Monday, May 21, 2012

Commencing a More Vibrant Community

As I reflect on the amazing feeling that comes from shaking five hundred hands crossing the stage at MVCC’s largest graduation ever, the words of Southern Poverty Law Center co-founder Morris Dees – MVCC’s Commencement speaker – linger for me. He told the graduates that they are witness to history and should help make their communities healthier, more vibrant and, most importantly, defined by equality and justice for all. But can we define those adjectives in actionable terms? The crutch phrase too often used in this region, “never too high or never too low in the Mohawk Valley” is a stereotype that glosses over definitions and data upon which we can act toward those more aspirational ends described by Mr. Dees. Why can’t the Mohawk Valley region aspire and pursue a more vibrant, reinvented era of prosperity? If only we had a set of indicators by which we can understand our baselines, align our collective efforts, and pursue focused progress!

Fortunately, the Community Foundation of Herkimer and Oneida Counties partnered with Mohawk Valley EDGE and the United Way of Greater Utica to identify a well-defined set of community indicators. You can view the full list of the 80 indicators here and the first annual report card here. At the fourth annual Poverty Symposium hosted on MVCC’s Utica Campus recently, Peggy O’Shea provided an overview of the indicators project and introduced the metaphor of community problems associated with the image of a tree and the indicators representing the roots of that tree – i.e., the indicators project will help us get to the root causes of the greatest challenges we face as a community. The primary challenge is that these indicators are not the sole responsibility of one person or one organization – they summon the attention and intention of all of us! 

Here are some indicators that MVCC is working on with our partners to move the community in a positive direction:

Population by race and ethnicity – As we celebrate the diversity of this region as a strength, MVCC’s nationally recognized and unique Diversity & Global View (DGV) graduation requirement and Cultural Series help our graduates (as well as faculty, staff, and community members!) become more culturally competent and self aware in an increasingly complex global society.

Children living in poverty – Our Gear Up and Upward Bound programs in conjunction with our school district partners provide inspiration and support for low-income and disadvantaged students in grades 7-12 – to help break the intergenerational cycle of poverty.

Median household income –Household incomes readily increase with better-paying jobs that can only come with additional education and training. Over the past five years, our credit enrollment has increased 25 percent (with more than 7,300 credit students last fall!) and our noncredit enrollment has nearly doubled during that same period. To help ease the financial burden, the MVCC Foundation provides more than 250 scholarships each year with specific funds for single mothers, part-time students, honors students, and many specific to our career programs.

People below poverty – Nothing traps people in poverty more than incarceration. As outlined in Michelle Alexander’s work, The New Jim Crow, we incarcerate our citizens at a rate seven times that of any other developed nation in the world and more African-Americans are in prison today than were enslaved at the height of slavery in 1850. Two thousand nine hundred individuals are released from correctional facilities each year in Oneida County and those who have committed felonies are unable to access food stamps, public housing, or find employment easily. MVCC’s New Directions program provides intake and support services to hundreds of formerly incarcerated individuals and lights the way to positivity and renewal.

Change in total jobs – With a trained workforce, our region can better attract and add jobs. MVCC works hard to match our programs to fill local workforce needs. We just graduated more than 125 nurses and are helping employers fill job openings for airframe and powerplant technicians, machinists, cybersecurity and other high-demand fields. The MVCC Foundation is also helping us launch entrepreneurship initiatives next year to inculcate an entrepreneurial culture of growth and development for years to come.

Student performance in English and Math – We partner with the Boys and Girls Club of Utica to provide the Reading Rangers summer literacy program to prevent learning gaps for low-income children over the summer. We are also working with local school districts to assess math skills for every high school junior in the area and identify curriculum for their senior year to ensure they are ready for college. In addition, with support of the Rome Community Foundation, we are launching the Rome Futures Academy that links literacy skills with career exposure and awareness to make the connection between school and work. 

High School graduation rate – Making that connection between school and work is something MVCC focuses on through our career camps for youth. This year we expect to have more than 40 career camps and serve more than 500 kids by giving them exposure to careers available locally.

