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August 29, 2019

Dr. Larson’s Fall 2019 Colloquium Remarks

OCC President Dr. Larson

Ocean County College
Navigating the Future: Six Data Driven Priorities

Jon H. Larson, President
August 29, 2019

Good morning and welcome to our fifty-fourth Fall Semester!

Thank you, Dr. Clay, for opening our program, as usual, with charm, good humor, and elegance.

We begin by inviting everyone to join in welcoming distinguished members of our Board of Trustees who have once again honored us with their presence today.  Please give a warm welcome to:

Board of Trustees Chair Van Thulin and his lovely wife Kathleen;
Vice Chair of the Board Linda Novak;
We thank each of you for joining us today.
Please also acknowledge our interpreters, Peg Jackowsky and Christine Martin.

The subscript to the title of my 2019 Fall Colloquium remarks, a quote from an address by President Woodrow Wilson, evokes the moral vision of the future inherent in our College Mission Statement.  He said:

“You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.” 

Woodrow Wilson

Our College Vision Statement lays out our aspiration as an academic institution.  As you have all now, I am sure, committed to memory, it is:

“Ocean County College will be the boldest, most creative, most innovative, most entrepreneurial student-centered College in America and, by pioneering community college education internationally, will be a new prototype for global education.”

My goal is to link our focus on today’s Colloquium topics on data driven decision making to the high aspiration of our Vision Statement. But, more so, to make a case for the moral imperative, a guiding principle that underlies our mission as a community college – one we all, to some degree, ascribe to as academics, as leaders, as trustees, as student affairs professionals.  We are advocates for the student.

The community college, uniquely among higher education institutions, reaches out in every conceivable way to help every student succeed, academically, socially, economically.  We strive to guide and assist every student, regardless of ability or means, to achieve a successful life.

In the crush of everyday demands, it is too easy to overlook the remarkable and unique character of the commitment we make when we come to work at a community college.

It is the commitment to do good for others.  Ours is a “do-gooder” mission and is thus axiomatic that we are all, more or less, “do-gooders”!

The foundation stone of that mission is the moral imperative to, at all times, keep foremost in mind, in all our dealings, that we are committed to standing up as an illustrative example of a socially responsible educational enterprise.

Now, that is a challenging mandate and charge to accept and internalize and embed into our day-to-day outlook.  We have made some excellent steps to implement the virtuous aims of our calling with ‘The Ocean Way’ program.  The program supports the College’s Strategies for Success, specifically:

  • Strategy #2, Build resilience through innovation, reinvention, and new programs; and
  • Strategy #5, Create a highly effective, challenging, supportive, and sustainable work environment.

But, I believe we need to acknowledge that commitment explicitly and more ubiquitously.  Please permit me to elaborate a bit.

There is afoot in the corporate world a ground-breaking change in the principal value private companies in America historically believed was their primary goal.  That was captured in the phrase, “maximizing shareholder value.” In other words, corporate leaders sought first and foremost to serve the financial interests of their investors – the company’s stock and bond holders.

What several hundred presidents and boards of America’s largest business entities have issued recently is a pledge signed by their Presidents and Directors to conduct their businesses with the aim of serving the interests of all U.S citizens.  While they are not renouncing their responsibility to generate profits, they are stating that the uses of those profits will be more socially-responsible than merely enriching their shareholders.  This development is driven by a number of things, including the vast gap between the compensation of corporate CEO’s and the average compensation of their company’s employees – in some cases several thousand times greater than the average employee salary and benefits.

From time to time I like to take stock in my own situation.  One of those is pretty basic.  Like Willie Nelson, I do a periodic check to see if I’m still standing upright on the ground and seem to have reasonable control of my senses.  Like Willie, it’s good to know that “I ain’t dead yet, again today.”  Not really, just throwing in a little country music humor, folks …

But, like all higher education institution presidents, my compensation is a lot higher than that of the average full-time OCC employee.  But relative to that ratio at senior universities and corporations, community college presidential compensation is very modest.  In our case, we do not have to issue a statement that we have now decided to care about our customers and our community.  Community focus and engagement is in our community college DNA.  And that commitment stems from volition, enshrined in our mission statement. It is what John Adams referred to as the motivation to act ‘virtuously.’

Our Colloquium topics for our breakout sessions are a collective reflection of what is right about Ocean County College.  The presenters, volunteers all, illustrate competence, objectivity, fairness, empathy, and commitment to our mission.  In short, using data science to enable the world we serve ‘to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement.’  All of our working session leaders are doing their part ‘to enrich the world.’

Doesn’t that make you feel good?

