make MVCC the very special place that it is. If you have any thoughts on this post, please contact me directly at presblog@mvcc.edu.