The Power of Two (or More)

This article from Politico may be about our presidential primary season, but it resonates with ACC’s own work on diversity and equity in our hiring processes.

What’s the difference between having one diverse candidate amongst those interviewed and two or more? Quite a lot, it turns out.  From the article:  “A single diverse candidate faces an enormous headwind—and a tiny chance of being picked for the job in the end. In contrast, when interviewers take the time to interview multiple diverse candidates in a fair and competitive process, the dynamic shifts norms and expectations, and creates a situation in which a diverse candidate is much more likely to end up winning the position.”

That assertion is based on a study in Harvard Business Review (Johnson, Hekman, & Chan, 2016) that showed that a single diverse finalist has zero statistical chance of being hired, while two (or more) diverse finalists have an exponentially greater chance of being hired.  It turns out that having more than one diverse finalist changes the status quo to the benefit of the goal of diversity in hiring.

Food for thought.

When we hire full-time faculty, we are proposing marriage (so to speak).  That is, we are making a commitment that will last twenty or thirty years or more.  We want to do our best to ensure that all our faculty are committed to our mission and to helping our student population reach their goals.  Among other things, that means we’re being more explicit about our search for applicants who understand and are committed to equity in teaching and learning.  It also means we want to diversify the faculty ranks so that our students see themselves in our faculty.  If you participated in the full-time faculty hiring process this year, or you might participate in it next year, please reflect on the reasons why the college asks hiring committee members to think about the benefits for our students, our community, and our mission of a diverse faculty committed to equitable student outcomes.  And please remember “the power of two”.

A Day in the Life of an AVP – the “one pager” edition

I’ve spent my day writing “one pagers”.   What is a one pager, you ask?  I’ll tell you.

We report on our work in a variety of ways to a variety of entities.  And one of those ways is an annual institutional effectiveness report that goes to the Board of Trustees.  It’s submitted by the president and is a comprehensive look (well – as comprehensive as we can make it) at what we’ve done in the year.  The 2017-2018 report was almost 200 pages long.

The report is organized around the college’s strategic plan goals (i.e., equity and access, persistence and engagement, completion and transition to employment and/or transfer, and effective and efficient operations and infrastructure).  Within each of those goals we write one page (usually) on various initiatives and programs.  These “one pagers” have a prescribed format (Background, Current Activities [2018-2019], and Next Steps [2019-2020]).

Writing a one pager may require data gathering, historical research, making some phone calls, and asking others for help.  Because brevity is not my strong suit, my one pagers are sometimes two pagers (and occasionally two-and-half pagers).  This week – and all day today – I’ve edited, or updated, or crafted from scratch, or finalized one pagers on the following topics.

  • Adult Education
  • Eight-week programs and innovative scheduling
  • Block-scheduled Institutes
  • Corequisites in INRW (Integrated Reading and Writing)
  • Equity and Diversity in Faculty Hiring
  • English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) and the IEP (Intensive English Program)
  • Events in Academic Programs
  • Faculty Mentoring of Students
  • Fields of Study
  • Instructional Programs Quality and Reorganization
  • New Student Welcome Center
  • Saving Students Money on Textbooks
  • Texas A&M/Chevron Engineering Academy

Of that list, three were written largely by others so my role was editing and formatting.  But the other ten required mostly “from scratch” writing.  And while I like to write, I’m running out of steam.

So as we move to the end of another month, I’ll tell you that we are doing a whole lot of good work here at ACC, and we are capturing it in dozens of one pagers written by dedicated folks who believe in the work.  Celebrate with me, and enjoy the closing of the month of June.

Small Ball

In baseball, there’s a strategy known as “small ball”.  It’s the idea of deliberate movement from base to base, essentially.  Get a runner on first (maybe with a walk), bunt the runner over to second, then get the runner home with a single to right field.  Instead of depending on monster hitters and big innings and lots of home runs, the idea is to score through an intentional, step by step approach to moving runners around the bases.  Stealing bases, bunting, working the pitcher for a walk – they’re about to become dinosaurs in modern baseball, but they have their place and they can be an effective strategy for winning.

