The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Graduation. That time of year when jubilant celebrations are in the air, cheering with great pride the achievements of the accomplishments of our students who reach a goal, a degree, a diploma! It is assuredly an event to celebrate. I have the laudable and enviable task of conferring the diplomas on all of our graduates. It is a humbling and honorable duty.

I face an audience filled with expectations…not just the graduates but their families, beaming with pride at their child, spouse, sibling, neighbor who each has accomplished so much. The fact that these expectant faces are waiting to walk across the stage and receive the symbol of an educated mind gives me pause…many have struggled to get to this hallmark. My focus on these commencements is the student…this is really about them! Who remembers long graduation speeches? Filled with tasks, challenges, and of course accolades. I suspect, no one.  The time is for the graduate, not pompous orators who fill the time no matter how long. So, my eyes are on each and every graduate.

My very favorite part of the ceremony is when the student’s name is read and they walk across the stage. After 40+ ceremonies, I have seen it all. Cartwheels, dancing, singing, nervous students, tears and of course the proverbial high fives – all in the spirit of what the accomplishment means to them. And while I see the ceremony as academically important, I do not judge the individual or familial reaction because I know just how important it is to each and every audience member.

As I look into the expectant and jubilant eyes of the graduates, my hope is but one: a hunger for continued and never ending thirst of learning. The commencement is not an end but a beginning!  If an associate degree is awarded, then the bachelor’s degree awaits. If the baccalaureate is the current parchment, then next a master’s degree and so on. And even as it may be “life’s experience” on a transcript, there is one thing that higher education can and must instill: the continued search for the truth.

This will be Glendale’s 49th graduation ceremony. May each graduate live to the expectation that the degree intends. May it also be the beginning of a new and exciting journey.

Life Goes On…Learning from Disappointment

Of the many things a tested leader must gain along the journey, it is learning to live with disappointment.  Often, the times we have stumbled are the most valuable life lessons.

In early 2003, I decided to apply for a presidency.  I felt ready to ascend to the helm of an institution and I saw myself as a good fit, as posted by the position description.  I did my homework, valiantly wrote and re-wrote the application, pressed the send button and waited.  And waited…and waited… The first lesson learned was a search has a life of its own and patience is a virtue.  Finally, after several weeks, I was selected to come to the “first round” of interviews.

While preparing for the big day I researched the institution (more) thoroughly, practiced answering mock questions with a friend/coach, rehearsed even the most absurd topics and bought a new outfit.  On a cold and snowy day, I arrived at a hotel where the search committee was waiting.  While nervous (of course) I did the thing I usually do on these occasions – I visualized myself as being the triumphant candidate.  The interview was grueling but less so than my anticipation.

And once again I waited.

I was invited as one of the select few to come on campus for a full day of interviews.  Faculty, staff, students, community members –  all had the opportunity to put me under the microscope, stump me with the most perplexing questions and give the proverbial thumbs up or down on my candidacy.  To my amazement, I passed this next test and was now one of three!

But wait!  There was still one more round of the process – the Chancellor and the Board.  Several weeks passed and I was invited to the inner sanctum of the system office where once again a full day of interviews were slated.

At this point I knew through confidential sources I was the candidate of choice from the college.  Their review of my candidacy had confirmed my credentials, credibility and “fit.” With this confidently in hand, I believed in myself.  Girded with that endorsement, I was sure I had the job in hand.

What I had not prepared for was a Board and Chancellor that had other plans.  That my skills, abilities and knowledge were not what they were looking for nor was I their candidate of choice.  At the end of the arduous day, I was informed I would not be recommended to the Board for appointment.

I was devastated.  I thought my professional life was over.  And I certainly thought I would never seek the office of president again.

After doing a bit of sulking, licking my wounds and surviving what I perceived to be a lethal blow, I began reflecting on the experience.  The fact that the college really wanted me was heartening.  I knew I had “connected” in a way that resonated with them.  I had done well in a series of challenging, exposing and often very personal interviews.  I had let myself be known to strangers like no other time in my life.  In a strange way, it gave me confidence I hadn’t known prior to the experience.

