As fresh semester nears, new president vows to 'listen, learn and lead'

Published 08.11.2022

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In his first all-college address as Pennsylvania College of Technology president, Michael J. Reed reviewed a busy institutional summer and engaged a talented team for continued service to a common goal: placing students in the most competitive position possible for long-term success.

"The expertise on this campus is truly extraordinary, and I will do all I can to listen and learn and lead with our team as we evaluate systems campuswide and make decisions in the best interest of our mission. I will always attempt to build off the strengths of our experts, be transparent and work relentlessly to make continual improvements for our institution," he said, setting the tone in his remarks. "We have many strengths, opportunities and challenges as we enter Fall 2022, and I strongly believe the best ideas emerge when we work together and multiple points of view are considered."

(The following is drawn from President Reed’s all-college meeting to start the Fall 2022 semester.)

Good morning, and welcome back! I hope everyone had an opportunity to recharge over the past few months. Our campus is about to get energized.

Welcome Weekend and the start of Fall 2022 classes are just days away. Oh, and 20 Little League World Series teams from around the globe will visit us on the first day of class for a pre-Grand Slam Parade cookout after a two-year pandemic. Exciting times!

Campus will be bustling, and that’s indicative of Penn College’s significance to the local community, the region and beyond. As another academic year begins, we need everyone to work as one team and to be ready to build on our collective strengths.

This is my ninth year at our institution and first all-college meeting as president. I am truly humbled and honored to have been chosen for this role. There are many highlights, successes and next steps to report since we last gathered in May, and I will get to those momentarily. But first, I want to share some personal beliefs as your president.

The expertise on this campus is truly extraordinary, and I will do all I can to listen and learn and lead with our team as we evaluate systems campuswide and make decisions in the best interest of our mission. I will always attempt to build off the strengths of our experts, be transparent and work relentlessly to make continual improvements for our institution.

It has always been – and will always be – about what is best for our students, mission and team. Mission will always be above self.

Like most of you, I entered the helping and teaching profession with the goal of transforming lives to build a better tomorrow. That same drive inspires me today. We have many strengths, opportunities and challenges as we enter Fall 2022, and I strongly believe the best ideas emerge when we work together and multiple points of view are considered.

I’m looking forward to engaging with industry and legislative leaders with the purpose of promoting our institution and ensuring we have the necessary support to meet our goals. When I’m not with external stakeholders, I will be out and about on campus whenever possible with students, alumni, faculty, staff and community leaders. It’s emblematic of an overall approach in which we will continually evaluate our resources and adapt to best serve our students, business and industry partners, and team.

A busy and productive summer
We learned in late-June that the Middle States Commission on Higher Education has reaffirmed our accreditation for another eight years. As you may recall, Middle States conducted its visit virtually, from Feb. 27 through March 2. The evaluators found that the college met all standards for accreditation and requirements of affiliation, and the team had no recommendations or requirements for the college to fulfill.

I want to thank everyone who participated, particularly Joanna Flynn, accreditation liaison officer; Tracey Amey and Mary Jo Saxe, co-chairs of the Middle States Self-Study Steering Committee, who led the two-year-long process and, through their work in Quality Through Assessment, set us up for success; the entire Steering Committee, for the essential tasks its members performed; Wendy Miller, for her exceptional work in editing the self-study document; and Public Relations & Marketing, for proofing and formatting the final report.

This action serves as a validation of Penn College’s academic rigor and ongoing commitment to educational quality. It was through the hard work and dedication of the Steering Committee, standard-based work groups, and the campus community who participated in the process that we were able to achieve this result. We should all be very proud of the outcome.

New Employees
We are thrilled to welcome many new faculty and staff this fall, including two new members to our senior administration team. Dr. Nesli Alp is our new vice president for academic affairs and provost. Dr. Nate Woods is serving as our special assistant to the president for inclusion transformation. We also have a new dean in the School of Nursing & Health Sciences: Dr. Valerie Myers. Please check PCToday for stories and biographical information on each of these highly talented individuals, whose skills and work experiences distinguish them in these significant roles. I look forward to working closely with all of them in the 2022-23 academic year.

