Have you ever come to the realization that all the efforts you’ve been making are starting to pay off? I was lucky enough to have two of those realizations over the last few months.
For the past year and a half I’ve been on a mission to strengthen my department’s connection to the southern Maine professional community. I have regularly attended chapter meetings and community events, listening, learning, and telling our story. But how would I know if we’re connecting and contributing? How would I know that my networking is paying off? Two events this month helped confirm that we’re on the right track.
The first was a call from Michelle Winn, the VP of Operations for Maine ASTD (American Society for Training and Development) & the Training Director for Acadia Insurance. She wanted me to be a part of a panel for the next monthly meeting, covering Best Practices for Managing Learning Programs. ME!?! Before she came to her senses, I accepted. I was on a panel with superstars in the training world in Maine; Mike DiRobbio (Training Manager, Hewlett-Packard), Kristin Wheelock (Manager of Staff Development and Training, Goodwill Industries of Northern NE), Kay Whitmore (VP of HR, Training and Administration, Acadia Insurance), and Sally Wilson (VP of Learning and Development, Androscoggin Bank). It was an honor to be a part of that panel. It confirmed for me USM’s role as an integral part of the training and development community in southern Maine.
Then, last week at the HRASM (Human Resources Association of Southern Maine) I had my second “aha” moment. Their chapter meeting was promoting the Maine Development Foundation’s Maine Employers’ Initiative & Next Step Maine program. They had a panel of local university, community college, and adult education leaders. USM was wonderfully represented by Sara “Cookie” Treible, Associate Director for Undergraduate Admission.
The first “aha” at that event happened before the program even started. Jodie Griffith, VP of Membership for HRASM, talked about our HR Certification Test Prep Course (PHR/SPHR), both our face-to-face and online options.
Then, after the panel discussion ended and audience questions began coming in, Michelle Rich, VP of Programs for HRASM, talked about our professional development courses and our ability to offer customized training for employers at their site or at our site, the Abromson Center Community Education Center on the USM Portland campus.
But that wasn’t all. She went on to mention how when she realized that a customized training wasn’t the best option for her organization, I was able to establish an annual contract plan to meet their needs with greater flexibility. The plan helped her address their training needs on an individual basis and at a discounted rate.
Michelle and Jodie talked about USM Professional Development Programs over 5 minutes, with no prompt from me. They talked about us because our programs are serving their business needs. They talked about us because we are truly partners in their success. They talked about us because all of our hard work is paying off.
So, we had a good month and it feels great. We’ll keep connecting with the community, listening, learning, and telling our story.
Tim Thornton, Program Manager, USM Professional Development Programs
Timothy J. Thornton
Program Manager, Professional Development Programs
USM Professional and Continuing Education
Imagine that employees of all levels come into your office every day complaining about work related problems - issues related to productivity, recruitment, training, discrimination, conflict resolution, safety, and benefits. And the responsibility to solve all of these problems falls squarely on your shoulders.
Then imagine a week away from that environment, at the Samoset Resort in Rockland, with your fellow HR professionals. You have a chance to unwind and connect with old friends, meet new friends, and get away from the daily grind to learn from the best minds in HR.
What do you think the dance floor looks like at the first evening’s event? Is it pretty? Not necessarily. Is there a lot of…we’ll call it unbridled enthusiasm? Without a doubt! It could only be described as part sing-a-long, part dance-off. This is a night at the Maine HR Convention.
And you know what, you deserve it! HR professionals are the glue that holds companies together.
There isn't another HR convention like it anywhere. The Maine HR Convention had 18 states represented. They had folks coming from as far south as Florida, and as far west as California. This is a testament to the tireless work done by Northern New England Law Publishers, Maine’ SHRM State Council, and eight affiliated chapters. 800+ participants chose between a five-track system: 1) Get Strategic; 2) HR Boot Camp; 3) Build a Great Workforce; 4) Legal Eagles; and 5) HR Skills and Creativity.