I was talking with Connie Bello last week prior to the Board of Trustees meeting and with several members of our Board about the report I provide each month on achievements by our talented faculty and staff and our outstanding students.  I think this month’s report, which Connie has edited as long as I have been President, was thirteen pages long and filled with examples of our OCC team ‘doing good.’  This is truly an impressive list of achievements.  Together they comprise an incredible tribute to each of you who have contributed.

That report regularly mentions our activities in Egypt.  Now and then I still get questions from those outside our campus about why we are in Egypt.  They come mainly from those who think we should just stay in our lane and only bring hope and promise of achievement and a better life to Ocean County residents.  But, we know why we are there … ‘to help the world live more amply, with greater vision, and a finer spirit of hope and achievement.’  It is that simple.

Our efforts in Egypt reflect the state of readiness of this great institution to do what no other community college has ever done, and, at the same time, just as corporate America is doing simultaneously with serving the broader aims of social justice, we are being mindful of shareholder value.

Our ‘shareholders’ are all around us in Ocean County – the Board of Chosen Freeholders, the K-12 school districts and their students, the families who pay tuition for their children to attend OCC, the businesses and municipalities that are vital to the economy of our region.  And, not least of all, our own employees whose welfare can be materially enhanced with the returns on these investments in internationalizing our mission.

And, I emphasize, we serve our stakeholders well when we generate net revenue through international education programs, such as our partnering with Egyptian universities and the national government of Egypt.  These efforts:

  • Will enable us to make our campus the most beautiful, welcoming, efficient, and spacious in New Jersey,
  • Will assist us in offering better pay and benefits to our employees,
  • Will allow us to become a model of advanced A/I and G-5 technological applications, possibly becoming a “smart campus,”
  • Will oblige us to become a world leader in instructional applied science and technology disciplines, and
  • Will possibly enable us to advance in rankings from the top 100 to the top 10, and one day to the #1 place among all U.S community colleges!

We have developed models that work and will be transferrable to other countries in the Middle East, some Baltic republics, and perhaps some Asian countries as well.

How did this happen?  In part, this is a classic case of need meeting opportunity.  Egypt, like many other countries, needs to elevate the education levels of a much greater percentage of its population to be competitive in the global economy.  We were ready and able to help.

Our stakeholders often ask why other colleges do not do what we are doing.  I believe there is a confluence of many factors that we have operational here that few other venues have.  The main current of thinking here in Ocean County is supportive of our institution, whether from our Board of Trustees, our Freeholders, our State government leaders, our public school system, our community members, or above all, from our talented OCC team of educators and leaders.  We also have a unified vision and high standards that allow us to focus, undistracted, on our work.

We have few disruptions in the key elements necessary to allow us to reach out and take reasonable risks.  Many, if not most, of our peers do not have the happy aggregation of the requisite precursors to success that make it possible, especially including a vision that drives us to excel and experiment and explore and innovate.

We are blessed to have visionary leaders at every level.  Dr. Konopka in academics, Vice President Winchester in finance, Dr. Racioppi in student affairs, and Hatem Akl in e-Learning each contribute to making our aspiration a reality.  We are presently trying to assess whether innovation and entrepreneurship should be a seventh pillar supporting our long-term future, or whether these mindsets and skills are a kind of over-arching cultural umbrella that we should embrace and embed in each of the six long-term developmental emphases we have already identified:

  • Health Care
  • Technology (as a regional demonstration hub)
  • The Arts and Humanities
  • E-Learning
  • Applied Science and Technology Disciplines, and
  • International Education.

We invite each of you to join in both defining these planning and development foundations and in engaging in the tremendous array of projects and opportunities to stretch, renew, create, and explore as we continue to grow and expand.  We want you to ‘ask not what your College can do for you, but what you can do for your College.’  (Apologies to JFK)

So, what can you do?

  • Be a study abroad leader taking our students to experience another country’s history, culture, food, architecture, religion, and music,
  • Sign up for a Fulbright-funded two-week seminar in Russia,
  • Become an NJ Learns instructor and help us bring this digital platform to 18 other NJ community colleges and their K-12 school districts,
  • Offer project learning seminars in our K-12 professional development academy, using your expertise to bring public school teachers to our campus,
  • Offer personal enrichment courses through CPE that bring adult learners to our beautiful campus,
  • Join AJ Trump and the Hubsters on recruiting trips to Ocean County school districts and share your knowledge in a snippet of what gives a glimpse of the college classroom experience,
  • Be a subject matter expert as we develop online courses using OER (Open Educational Resources),
  • Teach an accelerated term, quick term, or semester in Egypt,
  • Help train Egyptian professors how to teach the OCC way, with the flipped classroom, master course on line, in a face-to-face cohort emphasizing active project learning,
  • Become a mentor for students who need guidance,
  • Join the Makers Club and build a hydroponic garden, create textiles, and utilize a 3-D printer to fabricate useful, affordable goods, helping students acquire knowledge and entrepreneurial skills,
  • Participate in the OCC Leadership and Management Academies,
  • Write an Op-Ed piece on a topic of relevance to our stakeholders.