I want to pause here and offer my sincere gratitude for the efforts all of you have made to persevere over the two and a half years of the pandemic. Before 2020, no one could ever have predicted the impact that COVID-19 would have on us, but your resilience in coping through the complexities is to be commended. The pandemic may not be completely through with us yet, but we will continue to move forward with our mission, no matter what transpires. We owe that to our students and colleagues. These have been challenging and tiresome times – please continue to always look out for one another.

Mission, Vision & Values and Strategic Plan
Over the course of the previous academic year, two committees comprising faculty, staff, students and administration have worked to develop the college’s new Mission, Vision & Values and Strategic Plan. Feedback was collected from a variety of stakeholders – both internal and external to our campus – to ensure all necessary points of view were considered.

Our new mission statement is:

Inspiring and preparing Tomorrow Makers the next generation of industry leaders – with real-world experience and innovative spirit.

Our new vision statement is:

To cultivate a diverse community of innovators and creators determined to shape a better tomorrow.

Our refined core values are:

Strength Through Respect

Real-World Education

Student-Centered Environment

Business and Industry Partnerships

Our Strategic Plan, which will guide much of the work we do over the next four years, is built around three strategic goals, each of which includes a variety of strategic initiatives. Our three strategic goals are:

Growth Through Access

Continuous Improvement Through Innovation

Excellence Through Distinction

These statements and documents are more than just words. They are central to who we are as an institution and where we are headed. All employees should have received a handout, via interoffice mail, that provides an overview of the Mission, Vision & Values, and Strategic Plan. I encourage you to become familiar with this information and strive to embody our institution’s ideals in your day-to-day work. It’s our focal point, our future state – it’s our common ground. The final, most up-to-date versions are also available on our public website.

The Strategic Plan incorporates input shared by more than 1,000 faculty, staff, alumni and advisers, and it was endorsed by Internal Governance before being approved by the Penn College Board of Directors, making it truly our plan. It is an excellent plan, identifying the gaps between where we are now and where we need to go. More input and data analysis will help us determine what and how we must adapt in order to close our gaps.

At Summer Commencement on Aug. 6, we had a historic first. Seventeen graduates of the combined Bachelor/Master of Science Degree in Physician Assistant Studies received their ceremonial hooding as they crossed the stage at the Community Arts Center.

Our student Baja SAE team had an unbelievable spring and summer, capturing its first-ever off-road endurance race win at Baja SAE Tennessee Tech in May, and then repeated the first-place, dominating performance at Baja SAE Rochester in June. At both events, Penn College bested the likes of Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Purdue, Cornell, Rochester Institute of Technology and Virginia Tech. Congratulations to all the students, faculty and staff involved, especially our faculty adviser, John Upcraft.

Our new Open House model welcomed an impressive increase of prospective students to our campus. We greeted over 7,500 total guests through the new model, which included 2,297 prospective students – 375 from out of state.

A special thanks to John Chappo and all the faculty and staff who were involved with getting our Global Experiences running again this year after a two-year pandemic hiatus. We had six trips run this summer. The programs included automotive focus, to France and Italy; architecture & sustainable design focus, to Spain; culinary and hospitality management focus, to Italy; machining and industrial engineering focus, to Germany; and a human services & restorative justice service-learning trip to Alaska. It was an extraordinary lift. Thanks to all who worked to deliver life-changing experiences for our students.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education has awarded Penn College a PAsmart Advancing Computer Science and STEM Education Grant of $314,440. The grant is part of a Department of Education initiative to help regions grow partnerships – our grant is designated to familiarize middle school students with careers in manufacturing and construction.

We were also notified recently that we will receive a Transportation Scholars Program NSF S-STEM grant for nearly $1.5 million to advance sustainable careers in a wide range of transportation sectors.

Thank you and congratulations to all who dedicated the time and effort to secure these grants in order to open opportunities for future students.

Last spring, we launched an application for a 15-week, Innovation Leadership Series – we were optimistic that we would receive enough interest to run a small cohort this fall. The response from our full-time employees was incredible: Nearly 55 faculty and staff applied for the series, which is being facilitated by faculty member Chip Baumgardner. Thanks to Chip, we will host a second cohort in Spring 2023 to support this high-demand series.

For the first time since before the pandemic, we welcomed new students – and their parents and guests – in person for summer orientation. Six sessions were held in June and July, and 1,018 new Wildcats and nearly 800 guests attended.

