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September 3, 2021

Dr. Larson’s Fall 2021 Colloquium Remarks

Good Morning!  Welcome to the Fall Semester, 2021!  I am delighted to see all of you here today, back on campus and ready to resume in-person teaching and services.

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

Please also acknowledge our interpreters, Kathy Crawford and Sheila Eletto.

I want to begin our program by welcoming the distinguished members of our Board of Trustees who have joined us here.  Please give a warm welcome to:

Board of Trustees Chair Van Thulin;

Vice Chair of the Board Linda Novak;

We thank you for being here today.

Our Return to Campus Committee has worked diligently throughout the 17-month hiatus of the COVID 19 pandemic shutdown to prepare for today and the weeks and months ahead.  Thank you to all the Committee members and those of you who asked good, penetrating questions and offered potential solutions that have enabled the resumption of semi-normalcy.

We are continuing to monitor the COVID infection rates in Ocean County.  The trajectory of cases should decline with more and more people being vaccinated; but, if it does not, or if it worsens significantly, we are prepared to take additional measures to assure our college community that we are taking the Delta Variant virus threat seriously.

Significant study evidence confirms that recipients of the U.S. pharmaceutical company vaccines acquire antibodies providing substantial protection from the Delta Variant and Alpha Variant.

The Ocean County Department of Health will continue offering COVID testing and vaccinations on campus in the large tent in Parking Lot 3 through the Fall.

Booster shots will become available at the RWJBarnabas Health Arena at Toms River North in September and October.  We will keep our entire college community updated on how to obtain an appointment for the booster shot.

The College will continue the health protocols for cleaning, mask-wearing, feasible physical distancing, quarantining/contact tracing, and COVID symptoms health checklist postings to raise awareness among all students, faculty, and staff in accordance with the Department of Health guidelines; and, we will continue to urge the unvaccinated and those without natural immunity from previously contracting the COVID disease to become vaccinated.

We are living in extraordinary times; but, this too shall pass, and we will see brighter days ahead.  In the breakout sessions today, you will learn of some of the incredible new initiatives, innovations, and opportunities our future holds.

Meanwhile, as we navigate the ebb and flow of the pandemic and strive to adapt and change with the times, let us not fail to remember why we all chose this business of teaching, learning, leading, and becoming, which is the true path to sustaining a genuine community.

Some of you may know I am a devotee of Emerson aphorisms. I’ve often attached to my email messages one that seems to fit our present situation as we ‘flex into the future.’

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

Given the significantly declining trend line in high school graduations in the U.S. over the next decade, all institutions of higher education will be severely challenged to avoid precipitous enrollment declines.  Moreover, enrollment growth will be but a fleeting mirage for those that do not change, adapt, and master disruptive innovations. If they always do what they always did, they will always get want they always got … only less!

Ralph Waldo also wrote, “This time, like all times, is a very good time, if we but know what to do with it.”

As you go about attending the workshops today, I want you to ponder Emerson’s maxim and try to imagine how we can make our time ‘a very good time.’  How can we come to know ‘what to do with it?’

On Tuesday, the Guiding Coalition member leaders presented the annual update on our strategic plan to achieve our ambitious Mission, to be … “an innovative academic leader, providing affordable, student centered, high quality educational experiences that empower diverse learners to succeed.”

As well as to live up to our Vision statement as we strive to … “be the boldest, most innovative and entrepreneurial, student centered college in the nation” … “promoting, exemplary learning experiences” … and advancing, “community college education internationally.”

I am optimistic that we can achieve our Mission and live up to the aspirations of our Vision not least because we have delegated to the Guiding Coalition members the crucial oversight role of inspecting our progress in realizing our expectations.

I thank the Guiding Coalition members and Co-Chairs, Jackie D’Amore and Anthony Jordan, for doing this most important work so very well.

But, the principal reason for all of us to be optimists is the totality of our situation here in Ocean County, one of the most beautiful places on the globe in which to live.

We should always be thankful for the support we receive from our stakeholders, the people who trust us and admire the quality of everything we do at Ocean County College.  Our County Commissioners (formerly Freeholders) have been the most generous local sponsor of all 18 county colleges in New Jersey, by far.  We have extraordinary support from all County government departments and agencies, as well as our friends in law enforcement, particularly Sheriff Mike Mastronardy and his officers, Chief Mitch Little and the Toms River Police Department, and our County Prosecutor, Bradley Bilheimer, who taught at OCC as an adjunct faculty member for many years in our outstanding Criminal Justice program.

Our OCC Foundation Board and Executive Director are wonderful partners who are deeply committed to making the College the absolute best community college in America.

Our incredibly generous philanthropic donor community has made it possible for OCC to be the cultural center of Toms River and the entire County.