This article in Inside Higher Ed talks about “small teaching” and it’s very much like small ball – intentionality around small changes or step-by-step progress.  I missed James Lang’s Small Teaching:  Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning when it first came out – although it’s now in my Amazon shopping cart.  But now there’s a book out by Flower Darby called Small Teaching Online, extending the principles to the online teaching environment (which I where I still occasionally teach).

The basic idea, as we learn from the article in Inside Higher Ed (or from this series of articles in The Chronicle of Higher Education),  is that we can use the science of learning to make small, intentional, incremental changes in our teaching that will have a big impact on student learning.  I don’t know about you, but I could do a better job of keeping up with the science of learning.  In the meantime, I can learn more about Small Teaching, where I find suggestions like making a small change to how a class starts (or ends) that can bear significant fruit.  I’ve read about Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs) for twenty years – such things as the minute paper at the end of class, for instance (answering these two questions:  “What was the more important thing you learned today? What questions do you still have?”).  Small teaching is right in line with those CATs from twenty years ago.

Here’s an excerpt from Professor Lang:

“For example, we have excellent evidence that students remember material better when they test themselves and try to retrieve information from their own minds. And yet most students still study by reviewing their notes over and over again — probably the least-effective study strategy they can employ. The final five minutes of class can provide a quick opportunity to let students know how best to prepare for their next assessment, based on the science of learning and on your experience as an expert learner.

Before the midterm, I asked students to take two minutes and write down for me how they studied for the test. When I compared what they said with the exam scores, the evidence couldn’t have been clearer: Low-performing students used phrases like “reviewed my notes” and “reread the poems”; the students who aced the exam said things like “wrote an outline,” “rewrote my notes,” “organized a timeline,” “tested myself,” and “created flashcards.” I made a slide with a side-by-side comparison of the two columns, and spent five minutes of class showing students the differences. They’ll see that slide again in the last five minutes of class just before the next exam.

Imagine what a difference we could make if we all took five minutes — even just a few times during the semester — to offer students the opportunity to reflect on their learning habits. We could inform their choices with some simple research, and inspire them to make a change. One five-minute session in one course might not mean much, but dozens of such sessions across a student’s college education would add up.”

Just like small ball can be successful, small changes to our teaching can help students learn more successfully.  I encourage you to investigate – and remember the power of the bunt for moving runners along!

Image by Keith Johnston from Pixabay

Faculty Hiring and Bias

We have spent the last year redesigning our approach to faculty hiring.  We have done this for a variety of reasons, but front and center has been our effort to look for candidates who understand equity in the classroom and who will support equity-mindedness in instruction.  We know that our current faculty understand the diverse needs of our students, so we want to ensure that our new faculty are hired with that equity lens at the outset.

You may think that we’ve gone overboard in some of our redesign – mandating equity training for every member of every full-time faculty hiring committee, for instance.  But have we?

This article in Inside Higher Ed reminds us that we often make hiring decisions that reflect unconscious biases and unexamined definitions of “fit”.  While the article and the study aren’t about community college faculty searches, they can still serve as a cautionary tale, reminding us to examine our frames of reference and hold each other accountable for the ways in which we use “merit” or “fit” to justify hiring faculty who look like us or think like us.

As we move into the second year of this very intentional focus on how we advertise for, interview, and hire faculty, we will be looking in particular at our adjunct faculty hiring processes.  If you have suggestions for best practices in the hiring of adjunct faculty – particularly in light of the college’s equity-minded approach – please send them my way.

After all, hiring faculty is the most important thing that we do in support of our mission and our students.  So let’s do it to the best of our collective abilities.

