Category Archives: Administration

On Kindness

Practicing it won’t make you perfect but it’ll make you aware. We’ve all probably been taught at some point in our lives of its virtues, but have we examined its meaning? What does it mean to be kind? To understand, perhaps it’s best to know what it feels like to be treated in an unkind manner.  I’m pretty sure we can all remember the last time we felt like that.  But can we remember the last time we treated someone with kindness?  What were the circumstances under which we chose to act in a kindly manner.  And no, I’m not talking about patronizing manners or obligatory responses.  I’m talking real.  Right here and right now. Starting with today. We’re all too busy thinking and worrying about ourselves and “what’s in it for me.”  And in doing so we’ve missed the opportunity to respond to an overwhelmed student or coworker.  All because, if you please, we were thinking all about “me” instead of “them.”  We know what it feels like when we’re left to feel the sting of a perfunctory thank you or please. My challenge is this:  let’s think ahead and outside of ourselves. So the next time we’re in a situation which may require compassion, we think instead of how we can best be prepared to respond to a need selflessly and with compassion for someone in need of a kind act instead of an eye-rolling dismissal. You see to be kind, we must think of someone other than ourselves. That’s how I wish to be remembered. As an example of kindness.  We’ve been taught the lesson, but so have we learned?  What a difference kindness can make.
 

The Magic in the Classroom

Have you ever experienced that magical moment in the classroom when everything seemed to be just perfect? The class session when you might not have even planned for the activities but the students took you down a path where one thing led to the next and before you knew it…there was magic?

I’ve been very fortunate over my 23-year history teaching mathematics and have experienced several of those moments. It was those moments of magic when I knew the students were engaged, learning from each other, and I was the proud teacher on the side. The moments when the students were working together in groups and found they didn’t agree with the answers from another group. This is what I always referred to as a “controversy”, followed by telling students that “Controversy is good for the soul and this is the time to listen and learn from each other”.

It happened quite by accident. I was teaching College Algebra (MAT151) and I had a wide range of learning levels in this class. Actually, this was a regular occurrence in my College Algebra classes. Some students would enroll in this class after having taken the mathematics placement test, which usually meant they had a very high level of mathematical knowledge and ability, while other students enrolled because they had earned a C or better in the previous class, Intermediate Algebra (MAT121).   This latter group usually had a mixture of mathematical knowledge and ability. This is the group that Michael came from.

Michael was a very large and imposing young man, probably in his early 20s, and an admitted felon. Michael was a nice young man with a quick smile, big laugh, and a limited understanding of algebraic rules. He tried hard, came to class everyday (probably because his probation officer made him), participated in all of the group activities, but wasn’t passing the class.

We came to the part of the class where we were solving radical equations…sorry to all the non-math folks for the technical part of this story, but it is very important. All semester, I had been working with the students and helping them to understand that there was more than one way to solve an algebraic equation…there was the traditional algebraic method, but there was also a numerical method and a graphical method. We regularly used a graphing calculator, TI-84, for just about everything in the class but particularly to see the numerical and graphical answers.

So, we were knee deep into learning about radical equations and they were familiar with the possibility of having an Extraneous Solution…that pesky problem where you might be able to algebraically solve the equation but the solution doesn’t check out when you substitute the answer back into the equation…blah, blah, blah.

My students were working in groups and five of the six groups all came up with the same answer… all except Michael’s group. This is where the magic happened. In Michael’s loud booming voice, he said, “You all are wrong, there’s No Solution!” To which I said, “Michael, can you come to the front and show everyone what you mean?” We regularly used the Pad Camera for the class so Michael makes his way to the front and using the graphing calculator, shows the class that the two sides of the equation, each representing a function, did not intersect. The class erupted in cheers and Michael had his moment of validation in the sun.

I don’t know what happened to Michael after the semester, I can only hope and pray that he stayed on the straight and narrow path and is living a happy life. I know that he made a huge difference in my life and serves as a reminder of the potential that lives within all of our students.

 

SciTech Night of Student Success

Friday night was a night filled with stars, meteorites, comets…chocolate, ramps, burning gumming bears, fossilized arthropods, and so much more. Friday night was the third annual SciTech Festival Event held at GCC North. I had the distinct pleasure of officially starting the event by welcoming everyone…of course, I was so excited I forgot to introduce myself, but I was not the star of the show…our students and faculty are the real stars.

We are so fortunate to have such amazingly dedicated faculty, committed to their discipline and committed to our students. The level of expertise displayed by our students is a direct result of the care and commitment, and their hard work, that our faculty have shown to these students.

