SPA Goes Green

By: Alka Arora Singh, Dean of Strategy, Planning & Accountability Have you ever seen a group of six employees pacing around campus? You know, the ones talking animatedly and oblivious to the world? If you get close enough to them you might hear head-spinning terminologies like analytics, forecasting, compliance, and planning. Hey, somebody’s got to work on all these super cool projects and GCC’s lucky team is from the Office of Strategy, Planning & Accountability (SPA): Sarah, Owan, Jay, Eddie, Phil, and Alka.

SPA works on several key functions and mission critical institutional projects. Some examples follow.

  • Institutional Research. The new paradigm for higher education is data informed decision making. Some recent examples for GCC include course load analysis, data for SSI and Developmental Education, and Market Analysis.
  • Accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) and Compliance. Abiding by federal regulations is the ticket to Title IV federal financial aid for our students. Some current work in response to stakeholder needs pertains to Gainful Employment, Debt-Income Ratios, and Student Success.
  • Strategic Planning.  GCC has three planning tiers: Tier I (college plan); Tier II (divisional plans like Academic Affairs and Student Affairs); and Tier III (departmental or operational). These plans are integrated top-down (vertically) and also integrated (horizontally) with resources, assessment, and review for continuous quality improvement and student success.

Okay, so what is the outcome from all this crazy amount of work? How does SPA contribute to the institution, and help with student success? Glad you asked!

  • SPA worked closely with the instructional deans and department chairs to develop a more data-informed and efficient course schedule development process in 2014.  The process was instrumental in reducing GCC’s instructional budget deficient by approximately $2,000,000.
  • GCC proactively sought HLC approval for our three additional locations in 2013. Had this not been done in a timely fashion, Title IV federal funds used at those locations would need to be returned to the U.S. Department of Education.  While this amount can vary by enrollment, the amount could be $100,000 or more. When GCC had its routine review from the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) in 2013, one of the items on their agenda was handicap accessible seating in the Performing Arts Center (PAC).  The college worked with OCR on a solution that met the seating needs while at the same time saving renovation costs exceeding $1,000,000.
  • GCC received an award for Institutional Innovation and Integration in 2014 from the Society for College and University Planning (SCUP). Only one college in the nation receives the annual award, which recognizes innovative thinking, planning and implementation in strategic planning. The award acknowledges GCC for allocating resources successfully and effectively linking them to the institution’s vision, mission and academic priorities. GCC received publicity value worth $218,000 from this award.

Every one of the initiatives above helps students be successful: efficient course schedules, accreditation and financial aid, and planning.

The Office of SPA is committed to meeting local and federal mandates, and providing top quality customer service in keeping with industry best practices. The office takes pride in meeting your needs in an accurate, timely, and consistent fashion. And all this while helping the college save approximately 3.3 million dollars in less than two years (from a small sample of projects). Not too shabby for a bunch of geeks eh?

If the Green Efforts Committee is reading this post, SPA does work with various dimensions of green beyond dollar bills. We skip printing when possible, turn off our lights when out of the office, and recycle!

For more information on the Office of Strategy, Planning & Accountability, please visit


Every day brings something good!

So what is the “real main idea” here, Miss?

At the beginning of each unit, I present my mini-lectures on reading skills. It never fails that as I am talking I suddenly focus in on my students’ faces and think, “Really, Cindy? Do you think they really care about the main idea (etc.)?” Just this semester, I have a student whose 12 year old sister threatened to commit suicide, a student who was “working 2 jobs totaling more than 60 hours, taking care of her sick father, and taking 4 classes,” a student who “just wants to play baseball,” 2 students who told me they “are just here to play football, nothing more,” and a pregnant student who feels sick all the time. (I’m sure you have the same “stories” sitting in your classroom.) And I want to talk about main ideas! I feel Charlie Brown’s pain!


So let’s talk about the “real main idea” here:

I just read a book called Mister Owit’as Guide to Gardening: How I learned the Unexpected Joy of a Green Thumb and an Open Heart; an unexpected gem because it happened to speak to me in my life right now. Through his work in her garden, Mr. Owita teaches Carol a thing or two about life. An unexpected friendship develops and the two help each other through personal crises and to reach a greater understanding of how to deal with what life deals us. Yep, sappy! Long story short, the book ends with this line: In every moment there exists a lifetime. Every day brings something good!