The convention also offered some of the best keynote speakers you could find in one spot. Starting the week off was Cy Wakeman, author of “Reality Based Leadership”. Cy has built a national and international following for her pioneering leadership model. Suzie Humphreys of the Speakers Hall of Fame, came all the way from San Antonio, Texas to share her passion for learning and seeing things differently. Finally, the convention closed with Senator George Mitchell, a Maine political legend, speaking about how we can all make a difference. leaders around Maine. Besides giving attendees practice.
To fill out the day were imaginative participant workshops from local HR al takeaways to bring back to their jobs, they also provided HRCI Re-certification credits. Over 70 exhibitor booths were an added benefit, allowing HR professionals to develop relationships with providers in their field of expertise. The benefit worked two fold, as it was also great opportunity for these companies to meet 800+ HR decision makers at once.
Imagine getting all of this in four days, on the beautiful coast of Maine. Maybe you ate too much candy from the exhibit booths, sure, you might wish you could erase the sight of your colleague “dancing”. But you know what? It’s burned into your brain, along with everything you learned that week.
Can’t wait to see you all next year!
Timothy J. Thornton
Manager, Professional Development Programs
USM Professional and Continuing Education
Cookie Treible and Ashley Collins came to USM from far-apart places in different decades, but they now work at neighboring desks and share a common love for connecting prospective students with something they both treasure: higher education.
Sara (Cookie) Treible is Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admission, advising students and their families on the array of options available for academic study at USM. Ashley Collins is the Online Enrollment Adviser in Professional and Continuing Education for people who will be taking courses online.
Cookie, who is from Rochester NY, came from Springfield College, as a resident director in USM student residence halls, then transferred to admissions work seven years ago. Ashley arrived from North Carolina last May.
The students Cookie and Ashley see are not always the typical college-age freshmen. The average student at USM is in the late 20s. For online students, the average is 36. In the Admission office, age and background matter not at all for any student interested in getting an education.
Cookie: Individual Attention for Adult Students
Much of Cookie’s work is with adult and transfer students, and it calls for extensive individualized attention. “They’ll often call and want to meet. They may have several transcripts, and they’ll say, ‘I just want to finish my degree.’ It’s like working with a big puzzle. A majority of the time, we find a way to do it.”
With adults, she has seen the completion of an education included in career and life goals. “A lifetime trigger can be the empty nest, or a divorce, or a job change. Or maybe the person is in technology, and wants a different field.”
Sometimes, the decision comes to a parent involved in helping a son or daughter with the exploration process. “It’s not unusual at graduation to have parents graduate with their children,” Cookie says. “It’s such a neat thing. One mom played alongside her daughter on the softball team.”
People may need to overcome some inhibitions, she reports. “One guy, in his forties, was really worried about being ‘the world’s oldest freshman.’ That was not so at all.” She feels the wide range of ages “makes the classroom experience a lot richer . . . kind of a cross-pollination” between the experience of the older students and the fresh outlook of the younger ones.
Cookie is an adult learner herself, having earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing after arriving at USM.
Ashley: 90 Percent Retention Rate
Ashley says, “I’ve known since freshman orientation that I wanted to work in a college environment.” Now she does, working directly with students for the first time. During her undergrad career at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, she handled a variety of duties, including campus tour guide, student librarian and orientation leader.
Her own introduction to online education came with earning her Master’s in Human Services, specializing in Counseling Studies, through Capella University while working for the state Department of Social Services.
Ashley’s husband, Nik, interviewed at a dozen emergency medicine centers on the East Coast after completing his education last May at East Carolina University, and chose Maine Medical Center for serving his residency.
The location, as well as the Maine Med program, had something to do with it. Portland is “the perfect ‘big city,’” Ashley says, for a couple from rural North Carolina. She applied for the position in USM’s Professional and Continuing Education program before she even knew for sure that she’d be moving to Maine.
Ashley notes that USM online has a student retention rate over 90 percent, a tribute to the university’s handling of the program, especially considering that most of those who enroll in online courses are not fully familiar with the online experience.
“About 20 percent are really nervous about it,” she says, “so we do a lot on the front end. A lot of transcript evaluation. . . . We focus on student success.”