My two daughters, ages 10 and 12, gave up their gymnastics class so they could be part of this event, they loved it so much from last year! We all learned so much and I finally have a point of reference regarding light years. As we were looking at a double cluster of stars through one of our high-powered telescopes, Caushlin, the young student who wants to be an Astrophysicists, explained that it was 7500 light years away….”Ok, what exactly does that mean?”, I asked her. “We are looking in the past…7500 years in the past.”, she patiently explains….What? Then she explains that it takes 7500 years for light from those stars to reach our eyes so we are actually looking at the double cluster of stars as they were 7500 years ago…are they even still there? Next things I know, there are two other brainiacs with us, explaining to the uninformed Vice President, the obvious facts about Astronomy. A special thanks to Curtis and Angel for your patience and for not laughing in my face.

Watching our faculty in action takes my breath away. Learning the chemistry of how chocolate is made, as explained by Dr. Christina Clark, was interesting and so well explained that even a non-chemist like myself could understand it…and the chocolate was delicious. Watching the theatrics of Dr. Joe Springer as he blew up balloons and showed florescent chemicals made it clear why our students enjoy his classes. Listening to the excitement in Dr. Sally Watt’s voice as she explained the stars to community members was inspiring.

I have always thought that being an excellent teacher was part art and part science; the art of performing and engaging your audience to learn the science of our disciplines. Watching our faculty and students in action on Friday night, proved to me, that this belief still rings true.

 

Find Your Passion

The above image shows the results from last week’s poll and has nothing to do with the content of this week’s blog.

Week 3 Blog – Find Your Passion

I have a problem with following directions. I am always looking for the road less traveled. Our theme this week is about professional development, and I want to get to the heart of the matter, but with a twist.

Let’s face it, we don’t love our jobs every day. We tell our students to find a career they are passionate about so that they will “love” their jobs. Well, we all know that is an unrealistic expectation.

In order to have ultimate job satisfaction, you have to be passionate about SOMETHING. You have to make time for the things that you love. If you are an artist, you should be drawing, painting or designing. But you don’t have to do it at work. You do have to make sure you take the time to do it at some point in the day!

Take a look around at your work colleagues. You can see who is bringing passion to work. It’s like the good life is flowing over into their otherwise ho-hum life.

Take me, for example. Louise likes her job, she has a passion for health and fitness and loves teaching. Her job can be overwhelming and repetitive at times. Her true passion is swimming. When she swims, she is able to be creative and excited about her job, constantly coming up with something new and fun to keep it from feeling overwhelming and repetitive.

When Louise does not take the time to swim, she is grumpy and overwhelmed. Her professional development is directly affected by whether or not she gets to swim (her true passion). There are other obvious health-related benefits from swimming that get her blood flowing and her brain working, but jogging on the treadmill does not have the same effect, because she is terrible at running (not her true passion).

So what does this have to do with professional development, you ask? Everything. The point of professional development is to get better at what you do, to stay current in your field of study, and to network with others on the same career path. You can’t do any of that without passion. Let your passion for your “thing” overflow into your work life and you will find that your professional development will take care of itself. You will find yourself seeking opportunities that you would have otherwise missed.

Here is your call to action for the week: “What are you passionate about and are you spending enough time doing what you love?”

p.s. My “actual” professional development consists of an annual conference with the American College of Sports Medicine, nutrition seminars, various  MCCCD FPG workshops, and my favorite: CTLE offerings throughout the year. I have immense appreciation for the work of the GCC CTLE crew of Meghan, Alisa, Mark and Cheryl. They are oozing with talent and I love to learn from them.  ls

 

Student Success and Financial Aid – Week #2

Count yourself lucky if you didn’t have to rely on Federal Financial Aid for your college education.  At GCC, approximately 60% of our students must battle this maze every year.  In my time as the Vice President of Student Affairs, I have heard many stories from students, learned to understand the secret language of federal financial aid, and offer suggestions on ways to improve our service to students.  For example, take the U.S. born student whose parents were undocumented immigrants from Mexico.  When our student was 13, the parents were deported back to Mexico, leaving our student to fend for himself. Fortunately, he had an older sister who could help but nothing can replace the care and guidance of parents.  I learned there is help for exactly this situation, it’s called a Dependency Override, and while complicated, it allowed the student access to federal financial aid.

Every semester, a process called Enrollment Cancellation begins 35 days before the start of the semester.  This is a District-wide process that drops students from their classes for non-payment.  It has a complicated long story, but suffice it to say, there is a lot of angst surrounding this process.