As I finished the book this morning (Tuesday, 3/9), I stepped out into our back yard and thought about my teaching day ahead. Aargh, 4 more days and then spring break! TG! Then, as I glanced down, I saw a rose bud on my brand new yellow rose bush called “Easy Living.”

YellowRose The main idea: In every moment there exists a lifetime. Every day brings something good! I can’t wait to answer my student’s question!


My Corner of GCC

The Challenge was thrown out to name names in this week’s 6 X 6 Blog and I’ll have to say I have a lot of names.  I’ll start with Diane whose kind greeting always makes me feel welcome as I get my daily Coke Cola fix.  Then there’s Richard, along with a team of talented co-workers, who spends his days making sure that our grounds look Ahhh-mazing!  He’s not much for chitchat but he always has a smile when you say hi.  Oh and how about the countless Student Workers who have graced us with their dedication and hard work! Those like Brianna, Tiffany, Amy, and Theresa who especially shine up my surroundings every day.  Who hasn’t seen Chris?!  He motors all over campus advocating for our military men and women.  He even shaved his head for them! Then there’s those I watch working tirelessly to bring our students opportunities outside of campus like Laura and Anthony who daily assist students seeking jobs.

This is just my little corner of campus and I know Glendale Community College has a wealth of people all over campus that make a difference.  These individuals bring warmth, beauty, and care to all to those they encounter.  I am inspired by them, their dedication to the work they do, and the excellent services they give encourages me to do my very best.


Naming Names

I am willing to name names, and I have two.

First of all, Laura Dodrill.

When I arrived at GCC in the fall of 2012 fresh from out-of-state, I had absolutely no prior experience teaching for a school in the Maricopa system. I was coming from a community college in New Mexico where I had tenure and seniority in my department. I was coming from a school where the number of full-time faculty in the English department (about 12) was about one-third the number it is here at GGC.  In short, I was coming from a place where I felt I made a difference in many ways beyond teaching.  While teaching here felt as fulfilling as it did there right from the start, I was now at a much bigger school in a much more complicated system.  Weeks and semesters were passing, and I was surprised at how long it was taking me to feel a part of GCC in any other way than teaching.  Sometimes, I simply felt adrift.  I would go to meetings in my own department and not recognize everyone I was sitting amongst.

But there was Laura.

Laura was assigned to be my FYRE mentor. FYRE is the First Year Residential Faculty Experience (or something really close to that). That meant that Laura had to mentor me for an entire academic year. She did so willingly and with aplomb. She answered (with incredible patience) my most basic questions, including how to use my office phone.  I would send her emails asking what acronyms meant (FEP, FYE, SOP, FPG…) .  She would answer cheerfully. She brought me a plant for my office.  She checked in on me from time to time popping by my office.  Right from the start, (to use current parlance) I knew she had my back. She still has my back. I can call her, write her, or go to her with any kind of concern. That kind of relationship–the kind where I know my mistakes will be forgiven and my concerns will be heard–is so precious to me that it has made me want to be a better teacher and colleague, and it made me want to find my place at GCC.

And then Laura introduced me to Celeste.

When it came time to plan the 2014 fall schedules (one year in advance in 2013) Laura suggested I join her and Celeste Walls in teaching an FYE (First Year Experience) learning community. Laura and Celeste had already done this together.  Laura would teach a Counseling and Personal Development class (CPD), and Celeste would teach an Introduction to  Communications class.  I would join them by teaching a Developmental Composition course (ENG 091). Because scheduling is planned so far in advance,  I had never met Celeste before the first time the three of us sat down in early August 2014 to align our plans for teaching the FYE that coming semester. We had emailed each other prior to that but had  never met as a threesome in person.

What transpired for me this past fall was far more than being one-third of a learning community. Because Laura, Celeste, and I met so regularly to debrief about our cohort, we formed a bond. And Celeste Walls became the second person at GCC (besides students) who inspired me to be a better person, teacher, and colleague. I wanted my class to match her class.  She has high standards for everyone — her students, her colleagues, and herself.  I wanted to meet her standards.  Furthermore, if I was having trouble drawing out a shy student in my class, I could ask for her and Laura’s advice.  If an assignment didn’t go well, I could debrief with them and figure out what went wrong.  I could present either one of them with challenges I was having in the classroom (and not just the FYE classroom, but in any one of my classes), and they’d respond thoughtfully and make suggestions. But what I love most about Celeste is that she’s really interested in what I say.  She leans forward to listen when I speak. She sets a high professional bar and simply through her actions, those around her are encouraged to reach it.

