Posts Tagged Change

Free and Easy Down the Road I Go


Views of the National Zoological Park in Washington, DC, showing Road, ca. 1920-1924

Saying good bye has never been easy for me. I get older, perhaps wiser, and I realize the importance in doing so but it sure hasn’t gotten any easier. Today, I said good bye to my team of Student Services professionals – a great group of folks that I have had the honor to work with for the past two years. As I was heading out, I just had to say good bye in my own way – with lots of words…

I’ve been thinking a lot about my role as Dean of Student Services and what this job has meant to me in the span of almost two years. I can say with a certainty that this has been the best job of my career (both careers actually) and that it has been a privilege to both lead and serve the students, staff, and faculty of our campus.

There have been many goodbyes these past few weeks. If at times it appeared that I couldn’t wait to leave, know that was the product of anticipation for the new and different things that lay ahead, not a desire to depart your company. I have developed rewarding professional and personal relationships with so many people at the college, that the hardest thing of all will be walking out that last day and knowing that I may not see many of you again. While we may keep in touch, the reality of our busy lives will likely result in few future encounters. This is the sad part of leaving, the part I dread, and that which I would normally hope to avoid by slipping out a back door. Alas, I don’t think that will be possible.

You have all had a great impact on my life by accepting me first as a guest of the campus and, later, by adopting me into the family. Yes, my time here was brief, but oh what a grand time it was. I have truly been honored by your support and hard work to serve our students. You clearly have taken ownership of the college’s mission; you are driven by the will to serve our students; you are truly amazing and a gift to all who encounter you. Thank you.

Not so much anymore, but early in my higher education career, people would often ask me why I did what I did. Many months ago, I shared a video from Alamo Community Colleges with you that wordlessly described the reasons. I received another vivid reminder of this just yesterday.

Last night, on the way home, I stopped at a big-box store to pick up a few things for the move. I was standing in line to checkout when one of the store’s employees, a young man, began walking towards me, nodding and making eye contact. As he approached, he asked me, “Community College?” I said, “Yes.” He continued, “You’re the Dean, right?” I again agreed. He went on to say that I had helped him a couple semesters ago to resolve a problem with a class, get a refund on a withdrawal, and ensure that he was registered for the right course in the subsequent semester. He just wanted to let me know how grateful he was and how well he was doing in his classes.

Now here’s the crazy part. I have no recollection of this student. The events he described are the types of things that I’ve regularly worked on and helped students with for the past couple years. None of this was particularly memorable or unique. I was just doing my job. Yet several months later, this student recognized me and made it a point to come up and thank me. What an incredible reminder about how the most pedestrian of our daily work tasks can have a profound effect on our students. This young man reminded me why I do what I do – though I suppose that more accurately should read: did what I did.

My wife has a tradition of sending a weekly message to her team on Mondays (sound familiar? She stole the idea from me). In her messages, she always finds lyrics from a song that connects thematically with the events of the coming week. I figured I would do the same here. While I considered a song from the Sound of Music (So Long, Farewell), Dierks Bentley’s Free and Easy (Down the Road I Go) seemed more appropriate and fitting.

Got the sun shinin’ on me like a big spotlight
So I know everything is gonna be alright

Ain’t no tellin’ where the wind might blow
Free and easy down the road I go
Livin’ life like a Sunday stroll
Free and easy down the road I go
Free and easy down the road I go

If you only get to go around one time
I’m gonna sit back and try to enjoy the ride

I could make a million or wind up broke
Free and easy down the road I go
Can’t take it with you when you go so
Free and easy down the road I go
Someday I know it’s gonna take me home so
Free and easy down the road I go
Free and easy down the road I go

— Dierks Bentley

As I ride off into the sunset, I wanted to leave you with some food for thought, tidbits of wisdom, or as some might say, a bunch of crappy, hackneyed sayings. These are a few of the core beliefs I hold, ones that have been foundational in my approach to life and work:

You have enriched my life and afforded me countless opportunities for growth. Together we have helped untold numbers of students progress on their educational journey and, for many, attain their goals. Keep doing what you do because so many depend on your efforts.

Photo: RU007355 – Martin A. Gruber Photograph Collection, 1919-1924, Smithsonian Institution Archives

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Goodbye Steve

Like so many others yesterday, I heard about Steve Jobs death not from TV or the radio but instead through the glowing pixels of my iPhone and the unobtrusive notification sound I’d chosen to keep me up-to-date on breaking news stories. My wife and I were sitting on the sofa and, on hearing the tone from my phone, I reached over and read the single sentence, “Apple states that Steve Jobs has died.” It was a sad, though not unexpected moment. It was hard not to think of his passing as the end of an era – an era of insanely great technology with a laser focus on usability and changing the world.

