Update From President, Jason S. Wood, Ph.D. – September 4, 2021

Hi Folks,

We are living in times rarely seen, if ever, throughout history.  The human experience has certainly never been characterized by such instantaneous access to seemingly everything in our “always on” and hyper-connected cultures.  The intense impact on our hearts and minds of real or manipulated images and videos of global events exacerbate the toll of pressures to conform or pleas to protest.  Cancel culture, mob mentality, or just plain bullying all threaten the benefits of the positive elements of our rural, small-town values of community, service, and the Golden Rule.  I acknowledge my own need to learn and grow at an accelerated pace to achieve success in improving lives for all people, especially those who are traditionally underrepresented.

Charles Dickens foreshadowed our time, albeit unknowingly, when he wrote, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”  It doesn’t seem possible it was written 162 years ago…

We are indeed living a Tale of Two Cities.  Which camp we decide to occupy is almost exclusively a matter of personal agency.  As Helen Keller noted, “When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.”  I am grateful the vast majority of our faculty and staff choose, without hesitation, to open the doors of kindness, compassion, and respect.  I believe our choices are inextricably connected to and directly correlated with our happiness, especially in times of bitter turmoil and contentious behaviors.  Joy is choice.

We are not immune to the negativity that unfortunately spills over from the increasing inability/unwillingness to respectfully debate and disagree.  If we aim to win the argument we lose the ability to create the best solution.  We can choose to set ourselves apart as we determine our path forward by embracing our Respect Pledge and being inclusive of others, especially those who think, feel, or believe differently.

Here’s an update from around the college:

  1. Southwest Tech’s Re-opening Campus COVID Response Plan
    1. Our Covid Response Team, with our collective gratitude, continues to meet at least twice a week to consider the best options for fully re-opening campus in a safe and orderly process.  Plans are made for best and worst case scenarios recognizing all solutions will have people who agree and others who are opposed.  You are welcome to provide feedback on possible options you would like considered by sending your ideas to your supervisor, Dan Imhoff, Krista Weber, or me.
    2. Again, thank you, thank you, thank you to the people serving on the COVID Ops team.  Their efforts have been extraordinary.  It is time for one or two of them to return to their regular responsibilities and also recruit a few new people to serve.  If you would like to help by being on the COVID Ops team, please let me know as the exec team will consider adjusting the membership during the month of September.
    3. I recognize the data regarding COVID are still emerging therefore the subsequent analysis and possible options are similarly fluid.  In the meantime, we make the best decisions possible.  My current thought process…it is better to err on the side of caution, due primarily to the individual health risks and limited options for collective business continuity.  If I am wrong about our current safety measures, we must work through temporary and relatively minor inconveniences.  If we are less rigid at this time in our rules and expectations and I am wrong, more people suffer the more serious effects of COVID and our operations return to virtual formats.  We will continue to find ways to more fully open campus for student learning while continuing to emphasis health and safety.
    4. Vaccines continue to provide the most viable path to a return to normalcy.  Currently almost 70% of our faculty and staff have provided proof of vaccine.  Please note some of our faculty and staff in certain program areas are required to have a variety of vaccines, including COVID, to conduct classes or clinicals at other sites.  It is likely more and more vaccine requirements by other entities will be in place that impact our operations.  We anticipate the Department of Corrections or those occupations that serve people under the age of 12 will need vaccines.  Because of the vulnerabilities of young children, the COVID vaccine will likely be expected for those working in our childcare facility.  We are not at the point we will mandate vaccines across the college and I hope we can avoid that possibility.  It is likely we will consider other options, perhaps regular COVID testing, for those who are legally able to select out of vaccines through a medical or other exemption.  Hopefully the recent surge in DELTA and other emerging variants will change course and we can avoid additional measures.  Always hope.
  2. Charger Vision Outreach Campaign
    1. Our annual planning is improved when it is influenced by external environmental scanning.  We will conduct approximately 50 interviews with a variety of local employers to learn about their recent trends, current needs, and future plans.
    2. Interviews are underway.  An initial report out will be provided at the October 14 joint meeting of the College Board, Foundation Board, and Real Estate Foundation Board.  Subsequent reports will be available for the December Leadership Council retreat and in March 2022.  We expect to make possible adjustments to our programs, services, Core Abilities, workforce, priorities, or other areas as identified through the process.
    3. The team is led by Katie Glass and Derek Dachelet, and includes Kim Schmelz, Dennis Cooley, Craig Woodhouse, Heather Fifrick, Gina Udelhofen, Bri Williamson, Kaye Woodke, Kyle Bennett, and Mary Johannesen.
    4. Please note another extremely important element for our annual planning includes student learning data and feedback.  If you have any thoughts on how we can better incorporate student learning trends into our college-wide efforts, I would love to hear more so please send me a note.
  3. Program Spotlight: Farm Business and Production Management (FBPM)
    1. We are fortunate to have Jonna Schutte and Kory Stalsberg leading our FBPM programs.  They work directly with farm owners to evaluate farm operations in order to find ways to increase profitability and performance.
    2. Jonna and Kory offer value-add courses of broad interest to local farmers.  They also have a variety of customized assistance to help individual farmers learn specialty skills.
    3. If you know a local farmer, please consider a referral to Jonna or Kory as I know they would welcome opportunities to help more people.
  4. Because we care, please remember your own mental and emotional well-being.
    1. While we hope you stay safe from COVID, we are aware that “COVID Fatigue” is also taking a toll.  Please remember to access our Employee Assistance Program for support – info attached to staff email.  If you know of a student who needs support, please refer them to Gina Trollop.  I also encourage you to take time away from work on a regular basis to do something you enjoy with someone you love.
    2. I am thankful for the mental health counselor who advises and supports me on a regular basis.  The challenges and stresses people face, both at work and at home, are real.  There is no shame in asking for professional support.  The help, in fact, is likely to make a positive impact on your well-being.
  5. Kudos to…
    1. Katie Snitker for accepting the role as Academic Services Supervisor in the Knox Learning Center.  I have known Katie to be reflective, inclusive, and excellent with students.  Katie was humble enough to include her own example in our coaching session forms and is certainly worthy of her student-first example being emulated.  We are fortunate she is willing to lean into this new opportunity.
    2. Krista Demo and Stacey Place for being superstars in welcoming Angie Moyer to the college as a new instructor in the physical therapy assistant program.  Angie said Krista and Stacey have both done so much to help her learn the ropes of a new job.
    3. Renee Schlaugat for helping keep campus so clean!  Renee is a Fennimore High School graduate, does excellent work, and is a great addition to our evening custodial crew.
    4. Kris Wubben, Heath Ahnen, and Mandy Henkel for exceptional leadership.  They will be working with Dr. Audrey Reille, an Executive Coach, to strengthen their strengths and learn and grow in new ways.  I admire their desire to exercise our college values and continuously improve.

Thank you, everyone, for the good work you are doing during a difficult time.  Martin Luther King Jr. said, “I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars.”  We have many, many stars among us!

I am extremely proud of the super-herculean efforts being made across the college to care for each other and to care for our students.  If there is something I can do for you, please let me know as I would be most happy to help.  In the meantime, please let me know if you have feedback, thoughts, ideas, or questions.

Hopefully you can enjoy your extended weekend with someone you love.



Post Script:  The Golden Rule website has an interactive component featuring cultures and religions from around the world…background many are unfamiliar with when looking at the original painting.

Posted in COVID-19, General, Update