Cognitive Biases

A faculty member in Economics (Dr. Geoffrey Andron) recently sent this article about cognitive biases and irrational decision-making out to others at ACC with this introduction:

“We all be crazy.  Think how we can use student crazy to stimulate student education.
Also think how to protect students from professor crazy…..and from administrator crazy.”
You have to love his set-up – direct, honest, accurate.
We all be crazy.
We all have cognitive biases; students, faculty, administrators.
We all make irrational decisions; students, faculty, administrators.
Behavioral economists tell us that our cognitive biases lead to irrational choices.  As a political scientist, I can point to many instances of irrational voting choices – that is, voters who vote against their own self-interest, voting instead on emotion (“affect heuristic”), or voting in response to cognitive dissonance or choice overload, or relying on confirmation bias or the hot/cold empathy gap.  Please read the article – it’s a nice reminder of our human frailties and flaws.
So why am I writing about this article?  In part because I try to be self-aware as I go through my days.  As an administrator, I try to pay attention to my flaws and frailties so that I don’t do my work based on decision fatigue, or habit, or the halo effect, or herd behavior, or any of the other cognitive biases described in the article.
But I’m also writing about this because institutions and their systems and processes – and the people who participate in those systems and processes – also have “cognitive biases”.  Whether it’s fundamentally changing our approach to developmental education with just-in-time remediation in corequisite course pairs (mandated by state statute), or trying to find common ground at ACC around the meaning and functioning of shared governance, or asking faculty who are comfortable with the lecture approach to embed active and collaborative learning into their curriculum – in all these things and more, cognitive biases come into play, defining our resistance, fear, or stubbornness as much as our affirmation, innovation, and support.
As Dr. Andron asked, how might we use students’ cognitive biases to help them learn and succeed?  And to extend his question, we could ask all sorts of additional questions.  How might we call ourselves our (or our colleagues) on some of our own (or their) evident biases so that we put students at the center of our decision-making rather than our own (or their) own comfort and stubbornness?  How might we respectfully disagree, but then move beyond disagreement to seek common ground about shared governance, or high impact teaching practices, or an early alert referral system, or the best practices in distance education reflected in Quality Matters, or the myriad other issues that merit deep and serious discussion?
How might we all assess our own cognitive biases and irrational decision-making in ways that move us forward as an institution, with student success at the center of it all?  What can I do myself?  I can make sure I’m alert to the sunk cost fallacy and the representativeness heuristic and the projection bias and the over-justification effect.  I can be open to suggestions and I can learn from my mistakes.  And in all things, I can make sure that my guiding principle is equity in student access, persistence, and completion.  Join me on the journey.  Call me on my cognitive biases.  And send me suggestions along the way!

A Day in the Life of an AVP – the (whirlwind) May edition

Woke up (in a whirlwind). . .

Fell out of bed (into a tornado). . .

Dragged a comb across my head (in a cyclone). . .

May has been a remarkably busy month.  As you can tell from the introduction to this post and my parenthetical additions to the Beatles lyrics, every day has felt like I’m in a whirlwind of important projects and decision-making large and small.  So here we go – you get to ride the wind with me.

Buckle up, and hold onto your hats!

