President's Address


Opening Days Address 2017

Good morning and welcome back! It's exciting to see everyone on campus to kick off what is going to be a very important and pivotal year for NCC.

I do hope you have recharged your batteries and are ready for action. This year has all the earmarks of having great promise; one that will be fast, furious, exciting, full of opportunity and yes, even fun. Remember that when I get to the end of this speech.  

As you know this is my sixth year...and it is becoming increasingly difficult to think of new costumes for my opening day speech. So, you will note I have no costume this year...I know some of you -- including several of the Deans -- are relieved by that.  

But I do have a theme...actually several themes I would like us to explore in the next half hour. My role today...and quite frankly in the year to be what Tim Molchaney once described as an educational DJ (he said it for his class, but it also works for me and the college) ...spinning the tunes in the right order, correct volume, and intensity to make this place come alive with rhythm, energy, harmony, meaning, and impact.  

This year we celebrate our 50th Birthday at the College, and the nearly 400,000 alumni who have passed through our hallways during that time. Although we started our celebration last semester, it continues this year and culminates in November when we celebrate in grand style at a gala  dinner.  

And at the center of that celebration is a lifting up of our core values and applauding what makes this such an extraordinary place...all of you! Last spring, we began important conversations about how we must not lose that magical part of this place we call the "Northampton Way."  

So, the first song I would spin as a DJ this morning would either be "That's what friends are for" by Dionne Warwick or  "We are Family" by Sister Sledge, because at the core of our success is our connection to one another and to our students. This is a place with a long history of creating a sense of family and acting as a family to support one another and lift up our students.  

Our charge is to ensure that we keep that sense of family even as the world around us continues to change and push us in new directions.  I will end my comments this morning by suggesting some very specific things we have planned to ensure just that.  

The second theme of my comments this morning is change. So perhaps I would spin "The Times They Are a Changin'" by Bob Dylan or "A Change is Gonna Come" by Aretha Franklin.  

Let's be honest, most of us are creatures of habit...we like our comfort zones where everything is familiar...yet, we live in a world that is changing more rapidly than ever. We see it all around us in new technology, changing needs of students, the changing political environment...the examples go on and on. Indeed, the times they are a changin'.    

Which calls to mind a quote by William Arthur Ward which provides great guidance in times of change: "The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails."                

Please know the winds are blowing .... sometimes hard, and shifting from side to side, attempting to knock us off course.  And we must be ready to adjust the sails because the reality is that higher education is changing at a rate unlike any time in history. And that change is now part of our "new normal" and has important implications for how we go about the business of educating our students, now and into the future.  

Here are some of the issues affecting higher education at the macro-level...most of which should sound quite familiar.  

  • Declining enrollments - for community colleges nationally, enrollment has dropped nearly 10 percent in just the last three years. Demographic trends (fewer high school students) and the impact of a strong economy and job market, are the two major factors impacting this change.
  • There are growing financial challenges and constraints around affordability, costs and student debt. And we also see declining federal support (across the board) and pockets of declining state support.  I recently wrote an Op-Ed piece expressing concern about the lack of funding for Pell Grants...critical to the success of this college and our country.
  • Questions abound over college completion rates, outcomes, student success and the need to prove colleges are effectively preparing graduates for gainful employment. As you know, this is an area of much focus for us.
  • Washington is dominated by a charged political climate, with partisan sentiments that have created gridlock on many key legislative issues and have hampered badly needed funding. This increasingly charged national political climate has also created major upheaval on campuses across the nation. We saw it at UVA last week. Meanwhile, international students have been affected by tougher immigration enforcement that makes enrolling in a U.S. college more difficult.
  • A growing sentiment exists that academia is disconnected from much of American society with skepticism about the relevancy of higher education, its perceived intolerance of conservative views, ballooning endowments and out of control costs.
  • We also see the changing needs of students with increasing mental and emotional health demands, a growing national opioid epidemic that impacts all of higher education, and a lack of college readiness.
  • The evolving role of technology which is giving way to innovative course development and new pedagogies, and raising questions about the best role for bricks and mortar classrooms in the future.

And we see change at NCC as these national issues play out on our campus, too!  