Last summer, GCC was preparing to drop approximately 7000 students for non-payment.  Luckily, we were able to push robocalls to these students, encouraging them to sign up for a payment plan.  We also learned that approximately 3500 students had a federal financial aid application on file but had not completed the steps for awarding.  We saw this as a call to action, an opportunity to reach out to these students and to try to push them through the maze of financial aid.  We coined the phrase “Financial Aid Friday” and on a hot Friday in July, we were able to reach over 300 students.  GCC gained a lot of attention from District Office that day and a representative was sent over to witness and participate in our big event.  As a result of our focus on student success and financial aid, the messaging that students received was streamlined and made easier to understand.

So, what has GCC done now that we understand the impact of the federal financial process on our students and their success?  We have streamlined the GCC Financial Aid department and have hired four part-time staff to focus solely and completely on getting students through the maze we call federal financial aid. We are also planning additional Financial Aid Fridays throughout the summer.  The biggest take away for me has been in seeing the positive impact of one-on-one attention to our students.  It is time consuming and costly but ultimately, worth the price if we can help one more student through the maze.

 

Helping Those in Need

I read with hilarity that our fearless 6×6 leader had to cut a workout short, at Orange Theory, of all places, in order to salvage Ben & Jerry’s ice cream from a melt down in her car of disastrous proportions.

I am devoting this post to help someone in need. So if this resonates with you, consider this a gift!

Fortunatley for me, I am lactose intolerant and I generally give up sweets for Lent anyway.  So, I am donating my ice cream prize from last week to anyone who is daring enough to share a time lapse video of themselves completing a 20-minute workout!

I am also taking a poll to see if our dedicated Write 6x6ers would prefer a whole-food snack as their award for completing their weekly challenge.  The results of this poll will be shared next week! Please choose your poison and submit!

People will generally eat what is put in front of them and a sweet reward is always welcome! But if you are trying to make a positive change in your eating habits, my guess is that you will appreciate having a reward that contributes to your health!

I was going to file this blog in the never-to-be-published archives, but have been egged on by our fearless moderator, as it seems that she might be up for the time-lapse video challenge. Who knew?

In the spirit of Valentine’s day, take care of your heart with healthy eating and exercise so you have the energy and strength to send your love to the world.

 

 

 

Trickle-Down Help

The theme this week is asking how I have helped someone. I could go on about all my amazing successful students, of course. (There is nothing more rewarding than mentoring students.) Instead, I want to highlight how I have been helped … and how hopefully that help has trickled down to the students.

Before I came to the community college, I taught science in a Montessori Elementary setting, and I also handled the tough behavior issues that went beyond the classroom. I felt pretty good about classroom control and helping students learn from their behavioral mistakes.

Funny thing though, Montessori Elementary classroom management techniques don’t always work in a community college setting – for a host of different reasons. I can no longer ask students to check their cell phones in at the door. Moving people’s seats during a lecture doesn’t go over very well. Students who misbehave cannot be sent to another classroom, and they don’t get detentions or “write ups.” They cannot be asked to write a reflective essay on their behavior. Adult students expect a certain amount of freedom – after all, they ARE adults!

I know I am not the only one who can spot a problem brewing. When we see this, we must decide how far to take it. I usually start by speaking to the student individually. I can suggest, cajole, offer, etc. to students who need help to visit the appropriate support service (counseling, testing center, library, writing center, etc.) – but sometimes those students just do not follow through. Then, when the student is not getting what he/she needs outside the classroom, it shows up in classroom etiquette and other disruptive behaviors. As soon as it becomes a distraction to the learning of the others in the class, we have options and support.

The Behavior Intervention Team, a committee through the Dean of Student Life has helped me handle a specific difficult situation and become a better teacher at the same time. I had a student that was significantly disruptive and I frankly was concerned for his mental health. I started by having an informal conversation with Dr. Trisha Lavigne (fellow faculty are amazing), and then I followed through by filing a report online. I wanted the record to be in the system, but it was only in there for informational purposes. It is important to track things like this, as if the student repeats the behavior for another instructor, we at least have a paper trail. After the initial report was filed, we decided to have someone call him and offer services to help him get on track. Trisha gave me some words to use when speaking to the student about it. He got agitated, and the next class period, his behavior was even worse. I knew I was going to have to speak to him again, this time about his grade and what he was going to need to do to remain enrolled in the class. This is where Lt. Nate Achtizger helped me. He sat in the classroom and assessed the situation, then he sat outside the conference room when I met with the student. His feedback helped me feel more safe when the student was around. In the end, the student ended up dropping the class, which was helpful for everyone else – and maybe for him, too. Whew! Dodged a bullet! All through this process, Dean Monica Castaneda was aware and ready to step in if I couldn’t handle it.

