A new way to learn


Critical thinking skills. Confidence. Leadership. Self-awareness. Courage. This is what we are to trying to build as we educate students at Pima Community College. And all were on full display as I had the pleasure of sitting in on an Anthropology 112 class taught by Gene Trester at East Campus.

The students in Mr. Trester’s class are benefiting from a student-centered, interactive model of learning.  What does this mean? Many people are used to a traditional classroom in which the instructor stands at the front and imparts his or her wisdom in a lecture, perhaps followed by a quiz or assignment.  In Mr. Trester’s class and in other classes across Pima’s campuses, students are given the reins.  The students themselves present the course material, and in doing so, they learn through the research they conduct AND they teach their peers.

Mitch Taylor educates fellow students with a presentation, "A Cardboard Retelling of the Cherokee Myth of Creation."

Mitch Taylor educates fellow students with a presentation, “A Cardboard Retelling of the Cherokee Myth of Creation.”

The students presented on soft skills, religious symbols, an African tribe, and the Cherokee myth of creation. They were impressive — they had a strong understanding of the material, and their classmates were thoroughly engaged. After each person concluded a presentation, their classmates delivered constructive, focused commentary.

This class was reminiscent of my educational experience at The Evergreen State College. I was afraid to stand in front of a classroom and talk to my peers. Through practice and experience, I got over it.

I told the students in Mr. Trester’s class that they are learning leadership skills, possibly without even realizing it. They are learning to work in teams, to present in front of an audience, to speak on controversial topics and to accept feedback. These skills will take them far.

I was scheduled to spend an hour in the class, but we ended up spending 90 minutes together, discussing a wide range of topics. We talked about the College budget, and the value placed on education in Arizona versus in other states and countries.  We talked about the importance of developing cultural and global competency. Their questions were thoughtful and probing. They wanted to know what they could do to help Arizona’s leadership realize that education, and funding for it, should be a much higher priority.  My answer: They should be engaged, informed and strategic, and vote for leaders who share their values.

I want to thank Mr. Trester and his students again for sharing their class time with me.  It was an inspiring, energizing morning.


Addressing abrasiveness in higher education

In June, I presented at the Harvard Colloquium on Abrasive Conduct in Higher Education. I had presented at the 2014 colloquium. Last year, I described deficiencies at PCC described by the Higher Learning Commission, the College’s accreditor, and our response, as chronicled in our Self-Study Report.

In this year’s presentation, I outlined new changes at PCC to meet our challenges. These include employee committee review of policies and practices, civility training for more than 1,300 employees, Supervision in the 21st Century leadership training, College-wide sexual harassment response training, and efforts by our Institutional Climate Cooperative.

The goal of these efforts, simply put: Less meanness. More civility. More respect. More communication. More niceness.

This was the third annual colloquium on abrasiveness. There likely will be a fourth and a fifth. Culture change in higher education requires clear expectations, effective communication and acceptance of collective responsibility. It takes time, as we at PCC know. The hope is meetings on the topic will eventually be unnecessary.

PCC’s place in a rapidly shrinking world

I was fortunate to be part of spirited discussions at annual professional development events last month, and I thank the 80 exempt and 180 non-exempt employees who attended. At both gatherings, we talked about topics affecting individual campuses and the College as a whole, as well as trends affecting education nationally and globally. The key takeaway, I believe, is the distance between the PCC and the rest of the world is shrinking rapidly, and we need to start thinking globally if we are to successfully compete in the 21st century. [The McKinsey Global Institute has interesting insights on the rapid rebooting of the world’s economy.]

The growth of the middle class in Latin America, Africa and Asia has been well documented. Hundreds of millions of college-age students live in Mexico, India, China and elsewhere. PCC’s internationalization efforts, through the Becalos program and in recent visits to China and Korea, can enhance the global education of our students while fostering the economic and cultural development of the College and the community.

Of course, we also must take care of business at home. As you know, the Higher Learning Commission, the College’s accreditor, has removed PCC from Probation and placed us on Notice, meaning the we are in compliance with the HLC’s Criteria for Accreditation but remain at risk for being out of compliance with the Criteria for Accreditation and Core Components. Refining the College mission and developing a system to assess its fulfillment are among the areas we must address to regain the fullest confidence of our accreditor.

Beyond accreditation, we have a pressing need to rebuild enrollment. In addition, our commitment to student access should be buttressed by a redesign of foundational education that quickly and effectively advances students into credit programs. We can address Pima County’s achievement gap by strengthening transfer pathways to four-year schools and ensuring our programs provide students with skills area employers value. It adds up to a commitment to a great experience for our students, our most important customers and investors.

The work of our employees is crucial to the success of these efforts. Every workday, we can build a culture of accountability at PCC. Everyone can contribute to a workplace that values clarifying questions, contrasting viewpoints and new ideas, expressed in honest, open discussions, and free from fear of retaliation. All of us also have an opportunity to influence public perceptions about the College. “Regular employees” are considered very credible sources of information about a company or organization, according to a 2012 survey of trust in institutions – more credible, I hasten to add, than CEOs of the organization. In talking to family, friends and community members about PCC – whether good or ill — our words matter.  It is another example of how the opportunity to help transform PCC into a premier community college starts with our most valuable asset, our employees.

