THE WEEKLY BLAB
Volume 9, Issue 6 – August 11, 2014
One Month In
It’s been a little more than a month now since I’ve become president of SUNY Canton. While I’ve already sent out my “official” monthly update (click here if you haven’t seen it), I thought I might spend a little time here to add some additional reflections.
I’m continuing to settle in to our wonderful campus community, and am mangling peoples’ names less frequently. I can now find my way to most spots on campus unaided, and definitely know where one can get food. There’s less huffing and puffing when I walk up the hill from Parking Lot 3 to my office, so I guess that the exercise has done me some good. After meeting on a more or less weekly basis with my direct reports, I have a better handle on how things are done here and the excellent quality of work taking place in most areas. Is everything perfect? No—but everyone seems to be aware of where improvements need to be made and are working hard to implement those improvements.
The most important thing is that SUNY Canton is a college that cares about its students, and this care shows up in lots of places:
- The welcoming way students were treated at the orientation sessions I attended.
- The concern for the students’ needs shown by the folks working in food service.
- The way that students are always front and center in discussions at the Deans Council meetings and in Executive Cabinet.
- The quick responses from all corners whenever a student emails about some issue.
- The many faculty and staff participating in the First Year Experience program.
- Statements I’ve heard from so many of the College’s alumni, both at Alumni Weekend and in encounters I’ve had around town and the region, saying how coming to SUNY Canton made all the difference in starting them off right in their careers.
My own view is that colleges succeed by focusing on working with their students in a partnership whose goal is student success—a partnership where we meet our students where they are, and help them reach where they need/want to be. Most people are aware by now that one of my major goals is to help our college grow in enrollment. What’s the recipe for making this happen?
The first step in getting this kind of growth is to keep the students we already have. If we can increase our graduation rate to 50%, hardly an impossible goal, we could increase our enrollment dramatically. If we couple this with increasing the fraction of certificate students who stay on to get associates degrees, and increasing the fraction of two-year students who stay on to get bachelors degrees, our enrollments would more than double without attracting a single additional student beyond what we’re already doing. Add in stronger recruitment efforts, enhanced advising, a broadened range of international students, and selected new degree programs, and the sky’s the limit.
Is it that simple? Actually, yes. Successful students tend to stay and strive higher. Unfortunately, almost every student has that little voice in the back of their head saying: “You don’t belong here. You’re not good enough.” Too many students believe that voice, and give up when the going gets tough. Some even sabotage their own efforts by purposefully doing less than their best, so as not to risk failure when trying their best.
Almost every student is on the razor’s edge once or more in their college career. It takes only the smallest step in the right direction to pull them in off the edge, by asking how things are going, by offering to help, by telling them they can make it. Conversely, it takes only the smallest step in the wrong direction to push them over the cliff, through an overly harsh word or through not noticing when the student is struggling, to convince them that no one cares and that they should give up. Perhaps you can remember some of those moments in your own educational path—the person who saved you from the brink, or the person who almost shoved you over the side. I know I can.
Building student success requires a full-court press of support from each and every individual on campus. A lot of this rides on the faculty. Faculty teaching critical gateway courses need to experiment to find ways of improving student success there without lowering rigor and standards, since the overall graduation rate can’t be higher than the success rate at the tightest bottleneck. Faculty teaching more advanced classes need to share their passion about the subject they’re teaching. All faculty need to create dynamic learning objects, and provide students with opportunities to apply and showcase what they are learning. All faculty need to believe in each and every one of their students. By admitting them to SUNY Canton they’re ours, and we have an obligation to do everything in our power to help them succeed. And yes, before anyone brings it up, the students have an obligation to do their part by being engaged and working hard. Not all of them understand this yet, and as the professionals in this relationship, it’s our obligation to get them to understand this.
It’s not just the faculty who have a responsibility toward student success. Every member of the staff does too, from the president to the groundskeepers, to the food service staff, to the alumni office. An attractive campus helps retain students. A One Hop Shop staffed by people who remember how complicated it looks to an 18 year old helps retain students. People who notice when a student is struggling and do something about it help retain students. Exciting and diverse out of class activities help retain students. Great food in the cafeteria helps retain students. Successful solicitation of scholarship funds, grants, and other non-state revenues helps retain students.
Every word we say to our students matters. One of our students said it a lot better than I could in a text he sent me. He wrote: “I just want to say that your speech at orientation really meant a lot to me. I come from a very supportive high school, with very personable staff and that was really the key to my success. Your speech really made me feel comfortable and ready to attend college.” Being supportive to our students is the key to our growth and success.
Sustainability and Technology Tourism
A little project that Betty Connelly and I are working on involves setting up a sustainability tour of the campus and a technology tour of our campus. What this means is identifying locations in most buildings on campus that exemplify some aspect of sustainability or of technology, and doing a little write-up about them. The locations would then be marked with some sort of display that would include a QR code that could be read by a smartphone to get information about the location. We’d then create a brochure that would tell folks where the tour begins and how to get from location to location. If you know about a worthy location that should be included in either tour, please contact Betty and me and we’ll give you a shout out in the final product.
