Declaring Leadership

For many a college, “Declaration Day” has become a tradition when prospective students indicate their plans to attend that institution. At Nichols for the past three years, another declaration day has taken place every fall for students to extend their college education into the important realm of leadership.

2017 10 17 ELPPhotoOn these occasions, a self-selected set of sophomores takes the first step into our Emerging Leaders Program (ELP), designed to increase and nurture their leadership skills and potential—through internships, part-time jobs on campus, academic projects, educational trips, and a host of other activities.

Any opportunity that stretches you outside your comfort zone or exposes you to something new—whether ideas or experiences—helps build confidence and begins to develop a strong foundation for leadership and life.

I made a brief speech about my personal definition of leadership, which I emphasized is more than an individual achievement. Since it was football Sunday, I used some football analogies.

In Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002, I recalled, the starting lineup for the favored St. Louis Rams came onto the field one at a time as they were introduced. When it came time for the underdog Patriots to appear, the stadium announcer said, “Choosing to be introduced as a team…”

That was the first time any Super Bowl team had taken the field in this way. I told the group, “I remember thinking, ‘The Patriots are going to win this,’ in large part due to the “team first” attitude.

They did. I have great confidence that those Nichols students in ELP can follow their example.

Welcome Back

Nichols class reunions never get old for me, and our annual Alumni Weekend at the end of September was no exception. Whether attending live athletic events, the Saturday breakfast to induct new members to the College’s athletic hall of fame, or honoring our oldest graduates, Nichols alumni have always struck me as appreciative of their years here—and genuinely happy to be back.

It was fun talking with the classes as they lined up to go onto Vendetti field at halftime of the football game. Many have stayed in touch with classmates. Many of them told me how wonderful the campus looked, how friendly our students were when they ran into them on campus, and how good it felt to be back on campus.

2017 10 17 HomecomingThe class of 2017 was well represented. I got lots of hugs and comments about how folks missed being on the Hill. And the Golden Bison reception for folks who graduated in the Class of ’67 was the largest since we started this tradition in 2012. Forty members showed up for their 50th reunion!

Not to forget the culinary side: Taste of Nichols was a popular activity, with four alumni venues hosting samples for the crowds, including cold brew and hot coffee, lobster mac ‘n cheese, ice cream, and barbecue chicken.

On the athletic front, an alumna who was inducted into the hall of fame was a classmate of our new women’s basketball coach, MaryLynn Skarzenski. I also encountered the mother of an alumna inducted last year. Mom has now adopted Nichols and was around much of the day on Saturday even though her daughter could not attend Homecoming this year.

2017 10 17 Homecoming 2What I have also noticed is the continued increase in the numbers showing up for this special weekend, and the good time they have had. That is not surprising, and it matches the good time I have had with them.

Hail to the 40 Under Forty

As the president of a college that prides itself on teaching leadership, I look forward to the Worcester Business Journal’s annual 40 Under Forty celebration. This gathering recognizes 40 young men and women in Central and Metro West Massachusetts who have already made a considerable impact through their business and professional careers, as well as through their active community involvement.

This year’s class ranged from Worcester natives to those born in countries ranging from Albania to Nicaragua. As in previous years, I was able to address the honorees, and it was not stretch to tell them, “You are remarkable in so many ways.”

2017 10 1 WBJ 40 Under 40aWhat is as impressive as their individual stories and resumes, is their commitment to organizations and causes that make up the fabric of local society—the ASPCA, Food Banks, Junior Achievement, Canines for Disabled Kids, the Little League, and dozens of other recipients that welcome a continuous flow of caring and compassion.

Kevin Johnson, one of the fabulous 40, graduated from Nichols and kept alive our streak of alumni who have put their education and talents to use in the Worcester area.

What’s even more significant about the 40 Under Forty contingent, is that they represent the wave of millennials who make up the majority of our workforce and on whom the future prospects and values of our society depend. What I saw of these folks gives me a lot of hope.

Ringing in the Fourth Year of the Nichols Honors Academy

Last week I had a look at the educational future.

Nichols hosted a group of 50 seniors and freshmen from Bartlett High School in neighboring Webster. They are part of the Nichols Honors Academy, which is now entering its fourth year, and through which our college is offering those students a connection to their futures in college and beyond.

2017 9 15 NHA Photo 2 Through this program, high school juniors and seniors are able to take college courses on the Nichols campus, while freshmen and sophomores visit four times during the school year to get coaching in college readiness as well as simulating a full college day. The students are selected for the program based on their academic achievement and college ambitions.

At a ceremony near the end of their four-hour visit to campus, the freshman were inducted into the Honors Academy and received Chrome laptops to help them on their way.

The superintendent of the Webster Public Schools, the Bartlett principal, and longtime Nichols benefactor and trustee Gerald Fels—who with his wife Marilyn is sponsoring the Honors Academy—joined me in acknowledging the progress of the 12th graders.

2017 9 15 NHA Photo 1I called these students the “pioneers” of the program and reminded them that their success last year in taking the Nichols courses International Business and Principles of Marketing proves that they can do college-level work. They’ll be taking a political science course on the Nichols campus this fall.

These bright students have benefited from their time at Nichols—from the college courses to workshops stressing time management, college choices, and the application and essay writing process.

What’s just as heartening is the eager collaboration between the Nichols administration and faculty and their counterparts in Webster. A number of Bartlett teachers, counselors, and administrators were at the event, and their ongoing support of the Honors Academy has been invaluable.

Together, we’re helping shape a bright future for a next generation of college students.

Commencement Reflections

On Saturday, May 6th, I presided over my sixth Nichols commencement. These occasions never get old. They certainly do get a lot larger—an estimated 3,800 guests attended this year celebrating more than 480 graduates.

2017 5 6 Commencement Photo 2But the great thing about Nichols commencements is not quantity but quality of our graduates. The senior who had to attend his classes this year from home because of serious illness but who excelled nevertheless. Another who was the first in his family to earn a college degree and for whom 42 relatives drove from Ohio to see him cross the stage. This class produced not one, but two valedictorians, each with a perfect 4.0 average.

On the lighter side, one new graduate—a “triple Bison” who was receiving his third Nichols degree—lived up to his billing with a tattoo on his arm…of three Bison.

We heard from alumnus and honorary doctoral degree recipient Marty Allen ‘75, who achieved an amazing career leading high profile national retail chains. The lives of the new graduates would be determined 100% by the actions they take, he promised.

2017 5 6 Commencement Photo 1For my part, I raised a few eyebrows by telling the Class of 2017 not to follow their dreams. “Dreams are aspirational, and you need that. But those aspirations are useless without the planning and perspiration to transform those dreams to reality,” I explained, adding that their Nichols education had provided them the tools to become more than a dreamer.

There was plenty of hooting and hollering during the ceremonies, most noticeably when we asked different groups of new graduates to stand. We recognized the large number of students who were the first in their families to earn an undergraduate or graduate degree. We praised the many who worked at jobs for more than 20 hours a week while pursuing their degrees fulltime. And we saluted more than a dozen Nichols sons and daughters who attended the College on their veteran’s benefits after serving their country.

All in all, it was an amazing day.