Why, you ask yourself, should I do these things? Because they are fun, refreshing, energizing; but, more importantly, because:

“You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.”

Woodrow Wilson

We can and should renew our vows of social responsibility to our mutual benefit from time to time.

Today, we offer three sets of 45-minute concurrent workshops that highlight ways that data can drive successful planning and future development of Ocean County College.  These workshops deal with micro-level uses of data to illustrate the value of data science, or data analytics, basically the use of statistics to analyze problems and discover emerging patterns that inform and guide effective decision making.

My remarks today have emphasized macro level uses of data to structure our strategies for the future.  We need a clear, coherent, and readily understood approach to long-term growth and development of the College.  Doing so gives direction and enables us to structure and bring into sharp focus what we need to do with data science at the micro level of application to better understand what works and how to improve the already large and ever-growing list of projects, programs, initiatives, and services we manage as an institution.

I hope you have found this discussion of them interesting.  I look forward to discussing with each of you how we might advance the fortunes of our wonderful College.  I’ll be scheduling some roundtable discussion opportunities to pursue these thoughts through the Fall Semester.  I hope you’ll join me.

Thank you for your kind and courteous attention.

I would now like to highlight some of the many wonderful things happening at Ocean County College.

Dr. Joseph Konopka, Vice President of Academic Affairs, reports the following:

  • 120 Nursing program graduates took the licensure examination during the first two quarters of 2019; the pass rate of 97.5% continues to be above the national average. Job placement rates for nursing graduates remains at 100%.
  • The Arts on Campus project was installed on the third floor of the Instructional Building. The hallways feature amazing student artwork and literary quotes.  Students, faculty, and visitors have commented positively on the vibrant transformation of the hallway space.
  • In conjunction with the Barnegat Bay Partnership program, the School of STEM’s Makerspace installed an enhanced water quality monitoring system in the Barnegat Bay. The project was expanded to provide Engineering students with a real-world application for their group project.  The Engineering department also provided consulting services by troubleshooting a design flaw in the sensor’s electronics.
  • STEM will be offering the first-ever Science Study Abroad trip to Italy during the Winter Intersession.  Students will be visiting structures such as Brunelleschi’s Dome, built with the mathematics of the Renaissance.  Our students will study Leonardo Da Vinci and Galileo’s works through museum exhibits, bringing to life right before their eyes inventions that changed the world.
  • In its quest to train the next generation of Addiction Counselors and to educate the community in light of the opioid crisis, the Social Sciences Department sponsored a number of events, including an all-day Third Annual Addictions Substance Abuse Summit, where experts in government, law enforcement, education, healthcare, and substance abuse counseling spoke about the ongoing opioid epidemic.
  • Twenty-two students from Lacey Township High School, who were enrolled in the Early College Program, graduated in May, and all have been accepted to four-year colleges. The College Readiness Now V Program worked with over 1,300 high school students during the 2018-2019 academic year; 620 of the students applied to OCC and 420 enrolled.  This fall semester, OCC will offer at least one course in every high school in Ocean County, including Donovan Catholic.
  • In April 2019, the College presented a mixed media installation of student work on the topic of ‘Encouraging Equity Awareness.” Students created works in a diverse range of mediums, including art work, photography, graphic design, essays, poetry, and visual projects, which were presented using remarkable displays that were designed and built by our faculty and students from the Makers Club.
  • The OCC Professional Development Academy has brought over 700 teachers from our K-12 partners to our campus for workshops, many of whom have never been here. The STEM Academy Steering Committee is working on the development of a STEM Academy here at OCC for high school students.
  • The Virtual Academic Library Environment in New Jersey, commonly known as VALE, selected Library College Lecturer II Janet Marler to be one of four VALE OER Ambassadors for New Jersey. She will be one of the leaders for the OER initiative at OCC.