Historically, our Board of Trustees has been a stable, steadying influence at OCC for 56 years.  Our current Board members are role models of civility, collaboration, thoughtful questioners, and stalwart defenders of all of us who are employees.  There is no contentiousness among out trustees who are each outstanding citizens and personal successes in their own lives.

But, of all the contributors to our wonderful College, none are more important to our past and future success than you, our faculty, staff, and administrative colleagues.  Each month as our President’s Office staff, Connie Bello, Jodi Heitmann, and Dottie LaPosa, assemble our Board Agenda and Exhibits, I marvel at the extraordinary achievements that are chronicled therein.

The document is about 20 pages of marvelous examples of what highly talented and dedicated employees can accomplish, when they have effective leaders like Sara Winchester, Joe Konopka, Jerry Racioppi, and Eileen Garcia and the teams that second them and drive us to achieve.

Yes, it’s you I’m talking about, folks.  You are the catalysts, the self-starters, the disruptive innovators, the ones with imagination and persistence, who learn from failures and keep on trying.  Collectively, you are our energy!

I thank each and every one of you for all you have done during this taxing, trying, enervating time of the COVID pandemic.  Thank you.

Now, before I break out into the Halleluiah Chorus, let us pause to recognize some of our new talent and some who have new positions at the College.

I ask our terrific Associate Vice President for Human Resources, Tracey Donaldson, to do the employee recognition honors.

Thank you, Tracey, and congratulations to all our new employees and continuing employees with new responsibilities!

During the pandemic, we found that the College was able to continue operating and serve its students successfully and effectively, but, at the same time, we were reminded of the need for and importance of our daily interaction on a personal level.  There is no substitute for personal communication, so I am very happy to see everyone this morning.

I recognize it was very often challenging, but, without exception, you rose to the occasion.  I truly believe Ocean County College fared exceptionally well in comparison to other colleges and universities.  Our technology was already robust, our e-Learning courses and programs were strong and plentiful, and everyone was willing to do whatever it took to make it work.  For that, you have my deepest appreciation.

I would be remiss if I didn’t, at the same time, acknowledge and express gratitude to those employees who were on campus for the full year and a half doing the essential work that needed to be done.  While the majority of the College transitioned to remote work in March 2020, it is important to note that several departments continued to work on campus throughout the pandemic.  Their presence on campus allowed all of us to fulfill our own responsibilities.

From the Student Affairs area, there are many people in Student Life and Athletics who went above and beyond during remote operations by coming to the campus every day to serve students who visited the campus looking for help.  Those from Student Life are Jen Fazio, Director; Alison Noone, Assistant Director; Allison Irwin, Senior Student Services Technician; and Neal McHale, Student Life Coordinator.  From Athletics were Ilene Cohen, Executive Director; Trish Carroll, Assistant Director; Scott Royer, Adjunct Professor; Kevin Byrne, Athletics Technical Coordinator, and Darlene LaMonica, Office Coordinator.  While here working remotely from the box office, they assisted students who were picking up books, lab kits, food from the food pantry, and other items.  They also found time to volunteer as academic advisors, and they helped the HUB make phone calls and answer emails.   Their work made a significant difference in many areas outside their normal scope of responsibilities.

