March 14, 2013

Dear Colleagues:


With appreciation to all who participated in Tuesday’s strategic planning forum and to all who have provided input to the 2014-2019 strategic plan for Richard Bland College (RBC-19) since we began the planning process in September, I am pleased to present an executive summary of RBC-19 (click here to review) for your final review and input in anticipation of board approval in April. The complete strategic planning document is available via Blackboard.


At this juncture, it is important to note that completion of a roadmap to guide decision making and resource allocation over the next five years is only the first step—and undoubtedly the easiest step—toward the larger goal of developing Richard Bland College into a high performance organization as measured by key performance indicators that are all centered on quality improvement and student success.


The strategic plan simply establishes our shared vision and values, and it prioritizes the work that each of us as individuals and as a team must undertake in order to realize RBC’s mission, vision and strategic goals. This is a very small campus; therefore, everyone must assume personal responsibility for adjusting habits of thinking and acting with a singular focus on student success if Richard Bland College is to emerge as the “vanguard of liberal arts education for university-transfer and a leader in innovative, learning-outcomes based education solutions.” Avoiding or resisting necessary changes to improve institutional and educational quality, or sitting on the sidelines with a “wait and see” attitude, will virtually ensure failure. My commitment to RBC’s future success is unconditional. As a unified team working together toward common goals and objectives, I am confident that we will achieve outstanding results for our students, the local community and the Commonwealth.


Institutional Advancement

I am pleased to announce that the College has received a Cameron Foundation grant totaling $65,000 to improve student advising in the health sciences. Also, assuming that the state budget for the second half of the biennium remains unchanged, RBC will receive an appropriation of $125,000 to implement a new online learning platform that will expand program offerings and access. Finally, congratulations to Prof. Amy Beumer who was selected to receive an Early-Career Faculty Travel Award sponsored by the American Society for Microbiology (ASM). Prof. Beumer’s application was selected as a “stellar example of commitment to teaching undergraduate microbiology and biology.”


Campus Safety and Security

Under the leadership of RBC Emergency Planner, Ed Snyder, I am pleased to report that Interim Police Chief Jesse Wray and Sergeant Brian Travis have successfully completed their EMR training and are now certified Emergency Medical Responders. Chief Wray and Sergeant Travis are to be commended for their demonstrated commitment to lifelong learning and for their willingness to assume new job responsibilities in response to changing campus needs.


Faculty and Staff

Please join me in welcoming to RBC Jenna Chaney who began her new, part-time role as Marketing & New Media Specialist on Tuesday, March 12. Jenna holds a BA in Communication Studies from Christopher Newport University, and she brings experience in customer service, sales and marketing.


After 32 years of service, Dottie Edwards, Director of IT Services, has announced her intent to retire, effective May 1, 2013. On behalf of faculty, staff and students, I extend sincere gratitude to Dottie for her many years of dedicated service to Richard Bland College. Randy Dean (14 years of service), Director of Student Affairs, and Casey Blankenship (5 years of service), Director of Resident Life, will be leaving RBC, effective March 24 and March 25 respectively, to pursue other opportunities. Best wishes to Randy and Casey. Dorrie Smith,  who holds a BS in psychology from Virginia Tech and administrative and customer service experience at VCU and Averett College, has agreed to serve as acting Resident Director through June 30, 2013.


Job advertisements will soon be released for Dean of Faculty & Academic Effectiveness, Chief Information Officer, Director of Auxiliary Enterprises, VP of Enrollment Services, and Comptroller with anticipated start dates of July 1, 2013, with the exception of the CIO position which will be filled as soon as possible.


Congratulations to all members of the Richard Bland College family who celebrated an employment anniversary in March, including:


  • Barbara Griffin                                               1 year
  • Irene Handy                                                    8 years
  • Rosa Kanga                                                     14 years


Thanks to each of you for working every day to provide an outstanding learning environment for all RBC students!



Branding & Marketing

The exploration and discovery phase of the branding project has proven to be tremendously valuable in prompting members of the campus community—most importantly alumni and students—to think deeply about the essence of the RBC experience. I am pleased to share with you the response of one student who succinctly and powerfully describes the RBC brand promise as follows:


I came to RBC after finishing high school with a 3.9 GPA and not getting into any of the four-year colleges I applied to. I was hesitant to come at first because I did not want to attend a two year college after I had worked so hard in high school to get into a bigger school. I am so glad that I came to RBC because I ended up completely rethinking my life plan after taking Dr. Schrader’s Art History course. That class inspired me to become an Art History major because it was something I enjoyed and was eager to learn more about. With Professor Delano’s help I am now on the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts College Advisory Council and president of the RBC Art Club. I never thought that Richard Bland could change my prospects on what I wanted to do with the rest of my life and my career field, but it most definitely did. I would define an RBC student as someone who wants to explore deeper inside themselves and cultivate their education to find what they truly want to do with the rest of their lives.


In closing, the following article speaks poignantly to the need for “educators at all levels [to] work together to develop programs and courses that support all students in reaching their potential… The world needs to know the people our children can become if they are all engaged as young learners.”


