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September 1, 2023

Dr. Monaco’s Fall 2023 Colloquium Speech

Unleashing Potential: Nurturing a Vibrant and Inclusive Community for All

Thursday, August 31, 2023
Grunin Center Theater 9:00 a.m.
Dr. Pamela Monaco

What a spectacular day! People–together–in person. It is so good to see you. I appreciate your taking the time to take part in this sharing of thoughts and ideas that will then lead to a dialogue among us. Let me say again how honored I am to be the first female and fifth president of Ocean County College. As of tomorrow, I will be on the job for two months—and it has been an excellent and busy introduction to the role. I am elated to lead this colloquium, which I hope you experience differently than in the past. I’d like to thank the good people in IT and in our College Relations office who made the magic happen. I appreciate the staff at the Grunin Center, who catered to my requests to deliver this speech differently. I’d also like to thank our interpreter, Sheila Eletto.

I’m also very grateful for the attendance of some of our great supporters: Chair of the Board of Trustees Jerry Dasti, Trustee Judge Robert Fall, Trustee Van Thulin, Trustee Joseph Teichman, and County Commissioner Ginny Haines.

The conversation this morning is an opportunity for me to share my values and priorities as the president of OCC. The entire day, in fact, reflects one of my principal values–that the best work comes from collaboration with a variety of stakeholders and thought leaders. Over the past many weeks, a core colloquium implementation team has been engaged in spirited and thoughtful discussion to design a day that will, we hope, provoke good conversation and energy as we welcome students to this new academic year. You may have felt a pinch of discomfort this morning when you were asked to follow the Candyland trail and discovered you were sitting with people you don’t usually sit with. This was, of course, intentional. How better to build connections and generate meaningful conversations than by sitting with new friends? You will have also read the names of new hires, retirements, and employees with new responsibilities on the screen behind me as you came in. Later this morning, you will partake in a discussion with eight different panels on four different subjects. Each topic is presented twice, but with different panelists, as this will allow those participating in a panel to also attend sessions. Let me also remind you that lunch will be in the Student Center, that we have a fun game for you at lunch, and there are prizes. Who doesn’t want a $50 American Express gift card?

These attempts to design an experience that will be meaningful to you are the result of many people, and I would like to take a moment to recognize this amazing team’s work. You will have a choice of four different workshops, as you can see from the slides, delivered by panelists and a facilitator. We will also have note-takers to help capture the ideas shared. The names of the implementation team are listed behind me. Please stand and be recognized for your thoughtful time and creativity in making today happen. If today is a success, all credit goes to this amazing group. If it is a flop, look at me instead.

I also need to acknowledge the panelists and moderators who will lead the sessions today. Each of these people was nominated by their peers for having expertise and knowledge that should be part of our College discussions. Please, everyone, who has worked on this Colloquium, stand and be recognized for your willingness to contribute to change.

For my part of this morning, I’d like to share with you some perspectives that will help you understand who I am and what my priorities are for our College.

Let’s start with how I spent my summer:

As you know, when you hire a president, you hire a family. I am most blessed to be married to a very supportive, very generous soul. My husband, Don Kehne, is here today in his role as the First First Gentleman. Our summer was devoted to creating a new home here. We moved at the end of May to Toms River. We painted the house, tried to get our things to fit in a new space, and planted a garden. I should note that we have a lovely new home because of OCC. Ken Malagiere and Kim Maloney went out of their way to find us a realtor, a mortgage broker, a closing attorney, and even previewed homes when Don and I were still in Chicago. As I felt during the interview and the transition, it was confirmed that I was coming to work at an extraordinary place, filled with people who care about the College and its people.

Before I officially started this position, I took the occasion to meet with each trustee and get to know them, and I attended commencement, the nursing pinning ceremony, and Dr. Larson’s gala. Since starting the job on July 1st, I have met with 147 people at the College and in the community to learn more about the College, about people’s work at the College, and about how to build on the strong legacy of the College. I’ve also been wonderfully supported by a women’s aid society, namely Connie, Dottie, and Jodi. I owe them a debt of gratitude for advice, counsel, and friendship. Throughout the summer, I also