In addition, nearly 700 high school and middle school students engaged in our labs through summer enrichment programs, with many leaving truly inspired by the opportunities available through our faculty experts and industry-standard labs.

In addition to noting our relevant programs, our guests routinely commented on the beauty and cleanliness of our campus and friendliness of our staff. Special thanks to all who made the experience complete.

2021-22 was a banner year for Wildcat Athletics, highlighted by a regular-season championship for softball, third-place conference tournament finishes for baseball and golf, a fourth place for lacrosse, and a top-20 finish nationally for archery. We also welcomed back Scott Kennell – who was instrumental in securing our NCAA membership – as our director of athletics.

Our Spring 2022 average GPA for student-athletes was 3.298, with 107 earning Dean’s List honors and 47 attaining a 4.0 GPA. All this while volunteering 1,817 hours for community service and raising $11,476 for nonprofits.

Student mental health and well-being has remained critically important on our campus, particularly in light of the continuous disruptions due to the pandemic. Special thanks to everyone who looks out for the well-being of others, and to our counselors, who continue to have an extraordinary impact – often behind the scenes.

Our new, incoming students are choosing to live on campus in Fall 2022. Our new-student housing contracts are up 20% from last year – this is a great sign for our campus community as we deliver the full college experience.

Last year, through collaborative work with our Student Government Association, we began our first LGBTQ+ community in the residence halls with nine participants; this fall, we have more than 40 students opting into this supportive community. We also now offer gender-inclusive housing, in which students can request apartment mates of any gender. And, for the first time, we are offering a Student Family Housing option, allowing students to reside on campus with spouses, domestic partners, children and dependent family members.

New students arrive on campus Friday, and returning students arrive on Sunday. We still need volunteers to help with check-in, move-in and the staffing of information stations across campus. We have two shifts on Friday and one on Sunday. If you can help, please contact the Student Engagement Office.

Sunday night is our traditional new-student convocation. We strongly encourage all faculty and staff (and their families) to come to UPMC Field to help us welcome new students and to stay for the fireworks. Please arrive by 7:30 p.m.; the program begins at 8 p.m.

We will have a lot of new students navigating campus. During the first two days of class, please be on the lookout and assist our new students as they attempt to find their way around – particularly in buildings where subfloors, wings and staircases are not naturally easy to find.

Homecoming and Parent & Family Weekend is now rebranded as “Wildcat Weekend” and is scheduled for Oct. 21-23. There is a great list of activities scheduled for students and their families, alumni, and our campus and local community. Stay tuned for more details.

We have opportunities and we have challenges
Our wide range of programs are exceptional, and industry needs more graduates. A measure of Penn College’s success is how well our students perform following graduation. We proudly boast a 96% placement rate, and a significant number of our alumni are leaders within their respective fields and communities.

A national study conducted by Georgetown University provides even more validation for our approach. For graduates of four-year, public institutions within Pennsylvania, sorted by return on investment*, Penn College outpaced all institutions. Our four-year graduates’ financial value outpaced those at all other public four-year institutions in the commonwealth when evaluating 10 years of earnings. That is a truly impressive showing. Talk about "degrees that work." Talk about faculty and staff making transformative differences for our students and communities.

While we produce exceptional graduates, enrollment drives available resources and opportunities. Industry is in dire need of more Penn College graduates, and we need to figure out how to get Penn College on more prospective students’ radar. New-student enrollment is up for 2022, but our total enrollment has declined. We now enroll about 4,000 total students in credit programs. As a campus community, we need to strengthen our understanding of how total enrollment impacts all operations.

When we look under our hood, we have attracted a significant number of new students into pockets of programs. Some of our programs are truly thriving – over two dozen programs are at maximum capacity and have waitlists for Fall 2022. Please raise your hand if you teach in a program that has a waitlist, or if you have increased your incoming enrollment by over 25%. Keep your hands up for a minute. Listen – all of our program graduates are in extremely high demand, and it is important for all of us to learn what these programs are doing to generate so much interest, that they literally have to turn students away. This is important to learn because we have just as many essential programs that are witnessing serious enrollment declines. We must learn from our colleagues who are filling their programs, and who have students applying early. Then, we need to modify our systems to upscale these actions and invest our resources accordingly.

