A Semester of Opportunities

Published Thursday, August 20, 2020 at 9:59am

Dear Colleagues:

First and foremost, I hope you and your loved ones are staying healthy and safe.

As I welcome you back to the start of a new academic year, I recognize that this semester will be unlike anything we have ever experienced. I am confident, however, that we will see this as a new challenge that, together, we will rise to meet and make this a semester to remember, not for the disappointments and fear, but from the innovations, advancements, and new opportunities we are sure to realize. For most of us, serving students isn’t a job, it’s a calling. We are driven by the passion to witness our students’ successes, we share their disappointments, and we celebrate their victories. What makes our System special is not our size, it is not our buildings and facilities, but it is the people, it is every one of you.

A lot has gone on over the past several months at the Maricopa Community Colleges, within our community, and across the world. Through deliberate collaboration between colleges and the district office, we made many, many critical decisions involving operational continuity of our system with great success reflected largely today by the presence of a system-wide strong and healthy workforce, a robust fall class schedule, and steadfast student support across the district. When I accepted this role as Interim Chancellor in January 2020, I said on my first day that my goal was to treat this position as a permanent one and operate on the beliefs that anyone can lead from any place in the organization. Many of you have accepted this belief and helped to move us beyond the status quo to address the many uncertainties brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and a new future for Maricopa. This indeed has been a time of learning, planning, and action as it is clear to me that you understand that we all have a role in the recruitment and retention of our students, and most importantly, the desire to meet students where they are.

I am tremendously proud of our staff, who have been working on-site to keep our operations running and to ensure the safety of those present, and of those who have been working remotely. I am astounded at the heavy lift taken on by our faculty to quickly shift instructional modalities under a sudden new reality. I am appreciative of college and district-wide leadership who were tasked to lead during unprecedented circumstances in our system. Our collaborative approach provided our best solutions and confidence in our decisions.

Learning - What I know to be true is that learning is endless. No single book addresses everything we need to understand. Learning is a constant journey, and your feedback, comments, and questions have helped our System learn from this pandemic and significantly improve how our Colleges deliver higher education. As we learn, we push the boundaries of teaching and transform our students' lives and the future of our community. I am grateful for your dedication to our System and the effort you bring to work each day.

Planning - We have planned and continue to plan for every possible scenario to welcome students back with confidence that their educational journey will not be interrupted. We are offering a variety of effective and engaging learning options, with flexible class delivery in mind. Our courses have been designed in five ways: face-to-face, live online, hybrid, hybrid/virtual, and online. By providing multiple options, students' safety will be ensured should COVID-19 conditions change. Faculty and staff have spent countless hours since our move to remote work to prepare for these methods of instructional delivery and student support. Several resources are available below and through the employee portal to help faculty and staff to continue to adapt to the variety of learning solutions and student support that help manage a challenging public health care environment.

Action - We will continue to share immediate and long-term action items for the Maricopa Community Colleges to address racial, gender, and socioeconomic inequalities. Our actions must reveal that we support our community as we continue to find ways to build and strengthen our diverse culture. That means we must continue to be kind to one another, to those we work with, and to those we may not know. We all have different experiences and learn from different perspectives. Most importantly, because most of us have been working remotely for many months, when we return to in-person working environments, we should appreciate the opportunities we have to connect and be in community with others.

System Highlights - Even though this semester will be different, there is a lot of exciting work to look forward to.

  • In collaboration with Intel and the Arizona Commerce Authority (ACA), we’ve created Arizona’s first Artificial Intelligence certificate and degree program. This program will train our students for a competitive workforce, strengthen Arizona’s economy as well as help close the opportunity gap we see across the state, and be a model for Educational Institutions across the nation.

  • We’ve also collaborated with ACA, U.S. VETS, and Microsoft to provide military veterans opportunities to earn fast-track certifications to launch careers in information technology. We welcomed our first cohort this past July.

  • Additionally, we’ve teamed up with the National Governors Association and the American Association of Community Colleges to help launch a new initiative that identifies and arms workers with skills needed to succeed in a workforce reshaped by the pandemic. This new initiative, the Reskilling and Recovery Network, is designed to join state and community college leaders and provide programs and resources to reenter the workforce. You can read more about it here.

  • Our District has been named a 2020 Healthy Arizona Worksites Program recipient. MCCCD has made strides in advocating and promoting employees' mental health and physical well-being. Please take a moment and visit the Employee Wellness website aimed to support organization and individual well-being across our System.

Return to Work - I’m certain that the question on everyone’s mind is when the rest of us will be back to work. We are currently in the process of adopting objective metrics in concert with the Arizona Department of Health, for example, as we consider when it’s safest for all of us to return. Those will be shared broadly as soon as they are solidified. As previously provided, employee resources for returning to the workplace can be found in the employee portal here. Additional information is available to employees through the COVID-19 website on the Employee Portal. The website includes Policies, Procedures, and Forms, Employee Resources, and Return to Workplace FAQs.

As we start a new academic year, we should recognize that this is a pivotal moment in history for both employees and students. Let us continue to strive to meet students where they are, and open our doors (mostly in a virtual sense) and do what we do best, teach, mentor, advocate and push our community forward. Our staff and faculty came together in a huge effort to help our community stay connected. I thank everyone for your creativity, boldness, and resilience, and I do not doubt that we will come out of this stronger.

Please continue to be kind to one another, and let us make a difference in the lives of others.

Sincerely,

Steven