What it Means to be Student-Focused

One of our core values at Monroe County Community College is to be student-focused. Over the past few months, I have heard several individuals discuss the term “student-focus”. Oftentimes, the conversations conclude with a question. What does it mean to be student-focused? In our Mission, Vision, and Values document we include student-centered decision-making. According to the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education, “In student-centered schools, the decision making process is transparent, inclusive, and perhaps most importantly, dictated by the needs of the students.” (https://edpolicy.stanford.edu/node/1214).

In a recent conversation, the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Chancellor, Devinder Maholtra, stated that we are always concerned that students are not “college ready.” He went on to say that perhaps we should reverse that and make certain that we are “student ready.” Students come to MCCC for a variety of reasons. What can we do to facilitate their success? Students are changing, and so should the ways colleges think about serving them. (Selingo, The Future Learners) I believe that students come first, because without them none of us would be here. With that in mind, we will develop more programs that have students at their core.  It cannot be about us, it has to be about them. They are our reason for existence. It cannot be about what is more convenient for us, as it has to be about what is best for our students. Student-focus and success must drive everything that we do, as evidenced by our new vision, which was vetted and approved by all stakeholders here at MCCC.

Our Vision states:  Monroe County Community College will be recognized for our student-focused service, academic excellence, affordability, innovation, community responsiveness and student success.

The only way that we can achieve this is to focus on our students and make sure that they are our sole purpose for existence. Without that singular focus, our vision is mere words without action. As we develop our Strategic Plan over the course of the next few months, we must live and breathe the mantra of student-focus; this is what will lead to greater student success.


Historically Black Institutions and Putting Students First

As the month of February, Black History Month, comes a close, I wanted to share some thoughts about the culminating event. Yesterday, I presented on “The Legacy of Historically Black Colleges (HBCUs)”. The presentation was poorly attended but well received. I am a proud graduate of an HBCU, Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland, where I earned both my bachelor’s and master’s degrees. HBCUs are a part of the proud tradition of creating Black Educators, as many, if not most of them were founded as “normal” or teaching institutions in an effort to create more literacy after emancipation. I was minted at HBCUs and so were many successful African-Americans. These institutions, like our community colleges, take students, inspire and motivate them, instill hope in them, get them to dream big dreams, and get them to believe in themselves. That’s what Morgan did for me and that is what we should be doing at community colleges for our students. The HBCUs are successful in graduating their students because they put those students first. That is what we should be doing at a community college such as MCCC – putting all students first.

I never felt like a second class citizen at Morgan, and when I taught at Talladega and Lincoln (Missouri), I ensured that I went out of my way to do for those students what Morgan had done for me. Now, those students are reaching out to me on Facebook and telling me how much I impacted their lives. We must put students first in everything that we do as educators. It cannot and should never be about us. It must always be about the students. My instructors at Morgan took a personal interest in a directionless, first-generation college student and they molded me and shaped me into the person that I am today. I went to Morgan not sure about my major, with no money, inadequate housing, and all alone, with my family thousands of miles away. I was poor, lonely, and clueless. I am sure there are many like me here at MCCC today.

I am who I am today because my Upward Bound counselors – Mrs. Reckley and Mr. McCloud saw the lost look in my eyes and allowed me to join the Upward Bound Program. I am successful (my mom thinks so) today because my Biological Science professor, Dr. Jerkins told me that he thought I was “sharp”. I persevered because Mr. Hutt, my Accounting I, professor (after the first examination) said “you should be an Accounting major”. I was inspired because Dr. Whittaker and Dr. Amegbe, my Economics professors felt me worthy of substitute teaching their classes. I was honored because Dr. Stansbury gave me the opportunity to join the Honors Program. I expanded my horizons because Dr. McIntyre compelled me to join the French Club.  I am grateful because as I struggled with my master’s thesis, Dr. Spencer took hours to personally sit down in the library with me to read (computers did not exist then) through the almost “final draft”.