Setting the stage for success

PCC Center for the Arts at West Campus

PCC Center for the Arts at West Campus

The arts matter at Pima Community College. Our Center for the Arts (CFA) provides the stage for students to showcase their talent, as well as serving as a classroom where behind-the-scenes careers can be launched (as chronicled in a recent article in our Career Focus magazine). Our students excel in programs in dance, digital art, music, theater, and visual art, such as the PCC students who finished first and second, respectively, in the 2015 Mariachi Conference poster contest. In 2014-15, more than 15,100 people attended CFA Pima Arts events. (Another 18,266 attended events held by community groups and non-arts PCC departments who rented the spaces.) The CFA’s 2015-16 season, announced last month, promises to be just as successful.

Our arts faculty understands the demands of a fast-moving entertainment industry and, like our students, is attuned to the expectations of the audience. The competencies the arts demand – in problem solving, communication, teamwork, appreciation of multiple perspectives — are necessary ingredients for educational and professional success in the 21st century.

One need look no further than Steve Jobs to appreciate how art and life can intersect in profound ways. Jobs took a calligraphy class at Reed College, where he learned the aesthetics of typography, he told the Stanford University Class of 2005.  “I found it fascinating. . . . None of this had any hope of any practical application in my life. But 10 years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac.” Our students take tens of thousands of classes each semester. Their PCC education – in the arts, the sciences, and everywhere in between – can propel them to success, no matter which career path they choose to explore.

Visit to Korea, China

I have just returned from a visit to the Republic of Korea and the People’s Republic of China, where we continue to consolidate our partnerships. I was honored to be invited by the Mayor of the Korean island of Ulleungdo to sign an International Memorandum of Understanding (IMOU), which was presented in an official ceremony with local authorities and media. I was accompanied by Ms. Ann Klocko from the Korea Arizona Trade Office (KATO) in Tucson, and Pima Community College’s Acting Vice President for International Development, Ricardo Castro-Salazar.

Korea 1 Korea Klocko maybe JCD


While there, we had the opportunity to visit a local high school, where I addressed the students and talked to them about PCC. We were officially received and sent off by the Mayor. We also met with partners of KATO in Seoul and discussed collaboration possibilities with PCC.

Korea students

Korea classIn China, we met with authorities of Foshan City (picture below) and signed an International Memorandum of Understanding with Bao Qi (Paul Jin) and Guangdong JIRONG Capital & Development Co. (JCD). The IMOU opens possibilities for PCC to develop workforce training, online education, short-term programs, and summer camps for students from Foshan and other areas.

Foshan 2

We also traveled to the city of Zhuhai, where we were hosted by President Liu Huaqiang of Zhuhai City Polytechnic College. We discussed our IMOU and signed an addendum establishing that both institutions will work on the development of international educational exchange programs in business and hospitality management. An even exchange program, where Pima and Zhuhai College students could benefit, was also discussed.

In Zhuhai, we also met with Helen Hu, from the China Youth Center for International Exchange, to discuss collaboration opportunities. We talked about the possibility of developing hybrid models for international students, where online offerings could make our programs more competitive.

Zhuhai 3Zhuhai 2

Upon our return, on June 6 we hosted President Liu Huaqiang, who came to Tucson as part of a visit to the U.S. He took the opportunity to see Tucson and PCC campuses and expressed that he was very impressed with the College and our desert beauty.

Honoring Downtown Campus’ founders

Four decades ago, PCC’s Downtown Campus opened its doors with a commitment to helping the people of this community achieve and succeed. On May 20, I had the great pleasure of attending a reunion of the founding members of the campus.

It was a special day as we honored former staff, faculty and administrators who laid strong roots for this campus. Between 75 and 100 people attended the event, including students and employees both past and present, members of the community and the PCC Board of Governors.

It was gracious of Robert Agrella to speak at the afternoon reception in the Amethyst Room at Downtown Campus. Bob was the founding associate dean, a position equivalent to today’s campus president. He admittedly got a little emotional during his time at the lectern.

Bob recalled working in an atmosphere where everybody pulled together and did what was necessary. He remembered the camaraderie, trust and teamwork that existed among co-workers. He described being part of the founding of the campus as “exciting, invigorating, sometimes frightening, challenging, but always very satisfying.” I hope we all feel that way about working at Pima today.

Bob also put into perspective the current challenges Pima faces when he noted the College always “emerges as a much stronger and better institution.” Pima is well on its way to doing the same today.

Again, my heartfelt thanks go out all those who built the campus into what it is today. I also want to express my gratitude to everybody who played a role in pulling this wonderful event together, including retired Pima employees Art Evans and Tim Murphy; Interim President Gwen Joseph; Acting Vice President for Instruction Pat Houston and the rest of their team at Downtown Campus; and the Events, Marketing and Media Production teams at District Office.

View a photo album of the event on the College’s Flickr Page.

Graduation 2015


A quick note about PCC graduation May 21. Cheered on by thousands of family and friends, approximately 900 graduates received degrees and certificates during an amazing ceremony at the Tucson Convention Center. There were many highlights, including an inspirational speech from graduate Kenneth Lee, and a video featuring images from the past academic year. All in all, it was a great night to be a member of the Pima family, thanks to PCC employees who worked for months to ensure a memorable commencement.