What were the self-reflection steps I took to gain insight into myself?  First, I had to be willing to learn about myself.  That is not always an easy step.  I live by Socrate’s mantra “The unexamined life is not worth living” and reflecting on experiences is a great teacher.  I sought advice from my mentor.  I value her insight and candor and she both reassured me and challenged me with acquiring new skills to be better prepared next time.  I learned more about “fit” than I had before – that it is defined differently depending on the audience and it continuously changes.  I learned that political knowledge of a college and a system is just as important as knowing the programs and organizational chart.

But above all, it taught me that sometimes you may go through what seems like a career-threatening blow, only to live another day!  Amazing!  I went on to continue in my Vice President role.   Then some years hence, with more experience behind me and ready to apply again, I came to Glendale Community College.

From the dust of despair, comes serendipity and the job of a lifetime.

Maricopa Priorities

Greetings and welcome back to Fall Semester 2013.  I am looking forward to a successful start of the term with new and returning students once again on the campuses.

During the course of last year, you heard information about the District initiative titled Maricopa Priorities.  A steering committee made up of district-wide representatives worked to create a draft process under which colleges and the district office would “examine and assess all current instructional and support programs and services, to explore their origins and how they have evolved over time, to determine how they serve the community’s changing educational needs, and to evaluate whether they are positioned to meet current and future educational requirements of our communities.”  Based on the foundational work of Robert Dickeson, the prioritization process will help the district optimize what we do and how we do it.

To give an example of how this would work, allow me to use a service department at GCC, Marketing /Public Relations (College Advancement).  The series of services and work effort currently tasked as a part of their overall responsibility will be critically examined and analyzed through self-reporting based on a district-wide set of questions and rubric.  This includes press related work, advertising, social media, graphic design, web design, events, photography, search engine optimization, communications and others to ascertain if all parts of the program are meeting their goals effectively and efficiently. The department will be evaluated and measured against other similar departments, other colleges and industry standards.

The results of the Maricopa Priorities initiative include maintaining, improving and building programs and centers of excellence.   The steering committee reminds us that “institutions can no longer afford what they have become.  It is therefore vital that the mission be reexamined in some cases, revised in other cases, and reaffirmed in all cases”.

The start of this initiative begins in earnest in September with the establishment of a local steering committee.  This committee will consist of 8-10 members and co-chairs of a vice president and a faculty member.  The remainder of the committee will come from a cross-section of functional areas and additional faculty members.  I will seek input from the constituency heads as the steering committee is appointed.

In addition to the steering committee, there will be two task forces – one for instructional programs and one for support programs/services.  In each case there will be co-chairs of the task forces – one administrator and one faculty member – with the remainder of the task forces made up of a cross section of representative groups.

I will appoint the Steering Committee and two Task Forces no later than September 1, 2013 so they may begin their work.  It is envisioned that the work to bring each program and service through this analysis will take 18 months culminating with the recommendations to CEC and the Chancellor in December of 2014. No doubt there will be questions along the way and I look forward to listening, understanding and clarifying any issues that may arise.  As always, my door is open to your questions or comments.

Back to

Navigating the Affordable Care Act with partnerships and programs

Since the announcement last week from Maricopa District Human Resources regarding the upcoming Affordable Care Act, there have been many questions and comments surrounding the implementation plans and effects this will have. The District’s decision is to limit hours of employment to 25 hours per week for temporary workers and adjunct faculty to 9 credits or less each semester beginning July 1, 2013. The impetus for MCCCD’s reasoning is the enormity of the consequences if we don’t set these limits – a $13 million dollar liability each year for medical insurance.

From an operations standpoint, reducing the number of hours our current temporary staff works will mean we will have a significant demand for more part-time staff at the college. We anticipate this to be difficult to secure the number of additional part-time employees we need once the hour reduction occurs. We will have significant needs for IT, custodial, and grounds keepers but will also experience a demand in other positions like cashiers and advisors.

Rest assured, we absolutely will not reduce the services we provide to our students and our community.

Naturally, Glendale Community College’s first concern is how to help our employees through this transition. To address some of the concerns, Glendale is taking several proactive steps to assist individuals who may be impacted by this work reduction.

