Tag Archives: Futures Conference

What a week!

Last week was phenomenal, and not only because on March 9 our accrediting organization lifted all sanctions from the College. On March 10 we held two events with the potential to shape PCC and community for years to come.

More than 100 business, education, government and community leaders joined PCC employees for Futures Conference 2017.  The theme of 2017’s conference is an echo of the first conference.  As in 2014, we are looking to define a handful of comprehensive priorities, or Wildly Important Goals (WIGs), to guide the College through 2020. [Another session of the conference will be held March 23. You also can offer your insights in an online survey.]

March 10 also was the inaugural Ethnic, Gender and Transborder Studies summit. More than 300 students, community members and employees gathered for a morning of scholarship and idea-sharing. The afternoon was spent discussing ways to create a Center of Excellence devoted to diversity, inclusion and social justice.

I am extremely proud of the event’s organizers, who have applied the Center of Excellence concept in a way that will make us a leader among community colleges. Moreover, the center has the capacity to give students a physical space devoted to data-based scholarship, alliance-building, and advocacy for the historically marginalized. Or, as one student eloquently put it, the center will be a place for “inspiring humans.”

The key point to remember is that while the College worked with our accreditor, we have been developing an array of forward-looking initiatives that go far beyond compliance. Meeting regulatory standards is of course an important foundational activity, but it’s only one of a range of efforts we are undertaking to achieve a greater end – becoming a premier community college.

Futures Conference 2016

I delivered opening remarks to the Pima Community College Futures Conference late last month. The conference was attended by almost 160 PCC employees and government, education, business and community leaders. The question posed at the conference was simple and fundamental: “How does PCC know it has fulfilled its mission?”

The answer is critically important to the College. We need to demonstrate to the peer institutions who accredit us, and to the public, that we can accurately ascertain our strengths and areas needing improvement. Over the two-plus hours of the conference, attendees met in small groups. They proposed a wide range of indicators to effectively measure performance in several areas, including diversity, student access and success, and community engagement.

The information gathered at the conference will be refined and converted into Key Performance Indicators that, pending Governing Board approval, will be embedded into the College’s strategic planning process.

Naturally, given the topic, most of the conversation centered on numbers and analysis.  I closed with a reminder that the College, while committed to being data-informed and evidence-based, must never lose sight of its underlying values or its focus on the individual student. At my table I heard the story of one student, Martin, whose goal is to become a lawyer and who has trusted in us his dreams and hopes for the future. In listening to Martin, who is of modest means, I was reminded of a quote from Melinda Gates: “If you are successful, it is because somewhere, sometime, someone gave you a life or an idea that started you in the right direction. Remember also that you are indebted to life until you help some less fortunate person, just as you were helped.”

This was the third Futures Conference held by the College. All have been expertly organized by our Office of Institutional Research, Planning and Effectiveness. Dr. Nicola Richmond and her team — including Michelle Henry, David Purkiss, table facilitators and other volunteers – once again did a great job in bringing together a diverse group of internal and external constituents to creatively collaborate on an important topic.

Defining our mission

Futures

PCC is committed to serving the needs of the community. A critical piece of this commitment must be serving the needs of the individual.

That was one of the insights emerging from the 2015 Futures Conference, which I had the privilege of attending on April 13. Approximately 100 community members and employees enjoyed a spirited discussion about a wide range of topics, including access, success, program excellence, stewardship, and more. The information gathered at the conference will inform PCC planning, and my thanks go to Assistant Vice Chancellor Nicola Richmond and her staff in Planning and Institutional Research for organizing an event that produced many great ideas. [A PowerPoint presentation from the conference is available on our website.]

Our inaugural Futures Conference, in April 2014, was devoted to strategic planning, as well as defining six directions for the College to pursue over the next two to three years. This year’s Futures Conference focused on our mission – our reason for being, the answer to the question, “Why does PCC exist?” [Our current mission statement is “to develop the community through learning.”] At the conference, one argument was made that the best answer regarding mission was “to serve every individual, every day.’’

However our mission is defined, it must drive PCC to success in ways that benefit our diverse students. One might need Adult Education, another Developmental Education. A student seeking the skills for gainful employment is best served if we successfully align Career and Technical Education curriculum with the needs of business and industry and offer short-term, stackable credentials. A student looking to obtain a bachelor’s degree makes it incumbent on us to improve connections with K-12, colleges and universities to ensure seamless transfer. A student balancing work and family obligations needs PCC to provide robust online programs.

I began and ended the conference with personal stories of students who succeeded at PCC after taking long and winding education journeys that sometimes tested their resolve. One of our former students graduated from a local high school, served in the military and graduated from college, yet could find work only as a server in a restaurant. “I did everything right,” she told U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez when he visited the Aviation Technology Center in January 2015, yet still had not reached her career goal. Then she found, on the ground, a piece of paper with information about Pima Community College. She got her start at PCC through that scrap of good fortune, completed our rigorous Aviation Technology program, and now works at Bombardier.