  • Attended the opening and closing ceremonies of the Social Justice Academy
  • Led several board of trustee meetings and retreats
  • With Kate Mohr, met with the NJ Secretary of Higher Education
  • Met with many of the other NJ CC presidents
  • Welcomed and observed the cyber security camp
  • Attended a play reading in Red Bank with some English faculty
  • Visited BMG Yeshiva in Lakewood, and since then met with several women leaders in Lakewood
  • Helped celebrate Ken Malagiere’s 40th birthday–which resulted in raising over $80,000 for the College
  • Attended Kiss Me, Kate on campus
  • Met with the FAOCC leadership
  • Met with the leadership of SSAOCC (Support Staff Association of OCC)
  • Interviewed people for positions on the campus
  • Picked almost 25 lbs of NJ blueberries with Don, which we turned into 16 pints of jam
  • Attended a Rotary meeting
  • Trained for work at the HUB and then relied on the good souls there when I attempted to answer the phone –thank you, Stacy and Markie!
  • Attended a County Commissioners’ meeting
  • On the recommendation of one of our English lecturers, I read Blind Faith and learned a great deal about a notorious murder in Toms River–just about two blocks from my house!
  • Attended a Foundation Board meeting
  • Saw my name in the local press–several times
  • Learned of the good work of the DEI Committee and asked them to share with the Trustees
  • Attended a welcome hosted by the E-Learning Unit
  • Completed a book review of three nonfiction books for the Mid-America journal
  • Attended the presentation by the students from the STEM Summer Camp
  • Met with our new SGA leaders
  • Had a breakfast with many of the administrative assistants
  • Had regular meetings with my direct reports and the vice presidents, and went to scores of offices on campus to get to know others
  • Welcomed a new Cabinet to replace the President’s Leadership Team
  • Met with the leaders of Phi Theta Kappa
  • Attended a Blue Claws game
  • Met with the president of Georgian Court

I share these activities as a way of providing some evidence to support what I am going to tell you about my values and what you should expect from me as your president.

I’m a metaphorically bad driver, meaning I have a hard time staying in my lane. You should expect me to turn up at your office, ask to visit your class, see me at various games, and hear me ask lots and lots of questions. This also means that I am accessible and eager to learn and to support your good work.

I’m a firm believer in the importance of community in all the work I do. When we bring teams of people together, we exchange ideas and hear perspectives that can help us make better recommendations and decisions. Since taking this job, I’ve asked people to serve on several different committees or task forces, and in each case, I think we have also discovered the hidden talents that exist on this campus. It is too easy to go to the same people, and when we do that, we fail to give others the chance for participation, recognition, and growth. In keeping with my allegiance to our communities, I look forward to celebrating an annual day of service event when OCC gives back through our collective support of a particular organization or cause.

You will grow tired of my favorite questions: How do we know this, and what will we do about this? This College produces mountains of data. Like many institutions, we need to figure out how to use these data meaningfully. We will make our decisions based on data, and we will all continue to examine what we know and how we know it.

Perhaps most important to know about me is my own attitude about what we all have chosen as a career. Like many graduate students in doctoral programs, my faculty pushed me to conduct research, land a position in a research university, and make a contribution to the field. I enjoy research and scholarly work, so I gladly hoped to achieve these goals. During the dissertation stage, however, I began adjunct teaching at two community colleges, Northern Virginia Community College and Prince George’s Community College. This was my first experience teaching non-traditional students. At Prince George’s, the department chair mentored me to take over the weekend composition program he had developed, so soon I was teaching English 101 to airmen and women at Andrews Air Force Base in a compressed schedule. I made two important discoveries as I learned how to teach. One, I truly enjoyed the diversity in my community college classes. I had students of various ages and backgrounds and goals. I taught ESL classes, too, and learned of my students’ rich heritages, struggles as they adapted to a new country and language, and was welcomed into their communities. The second insight was the community college value of helping one another in our service to our students. In graduate school, we were competitors. I remember finding a publication that had an article I needed–remember, this is when we used a card catalog and went into physical stacks. I pulled the volume off the shelf, only to discover that someone had razor cut the article from the journal. God forbid someone else reads the article. At the community college, people shared teaching strategies and materials. We talked about what we did in the classroom and tried to help one another. We were collaborators in the best sense of the word, not competitors. Most of all, what I discovered was a sacred vocation. Let me explain why I call my career a sacred vocation.

