President Celebrates Year's Successes, Reaffirms Focus on Student Success

Published 08.17.2006

President News
Faculty & Staff

(The following is drawn from remarks by Davie Jane Gilmour, Pennsylvania College of Technology president, during an Aug. 17 all-college meeting tobegin the 2006-07 academic year.)

Good morning and welcome to the 2006-07 academic year.

I am not certain about all of you, but to consider we are halfway to the year 2007 is rather exciting, a bit daunting and, yet, in some ways, amazing. The world as we know it is not standing still or marking time.

As we begin each new academic year, I typically spend one-half ofour time together reflecting on the summer's accomplishments and the second half of the time looking ahead to the coming year. In preparing for today, I reviewed a number of my previous messages and found common words and themes. For the veterans in the room today, those themes would be "students," "people," "opportunity" and "challenge."

I suspect Jim Finkler (annual giving officer) would welcome contributions to the Annual Fund every time I used those words in a collegewide message. Jim, you would not be disappointed today, because, once again, you will hear me speak about these same four topics. However, today, I will begin with looking forward; there is a special reason to wait for our look back across the summer months.

Our major institutional initiatives are posted on PCToday and can be found within the Long Range Planning Document. This morning, I would like to touch on those initiatives.

We will be completing the Periodic Review Report for Middle States. It is difficult to believe we are at the halfway mark of our accreditation cycle, and I am very pleased that Diana Kuhns, Tom Gregory and John Kehoe will be providing leadership for this initiative.

The Center for Business and Workforce Development construction will continue and we expect to finish the facility next spring. This building on the former BiLo grocery store site will house Workforce Development & Continuing Education, the Industrial Modernization Center, Penn State at Penn College and our electronics programs, an ideal mix to extend our campus to the Fourth Street boundary and provide an appropriate campus presence at that location.

A new work group will be named shortly. Their work willfocus on marketing and recruitment at the college, and tied to their work will be a comprehensive assessment of our curriculum portfolio examining graduate placement, student interest in the career field, overall enrollment trends and facility considerations. We must remain focused on students and student success. At the same time, we cannot function in an environment of all things to all people. This review will be data-driven and led by Academic Affairs and the school deans.

Our enrollment of first-time true freshmen continues to be an area in need of attention. As we examine our recruiting and marketing, it will be with a keen eye toward efforts to target first-time full-time freshman students. Please do not misunderstand; this will not be done at the expense of nontraditional enrollment or transfer students. A balanced approach to enrollment is important to our institutional health.

Many of you are asking: "What will happen to the 'old library?'" "When will 'my' labs and facilities be updated like others across campus?" Fair questions we expect to answer this academic year. I have asked those involved to take a somewhat different approach. Some of you may have observed architects and staff from Murray Associates measuring the current areas around and in the old library. We need a firm plan both space allocation and financial plans prior to making any commitment on changes for the future. This process includes the evaluation of and recommendation for any future student housing.

I need to digress a bit. There is no doubt that our campus is in various stages of building age. Some facilities are certainly newer than others; however, I do not believe we have anything to apologize for when touring prospective students and their families. Having visited any number of other colleges, we can be very proud of our facilities and our campus. Those areas desiring renovation and, in fact, needing renovation will be taken care of as time and money permit. But to apologize for any facility on this campus is unnecessary.

Scholarships at Penn College are real dollars. Some of you are aware that colleges often offer scholarships that are merely tuition discounting. Not at Penn College. Every scholarship awarded is real money. We are going to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of our scholarship program this year. We have many specific scholarships targeted to majors or special populations; a review will give us the data we need to further enhance our fundraising, granting of awards and overall use of scholarship funds.

These initiatives will keep us busy and, in relation to these, I have been reading, discussing and considering what we can do at Penn College to enhance the student life cycle. Allow me to explain. From the point in time that a prospective student considers a degree we offer until they graduate and become alumni is how I define the life cycle of a student.