  • Accolades are extended to Dr. Tracy Walsh, Dean of the School of Nursing and Health Sciences, her staff, lecturers, and clinical instructors for meeting all of the necessary requirements to bring students back to campus during a time of uncertainty and difficulty.
  • The IT Department staff, led by CIO, JR Ross, made the transition to remote instruction and remote business processes possible. The IT staff was on campus every day, working behind the scenes to upgrade systems and provide the tools needed to support the pivot to remote operations.
  • VPN access was quickly provided to all staff requiring access to internal campus systems by Sean O’Leary, Technical Director; Ben Broder, Lead Network and Information Security Administrator; and Steven Myszka, Network and Systems Administrator.
  • Kirk Humphreys, Telecommunications Administrator, was responsible for the successful deployment of softphone technology enabling the HUB and additional staff access to support communication with students.
  • Erich Carstens, Assistant Director, User Services, and the entire user services team, Bob Herbst, Nicole Wehnke, and Tom Van Duyne, worked diligently to provide equipment to faculty, staff, and students.
  • Kevin Braendly, Audio Visual Support Coordinator, Ryan Kelly, Help Desk Technician, and Erich Carstens provided intense Webex support to faculty and students during the transition to remote instruction.
  • Tom Murasky, Virtual Desktop Administrator, Steven Myszka, and Erich Carstens also spent a great deal of time and effort preparing the new virtual environment for the new Student Enrollment Building.
  • Patrick Stivale, Senior Network and Systems Administrator, provided complete support for Office 365 and the transition from Skype to Microsoft Teams for internal communications.
  • Anthony Jordan, Enterprise Applications Director; Joe Pelkey, Senior Programmer Analyst; Stefan DeRosa, Programmer Analyst; and Erich Carstens provided Colleague and Perceptive support to users, facilitated Canvas integration with Webex, and supported the implementation of additional Self-Service functionality, electronic document attachment, and streamlining processes.
  • The IT staff continues to work diligently to upgrade the equipment and ensure that the technology on campus meets the needs of the campus community.
  • The Facilities and Security Departments also continued to work on campus throughout the pandemic. Before his retirement on June 30, 2021, Matthew Kennedy, Associate Vice President of Facilities, Management, and Construction, along with James Calamia, now the Interim Associate Vice President, oversaw the continued maintenance of the campus and sustained a safe environment for everyone on campus.
  • Custodial cleaning protocols were enhanced and HVAC systems were upgraded. In addition, many projects were completed while the campus was largely unoccupied and their efforts, along with those of Ryan Ward, Senior Project Manager, and Jon Ross, Assistant Director of Custodian and Land Services, have resulted in an even more beautiful and functional campus to be enjoyed by us all this Fall.
  • During the pandemic, the Security Department, led by John Lopez, Director of Security, patrolled the campus every day, 24/7. Security Officers manned the check-in stations and ensured a professional presence was maintained on campus at all times.  Security, along with Facilities, worked closely with the County of Ocean to facilitate the testing and vaccination clinics that operated on the OCC campus, first indoors in the Gateway Building and currently in Parking Lot 3.
  • Workforce and Professional Education, led by Kaitlyn Everett, provided on-campus instruction during the pandemic for programs that had components that could not be successfully delivered remotely. The WPE Building was open and the staff worked closely with Security and Facilities to provide a safe environment for all.
  • Under the direction of Tracey Donaldson, Associate Vice President of Human Resources, COVID-19 reporting protocols and subsequent actions were developed and implemented. Exposures and positive COVID-19 tests are reported to  Direction is then provided to employees and students in accordance with the most current information from the New Jersey Department of Health.  The Human Resources Department has successfully implemented a process for reporting, tracking, quarantining, and record-keeping of COVID-19 cases for Ocean County College that will continue to be used this Fall semester.
  • Many business processes that we take for granted were challenging to convert to a remote environment:
    • Most Accounting Office functions were transitioned to paperless, remote operations under the leadership of Mary Lancaster, Controller; Kathleen Higham, Director of Financial Reporting; and Angela Stephens, Bursar.
    • Importantly, the Payroll staff, Sui Lee Gong, Payroll Specialist; Melissa Bedford, Confidential Payroll Technician; Judith Gasarowski, Accounting and Payroll Associate; and Margaret Mifflin, Temporary Confidential Payroll Technician, found a way to ensure that every payroll was processed on time, whether it meant coming in to campus or spending extra time from home making sure every process ran correctly. Staff members came to campus each week to ensure that checks mailed to the campus were processed and student refund checks were issued on time.
    • The Purchasing and Payables Department, led by Christine Healey, Director of Purchasing and Payables, did outstanding work adapting all purchasing processes to a remote environment where all purchase orders and contracts are now issued and signed electronically. Vendors have signed up online in large numbers to accept e-check payments. The recent rollout of Ellucian’s newly offered Self-Service Procurement and file attachment functionality allows all departments to submit their requested purchases with more ease and efficiency.
    • Matt Banner again has used his skills to produce training videos to assist departments with utilizing the new Self-Service offerings.  He has also creatively configured the office’s Adobe Sign application to streamline the approval workflow for Board items to be placed on the Board Agenda.
    • The Payables staff, Senior Accounts Payable Technician Bridget Durbin, and Principal Bookkeeper Cynthia Fleureton, came to campus on a regular basis to ensure that all OCC bills were paid on time.

Please join me in thanking all of our colleagues for their steadfast service during sometimes uncertain pandemic conditions and implications.  Would those who came to campus throughout the pandemic to continue their responsibilities please stand up.  Thank you all for going above and beyond!

Today, we are offering four 75-minute concurrent workshops, each of which will be offered twice, that highlight our efforts for innovative outreach to retain current students and attract new ones, locally, nationally, and internationally.  These are exciting initiatives that will be shared with you at the workshops beginning at 10:15 a.m. and repeating at 11:45 a.m.  They are:

  • New Retention Initiative, presented by Sheenah Hartigan, Kate Mohr, and Dr. Jerry Racioppi;
  • Lead, Innovate, Learn – Flex to the Future at OCC, with Dr. Sylvia Riviello and Dr. Amir Sadrian presenting;
  • Innovations to Maximize Affordability: 3+1 and 3+2 Programming, presented by Dr. Rosann Bar, Susan O’Connor, and Eileen Schilling; and
  • International Degree-Granting Partnerships – New Jersey Footprints in Egypt, with Dr. Tamara Cunningham, Associate Vice President for Global Initiatives at New Jersey City University, Dr. Maysa Hayward, and Dr. Howaida Wahby Eraky

Now, let me share with you some of the many College activities and achievements:

Middle States Co-Chairs Dr. Alexa Beshara-Blauth, Executive Director of Institutional Planning, Effectiveness, and Compliance, and Heidi Sheridan, Dean of the School of Arts and Humanities, report that the Self-Study Working Groups submitted their chapter outlines, the Steering Committee reviewed them, and feedback was provided.  In September, each Working Group will officially begin writing its chapter and provide an update on progress in October.  The Co-Chairs are pleased to report that the Self-Study process is moving along well and on schedule.