Hiring notebooks
  • ACC uses these notebooks (big, blue, 3-ring binders) to move the paperwork associated with hiring new full-time faculty through the pipeline.  The notebooks contain the committee membership, the applicant list, the interview list, applications and transcripts of interviewees, reference checks, a justification letter regarding the committee’s recommendations, and candidate approval forms.
  • My preference is to visit with the dean and department chair (or hiring  committee chair) to ask questions about the hiring process and the committee’s recommendations.  Given that we made fundamental changes to our full-time faculty hiring approach to embed equity more intentionally and throughout the process, I’ve been particularly eager to talk to hiring committee chairs and get feedback on changes to the process.
  • The “notebook” goes from the dean, to me, to the VP of Instruction, to the Provost, to the President.  We all  have to sign off because hiring faculty is the most important thing that we do to support our educational mission.  So part of the day focused on hiring notebooks and the concomitant conversations.
Personnel issues
  • I’ll save you the details.  Personnel issues are part and parcel of this job.  Sometimes they’re pretty straightforward, and sometimes they’re messy.  This one is messy, but it still  has to be dealt with.
Registration Liaisons
  • Registration Liaisons (RLs) are faculty, both adjunct and full-time, who were hired in the Spring to help transfer students with registration issues in the first week of a teaching session.  If a student was dropped for non-payment, an RL can help the student find another class option and rebuild his/her schedule.  If the college made an error that resulted in the student being dropped, then the RL can put the student back into the class, even if it’s full.  RLs get a lot of business in the first week, and the job title is new.
  • Because this is a new job title, part of what we’re still working out is how to systematically communicate not just who the RLs are, but more importantly what their availability is each semester (since office hours can change based on teaching schedules).  So I spent some time this week asking and answering questions about that communication plan.
A&M Engineering Academy
  • ACC has a wonderful partnership with Texas A&M that allows up to 100 students – those who want to study engineering – to be admitted simultaneously to ACC and TAMU.  They take an Engineering course each semester here at ACC that is taught by an A&M Professor of Practice, and they take their other coursework with us.
  • At some point, when students maintain the required GPA, they switch to their preferred Engineering program at Texas A&M.  Is that a great opportunity for students in Central Texas?  Yes it is!  TAMU gets approximately 13,000 applications to its College of Engineering each year, and admits about 3000 – and they are giving us 100 slots.
  • The day involved a meeting about recruitment.  We can’t seem to find the magic formula that helps us get to 100 admitted students – we can get to 70ish, but not more.  So we were brainstorming additional outreach efforts.
  • Secondarily, UTSA is exploring a similar concurrent enrollment engineering program with us.  And Texas State is as well.  The key will be to craft the specifics so that we’re serving our students and developing good partnerships.  And the key will be in messaging, outreach, and recruitment.
UT’s Explore Law Program
  • Speaking of partnerships, here’s another one, this one with the University of Texas and Huston-Tillotson.  This is a new partnership, and frankly, we launched it in a rush.  But it’s another great opportunity for our students to explore a law career, have a residential experience on the H-T campus, connect with other students at UT and H-T as well as with law faculty.
  • The four-week program is for students with at least 24 semester credit hours with a cumulative GPA of 2.5 or higher.  The opportunity was brought to us, so we couldn’t say no.  However, that meant someone had to push the opportunity out to students, connect with our UT partners, and ultimately sift through the applications to make decisions about who would be invited to participate.  That someone was me – but be assured that the selection committee included Dr. Gretchen Riehl, AVP of Workforce Education, and Dr. Shasta Buchanan, AVP of College & High School Relations.  Our selections were due May 31, so the three of us scrambled to find the time to read applicants’ personal statements, writing samples, resumes, and supporting letters of recommendations.
  • We had 15 students apply, and we can select ten, so our recommendations went forward on May 31. Whew!  Deadline met, opportunity offered to some deserving students.
Achieving the Dream OER Degree Initiative grant report
  • The AtD OER-DI grant began in the summer of 2016 and ran through December 31, 2018.  We were obligated to submit three annual reports (Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019).  As Director of the Texas Consortium that collectively developed two Z-degrees (Alamo Colleges, El Paso Community College, San Jacinto College, and ACC), the annual reports were my responsibility.  This Spring 2019 report was due April 30, and I missed the deadline.  When I tried to submit it in early May, the access had been turned off.
  • Luckily for me, I wasn’t the only one to miss the deadline – so our friends at Achieving the Dream turned access back on and gave us until May 31.  My thanks to Ursula Pike, Instructional Initiatives Coordinator, who wrote the first draft.  And my thanks to Melissa Bedford-Guidry, Accountant – Record to Report (R2R), who did a last minute budget report for me.  I submitted the report mid-afternoon on May 31.  Whew!
Department Chair Summer Institute
  • We have elevated our expectations for department chairs because our instructional programs need and deserve strategic leadership.  For the last few years department chairs have spent their time on compliance issues, student complaints, schedule development and staffing, and faculty hiring and evaluation.  If we want them to be strategic leaders, we need to help them do so.  So we began by giving them additional support (more release time; help from Assistant Deans with things like discipline assessment and distance education best practices).  We then moved to our obligation to provide relevant and meaningful professional development for them so that they have the tools to be strategic leaders.  Thus the DC Summer Institute was born.
  • We are holding three Institutes this summer to ensure that all department chairs can attend.  I am working with Dr. Gretchen Riehl, AVP of Workforce Education, and Dr. Susan Thomason, AVP of Instructional Services, to develop/finalize the plans for the 2 1/2 day institutes.  On this particular day, Gretchen and I met to hone the agenda and the themes for the Institute.  In addition, I weighed in on the menu planning (appetizers at the conclusion of the first afternoon, lunch on the next two days).
  • That’s life as an AVP – menu planning, report writing, personnel issues, marketing – all in a day’s work!
#TXCoReqs Continuous Improvement Conference
  • At this point you’re thinking “Isn’t her day over yet?”  No.  Not quite. I am the Director of the Texas Corequisite Project, a THECB-funded grant to offer professional development around the state to two-year and four-year colleges and universities to help them successfully and effectively meet the mandates of HB2223.  HB2223 requires that developmental students be accelerated through their developmental education sequence by be enrolled in corequisite course pairings that provide contextualized and just-in-time remediation.  Thus, the professional development under this grant must help Texas public colleges and universities launch, refine, improve, and grow their corequisite developmental/college credit course offerings.  My co-director is Carolynn Reed, Math/Developmental Math Department Chair.  My right-hand person (in this grant and in all my AVP work) is Rhonda Little, Executive Assistant extraordinaire.
  • We’re hosting a conference June 7-8.  Conferences have multiple moving parts – programs and name tags, concurrent sessions and keynotes, lunch (more menu planning!) and room reservations, wayfinding and communication plans.  And this conference has even more moving parts, because the focus is on Continuous Improvement in Corequisites.  Each attending college had to submit pre-work (which has to be tracked).  Each attending college will participate in several “team time” sessions where they will receive coaching on defining their problem of practice and developing a short-term action plan and an assessment plan based on their pre-work.  Luckily for Carolynn and me, we are partnering with RAND Education and AIR (American Institutes for Research), and they have done some really heavy lifting on this conference.  And luckily for Carolynn and me, Rhonda is gifted.  We’d be lost without her.
Space requests
  • Space requests? Really?  Yes, really.  If someone wants to request a move to a different campus, or if we need to request an office for a new hire, there’s a form (of course!) and a process.  The form requires my signature before it goes on through the pipeline for other signatures.  Sounds simple, yes?  Except there are multiple space requests, and multiple signatures, and multiple phone calls and multiple emails to track it all.
  • Life as an AVP involves things large and small, detailed and big picture.