After all the nurturing and mentoring at Morgan, it is no wonder that I modeled that in my own teaching and entire career. No matter what I do, I always put students first. When students are successful, we are successful. I thank all my professors and mentors at Morgan for instilling in me those qualities that have made me a better person.

A New Year Message

Dear MCCC Family,
Happy New Year and welcome to a new Winter semester! I hope you all had a happy and restful holiday season full of fun and time with family and loved ones.

As we begin another year, I trust and believe that 2019 will be a positive and eventful year as we build on the momentum from 2018. Indeed, 2018 was replete with challenges, as 2019 will be, however, we know that through our concerted efforts we can and will overcome any challenges that come our way in 2019.  MCCC continues to make progress and create new and exciting programs and opportunities. Here are a few examples:

New Mission, Vision, and Values: Joe Verkenes led the development of the new Mission, Vision and Values for MCCC. All constituents, including, faculty, staff, students, Board, and community were involved in the development of our new Mission, Vision, and Values. This is now being used to develop the new MCCC Strategic Plan, led by Dr. Randy Daniels.

Millage Renovations: As we campaigned for the millage, our CASE focused on Competitive, Accessible, Safe, and Efficient facilities (CASE). The first such space was added to the Life Sciences Building in 2018 – this space is designed to foster student collaboration, as MCCC remains competitive and accessible. Additional renovation has begun on the East and West Tech Buildings, with a focus on student success. This project should be completed in 2019.

New and Exciting Grants – MCCC in 2018, was the beneficiary of several grants. Many of these grants are being implemented in 2019. The grants include three for the Upward Bound Program, a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant, a Welding grant from DTE/Nexus Gas Transmission, the Advance Michigan Catalyst grant from the U.S. Department of Labor for robotics and automation, a Regional Prosperity Initiative grant for Advance Manufacturing Training for adults, continuation of the MDARD Agriculture grant, a Sexual Assault Prevention grant from the Michigan State Police, and the Program to Accelerate Student Success (PASS) grant from DTE Energy to support at-risk students. With the hiring of a part-time grant writer, Cajie D’Cunha, we intend to write, win and implement more grants in 2019.

New and Innovative Programs: we introduced the agriculture program last year and will be introducing a Drone Technology Program through Lifelong Learning in 2019. As the year progresses, we plan on implementing other new and innovative programs such as the Maker Space in the Career Technology Center and a new Middle College partnership with Monroe High School.

None of this would be possible without the dedication, commitment, and support of our faculty, students, staff, alumni, and community. Thank you so much for your support of OUR Monroe County Community College. Here’s to a super-successful winter semester and 2019.







Vigilance Every Time, Everywhere

I woke up this morning to news of another deadly mass shooting that claimed the lives of 13 individuals. We sympathize and mourn with the victims and their families.

Unfortunately, no community is immune from such events; it can happen anywhere. So, this morning I ask that as we keep the victims of this and so many other such tragedies in our thoughts and prayers, we remain vigilant everywhere we are and everywhere we go.

We are dealing with so many tragic events: some man-made, others natural. Man-made or natural, some are preventable. While it is impossible to completely prevent such tragedies, there are still proactive steps we can take to minimize their occurrence. Here is some information from security experts, other sources, and my own personal advice:

  • Be vigilant and keep your eyes and ears open while in public or in private. Complacency killed the cat.
  • Report any suspicious activity. If it does not look or sound right, report it.
  • Be familiar with your surroundings and always have an escape route, no matter where you are.
  • If you do not have to be at a “soft target” venue, then don’t.
  • Be prepared to run, hide or fight for your life!

This is advice from the perspective of avoiding being a victim. Please add more, if you feel so inclined.

The Right and Responsibility to Vote: A Message to Our Youth

The dictionary defines disenfranchise as “to deprive of a legal right, or of some privilege or immunity, especially, to deprive of the right to vote” (Merriam Webster).