The bullet was not dodged for long, though. That same student enrolled for another one of my classes this semester. Again, Dean Castaneda spent time emailing and talking with me to be prepare before the semester even started. While we tried to get the student to get the services he needs, he has refused. He is, however, doing much better this time around. And so am I. I know I am supported – the team has my back. I have established a new rapport with the student, and maybe, if he continues to not be disruptive, I will be able to reach him. Maybe he will eventually follow through on getting the services he needs. Just maybe. I hope.

So to answer the question, “How have you helped someone,” I can say that the GCC community has helped me. And in turn, hopefully, I can return the favor.

 

Healthier, Happier and Smarter

Have you read Spark yet? It gave me goosebumps.

The book basically justified my persistence for the past 30 years in the field of Fitness and Wellness. Exercise is not just about getting fit, looking good, preventing heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and the like. It helps keep you smarter!

I finished this book on a plane flight to Dublin last summer, on my way to see my family, but more specifically, my ailing mother who is suffering from the debilitating effects of Alzheimer’s disease.

The book highlighted many of the mental health issues we deal with, including Alzheimer’s, ADHD, stress, anxiety, depression and addiction. And guess what? Exercise outscores medication in every case. It may not replace it for every case, but it certainly is a great complement to treatment.

It turns out that exercise is like Miracle Gro to the brain. It promotes the production of Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) which causes neurons to grow! It was only discovered in 1990! Since then, neuroscientists have been studying it like crazy. Exercise lays down the foundation for our students to learn.

In his book, Ratey devotes an entire chapter to the “Learning Readiness PE” program in Naperville, Illinois. These high school students are outsmarting their Japanese and German counterparts on the TIMMS test! You can find out more in this video!

It is my intention to make a difference in the lives of our community college students, faculty, staff and administration by raising awareness about the importance of movement throughout the day.

Just yesterday, the following bill was passed in Senate (SB211). I read it excitedly to my students this morning! Positive change is finally happening at the national level!

“A program of physical activity (i) that consists of at least 20 minutes per day or an average of 100 minutes per week during the regular school year available to all students in grades kindergarten through five and (ii) with a goal of at least 150 minutes per week on average during the regular school year available to all students in grades six through 12. Such program may include any combination of (a) physical education classes, (b) extracurricular athletics, (c) recess, or (d) other programs and physical activities deemed appropriate by the local school board. Each local school board shall incorporate into its local wellness policy a goal for the implementation of implement such program during the regular school year.

…That the provisions of this act shall become effective beginning with the 2018-2019 school year.”

Elementary schools and high schools will finally see the benefits of more movement on the brains of the students. I hope we can continue this trend at the community college level. It is critical to the success of our students.

Source: Ratey, J. J. (2012). Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. Little Brown and Company.

 

Student Success Week 1

Well, the semester is off to a running start, just like every semester. Life in the Enrollment Center is back to a slow and steady stream of students, unlike the crazy rush that happens just before and after the start of any semester. A huge thank you to our colleagues and friends in the Enrollment Center, I often believe they are the unsung heroes on our campus. They work tirelessly to get our students processed and enrolled in classes. As a long-time member of the faculty, I never truly appreciated the amount of time, effort, and dedication of my colleagues in Student Affairs to get the student into my class. I was always just so happy to have a classroom full of students eager to learn mathematics…well, maybe not eager, but certainly willing to try for the semester. Of course, my greatest sense of accomplishment was always the student who would say at the end of the semester “You know, math isn’t so bad after all.” Mission Accomplished! I can retire with a sense of accomplishment. Now as a Vice President of Student Affairs, I see my mission in a whole new way. My goal is to encourage, inspire, and push my team in Student Affairs to do more, push harder, to think beyond the boundaries to find ways to serve our students to the best of our ability. Customer service is job #1 and how we serve our students is a reflection of GCC…so the goal is to help as many students as possible through the long lines, through the maze we call financial aid, and on a path that leads to a successful completion of their
goal. Truly, it takes a village to get our students from the Welcome Desk to the Classroom and across the stage at Commencement. Thank you for the amazing work you do, both in the classroom and out of the classroom, to push and inspire our students.

 

Money Matters?

I can’t help thinking that lately, money has become the focus in academia. As the state cuts all state funding from community colleges in Maricopa County Arizona, how do we continue to deliver the best two year school education in the United States? What do we do? The answer seems simple to me, we continue to carry out the mission of the college.
Here is the Glendale Community College mission (taken from our website):

Glendale Community College prepares students for further higher education, employment and advancement, and successful participation in a global society.

Let’s focus on that mission. Everyone at a college plays an educational role for our students, from the college president to the clerk typist, to the faculty member in the classroom, to the maintenance and operations people, to the student affairs staff. Everyone at the institution should be aware of the college mission, and keep that as the focus of everything that we do.
If we all do that, we can continue to deliver the best to out students despite the financial woes. We can continue to do what we do best!