In Student Affairs, Dr. Jerry Racioppi and his staff continue their efforts to deliver superior experiences and services to our prospective, current, and new students.

  • In March of 2020, Student Affairs was tasked with reinventing its procedures and processes to assist our students in a new remote environment. During the year, there was great success in the areas of both student engagement on the app and an increase in the number of first-time students enrolled, at a time when the average community college in the United States experienced massive decreases in the size of their freshman classes.
  • At the end of June 2021, Fall enrollment was -14% as compared to the previous year. Today our enrollment situation has improved significantly; we are now at -6.3%.  The areas of the student body that are contributing to this decrease are the continuing students and non-degree seeking students.  We are performing well in other areas; in fact, re-enrollment of stop-out students is up 37% from last year, and this week we matched our 2017 year-end yield of recent high school graduates.
  • The Student Affairs Division is focusing on student retention and engagement. One of the highlights is the amazing performance and student engagement on the OCC app.  Thanks to the efforts of Jen Fazio and Alison Noone, students use the app with remarkable frequency to chat with one another, to research opportunities for club involvement, and for many other activities.  Just during the Spring 2021 semester, the app was opened a staggering 89,285 times.  The app continues to provide the opportunity for on-campus students to easily interact and attend events with students of diverse backgrounds and from around the world.
  • The College was awarded two significant grants this year focused on retention of students. The $80,000 Hunger-Free Campus Grant from the State of New Jersey is intended to expand the services and operations of Helping Hands, the food pantry for the campus community.  Through Helping Hands and the resources now available through the Hunger-Free Campus Grant program, the College is equipped like never before to combat food insecurity and support our students’ basic needs.
  • Thanks to the efforts of Dr. AJ Trump, Kayci Clayton, and GI Jobs 2021 Veteran Champion of the Year in Higher Education, Ryan Luurtsema, OCC has been awarded the Center of Excellence for Veteran Student Success Grant by the Department of Education. This $444,000 grant provides resources and staff to OCC for services, events, and engagement opportunities intended to increase veteran- and military-affiliated student retention and graduation rates.  The grant goals also include support for recruiting activities.  The grant was awarded to 11 institutions nationwide, and OCC is the only community college to be awarded.  An added accolade is that OCC’s application was the top-rated application in the grant pool.  How about that?!
  • A new exciting program designed to help improve retention has sprung from a partnership between the staff of the Counseling Center and the OCC Foundation. Thanks to the generosity of the Foundation, students on Academic Probation now have a financial incentive to complete the Restore Your Score program and to improve their GPAs.  Students who complete the program, increase their GPAs, and graduate can earn up to $2,000 in incentive money.  This initiative will roll out this Fall and there is already strong interest from students.
  • The CARE Team handled a very large number of reports from the campus community this past year. Volume of referrals continues at a pace three times higher than the year prior to the onset of the pandemic.  Many thanks to the ongoing efforts of the counselors and the CARE Team members for all of their work to help our students in need.
  • Last year at this time the Ellucian Advise CRM was implemented, and usage began as a part of the Title III grant. The coaches were able to respond to alerts triggered by data from Canvas and utilize Advise to communicate with students.   In Spring 2021, Advise was utilized to facilitate early warning outreach to NJ STARS students.  Plans are currently underway to pilot early warning for select sections of MATH 156, encouraging students to take advantage of tutoring services.  Beginning in the late Fall, there will also be a major retention initiative originating from the HUB that should touch all students using Advise.
  • It has been 22 years since the Southern Education Center opened to serve the residents of Southern Ocean County. The center remains closed for the Fall semester, but we plan for it to re-open in the Spring.  During this time, the Director of the SEC, James Hauenstein, collaborated with the staff from both Barnegat High School and Pinelands Regional High School to develop and begin implementation of the Promoting Learners to Achieve Now, or the PLAN program.  The PLAN program is designed to enable students to complete one year of college courses during their junior and senior years of high school that apply to almost any associate or bachelor’s degree.  We expect that many parents and students will see the wisdom in getting a year of college completed while still in high school without having to commit to a particular major that early.
  • It has been a busy summer for Enrollment Services. Led by Executive Director Sheenah Hartigan, the staff has worked to deliver excellent results during remote operations and smoothly transitioned into the new Student Enrollment Building.