  • GCC’s Career Services Department is offering free workshops for resumes, cover letters and interviewing specifically geared toward PT employees with more general skill sets with the goal of refining and defining other opportunities both in the short and long term. The Career Services staff will also meet with affected employees on an individual basis to provided personalized attention and guidance.
  • Our Center for Teaching, Learning and Engagement (CTLE) is offering free technical skills training on programs such as Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Prezi, screen capture tools and other relevant software. 
  • For adjunct faculty, the CTLE is offering free workshops focused on the MCCCD hiring process to help them best prepare for the application and interview.
  • We are working with affected employees to adjust their schedules as much as possible so they can return to school for degrees and/or certifications that will help them with supplemental income. 
  • We will hold a west valley adjunct job fair in conjunction with our sister colleges in Maricopa to showcase the multiple opportunities to teach in the district.
  • Finally, I will be reaching out to local businesses with more than 50 employees who may want to “job share” with us. Many local employers may find their companies in a similar situation, so I would welcome a dialogue between our two organizations to effectively share employees.

While these activities will not make restitution to the hours of work reduction, they are positive steps in getting affected employees the education and/or training they may need and understanding other options. We are very proud of the work our GCC employees do and greatly appreciate the value they add to our institution, so it is without delay that Glendale Community College creates these opportunities and efforts.

As always I appreciate your comments and questions.

Differently Abled

If you have wandered through the student union over the lunch hour you would likely find a table near “Grounds for Thought” filled with lively and engaged adults laughing and talking and supporting one another. A group of friends. They are also students at GCC and very proud of it! And each of them is differently abled.

These exceptional students are growing in number at GCC. In the last five years, the numbers of students accessing services for interpreters, time management techniques, note takers, PTSD, and other reasonable accommodations has increased by 51 percent! The fact that GCC is seen as a welcoming, supportive place where dreams of education come true is a testament to honoring the gifts every person brings to the table and values the contributions they make.

The stories behind their journey to education are extraordinary if not humbling. Each day, the challenge of their educational experience is dwarfed when navigating what many of us would consider to be “normal,” everyday tasks. But do you hear complaints? Do you hear stories that beg sympathy? Not on your life! The vivacious and “never-say-die” voice they uniformly speak is a cacophony of hope, optimism and joy.

The enthusiasm (and staggering growth) of the numbers of students needing additional services has sparked GCC to identify services for students with disabilities as one of the four fundraising priorities during the current district-wide campaign, “Educating our community, Ensuring our Future.” The sheer need, complexity and increased volume of needs each student brings made a compelling case to seek philanthropic donations to serve and support our exceptional group of students.

To launch this important pillar of the campaign, the Exceptional Student Club, with support from the Associated Student Government and the Maricopa County Community College District is sponsoring “Handicap This!” a one man show on Wednesday, April 10 at 2 p.m. in the Student Union. Based on the life of a young man born with cerebral palsy, this poignant, funny and circuitous “walk” through life, strikes at the heart of stereotypes, life’s challenges and blessings through the eyes from his own experience.

While in Illinois, I was affiliated with the International Center of Deafness and the Arts (ICODA). This school and performing arts center taught profoundly deaf and hard of hearing students the art of dance and music. To watch these children perform to beautiful music without the ability to hear had a lifetime impact on me. I urge each of you to commit to seeing this performance, have discussions with your students about perceptions, and witness the strength and love of the rich gifts each person brings to life!

GCC’s Budget Future

Earlier this month, I met with the President’s Budget Advisory Committee (PBAC) to respond to their recommendations for the Fiscal Year ’14 budget.  In that meeting I shared my approach to thinking about budget and budget development in a new way with a broader context.  This communication is to share my view of the many issues facing Glendale as we think of funding and resources in the future.

It is important to consider the myriad of initiatives underway, which will have an impact on the budgeting process.

First, the district-wide effort of program prioritization (Maricopa Priorities) will begin in earnest on  +July 1, 2013.  Using a Maricopa-customized (but Dickeson inspired) model, Maricopa will begin to collect and analyze data related to program outcomes, efficacy, return on investment, and primacy to the educational mission.  A district-wide, cross-collaborative group (including our own Steve Kadel) has been working this year to set the protocols and guidelines in place for the effort next year.

