Update From President, Jason S. Wood, Ph.D. – Oct 3, 2020

Dear Campus Community,

We continue to be grateful for your caring service to students and each other during these incredibly challenging times.  I was recently reminded by Betsy Tollefson of an important book entitled, “The Upside of Stress.”  Author Kelly McGonigal posits, “Even in circumstances of great suffering, human beings have a natural capacity to find hope, exert choice, and make meaning. This is why in our own lives, the most common effects of stress include strength, growth, and resilience.”  As an institution of higher education, being willing to challenge our perspectives and strengthen our character of integrity are essential.  I encourage you to take a moment and watch one of her Ted Talks – How to Make Stress Your Friend – as she presents research challenging much of what is commonly thought about stress.  Kelly opens her speech, aside from an ominous question given our 2020 lived experiences, by admitting she has changed her mind on the topic of stress.  I believe 2020 is preparing us for bigger and better things as a college, within our communities, and among our families and loved ones…and each of you matters very much in our success.  As the author notes at the end, “Chasing meaning is better for your health than trying to avoid discomfort.” Please send me your thoughts and advice on the subject, if you are willing. 😊

  1. COVID-19 update:
    1. The Phase III of the Return to Campus Plan has been updated and changes are highlighted. Please review the updated plan here, a few items include:
      1. Please stay home if you or someone close to you is showing symptoms of COVID-19.
      2. Please keep office doors closed while you are working.
      3. Please note the expectations for employees to follow safety protocol including health guidelines.
    2. Maintaining a minimal staffing level is an important part of controlling the spread of COVID 19 here on campus. Each department has designed a staffing plan to provide essential services while limiting the number of employees on campus – updated and current staffing plan here. If staff or faculty members need to deviate from the posted work schedules, they must notify Josh Bedward, Dan Imhoff or Nicole Nelson.  Contacting them ensures that each work area is being thoroughly cleaned between visits and that the area is not already being used by another team member.
  2. Academics – Student Learning:
    1. With increasing numbers of positive cases of COVID along with increasing requests for faculty, staff, and students to self-isolate due to exposure or contact, we will be moving as many programs as possible to a remote delivery format.  While this is not ideal,  we are considering the health and safety of faculty, staff, and students in our decision.  Theory and instruction for any non-skill based learning will be converted to a remote format beginning October 5th.  Skill-based instruction will be scheduled separately and may still occur in-person.  If faculty members prefer to come to campus to teach remotely, we can make that happen in your assigned classrooms, but we prefer not to have students on campus in a regular face to face format as much as possible.  Additionally, please be aware that any exposure or symptoms of illness need to be reported to either Krista Weber or Dan Imhoff in a timely manner.  This includes family members and persons you may have come in contact with in your off time.  Please do not come to campus if you even suspect exposure or are in contact with persons who are positive, and make the appropriate calls to notify campus officials.
    2. Due to the increasing spread of the virus the Graduation Planning Committee has decided to create a December graduation celebration similar to the efforts made last spring. Our top priority is showcasing the dedication and hard work our students have shown throughout their time here. We will produce a celebratory video including student speakers, guest speakers, congratulatory messages from faculty and staff, and other highlights.  Here is a link to the spring graduation video.  Again, this semester, students will be receiving a special gift box, with items including their diploma, graduation cap, a commemorative T-shirt and more.  We can make the best of this opportunity and show our students the pride we have in their accomplishments.
    3. We have started a new associate degree program, Non Profit Leadership Development.  We anticipate a new degree in Data Analytics will begin in fall 2021.  A few programs that have struggled with enrollments are being offered in alternative locations like the Laboratory Science Technician program now offered at Richland Center High School.  We will continue to invest in bolstering programs with low enrollments including options to offer CNC, golf, or culinary at industry locations, in high schools, or at the prisons.  Current programming will similarly be prioritized and funding allocated to align with emerging trends in industry.  Stay tuned for more information (provided by the Academic Council) about exploratory research into the viability and feasibility of programs in artificial intelligence and sustainable/renewable resources while we also strengthen our ag and health care offerings.  We will also explore student activities, clubs, or teams (similar to the success of our Trap Team) to bolster enrollments and provide meaningful learning and engagement opportunities for students.  Ideas and suggestions welcome!
