Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Gaining a competitive edge

When our students return to campus next week after a well-deserved break, those competing in the 2016-2017 State System Business Plan Competition will be busy putting the final touches on months’ of work that will be judged by a panel of business experts. Thanks to private sponsors, we will be awarding $17,000 in cash investments that will help get three of the most promising business plans off the ground. While we often talk about the winners, and rightfully so, what shouldn’t be forgotten is all of the hard work that goes into getting each of the 200+ business plans ready for center stage.

Perhaps the best way for me to convey the lasting impact of this competition is through the eyes of a former student who competed in 2012-2013 and who now helps support current students with their own business development efforts. Joshua Domitrovich, who holds both undergraduate and graduate degrees from Clarion University, is the coordinator for career mentoring and internships at Clarion’s Center for Career and Professional Development. While Joshua was a student, Dr. Kevin Roth introduced him to the competition during an entrepreneurship course.

Joshua assisted his classmate, Andrew Naugle, with developing Maddie’s Promise—a non-profit designed to provide elderly individuals with the opportunity to make one last wish a reality. While the plan didn’t win, Joshua found the experience he gained in the process immeasurable: the exposure to successful high-profile professionals, the feedback he received to make the plan a reality, and the relationships he developed with faculty.

I encourage everyone across the State System to congratulate all of the students who made the commitment to this competition last fall, and to thank the faculty and administrators who have helped them along their journey. We know that each student will walk away with the skills they need to compete.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Giving of Ourselves

This time of year, it’s hard not to get caught up in the stress that comes with the end of the semester and the start of the holiday season. For some students, the countdown to graduation is entering its final days. To all students—no matter where you are in your academic journey—I’ll remind you to take the time to consider how you got here today. The hard work you put in each and every day, the sacrifices that you—and perhaps your family—have made, and the unending guidance provided by faculty and friends have made this year possible.

I like to remind our 11-year-old son that amid all of the excitement of the holidays this is also the time of year to think about others. And that is something I’m proud to say our students, faculty, and staff do extraordinarily well. Many from all across the State System have chosen to lend a hand in their local communities during this holiday season. As examples, Bloomsburg, Cheyney, and Mansfield held clothing and food drives; California students hosted a holiday event for the community; East Stroudsburg, IUP, and Slippery Rock collected money, toys, and stuffed animals for families in their communities; and Edinboro students participated in the Holiday Mail for Heroes program through the local chapter of the American Red Cross. Add those to the efforts at Clarion, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Millersville, Shippensburg and West Chester, and the list goes on and on.

While education will always be our top priority, serving others should never be far behind. Those experiences help shape our students into the global citizens they will need to be after they graduate. On behalf of the Board of Governors and everyone at the Office of the Chancellor, I extend our best wishes for a happy holiday season and a great 2017.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A Season of Thanks

To our faculty, staff, and all university supporters, please know that we are blessed to have so many talented and dedicated individuals helping our 100,000 students and their families attain their piece of the American dream. Your contributions to their success and your support of the State System are invaluable, and for that we are all thankful.
To our students, we hope that you take a few days to recharge, rest up, and prepare to finish strong as the end of the semester quickly approaches. Your success is our reward.

Have a very happy and safe Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

2016 State System Summit focuses on diversity

As society has become more diverse, it’s essential that we all strive for greater cross-cultural competency. And our universities are doing just that. In a very real sense, these campuses can be microcosms of society that serve as examples of how communication and engagement can help to create a rich and inclusive environment for learning.

Toward that goal, faculty, staff, and students from our 14 universities came together last week for the ninth State System Summit, which was held this year at Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP). I was honored to offer remarks at the Summit, which was appropriately titled, “Rising to the Challenge: Making Inclusion Matter.”

Sessions such as “Pursuing Faculty Diversity” and “The Cost of Integration” allowed attendees to think critically about racial and gender equity, while sessions on campus disability inclusion at IUP and a transfer learning community pilot at West Chester showcased some of the strong work our universities are doing to provide opportunities to all of the populations we serve.

We’ve long recognized the importance of social equity and have leaders on university campuses and in my office to ensure dialogue continues with faculty, staff, and students. As Dr. Pablo Mendoza, IUP’s assistant to the president for social equity, said, “Opportunities like this make the System stronger…we become more united because we learn what our colleagues are doing across the System and around the country.”

I couldn’t end without mentioning the tremendous support from students during this year’s summit. The student poster session was very well done—showcasing research-based engagements between students and faculty from across the System. Students from the IUP Department of Theater performed We are Proud to Present, which reminded everyone of the need to develop cross-cultural communication skills. Also, the Voices of Joy choir shared their talents at the welcome reception.

Our diversity makes us stronger, and important events such as this foster the kind of dialogue and discovery that help unite us.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

A Year of Potential and Promise

As an educator, this is my favorite time of year. With students returning for the start of a new academic year, college campuses everywhere are bursting back to life. Whether they are first-time freshmen or returning students, students’ faces beam with excitement, while those of their families and friends radiate with pride. They are all full of promise and potential.

In many ways, each new year starts the same—with our talented, dedicated faculty and staff preparing to welcome students to the 14 universities within Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education. But, for those who are coming to campus for the first time, there is nothing routine about this experience. No doubt, it can be both exasperating and exhilarating all at the same time.
   