But, hey – it’s all part of a day in the life of an AVP in a whirlwind!

Sand Dust Image by Pattadis Walaput from Pixabay


What is equity and why is it important?  This article in Community College Daily describes equity as “unfinished business” for community colleges across the country.  While community colleges have long been focused on (and excelled at) open access and second chances, we haven’t done nearly as good a job with our focus on equitable student outcomes – that is, success for all students.

ACC recently updated its strategic plan to put equity front and center in all our work.  When you visit that link, you’ll see that our priorities are:

  1. Equity and Access:  Increase annual unduplicated enrollment at ACC to 85,000 students by 2030 through equity focused connection and entry processes.
  2. Persistence and Engagement:  Develop an equitable and inclusive learning and student support environment that increases fall-to-fall persistence rates to 58 percent for all students.
  3. Completion and and Transition to Employment/Transfer:  Achieve equitable results in completion and increase annual credential awards to 15,000 by 2030 to improve transfer and employment outcomes for all ACC students.
  4. Effective and Efficient Operations and Infrastructure:  Ensure an organizational environment that promotes equitable student and employee success through effective and efficient operations and infrastructure.

Why does the year 2030 serve as a benchmark?  Because the higher education strategic plan for the State of Texas is 60x30TX, and one of its main goals is for 60 percent of Texans ages 25-34 to have a postsecondary credential by 2030.

