Planning

In January we launched our academic master planning process to develop the common goals that would drive us forward in the next five year.  By April we had suspended that work, but we will take it up again in a few weeks, with a presentation of the Academic Master Plan to the Board scheduled for November.

This recent article in Inside Higher Ed about design thinking as an approach to strategic planning – recommended most especially for institutions that are planning in the midst of a pandemic – caught my attention.  How do we plan?  In our daily lives, in our professional lives, in our classrooms?  Do we design to achieve outcomes, or do we plan around activities?  I’m afraid I am often guilty of thinking in terms of activities – hopefully  with an eye to outcomes, but probably with too much focus on the activities themselves.

The author suggests that we start with the problems we want to solve rather than trying to draw a map for where we want to be in five year.  In an age of constraints – both fiscal and physical – he further suggests that constraints can provoke creative thinking.  He recommends empathy throughout, and an intentional focus on a few things rather than trying to do everything.  And of course, for ACC our planning should reflect our mission and our passion for a more equitable world.

Whatever you may think of some of his recommendations, I found his approach thought-provoking as well as serving as a reminder that creativity and empathy are the keys to the things that we do as a college.  Whether we’re designing our courses for the Fall semester or designing the college’s academic master plan for the next five years, let’s not forget to rely on empathy, experimentation, and creativity.  They will serve us well as we move forward towards a more equitable classroom, college, city, and world.

Engineering!

ACC does so many good things in so many corners of our vast and far-flung college – it can be hard to keep up.  So today I thought I’d highlight our partnership with Texas A&M in the Texas A&M-Chevron Engineering Academy.

Especially in our current reality – one that challenges our college, our city, our state, and our nation – the TAMU Engineering Academy is a tremendous opportunity for current and soon-to-be ACC students.  As we see in this edition of the President’s Podcast, engineering jobs have a bright future – and the ACC/TAMU partnership makes that future even brighter for our students.

We are headed into our fourth year of this partnership, and we hope to have over 100 students in the entering cohort.  This is a tremendous opportunity for them – they are Aggies from the start but they are also Riverbats from the start – so they call themselves AggieBats.  They start their engineering future with us and immediately learn from a TAMU Professor of Practice, they have various outings to the TAMU campus in College Station (including presenting projects at TAMU showcases), they can take advantage of all the things ACC has to offer (including excellent instruction and tutoring as well as saving money) – in other words, they are part of a TAMU/ACC learning community that provides a clear pathway to the career and the life that they want.

Celebrate this corner of ACC and the impact that it has.  Congrats to all involved with the TAMU Engineering Academy at ACC!

Picture openly licensed by Steve Bidmead, from Pixabay

The Power of ACC

ACC has great power.  I want to take a moment of personal privilege and talk about the power of ACC to affect one person:  Rhonda Little.

Rhonda passed away on Sunday, June 14.  She started working at ACC in January 2013 and she was immediately hooked.  Her professional life had been in the legal field, working for large law firms.  Switching from that world to a community college was, I expect, rather like going down the rabbit hole with Alice.  But, while she took a considerable pay cut, and didn’t know anything about who and what we are, she dived in with her spirit of “let me help” and “I will learn”.

I hired Rhonda to be an administrative assistant in my office when I was Dean of Social & Behavioral Sciences.  She supported not only the work of my office in tandem with Mandy Cummings, but also the work of the Geographic Information Systems Department.  Have you ever thought about what it might be like to plunge into an entirely different professional environment where you don’t know the norms or expectations or protocols?  In Rhonda’s case, everything was different.  The expectation of professional dress was different (read:  much more casual).  The expectation of supervisory authority was different (read:  don’t tell faculty what to do).  The rhythms of the job were tied to the rhythms of semesters.  The holidays – oh, the holidays!  Outside of education, most folks don’t get ten days at Christmas, a week in March, two days at Thanksgiving – plus accruing vacation leave.