  • While we have outperformed most of our peers in attracting and retaining students, we continue to see a modest decline in our enrollments fueled by the same factors mentioned previously, a strong economy and declining demographics.
  • We grew nearly 100% from 2000 to 2010. In those days, we weren't worried about finding enough students to fill our incoming class, but how we could possibly serve them all! Today it's a different story and we must work hard to attract and retain each and every student. It is a new day!
  • New marketing efforts, enrollment strategies, and outreach are all part of our plans to continue addressing this issue.
  • And, as I have said on numerous occasions, each of you play a critical role in helping us attract and retain students.
  • We too, have seen declining public funding. This year we received flat funding from the state on a budget that remains unbalanced, which means more cuts could come. Our recent history shows a decline in state support even without adjusting for inflation. ·
  • And our bond funding for the Monroe campus is put in doubt by the recent Mt. Airy casino tax PA Supreme Court Ruling and the lack of a legislative remedy. Stay tuned.
  • And at a federal level, we anticipate shrinking grant funding based on proposed cuts to NEH and other like agencies.
  • We have also seen numerous retirements over the past several years from key folks who had been at the college for Doug Heath,  Helene Whitaker, Mardi Closson, Virginia Gonzalez,  Kathy Siegfried, and John Thomas  who held years of institutional history and credibility.
  • And we saw the charged political climate play itself out on our own campus last spring with the arrival of unexpected visitors who challenged our core values of diversity and inclusion. The great news is that our faculty, staff, and students responded magnificently.
  • In response to issues of greater accountability we have developed clear college-wide metrics and a committee structure and process that ensures ongoing assessment of progress against our goals. And our decision-making will be increasingly data driven. We will be talking more about all this in the months ahead.

What all this means is that we need to be ever more prepared to design or redesign an NCC that is right for the times.  

To stay relevant, we must become more and more comfortable and adept at change. Which is easy to say, but hard to do.  

That means our traditional focus on student access needs to continue but we need to evolve to include a broader focus on student success.  

We need to commit to review our curricula through program mapping that can create comprehensive pathways for students and make direct links between well designed courses and career or degree goals....while allowing students the flexibility to find their true passions.  

We will need to enhance work around instruction so that it continues to be responsive to individual student needs and their schedules.

Expanding our online program offerings and working closely with secondary schools to transition more students to college will also be important, while continuing collaboration with business and industry to train and develop employees, and doing all of this while keeping our costs in line.

So, as you can see, we have our work cut out for us. The good news is that we have been preparing for the coming storm (and high winds) and are in good position to navigate these turbulent times.  

To that end, over the past few months, we've made numerous staffing adjustment to strengthen areas that are critical to our future.  As people have retired or left we have not simply refilled positions, but rather recast them to focus on our strategic priorities.  

The coming year includes an ambitious agenda to strengthen important areas that will help us better compete in attracting new students while improving retention of existing students, which is as important to us as attracting new students, if not more so.  

The good progress we made last year to build the foundations for the Guided Pathways program will allow us to begin to roll out some program elements next spring with full implementation planned by fall 2018.  

Guided Pathways will integrate a much-enhanced advising component to help students choose career paths with tools that will help them clearly see what classes they'll need to take to graduate, and when to take them.  

Related academic program mapping is well underway and is a focus for the year ahead. More than 50 faculty members participated in the Guided Pathways Summer Institute in June to prepare to map their programs, which is great progress. Thanks to all of you who participated!  

The coming year will also see expanded efforts to improve college readiness for high school students and grow our dual enrollment program. To that end, we have hired two new college connections specialists, introduced earlier this morning, to support high school outreach, one for Northampton County and the other for Monroe County.  

And we continue to refine and improve our first-year experience for new students to increase re-enrollment in the spring and following fall.  

Last year a SWOT team reviewed and revised the College Success 101 course and this summer faculty who will be teaching the course in the fall attended training to improve consistency in curriculum delivery to new students. Special thanks to Mike Sparrow and all the members of the course team for their fine work.     

Keep in mind that all these are multi-year projects that involve many areas. They will continue to evolve as they are implemented, but they are well positioned strategically to help us in areas where we need to improve.  

Quite honestly, when we look back 10 years from now, I think we will see this as a pivotal moment in the life of the college, a moment that will define our success for years to come.  

Of course, there are other major initiatives underway as well. Phase one of the "Phoenix" project to replace the college's ERP system is underway and we are scheduled to go live with the new Institutional Advancement Raiser's Edge system next week. . We are also finalizing recommendations for the HR, Finance and Student portions of the project, with plans to begin implementation during the fall. Kudos to our amazing IT staff for keeping us on track with this critically important initiative!  

Make no mistake, the ERP replacement project is a monumental undertaking that will reach into every area on campus. And when we talk about changes we will face this year, this is one of the biggest.  

But having a state of the art ERP system is critical for our success. It will enable other changes we need to make as we improve how we respond to student needs on many fronts.  

There is no doubt we will find the process to adopt a new, very different system quite challenging and it will be important we all work together to address these changes.  

There are other positive changes moving ahead that are worth mentioning.  

Our work to create a Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the Fowler Center in is making good progress. The project includes major exterior façade improvements as well as a $4.8 million renovation of the first and third floors in the building.  

The changes will create dynamic space for training and educating students and community members to think entrepreneurially while providing them with the tools and support to launch new businesses.  

The new center will expand the very successful Fab Lab and relocate it to the first floor where it will be able to serve more people in a highly visible, creative space.  