Last Tuesday, the Deans and I met down in the Alumni House for an all-day retreat.
The first part of our discussion focused on what we were going to look like in the next five to seven years. What should our enrollment be? What new degree programs might we want to bring to our campus, and which of our current programs need to be enhanced? Over the course of the first semester, I’ll be meeting with the schools and their deans; and the departments and their chairs to hear our faculty’s views on these subjects.
We’ve made a few overarching decisions already, but they shouldn’t come as much of a surprise:
- We are going to maintain our focus on producing students who know how to hit the ground running and immediately add value to their place of employment. Entrepreneurship will also become an important focus—we want many of our graduates to stay in the North Country and to know how to start and develop their own businesses.
- We are going to stay true to our applied mission, focusing on engineering, technology, and applied versions of the social sciences, the sciences, the health professions, the computing disciplines, and the humanities.
- We’re going to enhance and expand our four-year degree programs, while also staying true to our access mission and our role as St. Lawrence County’s community college. In other words, we’re going to continue to offer a robust range of certificate and two-year programs. And yes, we’re going to try to add some masters degree programs in appropriate areas.
- We are complementary, not competitive, with our three sister colleges in the North Country. Our missions are different. The students we target for admission are different. Our outcome goals are different. We have no interest in becoming a second Clarkson, St. Lawrence, or SUNY-Potsdam. We are committed to working effectively together, because collectively we are much stronger than we are individually.
The second part of our discussion focused on how we will grow and reach these goals. One of the most important things we need to do is capture the story. There are a lot of great things going on at SUNY Canton, but how do people know about them? We need to capture the story of our successes in compelling and contemporary ways. Our schools, offices, departments, faculty, staff, and students need to be constantly creating learning objects highlighting what we do and how successful we are. What’s a learning object, you ask? It’s a single object, three minutes or less in length, that may contain video, music, text, reflection, design, etc., and that tells a compelling story. A story about what’s great and different about an academic program, student organization, campus event, or about SUNY Canton overall. A story about how to best to understand a key point in a course. A story about a faculty member, staff member, or student showcasing their success.
We also talked about how we might restructure some courses and programs to make them more successful, and how to measure that success in a way that isn’t too onerous. While there’s no single answer for every course, we did discuss some courses that might benefit from becoming more modular, as well as changing the way we deal with remediation. Again, we’ll be talking more about this with the faculty and departments as the term progresses.
All in all, I thought that the retreat was quite worthwhile, and I’m excited about what we’re going to accomplish in the coming year.
First Year Experience
On Thursday, I had the pleasure of giving the welcome to the faculty and staff participating in the College’s First Year Experience program. It was great to see the strong turnout and the many faculty and staff who had agreed to be part of the program. I strongly believe in FYE programs—so much so that I helped reinstitute SPSU’s first year experience course after it had been discontinued for many years, and paid for its operation out of my budget.
I still remember my own experience as a freshman, not having any idea how to select the courses for my first semester, not knowing what to do if I got into academic difficulty, etc. Needless to say, I would have benefited from an FYE program.
There is plenty of evidence that students who start off well and get engaged in their first three weeks on campus do far better and are far more successful than those who don’t. FYE programs are critical elements to student success. My congratulations and strongest support to faculty and staff in this program.
One Day, Two Lunches
Later on Thursday, I attended not one, but two different lunches. The first was a picnic for staff in Physical Plant, held down by the volleyball court and gazebo by the Grasse River. It was a perfect day—sunny but not too hot, and the turnout was excellent. As usual, the food was great too—hot dogs, hamburgers, sausages with pepper and onions, macaroni salad, and lots of other things. Knowing that I was going to a second lunch I shouldn’t have eaten anything, but things just looked too good and I couldn’t resist—I quickly took a plate and added a sausage and some of the macaroni salad. Mmmm…it was excellent. It was great to meet the various people in Physical Plant, who do such an excellent job making our campus beautiful. I was only sorry that I had to leave after about half an hour for the second lunch event.
The second was a potluck sponsored by Academic Support Services, held in the Underground Lounge in the Student Center. Molly Mott, the Dean, had decided that in my honor, the potluck should have a chemistry theme. Sure enough, everyone there had taken one of those Facebook sort of quizzes about “what is your element”, and reported out which element they were, and how the food they had brought corresponded to some aspect of that element.
A few people even dressed up as their element!
The piece de resistance was a cake made up of cupcakes, with a Periodic Table of the Elements design. Wow!
The food was really excellent—lots of interesting dishes, both typical American and international (even including a fabulous chicken curry and delicious aloo ghobi), and a fantastic range of deserts. So, it wasn’t much of a struggle to fill up a plate and have a second lunch. I was only sorry that I didn’t have two stomachs.