For years, women and people of color were deprived of the right to vote in these United States. In fact, women were not “given” the right to vote until 1920; and Blacks continued to be disenfranchised until the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Young people between ages 18 and 21 were disenfranchised until 1971. That is  when the voting age was lowered from 21 to 18. That means, until 1971, if you were 18, 19, or 20, you could not vote; now, as soon as you turn 18 you can.

Voting is a right that anyone 18 or over in the United States has. We must exercise that right. Voting is also a responsibility and a significant part of becoming an adult.  Unfortunately, a majority of young people do not vote. By not voting they are giving up a right that so many people fought and died for.  Essentially, they are disenfranchising themselves. That has to change, and it begins with you! It is imperative that our youth register to vote when they are 17 and vote when they are 18.

In 22 countries around the world, voting is mandatory (CIA World Factbook), with various consequences ranging from fines to whatever else they can do to you. In other countries some people are still not allowed to vote. That’s the world in which we live, where some of us take our rights and privileges for granted.

Over the course of the next few weeks, Monroe County Community College will be working with several non-partisan groups, such as the NAACP, to register people to vote on campus and elsewhere. It is a simple process, and all parents, teachers, and others must encourage our young people to register to vote. The deadline to register for the November 2018 election is October 9th.

Here are a few reasons why you should register to vote and vote

  • By not voting, you are shirking a civic duty and responsibility;
  • You should be the one to shape your future – if you want to change the future, then do not let others control it;
  • It is a right you have, do not let anyone deprive you of that right;
  • If you don’t vote, you have no business complaining, so keep your bellyaching to yourself;
  • It is part of the educational experience as you learn and engage in evaluating different positions and learn about current events and key policy initiatives.

It is essential that young people take advantage of their right to vote, shaping their own future, and setting a precedent for future generations. Voting is a right and a civic responsibility, please don’t give that up.

A Tribute to My Friend, Dr. Jim DeVries

Last Friday, we held a celebratory event on campus for my friend, Dr. Jim DeVries.  There were over 100 individuals in attendance to honor Jim. While Jim has inoperable cancer and is currently in hospice, he is still alive!  The event was featured on the front page of Saturday’s Monroe News.

Dr. Jim DeVries, or as my son calls him, “Dr. Jim” is many things: educator, philosopher, historian, sociologist, veteran, author, father, grandfather, librarian (the book collection in his basement is nothing short of incredible), collector (he is the only person I know whose African art collection rivals mine — it is a phenomenal collection), and much more, but to me, he is first and foremost a FRIEND and CHRISTIAN BROTHER. Jim was a History professor at MCCC for 40 years and has served on the Board of Trustees for the last six years.

I met Jim DeVries a little over five years ago when I interviewed for the presidency of MCCC. While I did not know him then, we bonded almost immediately (after I got the job) and he reached out to me because we were both lifelong educators and kindred Christian spirits. I am thankful to God that Jim is in good spirits and understands more than many of us that God does not make mistakes and has the best plans for him here and beyond. Jim is indeed a man of faith.

Jim is selfless, and he said to me that this celebratory event was not so much about him as it was about family and bringing the community together.  Jim is always thinking about others and he loves his family, community, friends, and MCCC! I recall almost two months ago, I stopped in to see Jim after he had been admitted to Henry Ford Hospital. He was in bad shape and the diagnosis was dire. I had just had surgery a few days before and was going through some other physical issues. The first thing he did was to ask me how I was doing and to pray for me and my health.  Even now when I visit Jim, he is concerned about me and my health. That is the kind of person he is, always putting others first, even in his current condition. Also, many may not know, but Jim has helped students with tuition and expenses and much more.

Jim and I have traveled together and presented at conferences, we have broken bread together many times, attended church together, and prayed together numerous times. Anyone who knows Jim knows that he tends to be candid and is quite witty.  Jim loves children and I must admit that as one who also loves children, I am envious that he can do that Donald Duck impression and I cannot. By the way, he did the impression at the event.  Some children are amused by his impression, others are frightened by it….