Even those who have no intention of creating their own business will be more successful, resilient, and productive because of the skills and attitudes the CIE will foster in our students and clients. And while the Center will be housed in our Fowler Center, its impact will be college-wide as we teach our students to think more creatively across all disciplines. Special thanks to all the Fowler staff and faculty who met with the architects to provide input on the design.  

Planning for NCC's Transforming Lives Comprehensive Fundraising Campaign is forging ahead and making great progress. Earlier in the summer, we met the benchmark to stay on track to achieve our aggressive $17 million goal! Congratulations to Sharon Beales and the entire Advancement staff for their hard work on the campaign. We are presently in the "quiet phase" of the campaign with plans for a public announcement in mid-November.  

At the center of this campaign is a major infusion of scholarship support for all our students:  Monroe, Fowler, and Bethlehem...and a goal that every Pell eligible student who lives in Northampton County will be able to afford  an NCC education by meeting 100% of their financial need! How great is that! Ultimately, we would love to do the same in Monroe.  

You should also be aware that we are in the early stages of exploring the possibility of establishing an NCC presence in downtown Easton to better serve students from the eastern edge of the county.  

A downtown Easton location would improve access to credit and non-credit programs for many, support enrollment growth and allow us to expand several programs.  

But NOT everything is about change this year. In fact, the most important things will remain the same, like our core values and culture.  

You all know that from our very beginning 50 years ago, the NCC story has always been about innovation and ambition. And you can see that we continue that tradition of BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) with the programs I have just described.  

But it has also been about focusing first on students, serving our community, breaking down internal silos, and supporting one another. These elements remain critical to our year ahead as do all our core values - Excellence, Innovation, Sustainability, Accountability, Integrity, Engagement and Vision.  

The next songs I would spin would be Celebration by Cool & the Gang...and, of course, Happy Birthday.  In the year ahead, as we celebrate our 50th birthday, we also plan to celebrate these core values ----to hold them up and ensure they remain intact.

As we do so, we need to reflect on how the world around us has changed...and the inevitability that we too must change.  As I mentioned earlier, many of our long-time employees have retired.  

Now we have new staff with new ideas who are working hard to live the "Northampton Way" while putting their own stamp on this college and doing this alongside their more veteran colleagues...together defining our shared culture.  

Cabinet has been actively engaged in this topic also. In fact, it was a focus of our summer retreat and we are planning a number of activities to focus us and ensure we keep the personal touch that sets us apart from other places...that "Northampton Way" ... to pay attention to the joy and caring that defines our culture. Here a just a few things we have in the mix:

  • Hosting more frequent Town Hall Meetings like the one held last spring. The plan is to have one each semester, moving between each of our three locations.
  • Relaunching the Center for Teaching and Learning and creating a newly renovated space next to the adjunct office. In fact, we just learned this week that we received this funding from the state. We are also in the process of planning a CTL space at Monroe.
  • Based on feedback from members of the faculty, we are adding a proposed sixth area of strategic focus - Inspiring Academic Excellence -- which celebrates the heart of this college, teaching and learning, and an ongoing commitment to developing our faculty and staff. We will be discussing the specific language of this addition in the weeks ahead, beginning with Dr. Bortz's all-faculty meeting later this morning.
  • Improving faculty and staff continuing education opportunities through new agreements with Delaware Valley and Drexel Online. You'll hear more about these in the near future.  
  • Improving engagement and communications with all full and part time faculty and staff, including clerical, custodial and maintenance staff. ·        
  • Improving onboarding of new faculty and staff to better integrate them into the NCC community...and help you know who they are and what they do. You will note that new folks have orange name tags on this morning, so if you see them...introduce yourself and welcome them to the Northampton family.  
  • Brett Last will also be providing an update shortly about new efforts to clarify/communicate our organizational structure and responsibilities across all key areas of the College.
  • Working to better define the "Northampton Way" so it becomes clearer to all NCC community members.
  • And identifying opportunities to better connect with evening and online students.  

While I certainly take ownership of these initiatives as your president, they are not my responsibility alone, or cabinets, but everyone's collective responsibility. Together we can make sure they succeed!  

I spoke earlier about our challenging, changing, sometimes daunting, macro-environment that on occasion requires us as a college to be more "business like," and think about things like "return on investment".   

These have become necessary evolutions for community colleges.  

But as you look at our ambitious agenda and our strategic investments, they are focused on what we have always put first...serving our students.  

And aren't we all blessed to work at a place like NCC that everyday allows us to transform the lives of students and community members. To make a measurable difference in the livelihoods of individuals and families. I see it every day as I know you do.  

In students like Ryan Carsey. Ryan, who is blind, struggled academically and socially at Kutztown University before coming to NCC. With the support of our disabilities services and, athletics staffs, as well as our faculty, Ryan not only succeeded in the classroom -- graduating last May with a 3.43 GPA -- but also successfully competed in cross-country. How great is that!  