From Business and Administration, Executive Vice President Sara Winchester, shares:

  • Through a collaboration among Academic Affairs, College Relations, and IT, a new digital College Catalog has been developed.  The new catalog features multiple search options, degree and certificate requirements, and links to course descriptions.  The catalog will provide students, faculty, and staff with quick online access to the most current programs and courses, as well as academic policies and procedures.
  • OCC has been awarded a $2,241,257 Title III grant for the period of October 1, 2018, through September 30, 2023. Funding will be used to:
    • Enhance student success and retention through improved academic advising, support services, and an early alert system;
    • Initiate coaching for pre-nursing students as well as expand degree offerings in the health sciences field;
    • Improve instruction through structured and expanded faculty development opportunities; and
    • Strengthen fiscal stability by increasing enrollment and retention.
    • The New Jersey Community College Opportunity Grant has been renewed for the upcoming academic year with some important changes to make funding more accessible to our students. The grant will cover the full cost of tuition for up to 18 credits, including approved fees.  Students must enroll for a minimum of 6 credits and have an adjusted gross income of no more than $65,000.
  • Facilities has been extremely busy the last several months:
    • The replacement of the Instructional Building roof is complete, and the building will be construction-free and fully in use this semester.
    • The demolition of the old College Center is nearly complete. It will make way for a new Student Enrollment Building that is currently in the final stages of design.
    • The old bookstore will soon be transformed into a Conference Center to provide meeting space for external and internal users offering a conference room, two breakout rooms, a public lobby, and offices for the Barnegat Bay Partnership. The anticipated project completion date is summer of 2020.
    • Work is nearly complete to improve the air conditioning and heating quality in the Grunin Black Box.
    • The Central Plant’s chilled and hot water piping has been replaced throughout campus.
    • The brick wall in front of the W. Kable Russell Building was demolished. The concrete has been replaced, and new benches are being installed, as requested by students.
    • Six new trees were planted on the hill of the Health and Human Performance Center to add shade and beauty to the campus. Other trees are being replaced.  At the Southern Educational Center, the Judith Icklan Memorial Garden was revitalized with help from Cub Scouts Pack 61.
  • In July, OCC hosted a celebratory reception for almost 100 W.O.W. Award Recipients from all areas of the campus who exemplify the tenets of The Ocean Way. We are very proud of these employees and their contributions to our campus and to our students.
  • The Wintrode Family Foundation provided financial support that allowed the Grunin Center to offer free shows to CPE summer campers. The Grunin Center hosted over 3,000 campers from across Ocean County this summer.
  • Free tickets are available for the opening night of the Blauvelt Speaker Series. Former Secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, will speak on a range of topics on Thursday, September 12, at 5 p.m. in the Grunin Center.
  • Twenty-six students received high school equivalency diplomas on June 12 through the OCC Achievement Center/CPE. A commencement ceremony was held on campus.  Eleven of the students also completed their first college course, taught by Dr. Henry Jackson.   All of these students dropped out of high school and are now prepared to continue to earn an OCC associate degree.

Vice President Jerry Racioppi reports the Division of Student Affairs had a great year.  Many of their strategic objectives were achieved, resulting in excellent outcomes and reports.  Here are some highlights from this past year:

  • In terms of enrollment, OCC was one of only a few New Jersey community colleges that posted enrollment gains for the 2018-2019 school year. The staff and administrators of Student Affairs were important contributors to this result.
  • The HUB implemented Q-Less, a line management system allowing students to be triaged more effectively and wait for services in a virtual instead of a physical line. The system provides in-depth analytics, including wait and transaction times and the number of students served (just last week it was 540 students in-person alone).  Our Chat-Bot, Reggie, continues to work hard for OCC, helping to enroll and retain students, reaching out to over 30,000 students in the last six months.  Along with Reggie, the HUB has been on-boarding new students via phone and email, as well as in person, and has been able to yield almost 12.5% of leads from the marketing campaigns, about 4.5% higher than the national conversion rates for community colleges nationally.
  • The Admissions Department, in partnership with 12 Ocean County high schools and staff from Advising, Financial Aid, and College Readiness, delivered the College Pathways program this past year. The program takes the entire senior class through the complete process of becoming an OCC student.  As of yesterday, there were 154 more high school graduates registered at OCC from Ocean County high schools than at the same time last year, despite the fact there were fewer high school graduates this year.
  • The Athletics Program had another successful year, with the Men’s Tennis and Cross-Country teams finishing 4th in the country at national competitions. Academically, eight OCC student athletes earned 4.0 GPAs while competing in their seasons.  In addition, the NJCAA recognized the Men’s Lacrosse and Men’s Cross-Country teams as having the highest team GPAs in the nation.  That is quite impressive!
  • The Tutoring Center had 2,235 more visits to its beautiful new center this year than in the previous year. This represents 33% growth in usage of the Center.
  • Institutional Research staff completed a study of the Student Success Seminar this summer. They found statistically significant, positive relationships among completion of the Student Success course and student grade point average, the number of credits students completed over the course of the year, and student persistence to enroll at OCC for the semester following the course.  These findings show the positive effect of the Student Success Seminar on student success and retention outcomes.
  • Student Life is implementing a new OCC app allowing a way for students to interact with our campus. The app launched this summer, and there have already been over 1,300 downloads.  It allows students access to all aspects of the campus, events, clubs, and many more student information features.  We expect that this new communication tool will help many more students become engaged with the campus.  You can download it to a smart phone from the iTunes store or from Google play.  Just search Ocean County College.
  • The advising pilot continues to yield impressive retention results. Students who are in the experimental group continue to be retained at rates higher than the control group. Many thanks to the 22 volunteers across the campus who continue to serve these students.  As a result of the continued success of the initiative, which features proactive communication and regular check-ins throughout the semester, the Advising Office is launching an initiative to continue the same approach using full-time advisors this Fall.  Over 1,000 of our new students will be advised in this way this year.  We expect to see higher rates of retention from this group as a result.

