By Dani Moritz-Long
Storytelling. It’s a pillar of humanity, of personal connection, and it was a core theme of this year’s Academic Assembly.
Held on Thursday, August 22, 2019, in the East Campus Performing Arts Center, Academic Assembly reinforced basic human ideas — the need to connect, to celebrate each other, to care for ourselves, to engage with others’ stories and participate in the kind of fictive language that’s a hallmark of our evolution.
Celebrating Faculty Awards
Early in the Academic Assembly lineup, new Faculty Association President Stanton Reed, Faculty Association Immediate Past President John Niss and Valencia Foundation Chief Philanthropy Officer Angela Mendolaro joined together on stage to recognize their outstanding colleagues.
First, they awarded the Faculty Association Awards for Excellence in Teaching, Counseling and Librarianship — which recognize faculty for their innovation and commitment to students — to Lauren Thomas, professor, mathematics; James May; professor, English for academic purposes; Boris Nguyen, professor, mathematics; Ryan Kasha, professor, mathematics; and Shari Koopman, professor, English.
They then awarded this year’s winning team of the Innovation of the Year Award — the collaborative, cross-discipline team behind Valencia College’s New Media Communication Associate in Science. Award members include Wendy Givoglu, interim East and Winter Park campus president; Linda Neal, dean, communications; Courtney Lewis, professor, speech; Edie Gaythwaite, professor, speech; Rob McCaffrey, interim dean, School of Arts and Entertainment; Rebecca Newman, professor, mass communication and journalism; Kristy Pennino, professor, graphic design; Liza Schellpfeffer, professor, speech; and LeSena Jones, manager, career and workforce education.
“I’m aiming to take care of you the best way I know how,” he said. “I’m going to listen to you, and I’m going to celebrate you.”
Specifically, Stanton noted his focus on two key areas: encouraging self-care and fostering personal connection. He also encouraged faculty and staff to take three actions during the 2019-2020 academic year. First, he asked them to take a book as they exited the auditorium, read it and annotate it, sign their name in it when they finish it, and request that a colleague to do the same — enabling those two participants to engage with each other on important topics. Second, Stanton encouraged participants to reach out to a student to engage with him or her or attend a student event, and, finally, he invited faculty members to initiate a conversation with their dean to participate in development outside of the annual review processes.
All of these steps, Stanton remarked, are key to serving our roles as game changers and embodying our motto of “we say you can.”
Reviewing Student Outcomes
Following Stanton’s call to action, Kathleen Plinske, executive vice president and provost, underlined the importance of game changing as she reviewed Valencia College’s progress on the College’s student outcome goals and six hypothesis that affect student learning.
She reviewed data — indicative of both success and opportunity to do better — discussed the disaggregation of data by race — highlighting our efforts to address disparate outcomes without reinforcing bias — and presented data outside of charts and graphics.
“Each data point represents unique, individual humans,” she said, as she populated the screen with 100 student faces — half of them first-generation students, 60 percent of them Pell Grant students. But, then she began clicking, and the 100 students faded into 33 — representative of the real people we’ll lose in the coming years.
So what do we do about it? The following video offered a clue.
If you are interested in learning about our student outcomes, please download this Fall 2019 Insight Paper.
Tuning Into Faculty Voices
After playing the aforementioned video, which reinforced the idea that personal connection is essential to student success, College President Sandy Shugart welcomed four faculty panelists to the stage. While each was representative of a different discipline and personal background, all four had one pivotal characteristic in common. They were all students at Valencia College.
Throughout the forum, the panelists discussed their Valencia experiences from a student and faculty perspective. They divulged what went well during their student experience, as well as areas in which Valencia could improve.
Jennifer Tomlinson, New Student Experience faculty, detailed her personal failures and how they ultimately helped her find her calling. She also offered difficult-to-swallow insight.
When Dr. Shugart asked if Valencia ever disappointed her, her response was this: “I didn’t experience my first professor of color until graduate school,” she said, noting the deficit she felt when she struggled to identify with her faculty through shared experience and cultural connection.
Joshua Guillemette, professor, math, discussed the importance of authenticity in his student experience. He explained that his favorite professors were the ones who came to class with their whole selves and were honest about their own challenges.
Nelson Placa, professor, hospitality, highlighted the importance of Valencia acknowledging students’ individual experiences by offering anecdotes of boredom and disengagement when Valencia failed to recognize his years of hospitality experience in his introductory hospitality courses.
Finally, Jose Aenlle, professor, music production technology, recalled the culture shock of enrolling at Valencia when he spoke limited English and, though he was studying music, only knew music by ear and couldn’t read notes.
Thankfully, Jose said, Valencia faculty believed in him, encouraged him to work hard and fostered the persistence that would change his life and, ultimately, bring him back to the College as a faculty member.
In closing, Dr. Shugart spoke to Valencia’s growth and scaled distribution, and the need to grow without dehumanizing those we serve or losing the personal connection that we know is vital for student success.
“How do you personalize at scale?” he asked. “What makes a human interaction personal rather than transactional?”
All of us are responsible for answering those questions. We’re each accountable for participating in our collective narrative and engaging in the fictive language that will enable us to build better tomorrows for every individual we serve. This is our story, so the future of Valencia College is up to all of us.
To view a recording of Academic Assembly, click here.