As community college employees, we do not achieve the same respect and recognition as our peers at four-year colleges and universities, yet we do the most important educational work–all of us. We serve everyone: the displaced homemaker of 50 years of age who must support herself when a spouse used to do so; the 17- year-old who just completed her AA degree while finishing high school; the returned citizen who has not lived except behind bars for the past ten years and needs help finding a job and a new life; the neurodiverse student who is very smart but has trouble with new situations and loud noises; the Haitian immigrant who speaks little English but was an engineer back home and wants to have a career here but first needs a job. Every student has a story. Margaret Atwood has written that “In the end, we are all just a story.” We must learn each person’s story and bring grace and courage to help each person write their own amazing narrative. We must refrain from looking at our students from a deficient perspective and instead recognize the resilience our students possess. Stephen Downey spoke in a meeting last week about the power of our work, saying we change the trajectory of students’ lives. What profession is more sacred than the one that has the power to transform a life, one at a time, time and time again? It is our attitude, our willingness to understand and empathize with others, that allows us to fulfill our mission. We do not handhold; we extend our hands and hopefully our hearts.

I hope understanding my philosophy and approaches will facilitate the work we must achieve together. We have important work to achieve, and we must tackle this work together immediately. Let me share some of our most crucial priorities.

#1 Remove OCC from warning status

Many people expressed their regret that on the day before I became your president, we learned that Middle States had issued a warning based on our failure to achieve the core components of standard seven, which focuses on governance, broadly speaking. By January 16, 2024, we must submit a monitoring report that provides evidence that we took this warning seriously and we are addressing our shortcomings. To that end, we have begun this high-priority work. Let me share the work to date:

  • We have retained the services of Drumm McNaughton and Brit Kirwan, of The Change Leader, to work with our stakeholders to develop a model of shared governance that respects our values, is based on best practices, and will achieve shared governance goals through clarity of roles and actions. These consultants will also work with the Board of Trustees to address concerns raised by Middle States. Our consultants will be here the last week of September to meet with various groups and individuals as we develop our models of governance for the College. Prior to being on campus, they have begun to review our bylaws, processes, and history.
  • The work will be prioritized by the Core Team, which I am leading with two assistant chairs, Alexa Beshara-Blauth and Cara Dubitsky. We issued a call for volunteers, and over forty people expressed interest. Please see the members of the Core Team on the slide, and members, please stand and be recognized.
  • The people who worked so hard on the original Standard Seven chapter will continue to provide insights and work with the consultants. Please recognize these individuals as they stand and their names appear behind me.
  • The Board of Trustees will also work with our consultants on reviewing best practices for Board governance and implementing necessary changes. Sara Winchester, Connie Bello, Jodi Heitmann, and I will be liaising with the Board and our consultants. We will provide regular updates to the College.
  • The others who expressed interest in serving will form the Stakeholders. This committee will be the first level representatives for the College. The Core Committee and the consultants will share all plans and drafts with this larger group, and this larger group will also assist through participation on various subcommittee and working groups. The members of the Stakeholders Committee include the people on the slide. Please stand and be recognized.
  • Dr. Ann Wahl, the MSCHE Liaison to OCC, will be on campus September 14 to offer guidance as we prepare our monitoring report. An open forum will take place from 12:15-12:55 in the Gateway building. I encourage all of you to attend.
  • We will also hold regular town hall meetings to provide updates and solicit input on work products, directions, and implementation plans.
  • We will have another MSCHE visit, most likely in March of next year. We will ensure every constituency has an opportunity to meet with the team. This team will issue another report, and we hope by next summer we will be off the warning status.
  • We have brought together talented people from across the College to participate in a variety of teams or task forces. We will soon have a campus-wide retention team, a campus-wide and community-wide Strategic Enrollment Management team, and a campus-wide team to help design and implement a Day of Service event. I am also regularly meeting with FAOCC, SSAOCC, SGA, and PTK leadership.
  • The President’s Leadership Team has been disbanded and replaced by a Cabinet. We have had one meeting and will be meeting bi-monthly. Will members of the Cabinet please be recognized by standing?  In addition to the duties fulfilled by PLT, the Cabinet will provide input to me and the VPs, help with our planning processes, review the budget requests that come from the Planning and Budget Council, serve as the spokespeople for their faculty constituencies, and help me be an effective president. Cabinet has already decided to do away with separate meetings for faculty and staff, and will instead hope to meet on a regular basis (cadence to be determined with input from all of you, too), with multiple sessions at different times to be available to the campus community. As Jeff said in our meeting this week, we will meet not to talk at you but to listen to you. For our first meeting, we will have reviewed feedback from today’s events and distilled topics that generated feedback and conversation. We will share that with the campus and the topic that receives the most votes for discussion will be the focus–as well as a Q&A, of course. Updates from Cabinet, the VPs, and me will be sent on a monthly basis, either as email or a video message.
  • We need everyone to be involved. Please let us know how you might like to engage in this work. The monitoring report is only the first step, for we have a lot of work to put words on paper into sustained action.

