Tag Archives: student success

Scholarship Fiesta 2016

Our PCC Foundation annually hosts a Scholarship Fiesta where scholarship recipients and donors can get to know each other. I shared a few remarks at last week’s gathering, and had the opportunity to meet the extraordinary people who support the Foundation, and the students who benefit from their generosity.

This year’s awardees included Craig Bevan. At 60, Craig is a lifelong learner earning his second degree at PCC, in Paralegal Studies, and sixth overall. Craig is dealing with physical challenges but says they will never keep him from learning.

The student speaker, Itzel Ramos, intends to study Biomedical Engineering at the University of Arizona after graduating from PCC in May. Her career goal is to help design prosthetics for those who have lost limbs. She shared with me that she also is in ROTC, and intends to join the Air Force.

Itzel shared that her mother has worked the graveyard shift at her job in order to help put Iztel and a sister through college. The fiesta’s master of ceremonies, local entrepreneur Edmund Marquez, put it best when he told Iztel’s mom that she had raised a heckuva daughter.

Though coming from diverse backgrounds, Craig, Itzel and our scholarship recipients are alike in many ways. They are often the first in their family to attend college. They come from close-knit, multigenerational families of modest means. Some have experienced food or housing insecurity.  They want to attend school close to home. They need PCC’s flexible schedules to balance work, school and family. Most importantly, they understand that attending college is the pathway to a better life for themselves and their families.

As usual, the Foundation staged a beautiful event in the Community Campus courtyard, with delicious food and mariachi music in a pleasant and friendly setting. Kudos to Foundation Board member Staci Lopez, Interim Foundation Executive Director Rachel Schaming and her team, and to Special Assistant, External Relations Christy Camargo and Support Specialist Chris Mayer.

PCC headed in the right direction

Here is my commentary on PCC’s future. It was published in the Arizona Daily Star on Oct. 13:

On Sept. 26 and 27, seven members of a Peer Review Team from the Higher Learning Commission engaged in 50-plus meetings with more than 250 faculty, staff, students, board and community members, on four Pima Community College campuses.

During this visit, the College was asked to provide evidence that it has put in place systems that demonstrated effectiveness and sustainability in 11 key areas outlined in our “Notice Report” submitted to the HLC in June.  The College made a strong case to be removed from our current sanction of “Notice,” a status that means the HLC sees the college at risk of falling out of compliance with accrediting standards.

It was significant for other reasons as well. It was a turning point, where PCC demonstrated, without equivocation, that it is actively addressing problems and concerns, some of which date back a decade or more, and is fearlessly taking on problems as part of our new culture of continuous improvement.

The visit was not about reliving the past, however. It was about putting PCC on secure footing with HLC standards and strengthening the College for the vital work of supporting our community.

Accreditation reviews usually happen every 10 years, but can happen more often if accreditors find areas of concern. Last week’s “Focused Visit,” was to find evidence of effectiveness in 11 specific areas, including things like implementation of the 2014-17 Strategic Plan and ensuring that proper metrics are being used to address progress in student retention, persistence and completion.

Some of the areas, such as assessing student learning outcomes, were the reason the college was placed on Probation in 2013. That sanction was reduced in March to “Notice.”  Others, including, ensuring syllabi have proper and specific learning goals, and ensuring consistency in review of dual learning courses and dual learning faculty training, were additional findings from a previous Focused Visit.

The good news is Pima Community College has addressed these issues.

The problems we faced were not created overnight and will not be resolved overnight, but PCC faculty, staff and administration have worked tirelessly over the last three years to move the college in the right direction.

It is important to note that Pima continues to be fully accredited. Credits for qualifying courses transfer to our state and other universities. Students who meet the requirements and are enrolled in qualifying programs of study may be eligible for federal aid.

Our community should be proud of the hard work of this college. We also should remember why this visit was important, not just for PCC, but for the region.

As a leading educator for so-called “middle skills,” in demand by manufacturers and other technology and technical employers, PCC not only helps prepare our residents for high-growth, high-wage jobs but also fills critical skills gaps for our workforce.

Further, our transfer programs give students a solid and affordable foundation toward a baccalaureate degree.

This is where PCC matters.

Proud to be an open admissions college, we also have developed a laser-focus on student success.  We have broadened our economic development role to include customized training for incumbent workers, career and educational pathways, and built key workforce partnerships.

Yet, in many ways, we are just getting started.  PCC has set its sights on being a premier community college. It is what our diverse population of students, employers and region need and deserve.

We are grateful to our employees and community members who participated in last week’s visit and to members of the community for ongoing support.  We look forward to engaging you as we continue the good, hard work ahead.

Report to the Community

This month’s edition of PCC Spotlight, the College’s e-newsletter, contains my annual Report to the Community.
Some of the topics addressed in the Report:
  • Accreditation: We have submitted a Notice Report to the Higher Learning Commission, a key step in regaining the fullest measure of confidence from our accreditor.
  • Fiscal stewardship: I put into perspective PCC’s budget, property tax rates, and tuition for 2016-17.
  • Student success: We are making strides in improving and expanding pathways for students at the beginning of their education journey.