Laura and Celeste aren’t only outstanding teachers and colleagues.  They are the kind of people who reassure others by making a place for them in the community.  Largely because of them, I’ve been able to settle in. Who wouldn’t be inspired hanging around with people like that?


Reflection Based On “Simply The Best”

  • Week 6 (Mar. 9-13): Read the post. Louise asks some really great reflective questions: “Who or what drives you to be the best version of you? Would you be willing to name names?” “Who or what fires your passion for your field of interest and reminds you of your role at GCC?” It’s time to reflect. It’s the last one. Week 6.

Well, this Write 6×6 has pushed me out of my comfort zone. I’m a math/science guy and this writing thing is not my first, second or third choice of fun things to do with my time. That said, it hasn’t been as bad as I had envisioned it. We need to do Solve It 6×6 next 🙂

In response to Alisa Cooper’s challenge based on Louise So’s post “Simply The Best”, I write the following.

There are many people I respect that work here at GCC. I think that the key attribute that gains my respect and admiration is honest caring actions. Someone who genuinely cares about others and doing the best job that they can, where they give without thinking about the cost, always catches my attention. The list of names is to long to write. I’ve never been one who was good at answering the question “What’s your favorite _______?”. I have a lot of favorites. Trying to pick my top whatever people to salute would just be impossible. I hope that everyone I really respect knows it. Maybe that would be a good thing to do after this, write to affirm everyone that I think is doing a great job. Boy, what I’m I saying. That would be a whole lot of writing again 🙁

The question “What drives you to be the best version of you?”, has but one answer for me though, God. Ecclesiastes 12:13b states: “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man”. This, along with Ecclesiastes 5:18 “eat, drink, and enjoy yourself in all of your labor in which you toil under the sun during the few years of your life which God has given you.”, express my view of life. My take on this is, work hard, do your best, find enjoyment in all that comes your way, and do it all for God. I hope that if anyone sees me not living by the following two commands, Matthew 22:37-39 “Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.”, will point it out to me. Because this is what motivates me to be the best that I can be.


Let’s Talk About…Late Penalties

Some instructors I know are almost indignant: At a college level, an assignment is due when the assignment is due: “There’s no tolerance for late projects in the real world,” they crow.  Other instructors I know are at the opposite end of the spectrum: They allow students to hang on for a whole semester with minimal effort, and often end up paying the price themselves at the end of the semester by grading an avalanche of last-minute, hastily-thrown-together late assignments in weak attempts to save doomed grades.

You know that old adage: “No good deed goes unpunished?”  It sometimes applies here.

I think either extreme on late penalty policies, too hard or too soft, is problematic in a community college setting.  Having or enforcing no expectations for “on time work” isn’t disciplined enough, and in many ways penalizes those who turn their work in on time (why should they?).  Having a policy that is too strict and punitive can destroy a handful of beginning students prematurely:  Does that harsh of a penalty really fit the “crime”?

Regardless of what you do for late penalties (and everyone should have and apply a stated policy from the opening day of class), document your guidelines in the syllabus, let everyone know ahead of time, and be fair in the application of the rules.

I’ve come up with a late penalty system that I think hits middle ground and is effective for community college learners. Here are the main features of my late policy:

  • If an assignment is late per the web time stamp or other, the penalty is 20% off the point value per calendar day (even if you don’t use Canvas for a full online class, you can still use it for assignment submittals – and you won’t have to carry around all that paper, either).
  • Any assignment not handed in within five days of the deadline gets a zero.
  • Any student that has three “zeros” is in danger of being dropped (note I didn’t say “will be” – there are a few exceptions — see below).

Some exceptions:

  • Extra credit, because it is by definition “extra,” must be handed in on time, and cannot be handed in late.
  • If a student has an extended illness or a planned medical procedure or a severe accident, I will consider an extension if they let me know before the assignment due date.
  • Some assignments, like MGH Connect, are graded on participation and effort (in the case of Connect, by completion percentage). Here I grade at 25% completion and four-week intervals, and allow late submissions, but not for credit. Students must make the completion percentages on time to get participation credits. (With Connect, they cannot go forward without completing all previous exercises).
  • Drafts are key assignments in the writing process – they represent a significant milestone, and I typically need to assign peer reviewers to drafts as soon as possible to give reviewers as much time as possible. Therefore, late drafts are accepted, but the penalty is more severe and the time is shorter: 50% off the point value IF the draft is handed in within 48 hours of the original due date – and, the student does NOT get to participate in peer reviews for credit.