#2. Enrollment and Retention

You know better than I that OCC has experienced a steady decline in our recent enrollments as compared to past enrollment periods. Nationwide, community colleges were up about 5% last spring. As we prepare for the fall semester, let me share some important numbers with you:

Enrollment updates for Fall, 2023 as of 08/30/23

Overall: -0.02% down on students and +0.08% on credits
48.5%: full-time students
51.5%: part-time students
39% of students taking at least one online class (16% taking only online classes)

Breakdown of Fall student population:
36%: New: (-4.51%)
50%: Continuing: (-0.18%)
14%: Stop-Out: (+14.12%)
Average age: 23.3 years old

27% non-traditional (24+ years old)

3.3% of Veteran or Military-affiliated students
4.3% of the 2023 Fall students are NJ Stars (top 15% of their high school class)

Class of 2023 yield rate: 25.8%

Enrolled 1199, so far, for the academic year. Behind by 249 students total to meet last year’s yield rate.

28.2% of our registered students for Fall, 2023 were awarded Pell. [1,757 unique students]

Ethnic distribution:

20.4% – Hispanic (this is up from the 19% from last academic year and the 16% from the prior academic year) (As our enrollment numbers decline, that number of Hispanic students has stayed pretty consistent, which means they are a larger percentage of our students.

76% – Non-Hispanic
3.6% – Did not disclose

Gender distribution

57% – female
42% – male
1% – did not disclose

A group of us meet every Monday morning, led by Jerry Racioppi, to review our enrollment numbers and discuss recent strategies. Once we have reached census, we have planned a post-mortem to determine what went well, where we could have done things differently, and plan for the additional fall terms and spring. We will keep you posted on this. We are also beginning the work on a revised Strategic Enrollment Management plan that will have targeted goals and strategies. For example, we must increase our enrollment of the growing Hispanic population in Ocean County, we must reach out to underserved populations in the southern part of the county, and we need to deliberately and thoughtfully determine how to serve populations in Lakewood, the adult market, the incumbent workers, and special needs populations, which must be broadly defined. We will develop specific goals and strategies for each target population. In addition to the new SEM plan, we must provide more resources and emphasis on our Workforce and Professional Education division, develop for market quickly new certificates and programs, build better transitions and relationships between WPE and Academic Affairs, and strengthen our brand recognition. One way we are doing the latter, for example, is renaming that which used to be called the SEC to Ocean County College Manahawkin.

Of course, enrolling students but failing to retain them wastes time and resources and harms students. We must make sure from the moment a student reaches out to us that we are providing guidance and support for them to make informed decisions as we help them reach their goals. We have a committee that is focused on the first-year student and first-generation student. They will generate ideas and initiatives for us to consider, and they are doing this work in conversations that cross boundaries, barriers, and silos. We also have a retention committee that is studying the data about where we lose students and how we can be proactive and not reactive. Sheenah Hartigan, Kate Mohr and the success coaches are using technology and human touch to reach students to guide them to the help they need. We have tremendous resources on campus through EOF, TriO, advising, the tutoring center, the Disability Center, the library, student activities, and our caring and dedicated faculty and staff. Our students need us to reject complacency and continue to offer kindness and empathy, thought-provoking classes, and applied learning opportunities. We each contribute to a student’s success at this College.

Our enrollment and retention patterns have had an impact on our fiscal profile. We are not in any financial crisis–at all–but we must reckon with our enrollment trends. For the past several years, COVID money and dipping into our fund balance have allowed us to continue to grow our workforce and operate with the same high level of service. The College, like each of you, feels the impact of inflation. Our energy costs, costs of software subscription, health care costs, and so on continue to increase. COVID money is long gone, and relying on the fund balance is not a sustainable practice. As we work on our enrollment and retention strategies, we must also develop viable approaches for our long-term economic health.

