Happy New Year to all of you! Time away from classes or work responsibilities can give us a space to think about what matters in our lives. Each year, from Thanksgiving though the New Year, our focus can be on families and fun, the joy of giving, helping others not so fortunate, or time for different pursuits. We can also carve out space for New Year’s resolutions or commitment to being more of the person we prefer to be. We read articles about how to keep the pounds off and manage holiday stress. We can also use this time to consider how to address the stresses of our students!
In Fall 2016 at BCTC, we supported almost 10,000 students who are seeking to advance their educational dreams and career goals. We gave students accessible options by offering a four-day class schedule and delivering almost 30,000 credit hours online to almost 5,800 BCTC students and to about the same number of students from other colleges. Many on-campus classes are also developed as “hybrid” so that assignments and “classes” are partly online, thus giving more students even more flexibility.
We are seeing increases in multicultural students and those who experience barriers that are financial, academic, cultural, and family- or work-related. We have many different services and supports for students. For example, caring faculty and staff can help students who are new to college and may be the first in their families to enroll. The First-Year Center especially is designed to give that extra level of services first-year students need such as advising, career counseling, study skills, tutoring, laptop loans, and peer mentoring.
This Fall, students attended classes in seven BCTC locations, and we completed construction and preparation to occupy the new Georgetown-Scott County Advanced Manufacturing Center. This newest campus, dedicated to expanding the manufacturing workforce, opens to students on January 9 with programs moving from both the Leestown Campus and the Toyota plant facilities. The learn-and-work partnerships in Georgetown and at the Danville Campus gives each student the chance to build a relationship with an employer and be paid for his or her work.
We continue to add programs to meet the needs of employers and students, recently including pharmacy technician, paramedic and emergency medical technician, and supply chain management. Expansions have been implemented in surgical technology, certified medical assistant, information technology, theater and film, and business in the last couple of years. New plans, partnerships, and facilities will increase spaces for nursing and other allied health careers.
Students at BCTC will be supported to excel, with whatever mode of learning they prefer, at whichever BCTC facility they attend, in whatever program and career they pursue. New initiatives and innovative strategies are just a part of our commitment to imagine more and be more at BCTC in 2017.
Last Monday was World Kindness Day 2016. BCTC Students for Peace and Earth Justice held a program at the Cooper Campus. Kindness Day was born when a collection of humanitarian groups came together on November 13, 1997, and made a “Declaration of Kindness” to help focus on the many ways—from random acts of kindness to larger efforts like volunteering or supporting long-term helping initiatives in your community—we can help and support each other. It often costs us nothing to be kind, and I’m sure the “helper” as well as the “helpee” both gain many benefits! Each of us remembers a situation when someone unexpectedly did something nice for us. When that happens to me, I am happier all day! And yet, how often am I aware enough to decide to do that kind act for someone else?
This week, we celebrate Thanksgiving in the US. It is a time to appreciate the good things we have in our lives. Some of us are very fortunate to have the resources to live well, such as to get an education, to work at a job we love, and to be part of a community or church that feeds our souls. Some of us are struggling or frightened. Can we appreciate what we have that is positive in our lives and still reach out to help others? It is said that those who have the least material goods are often the first to open their hearts to others.
How can we be kind and thankful every day? Each of us can decide how to be more thoughtful of others and get out of our own way. I am thinking of these things now, after our divisive and contentious campaign season. Whether your team won or lost, how can we, as Americans or those who are looking for a better life here, come together to denounce hate, bigotry, blaming and shaming, and simplistic and juvenile positions on complex and weighty matters?
Many are saddened by how our national figures have been talking about and to large swaths of our multicultural and rainbow-colored population. Fear is a natural reaction to such rhetoric. It may be easy to distance ourselves from others who do not seem to share our value systems. Barriers can be brought down, however, if people are willing to see what we share rather than only what separates us. If we can be kind and thankful, we will continue to respect and celebrate diversity of background, thought, worldview, and opinion—up the point of threats or harm coming to others who are not like us. A community college is a place where we embrace the variety of ages, career interests, backgrounds, perspectives, talents, and skills of our students and our faculty and staff. Welcome to BCTC, everyone who wants to find a pathway, for themselves or others, through educational experiences, to a better life.
I heard a recent story on NPR about a young Russian in the 1980s who was swept up in the transformation when the Soviet Union dissolved and Russia opened to more Western companies. A McDonald’s franchise was opening in Moscow. This young man went to get a job and was accepted into the training program for front-line staff. Early on, trainees were told to greet customers with a smile. This standard practice in customer service shocked and frightened our young storyteller. In Russian society at that time, a smile was interpreted as insincere and even purposefully misleading or malevolent. They saw Westerners as untrustworthy and a smile as the way we mislead others into thinking we are happy, sociable, and caring when in fact we are hiding bad intent. Occasionally, of course, a smile can be fake, but when most of us smile, we feel happy, sociable, and caring.