Here at ACC we’ve spent the last year working intentionally to embed an equity framework into our faculty hiring processes.  What does that mean?  Equity does not mean equality, nor does equity mean diversity.  Strategic diversity may be a tactic along the way to equity, but our equity work in faculty hiring is aimed at helping us do a better job of finding faculty who celebrate who our students are and what they bring to the table, who regularly examine inequality in student outcomes, who assess their teaching practices that might contribute to those unequal outcomes, and who seek to help all students succeed.

Equity can mean differential supports in the classroom because not all students are equal in talents or abilities or skills, just as not all faculty or staff (or administrators) are equal in talents or abilities or skills.

Equity can mean moving away from traditional, standardized “tests” to more nuanced means of assessing student learning – including project-based assessments, research assignments, or in-class active and applied learning opportunities.

Equity requires a certain cultural humility so that our examples and illustrations in the classroom, our required readings, our references, even our jokes all reflect and respect the variety of backgrounds and perspectives in the classroom.

Equity requires us to look at our institutional policies and practices with a fresh perspective, seeking out ways in which those policies and practices might perpetuate unintended but undeniable inequitable treatment and outcomes.  But it’s not enough to look for those embedded institutional biases, we must also then act to change those policies and practices.

Equity requires much of all of us – professional development, self-awareness, willingness to change, intentional practice in language, interactions, and course design, mutual respect, and so much more.

One of the leaders in this work in higher education is the Center for Urban Education under the direction of Dr. Estela Mara Bensimon.  There are a multitude of resources on CUE’s website, but here‘s just one.  I had the good fortune a year ago to attend CUE’s Equity in Faculty Hiring Institute for community colleges.  I was reminded that we all have implicit biases that show up in our decision-making around whom to hire.  Without self-reflection and self-awareness, it’s too easy to rely on unconscious stereotypes.  And given our hiring processes – limited information about candidates, multiple commitments in addition to serving on hiring committees, being asked to evaluate multiple applicants in a short period of time, our inclination to prefer candidates who look or act or think or were educated like us, little time to discuss as a committee notions of “merit” and “fit”, and so on – it requires great focus and intentionality to revitalize our hiring practices to ensure that equity-mindedness is at the center.  It requires everyone to commit to that focus and intentionality.  It requires us all to recognize that we can, should, and must do better.

Our focus on equity in faculty hiring asks us all to recognize that we are subject to the influence of implicit biases and assumptions, both personal and institutional.  The Equity in Faculty Hiring Steering Committee made a variety of decisions aimed at embedding equity-mindedness in faculty hiring.  We required hiring committees to diversify (for instance, to ask for a faculty member outside of the program to serve on the committee).  We posted and advertised our full-time faculty jobs for 90 days to build a rich, deep, and broad applicant pool.  We completely rewrote the job posting to describe who we are, whom we serve, and whom we want to join us.  We asked each applicant to submit not only a letter of interest and a CV, but also a statement of teaching philosophy and an equity statement.  We eliminated the “preferred” qualifications in academic transfer postings that often became de facto required qualifications and served as a means of inequitably reducing the applicant pool.  We offered hiring committees sample equity-minded interview questions and an equity-minded summative evaluation rubric.  We encouraged hiring committees to conduct two rounds of interviews, the first via Skype or Zoom with a wide range of candidates, and the second in person with the finalists.  In other words, we encouraged hiring committees to use inclusion strategies rather than exclusion strategies when deciding whom to consider.

Was it perfect?  Of course not.  Can we do better next year?  Absolutely.  Equity is a journey, but you should know that it is at the heart of ACC’s work going forward.  I invite you to join me on the journey.

Adobe Creative Cloud

ACC is now an Adobe Creative Campus.  What does that mean?  Well, for one, it means that students in many of our more “creative” programs get low-cost access to the Adobe Creative Suite.  And for another, it means that students, staff, and faculty will be able to explore and develop their skills in using Photoshop, Spark, Lightroom, Illustrator, and more.