I had been an Apple user since the first semester of my junior year in high school. I begged and pleaded all summer for my parents to buy me a personal computer. A friend and I even collaborated on a comic book documenting the value to our education we would receive if our parents got us computers. Of course, what we really wanted was to play games. Our parents though somehow overlooked our obvious insincerity and got us each that Apple II+. Little did either of us know that it was the best investment in not only our education but our future. We both wound up pursuing degrees in technology and parlaying that skill into fulfilling careers.

I feel that I have much to be thankful for as a result of Steve Jobs’ work. Without that first computer, I would have never gone on to pursue my undergraduate degree. Had it not been for the first time I saw the amazing ability of a Macintosh to copy and paste graphics and text, I would have never concentrated on becoming not just a writer, but one with a sense of design. Every 18-24 months I would buy a new Macintosh. When iPods came out, I had to get one of those. Same for an iPhone. And an Apple TV. Not to mention an iPad. My life is surrounded by the works of Apple: the assorted hardware, iTunes, the App Store and I know that these things and others have helped me change the world and help others achieve their dreams. Sure, these things are just tools, but they are wonderful tools. Any craftsman or artist knows that while the tools don’t create the art, having the right tools can sure make the job easier. I feel that these Apple tools have done just that; made the creation of art and industry that much easier and that much better.

I am saddened by the loss of Steve Jobs. Regardless of how some may have characterized his management style, he changed the world and, I believe, left it a better place than when he entered it. This afternoon, someone sent me a link to his 2005 Stanford Commencement Address. I hadn’t watched the entire address and was moved by it, especially near the end where he speaks about being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and learning to live each day as if it were the last. Well lived Mr. Jobs. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

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Digital Revolution on the Streets

The thought struck me over the weekend just how much the world has changed as I watched live coverage from Cairo on the fall of Mubarak and his 30-year regime. This wasn’t the first public uprising in North Africa this year, Tunisia holds that title. Rather, Egypt is significant for its vast size and population, not to mention that it has a political history stretching back almost 7,000 years.

What struck me about the events in Egypt was the genesis of the people’s revolt against power and how a small number of young activists leveraged technology and the Internet to spread their message and mobilize a nation. The older generation in power (Mubarak is in his 80s after all) reacted by trying to shut down the Internet, not truly understanding the resourcefulness of youth, who grew up in a digital domain, to circumvent such governmental interventions. This may have been the largest revolution that was lead not with a gun but with a cell phone.

I’ve always been fascinated by the digital nature of younger generations. Mine was the bridge generation. I learned to type on a manual typewriter, pausing at the end of each line to throw the carriage back to the start of the next line, but wound up typing my high school essays with a word processor. I learned to be digital while those that came after me were born digital.

However, it’s important to realize that age alone is not indicative of technological acumen. While we may assume that many of our younger students have a solid understanding of how to use their cell phone, we cannot assume that all younger students will be conversant in the various technologies employed in their education. Because of this, and also because our students span the range of generations from high school aged to senior citizen, it is important to remember that not all will be comfortable with the technology we expect them to use. Electronic student IDs, email, online course catalogs, and online registration can be intimidating. It’s important to have people available to help students learn these tools and overcome their fear.

Higher education continues to move towards the use of more technology to serve our students. This movement is driven by our need to serve ever more students as well as a need to help control costs. Many institutions have already done away with grade distribution by postal mail and we will continue to see email used in lieu of postal mailings which provides significant savings in both postage and materials. Other methods will also likely be implemented in how we capture and track information related to students.

To help keep these changes in perspective, I like to read through the Mindset List created by Beloit College. Each fall, they identify the “cultural touchstones” of their incoming freshmen (traditionally aged students, 18-years old) as a means of helping faculty and staff better understand what cultural references will and will not make sense to the incoming freshman class. The list helps to remind me just how quickly things change.

While technology does not provide the answer to all problems, it is important that we embrace technology and understand its application in our environment. One thing you can count on is that, regardless of what we plan for, something different will emerge and we will constantly find ourselves having to adapt to changes in our work context.

Photo: New York Public Library, ca. 1770-ca. 1880

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Politics and Change

Doin' that guv'ment thingChange can come from almost any source, either from within or outside the college. Every other year, Texans gather to discuss what is best for the state and plan for the upcoming biennium. As residents of Austin, we’re likely more attuned to this than others elsewhere in the state. Yes, I’m referring to the gathering of lawmakers for the 82nd Texas Legislature and 2011 is shaping up to be an interesting year.