College graduation rateOur Phi Theta Kappa student honor society won a regional award for leading the “Pledge to Complete” program in which more than 600 students, faculty and staff signed to pledge their commitment in supporting student completion and help produce our largest graduating class ever. This past year, MVCC’s graduation rate reached a five-year high. In addition, we have implemented the Pathways to Academic Recovery with intentional interventions and support to help students on academic probation get back on track toward graduation.

Education levels of adults – What if we increased the college-going rate of high school graduates by requiring high school seniors to complete an MVCC admission application in order to graduate from high school? Fortunately, a couple of progressive local superintendents have taken us up on exploring that question and are considering the implementation of such a program next year! In addition, our new Educational Opportunity Center will serve more than 1,000 first-generation college and low-income adults each of the next five years and provide the necessary support to set them on a path for a greater quality of life through further education and training.

Education levels of adults by ethnicity – Our outreach efforts and enhanced support services have increased credit enrollment of African-American students by 66 percent in the past five years and nearly doubled the number of Hispanic students enrolled at MVCC during that same period.

Technology degrees and technology program enrollment as share of total degrees – Founded as a technical institute in 1946, MVCC has remained true to that comprehensive mission and continues to nurture and refine our technical degree programs. In fact, we’ve had a Nanotechnology degree program on the books since 2005 – we just need a chip fab plant built in the area so students can complete the required internship!

When all local organizations review the 80 community indicators and set their focus on the ones by which they feel they can move the needle, we will start to see more consistent and positive developments in the region. Most importantly, we will see a greater alignment in our thinking and our actions – an alignment that could prompt a new saying, “Ever upward in the Mohawk Valley.”

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

Monday, May 14, 2012

Prelude to Graduation

We celebrate our graduates this week, but the annual prelude to Commencement is a wonderful tapestry of events and celebrations. Although time and space limit my ability to attend every event, we’ve had small retirement parties, STEP and C-STEP awards, and other department and program celebrations.I was able to attend the Student Clubs award banquet recently to celebrate the wonderful work of Student Congress and the accomplishments of more than 50 student clubs and organizations. Last week I also attended two memorable events to celebrate our scholarship donors and recipients and the success of our Hawk athletics here at MVCC.
MVCC President Randall J. VanWagoner, Ph.D., right, congratulates John Coleman on his two awards,
the Welding Scholarship and the2012 SUNY Chancellor's Award for Student Excellence.

MVCC Foundation Scholarship Dinner
Nearly 300 donors and scholarship recipients attended a wonderful dinner and ceremony celebrating student success and donor generosity. The MVCC Foundation received a record 750 scholarship applications. An all-time high of $250,000 from 86 funds were awarded through 325 scholarships to 225 individual students.
At a time when the total student loan debt in this country will soon break $1 trillion (http://www.finaid.org/loans/studentloandebtclock.phtml), the generosity of our donors is significant. Scholarships are critical to helping students minimize financial barriers to pursue their educational goals. MVCC has also done its part to maintain access by keeping tuition as low as possible – having the lowest part-time tuition rate and the sixth-lowest full-time tuition in New York State.

2012 Utica Kiwanis Award winner David Gould with Elaine Falvo at the
65th annual MVCC Hawks Athletic Banquet.

65th Annual MVCC Hawks Athletic Banquet

We also celebrated the success of our student-athletes last week at an awards banquet for our 22 intercollegiate athletic teams. Our women’s bowling and women’s track and field teams each won NJCAA National Championships this year, bringing MVCC’s team national championships total to 21. The team and individual success across the programs was once again stunning – adding 3 more regional championships (total of 85); 23 NJCAA All-Americans (total of 445); 3 SUNY Chancellor’s Scholar Athletes: Savannah Boucher, Shaniece Brown, Kayla Smith (total of 21). In addition, many of our teams completed community service projects this year, including:
  • The Men’s and Women’s Basketball Teams participated in the Breast Cancer Walk.
  • The Women’s Volleyball Team donated one of their meal money checks toward Breast Cancer Research.
  • The Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Teams donated a meal check toward the American Heart Association.
  • The Baseball Team donated more than 300 toys/books/games to The Holly Days program, which distributes them to children around the Mohawk valley during the holidays.
  • The golf teams used pink ribbon golf balls during a fall outing to support breast cancer research.
Celebrations like these are wonderful reminders of how important our work is at MVCC, but also how important it is to recognize the student success that comes in so many forms here. These events raise my anticipation of graduation even more – where we celebrate a tremendous accomplishment in the lives of our students.