Figuring Out the Path
Prospective students have varied ways to determine how to proceed. They can have one-on-one meetings, browse information on the web or chat with an adviser over the phone. One benefit is a practice course specifically designed to prepare students for the online classroom experience, helping them determine whether the online environment is the right fit. There is an online orientation as well as online tutoring and academic advising.
Both Cookie and Ashley relish working with prospective students and their families. As Cookie puts it, “I love to help people figure out what their path should be.”
Community Profile by Jim Milliken, President & Principal Consultant at Jim Milliken, Inc.
Lisa Sweet is passionate about her job. Her job is working with people who are passionate about what they are doing, and what they’re doing is pursuing their own advanced education.
“If you’re not passionate about your degree, you’re less likely to be successful,” Lisa says. “An undergrad has breadth of study, but in graduate school you’re studying one subject area in depth.” She should know. She holds a Master’s in Leadership Studies from USM, and it’s taken a while to get it.
Lisa’s own passion is working with people who carry through that commitment. As assistant director of graduate admissions at USM, “mentoring is an important piece of what I do – it’s all about building relationships.”
It has been an evolution for Lisa. After high school in Waterville, she earned an associate’s degree in business at Thomas College. She managed a law firm for several years before beginning her career in academia at Colby College. There, she enjoyed her contacts with students. “I worked closely with student leaders and got to know them really well,” she says. “It sparked something in me – to be part of that. So I jumped at the opportunity to work with the Posse students.”
The opportunity came Lisa’s way because of the record she built in her years in the dean’s office. She was appointed the mentor to lead Colby’s first group in the Posse program for New York City students attending the college. As she did that, she realized that she needed more education to continue working with students, so she took night classes at Thomas College and earned her bachelor’s in Business Administration in 2005.
After a brief stint in New York City working for a non-profit, her background in business and academia contributed again as she landed the job of administrative manager in USM’s Graduate Admissions Office. From the beginning, her duties included talking with prospective students, and “graduate admissions counselor” was soon added to her title.
Her responsibilities have expanded since to outreach work (and title) of Assistant Director of Graduate Admissions. She runs information sessions on USM’s three campuses and several other University of Maine System campuses and has begun recruiting efforts in New Hampshire.
Lisa’s recruiting efforts also includes the office’s semi-annual Open House, which can draw up to 100 participants.
Currently, Lisa is managing the logistics for the upcoming Open House, to be held April 1 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the Abromson Center on the Portland campus. The Open House features faculty and/or staff from all graduate programs at USM, as well as a representative from Financial Aid, and the Office of Graduate Admissions staff -- all on hand to talk to prospective graduate students about the university’s several doctoral programs, and over fifty master’s options and Certificates of Graduate Studies.
“My favorite part of the job is helping people navigate their path at a crucial period of their life,” Lisa says. “Some are starting second careers, some are at the very beginning stages of exploring graduate programs, and some know exactly what they want. I help people think about what they are passionate about. Using what they tell me, I advise them about options available at USM or elsewhere.”
Mentoring. That’s what she does.
Student Profile by Jim Milliken, President & Principal Consultant at Jim Milliken, Inc.
A little over a month ago, I received a call from APICS (The Association of Operations Management) Maine President, Joe Allen. He said, “Hey Tim, do you want to go our Shipyard Holiday…” “JOE, let me stop you right there. You had me at Shipyard!”
The event was the annual APICS Holiday party and Shipyard Brewery Tour. What could be better? A tour of the brewery, free samples afterwards, the opportunity to see supply chain and operations management in action and learn more about what my friends at APICS do.
Walking up to the brewery that cold Tuesday evening, I was hit with the pungent smell of fermenting yeast. I knew I was in store for a great history lesson of Shipyard’s beginning, as well as a chance to see a top notch operation in action. APICS has been having their annual holiday party at Shipyard for over 15 years. It gives their members a chance for a behind the scenes look at Shipyard Brewery operations.