I can logically, at least in my mind, divide that life cycle into three parts:

  • From prospect until a student applies at Penn College

  • From the application stage until enrollment

  • From enrollment through graduation and placement, becoming an alumnus of Penn College.

These three distinct stages present opportunities and challenges for the student, parent and for us. I am asking three groups of people across campus to examine, study and recommend ongoing changes that will better serve the needs of these "cycles."

The early stage will be examined by a new recruitment/marketing group, and I personally will chair that endeavor. In preparation for an institutionwide marketing plan, we will pilot one special initiative per school. Members of this group will be announced shortly, and our work will begin immediately.

The application-to-enrollment group will receive the benefit of the Matriculation Committee recently announced. This group, led by Senior Vice President Bill Martin, will meet regularly to better foster communication among the various offices with whom these "applicants" interact. We no longer can function in silos of information or within respective office areas. What one office does procedurally directly connects to other offices and, most importantly, to students. We can and will improve if we are to remain competitive for the ever-shrinking population of prospective students.

Penn College students are provided excellent support mechanisms and services or should I say we make them available getting students to invest the time and energy is another matter. I have asked Mark Paternostro, associate vice president for academic services, to lead this initiative named College Success. To do so most effectively, Academic Support Services has been reassigned to Academic Affairs, reporting to Mark.

The parallel work in thisrealm remains a key area for Student Affairs this year: the examination and review of Career Services. The internal assessment of last year will continue with an external review this academic year. Sharon Waters, director of counseling, career and disability services; Patrice Friant, assistant director of career services; and Jill Landesberg-Boyle, vice president for student affairs, will lead this initiative.

In 2004, with the encouragement of the Board of Directors, we added a component to our planning process: We adopted a Strategic Vision for the time period of 2004-09. We have made much progress in working toward the realization of our outcomes. Over the next few weeks, I will be sending to all of you a report card of sorts, updating the community on our progress to realize these elements.

The initiatives outlined for the year are ambitious and important. We need to function as a team, working together to fulfill our mission and meet student needs. To do so, we need to reinforce our collaboration within and across departments; we need to remove barriers both internal and external to our continued success.

To open yet another opportunity for communication across campus, I will begin in September holding Open Forums. Each month, there will be a general topic, and the balance of the time will be an open question-and-answer opportunity. The first forum date will be announced via PCToday and will focus on efficiency and effectiveness. Watch for the date and location, and please join me at one or all throughout the year.

As I told the new faculty yesterday, when I think of Penn College, three things come to my mind:

  • People make the difference at Penn College. I believe this to my core and each one of you in this room today is important to our everyday life and success.

  • Penn College is degrees that work, a simple, declarative statement that resonatesthroughout this commonwealth and many other states across the country. We are the embodiment of workforce development, education for lifelong learning and economic development.

  • Our mission is one of opportunity. We continue to provide opportunity to students institutionally open, even if programmatically requiring special admission criteria. Our mission of opportunity is one we can be proud of and, yet,reinforce that this opportunity is for students to be full participants in the degree-seeking process. Grades, degrees and diplomas are earned at Penn College for our legacy to continue.

In addition to new faculty at Penn College, we are fortunate to have a number of new employees. I am pleased to welcome all new faculty and staff. Without a doubt, you made a good choice if you want to make a difference in the future. As a reminder, we now regularly welcome new employees by listing them on PCToday throughout the year.

I do want to formally welcome our new vice president for academic affairs/provost, Liz Mullens.

I am excited to begin this new academic year and some of that excitement comes from the activities that took place this summer. By now, many of you have heard about "Connections," our new student-orientation program. A huge success! Congratulations to Carolyn Strickland, director of student life, and her staff, as well as the countless other employees who presented, tended to, fed and maintained our campus for this summerlong initiative. The experience for our new students was life-changing, as told to us by students, parents and friends. Our students working this summer as "Links" made us very proud. They were outstanding ambassadors for Penn College and Student Life. We will use data to evaluate this initiative and plan for the future iteration, but I can assure you Connections is here to stay!

