March Update

I wanted to provide you with this update on what is happening at Champlain College.

Munich Cyber Security Conference

Last month, I traveled to Munich to participate in the Munich Cyber Security Conference, an offshoot of the Munich Security Conference. This exclusive gathering brought together business, government and IT executives from around the world to discuss cyber issues. Presenters included Rob Joyce, the White House coordinator of cyber security, and Eugene Kaspersky, owner of Kaspersky Labs.

Our hosts, Markus and Claudia Geier, owners of ComCode and friends of Champlain, arranged for Devin Paden, Assistant Professor and Program Director for the Computer Network and Cybersecurity at Champlain, and me to present our program to a select group of 100 executives and to pitch our students as intern candidates. ComCode hosted a cyber security student last summer with great success, and Markus and Claudia have been great advocates for our program. On behalf of the College, I presented to an exclusive group of IT executives.

I had an opportunity to tour the new Internet Security Hub at Munich Airport. After the tour of the state-of-the-art facility, the director of cyber security at the airports asked if Champlain could provide him with two interns this summer to work at the Hub. Markus and Claudia have talked to several other companies in Munich about hosting Champlain interns. If we can find enough students interested in spending the summer in Munich, we could see four to six students working there this summer.

Information Services

We have launched our national search for a new VP of Information Technology. In the interim, AVP Diana Matot is serving as our CIO. Diana reports to me. She has worked at Champlain for 25 years and has played leadership roles in our Datatel/Colleague implementation and more recently in our GMHEC implementation efforts. She also played a leadership role in the Target X implementation supporting Enrollment.


CPS enrollment, and especially truED, remain strong. We received nice coverage of our survey of adult students.

TRAD student enrollment is on par with last year. Lisa Bunders’ team is actively engaging students with a variety of communication and social media tools. We had a highly successful event this past month, which included deposited, admitted, and prospective high school juniors and seniors. The attendance at the February event surpassed last year.

Standard and Poor’s Rating

S&P reaffirmed our BBB debt rating following their annual review of our financial status. This is due in part to our delivering a significant increase in net assets (a result of our $4.4 million surplus and investment gains) and our continued stable enrollment results. This is a great result for our first bond rating review.

GMHEC (Green Mountain Higher Education Consortium)

GMHEC launched the ERP replacement project in January. The project is named Project Ensemble. The majority of campus business units have now completed the process redesign sessions and shared services deep dives. We have received the final reports that summarize these plans, with additional suggestions from our consultants. We now are entering a decision-phase across the three institutions to determine and prioritize what is implemented immediately and what is a second or tertiary priority.

BOT Activities

The Committee on Trusteeship has finalized our new committee membership. Thanks to Sarah Tischler for her leadership and to all of our trustees for their support in this journey to reinvent the work of the BOT.

The Champlain community is energized by the vision I outlined in January to connect our professional education with students’ desire to find purpose and meaning. Efforts are underway to identify individuals to attend the conference in June at the World Positive Education Accelerator. Please let Robert Caldwell or me know if you, or someone you know, would like to support our efforts philanthropically.

Teach the Teachers: This is the best way

Teach the Teachers: This is the best way to teach kids about money via @MONEY @ChamplainEdu @ChampFinLit

Teach the Teachers: This is the best way

Teach the Teachers: This is the best way to teach kids about money via @MONEY @ChamplainEdu @ChampFinLit

Moving Day

The blog will be moving to a new address – Same great WordPress engine powering it, but with a Champlain College wrapper around it.

For those who type in the old address, we will set up an automatic re-direct. Until then, readers can find all new posts at the new address until the transition is complete.

Busy Week Two

At dinner with a former trustee on Friday night, she asked me how things were going. I quickly recapped the exciting things happening at the College. She replied, “You haven’t signed up for a job. You have signed up for a lifestyle.” If this past week is a guide, it should be an exciting, rewarding lifestyle.

Tuesday we met with our partners for our MS in Emergent Media offering in Shanghai: Frank Lin, who runs the Jiuyou Fund, and Yong Zhang, chairman of the North American High-Tech Center. This partnership is a result of the work of faculty member Ann DeMarle and Associate Provost Jim Cross. We had a dinner at Shelburne Farms that evening to celebrate the signing of a memorandum of understanding. Many friends of Champlain College attended, including former Champlain College president Bob Skiff.

