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.

Dining In

At the beginning of the school year, a number of students and an occasional professor wondered where the College was serving its meals. A good question, considering that the Lombard Dining Hall—the school’s one and only—began a massive, multi-million dollar renovation earlier this year, and it was natural to think that the building would be closed.

But it’s been dining as usual in this structure erected in 1974. Students and faculty need only take a detour by crossing to the far side of Center Road and then crossing back to a side entrance into Lombard.

It’s been hard to miss the early stages of construction, as the brick outline of a new front entrance has risen, leaving the actual dining area intact. And while the project’s design and engineering have impressed, the planning has become the bigger marvel.

At first glance, the almost four-year schedule may seem excessive. In the past few years, we’ve constructed our two newest buildings—the Fels Center and the Academic Building—in less time than that, and from the ground up. But the challenge here has been to create a state-of-the-art dining facility while keeping the student body fed.

The solution has meant doing the heavy lifting on a compact, efficient schedule during vacation breaks, starting with the past summer, when the new vaulted entrance took shape. We’ve adjusted the coming break between fall and spring semesters to accommodate construction that would otherwise be intrusive. The same approach will continue next summer, and so forth.

2018 11 1 Dining-Hall-Render2The final result in 2021 will be worth waiting for, as a cathedral ceiling extends the length of the dining hall with light streaming in from numerous windows, and energy efficient food stations will dot the periphery.

Bon appetit.

The 40 Under Forty Keep On Coming

Recently I attended the 40 Under Forty ceremony held by the Worcester Business Journal. This annual event recognizes young achievers who have chosen to lead their successful lives in the city and its surrounding towns. This year’s honorees have come—sometimes to study first at area colleges and universities—from as far away as Ghana, Brazil, and Albania.

They have all brought their talents to a wide range of endeavors, from starting their own companies to working for area healthcare organizations to excelling at banks and other area businesses.

Since Nichols is a presenting sponsor of this event every year, I had the chance to speak to the winners. “Your professional accomplishments are truly impressive, but the extent that you give back is remarkable,” I said. “The Worcester Animal Rescue League, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Rise Above Foundation, and the dozens of other volunteer commitments you have listed have benefited from your caring and compassion.”

The success of this year’s 40 is testimony to the attraction of central Massachusetts and the urban culture of Worcester. These recipients exemplify the advantages of becoming leaders early in their careers. That pathway is familiar to Nichols because of the extended leadership training we provide to our students, a number of whom have joined the 40 winners of past years.

It’s a favorite time of year when I can see Worcester thriving through the accomplishments and participation of a dynamic, young generation—and to know that our commitment to teaching leadership can contribute.