Rhonda loved ACC from the beginning.  She loved the power of our mission.  She loved helping students.  She loved learning – and we are, after all, a learning institution.  She took advantage of multiple professional development opportunities and accrued scores of hours of PD.  She served as an officer in the Classified Employees Association.  She applied for the Leadership Academy but was, unfortunately, unable to participate due to her challenging health issues.  She loved helping me organize events (the annual SBS convocation, two conferences last year).  She loved taking notes at my meetings, or purchasing “swag” for the faculty coordinators to give to students at AoS information sessions, or figuring out some new process or procedure or protocol.  She loved everything about her job.  And that’s because she loved what ACC is, who we are, and how we can save the world, one student at a time.

Since the announcement of her passing, I’ve received lots of emails of condolence.  One friend here described Rhonda as “fiercely protective of me”.  She was indeed that.  She was my work partner, my defender against all comers, and my dear friend.  She never thought I was wrong (bless her!), and she would do anything I asked or needed.  She thought I needed a caretaker, and she appointed herself to that role.  The emails I’ve received mention laughing with Rhonda, having good conversations with Rhonda, and learning from Rhonda.  She has been described as wonderfully kind, cheerful, helpful, patient, sweet.  She was born to be an executive assistant and she did it well.  And we were a great team.

Did she get frustrated with ACC’s processes on occasion?  Yes.  Did she get irritated when people wouldn’t return phone calls?  Yes.  Was she sometimes stubborn and overly-critical?  Yes.  Just as ACC is imperfect, Rhonda was imperfect.  But ACC also provided her with the security of extended leave thanks in part to the generosity of colleagues who donate to the sick leave pool each year.  And ACC provided her with benefits that mattered in the midst of extended health challenges.  And most especially, ACC provided her with a caring community – and gave her reason to get better.  When she was away from work with her illness, her goal was always – always – to return to work.  That kept her going when life was a struggle.  She was so captivated by our mission and impact, and by our people, and by our students’ stories, and by the commitment of our senior leadership, and by her daily interactions with friends on the 6th floor of HBC.  She loved coming to work and making a difference.

ACC has great power.  In this instance, its power helped Rhonda fight the cancer beast for five and a half years.  She is irreplaceable.  I will miss her sparkle, and her quick wit, and her ability to be my sounding board, and her ever-ready willingness to support me and defend me.  But what I will miss most is her belief in the power of Austin Community College.

Living in a world of “known unknowns”

Donald Rumsfeld, February 12, 2002:  “As we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

Remember Donald Rumsfeld?  Defense Secretary in the years of Bush the Younger?  Those words quoted above are – no doubt – the most well-known three sentences he ever uttered.  I remember the statement being derided at the time for being nonsensical, but doesn’t it make a certain amount of sense in the age of coronavirus?  We are living with both “known unknowns” as well as “unknown unknowns”.

We’re having class meetings and virtual meetings that can be frustrating and bumpy because of connectivity issues, people talking over each other, lag time between comments, feedback in the audio, and general awkwardness.  But – they are also fodder for short comedic bits.  Thank goodness for our ability to laugh in times of trouble.

We’re working longer hours than ever, and work and home have blurred together.  We’re feeling disconnected, but I also find myself talking on the phone (yes, an actual phone call) much more frequently than I did two months ago – so in some ways I’m still very much connected to colleagues and friends.

I came to my office today – for the first time in weeks.  I couldn’t remember the password to log onto my computer (that’s how long it’s been).  I totally blanked for a good 60 seconds before I finally had an inspiration that proved correct.  When I walked into my office, I noticed how neat it looked.  Why?  Because I haven’t been here in weeks (so all my piles of paperwork are at home).  My office was both familiar and yet unfamiliar.  And of course very folks are in the building, so the atmosphere is different.

I don’t know about you, but I miss chatting.  I miss walking over to someone’s office to ask a question.  I miss commiserating about the weather or the thermostat in the building or the traffic.  I miss running into folks whom I don’t see regularly.  I miss the predictability of my work day (well, okay, my work days were never predictable in terms of content or rhythm – but in general I knew that my work occurred mostly in my office from 8:30 to 6:30 five days a week).

I know we all feel this – we miss our “known knowns”, so to speak.  But in the age of coronavirus, we are learning to adjust to known unknowns, as well as unknown unknowns.