Effective Aug. 1 – with the start of the new recruitment cycle – Admissions was integrated directly into Academic Affairs. This shift is intended to help faculty, school administration and admissions experts work more collaboratively, efficiently and strategically with one another.

Retaining students has become much more complex. Between the pandemic impacting student preparedness, a hot job market and many students feeling less connected throughout COVID, we lost some. And while enrollment was down, our academic suspensions increased.

Enrollment Management will continue to be integrally involved in new student recruitment and enrollment efforts and provide campuswide coordinated leadership to improving retention supports for all students through the offices of the LEAP Center, Tutoring Services, K-12 Outreach, Financial Aid,  Veteran and Military Services, and Army ROTC.

For us to succeed, recruitment and retention have to be priorities for all of us, and we need to be willing to take some risks. Let’s learn what we can from our colleagues who are experiencing success, and replicate it, wherever possible.

Earlier, I introduced Dr. Nate Woods, and I want to be a little clearer about why Nate was recruited to join our team. Based on the amount of unsolicited positive feedback received since Nate joined us a few weeks ago, perhaps sharing is unnecessary. Context matters, however, and I want to make sure everyone understands the opportunities through this role.

We do incredible work, and we have our challenges. As indicated through the recent comprehensive campus climate study through Rankin & Associates – coupled with industry feedback and the retention challenges we face with our students and employees with diverse backgrounds – it is clear we can make small shifts that will benefit the entire Penn College community.

Penn College is reaching more and more industry and prospective students’ radars, thanks to many of you and to strategic marketing in higher-population areas. Unfortunately, we have high-achieving students and employees from diverse backgrounds who leave us – or simply do not choose us – because they do not feel welcomed or a part of our campus community. In addition, we have industry leaders reporting they need a talented workforce able to effectively work and problem-solve as one team – regardless of background.

Again, we have many strengths to build upon, and a rising tide raises all ships. Empathetic practice is everyone’s responsibility, and Dr. Woods will help us build off our strengths to create a campus community that is more welcoming for all.

When considering transformative systems and strengths to build upon, we should take a closer look at what is happening in College Relations. This division has significantly increased student scholarships, industry donations and student engagement through its operations during turbulent and complex times. College Relations has experienced five straight years of record-breaking fundraising. Fiscal year 2022 resulted in the largest number of gifts and pledges in a single fiscal year in our history, totaling $9.6 million. Of that total, 437 of our employees contributed $392,555.

Fiscal year 2022 was the final year of the Tomorrow Is in the Making: A Legacy Campaign for Penn College. The Legacy Campaign was a huge success. Between FY 2018 and FY 2022, College Relations raised over $37 million in new commitments: $17.4 million for scholarships, $4.9 million for academics and affinity, and $14.9 million for equipment and facilities. The campaign officially ended on June 30, but the outcomes are ongoing for our students. The campaign closed with an exceptional gala for Dr. Gilmour, and the renaming of the Student & Administrative Services Center to the Davie Jane Gilmour Center.

Activity in the Center for Career Design continues to be strong. The Internship Support Fund was launched in February 2022 and will continue throughout the year. Please encourage students to apply through the Center for Career Design.

Fundraising for Global Experiences began before the COVID-19 pandemic, and College Relations was able to support 69 students with an average award of $250. Additional funding has been secured for the 2022-23 academic year.

Students are using the Center for Career Design more frequently. They experienced a record number of student interactions: approximately 10,800.

The Fall Career Fair, scheduled for Oct. 4, has already sold out – meaning we have a waitlist of industry partners who want a shot at our graduates – so please encourage students to participate.

Special thanks to our College Relations team!

Workforce Development
Similar to College Relations – and working behind the scenes – Workforce Development has revolutionized opportunities, reskilling more than 5,000 trainees from 41 states; Washington, D.C.; Puerto Rico; and 14 countries in the past fiscal year. In the same time frame, Workforce engaged more than 550 employers, who sent their employees to apprenticeship programs; plastics workshops; leadership, industrial, health and safety, and computer training; and clean energy programs. The revenue generated this year was the highest in the past 10 years.