Shipyard was started in 1992 at Federal Jack’s Restaurant & Brew Pub in Kennebunkport, by entrepreneur Fred Forsley and master brewer Alan Pugsley. Craft beer was just starting to take off in the state when Alan arrived. He learned to brew under the legendary Peter Austin at the world famous Ringwood Brewery in Hampshire, England. After 2 short years, Shipyard had outpaced its brewing capacity and it was time to come to Portland. By 1996, it was the fastest growing craft brewery in the country, and a fixture on Newbury Street just outside the heart of the Old Port.
Our tour was a look at the full process of making award-winning, hand-crafted beer. We started where all the ingredients arrive at the brewery and finished where the final product is bottled and shipped out. The proof of this process was in the sampling afterwards. It was an excellent and delicious demonstration of what a great idea, entrepreneurship, and operations management can accomplish. I can’t wait for my next APICS lesson!
The Shipyard Brewing Company has grown into the 16th largest craft beer company in the U.S. and the 24th largest beer company. APICS is the global leader and premier source of the body of knowledge in supply chain and operations management. APICS recognizes the contributions of supply chain and operations management professionals make to their employers and the global economy.
Next time Joe calls, he’ll have me at “APICS.”
Tim Thornton, Program Manager, USM Professional Development Programs
Timothy J. Thornton
Program Manager, Professional Development Programs
USM Professional and Continuing Education
What community events, professional development opportunities, trainings, or conferences did you attend that you really loved?
Share your community networking stories and enter to win a gift certificate for a 2012 USM Professional Development workshop. Post your favorites on our facebook page today and on Friday a winner will be selected.
Simply share your favorite 2012 event and tell us why you liked it. Was the food great? Did you learn something amazing? Did you meet interesting people? Was it just really fun?
And the winners are..............Patti Sutter and Aimee Voss
Thanks so much for your great community contributions!
Pattie recommended Social Media Breakfast events and Aimee recommended PROPEL's Entreverge event.
I recently attended the Maine Biz Momentum Convention in Augusta, ME. This was the third year we’ve exhibited at the convention. Usually, I spend my down time dropping my business cards at other booths to win prizes, and then raid them of their best candy and giveaways. That’s not to say I’m proud of it, but when you’re standing on your feet for 10 straight hours, it’s the little things that get you through the day.
After doing the above mentioned things, and doing them well I might add, (for the non-believers out there: I ate 6 Snickers, 3 Reese’s cups, and countless Starbursts - all miniatures, of course) I was lucky enough to win an Ipad 2 from the great folks at Dead River. Then, I stumbled upon a stress doll that talked to me. For the record, not everything out of his mouth is appropriate - but I’ve grown fond of the little guy.
With all these highlights, none of them were the best part of the convention. That came during the keynote presentation at lunch time. On a recommendation from a colleague, I attended Eric James’ (business growth facilitator and coach, author, and comedian) presentation on Innovation Engineering. For those of you unfamiliar with Innovation Engineering, it is a management system, with a scientific method for accelerating more profitable products, services, customers, markets and processes.
Erik’s presentation was an eye opening experience for me and many others in the room. Not only was the topic extremely fascinating and timely, but also Eric was engaging, entertaining, and knowledgeable.
Successful companies realize innovation is the way to increase wealth. Innovation can be expensive and risky, but, through the Innovation Engineering Management System, it becomes a fail fast, fail cheap system available to all companies. Innovation Engineering increases innovation speed while decreasing risk.
Erick James and his mentor, Doug Hall (professional inventor, adjust faculty, researcher, author, and entrepreneur), define innovation as meaningful uniqueness. In today’s world, “If you’re not meaningfully unique you better be cheap.” Meaningful uniqueness is far more profitable. A Georgia Tech Study found that businesses focused on innovation make more than twice as much as those focused on cost savings. Employees are earn 60% more as well!
Another way to get you and your team through a long day, is to be open to learning. Truly learn how to innovate, learn how to make products and services that are meaningfully unique to your customers. Why? Companies with innovated products have proud & motivated employees, optimistic management, and everyone has greater opportunities and more money in their pockets. Or, get through the day on 6 Snickers, 3 Reese’s Cups, and countless Starbursts (all miniatures, of course).