I miss the vibrant full of life Jim and I know that my life will never be the same because he has touched and impacted my life in a way that many will never know. I end by saying, as long as there is life, there is hope and I am not giving up and will keep on praying until God’s will is done. I LOVE YOU JIM!

What is the “Backfire Effect”?

During my lifetime, I have met and continue to meet and interact with people from all walks of life. There are two major topics that I try to avoid discussing: politics and religion. When it comes to both and I am respectful, tolerant and understanding of all points of view.  My background, experiences, and upbringing will just not allow me to take one position and never budge from it.  So I tend to be more eclectic and reject labels.  I have lived and traveled all over the world and seen and experienced too much to be that intractable. That’s my story and I am sticking to it!

Several months ago I was listening to NPR and heard that once people take a stance, 90 percent of the time they are not likely to budge. People are not very likely to change their views even when convinced otherwise.

Below are excerpts from two online articles about this.

Dr. Alex Lickerman writes in  The Undefeated Mind: On the Science of Constructing an Indestructible Self https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/happiness-in-world/201003/getting-people-change-their-minds

“Changing another person’s mind is literally one of the hardest things to do in the world. Think of how many conversations you’ve ever had in which one of the participants decided the other was right and abandoned their previous views altogether. It almost never happens.

Why? Because even though ideas flit in and out of our heads like mosquitoes, ideas that are believed cling with electromagnetic power. Once we believe an idea we develop an emotional connection to it, not to mention a commitment to it—as if to a person—and often become attached to it with a strength we often don’t realize has little to do with the merit of the belief itself. And once we’re attached to anything—whether a person, place, thing, or idea—giving it up is extremely hard.”

I provide another article on the Backfire Effect


“In a perfectly rational world, people who encounter evidence which challenges their beliefs, would first evaluate this evidence, and then adjust their beliefs accordingly. However, in reality this is seldom the case.

Often, when people encounter evidence that should cause them to doubt their beliefs, they reject this evidence, and strengthen their support for their original stance. This occurs due to a cognitive bias known as the backfire effect. The Backfire Effect is a phenomenon where people who encounter evidence that contradicts their beliefs, strengthen their support for those beliefs, despite the new evidence to the contrary.

  • This effect has been observed in various scenarios, such as people supporting a political candidate more strongly after negative information about that candidate is released.
  • The backfire effect is a type of confirmation bias,that occurs because when people argue strongly against unwelcome information, they end up with more arguments that support their original stance.
  • There is variability in terms of when people are influenced by this effect, but since this variability is difficult to predict, it’s better to act under the assumption that the backfire effect will play a role in people’s decision-making process.

Now you may have a better understanding of why some people do not and will never agree with you, no matter what compelling evidence you provide, or vice versa.  Un

The World Cup: Diversity Wins!

Soccer is my favorite sport. I have played my whole life and coached kids from five years old all the way up to the college level.  I was a much better coach than I was a player. The last month or so has been World Cup fever all over the world. I was able to watch many of the weekend games and watched the final yesterday. France won! The French team was the perfect example of international/ethnic diversity, with names like Griezmann, Mbappe, Pavard, Pogba, Fekir, Hernandez, to name but a few. It was a beautiful thing to see players from all over on the world stage claiming the biggest prize of them all. The French team has players with roots from all over the world, but most of them were born in France. Migration has certainly played an important role here. But it goes beyond soccer and permeates the entire society.

In many developing nations, soccer is the only way out of poverty for many youngsters, While education is the key, many, because of circumstances, are not able to obtain an education. When I was a child we played barefooted on rocky ground; and many still do. We used anything round we could find when a soccer ball was not immediately available. I remember the piecing together of paper and tape, using rotten oranges and much worse. It’s just what we did. In many European nations, soccer is used as a tool for integration and a ladder out of poverty. The French and Belgians are great examples of such integration.

