Another Night to Remember

One evening last month, the Nichols faculty gathered off campus—not for a presidential address or a development workshop. They were enjoying a dinner that has reprised itself for almost three decades, courtesy of a revered Nichols alum and trustee.

Robert Kuppenheimer ’69 is known around the Nichols campus as Kuppy and is renowned here as a benefactor with a genuine interest in the life of our college. While we’ve been fortunate to have a number of generous and involved alumni, and while Kuppy has funded everything from scholarships to building projects, the annual Faculty Appreciation “Kuppy” Dinner stands alone. And while there are probably plenty of other schools that get substantial financial support from individual donors for faculty-related activities, I have never heard of this level of personal involvement.

Kuppy truly enjoys his time on campus interacting with faculty, students, and staff. Before dinner he met with a group of faculty members to discuss their research activities, talked with members of the Student Alumni Society about philanthropy, and met with English Professor Jeff Halprin about a Kuppy-inspired yearbook he’s preparing for the Class of 1969. In all of these meetings, Kuppy as always was genuinely interested and eager to listen, as well as to provide his opinions.

Jack Finning, our featured dinner speaker, talked about his experience with the 20 Nichols graduates he’s hired over the years at AAFCPAs, the large regional accounting firm that he co-founded. He explained that he surveyed the 13 current Nichols grads he employs about how they thought their Nichols degree prepared and differentiated them. Jack also talked about where we could do better. And that’s what it’s all about! Understanding where we do well, while working to address areas where we could improve.

Kuppy always glares at me when I tell him I want him to speak. Then he stands up and wows the crowd with his passion about the importance of student-faculty relationships. I also love the fact that Kuppy’s brother attends this event every year. A longstanding tradition that is always a great night.

What a Run!

I’ve spent part of the last month as a big basketball fan, rooting for the Nichols men’s team as it made school history.

I attended the Commonwealth Coast Conference championship game at Holy Cross. It was packed with far more Nichols than Gordon fans. I also traveled to the NCAA Round 1 at Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey–where Nichols had wins over Middlebury and Rowan to advance to the Division III Sweet Sixteen for the FIRST time in College history!

The next weekend I attended two games at Amherst College. Nichols beat vaunted Amherst to advance to the Elite 8, but lost to Swarthmore, which ended the road for the team as they knocked on the door of the Final Four. In the Swarthmore game, the team was down by as much as 19 points. They battled back within 2, but ultimately lost by 4.

Three consecutive years as CCC Conference Champs is quite a feat. The team was a joy to watch this season. No ball hogs. Constant communication. Up tempo play that really rattled many of their opponents. I think we’re going to be a force to be reckoned with for years to come.

Many of our sports teams this year have provided points of pride by competing strongly in the CCC playoffs. Women’s ice hockey had a terrific season and quite a turnaround from just two years ago. While it was not the year for men’s ice hockey, they typically take a run deep into the conference playoffs and have brought home many a trophy.

So has men’s tennis, which is another juggernaut to watch this spring. In the 8 years I’ve been at Nichols, they have accumulated quite a collection of championship jewelry and perennially make it to the NCAA tournament.

Student athletes comprise a large proportion of the student body. What’s more, their grade point and retention rates are above the overall average, so they truly take the “student” part of student athlete very seriously.

Spring Semester Resolutions

As February dawns, our spring semester is in full swing, and there’s plenty I want to see happen at Nichols this term, from progressing on our new strategic plan to catching up with the freshmen from my “Lead 101” class last fall.

I’m interested in student reactions to our new space featuring a vaulted ceiling and walls of windows in Lombard Dining Hall—and completed during the holiday break to keep disruption to a minimum. I’m also looking forward to welcoming prospective Bison at two Accepted Student Receptions and giving a fond farewell to our graduating class in May.

Speaking of graduation and beyond, our current overarching goal—to retain 80% of our first-year students for their sophomore year by 2020 —has the Nichols community more focused than ever on ensuring that students succeed here and are prepared for what’s next.

While a small proportion of them go directly to graduate school, most will enter the workforce. As we fully implement our leadership initiative across all four years of the undergraduate degree, they all will be ready to demonstrate their value to future employers.

I’ve always said that those soft skills—leadership and teamwork in particular—make a hard impression.

My personal “New Term” resolutions:

To get out of my office more often and chat more with faculty, staff, and students.

To continue to balance my time on campus—completing the necessary tasks but also finding time to attend a sports competition or student-run event.

To be sure that my Apple watch closes all three rings every day.

Giving Back with Gusto

The Nichols Community knows how to give back. That was evident on November 27th—designated nationally as Giveback Tuesday—through a novel activity conceived by one our professors, Priscilla Alfaro-Barrantes, and actuated by her Lead 101 and Marketing students.

The idea was to raise money for the Vermont-based group the Warrior Connection, which helps veterans suffering from PTSD. Dubbed the #NC22challenge, the month-long campaign asked members of the Nichols community to perform 22 pushups, with their efforts matched by financial contributions.

2018 12 5 Giving Tuesday Photo 1Priscilla brought the head of the Warrior Connection to campus, and her students got the word out, including a visit to my own Lead 101 class to recruit participants. While I didn’t do any pushups myself, I had promised her classes that I would donate $22 for each student in my class who did. Twenty-one of them took and met the challenge.

2018 12 5 Giving Tuesday Photo 2When all was said and the pushups done, the #NC22challenge raised more than $5,000, double the original goal.

I think that the partnership with classes and students drove the event to the level of success it achieved. Not to mention that along the way, Priscilla’s Lead 101 and Marketing classes successfully practiced “servant leadership” and social media marketing.

As Priscilla wrote to the Nichols community afterwards, “We really appreciate all the faculty, staff, Board of Trustees members, students, families, and friends who, for about a month, did push-ups, donated, nominated people, and shared our social media posts.”

To that I would add our gratitude to our most generous donors—our alumni—who showed their loyal support and Bison pride. Thanks to this growing list of supporters, this Giving Tuesday was the College’s most successful ever!

Back to the Classroom

This semester has involved going back to the future for me, specifically in my teaching a college course for the first time in 14 years.

I was nervous at first. 14 years is a long time! It is like riding a bike—you don’t completely forget. But I felt like I needed training wheels. I had to learn not only the course material, but also how to use Canvas, our learning management system, a quantum leap technologically from the olden days.

What’s more, I’m teaching first year students  in the required course “Leadership 101”, which paves the way for an extended curriculum in leadership for the upper class years.

Of course, as a college president, I meet and talk with students regularly. Dealing with this cohort in class has proved a different matter entirely. It has been as much a learning experience for me as for my students, starting with the reality that I need to be very explicit about assignment requirements and what happens to late submissions.

I have to remind myself that these students are 18 years old with limited experience to draw upon, so I need to be thoughtful about the types of questions I ask and to be realistic in my expectations. I’ve also been reminded about the joys and frustrations of dealing with folks who have varying levels of motivation and personal/professional goals.

At the same time, I am very impressed with the poise and professionalism of our first-year students. They seem comfortable speaking in class and have developed and delivered effective presentations. I find these students are very articulate and able to lay out coherent and compelling arguments.

I admit that it has been difficult layering in this extra day of work per week on top of an already more than full-time job. But I’m enjoying this second job. I hope that my students are as well. I feel like I’m getting my groove back.

Canvas and I are even getting along a bit better now as well.