Working for a public institution of higher education, we and our students are directly impacted by the decisions of our state legislators. Every session, dozens of House and Senate bills get introduced that affect education. Many of those bills never make it out of committee or to the floor for a vote. However, those that do have the potential to change what we do and how we help our students pursue their education. Recall that TSI (the Texas Success Initiative, formerly TASP) was the result of legislative action. More recently, the six-drop rule was mandated by the state as was the recent requirement that course syllabi be located no more than three-clicks from the home page.

With a looming budget shortfall upwards of $25 billion, you know there’s going to be lots of discussion on how to cut costs. No doubt, there will be plenty of ideas that will circulate and we may find these ideas disconcerting. For instance, the House appropriations bill contained several items that could negatively impact community colleges, their students, and, frankly, all of us. These included approximately $226 million dollars in community college funding cuts among which were the proposed closing of four colleges – Brazosport College, Frank Phillips College, Odessa College, and Ranger College.

This is our democratic process. Elected leaders meeting to discuss how to best serve the residents of the state. As the debate occurs, we will likely hear many different proposals about how Texas can meet the needs of our people and how we’re going to pay for it. This process can produce a lot of uncertainty and anxiety as our legislature moves through the process of debate to the point of making decisions. I encourage you to follow the process and stay informed of what is happening. Likely, there will be many rumors and, perhaps, some stories not rooted in fact. By keeping yourself informed, you will be better equipped to know what’s really occuring. Here are some resources you may want to consider for keeping up-to-date on legislative actions related to education:

While there is a lot going on in the state legislature that can impact us, try not to let those efforts affect how we serve our students. In the end, it truly is about helping others achieve their goal of a college education. As Dr. Stephen Kinslow, President of Austin Community College, puts it, “We put the legs under people’s dreams.”

Photo: Library of Congress, 1914

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Baby Steps to Change

(cc) San Diego Shooter

For several weeks, I’ve been writing about service and about change. Everyone has been encouraged to think about what they are doing and how that affects the service we provide our students. I encourage you to continue thinking about what we’re doing and considering new and different ways to serve our students.

There’s an old saying, often attributed to great minds like Albert Einstein or Benjamin Franklin, that goes something like this, “You can’t expect a different outcome when you keep doing things the same way.” While that may seem profound, it really is quite limited because it doesn’t take into account the context in which we operate. As our environment changes, even if we do things the same way, the outcomes will often change. What may have worked when we had 6,000 students enrolled on our campus is unlikely to continue to work as well with more than 10,000 students.

In an effort to nudge a bit at one of our persistent problems, I instituted a small change last week. I asked our counselors and advisors to make a change in their schedules for the next couple weeks of peak. During this busy time, I asked that we schedule a counselor and an advisor to remain on duty for one-hour past the normal closing time. This would allow for any late-arriving students to still be checked-in and seen, preventing these students from being turned away.

This is an experiment and we’ll see what kind of results we have at the end of this peak period. I’m curious about not only the effect on service to late arriving students, but what happens to student service earlier in the day? How does this affect our team members? This is the point of trying something different, to see if we can make a positive effect on our service delivery using the existing resources of our team.

I have some other ideas that I’d like for us to try in the next couple weeks. One of these is a different spin on the “Welcome Back” cards we’ve used when a student has to take an assessment test. In this case, I’d like for us to use these new cards to offer students arriving late in the day when we have long lines the opportunity to come back the next day (or day after that) and jump to the front of the line.

Another idea has to do with establishing a list of services that we offer to our students as part of the advising and counseling activity. Some of these are not time critical and yet can take a great deal of time (e.g., career counseling or goal planning). Other things can be time critical and require very little time (e.g., removal of a hold or identification of a proper developmental course based on assessment results). By identifying the various types of services that may be needed by a student, we can help set student expectations for what may and may not be covered in an advising or counseling session.

For instance, we may limit the length of sessions at the end of the day to 10-15 minutes and providing just enough service to address the most time critical needs of the student, deferring other, less-critical needs to another appointment, preferably after peak weeks. This idea is not yet fully formed, but I’ve asked our counselors and our Advising Supervisor to think about these various levels of service and help to identify which are time critical and which are not.

As we begin making changes to our processes, I ask that you consider these changes with an open mind. Yes, we’re going to be doing things differently and that can feel uncomfortable. However, if you remember why we’re here – to provide great service to our students – it can help us to think about these small changes as a means for continuously improving how we provide that service. I seek your feedback and your honest opinions of how things work, both as we have been doing things and as we might change to try new methods. Unless we try, how will we know?

We’re entering the busiest time of November with our newest students seeking assistance in identifying their classes and needing help in registering for the spring semester. We know we’re going to be busy, so pace yourself. I appreciate the hard work and extra effort each of you provide to make sure that our students get the best service possible. You make me proud to be a part of the Northridge family!