#3. A new strategic plan

Tuesday morning I met with the Guiding Coalition to hear about the progress on the current strategic plan. I am impressed by the process currently in place to hold the College accountable for the goals and objectives set forth in the plan. Although the strategic plan At the Helm runs through 2026, too much has changed in higher education, in our country, and at our College for it to make sense to retain this for three more years. Instead, we will begin the process of developing a new strategic plan, one that will reflect the rapidly changing environment in which we live and work, and we will focus on a three-year plan. This plan will, of course, build on the legacy of this institution but will also reflect the values, goals, and aspirations that inform our daily work and aspirational direction. As with everything I have shared with you, this will require the good will and good work of this entire community, both internal and external, so I hope you will participate.

#4: Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Access

From my first interviews for this position, it was evident that OCC was looking for someone with experience in DEI and a commitment to this work. One of the very first requests of me in July was to say a few words at the Social Justice Academy. The College and the participants demonstrated a resoluteness for this work by bringing this Academy here to Ocean, the first community college in NJ to collaborate this way with Monmouth University, which delivered this experience. At the end of the two weeks, I was invited back, and each person told me how challenging and rewarding the experience was for them. I can say that I felt the difference when I met these participants at the end of the training. Palpable energy and trust in and to one another radiated from each individually and together. Shortly after, Ken Malagiere and Eileen Garcia invited me to hear a presentation from the DEI team about what they have been working on for the past two years and the initiatives they would like to bring forward for the campus. I was speechless as I learned of their wide-ranging and spot-on ideas. I instantly asked them to bring that presentation to the Board of Trustees in September as we, as a College determine the prioritization of the initiatives to be presented. I encourage each of you to attend this presentation on September 28.

But this is just the beginning. We need training to help each of us understand the unconscious bias we have, for it’s recognizing our own blindspots that will allow us to become a more welcoming place. It is also helping us each to see others differently. I want to share an example. Just recently I was meeting some women in Lakewood. I arrived early to one of the new retail parks where the restaurant was located. Because I was early, I decided to walk around the shops, but I did not go in any of them. I wondered how others would feel if I went into these shops. The patrons appeared to all be Orthodox–men in black suits and women in longer skirts, long sleeved tops, and hair covering. Not one person did anything but smile and nod or say hello. It was I who felt I didn’t belong, not that anyone did or said anything for me to think I did not belong. I’m sharing this because I want you to think about our students who may not speak perfect English, or much English at all, or who rely on SNAP benefits and may come to class hungry, or who think we all look economically prosperous, in a hurry, and comfortable with everything around us. How can we help those students who experience imposter syndrome or are afraid to ask a question that will reveal they don’t know how things work? Our students may feel as I did, but we can use this insight and dispel their doubts about their place at the College.

But DEI training also means transforming our own workplace. We represent a diverse community, too, and one that will increase in its diversity. We come from different life experiences, different faith groups, different cultural backgrounds. We probably all think of ourselves as getting along with others and accepting everyone. However, each of us needs to become more culturally competent so we can create an environment that is equitable for all.

With respect to our students, each one of us can and will do more to help each student receive what they need. Our students have grit and resilience that has brought them to us, but let’s allow them to use those tools in a sometimes harsh world as we empower them through knowledge, experience, and kindness. I learned yesterday from Kate Hueth about the Platinum Rule: “Treat others as they want to be treated.” We need to take the time to learn about others and what they need and want. We have very hard work ahead of us, but doing the work will change lives, including our own.

This is probably a longer speech than was needed, yet so much more needs to be discussed as a community. We have an occasion to build on the successes of the past as we collectively design the college that will continue to respond to the needs of our changing world, both here in Ocean County and the broader world. We have tremendous resources to share with so many others who could enjoy this rich, dynamic academic and social environment. All that keeps us from doing so is our hesitation to boldly move forward. Working collaboratively, respectfully, and transparently, we can continue to change the trajectory of lives. People have said “college inspired me to think differently.” That is my vision for each of us on this College campus–that we are everyday inspired to think differently. At least in Ocean County, let’s change the question from what is the value of a college experience to everyone values the Ocean County College experience.

Thank you–

Now–Let’s change this monologue to a conversation. What questions, suggestions, ideas, etc. do you have to share with all of us?

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