So from me to you – hang in there.  Thanks for coping.  Thanks for your good cheer and your vigilant focus on student success.  Thanks for being ever-faithful to our mission.  Thanks for the long hours and for pushing through the awkwardness and for moving forward.  It is all noticed, applauded, and appreciated.

Blessings on you.

Words of Wisdom

All of us are navigating our way through the fog of a pandemic that defies description.  In the midst of this, I have been encouraged, cheered, and uplifted by the words of my colleagues and friends, both here at ACC and elsewhere.

Department chairs deserve special recognition for their leadership in this time of uncertainty and constantly changing conditions.  From the Biology Department Chair – where there are unique challenges in suddenly transitioning from hands-on, wet lab learning objectives to virtual labs for the remainder of the semester:

“I want to hear . . . ways we can satisfactorily meet all our objectives for every course we offer, totally online.  It may not be ideal, but I do not want to hear why it can’t be done, no whining!  We have outstanding, innovative faculty that will present methods to meet our objectives.”

From the Math Department Chair, who is trying to lead her faculty in the transition all levels of math to online learning, from developmental courses through Calculus III and Differential Equations, and where “show your work” is paramount:

“We are losing a week of classes at the same time we are asking students to learn a new format of instructional delivery. . . I know all of this is likely overwhelming to you.  We’ll take it one step at a time (like a complicated math problem) and get through it.  Our goal is to get through this semester teaching our students as much as we can.

Students will be struggling with this as much as you are, maybe more.  It’s important to be empathetic during this time – let some of your policies, deadlines, etc. go and understand students are trying to make the best of this too.  Many of them will now have their kids at home indefinitely and won’t have the time they’d typically have to work on coursework. Many have limited access to technology . . . Some will be sick or taking care of someone who is sick.”

From a History adjunct faculty member (and long-time friend and colleague) in an email to his students:

“We, all of us, did not sign up for this. We did not sign up for the coronavirus and this pandemic.  We did not sign up for online courses, social distancing, staying home, going stir crazy, and the like.  . . What can we do? We can support each other intellectually and as human beings.  . . . We will work together to finish this course and make it meaningful to you.”

From an instructional dean to his department chairs:

“First, take a moment to breathe and think. . . . No one  would have chosen this path. No one should have illusions; compromise will be necessary. . . This is a time to lay aside the perfectionism that often goes with our calling. . . I strongly encourage you to set realistically low expectations and prioritize mercilessly.”

From the Director of the Texas Success Center:

“Students in general are dealing with high levels of anxiety, isolation, and unpredictability – as are we.  Remaining connected to ur students and providing them with stable, thoughtful support and connecting them to appropriate resources is essential.”

And from me:

We need to find reservoirs of grace and compassion.  We need to be patient a and kind and forgiving – of missed due dates, of spotty connectivity during a Collaborate session, of having to record a lecture three times before you’re satisfied enough to upload it to Blackboard.  And we need to maintain our sense of humor.

I’ll leave you with this.  Watch it and laugh and remember that we’re all getting through this as best we can.

RB!

Sometimes, in the midst of planning for every eventuality (the coronavirus), and answering questions for over an hour about your approach to record-keeping (the records inventory that is being conducted at the college), and planning for a regional corequisite conference in Port Arthur on March 21, and developing questions for a survey and focus group with students to learn more about how they plan for eventual transfer to a four-year institution, and planning a meeting about the early alert pilot in Distance Education classes, and finalizing catalog updates . . .

Sometimes, an unexpected encounter with RB just makes you smile.  As does your goofy colleague Rich Griffiths.

The Good Work of our Faculty

The Community College Daily has two articles that once again remind me of the good work of our faculty.

First, we have an outstanding history of faculty Fulbright Scholars.  This article highlights ACC’s “rich Fulbright history” and mentions Dr. Blanca Alvarado’s sojourn in Costa Rica last year (Sociology/Social Work) and Adjunct Professor Heather Barfield’s Fulbright in France this year (Drama).  Congratulations to our faculty who are always striving to learn more so that they can help our students succeed.  Whether it’s a Fulbright or a webinar or any other professional development opportunity, we have adjunct and full-time faculty who really are lifelong learners.