e-Learning Interim Associate Vice President Hatem Akl summarized e-Learning activities:

  • To meet the continuing demand for online courses, 30 new online adjunct faculty have been hired, and an Open House will be offered on January 8, 2020, to expand recruitment outside the county and the state.
  • All online instructors teaching this fall have completed Online Instructor Training. A self-paced version of the training will be available in January 2020.  Master Course Developer Training is now self-paced and must be completed by all Subject Matter Experts who develop or review online master courses.
  • The Center for Instructional Empowerment is now available in Canvas to assist face-to-face and distance learning instructors prepare and teach successfully. Open forums relating to specific academic disciplines will be offered.  Eric Daniels, Educational Technologist, is available to assist faculty and lecturers.
  • Progress continues in developing new online courses; 10 are available for this fall, 7 will be ready for spring 2020, and 6 for summer 2020. e-Learning has also collaborated with Continuing Education to create a self-paced version of Elementary Spanish I, which will be offered this fall semester.
  • The use of Examity Online Proctoring continues to expand. Selected exams will be using Auto-Proctoring, which will require students to undergo an identity verification process and have their exams recorded, which will then be reviewed for suspicious behavior.
  • The OCC/Ain Shams/Kean program is now in its 4th Forty-one Cohort 1 students graduated from OCC with Associate in Science, Business Administration degrees; 11 of these students attended the OCC graduation in May and began the first term of their senior year at Kean online.
  • Work continues with NJIT and Tatweer Misr to establish a STEM-focused private university in Egypt. Some of the updates on this project include:
  • A Middle States substantive change application is being developed.
  • A plan describing the International Branch Campus project will be submitted to the New Jersey Secretary of Higher Education.
  • An International Branch Campus application, required by the Egyptian government, is being completed in collaboration with NJIT.
  • The American Community College project in Egypt is moving forward:
  • All pilot programs are ready.
  • An unsolicited grant proposal is being developed to submit to USAID for support of the American Community College project.
  • The team drafted course sequences and protocols for the Presidents of Ain Shams University, Helwan University, and Alexandria University to sign during our visit to Egypt from September 3 to 15. During the visit, the OCC team will:
  • Visit the American Community College pilot sites at Ain Shams University, Helwan University, South Valley University, and Alexandria University.
  • Meet with Dr. Ahmed Shalaby, Managing Director of Tatweer Misr, and his team to advance collaborative efforts.
  • Visit Badr University, a private university in Cairo, to continue discussions with Dr. Hasan El Kalla, Chair of the Board of Trustees, who visited OCC earlier this month and discussed potential collaborations with OCC.

So much is underway to promote Ocean County College, expand its reach, and, most importantly, serve the students.  I thank each of you for all you do to ‘enrich the world.’ Isn’t this an amazing variety of accomplishments?  Please give a round of applause for our entire OCC team!

Now, at this time, I would like to ask the vice presidents and Alexa Beshara-Blauth to stand to introduce their new employees hired since our Spring Colloquium as well as to recognize current employees with new titles and responsibilities.  As your name is called, please make your way to the front of the theatre.

  • Sara Winchester
  • Gerry Racioppi
  • Joe Konopka
  • Hatem Akl, and
  • Alexa Beshara-Blauth

Thank you all, ladies and gentlemen.  We appreciate your courteous attention.  Have a great Colloquium day!

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