It struck me that, to this day, I and other Westerners have not understood that basic cultural differences can relate to something as simple as smiling. Russians would not understand the currency of a smile as, yes, I am approachable and want to help you—and that as a front-line worker in the West, it would be useful to you. It certainly explains the stereotypical demeanor of peoples from other cultures who have seemed overly stern and solemn. Imagine how many times this still happens when we are unaware of the gender, cultural, ethnic, or racial differences. And instead we ascribe motives to others that may be completely wrong. As we deal with the difficult work of social change and preparing for increasing international connections, I guess we better understand that each of us has both individual and cultural perspectives—and that they are different for each of us. At BCTC, we are trying to understand, acknowledge, and celebrate our differences. Know that we are working together to use all our talents to meet students and others educational needs. Let’s try to communicate and understand each other.
I have hesitated to comment on the current political campaigns and climate, but I find that I have this to say: Here in October of 2016, it seems we are more polarized than any time in the 40+plus years I have been observing the US political system. Our political debate has devolved into name calling and tweet-shaming. Does anyone remember a recent informed and civil debate on the issues? Right, because there has not been one—at least not at the national level. I am saddened by the lack of concern and consideration for the things I care about. I am chagrined by the negative role models our politicians are for young people. What happened to hope along with the needed change? What happened to respect for diversity and appreciation for the contributions of every hard-working person? There is significant benefit in hearing all the perspectives in background, opinion, or expectations that inform discussion on the problems we face. What happened to disagreeing without being disagreeable? Here at BCTC, we practice open-mindedness, consider others, focus on helping students, and collaborate in problem-solving. Our faculty, staff, and students are taking training on how to identify and respond to sexual misconduct so that women and men are safe within our walls, and one national politician bragged about participating in it. Another has faced many federal investigations.
We understand that no one person has all the answers, but let’s at least look for candidates that stand for the things our constituents need. Our Mission Statement references this approach to helping the individual. It says “BCTC transforms the Bluegrass Region—one student at a time, one employer at a time, one community at a time….” Our Values Statement talks about Building Respect, Communicating, Transforming, and Creating Community. Choose carefully those you support. And vote.
Here’s a favorite: “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up some place else.”
Planning is essential for all of us. Few people can float through life and end up in the place they want to be. I do embrace spontaneity, but for the big things, they’ll go better with a plan. Certainly planning your educational pursuits is critical. This is why you need a good college advisor. At BCTC, career counselors, Admissions staff, professional advisors, or faculty guides and mentors can help students to find a path and plan a schedule.
As adults, students get to make decisions and create their plans, but a good college guide will help make the path more efficient and economical, more relevant to interests, more interesting, and better preparation to reach one’s goals. There are actions students can take that will help. Research tells us that students are typically more successful if they go to freshman orientation, take a college success course, get registered early, and get involved in student activities. We hope students will take advantage of all the supports and strategies we offer. Don’t end up someplace else. Good luck to everyone to get where you want to go—on a path to educational and career success!
At the August 2014 Fall Kick-Off, I talked to faculty and staff about the concepts of Good to Great as described by author Jim Collins. He, along with others, researched companies that had remained “great” over decades, shifting and changing as needed to stay relevant and competitive. In follow-up, his team looked at non-profit agencies, including education, for their success strategies. Their research found several factors, but a clear need is to: “Do whatever you can to get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and right people in right seats.”
Of course, this relates to how we recruit, select, and employ people who are the heart and hands of the college. Collins says that greatness is a matter of conscious choice and discipline, not circumstances. We can choose to plan or how to react to our circumstances. It is like the old joke, “I try to take one day at a time, but sometimes several days attack me at once.” It is easy to blame external circumstances for our history or present problems—and to tamp down expectations for the future. We do have significant challenges and too few resources.
While it is always easier to make progress with a fast car and plenty of gas, it is possible to move forward on a donkey or even a goat! Maybe we have to charge into the future with the pace of a turtle, but we can still get there. I love the story we have all heard about the three stonemasons asked by a passerby about the nature of their work. One took a specific, task–based focus. He was laying stone. The second could see how each brick fit together for a larger purpose, and she responded she was building a wall. The third felt a part of a grand vision and great goal. This skilled worker said with pride, “I am building a great cathedral.” I hope each of us can step back and see the great and good work we are doing or working toward.
I see this all the time at BCTC. Groups and individuals are challenged to make progress, to add services, to improve processes without proper resources. We have to “Keep pushing in an intelligent and consistent direction,” Collins says. Remember, Batman has no superpowers! Let’s help each other remember, we have a great vision and the capacity to make it come true.