Our Quality Through Assessment Committee was launched this summer and will continue forever. This work is important for our ongoing assessment and documentation of our success from the very basic course level to the very broad institutional level. Veronica Muzic, special assistant to the president for academic affairs, will lead this effort until October, when we will transition to leadership Liz Mullens and Jill Landesberg-Boyle.

Without question, one of our most significant accomplishments this summer was the completion of the Madigan Library. For the more than 385 employees who took advantage of the "sneak peek" on Friday, I think you will agree with me it is an incredible asset to our campus and will be a great resource for students. Countless numbers of people worked tirelessly to make our dream come true.

Lisette Ormsbee, director of the library, put her entire being into the design and "operationalization" of the facility. Partnering with her were the incredible staff of the library and, to them all, we owe a debt of gratitude.

General Services, under the leadership of Walt Nyman, director, accomplished more than we could ask for again. Andy Richardson, clerk of the works and construction manager, on site virtually every day to manage the project from a construction perspective. Andy once again did an exceptional job.

Don Luke, facilities supervisor, and his friendly and capable colleagues moved, relocated and adjusted every time we asked them. Of course, you cannot miss the magnificent grounds surrounding the facility. Mike Miller, horticulture/grounds/motorpool supervisor, and Andrea Mull, horticulture/grounds/motorpool lead person, and staff designed and created the water feature, the beds and the planting areas. "Amazing," "beautiful" and "peaceful" all are words I have heard used to describe the outdoor areas. Harry Rall, maintenance supervisor, made more signs than you could imagine, and his staff was tremendous in hanging everything from art to the College Seal and creating display areas.

Linda Sweely, director of food services, and her staff designed an incredible coffee shop Bookmarks for the library, and I encourage you all to visit and enjoy.

Jim Cunningham, chief technology officer, did an incredible job of planning for the technology in this state-of-the-art building. Joe Miller, instructional media specialist; Dave Kepner, manager of network services; and Ron Miller, director of desktop computing; Connie Vitolins, Gallahad Mallery and Adrian Harry, all three managers of technical support with their staff, did yeoman's duty to equip the facility while tending to all the other changes across campus.

Bill Martin kept the project moving and guided a great team to the completion of the library, along with Veronica Muzic, who, on more than one occasion, kept us on track with her notes and reminders.

"Thank you" cannot begin to express my personal gratitude and our institutional gratitude to all of these individuals and their staff members for a job done with quality and distinction. You all are shining examples of why people make the difference at Penn College.

All in all, an incredible project with a wonderful end result: a student-centered facility designed to meet the needs of our students today and into the future.

Lenore Penfield, director of special events and the Madigan Library Gallery, and Penny Lutz, gallery assistant worked all summer readying the gallery on the third floor of the library. Please do not forget to visit the gallery. I am proud to tell you that the opening exhibit is work by our full-time and part-time art faculty, and it is wonderful. This, too, was a longtimegoal for me and others on campus, the exhibition of the work by our faculty.

Our library dream has come true and I am proud to show you a "sneak peek" of the wonderful DVD commemorating the Madigan Library. This is a work in progress not yet final, but well worth sharing today. Our thanks go to Tom Speicher, video production developer, who took the lead, And, for their assistance, we thank Chris Leigh, digital media coordinator; Jim Dougherty, digital media production; and Chris Legarski, instructional media developer, for this excellent work.

For the veterans in the room, this will be a wonderful trip down memory lane. For the newer faculty and staff, it will be a wonderful historical perspective that can serve to further ground who we are and how we got to today.

Before the DVD preview, a few closing comments: 2006-07 will be another year for the books. I hope, when history is written, the year is remembered for our determination to keep pace with change, that our work to further enhance the student experience from beginning to end of the life cycle will be recognized as meaningful, that we work more efficiently and effectively, not taking ourselves too seriously all the time, and that we continue to reach out to each other to better understand our work, our mission and our passion.

An unknown author once wrote, "If you give up your dreams, it is a short walk to disappointment." Join me in today's and tomorrow's dream.