Podcast by Daniel Barwick
Well, it’s only been a couple of days since I made the announcement and my email and social media have been blowing up. And so I thought I might take a few moments on the podcast just to talk briefly about my resignation from Independence Community College. I’ve taken a consulting position with a number of other educational consultants, more about that later, and then I’ll be moving on to another educational institution. I’ll share more details about with you about that with you later, but I really did just want to say how grateful I am to all my listeners for reaching out to me, having seen it maybe on social media or their local news or in the state of Kansas news.
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I’m really grateful to the trustees of the college. I had the opportunity to lead a truly fine institution for nearly a decade. And you know, what’s so satisfying is that the future of the college, it was of course very bright. We have a strong endorsement from our accreditors. There’s new facilities all across campus, both indoors, outdoors, academic, athletic, student-focused. We have just completed, as you’ve heard on this podcast before, a new five-year strategic plan, which was the result of over 600 people working together to create value for the community and the college to do so. That plan was unanimously endorsed by the trustees and I just feel extremely pleased with the result of that. And I feel like the college is very well-positioned for its second century of serving our community and beyond. These are not my accomplishments – the employees, the students, the alumni and the wonderful Independence community did them together. If I’ve learned anything from my time at ICC, it’s that working as a team can create so much more value than lone rangers.
Speaking of doing them together, in my field of philosophy, that’s a slightly less collaborative field than many other fields. And there are certain fields, say theatre, where no one, for the most part, unless you’re a playwright, can really work alone. For the most part, everyone in the theater is working collaboratively and in philosophy I would say that’s much less the case. And what I have found in administration is that ultimately administration is a lot more like working in theater than it is like working in philosophy. Ultimately everyone is stronger when they work together, and all of the best accomplishments at Independence Community College over the last decade have not been because I brought them about, but because we brought them about as a team – from the terrific administrative team that I had, to the very, very dedicated and credentialed faculty, to the staff who work so hard. It’s unbelievable. I think that, you know, I’m stammering a little bit because of course it’s almost impossible to really capture some of the hard work that you see people doing; when you see how there’s something important that needs to be done and you see that they’ve just absolutely given it their all. I hesitate to say those are fond memories because I hate to think of somebody just killing themselves, but even for them, in the end when the result for the school and for the students was good, you could see that that accomplishment was, in many cases, the real reward for those employees. That’s why we’re so student-focused. And so I’m just so grateful to my fellow employees for all of the work that they did.
Working at ICC has been a privilege and an honor and I’m, I’m truly grateful for it. I may not be on campus every day, but the college will be in my heart every day. People ask me, you know, who have been sort of following me during my time at Independence Community College, they do ask me about what sorts of things I’m most pleased with that’s gone on at the college. And you know, when you look back on nearly a decade-long career at a school, it is hard to choose. But there are some things that specifically stand out in my mind, and it’s interesting how varied they are. The first is that, and this is a little while back, about three years after I came to Independence, we decided to turn the Student Union literally over to the students. We were dissatisfied with the way the student union had been run in the sense that there were some student union activities, but a lot of the building had been taken up with administrative functions and so forth. We felt that there was just not enough room left for the students. So we actually decided to go whole hog. And we actually kicked everybody in the building out – every employee – and found them different homes on campus, which required some people to relocate to imaginative spaces. We basically then turned the building over to a committee of student leaders and we said, okay, tell us what a student union should look like. And in fact, it was fascinating because their decisions about what they wanted to do were very different than what I would’ve done. I think if I was making a student union, I don’t know, there’d be the same kinds of pool tables that were in the student union that were there when I went to college. And of course, that’s not what they want. What they want are primarily spaces to chill and spaces for gaming. And, in fact, those, that becomes pretty complicated just because true interactive gaming where you can play against someone who’s three feet away from you or three continents away, is pretty complex to figure out exactly how to make that happen seamlessly. And what we ended up with was really interesting spaces with very sophisticated electronics. It makes me feel old, but at the same time when of course you see the students having fun and doing something that they really want to do in their downtime, that was so rewarding to me.
I would definitely have to identify something I’ve talked about obviously before on this podcast, which was the creation of the Fab Lab at ICC. We were the first Community College in Kansas to have a Fab Lab. We were the first Fab Lab in the world to be powered primarily by solar power. The lab was really just an example of something that could solve a myriad of problems and provide real value to the community. It had funding challenges. We had to raise quite a bit of money to do that, it required a change to programming on campus, it required a change in mentality on campus to, over time, try to embrace the entrepreneurial mindset. But basically, where before we had a largely unused space that was the lab for our engineering program, now we have this dynamic space that is used by the students, by the public, by entrepreneurs to develop new products and bring them to market.