We live in a digital age.  We are here to help our students learn skills, develop habits of thinking, and hone abilities that will foster their success in this digital age, not just in their first job after college but in their next job, and the next job after that.  And while you and I aren’t active college students, we nonetheless believe in continual learning – otherwise why else work at a community college?  So we, too, need to develop or hone our digital and creative skills, and becoming an Adobe Creative Campus presents that opportunity to all of us.

What do employers say they need in the entering workforce?  Here’s one source with answers.  And here’s another.  And here’s a third (just for fun).  Here’s a list out of Australia.  Here’s a perspective from the World Economic Forum based on LinkedIn data.

In general, each survey shows similar needs year after year.

  • Communication skills.
  • Willingness to learn.
  • Intercultural fluency.
  • Thinking skills/problem-solving.
  • Ability to work collaboratively.
  • Leadership skills.
  • Digital fluency.
  • Creativity and innovation.

The work that occurred here at ACC to become an Adobe Creative Campus was motivated by our role in helping our students achieve their goals.  To learn more about this Adobe Creative Campus initiative and how you can develop your own digital fluency and creativity, visit this link.  There’s also a launch event on May 21 from 10:00 to 11:30 in the Board Room (room 201) at Highland Business Center, so feel free to stop by.

Join me in celebrating our achievement as the first community college to become an Adobe Creative Campus.  Take advantage.  And start creating!

A Day in the Life of an AVP – the April Edition

The month of April has come and gone, and it included two conferences (the American Association of Community Colleges annual convention; the Texas Pathways Institute #6) along with the always swirling work in support of student success.

There were many days from which to choose for this month’s day in the life, but I’ve settled on Friday, April 26.  Friday was the concluding day of the three-day Texas Pathways Institute #6.  These Institutes are supported by the Texas Success Center (an arm of the Texas Association of Community Colleges); 48 of the state’s 50 community colleges participate by sending a small team to each Institute.  The Texas Association of Community Colleges (TACC) is an advocacy organization supported by all 50 community colleges in its efforts to influence higher education policy-making as well as innovation around the state.  The Texas Success Center then provides direct support to Texas community colleges engaging in work to support student success.

Each Pathways Institute is a mix of plenaries, concurrent sessions, and team time.  ACC took a large team to Institute #6 – approximately 30 folks (we think we set a record!).  Our team was heavily weighted to instruction (it consisted of adjunct and full-time faculty, department chairs, deans, and Continuing Education), and also included Student Affairs representatives.  Each Pathways Institute has an overarching theme, and Institute #6 was focused on “Ensuring students are learning”.

Colleges do “homework” prior to each Pathways Institute.  This Institute asked us to conduct a student focus group, to map learning outcomes in a degree plan to look for curricular coherence, and to update our Scale of Adoption Assessment (SOAA) that we initially completed in 2017.  (This SOAA document requires the college team to assess how our work is going in adopting the pathways principles and framework to better serve our students.)  Each Institute especially includes several sessions of team time, during which we answer guiding questions that lead us ultimately to brainstorming our latest short-term action plan.

Because we took 30 members of our team (typically we take 15), we divided into two teams, and I was asked to lead the discussions of Team 2.  How do we ensure that students are learning?  How do we ensure curricular coherence for students?  How do we ensure that students know what they need to know when they need to know it so that they can navigate our systems and processes?  Different students need different things at different times – so the concept of differential supports is embedded our work.  This picture illustrates differential supports in action. 

As team leader, I was taking notes while also guiding the discussion.  As a middle-aged woman, I was uncomfortably hot and wanted (needed) to fan myself.  But I couldn’t do both.  So a friend and colleague in Student Affairs (thanks, Wade!) picked up my fan and spent ten or more minutes fanning me while I typed and asked questions of the team.  No one else at the table needed to be fanned – but Wade understood that I did, and he helped.  That was not just collegiality, it was awareness and attention that led to action.  To extend the metaphor, sometimes an individual student might need to be fanned, and we have the ability to turn awareness of a particular need into action to meet that need.  That is key to helping our students succeed, one by one, offering the support that will make a difference each step along the way.

Our Friday morning at the Pathways Institute ended at noon, at which point we all gathered our suitcases to head back to Austin (the Institute was in San Antonio).  I had hitched a ride with the Provost and the Vice President of Instruction, so we got back on the road around 12:30 with Dr. Cook behind the wheel (thanks for driving, Dr. Cook!).  It was Fiesta time in San Antonio, so it took us a while to find a circuitous route around the parade to I-35, but Mike navigated us with aplomb from the back seat.  It was also a Friday afternoon, which means I-35 was slow – and made slower by an accident that had northbound traffic stopped.  All in all, it took us three hours to get back to HBC, so I was back in the office by 3:30.

Dr. Cook had asked me to send him the results of our team time and the brainstorming around our next short-term action plan, so I finalized that and sent it to him soon after we got back to HBC.  From there I turned to catching up on emails and attempting to cram 2 1/2 days of work in the office that I had missed into three hours.

My day concluded by attending the 7 o’clock Vision+Voice reception in Building 4000 at HLC  If you’re not familiar with Vision+Voice, it’s an annual poetry contest for our K-12 partners, not just in AISD but in surrounding independent school districts.  Winners are selected from kindergarten entries through 12th grade.  It is a lovely evening with families and schoolchildren and ACC faculty and staff all celebrating the power of words. Each winning poet is recorded by KLRU reading their poem, and the videos are played at the event.  

It’s a wonderful evening – look for the latest Vision+Voice Anthology to read the creative and impactful poems of our area schoolchildren.  I’ll leave you with  poem from a 5th grader.  This will remind you of the reasons we put in long days at ACC in service to the communities of Central Texas.

Hate Burned Out

Hudson R., Ridgetop Elementary

The fire made by hate

Was long ago extinguished

By love.

Picture credits:  Missi Patterson (Pathways fanning) and Matthew Daude Laurents (V+V crowds)

A Day in the Life of an AVP – the Spring Break Edition

I have spent my entire life in and around higher education.  My father was a philosophy professor and I found myself following him into the professoriate.  Thus since grade school, and to this day, I have always had a week off in March.  It’s a privileged existence that we have when we can look forward to a week away from the stresses and pressures of work every March.  Spring Break can be a time to stay at home and relax (or stay and home and get things accomplished), or it can be a time to travel.  For me, this Spring Break was a time to travel.

Sometimes, you need to leave behind the challenges of developing the outline of an early alert pilot program for Fall 2019, and instead take the time to look at some palm trees.


Sometimes, you need to quit fretting over the draft guidelines and procedures for academic student complaints, and instead board a 50-foot catamaran and go whale watching.






Sometimes, you need to walk away from the meetings about revisions to our dual credit faculty professional development program and the meetings about how to build a strategic focus into our schedule development process and the meetings about expanding our college destination center, and instead watch the sun set.


Sometimes, you need to quit drinking cup after cup of coffee as you power through the work day and instead visit a Kona coffee farm.


Sometimes, you need to put aside your work on that presentation at AACC in April and the launch of 8-week programs in the Fall and the upcoming Texas Pathways Institute, and instead enjoy a malasada purchased in a bakery in the southern-most city in the United States.






Sometimes, you should just let the Facilities folks worry about reopening HLC Building 1000 after a massive water leak and instead visit a lava beach.


Sometimes, you have to suspend your work on the final report for the Achieving the Dream  OER Degree Initiative grant and the semi-annual report on the HB 2223 Professional Development grant, and take in the breathtaking view of the steam vents at the caldera of Kilauea instead.


Sometimes, your involvement in promoting an intentional equity-focused mindset in faculty hiring just has to be put on hold so you can soak in the beauty of an island shoreline.







Sometimes, all of your work and worry has to be set aside in favor of another sunset.






Spring Break is restorative, and a blessing.  And now we’re back and our work continues.