The World Cup is the biggest sporting event in the world. Yes, it is bigger than the Olympics and the Super Bowl. This is both in terms of number of fans and in economic terms. Soccer continues to grow as a sport here in the United States. Just yesterday, after the World Cup, there was a Major League Soccer (MLS) game between the Atlanta United Football Club and the Seattle Sounders Football Club; the Atlanta stadium was filled with a record 72, 200 fans. These U.S. teams also have a diversity of international players.

While my two favorite teams, the United States and Ghana did not make it to the World Cup this time, there is still hope for 2022. Meanwhile there is some poor kid living under dire and challenging circumstances, just like a Pele or Mbappe, who will show up on the world stage to show the world that in soccer, all things can be equal. Many times, diversity emanates from migration, so migration has its role in any nation. I end by saying that the United States is the greatest nation in the world because of our diversity. And France is the greatest soccer nation in the world today because of the diversity of their soccer team. Diversity wins!

Student Speech Class Topics

It’s almost summer, the weather is nice, and I am spending more time walking the campus and visiting offices and classes.

This morning, I spent two hours in Prof. Mark Bergmooser’s Speech class. I heard eleven speeches from eleven students. Out of the eleven topics covered, three were on texting and distracted driving, and two were on organ donation. Topics included: meditation as a stress reducer (I have got to try that some time), texting and driving (I have done that on occasion), organ donation to save lives (I have been one for years because I do not think my organs will be of any use to me after I am dead), Anime’ – a Japanese cartoon (don’t know much about it and seems a little too violent for me), endangered species ( elephants I know are endangered, but wolves too?), Chicken ordinances ( the speaker brought a live chicken to the classroom – this was a layer, so it is meant to lay eggs, not meant for lunch), sex trafficking (and a petition to free a young lady who killed her trafficker/abuser). Each student had six minutes to speak and most used technology of some sort, such as You-tube videos and PowerPoint.

What I enjoy most about my classroom visits is that I always, always, learn something new. The students all did well. As would be expected, they all had different styles and personalities. One or two were strict readers, others were more conversational, and it always helps when they tell a personal story, as many did. I think I will go back on Monday to hear the rest of the presentations.


Campus Safety and Security

As we are all keenly aware, safety on college campuses is a major issue. We do not take it lightly. To ensure greater campus safety, we provided Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate (ALICE) training to all employees a few months ago. While that was a step in the right direction, we have added additional safety equipment. Beyond that, there is so much preventative work and investigation that goes on behind the scenes to ensure a safer campus.

Recently we installed the door latching technology, Bearacade.  Bearacade is a tool that the College has purchased and made available to employees, students, and campus visitors in the event  that “lock down” is a chosen strategy for addressing a dangerous or potentially dangerous situation. As evidenced by the numerous “active shooter” and other dangerous scenarios that have played out over the years at high schools and colleges (as well as other public venues), no entity (including the College) can eliminate all risk regarding such situations. Therefore, it is important to encourage everyone to become knowledgeable about options for counteracting dangerous situations and to actively participate in maintaining their safety. The Bearacade technology is one measure that we have taken, after an extensive review of various technologies and options.

There are several options for effectively utilizing the door latching technology, within the allowance of federal, state and local safety codes. The device may be left on the door but the pin may not be activated until a situation for doing so presents itself; permanently affixing the device on the door would violate safety/fire code. The College continues to explore, on an ongoing basis, methods and technology to provide effective safety measures for all those in the College community, and will continue to inform the College community of such measures.

We ask you to please inform students as to safety measures that are available, and how and when to implement those measures, including Bearacade. If you have any suggestions as to specific measures or technology that the College should consider, we would welcome those suggestions.

The College remains vigilant about campus safety, and will continue to explore and implement proven technologies for counteracting threats to the safety and security of its employees, students, and visitors.