One highlight this summer was hosting 387 new students at the Express Enrollment Days on campus.  Students were registered for their Fall classes, could attend an Academic Advising Info Session or a Financial Aid workshop, take a tour of the campus, and meet with various support services.

Enrollment Services has been working alongside College Relations to create some trendy new TikTok videos for social media and is looking forward to using these videos within upcoming communication plans in the high schools this Fall.

Our favorite AI with a personality, Reggie, was busy reaching out to 18,969 students between January and June 2021.  Reggie received 17,784 incoming messages during the same time period.  If we assume it would take a human one minute to answer each question, which would be faster than is reasonable, Reggie saved 297 hours of staff time.

  • Under the leadership of Executive Director Yessika Garcia-Guzman, the staff of the Financial Aid Office has been busy awarding and processing federal and state aid alongside distributing Higher Education Emergency Relief, known as HEERF, grants to students. This year alone, nearly 3,000 OCC students who were impacted by the pandemic received over $4.3 million in emergency assistance through these grant programs.  Many thanks to the group of employees from across the College who helped the staff of financial aid by reviewing all these applications and managing the correspondence to the students in response to the requests.  It has been a very large undertaking and their support has been invaluable.
  • While most of OCC’s athletic programs were suspended due to the pandemic, thanks to their ability to compete from home, our Esports team competed without interruption this past Spring, with freshman Jackson French finishing 2nd in the nation in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate singles play. Jackson ended the Spring season with an impressive 13-1 record.
  • Spectators at our indoor games this Fall will find that some exciting changes have taken place. New bleachers have been installed, and the walls and gym floor have been repainted to display our new color scheme.  Additionally, we now have an auxiliary gym, which will serve as host to all of our women’s volleyball team’s practices and home games.  This gym is located on the lower level of the building, in the former location of the natatorium.

In the Academic Affairs area, Dr. Joseph Konopka reports:

  • The tutoring center has expanded its operation and now offers tutoring services one-on-one, one-to-many, and workshops in person and remotely. Also, the center augments its live services by offering 24/7 computer-based tutoring using artificial intelligence and adaptive technology.
  • In order to be responsive to the needs of both traditional and non-traditional students, we are introducing HyFlex modality for teaching and learning in our face-to-face courses. In this modality, an educator will be teaching a course on campus where some students are present in the classroom and some are participating remotely. OCC has developed an extensive HyFlex training program for faculty, college lecturer IIs, and adjuncts to gradually roll out this method of teaching and learning in Fall.  The training started in June for the first group of educators.
  • In Arts and Humanities, as part of the Arts on Campus initiative, two contests in graphic design and photography were held in late April and May. In the first, College Lecturer II Renate Pustiak worked with students to create a graphic design for a sign in the Riverwood community garden and student Skylar Hudson won.  In the second, Assistant Professor Richard Fallon collaborated with the Barnegat Bay Partnership on a photography contest for students. Winning students, Adele Stern and Jacquelyn Biedzynski, received monetary prizes and are having their photographs displayed in the new Conference Center.  All themes for the photography contest focused on the Barnegat Bay.
  • College Lecturer II Brian Gilmore worked with the OCC Foundation, the Jay and Linda Grunin Center for the Arts, and community member Richard Askoff on a virtual music fundraiser for OCC’s music club and the afternoon recital series. The event, held on May 7, featured Mr. Gilmore and Mr. Askoff playing Rachmaninoff’s Suite No. 2 for Two Pianos, Op. 17, performing on a matched pair of Bösendorfer Model 290 Imperial concert grands – the largest and most powerful pianos made.
  • There are 314 students enrolled in the Nursing program for the Fall 2021 semester. Students returned to campus the week of August 23 for competency validation practice sessions.  Orientation for 110 new Nursing students was held on campus August 24.
  • In the School of STEM, OCC partnered with Intel to offer a degree and certificate in artificial intelligence. The programs are based on Intel® AI for Workforce Program.  The curriculum will be launched in Spring 2022.  Our students will be able to join the AI fast track, as they acquire the tools and vision to continue toward an occupation in a variety of fields, including aerospace, engineering, software development, business, and architecture.
  • OCC launched a stackable curriculum in cybersecurity this Spring that provides options for a one-year certificate of completion, desirable industry certifications, a standalone two-year associate in applied science degree, and an associate in science degree with articulation to four-year bachelor’s degree programs at partner institutions. OCC also sponsored a successful “CyberSafe Camp” for Ocean County high school students and is partnering with Congressman Andy Kim’s office to sponsor an “App-athon” to encourage innovative application development by middle and high school students.
  • The fifth annual Jersey Shore Junior Science Symposium, directed by College Lecturer II Mary Rada, had 68 entries from high schools across the state. The students created MP4 videos that were distributed to final judges for viewing and scoring.  The symposium was held March 19 via WebEx, where the winners were announced.  Five students were sent to the national competition; for the fourth year in a row, OCC students placed.
  • A number of successful initiatives have been introduced by the School of Business and Social Sciences in support of the Addictions Counseling program. College Lecturer II Patricia Gianotti  collaborated with supervising Assistant Prosecutor Renee White on the design and implementation of the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office Michael Camillus Project.  The goal of this pilot program is to provide training in addictions counseling to expand police officers’ understanding of substance use disorder and to improve their interactions with members of the local community.  Through a GAINS grant, addictions counseling apprentices have been placed in local addiction treatment facilities, where they are acquiring clinical hours while earning income. OCC has also developed a novel 3+1 articulation with Southern New Hampshire University for students in this field interested in working toward a bachelor’s degree in human services.
  • Significant 3+1 articulations for business programs were negotiated by the business faculty with New Jersey City University in accounting, marketing, and management.
  • In conjunction with STEM faculty, College Lecturer Katherine Toy attended the lead facilitator workshop as part of the Intel® AI for Workforce Version: Vocational. This program was designed to provide in-demand skills to students of two-year colleges for the expanding field of artificial intelligence.