Later on Thursday, I attended the launch reception for the 1st Annual St. Lawrence International Film Festival, held at the TAUNY (Traditional Arts of Upstate New York) Center in Canton. The executive director for the festival is Adam Paul, from the TV show “How I Met Your Mother”. Plans are for the 1st Festival to be held in Fall 2015 and last for three days over a weekend. In his talk, Mr. Paul laid out the general strategy for developing the festival, and how the advertising will be rolled out. The St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce is strongly behind the effort, and I know that we’ll find several appropriate ways for SUNY Canton to participate. Pretty exciting!
Down to the Big City
On Friday, I drove down to Watertown to meet with the leadership of Jefferson Community College. JCC is a really nice place with very good facilities, and their president, Carole A. McCoy, gave me the grand tour. They are about to open their first student housing in a really nice facility—the first new building on their campus in some time. I also saw their library and their science building, as well as their student center, which had a very attractive food service area that looked like a sidewalk café. We had a very productive discussion over lunch about how we might work together in the future, possibly including our delivering some courses and programs on their campus, and also possibly developing some joint programs in the future.
After the meeting, since Watertown is the nearest city to Canton that has a mall, I thought I’d drive over and take a look. The Salmon Run Mall is quite nice, with lots of stores and a substantial food court. I took advantage of the opportunity to add to the local economy by picking up two shirts and two pairs of shoes.
On Saturday, North Country Veterans Appreciation Day was held on the Clarkson University campus at noon. My parents and I went over to attend, and were promptly ushered to the VIP seating area, where we joined Mary Ann Ashley (mayor of Canton) and Kristin Esterberg (president of SUNY Potsdam). It was nice seeing both of them. I’ll be meeting with President Esterberg in about a week, and will be meeting with Mayor Ashley as soon as we can set it up.
The ceremony was quite moving, with an empty table having been set up to represent soldiers who were POW/MIA. After an introduction and welcome by Col. William R. Murphy, President Tony Collins from Clarkson gave a brief speech about Clarkson’s commitment to soldiers, including that they have the 2nd highest percentage of participants in ROTC of any college in the US (Texas A&M has the highest). Brigadier General Miyako Schanely (Dept. Cdr. 412th Theater Engineer Command) spoke about the importance of veterans’ service. After, there was a moving ceremony where commemorative coins were given to each veteran present.
The ceremony was followed by several musical groups, as well as displays by various vendors. Veterans and Military Services Coordinator Patrick Massaro introduced President Esterberg and me to the various dignitaries present. She and I then walked around through the exhibits, talked about how we might work together in the future, and met a number of each of our graduates. One of the displays was by our campus veterans organization, manned by two of our students. I bought a special SUNY Canton veterans’ t-shirt from them, with our ‘Roo on the front, and “Support Our Troops” and symbols of the armed services on the back. Paul Smith’s College also had an exhibit, manned by SUNY Canton graduate Amy Tuthill, their Director of Veteran and Transfer Services.
Last Week’s Trivia Contest
Last week’s contest had questions all had to do with Boston. Our winner was Maureen Maiocco, who was born and raised in Boston, so she had a built in advantage! Others getting all five right were Julie Parkman, Amanda Rodriguez, Anne Williams, Farren Lobdell, Kathleen Mahoney, Carmela Young, and Rajiv Narula. Here are the correct answers:
- Major league baseball team located in Boston. Boston Red Sox.
- Historical event whose motto was “no taxation without representation”. Boston Tea Party.
- William Shatner, James Spader, and Candice Bergen starred in this 2004-2008 TV show. Boston Legal.
- Crispus Attucks was the first casualty of the American Revolutionary War, during this event. The Boston Massacre.
- Only song by the Rolling Stones with the word “Boston” in it (hint: It’s not in the title), it’s from the album “Let It Bleed”. They play it at almost every concert, and it’s usually the longest song in the set. Midnight Rambler. Several folks mentioned I missed a second Stones song with the word “Boston” in it—Memory Motel. Sure enough, it has the lyric:
“She drove a pick-up truck painted green and blue,
The tires were wearing thin, she turned a mile or two
When I asked her where she’s headed for
“Back up to Boston, I’m singing in a bar.”
This Week’s Trivia Challenge
In honor of SUNY Canton’s mascot, this week’s questions all have to do with kangaroos. As usual, the first with the most takes the prize. No looking up the answers now! SEND ALL ENTRIES BY EMAIL TO firstname.lastname@example.org since if you put them as a response on the BLOG, everyone will be able to see them!
- Only continent on which kangaroos are found native (other than in Canton, NY).
- Infraclass of mammals, including kangaroos, that carries their young in pouch.
- Where the judge has already decided the verdict before hearing the evidence.
- Children’s TV show, also starring Mr. Green Jeans and Mr. Moose.
- 2003 movie starring Jerry O’Connell, about two NY friends who get caught up with the mob and have to deliver $50,000 to Australia.