Or last year's recipient of our top Math Award, Álvaro R. Belmonte, who left his home in Venezuela with his mom to escape the poverty and lack of opportunity. Once he arrived in America, he found a home at NCC  and then discovered a friend in Math Professor Alex Rolon who mentored him and supported his studies. Today, he is pursuing a major in Engineering with minors in Math and Physics with plans of transferring to  MIT.  

Thank you to all our fantastic faculty and staff who do such an outstanding job in coaching, mentoring and challenging our students to be all they can be.  

It is truly a privilege...and a blessing...and a joy to be here at NCC.  

In fact, I had lunch the other day with Helene Whitaker, our former VP for Administration, and she asked me if I still found JOY in my job as I begin my 6th year as your president. And I hesitated for a minute, and then I answered emphatically "YES".

And I brought that thought back to work for the rest of that day and took the time to reflect on how important it is to fully appreciate and value our students, faculty and staff. As I did, I found myself smiling more and more.   

Sometimes, I think it's important to remind ourselves how lucky we are to do what we do at such a great place with such amazing colleagues. And strive to keep joy in the work we do every day!  

As I conclude my comments I would like to provide a few shout-outs to the individuals and activities that so well exemplify our core values and do in fact bring great joy and pride to our college in so many ways.  

1.       Charlie Rinehimer, Deb Bohr, and all our faculty and staff engaged in the refugee resettlement project.

2.       NCC's outstanding athletics program that has received so much national recognition for its athletes,  teams and leadership.

3.       The student led HOPE food pantry project.

4.       Strong year-end budget results-year in and out---that we take for granted. Special thanks to our  Finance team for their hard getting us there.

5.       Tobor, the Fab Lab's fabulous robot that garnered national attention again for NCC.

6.       NCC's Hospitality Management program which in July became the only community college program in   the state to be accredited. Way to go David Schweiger and Rebecca Heid!

7.       Lucy Keim and Steve Iacono whose Rad Tech students achieved a 100% pass rate.

8.       Steve Marks and our vet tech program for their recent ranking of #41 in the country. Well done.

9.       Kristine Schirripa for her leadership redesigning the Blackboard master shell used by on ground and online classes.

10.   The Center for Business and Industry for its  #2 ranking among consulting businesses in the Lehigh Valley by Lehigh Valley Business

11.   The launch of an engineering major this fall at Monroe thanks to the hard work of the B & T Division and Bill Doney.

12.      To our faculty and staff on the Monroe campus who have planned a year-long academic and social initiative to foster student engagement and civic responsibility---called "Hidden People".

13.      And finally, Paul Pierpoint who is bringing to close a 27 year career at NCC this September and has had a powerful impact on this College and Dean and VP. Emeritus Status.   We will more fully recognize Paul at his official going away ceremony on Sept. 27 at 4pm. So mark your calendars now.

So, as we close, let me remind you of the key take-aways from my message this morning:  

1. Understand that the higher education landscape is changing and more specifically the community college landscape is changing. And we are changing too. As a result, our need to embrace that change is very real. It's not just a nice thing to do, it is an imperative.  

2. We have an ambitious agenda for this College (we always have) which focuses on serving our students and our community. We must work collaboratively across all areas of the College to accomplish this important work...all the while supporting one another. I honestly believe we are laying the foundation this year with our student success initiatives, ERP project, Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and continued focus on the "Northampton Way" which will define our future success. Yes, our 50th year may be the most important in our history.  

3. Our values and culture will continue to be central to all we do. We began an important conversation about this last spring. Engage! Take ownership of this! Share your thoughts and opinions. Some of the best ideas about what we should do as a college have come from each of you. And come to the Picnic this afternoon and connect with one another...have fun. Celebrate our community. Help me, our cabinet, and our College, each of you, be the best we can be at serving our students and our community.  

4. And remember to pause from time to time to recognize how lucky we all are to be in the business of transforming lives (that is what we do). Take the time to be fully present with our students and with one another, especially on those days that seem frenetic and crazy; To celebrate the successes, small and large and experience the personal satisfaction and fulfillment that comes in working at a place that truly matters.  

Finally, I would encourage us, all of us, to stay true to our values, continue to put our students first, recognize the profound impact we are blessed to have, support one another, remain humble, empathetic, and full of joy!  

Thanks to each of you for all you do. I am honored and humbled to serve as your President...working with such a committed and passionate faculty and staff at such an extraordinary place.  

As your President and educational DJ, I would ask you two final questions - Are you ready for the year ahead? AND are you ready to amp up the volume and make this place dance for the sake of our students? And to have a little fun? I know our students are ready! In fact, here they come, our RAs and Orientation Leaders with their favorite song.    

Thank you. Let's have a great year!