Timothy J. Thornton
Manager, Professional Development Programs
USM Professional and Continuing Education
Amertah Perman | Associate Director of Program Development in Professional and Continuing Education, University of Southern Maine
The following interview is with Amertah Perman, the Associate Director of Program Development for Professional and Continuing Education at the University of Southern Maine. Perman works collaboratively on the development of professional and continuing education to businesses and community members in Southern Maine. In this interview, she discusses some of the strategies she implements to win training contracts and what colleges and universities need to do to set themselves apart as training and development providers.
1. How can higher education institutions learn what businesses want and need in terms of their employees’ ongoing learning?
First, what business want and need in terms of their employees’ continuing education—you know, really learning what it is that they want—is definitely an ongoing process. It isn’t something where you pick up the phone, you call Company X, ask what they need, develop that and check it off your list. Though every once and a while that might work in the short term, it’s certainly not what learning what they need is all about.
To actually really learn what they need, you have to be in touch not only with the companies and businesses but their industries and the environment where they actually work; the community, the region and the state that you’re actually in. It really requires a prolonged and meaningful engagement at multiple levels.
For us, building strong relationships with industry associations and professional organizations is one way that we do this and one way that we found that a lot of institutions really thrive at being engaged and really having prolonged meaningful engagement at different levels. …Connecting with a professional organization not only helps understand the industry, but it also adds credibility to the programming. It gives an added support network, which you can rely upon, and it gives access to a larger audience. There’s also a lot of potential added value to the sort of engagement for both sides, for not only us as an institution and our programs, but our students and then the associations and their members. …
Going out to find out what’s going on is another way to do this. It sounds simple but it takes a lot of time. It really is incredibly important; if you really want to know what businesses need and where industries are going, you have to go to them. You have to show up and you have to listen. You really have go out to find out. Every continuing education program manager knows that this is a challenge—something you’ve got to do if you want to stay connected—but it’s something that sometimes we don’t safeguard in terms of allowing time for. We’ve been lucky enough to really put some effort behind going to professional association meetings, showing up at the Portland Business Chamber of Commerce events, networking, going to local conferences. It’s not just about rubbing elbows; it’s about listening and being where it is that the conversation is happening. So not only can you participate, but you can start to see who’s out there and get a better sense of what it is that they’re talking about.
A third way to really learn… is to develop a community of practice. This will really bring people together. …It really [creates] an opportunity to come together in a space where you’re not only showing up where they are and networking and listening, but you’re also asking questions and giving them the space. A lot of times we rely on the Chamber of Commerce to hold the event to show up to so we can learn more, which is great—they’re a great resource, they do a wonderful job and we need to be an active part and an active member of what they’re doing—but we can also provide space for them to come and gather and really hear what they’re doing. …
2. What are some strategies that higher education marketing departments can use to keep themselves at the front of mind for local businesses when they’re looking to meet a training need?
In order to really stay “top-of-mind”, you need to be active and present in the community. …
Institutional marketing departments, what they’re going to do and what they can do if you’re really active, is leverage those activities and expand on them in order to promote the programming. In order for them to actually do that, they need to be informed of what it is that we’re up to and how we’re involved in the community. That is not easy, it requires departments and programs to not only do what it is that they do, but to be internally communicative about what they’re doing ahead of time so that people in the marketing department and people who play PR roles can get their ducks in a row and do something with it ahead of time.
It can be as basic as remembering to take a photo of an event so that you can post it on Facebook to be more sharing and communicative of that event. It can be more complex things where you actually plan big marketing press releases, interviews of success stories. Collecting testimonials is a really big thing. It’s really about sharing in that community—communication with marketing—so that they can leverage, and actually have, content to highlight. That’s really important. Connecting the dots between who might want to know what, and when, and why, again it’s very hard. We struggle with this every day between our small groups and between our larger departments and colleges. But it’s something that we really, really need to work on and something that’s ideal in terms of really connecting those dots.
I can’t over-emphasize how important working with open communications and holding a shared identity of the larger institution is. So it’s not always just, “One program does X, Y and Z – let’s talk about it.” It’s that the entire department and the entire university is really behind these initiatives and doing good work so you have a shared identity that marketing can really emphasize in their materials.
In order for marketing to do that kind of job and to do it well, it may need to play a role in creating a healthy flow of internal information-sharing so it can actually get what it needs to promote the programs and help keep everyone on the same page. Again, it often feels like an added task for the individual program rep, or the faculty or staff, and so having marketing involve themselves in creating a system for it is really helpful.
All institutions may [approach] this in different ways depending on the size, but each member of your team—be it the person who answers the phone, the person developing the curriculum or the person going out and meeting the companies—we all share in marketing and selling the program in many ways. We never do the hard sell, but we represent those programs so if we’re on the same page with our story and aware of what’s going on so we act as a cohesive whole, that’s really going to come across to companies and to people who are looking to partner. That’s a very important strategy.
An additional strategy is really knowing your strengths, knowing your story and what it is you’re all about. For us, we’re a public institution; we’re a public resource, a community resource. It’s interesting because our professional communication office…sits physically as a bridge between the community and campus. On one side we have a free parking structure attached to us, and then on the other side of the building we have a skywalk that goes onto campus. … That is a part of who we are and definitely a strength and something that we work to communicate in our marketing pieces is really that identity of where we sit and that we’re really here as a community resource.
In terms of concrete tools that we use in order to market our professional development programs and our corporate training opportunities, we have the active development and use of our own lists. Both mailing lists and email lists. This is something that we’ve grown ourselves and that we continue to work on. We grow it through events, networking and give-aways. Again, we’re a small institution, having a small but highly-effective and engaged list is better in many ways than having a giant list of semi-engaged people. We really work hard as a team to really grow that list. … We do a lot of email, which—no surprise there—is, a really good tool to market to companies, we have monthly announcements catered to our unique audiences, and we have e-newsletters.
We have been developing newsletters for a little while now and improving the way that we utilize them and the content that we put in them. This is an important thing in terms of creating newsletters; it’s not just about pushing your programs or showing what you do—although you definitely want to tell people what you’re doing—it’s also a way to expand the community and to bring added-value to being a part of that community. So sharing instructor-industry insights, showcasing your students’ success stories, talking about opportunities that might appeal to that audience. … Taking the time to create that content is a big effort, especially for a small shop, but it’s an important one that really brings a lot of credibility and added-value to that engagement.
We use Facebook … it’s not just about posting, although you do definitely need to be active; and that’s a huge challenge in and of itself to post regularly. It’s got to be more than that; you need to engage via Facebook. We spend time going on there and “liking” people and sharing things and asking questions and coming up with ways to engage. This is an effort we just starting doing but it’s showing really good results and we have a fairly active community both online and on-site, in the community, so Facebook has been a fun way to connect.
Believe it or not, print! Print is big for us. We don’t print catalogs anymore or anything like that but we do produce printed material and our particular audience here in Southern Maine really likes that. At one point we moved away from it and it didn’t work so well and now we’ve got some really great, well-developed print pieces. They’re a little bit bigger than a postcard and a little bit smaller than a multi-page brochure or magazine, but they cover the basics; what we offer and when, and how to get in touch with us. People like it. A lot of our professional business workers that come in here and take our classes, our adult audience, they like to have something they can stick on their wall, or show their employers, stick on their fridge and that kind of thing to look at and remind them of their goals as they go about their busy lives. Not giving up on print has been an important aspect of our strategy, though we are cautious with it and we do try to make sure that it’s meaningful. Sending out basic print reminders doesn’t seem to be a big hit, but sending something that they can keep and use and that has relevance is definitely important.
3. What three characteristics do you think are most important to get across to an employer looking for a training partner?
Every organization is going to have its own, unique characteristics, specialties and expertise that they’ll want to emphasize when working with companies that are looking for a training partner.