Happy spring break to faculty!







The Chronicle of Higher Education


March 11, 2013


Top Students, Too, Aren’t Always Ready for College

By Elaine Tuttle Hansen


One recent morning over coffee, I was talking with a colleague about a rising source of frustration for him and his fellow faculty members: how unprepared for college-level coursework so many incoming students are, even at our highly selective university.


“They have the grades and the test scores to be here,” said my colleague, director of undergraduate studies in math at the Johns Hopkins University. “What they don’t have is a deep understanding of why the techniques they’ve been taught work, the actual underlying mathematical relationships. They walk into to my classroom in September and don’t have the study habits or proper foundation to do the work.”


His concerns don’t come as a complete surprise. As a former college professor, provost, and president, I’ve been hearing faculty and administrators at top undergraduate institutions quietly complain for more than three decades about the declining quality of student preparation.


What’s changed is that today, college readiness is more often a hot topic for educators and policy makers focused on at-risk students. The data driving their laudable work are alarming: Only one in four high-school seniors meets the four benchmarks designed to show readiness for a successful freshman year of college, according to the 2012 ACT college-readiness test.


Many groups are working to improve college readiness, including the Bill & Melinda Gates and the Lumina Foundations and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. But there are two key questions few are openly asking.


First, what do we know about the college readiness of not just the bottom high-school performers but also the top students? The truth is that not all of the smartest kids who have jumped through the hoops required for selective college admissions are ready for the demands of college-level work. Second, what are faculty doing about the problem? Unfortunately, at most colleges, even teachers devoted to undergraduate success aren’t convinced that it’s their problem, nor do they know how to solve it.


My interest in trying to answer those questions is part of the reason I recently left a long career in higher education to run the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth, a program for academically advanced pre-college students. From this perspective, here’s what I think needs to be added to today’s conversation about college readiness.


Above all, it’s time to acknowledge that even top students may have college-readiness problems. Beyond the for-profit counseling industry that teaches kids how to check the right boxes to get into the most-prestigious institutions, many educators pay little attention to these students.


They should: Evidence suggests that academic talent is quite specifically diminished, not developed, by the school experience. A Fordham Institute study of how young American students testing in the 90th percentile or above fared over time found that roughly 30 to 50 percent of these advanced learners lost ground as they moved from elementary to middle school, or from middle to high school. And the focus on low­-achieving students in public schools has disproportionately left more smart minority and low-income kids behind, creating a well-documented “excellence gap.”


It’s easy to understand why such data are ignored; resources are needed elsewhere, most people believe, and many of these bright students shine. Indeed, the lucky ones have amazing pre-college opportunities.


Visit a summer program for talented and gifted students, and you’ll see contradictions of claims that today’s students aren’t as well prepared as we were. But as I’ve come to understand, such programs continue to grow and thrive precisely because the kind of engagement, enthusiasm, and active group learning they provide is so hard to find in most classrooms. Yet supplementary work may not be enough, even for the fortunate few who qualify for accelerated, intensified programs and have, or are given, the means to participate.


Take David, a college student I heard from recently, who loved the summer program he took at the Center for Talented Youth a few years ago. But it wasn’t enough to save him from being so bored in school that he “coasted” through elementary, middle, and high school and his first two years of college. “By the time I found academic work that challenged me, … I realized my work ethic and study skills were atrocious, in large part, I believe, because I had never been forced to use them,” he said. “I would like to know the person I would have become had I been engaged as a young learner.”


Which brings me to a second point: Neglecting to engage young people with precocious academic talent and telling ourselves they’ll be fine is bad not only for those students, but for everyone.


Our attitudes and practices send a loud and depressing message about how little we value academic achievement. From kindergarten through college, we must think harder about what we’re saying when we focus on test scores, eliminate honors and AP classes, and cut what little financing exists for research on gifted students. Even as experts and pundits talk about the global achievement gap and the importance of creativity and innovation, few ask how we can raise the ceiling for the students already above the floor.


Moreover, many of the techniques that work with the brightest students can help reach students at a wide range of ability and developmental levels. If we thought carefully about college readiness as a single problem with differences for learners possessing an array of aptitudes, abilities, and interests, our solutions could be more comprehensive, coordinated, and effective.


Finally, as important as it is to focus on the preparation of our top students, we also need to think about another kind of readiness—that of faculty to teach the kinds of students who will enter college in the future. College teaching was a simpler job when only the best students were expected to seek postsecondary education.


On top of the increased numbers and diversity of students in the “college for all” era, college faculty have to reach “digital natives” and adjust curricula and teaching to the expectations and abilities of students who are taught to the Common Core State Standards.


In this new reality, college readiness, and the lack of it, should be everyone’s problem. Educators at all levels should work together to develop programs and courses that support all students in reaching their potential, including advanced learners who need to challenge themselves beyond easy A’s.


The world needs to know the people our children can become if they are all engaged as young learners.


Elaine Tuttle Hansen is executive director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth, a former president of Bates College, and a past provost and professor of English at Haverford College.