Service excellence

Pima Community College’s workplace culture reflects our values, and we owe it to ourselves and our constituents to treat everyone as we wish to be treated. One of our College objectives is to increase efforts regarding recruitment, enrollment and retention to foster student success and goal attainment.

In that spirit, the College has a new training, “Creating a Culture of Service Excellence.”  Developed by our Office of Organizational Effectiveness and Development, the workshop offers tools to improve the student/stakeholder experience so employees can live up to PCC’s new Service Philosophy Statement, “We work together every day to inspire trust and ensure student success.”

PCC’s relationship with our students and stakeholders extends beyond the transactional experience that takes place between a company and a customer. Students invest their time and entrust their dreams with us; there is no refund we can offer that will be sufficient if we break that connection of trust. It is my hope and expectation employees will re-examine policies, guidelines and procedures to ensure they are consistent with our service excellence philosophy and practice.  This initiative will strengthen PCC by deepening our commitment to be more responsive, resourceful, and helpful as we assist students in achieving their academic goals.

Trip to Israel

Members of the Ethiopian National Project

Members of the Ethiopian National Project

I recently returned from a community leadership mission to Israel coordinated by the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona and led by Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild. My primary focus was to learn more about the State of Israel’s human development system and potential partnerships that might be available to Pima Community College.  Important aspects of this visit included addressing challenges associated with Israel’s youth, immigrant communities, and diversity.

At the Western Wall with a delegation including Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild

At the Western Wall with a delegation including Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild

I learned that the talent development system in Israel is grounded in a larger commitment to social justice with broad participation from employers, educators, community organizations, and concerned individuals from Israel and the USA. This commitment is an important counterbalance to a public education system that appears overwhelmed by large class sizes (up to 40 students per teacher), and limited state investment compared to their defense industry.

My first exposure was with Liliyot Restaurant, a leading culinary institution.  One aspect of their uniqueness centers on their work with at-risk youth.  As noted on their web site, liliyot.co.il, “Every year Liliyot Restaurant trains and employs 15 high school drop-outs, who receive instruction, supervision, and employment for a period of up to a year and half.”  Some of the keys to success of this initiative include partnerships between the ELEM-Israel organization (http://www.elem.org.il/english/) and the Liliyot Group, including the involvement of a full-time social worker and a caring, committed team of professionals at the Liliyot Restaurant.

We visited the Tel Nof Air Force Base where we met the elite Rescue Training Unit 669, an airborne combat search-and-rescue team of the Israelis Defense Forces (idfblog.com). The training of this elite unit takes about 18 months.  This unit has a special connection to Tucson, because the unit has participated in joint training exercises with similar units here in our community.  Some members of this unit will be returning to Tucson in the future.  It is my hope to connect members of PCC’s Public Safety and Emergency Services Institute with this elite group.

We met with the program staff, faculty and students of the Ethiopian National Project (ENP).  This project “unites global Jewry, the Government of Israel, and the Ethiopian-Israeli community in its mission to advance the integration of Ethiopian-Israelis into Israeli society” (enp.org.il). We had an opportunity to interact with the students in a small group setting.  I was deeply inspired by their passion and commitment to learning.

We heard student testimonials about the positive impact the ENP is having on their lives.  One of the stories that stood out for me was of a male student who was not taking his studies seriously. He was known for not participating in class and other school activities, and sometimes would skip school.  Thanks to the coordinator of the ENP’s Scholastic Assistance Program checking in with the student’s teachers, an intervention strategy was developed.  This included the coordinator going out to the student’s neighborhood to find out was going on with him.  Thanks to the care, commitment and passion of the coordinator taking the time understand the familial dynamics, the student is back on a path to success.

We also learned about Israeli and Arab challenges from the founders of Alpha Omega, an Arab start-up company (alphaomega-eng.com).  The co-founders attended a well-regarded Israeli university, but following graduation, still had difficulty finding meaningful work.  Eventually they decided to start up what eventually became a highly successful medical device company focused on neurology and degenerative disease.  Another aspect of their story that struck me was their commitment to their employees and community. They encourage their employees to start their own businesses.  They are very involved with community organizations.

We had a fascinating visit with the BioBee Biological Systems in Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu (www.BioBee.com).  They are the world’s leading experts on mass production and implementation of beneficial insects and mites as an alternative to chemical pesticides used in agriculture  They run a very sophisticated operation that attracts leading experts to their kibbutz.  Additionally, they invest heavily in the training and development of their front-line team.

I left Israel feeling inspired and affirmed in my decision to work in higher education.  The U.S. and Israel have much that they can learn from each other, but one thing is common to both countries:  Student success happens when educators and community members care enough to develop personal relationships with students.

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.

Graduation 2015

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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.