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Innovate or…

Spend 30-seconds perusing the Management & Leadership section of a bookstore or scanning the articles targeting entrepreneurs, small business owners, and managers of large organizations and you’ll not doubt run across some author thinking he or she is making a ground-breaking observation that we must either innovate or die. It’s almost as if the world had been a static, unchanging place up until 10:47am on Tuesday of last week at which time the author looked around and realized we needed to change to compete, survive, thrive, excel, succeed, etc. Of course, the way to compete, thrive, and so on is to change what we’re doing now and try something newer, shinier, better. Or so we’re lead to believe. With a new leadership theory surfacing every 7.3-seconds, at least we’re not at a loss for new ideas on how to do things. Innovate! Change! Improve!

Ok, so perhaps I’m exercising a bit of hyperbole. It does seem though like we’re sometimes stuck in a repeating pattern of the new, better, best methods for how we should do our work. Some of this may actually be useful and even embraced, initially, but more often than not, the shine wears off the new toy and we revert back to the same-old same-old, doing business like we’ve done it before. Is this a failure of the new idea? Not necessarily. Instead, the idea for change, for innovation, may be perfectly wonderful but just not appropriate for the time or the place where it was introduced. One thing is certain – the world around us continues to change and because of this, it’s critical that we change too if for no other reason than just in order to keep up with the changes.

My time at ACC is brief, so I can’t rely on much personal experience to describe this constant change. Luckily, there exists the ACC Archive Project to accurately document college progress over the years (unlike my fanciful statistics above). Some selected entries from the archive timeline:

  • Fall 1973 – 1,726 students
  • 1975 – Military veterans flock to ACC
  • 1983 ACC purchases the Austin Country Club (which becomes the Riverside campus the following year)
  • 1986 – Texas Legislature mandates general education core curriculum for colleges and universities
  • 1989 – ACC’s Northridge campus opens; ACC launches telephone registration
  • 1992 – ACC hires four part-time sign language interpreters
  • 1996 – ACC receives SACS warning to improve long-term planning process
  • 1997One College reorganization plan for centralization of control
  • 1999Senior Academy opens at HBC focusing on educational needs of senior citizens
  • 2002 – Video classroom opens at Manor High School allowing distance learning by video transmission
  • 2004College Connection launches as pilot program with San Marcos ISD
  • 2005 – Dr. Stephen Kinslow appointed interim President of ACC
  • 2007 – Automotive Collision Repair and Refinishing Program launches
  • 2008 – Round Rock citizens vote to join ACC District
  • 2010 – ACC opens its eighth campus in Round Rock at capacity (>5,000 students); the Northridge campus student population exceeds 10,000
  • Fall 2010 – 44,243 students

In just 37-years, the amount of change and innovation that has taken place at ACC is nothing short of incredible. So, while it may seem like it’s the same-old same-old, the reality is that what we do today is very, very different from what was being done just 10-years ago, let along almost 40-years ago. Yet, and this is where it gets both fun and interesting, we also experience anew that which has gone before. Take for instance the surge of military veterans entering ACC in 1975. The same is happening now with recent changes in the federal GI Bill and the state Hazlewood Act providing millions of veterans and their dependents access to higher education. Round Rock went from annexation vote to campus opening in just two years and now we have four more annexation votes occurring next month. If they all pass, what will it be like opening four new campuses simultaneously just a couple years from now? Each of these milestones (and many others) represent fundamental changes to how and what we do at ACC. Through all of this, we have innovated and adapted how we work to meet the needs of our students and to respond to changes in both the internal and external environments.

It’s important for us to remember what has gone before in order to realize that innovation is not something that we have to start doing now, but rather that it is something we have been doing from the start of the college. Innovation is nothing more than creative thinking in response to the changes that occur around us. ACC has a great track record for innovating to meet the demands of our stakeholders. Often, the best innovations come from the people doing the daily work of the college. Each of you have a unique and valuable perspective on not just how we do things, but also on how we can change to do things better. I encourage you everyday when you come to work to think about your job from the perspective of a student. How does what you do help students progress toward achieving their educational goal? What could you and your colleagues do differently that would help students become more successful or reduce barriers to their success? You have the knowledge, the skills, and the experience to recognize the potential for new ways of doing things that will help our students succeed. Share these ideas with your peers and your supervisor. Talk about them with others. Make your ideas known so we can innovate into the future and put legs under our students’ dreams.

By the way, that last line is cribbed from something Dr. Kinslow said in an ACC Closing the Gaps video last year (see 4:52 in the video below). That one line, voiced by the college’s president, so eloquently states the reason we are all here working as hard as we do for our students.

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