And this article in Community College Daily focuses on the report just released by Achieving the Dream about the OER Degree Initiative work that was done across the country.  ACC was both a cost research partner and a student impact research partner for this initiative.  What we have learned from SRI (our partner in the student impact research) is that ACC students enrolling in one or two OER courses (what we call ZTC classes) “on average attained 1.88 credits more than otherwise similar students who took no OER courses.”  And rpkGroup tells us that their cost research indicates that the “estimated cost of the 2.5-year OER Degree Initiative [at ACC] was $477,000.”  They also tell us that, in looking at credit hours attempted, enrollment in one or two Z-classes did not appear to be associated with cumulative credits attempted.  So while taking Z-classes may not be associated with taking additional classes, it seems to be associated with earning more credits – that is, with success in learning.

As you know, a substantial group of our students tell us that they sometimes don’t purchase a required textbook because of the cost.  In addition, the most recent results of the 2019#RealCollege survey of ACC students tell us that 42% of our students who responded experienced food insecurity in the previous 30 days, and 53% of responding students experienced housing insecurity in the previous year.

The work of faculty to adopt or adapt openly-licensed and freely available materials for their courses is having a direct impact on our students’ bottom line and on their ability to be successful in a class.

Kudos to ACC’s faculty who put students at the center of their work, who try new things (like open educational resources), who are constantly learning, and who, both collectively and individually, change the trajectories of our students’ lives.  You are appreciated because you do good work.

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

AMP.

We’re launching a new AMP.

What?  What’s an AMP?  AMP stands for Academic Master Plan.

ACC’s previous Academic Master Plan was developed in 2013, and Dr. Rhodes has asked that we begin work on a new academic master plan to drive us forward in the next five years.  If you read the previous plan (all 334 pages), you’ll see that much of what we wanted to do we have done.  Since 2014 we have (and this isn’t a complete list):

  • developed a strategic recruitment and enrollment team, plan, and process
  • implemented state-mandated changes to developmental education
  • developed an institutional strategic plan for dual credit programs
  • developed and implemented a comprehensive, faculty-led faculty development program
  • developed an institutional strategic plan for distance education
  • built not one, not two, but three (and soon to be four) ACCelerators (referred to in the previous AMP as “Math Emporiums”)
  • Launched a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree
  • Opened a Public Safety Training Center
  • Increased curricular alignment across Adult Education, Continuing Education, and credit instruction
  • Developed and supported innovation in academic areas (Z-Degrees, block scheduled Institutes, Weekend College, First Day Access, competency-based learning, academic cooperatives, the TAMU-Chevron Engineering Academy, and more)
  • Created a digital and creative media cluster (soon to be visible in Phase II of the Highland Campus)
  • Created a hospitality and culinary center (to launch in Fall 2020 at HLC, Phase II)
  • Created professional incubators (the Bioscience Incubator, the Fashion Incubator, etc.)
  • Implemented a Veterinarian Technician program
  • Implemented an Agriculture program
  • Launched an equity-minded faculty hiring plan
  • Launched an Institutional Planning, Development, and Evaluation unit
  • Expanded child watch services for students
  • Launched a student portal

In other words, AMPs matter.  They offer us a road map.  They establish aspirations.  They help ACC move forward in an intentional way.  The kick-off meeting of the AMP process was January 15.  We had a packed Board room where we talked about the elements, timelines, and expectations for development of a new AMP.  This new AMP will reflect who we are today – and to that end, it will be written at the Area of Study level.  The intent is to find common initiatives and goals across programs in each Area of Study that can be pursued jointly.

After the two and a half hour AMP kick-off meeting with instructional department chairs, deans, and student affairs deans, we segued to a meeting of the AMP Steering Committee (lunch included!) in another overcrowded room at HBC.  The AMP Steering Committee has 40 members and is co-chaired by Dr. Rachel Ruiz, Dean of Student Affairs at the Cypress Creed Campus, and Brandon Whatley, Dean of the Design, Manufacturing, Construction, and Applied Technologies (DMCAT) Area of Study.