People come in from all over the state of Kansas and adjoining states just to see this thing. It’s a testament to the staff that are there and the impact on the community is undeniable. I think I’ve mentioned before that when we did an environmental scan for strategic planning several years ago, the Fab Lab was something that was identified by nearly every respondent who was interviewed. And then in this latest strategic planning process, once again, the Fab Lab and the entrepreneurship program were identified as two of our distinctive niches. It was just so rewarding to know that I had played a role in helping that start.
From an academic standpoint, here are two things that stand out in my mind: the first is the creation of new workforce development programs that are intended to serve the needs of the state of Kansas. One that I found particularly personally rewarding was the design and funding and construction and subsequent faculty hiring for a new culinary program. I love to cook. And so it was just kind of fascinating as an amateur to watch that develop. And then from the more traditional transfer program side, you know, it has really been the fine arts programs that have been the most impressive in terms of how far they’ve come. Around the time that I came to ICC, the music program, the vocal program and the theater program, were all struggling, as was the William Inge Center for the Arts, which runs the William Inge Theater Festival, the official a state theater festival of the state of Kansas. These programs were struggling in many ways: from an enrollment standpoint certainly, but financially, they, they just were not contributing to the community as much as they could, considering what was being spent on them. And I watched over time how we hired people who really were the total package. They really wanted to, to move the programs forward. They cared deeply about the students. And what we have now is a music program that is absolutely cherished in the community, a theater program that has put on absolutely amazing shows that local people predicted “they’ll never pull that off.” And we did. It’s really astounding. The Inge Festival itself has absolutely been transformed, I think into a much more relevant, much more successful and much more sustainable festival. I’m so grateful to Hannah Joyce-Hoven, the, the artistic director of the festival who has been on this podcast before. And then finally, from an athletic standpoint, we have really done some obviously pretty amazing things at ICC. We’ve gone from being a school where if we recruited a student from Florida, we had to explain who the heck we are, to being a school where we don’t have to explain anything because, the high school and college athletes in the United States know exactly who ICC is. They know exactly who the Pirates are. That comes from a commitment, a commitment to personnel, a commitment to facilities, a commitment to excellence in programming and a commitment to high standards. It’s not a linear path. And anybody who follows us, anybody who watches last chance, you know that there are some serious ups and downs. The season that’s about to be released, of course, is going to chronicle a losing season for our football team, when expectations were very high. But in the end, it’s not the peaks and the valleys, it’s the trend and the trend is toward establishing an identity, increased enrollment, and increased performance. The trend is toward increased resource generation, and the trend is toward excellence. That’s the key.
So what’s next? Well, I would say what’s definitely next is last chance you, for those of you who are tuned into this sort of stuff online, you might’ve seen that the trailer for the fourth season of Last Chance U, which is the second season at Independence Community College. That trailer has been released and the show itself will be released on July 19th. So if you’re, if you’re interested in, seeing a show about college students struggling to succeed and, frankly, hearing a lot of F-bombs, then, maybe you might want to binge watch starting on July 19th. Last year, Netflix’s statistics showed that Last Chance U was their fourth-most binged-watched show, which is always a good sign for how engaging a show might be. And I know that I’m looking forward to the release -all of us at ICC, will get a chance to see it several weeks before it’s released. I expect we’ll get the secure connection any day now. People do always, of course, they write to me and they want to know, basically spoilers about the upcoming season. And I have to tell you what I tell them: I just can’t do that – the show has value, because people do wait for it, and with regret, I can’t really tell you anything about the show that isn’t already in the public record.
For me, it’s the ending of one chapter and the beginning of another. Stay tuned for that next chapter. I look forward to sharing it with you. I’ve had a great run at Independence Community College for which I’m grateful to the employees and to the board and to the community here. This is a wonderful community where I hope to remain as long as I can. As you know, in the summer the mortarboard podcast is released about every three weeks, instead of every two weeks. So we’ll be gearing up for our regular fall schedule. We’ve got a bunch of really interesting interviewed interviews lined up with some very interesting people that I know you’ll enjoy. I’m actually headed in just a couple of days to Columbia University, maybe I’ll post something online from there, but I’m looking forward to talking with you next time.