We followed the dinner with a graduation ceremony on Wednesday morning for our four students who spent the last few months in Burlington finishing out their degree requirements. MS in Emergent Media graduates Ming Hu, Jing Kang (Kiki), Zichen Liu (Jin), and Lufei Sun (Vera) each completed a professional certificate in Foundations of Emergent Media Practice and a professional certificate in Emergent Media Systems & Implementation. Vera Sun will go on to earn additional credits at the Burlington, Vt. campus to complete her Masters in Fine Art Degree. I appreciated the large number of faculty and trustees who turned out to celebrate our students accomplishments.

I did take a break Wednesday night. Core Division faculty member Craig Pepin kindly sgave me a bike tour, focused mostly on the Spear Street ride out-of-town. Craig took it easy on me for the ride. I suppose it is bad form to give a new president a heart attack in his first two weeks on the job.

Thursday night the College community came together to hear from a few of our scholarship recipients at the annual “Vehicle To a Better Life” celebration. Our goal is to raise $220,000 to help students attend the college. Our advancement office did a wonderful job organizing the event. We heard inspirational stories from several scholarship recipients at the dinner on the value of their Champlain College education. I had the unenviable task of following the remarks of former student government association president and 2014 graduate Chelsea Hutchings with a few of my own.

Friday night WCAX’s Gina Bullard interviewed me about being Champlain’s new president. My mother told me that she was proud of my performance. My mother is not an easy woman to impress.

Saturday we had another graduation, this time for the students who completed their week in “Imagine College.” Ame Lambert, our Chief Diversity Officer, envisioned Imagine College as Champlain College’s pre-college and college success initiative, designed to help create college access for underserved populations, help them continue to graduation and prepare them for a life of career and personal success where they can serve as agents of positive change in our community. Students made presentations about what they learned during the week, including how to pay for college, what majors are available in college, and habits that help make college more rewarding.

I appreciate the efforts of our faculty and staff who led and participated in pulling together these wonderful, diverse events. The dedication necessary to assemble well-organized events was repaid by the the joyous celebrations. I observed the full range of our commitment to the “Human Touch” as we demonstrated it to business partners, graduating students, prospective students, and to our friends. Thanks, team, for another great week.


Defining Reality

Dave has turned over the keys, given up the decoder ring, and taught me the secret presidential handshake. All that’s left is to run the college.

Dave Finney hands over the keys to Champlain College to Don Laackman

Dave Finney hands over the keys to Champlain College to Don Laackman

“The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality.”  [Max De Pree]

The reality is, I start working at Champlain College on Tuesday. I have spent the last six months in transition, visiting for three or four days a month, learning about Champlain through meetings, celebrations, and one-on-one discussions. The one-on-ones in particular, where I ask people my five questions, have been instructive. While I have more discussions ahead of me, I have developed some early impressions of what reality is for many at Champlain.

People love Champlain College. Board members, faculty, staff and students embrace Champlain’s radically pragmatic approach to education. They love its nimbleness, entrepreneurial spirit, and commitment to students’ professional, academic and life success. We are small but global. Moving fast and executing well. In and of the Burlington community, but aware of our leading role in the world of higher education.

The reality is, Champlain College is in great shape after nine years of Dave Finney’s leadership. Admissions are up, brand awareness is growing, and our programs are market relevant. We have a great team in place. We are growing and thriving at a time when many in higher ed are retrenching and trying to understand the new normal. Our three-dimensional approach to preparing students for work and life is resonating with students and employers, as shown by our 100% job placement rate.

As helpful as the transition has been, I am happy it is over. I am ready to get to work. As I have said to many faculty and staff, I join Champlain because the Champlain 2020 plan is a great strategy for us. I don’t expect any major changes in direction, but I am aware that as the world changes, we will need to change with it.

I am also aware that people want to know what life at Champlain will feel like with me as president. I hope that my actions during the recent search process for our new provost, Laurie Quinn, is indicative of my leadership. I pledge to actively seek feedback, listen more than I talk, and make decisions informed by the wisdom of our faculty, staff and students. My goal is to increase the engagement of our people and unlock the energy and enthusiasm people have told me they have for Champlain College. I have an open door policy and welcome meeting with anyone from our community. (Given that my cube in Freeman doesn’t have a door, please talk to Linda Murphy about getting time on my calendar if you want to talk. I look forward to it.)