If you want  to know more about the AMP process, visit this page.  If you want to participate, get in touch with your dean.  If you want to offer comments, you may do so on the AMP main page or in conversation with your dean.  If you want to see the timeline, process, or resources available, visit the AMP page.

An AMP is only as strong as the input and participation that occurs in its development.  My AMP day on January 15 was long, and occasionally overheated and stuffy (due to crowded rooms), but it was also a day of energy and engagement, input and interest.  So climb on board the AMP train and offer your engagement and input.  It will be welcome.

ACC’s Math Department

We have a wonderful Math Department here.  We have dedicated and innovative Math faculty who spend their time thinking, planning, implementing, assessing, and revising creative approaches to help all our students succeed in their math courses.

About a year and a half ago I interviewed our Math Department Chair Carolynn Reed for Academic Transfer in FocusHere’s that interview.   But if you’d like to watch something more recent, you can visit this page and scroll down to Getting Along with Math.  It’s a lovely view of how one student benefitted from the innovation and commitment of ACC’s Math faculty.

Math is one of the keys to our work in guided pathways.  Not all students are in programs where College Algebra is beneficial – many students would benefit much more from taking Statistics or Quantitative Reasoning or Mathematics for Business and Economics.  The idea is generally referred to as “math pathways” and is being supported by the Dana Center at The University of Texas.  As this site tells us, the goal is to help students succeed in their first college credit math class in their first year of college.  And that first class should be the right math class for their learning and career goals.  Additionally, it should be a class where the curriculum and pedagogy are informed by research and evidence.  As the Dana Center website says, it’s a “joyful conspiracy:  ensuring all students benefit from relevant, rigorous mathematics pathways.”

Too many of our students get lost in the maze of developmental math or lecture-based math courses.  At ACC we offer something different.  We offer corequisites that provide just-in-time-remediation for students.  Those corequisites are showing remarkable success rates that are four to six times the rate of the traditional developmental math to credit math course sequence.

We also try to offer clearly delineated math pathways so that students can take the right math class for their needs and aspirations.  And we offer individualized help and applied learning structures so that students can see the connections between the math concepts they’re learning and the lives they lead.

And it’s all thanks to our Math Department.  Three cheers to our Math folks! 

Image by Ciker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay.

Word Salad

I love words:  new words, ancient words, musical words, jarring words.  As one consequence of my love of words, I play word games on my phone to relax.  I also love to play Scrabble.  For me, our words – how and when and why we use them – reflect who we are and how we choose to go through the world.  Words have power and impact and should be used wisely.

I also love a good salad.  Good salads are sweet and savory, crispy and crunchy and smooth, with a little acidity – a little bite or tang.  They’re visually appealing as well as tasty.  A good salad can combine unexpected ingredients and make something brand new, just like words can be combined in new ways to foster new understanding.

So while the phrase “word salad” has negative connotations, I would argue that a word salad could be marvelous.  As educators we believe in the power of communication to change lives.  As educators, we have encountered word salads from our students that were not appetizing, but we have also seen our students put words together in brilliant and eloquent and unexpected ways, haven’t we?

Every January we hear about “words to ban” and “words to bring back”.  Lake Superior State University just released its 45th annual “List of Words Banished From the Queen’s English for Mis-use, Over-use, and General Uselessness“, while Wayne State University just released a list of “Words that Deserve Wider Use“.

Reading these two lists caused me to cachinnate, so after a period of perendinating, I resolved to write what I hope is a luculent blog post about words.   (In other words, I laughed out loud, I procrastinated for a couple of days, and then I resolved to write an expressively clear blog post about words.)

And as I start a new semester in a new year, I also resolve to banish these words from my vocabulary for the duration: quid pro quo,  artisanal, curated, mouthfeel, vibe check, and influencer.

That resolve may be merely velleity, or it may be absolute mullock.   (In other words, it may be an inclination that isn’t strong enough to lead to action, or it may be rubbish.)

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay