Fierce Education Leaders Share Their Strategies for Success

Fierce Education honored higher education leaders, educators and technologists for boldly embracing innovative ways of teaching, technologies, and methods in blended learning environments during its recent “2021 Fierce Leaders in Higher Ed” virtual event. All presentations are currently viewable on demand.

During the opening the keynote address, the following Fierce Education honorees shared lessons learned from their experience during the pandemic and how they have overcame them.

Eric Bing, Chancellor, The College of Health Care Professions:

“There is no question that the last 18 months have presented many challenges. However, we are optimistic about the future of our adult learners. They are dedicated, resilient, and committed learners with complicated lives. They just need the right environment to be successful. Scalable success is possible, but our education systems is not built for adult learners,” Bing said.

“Our beliefs are critical to creating onramps to success for our adult learners. We can prepare graduates with programs aligned with industry validated certification and work-based learning. Our core values for our adult learners are innovation, compassion, accountability, respect, and excellence. Allied health is an exploding area for jobs, and we have facilitated placement of our graduates with 2,100 employers,” he said.

The programs The College of Health Care Professions developed are:

  • Short and stackable—industry recognized and lead to certification and jobs. Students begin with a short stackable certificate rather than a multi-year degree program.
  • Flexible and structured—our students are raising families, caring for elders, or have other obligations, so we have flexible options to learn on their schedule. They don’t waste time on classes they don’t need.
  • Career oriented—career services are front and center on the campuses and are integrated into courses. Our students want professional careers, so we offer intern and extern opportunities. Local employers are engaged in curriculum development.
  • Continually supported—students are supported in and outside the classroom through faculty check-ins, robust internal advising, and multiple wellness checks. We also connect them to resources including childcare, wellness coaches, and legal help.

“We have seen an increase to a 78% graduation rate and an average salary increase of 30%,” according to Bing.

Dr. Kayunta Johnson-Winters, Associate Professor, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of Texas at Arlington:

“I teach both undergrad and graduate biochemistry students. My preference is getting to know my students on a personal level, but it became difficult during the pandemic. The shift to virtual learning allowed for interactions with students that would otherwise have been missed. Students required reassurance that everything would be okay despite the difficult transition for everyone to an online environment,” Dr. Johnson-Winters aid.

“It is important to bring diversity into the classroom by highlighting all of the people behind historical discoveries. For example, Linus Pauling received the Nobel Prize for discovering how atoms join together to form molecules. There were co-authors on his team who did not get their due recognition for the discovery of the a-helix. Women and minorities were not recognized as equals in 1954. We need to ensure that teams are diverse and recognition is shared appropriately,” she said.

“To engage students, you have to know what is exciting to them or will help them achieve their goals. Our attendance doubled when we moved online and we increased our capacity to attract and retain underrepresented minority graduate students in STEM fields,” Dr. Johnson-Winters added.

Greg Flanik, Chief Information Officer, Baldwin Wallace University:

“The pandemic accelerated the digital transformation we planned two years ago. We had originally planned a three-year rollout that actually happened in 18 months. Because it’s important to know your students, we developed multiple personas, created journey maps for them, and identified obstacles for capabilities we were lacking. Our focus was on improving the student experience, and we initiated conversations at different levels within the university,” according to Flanik.

The capabilities that are most important to the Baldwin University are:

  • High-flex classrooms: we changed to studio environments to flex content delivery to students.
  • Baseline for technology: ensuring that all faculty has access and is trained how to use.
  • Clinicals: what is the best way to handle? We implemented AR with Microsoft HoloLens2 where students could triage a real patient controlled by the instructor.
  • Faculty training to teach online: instructors were blown away by the hy-flex class format and the amount of student collaboration it generated.
  • Electronic workflows: were enabled to begin removing paper from campus.
  • Data collection and use: analysis of new initiatives allow for calculation of ROI.

Dr. Michael Baston, President of Rockland Community College:

In a conversation with Harriet Seitler, Executive VP of Course Hero, Dr. Baston spoke about the shift in expectations of today’s students. He notes some of the changes that students are looking for:

  • Students expect support and services at their convenience, so they can participate in higher education in a way that takes into account their individual circumstances.
  • Eliminating the sacredness of the schedule. The college will need to change this permanently.
  • Students are advising themselves because they don’t like the higher education structure, so changes are necessary.
  • Students want to see the skills they will develop by taking liberal arts courses.
  • Articulation of what students are learning in the classroom helps them to be a better professional or entrepreneur.

Baston also noted that students don’t accept that the complexity of the system is the best we can offer. Also, no individual college can go it alone—make this degree of change without partners. Schools need to partner, so that administrators and educators can focus on what students need to prepare them to meet the needs of their communities. And finally, colleges must provide professional learning opportunities for faculty and incorporate their voices in the planning of change. Then, they become the champions.