Foundations of Excellence launch training trip report

As a member of a team of five, four from the College of Micronesia and one from the University of Maine at Fort Kent, I left Pohnpei on Monday 20 October to attend a Foundations of Excellence® training workshop at the John N. Gardner Institute in Brevard, North Carolina.

Betsy, Kioni, and Joey work on the Foundations of Excellence technology platform

The team checked into the Holiday Inn Express & Suites in Brevard on the evening of Tuesday, 21 October. As is my habit, I went for a quick run on a nearby trail up into the Pisgah National Forest.

While running and juggling I met other Brevardians out for an evening walk. Two young men clapped for me when they saw me come around a corner running and juggling. They called out, "Hey, that's good. Can you do it running backwards?" When I responded, "No," they said, "We expect more of you!" I told them I would work on my backwards running and juggling. That encounter well captured the spirit of the people I met during my brief visit. Friendly, warm, and a people who expect more of themselves - who demand more from themselves.

The sessions began in earnest on Wednesday with introductions and a background context discussion. After lunch the group learned the Foundations of Excellence® conceptual model and was introduced to a technological support platform called FoEtec. The team also worked on the first three Foundational Dimensions®, philosophy, organization, and learning.

Philosophy refers to an institution that intentionally cultivates learning environments for new students that emerge from a philosophy of two-year colleges as gateways to higher education.

The organization dimension looks at whether an institution provides a comprehensive, coordinated, and flexible approach to the new student experience through effective organizational structures and policies.

The learning dimension examines whether an institution delivers curricular and co-curricular learning experiences that engage new students in order to develop knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behaviors consistent with the institutional mission, students' academic and career goals, and workplace expectations.

Day two began with a video overview of the Foundations of Excellence® program. The video advised that an institution should pitch a big tent. By October all data should be entered. By November the faculty surveys are ready and dimension groups without student survey components can meet, dimension groups with student survey data will have to meet late November, early December. Intersession work can begin on culling through the action plans from the dimension groups. Action plan should be in place by end of the spring for presentation to boards, senates. Involve everybody. In discussions that followed the video the team from the college noted that these timelines would have to be modified.

John sharing with the group

The team then received a briefing on the change process and the context in which that change is viewed. John noted that the institute is an advisory organization and is designed to be managed and controlled by the implementing college. Nine areas of focus provide the core of the assessment and the foundation to implementation of change. The institute places a high value on face-to-face communications in change processes, inclusivity, and open communication. The steering and dimension committees should be broadly inclusive and include faculty, staff, and students from across the spectrum of the college. Knowing that administrators come and go, the process heavily involves faculty. Faculty have the longer tenures at a college.

Betsy, Angela, John, Universe. A sense of community is also important.

Day two sessions continued with a detailed look at the Current Practices Inventory of programs, policies, practices, committees, councils, and existing assessments. Student data, academic background, retention rates, courses with the highest DFWI rates, high enrollment courses, and intervention programs are also part of the Current Practices Inventory. The building of the CPI inventory will fall heavily on the Institutional Research and Planning Office.

Day two wrapped with a technical overview of the Foundations of Excellence® technology support platform. Note that the development of First Year Experiences predates the existence of the technology platform.

Building a sense of camaraderie strengthens a team, a team learns to rely on each other in adverse conditions. A cold evening run.

Day three began with consideration of the question, "What would your institution have to do to have an excellent beginning." Note that the Foundations of Excellence® do not start with how to improve retention but rather with a focus on what can the institution do to be excellent. Faculty and staff being used differently is the key to student success. Focus on being excellent. Most efforts on improving retention exist in narrow silos and have a low probability of actually improving retention. The Foundations process asks, "Who is doing what to improve retention?" One of the underlying presumptions is that a college cannot change the students, the college can only change the environment into which the students arrive.

Day three also included a quick look at the remaining six Foundational Dimensions®.

Campus Culture: New students are made a high priority for faculty and staff.
Transitions: Appropriate student transitions are facilitated beginning with outreach and recruitment and continuing throughout the period of enrollment.
All Students: All new students are served according to their varied needs.
Diversity: New students experience ongoing exploration of diverse ideas, worldviews, and cultures as a means of enhancing their learning and participation in pluralistic communities.
Roles and Purposes: Student understanding of the various roles and purposes of higher education and those unique to two-year institutions are promoted, both for the individual and society.
Improvement: Assessment is conducted and associations are maintained with other institutions and relevant professional organizations in order to effect improvement. 
* Definitions are from the John N. Gardner Institute Foundations of Excellence® platform, all rights reserved.

Modified timelines were developed during day three. The modifications included compressing the timeline and working around calendar realities such as three holidays in early November and finals in early December. The team has timelines and a plan of action.

Wrapping up

For the final night the team moved to the Clarion Inn Airport NC674 in Asheville prior to departing North Carolina on Saturday 26 October.


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