I’ve always believed that when we embrace both the challenges and opportunities that come with new experiences, great things can happen. If you doubt that, just look at some of the phenomenal things students and faculty from each of our universities have accomplished. On our website (www.passhe.edu/stories), you can read stories about these remarkable people and their achievements.
 
As examples, read about an Edinboro student and a faculty member collaborating on cutting-edge forensic research; a Cheyney student who was selected to serve as an ambassador for an important White House initiative; an IUP student’s summer internship with electric car maker Tesla; and an East Stroudsburg alumna’s experience in the Peace Corps.
 
More than 100,000 students are back on campus at our State System universities. All of us must work together to help ensure each of those students receives the high-quality, high-value education they expect—and deserve.
 
As Pennsylvania’s public universities, we bear a special responsibility not just to our students, but to the entire Commonwealth. Nearly 90 percent of our students are Pennsylvania residents; almost 80 percent will remain here after earning their degree—to live, to work and to raise their families. In a very real way, Pennsylvania’s economic success depends on our universities’ success.
 
We must ensure the success and sustainability of the System, and the Board of Governors is committed to that. Our chairwoman, Cynthia Shapira, recently said, “We must define what it means to provide an excellent educational experience in our System.” Toward that goal, the Board of Governors is undertaking a top-to-bottom review of the State System. That review will engage all of our stakeholders and will involve asking important questions: What will this System look like in the next decade? What will our universities look like? How do we ensure our mission of providing a high-quality, high-value education?
 
As our students return for the fall semester and start another year of classes, we offer a special welcome to each, and a pledge to do our best to help them prepare for their futures, as challenging and promising as it might be.
 
Yes, these are interesting times, but we are optimistic that the System’s future can be brighter than its past.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Summer doesn’t always mean “vacation”

If you’ve spent even a few minutes this summer on the social media pages of our 14 universities, you’ve probably seen photos of students and faculty doing great things across the globe—from Belize to Italy and everywhere in between. You also might have seen students and faculty continuing to support their campuses and local communities all summer long. Here are just a few examples:

  • At East Stroudsburg University, Dr. Beth Sockman and speech pathology student Kourtney Lark are researching the impact of the “E with J Scholars,” a cooperative relationship between a local elementary school and the university.
  • At California University, members of the Horticulture Club are tending to a vegetable garden and orchard. Produce from the garden has been served on campus, and the fruit is expected to go to the campus food pantry. 
  • At Kutztown University, members of the campus community joined others in the local community to plant a garden at the “Welcome to Kutztown” sign. The garden was designed by Brook Leister, a recent Kutztown graduate with a degree in environmental science, as her senior capstone project.
  • At Edinboro University, Dr. Mary Jo Melvin and Dr. Kristen Webber created a free summer reading experience in response to frequent requests from the parents of schoolchildren who struggle with reading. Students in undergraduate and graduate reading programs are working directly with the children.

Here at the State System office, the summer is always a busy time as we do our part to help the universities prepare for the Fall semester. While we are pleased that the General Assembly and the Governor have chosen to invest $10 million in additional funding for our universities this year, we know that advocacy is a year-round effort as we share the story of our 14 universities. Those countless stories—like the ones you’ve read about here—highlight how our students, faculty, and staff demonstrate their willingness and ability to positively impact their regions—economically and academically—in remarkable ways. They are what makes the State System such an integral part of Pennsylvania.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Important Decisions

The State System faces some important decisions to make again this year.

We are grateful for the additional 5 percent increase ($20.6 million) that was included in the 2015-2016 supplemental budget—the first new money our 14 state-owned universities have seen in eight years. This came after the Board of Governors had to make the tough decision to raise tuition—albeit modestly—after significantly cutting university budgets yet again last year. In fact, over the last decade $300 million has been trimmed from university budgets. The System is operating at a 1999 funding level while trying to compete in a 21st century educational environment.

Governor Wolf has recommended another 5 percent increase for the System in 2016-2017, and we are hopeful it will come to fruition as the Commonwealth works to create a balanced budget. This funding is vitally important as the faculty, staff, and administrators at our universities strive to meet the changing needs of more than 100,000 students across our System, who are our top priority.

Even if the System receives this increase, the System will still face a sizable deficit and will find it challenging to cover mandatory costs such as healthcare and pension contributions. This does not even take into account salary adjustments and contracts currently being negotiated.

You might remember that the System asked the General Assembly for a 20 percent increase earlier in the year to cover those costs and to provide new investment for programs and system enhancements. We’ve been working hard to advocate for greater investment. STEM degrees are the fastest growing areas of study in the System, both in terms of student demand and documented need across the Commonwealth. While these degrees are equipment- and technology-intensive, investment in these programs not only benefits our students, it also benefits the Commonwealth’s economic growth far into the future.

The System will continue to seek additional funding to fulfill its mission to provide a high-quality, high-value education to our students, but tough decisions related to budget cuts and tuition will still need to be made. We are committed to keeping tuition as low as possible and building on the renewed partnership with the Commonwealth as it considers greater investment in our public universities.

At the end of the day, the System’s goal remains the same: to offer a high-quality, high-value educational experience that prepares students for life, career, and the responsibilities of citizenship in this great Commonwealth and beyond.