Executive Vice President of Finance and Administration Sara Winchester shares the following from her division:

  • In January 2021, OCC announced a freeze on student tuition and fees for FY 2022 maintaining costs at their 2021 level, the first New Jersey community college to make such an announcement. Tuition remained at $175 per credit for the 2022 fiscal year.  The freeze on the all-inclusive tuition rate is part of the continuing effort to keep OCC affordable and assist students in reaching their educational goals, especially important as families struggle with the economic challenges brought on by the pandemic.
  • Ocean County College received several grants to provide emergency financial aid to students and to ensure learning continued during the COVID-19 national emergency. Emergency funds were provided by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSAA) relief legislation.  This funding is provided by the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HERF), with a formula requiring approximately half of the funding to be used by each institution to provide direct relief to students.  The institutional portion of the funding was used for a variety of initiatives related to continuing operations during the pandemic, including:
    • Chromebooks and laptops for students and staff
    • Remote tutoring, proctoring, and sign language interpreters
    • IT security upgrade/virtualization – DUO identification
    • Instructional simulation technologies
    • PPE – masks, sanitizing supplies, hands-free bathroom fixtures
    • Virtual commencement
    • Faculty professional development
    • New HR software to facilitate remote training
    • Remote Student Success Coaches
    • Custodial enhanced cleaning services
    • Outdoor seating
    • Instructional design services
    • Nursing software – Nursethink, Docucare
    • Remote accessibility software for disability services
    • Vxrail and Horizon VDI to expand ability to extend virtual distance instruction access off-campus for students, faculty, and staff

Institutional funds were used to directly support students in the following ways:

  • Discharge of student debt – Spring 2020 through Spring 2021 amounted to $3,067,690
  • Provided partial refunds for Nursing and WPE lab courses that were disrupted
  • Discharged student debt for unreturned book rentals in Fall and Spring
  • Provided grants to students in non-credit programs

The funding was also used to support a major technology upgrade campus-wide.  In order to facilitate both in-person and remote learning, 140 classrooms and some conference rooms are being furnished with updated audio-visual equipment to promote engagement between faculty, in-person, and remote students, and, in some cases, remote classroom endpoints.  Typical equipment in classrooms will include upgrades or replacement of the instructor podiums or desks, new VDI instructor terminals, touchscreen monitors, ceiling speakers, microphones, an instructor/presenter camera, projector, and a rear- or side-mounted monitor showing remote attendees.   In combination with Canvas and Webex, instructors will be able to present lectures, share presentations, utilize a whiteboard with annotation ability, and provide Webex-based recordings of class sessions.  Recorded sessions will be available for a three-week period for students to review or download to their own devices for extended access.  In most cases, remote students will not be able to ‘see’ students attending in the classroom.

Over $300,000 was invested in the installation of ultraviolet lighting in existing HVAC systems.  The UV (ultraviolet) lighting units have been installed on all HVAC air handling units in all buildings.  With the use of UV lighting, the air is purified as it passes through the chamber that houses the UV light bulbs.  The system protects occupants by:

    • Neutralizing odors
    • Eliminating air pollutants
    • Eliminating VOC’s (chemical odors)
    • Sanitizing mold, bacteria, and viruses
  • In order to continue college operations remotely, a number of permanent changes in business processes have taken place. These changes have increased efficiency and many have become paperless.  These changes include:
    • The implementation of Nelnet Campus Commerce for online student payments. The new service eliminates the need for students to visit campus and stand in line to pay or set up payment plans.  Students taking credit courses now can pay for their classes using a new payment portal available directly through Ocean Connect.  Students may pay with a credit or debit card or sign up for a payment plan through the new portal.  A new option also allows students to enter banking information to have payments automatically debited from a checking or savings account.
    • Payroll processes were changed to allow supervisors to submit timesheets electronically via email to a centralized Payroll address. Because we are unable to print checks remotely, employees and student workers are enrolled in direct deposit to ensure that everyone is paid on time.
  • The new Student Enrollment Building was completed and opened to serve students this summer. The building will serve as a hub for individuals to accomplish all of the tasks required to become students of Ocean County College.  The new building houses the following major functions:  Admissions, Testing, Advising, Financial Aid, Registration, and Student Account Services and also includes a waiting area and computer kiosks for student use.
  • Construction was also completed this summer on the new Conference Center. The former Bookstore and conference room facility were converted to a conference center and offices for the Barnegat Bay Partnership.  The new center will provide technology-rich meeting and activity space for external and internal users.  The main conference room seats up to 80 and each of the two breakout rooms seat up to 30.  The center also includes a lounge and refreshment area decorated with photos of the Barnegat Bay.
  • In addition, renovations in the Larson Center were completed this summer. The footprint of the Barnes & Noble bookstore was reduced and a new seating area was created for students.  The additional seating will reduce crowding during peak hours.
  • In accordance with a directive from the State, the College prepared ISEP #17, Pandemic Response Plan. The plan is specific to emergency situations that require remote operations and includes information on all critical functions of the College.  The document was rapidly produced under the leadership of John Lopez, Director of Security.
  • College Relations launched an updated monthly newsletter for faculty and staff in April. The e-Notebook redesign was done in alignment with OCC’s branding and editorial guidelines and published in the new, standardized HTML email design.
  • The College Relations team collaborated with the Library on a National Library Week social media campaign that took place in April.  Campaign elements included a series of social media posts introducing library staff members and describing their roles in providing services to our students, as well as historical photographs depicting the library over the years. Campaign posts were viewed 9,401 times, with 337 engagements.
  • Web Services also collaborated with the Mathematics Department on a social media campaign to honor three math professors, Dr. William Rickert, Kaaren Finberg, and Michael Pezzimenti, who recently retired after long and distinguished careers at the College. The campaign, viewed by 17,606 individuals and engaged with 1,337 across multiple social media platforms, included a feature post regarding each professor and promoted the Mathematics Department’s new A Slice of Pi Newsletter.
  • The TV Studio, in collaboration with the Veterans and Military Resources Center, created the pilot program “Veteran’s Voices.”  The half-hour show featured the co-founders of “Project Refit,” a veteran’s organization which provides the active military, veterans, and first responders services to combat PTSD and related issues adjusting to civilian life.
  • The Workforce and Professional Education Department has been reorganized under Finance and Administration and expanded to include Grants and Apprenticeships, two areas that are growing rapidly. Kaitlin Everett, the Executive Director of Workforce and Professional Education, is leading the department, which includes Workforce Preparation and Education, Work Readiness, Program Development, Business Engagement, and Grants Development.  Kayci Clayton, Director of Grants, will oversee the development of apprenticeships and experiential learning opportunities, currently a high priority within the State of New Jersey.  In order to manage the growth of these work-based learning opportunities, a new database will be created to serve as a point of contact for our community partner.
  • Several grants have been awarded to the college:
    • $10,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts to bring a professional dance program to the Grunin Center
  • Student services grants, including
    • $12,000 from the DACA Foundation to provide direct financial support to students with DACA status
    • $79,318 from the New Jersey Department of Human Services, Hunger Free Campus, to improve, expand, and streamline emergency food support for students on campus
  • Infrastructure Grant
    • $2,806,335 from the Securing Our Children’s Future Bond Grant to build and outfit six new, cutting-edge technology labs
  • Athletics Grant
    • $10,000 from the First Point Volleyball Foundation to start a men’s volleyball team
  • Workforce and Professional Education (WPE) Grant
    • $2,774,676 from the New Jersey Department of Labor, Title II, to provide adult basic education, Literacy, and Civics courses
  • Through the Foundation, the Blauvelt Speaker Series continued with best-selling author and journalist David Ignatius; American scientist and animal behaviorist Temple Grandin; critically acclaimed actor Alton Fitzgerald White; and American social scientist, musician, and columnist Arthur C. Brooks. The upcoming season will bring many more notable thinkers, innovators, and inspirational leaders.
  • Scholarships through the Foundation reached students with balances from last Fall, allowing eligible students to enroll in the Spring semester using the dollar for dollar match opportunity provided by the Foundation.
  • The Foundation provided over $1 million in scholarship and special program support to OCC students this past academic year alone.
  • The Foundation’s annual Scholarship Celebration was held in person on campus. More than 220 supporters joined to honor Dr. Henry A. Jackson, Dr. Teresa (Tracy) Walsh, and the 200 Club of Ocean County, and raised more than $175,000 to benefit the mission of the OCC Foundation for scholarships and program support.
  • Human Resources continued to offer virtual training opportunities throughout the Spring and employees continued to participate in remote training.

