An Elevated Perspective: PIVOT 360 Cohort Visits Florida’s State Capitol

tallahassee-pivot360-collage-groveOn the morning of Wednesday, April 2, 2014, there were 24 members of the PIVOT 360 cohort, Valencia’s academic leadership development program, who boarded a bus to Tallahassee, Florida, in order to gain first-hand experience on state and national issues in higher education.slice

Much ground was covered during the 48-hour expedition to our state’s capital, hosted by Bill Mullowney, vice president, policy/general counsel, who led the action-packed agenda and arranged for enlightening guest speakers, networking opportunities and the privilege to attend sessions in both the State House and Senate.

The group began the afternoon at the Association of Florida Colleges (AFC) office where Michael Brawer, executive director/CEO, provided an informative overview about AFC’s mission and benefits of becoming a member, including advocacy, informational programs, services and leadership development opportunities. Kasongo Butler, assistant chancellor, and Randy Hanna, chancellor, Florida College System, addressed the group with an overview of upcoming bills that affect higher education.

Participants gleaned many important insights from the chancellors, including that for-profit colleges and institutions serve a need that isn’t currently being met by colleges and universities. The example he offered was night and weekend courses for working adults.

PIVOT 360 facilitator, Jamy Chulak, professor, respiratory care at West Campus, immediately observed, “While online course offerings may have diminished the demand for night and weekend courses, what if we had a night and weekend respiratory care program cohort option?”

The group also met briefly with Florida’s State Sen. Darren Soto, District 14, which includes parts of Orange, Osceola and Polk counties and State House Representative Mike La Rosa who represents District 42 in Osceola County. Both spoke about their backgrounds and passion for serving our community.

That evening, Christopher M. Mullin, assistant vice chancellor for policy and research at the State University System of Florida, Board of Governors, provided insights and lessons learned throughout his journey in supporting K-12, community college systems and now the university system.

Of the many trip highlights,  the visit to the state Capitol, where the group split up to take turns attending House and Senate sessions, was one of the top moments. In preparation, James (Jay) Galbraith, Valencia’s new vice president, public affairs, led the group in a comical mock session designed to showcase that “the game you are watching, isn’t necessarily the game that’s being played” and how decorum and respect, even when there are opposing viewpoints, is essential.

“The simulation training session that was prepared by Bill and Jay offered us an example of professional decorum at play within the legislation of bills,” Jamy shared. “The results of treating people with respect, regardless of their position on issues, are influential in establishing a professional demeanor. Having the opportunity to see Bill Mullowney and Jay working on our behalf was impressive, considering the challenges we face in higher education today.”

“During sessions, you must be knowledgeable about the bills being discussed. There is hidden language that senators and representatives must know, or a bill can be killed without discussion before they know it ever happened,” said Molly McIntire, dean, division of behavioral and social sciences, West Campus and PIVOT 360 participant. “The pace of the sessions move very quickly and it was interesting to see the differences between how the House and Senate sessions operate.”

The group’s time in Tallahassee came to an end at the AFC office as participants debriefed about their experiences.

“The best aspects of the trip were two-fold. First of all, the opportunity to network and get to know some treasured colleagues a little better on the bus and at the events in Tallahassee were priceless,” said PIVOT 360 participant Lisa Macon, dean, engineering, computer programming, & technology, West Campus. “These relationships forged will be meaningful both at and outside of work. Secondly, the opportunity to see our state’s governing process at work was much appreciated. I’d never been to the state Capitol before and to have the opportunity to be there with experts on our government process made it that much more meaningful.”

Lisa added, “I have a lot more perspective now regarding how the legislature views the work we do in state colleges. I can see that it is important to keep the work we are doing in the forefront of people’s minds both within and outside the College. Knowing how important our work is and what a good job we are doing is not enough. We need to share the stories and the data that prove we need what we say we need and that show we are doing what we say we are doing with the resources provided through state tax-payer dollars.”

The trip to Tallahassee, although brief, allowed participants to engage in conversations beyond their disciplines and programs and provided an expanded view of the opportunities and challenges in higher education.

“Sitting in the Senate Gallery watching our state senators debate the ‘threatened use of force’ bill was an incredible educational experience for me,” said Joe Sarrubbo, dean of students, East Campus. “Similarly, listening to Chancellor Randy helped me gain a much deeper understanding of the Florida College System (FCS). I will apply this new knowledge in my daily work by keeping up to date on the bills that pass and get signed into law by the governor. It is extremely important that I keep abreast of the legislative issues in Tallahassee, so I can effectively train my team on the issues that will have a direct impact on our important work,” he concluded.

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