I look forward to being a part of the next chapter in Champlain College’s ongoing success story. Welcome to the new reality.

And In the End . . .

I quoted Max De Pree on my way into Harold Washington College, and I’ll use the same quote on the way out:

The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.

It is time for me to say thank you.

The last three years at Harold Washington College have been the most rewarding professional years of my life. The teams at the college and district office have helped us deliver greater successes for more students. More students are graduating, getting good jobs, and having a good experience while they are at the college. These results come from the efforts of many people, too many to mention by name here. I will call out a few special names as proxies for the efforts of everyone to whom I am deeply grateful.

I start where my City Colleges of Chicago journey started, with Chancellor Hyman. I met the Chancellor when I was consulting to CCC. Her passion for student success and institutional performance is intense, relentless and tireless. She asks time and again the seemingly innocuous question, “How does this contribute to student success?” often at times when we are in a muddle. The Chancellor’s vision and belief in the possibilities for our students has fueled the year-on-year improvements at CCC in the face of many doubters. Now businesses are knocking on our doors to get access to our students. Our profile has risen nationally and internationally.

I am deeply grateful to the Chancellor’s faith in me. I don’t know how many leaders would have gambled on a business guy with no higher ed experience to lead the college in the system with the largest credit enrollment. I have worked hard to serve her vision and goals, but I have gained much more in the effort. I joined CCC because of the Chancellor’s vision and the opportunity to be part of the largest reform of a community college system in the country. I leave because I have learned that I love being a college president, and I found a school in Vermont where I want to continue being a college president. I thank the Chancellor for seeing something in me even I didn’t recognize, and giving me the chance to be a college president. I am forever grateful.

The Chancellor has built a great team. I thank my fellow presidents and the officers of the district for their support, guidance, and counsel over the past three years. Delivering the results we have delivered over the past three years is not easy, and I appreciated the opportunity to be a part of this team.

The faculty at Harold Washington College have challenged, counseled, disagreed with, rallied behind, and engaged me. Coming in, I had an intellectual understanding of the importance of faculty to a college. Leaving, I have a gut-level understanding of the fundamental transformation that great faculty effect in our students. I thank HWC’s faculty (and Wright College’s faculty) for what they have taught me. I appreciate their leadership at the college and their willingness to support me.

The staff at HWC have undergone some of the most dramatic change over the past three years. Their willingness to change processes, offer ideas, and embrace an attitude of service to our students has enabled us to improve our student satisfaction with many aspects of the college. Many students have commented to me directly about the improvement in service and tone at the College. I thank the staff for embracing the change.

I have been incredibly fortunate to have an amazing leadership team at HWC. Margie, Wendell, Armen, Kent, Kim, Juliana, Nikole and Paul have been student-centric. They have put the needs of HWC ahead of their own needs. I am grateful for the faith they had in joining my team and the professionalism they demonstrated  with our students, faculty and staff. I have worked with leadership teams in the private and non-profit sector, and consider the HWC team one of the best with whom I have worked. Thank you.

I have also been blessed during my presidency with two amazing Executive Assistants – Gabe and Angela. They had my back at every turn. They were proactive and supportive. They exceeded my expectations. They both have bright futures ahead of them, and I feel fortunate to have worked with them early in their careers. I will miss them both.

Lastly, I thank the students of Harold Washington College. They have enriched me with their stories. They moved me with what many of them overcome in order to walk through our doors. I have felt privileged that they entrusted their education to us.

To my CCC family, thank you for your support. I feel blessed to have been with you on this part of the journey.

Herald Scores Awards

Professor Molly Turner, adviser to The Herald, let me know about the honors our students won at the Illinois Community College Association’s Spring Awards conference held April 4th and 5th at Moraine Valley Community College. The Herald has taken awards each year I have been here, and I commend the staff on continuing their tradition of excellence.