This success has been crucial as our credit enrollment has dipped. We will continue to look for ways to attract more members of our workforce, including more stackable-credential pathways leading to career advancement. Many of these 5,000-plus trainees have children or family members who are exploring college opportunities, or are personally looking to stack their earned credentials in order to attain a degree. Many are alumni, who have already earned a degree, understand the quality of the Penn College brand, and have used Workforce to upskill their respective teams to remain on the cutting edge – seeing Penn College as their institution for life.

Special thanks to our Workforce team.

What else is new for this year – in addition to Admissions to Academic Affairs – our Human Resources Office has made a significant shift and is now the Office of People & Culture.
Employee engagement is critical for our long-term success. Around the nation, workers are leaving employers at a rapid pace – seeking new ones who will engage them in meaningful work and value their contributions. The Office of Human Resources has begun the transformation to the Office of People & Culture by modifying its structure and making intentional efforts to strengthen its framework. The goals of People & Culture are to recruit and retain top talent and enhance focus on supporting employee success, engagement and wellness, while evaluating workplace practices and total rewards. This transition to People & Culture will continue to unfold throughout this academic year.

As part of this shift, People & Culture has scheduled an Employment Engagement Series from September 2022 through April 2023. Various departments and schools will host an engagement event highlighting special talents and campus offerings. During each session, participants will partake in social events, while gaining a wider knowledge of the amazing things our campus community has to offer. Each session will be announced as a professional development opportunity, with participants receiving 1.5 noncredit hours. It will provide a quality opportunity to engage with one another and learn more about what is happening around our campus. Look for more communication coming soon and think about how you or your area could host a future event.

In Information Technology Services
Operation Catalyst progress continues as we implement our new ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system – shifting away from our AS400. This is a big lift, and we are on track to launch Finance, People & Culture, and Payroll in January.

ITS has completed a comprehensive IT systems inventory and data classification as part of an evolving information security program. New security policies and procedures will be shared with the campus community this fall.

Additionally, Chris Suzadail will coordinate and facilitate an Immersive Experiences Committee to help us identify and advance strategic initiatives related to augmented and virtual reality, simulation, and artificial intelligence. As we embrace the technological disruptions and opportunities, it will be important for us to identify what is needed in order for us to remain a leader in applied technologies. Look for details on the committee this fall.

College Relations will be working to scale up sponsorship opportunities for students and industry.

Across the nation, part-time returning adult students represent a fast, growing market; however, within our current academic portfolio, it is extremely difficult to complete a PCT degree part time.  Within academic affairs, we have six programs working on proposals to deliver pathways through a combination of online, nights and weekends in order to accommodate the returning adult student. I am hopeful others, where applicable, will follow suit.

From Public Relations & Marketing
Our PRM team continues to analyze how to best reach an expanded demographic of tomorrow makers through a multifaceted and bold marketing approach. To learn more about marketing materials, and how you can help promote our college, please email PRM.

If you recall, there was a camera crew on our campus from The College Tour – a popular series on Amazon Prime that helps parents and prospective students identify unique colleges and universities. They were blown away by our faculty and staff experts and our collective approach to place our students in the most competitive position possible for long-term success. The Penn College episode will premiere in late August, and we will host a launch party on Thursday, Aug. 25. From 3:30 to 6:30 p.m., there will be a pre-party on the mall, featuring games, Penn State Creamery ice cream, a dunk tank, baby goats, giveaways and more, followed by a 7 p.m. episode premiere in the Klump Academic Center Auditorium. Please reserve your seats by Aug. 20.

From PRM, here is the latest 30-second spot highlighting Penn College’s unique mission, programs and students, titled, “The Next Generation.”


Next Steps
Going forward, allow me to repeat: We must build off our many strengths, confront our challenges, and adapt as needed to ensure our continuing relevance and long-term sustainability in an increasingly competitive higher-education environment.

With the collective talents of our team, in this room, we can – and will – accomplish just about anything we set out to do.

I look forward to what we will achieve.

Have a productive Fall 2022 semester!

Thank you.
* The Georgetown study uses the term “Net Present Value,” how much a sum of money in the future is valued today. This metric includes costs, future earnings, and the length of time it would take to invest and earn a specific amount of money over a fixed horizon.