  3. Fiscal Update:
    1. Full Time Enrollment (FTE) has dipped slightly to down nearly 3%.  We did budget for a decline in enrollments yet we must begin to reverse the trend if at all possible.  I am grateful to the many faculty and staff involved in creating and offering the 8 week courses starting on October 12.  A mid-semester increase in students is helpful for the students and the college.  Just over 100 people have registered for these offerings…very cool!  Our best form of recruitment is word-of-mouth referrals so please encourage someone you know to consider taking a class.
    2. Please stay tuned for more information regarding our annual employee fundraising campaign.  While it isn’t easy to ask people to sacrifice money during a difficulty financial time, I do so because I know many of our students are in dire straits.  Without our continued generosity, our students struggle and often times give up.  Please note we are preparing some exciting opportunities to help your gift have an even bigger impact than in the past.  We hope this year will be the 5th year in a row over 90% of our faculty and staff make a donation, one of the best numbers in the country, and that we are able to increase regular payroll deductions going to dedicated funds.  Again, we commit to presenting a plan that increases the impact of your gift because we are grateful for your sacrifices on behalf of students.
  4. People-Planning for the Future:
    1. People are the most important part of our college success.  As faculty and staff retire or leave for other opportunities we redesign and replace the positions with new people.  For the vast majority of hires, we wait until someone announces they are leaving and then decide how to proceed.  We have used succession plans to fill a few positions and learned a great deal from the process.  The Board approved an “Acting President” policy two years ago which outlines a continuity plan for when I am out of the office or if I am suddenly unable to perform my duties.  While I intend to at least fulfill the several years left on my contract, and hopefully more, the plan provides opportunities for others to lead and learn thus ensuring a stronger college now and in the future.  I intend to work with the Board to update and restructure the “Acting President” policy, based on evaluations, so that we are more purposeful with executive leadership development.  For example, the “Board Prep” group will no longer exist, effective immediately, and it is likely the order and/or makeup of the Acting Presidents policy will be re-designed between now and February.  Similarly, the Chief Officers (Finance, Human Resources, Academics, and Student Services) will begin an inclusive process to create similar leadership and learning opportunities for other faculty and staff to prepare for those roles.  I must emphasize that this does not indicate anyone in particular is leaving the college in the near future.  We simply believe preparation is the best approach.  The establishment of these succession plans will create transparency, feedback loops, and new professional development opportunities across the college.  We anticipate we will learn from the process and then be able to focus on succession plans for difficult-to-fill positions based on industry demands.  I welcome the opportunity to hear from you and, as we move forward, there will be brainstorming and listening sessions scheduled to ensure broad participation.
  5. Board Meeting/RetreatPlease see the attached outline for a preliminary overview of the upcoming Board retreat on October 29.  The meeting is open to the public and we have invited several faculty, staff, students, and community members to participate.  I would be more than happy to hear from you on any of the topics.
  6. Employee Survey Reminder:  We look forward to learning how we are performing as a college.  Please complete the Employee Satisfaction Mini-Survey by 5:00 pm on Friday, October 9th.  The survey is short (about 5 minutes of your time).  This survey includes an optional comment section.  When commenting, please include a specific suggestion for improvement with each element of constructive feedback offered.  Your thoughtful suggestions provide the foundations for a positive and proactive environment.  Take the survey here:  Employee Satisfaction Mini-Survey Fall 2020.
  7. Kudos to… (all Shout Outs from below are attached – you can complete a nomination as well. 😊)
    1. Sue Friederick from Heather Swatek for caring so much about a student who needed a meal.
    2. Lori Needham from Sherry Kane Johnsrud for genuine conversations with students and learning from them what we can do to improve.
    3. Doris Pulvermacher from Danielle Seippel for developing an Adult Basic Education Team Hub page which will improve coordination of services to students.
    4. Amanda Vissers from Stephen Goss for successfully designing a highly engaging learning activity for high school students.
    5. Ashley Crubel from Amy Campbell for being amazing “all the time” and also making sure disbursement checks were printed and ready to go for students.

Finally, please take care of yourselves and each other.  We are SWTC Strong for our students and our efforts certainly improve their lives.


Jason S. Wood, Ph.D.
President of Southwest Tech

Posted in COVID-19, General, Update