The Herald won three first place awards in Feature Writing, Layout, and Sports Feature Writing; four second place awards in Front Page Design, Graphics, Headlines, and General Excellence; one third place award in advertising, and two honorable mentions in Feature Writing and Columns.
First Place: Spencer Lahr, Feature Writing
First Place: Nicholas Andrews, Sports Feature
First Place: Staff, Layout
Second Place: Spencer Lahr, Front Page Design
Second Place: Staff, General Excellence
Second Place: Michael Capots, Graphics
Second Place: Spencer Lahr, Headlines
Third Place: Eli Mayfield, Advertising
Honorable Mention: Alice Rich, Columns
Honorable Mention: Emily Coats, Feature Writing
The contest considered entries published from March through December 2013. I especially appreciate the Sports Feature award, given that we don’t have a sports team. That did not stop our intrepid journalists from getting a good story.
Congratulations to the entire staff for representing Harold Washington College so well.


The Loss of a Student

One of the things they don’t teach you in new president’s school is how to handle the calls you make to parents with condolences on the death of their child. While serving as president of Harold Washington, I have made these calls more often than I could have imagined. Our students have died from a variety of causes, and none of the calls are easy. They don’t get easier.

Last week, we lost Kevin Baker. By all accounts, Kevin was doing everything we could ask of a young man who had grown up in a troubled South Side neighborhood of Chicago. He cared deeply about his family. He was not involved in gangs. He made the daily trip from Chicago Lawn to Harold Washington College, where he was enrolled for his second semester. Kevin was committed to getting an education and contributing.

The incident, as reported in the press, was further evidence that Kevin was trying to do the right thing. He was a block from home at 4:15 PM, having left Harold Washington after his Thursday afternoon class. When confronted by the robbers, he turned over his phone when asked, without argument, as one is supposed to do.

None of this saved him. The young man known as “college boy” in his neighborhood was shot and killed for reasons we cannot understand. Several of Harold Washington’s faculty and staff have reached out to me, expressing grief that such a dedicated, caring, committed young man is gone. Our Wellness Center Director visited one of Kevin’s classes to offer support. One of his classmates commented that she, too, was regularly harassed by gang members on the walk from her El stop to her house. The loss of Kevin raised the spectre for these students of the risks they face daily.

Members of our community delivered condolences to Kevin’s family at his services this past Thursday. His mother was appreciative that the college had reached out, even while the family struggled to understand and asked for help in identifying Kevin’s killers.

Each time I make one of these phone calls or visits, I am most overwhelmed at the ability of parents to simply function. I know how much it pains our community to deal with the loss of our students. I cannot imagine the multiples of grief that must crush these parents. And I can’t know if, in the face of insurmountable odds, surrounded by violence and poverty, you raise a good son who sees a college education as a way to improve himself, your grief over your loss is even more profound or crushing. I only know that it is important to make the call, to tell the family we are here, we care, and we, too, have lost a special young man. We grieve with them.

Connecting the Dots

I attended workforceChicago’s awards breakfast this morning, where Aon, one of our College to Careers partners, was honored. Aaron Olson, Global Head of Talent Management for Aon, spoke about HWC’s and Aon’s partnership. He connected the dots between Aon’s need for talent, the Mayor’s commitment to get companies the talent they need, and the talented students we have at the College.

Aaron had arranged for four of our students to attend the breakfast. He gave an update on the four students who have served as interns at Aon. Bartosz Wawrzyszak told me he is heading to Poland after Christmas to work in Aon’s offices there. He will continue to pursue his bachelor’s degree at National Louis University while at Aon-Poland. Courtney Shepherd thanked me for the good work Aly and the Career Placement and Planning staff performed in getting his resume in great shape. He is continuing his studies at Roosevelt. Carmen Hines has been accepted to Northwestern University, and Latorie Washington is studying business administration at DePaul.

Aaron also talked about the Aon Scholars program, which launches next month. Aon will sponsor students who work for companies that have graduated from our 10,000 Small Businesses program. Our belief is that internships are critical to both educating our students about what it is like to hold a job and to helping them be more attractive to employers. The Aon Scholars program will connect the dots between our 10KSB scholars and our up-and-coming students. Aaron said that Aon will look to these students in the future as top candidates for Aon internships.

A year into our College to Careers efforts, we are seeing benefits for students. More students are getting jobs, and more students are transferring successfully to four-year universities. Our four Aon interns are doing both. That is something to celebrate this holiday season.

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