To me these very practical late penalty measures represent a good balance between the discipline needed by students in their first couple years of college (where part of the learning is learning how to be a student), and the realities of (college student) life:

  • They tell the student that they are accountable for their assignments.
  • They tell the student that they are responsible for their overall grade.
  • They distinguish between the important and the most-important assignments (not every thing in life is equally important, either).
  • They are fair in the sense that (1) the policies are the same for everyone, (2) there are exceptions for extreme conditions, and (3) the penalty is based on a percent of the point value of the assignment (in short, equitable).
  • They reward on-time delivery by the more mature/exceptional students.
  • They virtually eliminate the grey and often emotional areas we all run into: Is an assignment late if it is 30 minutes late? Is it late if I was sick? If my mother died? If my dog ate my homework? Yes to all.
  • They provide hope for the students that, as human beings, forget an assignment due date once in awhile – they are not destroyed by one or two late assignments, and can recover with a quick response and hard work.

State and apply a late assignment penalty system that is fair and equitable and fits the situation. Your students’ lives (and yours!) will be better for it.


In Between

     I heard one time that people go through one major change every ten years.  The idea is proving true for me.  The most recent change I experienced (and am experiencing) was leaving a job I had for 23 years to come to GCC. To say that I was rooted in that location, tied to the people, traditions, and processes would be an understatement.  I started and grew my career there, and I involved myself in as many parts of campus and district life as I could, from sponsoring clubs and coaching sports to helping teachers experiencing discipline and being an officer in the teachers’ association.  To come to GCC meant leaving the familiar and comfortable for something different, something new.

     Being in that state of unfamiliarity is a strange place to be.  It sparked reflection about the big questions in life.  It jostled my confidence a time or two.  Sometimes those things happen and cause a change.  In this case, the change provoked what I can only call growth.
     By far the biggest assistance I’ve had in this change has been through my colleagues, the opportunities I’ve experienced, and our students.  My colleagues have accepted me with the friendliness of a thousand Quokkas.

I’ve attended conferences that have allowed me to stretch my classroom practices. Finally, teaching is teaching, and while students are students, the ones at GCC are particularly friendly, eager to meet their goals, and, though a little concerned, generally optimistic about their futures.  I’m optimistic, too.

Jin Xiang



This week is the first time in my academic career that I have officially felt I am having difficulty connecting with my students. I am in my 19th year as a college professor, having started at 27 years old.  I remember starting out, fresh out of graduate school. I was frequently mistaken for a student by faculty members who did not know me. I was able to easily connect with the students as I could relate to much of what they were going through. I longed to be respected by my peers, most of whom were older than I was. I sometimes wished I were older because I believed that if I were older, people would respect me and question me less.

Fast forward to this past week. In my 19 year career I have never been more challenged by students. The students in my classes today question me more than ever, and I don’t understand why. I saw them as disrespectful, as entitled, and as rude. I wondered why they felt the need to verbally share everything they know about a topic as though I am not going to cover the topic well enough if they don’t. I wondered why they act as though the are the authority on everything, as though I am not the person to cover the topics. I even wondered if I was in the right profession anymore. I started talking to my colleagues and found that many of them were feeling something similar, though maybe not as pronounced as I was. It was then that I realized that part of the problem was that I had spent a long time becoming a professor, and preparing myself for class every day, and maybe my feelings were hurt. I felt I was at a crossroads in my career, feeling disconnected from my students.

For the last few days I have been thinking about this, and I have come to the conclusion that I need to re-think my beliefs about my students and my role as their professor. The truth is, they do have the ability to find all the information I share with them on their own. With access to Google they can pretty much cover it all. What I need to do is make sure I am focused as a professor on giving them skills that Google can’t give them.  I can teach them to think like a scientist. I can teach them to be critical consumers of information (so I guess I should be happy they question me?), and I can teach them about integrity and professional responsibility.  Maybe teaching the content is becoming a smaller and smaller part of what I do.

The problem is not that the students are different, the problem is figuring out how to change what I do so that I can be fulfilled by my job and give them what they need. I am not one to engage in edutainment, I am pretty old school when it comes to teaching and I doubt that is going to change significantly. I need to connect what I can offer to what my students need.  If I can do that I can continue to do what I do at a high level and enjoy it. Something for us all to think about.


Simply the Best

Simply the Best – I’m Naming Names

Who drives you to be the best version of you?