A new online training program for search committees was launched, offering a timely and more convenient training experience.  The course was designed to provide a practical understanding of the search process and the roles and responsibilities of Hiring Managers, Search Chairs, and Search Committee members.

  • A virtual employee career week fair was held in June. There were multiple goals for this initiative – to help employees gain a better understanding of different functional areas within the College, to hear about the traits and competencies that are highly valued by managers and critical to an employee’s success, to envision opportunities for themselves, and to provide real tools to Own, Map, and Navigate their careers.
  • The New Jersey Council of County Colleges highlighted Christine Healey, Director of Purchasing and Payables, during Women’s History Month. She was featured in social media posts from the Council.  Christine had been a featured speaker at a National Assessment of Educational Progress event for its centennial celebration.  At the event, Christine highlighted how the community colleges of New Jersey took it to the next level by successfully creating a consortium overcoming challenges to realize cost savings in contracts for shared services.
  • Shannon Mayers was introduced to the community as the new Executive and Artistic Director of the Jay and Linda Grunin Center for the Arts and the Robert J. Novins Planetarium. She began her new position at OCC on July 12 and will be responsible for all activities of the two centers. She has more than 25 years’ experience in the arts, with extensive management and curatorial experience in professional and academic settings, including at the Arts Brookfield in New York City, the Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College, and, most recently, the Redfern Arts Center at Keene State College in New Hampshire.

And from the e-Learning area, Vice President of e-Learning and Learning Enterprises Eileen Garcia reports:

  • e-Learning is moving to the next level of course development, which involves a design process that increases interactivity between faculty and students and includes activities with gamification added to them to keep students engaged. To accomplish this, the unit has spent a good part of the year becoming proficient in several design tools, such as Articulate 360, H5P, Canva Pro, and WellSaid Labs.
  • The course design plan now includes the utilization of Open Educational Resources (OER) whenever possible as the first choice for content as well as a design process for the seven and one-half week sessions to increase the affordability, the flexibility, and the choices students have when creating their schedules. There will be an opportunity for new students to begin their studies every eight weeks.
  • The e-Learning team worked this past year to reduce or eliminate lab kits for some of our science courses. The new designs brought additional savings to the students who saw costs of lab kits reduced or eliminated.
  • e-learning continues to provide webinars and training opportunities for faculty and college lecturers. During the past year, training was provided for tools such as Honorlock (our proctoring service), Turnitin, WebEx, Canvas, Ally, and VoiceThread.  Webinars were also provided for e-Learning faculty on topics that assist them to increase their presence in the classroom.
  • Some of our team also found time to prepare and present in a couple of conferences:
    • On March 19, at the Online Learning Consortium Innovate 2021 conference, Ms. Laura Wingler, Mr. Eric Daniels, and Dr. Christine Webster-Hansen co-presented “From Facilitation to Instruction: Supplementing Online ‘Master’ Courses with Multimodal Communication and Technology”; and
    • At the Rutgers Online Learning Conference on March 16, Dr. Christine Webster-Hansen presented “Strategies for Facilitating Successful Asynchronous Discussions.”

These presentations were part of a departmental effort to showcase Ocean County College’s best online teaching practices.

On the International front:

  • Our partnership with Kean University and Ain Shams University continues.  We were able to field a 5th cohort in the middle of the pandemic, and our team worked hard to make sure students in cohorts 3 and 4 were able to complete their courses with little, if any, interruption.  This Fall we will start cohort 6!
  • This past year our team worked very closely with New Jersey City University and our Egyptian partner, Modern Educational Services (MES), to create and complete agreements and curricula maps between our institutions that will allow us to provide onsite services to students in a physical branch of NJCU called NJCU Egypt. This will be the first United States university branch in Egypt. In this partnership, we will be providing the first two years of the programs offered at NJCU Egypt.
  • Our team continues to explore other opportunities with national, technological, and private universities in Egypt. Some of the domestic partners in these ventures include William Paterson University and Maryland Global campus. Stay tuned for future developments!

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 for the College and its students.  Isn’t this an amazing variety of accomplishments?  Please give a round of applause for our entire OCC team!

One additional note:  When you entered the Gym this morning, I hope you received a new lanyard for your identification badge.  A concerted effort is being made for all OCC employees to wear ID badges so they are visible to all on campus.  If you have misplaced your ID or if it is over five years old, John Lopez requested you stop by the Security Office for a new one.

P.S.  Inside your badge is a ticket for a free lunch today!

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

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