Second, is the work of developing Glendale’s next strategic plan.  Under the auspices of Dr. Alka Arora Singh and the Strategic Planning Task Force (SPTFr), examination, analysis of data and proposed future direction for the college is being developed in the new strategic planning document,  by Fall Semester 2013.  It is in this document that the master planning and direction for the college resides, therefore it is imperative that it guide the budget planning effort as well.  These two planning pieces are inextricably linked.

Third is the major effort of program review – a separate process from program prioritization, though inevitably tied – both in academic as well as non-academic departments across GCC.  The need to have robust program review which informs us of measurable student outcomes, program needs that are yet unmet, community and employer needs, and data /information provides us with solid strategies for the future.  I am anticipating a much more informed process with program review as a needed reference.

Fourth is the effort to move us as a system toward performance funding.  As you know, Maricopa is the recipient of a Lumina Foundation grant that will explore the tenets of performance funding for our system and the rest of the United States.  In this, is the opportunity to reward programs and services that have critical and successful outcomes which serve the colleges and the district well.  I am optimistic about the work of this perspective and look forward to informed rubrics to guide our work.

And last but not least, is the plan by the Obama administration through the Affordable Care Act that will require us to provide health care coverage to previously non-mandated groups of employees.  Chief among these are our adjunct faculty who teach each semester beyond 7 credits.  This cost alone will greatly impact the college budget.

With all of this said, the time has come to take a long view of the budget rather than year by year.  A two to three year perspective will allow us to properly plan and prepare for the myriad of budget implications for the future.  To that end, I believe PBAC should re-invent itself with a vision for the future and have the direct tie to the initiatives I’ve briefly outlined above. Integrated resource planning can help us do just that!  I am introducing the Integrated Resource Planning Committee which will replace PBAC.  I will reach out to group leaders seeking their input for membership and participation.

Integration of the planning processes and budget allocation is the means by which individuals participate in structured and informal (yet coordinated) activities to create blended results.  As it relates to organizational effectiveness, integration refers to the combining of the planning, resource allocation, and assessment processes to achieve improved student outcomes.

Through an integrated process of strategic planning and prioritization we will take time to focus on our future in an inclusive and reflective manner. Strategic planning will result in a shared vision for the college and the identification of priorities. The process encourages diversity of opinion and engages institutional stakeholders who will voice their perspectives about the issues that will affect Glendale Community College. Hallmarks of the process are openness and transparency.

What is effective communication?

I recognize the term communication tends to be steeped in personal and emotional interpretation of what it means to be effective.  To be an effective communicator it is imperative to connect with the audience or person with whom you are communicating so they clearly understand the message.  The topic of communication is continually in the forefront of our work at GCC.

My definition of clear and effective communication is more about listening than it is about speaking.  The greater the aptitude to fully listen and hear completely about a story, concern or issue, the greater the capacity to respond with insight, clarity and appropriate feedback.  The question should be asked, “How can we prove we are actually listening?”  Not only is the question provocative, but it cuts to the core of effective, interactive dialog.  For me, the proof of keen listening is inextricably linked to critical thinking.  By asking insightful and probing questions, clarifying and rephrasing responses, word choices and offering constructive responses tells the person speaking you are paying attention and are thoughtful.

The second tenant of good communication is a clear, concise and succinct response.  Many of us have attended meetings or witnessed a personal interaction where the respondent issues a circular argument or completely moves to a tangent.  In those circumstances I simply want to know, “What is your point?”  Precision in language communicates your insight into an issue is the clearest way the receiver knows the dialog has been understood.

The third rule of engagement in effective communication is to know and respect your audience.  I find nothing more frustrating than an impersonal or off-topic response which epitomizes the question, “Who is the receiver?”  The same is true for under valuing the intellectual capacity of the audience.  Knowing each receiver is able to take in your words and thoughts is critical in transmitting and receiving the message.

Finally, for communication to be effective there are a few ground rules that have served me well.

  • Meet early and often in a process to gain insight to ground level issues
  • Where needed, provide data and information from every perspective that clarifies your point of view
  • When a situation emerges that is potentially controversial, meet it head on so as to resist the opportunity for it to fester or blow up
  • Be open to new information as it emerges that can enlighten your thinking
  • Whenever possible, communicate “live,” either face to face or telephone
  • When using technology, resist the urge to “reply all”
  • And above all, be authentic in your communication style; it reflects who you are and why the interaction and message is important

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