Here is my current top-twelve list of coworkers who push me out of my comfort zone, fire my passion for my field of interest and remind me of my role at GCC. These people probably have no idea that simply by being themselves 100% of the time, they are setting an example and driving people like me to dig down deep and give all of myself all of the time.

In the past couple of weeks, each of these individuals has done something impactful that has helped me reflect on how I can be a better version of myself and ultimately help others to do the same.

Lisa Lewis – She boldly goes where others would falter. She does more work than anyone I know and has never complained once about it. Her work ethic makes me want to work harder. She brings out the best in her students, regardless of their excuses. She sets standards so people will reach higher.

Stephanie Sawyer – She goes and she goes and she goes, and nothing stops her. The ideas keep streaming and she pushes me to think of things in new and refreshing ways.

Alisa Cooper – She makes the most difficult and complicated matters seem simple and achievable. Her smile is contagious and her warmth makes her approachable.

Dr. Kovala – A true leader in a leadership role. I walk away from every encounter with a lesson that can be applied to my life. Just through Write 6×6, I am reminded of the joy of buying a drink for a student and how to be better prepared for a public speaking engagement.

Scott Schulz – A true supporter of dreams. He is approachable and knows when to acknowledge people’s efforts, encouraging self reflection and personal responsibility.

Eric Leshinskie – Willing to help, at the drop of a hat, in matters of grant writing, especially in moments lacking clarity and time.

Tressa Jumps – A real person with big dreams and guts. She is not afraid to laugh at herself. Another living example that it is possible to adapt your comfort zone in order to get the ship going in the right direction.

Mary Lea – The only person I know who can bring calmness and serenity to all circumstances. When life gets stressful, I invoke Mary Lea. She is like a genie in a bottle and always shows up when you need a dose of positivity.

Trisha Thurston – A spirited body who is not afraid of hard work. She brings out the best in people, especially when self doubt is slowing us up.

Nancy Burke – While standing in line at the cafeteria, I observed her as she offered to buy lunch for a member of the military, to thank him for his service. Sometimes we forget to look around and see the people standing in line with us. It’s fun to make someone’s day and take our mind off of our own worries.

Kristin Bennes – She sees a need and she finds a way to make life easier for everyone. She is compassionate and a true listener.

Lindra Fishleder – Game for anything that is going to make a positive difference. Another compassionate soul who builds confidence in others so that they may achieve their dreams without hesitation.

So, who drives you to be the best version of you? Would you be willing to name names?

Who shows bravery when others would throw in the towel?

Who keeps forging ahead despite a million excuses?

Who takes risks in order to help others?

Who sees past self doubt in others and pushes them to be their best?

Who sees a need that nobody else can see?

Who goes at everything with a positive attitude and a sense of humor?

Who sees your abilities and passion before your appearance?

Who finds a way when there is a road block?

Who sends a message of positivity in all of their interactions?

No man, or woman, is an island, and nobody is perfect. By supporting each other and bringing out the best in others, we can spend our days at work the way they are supposed to be spent…filled with passion, living our dream and improving the lives of others in the process.

Don’t see your name on this list? Keep working on the best version of you. You will find yourself on someone’s list!  ;o)


Motivation for Change

This week’s blogging theme is change.  Wait for it…

Tuesday morning, I stepped into the garage, hit the button to open the door, and saw this!  (Disclaimer: This photo was cropped, which caused the snake to look bigger and like I was closer.)


I wasn’t exactly sure what it was because we currently have a rope and bungee cord stuck in a tree in front of our house and the first time I saw them, I thought they were a snake. I walked through the garage as far away from the possible snake as I could and made it to the driveway. At that point, I confirmed it was a snake but since it totally ignored me, I wasn’t sure it was alive. I was fairly certain the scientific method for determining the health status of wild animals is throwing rocks at them, so I did that… but only small rocks because I didn’t want to accidentally hit it and make it squish. When I threw the rocks it didn’t move so I concluded it’s a) got nerves of steel b) a heavy sleeper or c) dead. Since my testing did not result in any conclusive findings, I did what any responsible researcher would do and left my findings to be confirmed by a more qualified researcher (my boyfriend). I trapped the crafty snake faking death in the universal recognized snake-trapping device (pictured below) and went to work.



As a result of this encounter, I have CHANGED the way I enter the garage. Now, I open the garage door (so the light comes on) before stepping into the garage.

Oh… and the snake was dead. My boyfriend removed it from the garage using his 4-iron.