For us, I would say that the first key characteristic for us is that we’re not just a training partner. We’re not a separate school—isolated—or a unit within the university that is siloed. USM’s Professional and Continuing Education exists in partnership with USM’s academic departments and colleges. We offer support services, programming and resources internally within USM and externally to the community. …It sounds funny, but institutions of higher education that offer corporate training have the unique characteristic of being an institution of higher education and not just a consulting firm, or a siloed center for customized training, and we really strive to capitalize on this and capitalize on the opportunities for integration, internally, with the rest of the university as well as externally.
Because of that, we face the challenge that many divisions offering special development opportunities face and that’s the challenge of staying engaged in two very different worlds; the corporate world and the traditional academic world of higher education, and moving in-between them.… It’s something that institutions really want to promote, but luckily for us it’s not one that we face alone. Our university; it’s part of our culture. We have a lot of faculty here in different areas and different pockets that really work hard to develop and grow relationships with local businesses. So it’s not just our branch doing it, and again we’re not separate from those things that are going on. So when people are looking for a training partner, we bring more than just that training that we offer, we bring a whole host of resources and potential opportunities for potential collaboration and partnership.
Second key characteristic, for us, is that we’re problem-solvers. Organizations that offer customized training well, engage business and the community well; really need to be problem solvers. There are two primary ways of being a problem-solver that I think we focus on equally. The first is being a responsive problem-solver. …We want to really emphasize that. [An] example of that is our online bachelor degree program. We have a lot of people in our community that have some college experience but have yet to complete their degrees and these programs… grew out of that. We listened to them and we were responsive and figured out a way to develop programs that met that need. People expressed a need for greater access and more flexibility in schedules so we offer programming year-round; summer, spring, fall, winter, online, on-site, and we partner with other community groups to offer different formats. Being really responsive problem-solvers is important. The second part of being a problem-solver is being proactive, and I think it’s a really important part. We don’t just wait for a company to call and tell us that they have a problem and they’d like us to help them with it. We really pay attention to what’s going on in the state and the region and try to help the community get out in front of it. …
Being a problem-solver in addition to being responsive and proactive really requires being an organization that follows through. At USM, if someone calls and hopefully they reach someone, we’ll help them out, we’re not going to bounce them around. We’re going to work hard at an individual one-to-one basis to solve their problems. If someone calls and they get our voice-message system, we’ll call them back. Again, when you talk to the corporate world that sounds baseline reasonable but I think across lots of educational institutions we struggle with that.
Being a problem-solver, being here as a community resource really means good customer service. It means following through and really helping people out when they call and calling them back and making sure they get what they need. Higher education can be a confusing mess of phone trees and that’s something we work hard to correct and to avoid. All that rigmarole and confusion is not necessary and it really doesn’t fly when you work with corporations and professionals and it’s not going to fly for very much longer for traditional students as well. It’s something that is about the key to being a problem-solver is solving those internal problems and systems, addressing them head-on and really trying to make a difference from the first point of contact to all student representatives—your advisors, your faculty—really making sure people can help people directly and provide that service.
I would say the third characteristic is really integral to all the things I’ve already mentioned; it’s that we’re local. We’re a local, resourceful resource. We live here, we work here, we raise our families here and we’re really in it for the long haul. We bring that level of commitment that follows a long-term community partnership model. We work with local business professionals, industry experts that are vetted through our university to teach our programs and our customized trainings. We rely on the community and we work with the community. … Being in Maine and being part of the Maine community is important to us and I think that can’t be overemphasized. A lot of institutions forget where it is that they’re placed and I think that’s a shame and I think it’s something that’s important when you’re working with companies and businesses—small, medium and large—that you focus on the fact that you’re here and you’re here for the long haul. It’s not just about upping enrollments in your customized training for the next month, it’s about having really long-lasting relationships that are more than just one-off trainings and really being committed to your community is important. …
4. Is there anything you’d like to add about how higher education institutions can get out into the market to win training contracts?
The best thing to take away, really, is that safeguarding systems and really being committed to prolonged engagement, that’s important. I think when people look at numbers and increasing revenues, they sometimes forget that small revenue here and there may lead—a couple of years down the line—to a lot more revenue when you have really trusting partnerships and that’s really the most important part.