If you have any questions or comments, please contact me directly at presblog@mvcc.edu.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Governance: The year in review

Effective governance is not always easy, pretty or simple; it is, however, important, necessary, and significant to helping a college make good decisions and get things done. I wrote about our evolving governance system in the fall of 2010. Two academic years later, the results our governance system is producing are worth noting. While the journey continues for us all, the system is evolving incrementally and the results of the past year affirm the idea that this year was a little better than last year.

The governance system is comprised of the College Senate, College Councils, College Workgroups, Task Forces, and Design Teams. All of these groups address various issues at the College and engage the Cabinet and Board of Trustees as needed.

College Senate

A quick review of the Senate’s meeting minutes from the past year shows topics of interest to Senators that affected College operations and warranted discussion, dialogue, and debate. The array of topics shows the relevance and importance of Senate discussion on issues such as textbook costs, smoking on campus, pets on campus, instructional space and technology, inconsistent clocks, academic appeals process, emeritus status, and Web content filtering. In addition, the Senate provided input to the work of the Strategic Planning Council and a number of design teams; created a wellness committee of the Senate based on a design team recommendation; endorsed a number of resolutions from the Faculty Council of Community Colleges; created a charter for the Senate Advisory Committee; and enhanced communication with Senate committees. To represent the College Senate, the Chair reported to the Cabinet and Board of Trustees each month, attended the FCCC’s Fall and Spring Plenary as a representative of MVCC governance, and held a Senate Committee Chairs Training Workshop.

College Councils

While all the Councils made progress this year, a number of significant achievements are worth noting. Crisis Management oversaw the upgrade of security cameras at both campuses and implemented a new emergency communications system. The Cultural Events Council coordinated another amazing year of events at both campuses. The Employee Enrichment Council once again put together an incredible array of institutes and workshops for faculty and staff. The Enrollment Management Council developed plans for enrollment and student retention and success. The Institutional Effectiveness Council made recommendations to redefine critical success measures for the College.


While Councils deal with more overarching issues and plans, the workgroups have very focused responsibilities in collaboratively addressing work that requires interdepartmental coordination. Some highlights from the various workgroups include the following accomplishments. The Administrative Process group coordinated nearly 50 major projects and enhancements to our information management systems and IT infrastructure. The Behavior Evaluation Response Team group met regularly to address potentially concerning student behavior reported throughout the College. The College Calendar workgroup updated the calendar for the next three years. The Distance Education Workgroup coordinated continued growth of our online and hybrid course and program offerings. And Team MVCC coordinated nearly 1,000 participants over 12 events to raise more than $30,000 for community organizations.

Design Teams

The purpose of design teams is to research best practices at other community colleges, inventory our current practices, and then compare and contrast them to make recommendations to improve various systems and processes at the College. This past year included the work of design teams on issues related to annual evaluations, civility, internships, and service learning. While the work on evaluations and civility continues, the internships and service learning teams delivered their reports that will help reshape the College in those areas.

Committeed to death” is a phrase often used in education. Unfortunately, that can be true if intentional thought and effort aren’t given to structuring and actively engaging a robust governance system with meaningful and valued work. The results of these groups this past year speak to the commitment required to coordinate the collaboration of intelligent, hard-working individuals who care about the work that they do and the success of this College and our students. We’ll continue to refine the system and improve it as the living system that it is. Thanks to the hundreds of faculty and staff who accomplished so much through governance this year.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

President for a Day

To view the video blog, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AnRMbIJnOl4.

If you have comments or questions on this post, please e-mail me at presblog@mvcc.edu.