Every path to PCC is a bit different, but student success at PCC should be a function of effective systems, not serendipity. Our mission and vision statements, which will compel change at the College, should be the result of a transparent, inclusive, evidence-driven process. Working together, PCC can help individuals achieve their goals so that collectively they form the foundation of a stable, prosperous community.

What it takes to be the best

This month, I have had the opportunity to present updates about the College at professional development activities for exempt and non-exempt employees. My core message can be summed up in a series of questions and answers, beginning with, “What kind of college does PCC want to be?” I pose that the answer must be “the premier community college in the United States.”

What will it take to be the best? Answer: An unshakeable focus on student success, community engagement and diversity – in short, a commitment to being a student-centered learning organization.

So, what are the key components of a student -centered learning organization? Borrowing from organizational thought leader Peter Senge, I believe there are five elements the College needs to incorporate into its institutional DNA:

  1. Systems thinking: an understanding of how parts fit into a whole and an appreciation that every employee is integral to the success of PCC students. When the electricity went out at West Campus during the monsoons last summer, our Facilities crews worked to restore power quickly, allowing instructors and students to get on with teaching and learning with minimal interruption. In their own way that day, Facilities contributed substantially to the success of PCC students.
  2. Personal mastery: an acknowledgement that employees are ultimately responsible for their own success. Employees should look for opportunities to improve knowledge that will help them be more effective at their jobs.
  3. Shared vision: Having a common set of ideals – an institutional “north star” employees can look toward in determining how well we are fulfilling our mission. The PCC Futures Conference and strategic planning process, which brought together more than 200 employees and community members to map out strategic directions for the College over the next three to five years, is an example of the College striving toward a shared vision. That college-wide process informed strategic planning at campuses and work units, where employees had the opportunity to offer their insights.
  4. Team learning: A work unit is only as good as its weakest link, and it’s the responsibility of the work unit to foster, in a civil and positive manner, a culture in which everyone pulls his or her weight.
  5. Mental models: Having a mindset or culture that focuses on the positive is important. I’ve heard it said that at PCC students have a “right to fail.” A positive framing of that issue is that students should have a right to succeed. College must do all it can to help students achieve success.

To make these elements a reality, we need an organizational structure consistent with our values and purpose. That has been the driving force behind recent and upcoming structural reorganizations. Executive Vice Chancellor for Institutional Effectiveness Dr. Zelema Harris astutely recognized the importance the College must place on advancement. That emphasis is reflected in the recent reorganization of the College’s “forward-facing” areas, including Marketing, Enrollment Management, Public Information, the PCC Foundation and Web Services, under a new position, Vice Chancellor of Institutional Advancement. Engaging the community — at the local, state, national and global level — is critical if we are to be the best. Similarly, we are working toward hiring a Vice Chancellor in charge of workforce initiatives in order to give leaders in business and industry a single point of contact when they wish to engage with the College.

Everyone at PCC is a leader. All employees have an opportunity to influence others, be they students or their fellow employees, through teaching, challenging, communicating and helping. I am confident that PCC can set the standard for community colleges across the nation. This won’t happen overnight. Our current situation took years to develop, and digging our way out will take time. But in three to five years, I am convinced we will succeed, if we work together and focus on our students and the community. That’s what it takes to be the best.

Strategic planning: Moving forward

The College took a major step forward recently when our Strategic Planning Committee recently concluded two days of intensive meetings at out East Campus. The committee did a great job of hammering out a solid framework of student-centered initiatives for the College to undertake over the next several years.

In opening the group’s meeting, I noted that a key element for success is recognizing the College’s “mental mindsets,” the term that organizational thought leader Peter Senge’s used to describe an organization’s deeply embedded beliefs. We need to identify those mindsets that might be impeding real change at PCC.

I also emphasized understanding the local, regional, national and global context of education, both today and in the future; and most importantly, the need to create a system for learning that puts students first.

The work of the Strategic Planning Committee is the next step in an important, ongoing process that began with the PCC Futures Conference in February. [The common themes emerging from the conference are available here.]

PCC has many excellent programs and services for students. We need to identify the elements in those programs that make them successful, and, moving forward, infuse them into our institutional DNA.

Of course, our initiatives have to be flexible and adaptable; history is replete with examples of plans that went awry because they did not account for rapid change. This is especially true in education. That means constantly listening, especially to students, and taking diverse viewpoints seriously.

Benjamin Franklin said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” Our strategic planning process is built around helping students succeed. Helping our students achieve their dreams is why we do the work we do. It is why this institution exists. As chancellor, I am determined to returning Pima to being the kind of student-centered College it once was.