Coordinator of Instruction and Advisement at CCV 1982-2004; Director of the Office of External Programs, Prior Learning Assessment, until 2015.
Originally published August 28, 2015
I started working at CCV as a Coordinator of Academic Services in 1982. I stayed in this role until 2004, when I took over the Vermont State Colleges’ Prior Learning Assessment program which is located at CCV. In the summer of 2015, I retired after being part of CCV for 33 years.
In 1982, the CCV Central Office was located above the Howard Bank building in Montpelier, and the Central Vermont Site of CCV was located in Barre, above the old “Lash Furniture” store. (Every time Lash turned its carpet rolling machine on, all conversation had to cease since we wouldn’t be able to understand our students’, teachers’, or our own words.)
On my second day on the job, I got a call from Nancy Chard, who was at that time the Regional Director of the southern region of CCV. The Regional Director of the northern region was Nancy Severance. Nancy Chard told me that: a) I was on the “Curriculum Committee”, b) the meeting was the next day, and c) to bring scissors. Scissors?!? I soon found out. The next day, five or so of my new colleagues gathered around a table, scissors in hand, and we all started cutting up the CCV course lists.
At that time, each CCV site had their own course schedule, and although the course titles were pretty much the same, each site had their own description and version of what e.g. “Applied Math” was all about. So here was the curriculum committee, armed with small machetes, cutting out the nine different versions of “English Comp”, placing them next to one another, comparing, contrasting, and coming up with one ‘blurb’ that everyone in the college would use. Nowadays, that would be called Cut and Paste. And that’s what we did – cutting and pasting the curriculum together. Therefore, on day three of my CCV career, I understood that if something needed to get done, we’d roll up our sleeves and just figure out how to do it, whichever way would work. And that is exactly the way it was, for 33 years. Only the means changed. But the approach was the same.
At this time, CCV did not have a president. There was a Dean, Myrna Miller, and she was about to leave CCV for another job. As an interim leader, Richard Bjork (the VSC Chancellor) oversaw us. The college then began a search for a president, and Ken Kalb was hired in 1983. Ken was our leader for over a decade, and many things came together during that time. The college expanded; the Burlington site, now the CCV Winooski center, was opened in Chittenden County under loud protest by the other area colleges who believed that CCV would take away students from their institutions.
This turned out to be both true and not true. CCV attracted students who were not interested in the other colleges, who had not applied to other schools, who could only go to school part time, who were the first in their family to attend college, who did not want to pursue a degree but learn new skills (especially computer skills), who could not afford the cost of other colleges, who wanted to try out college without making a long-term commitment, and who were working adults with professional schedules and family responsibilities. For those students, CCV was perfect as the other schools were not able to respond to those needs the way CCV could through its built-in flexibility and open door policy.
As CCV became more established in Chittenden County, students began to vote with their feet. CCV had so much to offer any non-traditional student. Slowly, traditional age student began arriving at the door. For CCV, this was a switch. I remember a CCV staff training day in the mid-eighties for the sole purpose of discussing the impact the young students would have on the college, and how to best advise, integrate, and teach these students. In the rest of the country, colleges held staff training days that focused on how to deal with non-traditional age students.
More and more young students came to CCV, especially in Burlington. Student numbers grew every semester. The growth of the college was astonishing and rewarding. Burlington CCV staff began, in the nineties, to work on transfer agreements with area colleges. An agreement with UVM’s College of Arts and Sciences would allow students graduating with a certain GPA to have automatic admission into their junior and senior year at UVM. This was huge. Also, it was beneficial for both schools.
Demographics were changing. When I began working at CCV in the eighties, 60% of our students were ‘life-long learners”, not interested in a degree. 75% were female. About 85% were adult students. All of this changed significantly over the next two decades. The college grew and grew. More CCV centers were opened, until there were 12 CCV sites. Then, on-line course began to appear, and the college had its 13th site – the virtual CCV site, now called the Center for Online Learning.
CCV has come a long way. It was exciting, challenging, fun, and required huge commitments from staff. We all worked hard. We did the most amazing things – they are hard to imagine now.
When the new course list came from the printer, CCV staff would drive around in their area and hand deliver the course lists in person, to stores, laundromats, community agencies, companies, local libraries, and so on. This gave CCV staff the opportunity to interact with the community in person, answer questions, entice potential students to take a course, and sometimes receive requests for new courses. It was the kind of public relations effort that no one would be able to make time for. Later, a marketing unit was established that was able to develop statewide advertising campaign and developed a new look, materials, and a visual presence.
Student registration, before computers, was managed by a system of 5×7 cards in a metal box. Students who were officially registered and had paid were noted on the card in pen. Students who had expressed an interest but had not actually paid were written in pencil. Registration forms were filled out in quadruplicate – one for the student, one for the site, one for the financial aid office, and one for the central registrar’s office in Waterbury.
We drove the new technology – VCRs! – to CCV classrooms which were all over the place. We took the leftover soup from one teacher night (the dinner before the semester started) to the next teacher night at another CCV site. Staff often prepared the food. Sometimes, teachers (at that time our instructors were still called teachers, not faculty) prepared food. Materials were transported from site to site or class to class – such as sharing three art history slide sets between everyone in the college, or transporting the one computer, the BLUE EGG, to be used for the brand new “Introduction to Computers” class from the CCV business office, which was by then located in Waterbury, to Montpelier and back the next morning. The joke was that when a new academic coordinator was interviewed: “Yes, she’s nice, but does she have a station wagon?”
Ken Kalb began the tradition of the annual all-college meeting, convocation. Nancy Chard became the first CCV Academic Dean. CCV staff had a “computer training” day at VTC, where we got to touch those machines and print out word processed documents on green-and-white striped paper. It’s hard to imagine now that we all worked on yellow pads and sent around Academic Review Board Minutes, sharing one copy per site. Slowly, computers started to arrive; first for administrative tasks, then for all staff. CCV sites needed to have computer labs. CCV hired a Computer Guru.
Degree Planning Seminar (DPS), a 1-credit course each degree student had to take, required students to design their own programs by meeting nine competencies. Students were often frustrated by this task – they wanted to know what exactly they had to take and which class would fulfill what requirement. Consequently, the first “Red Book” was created – laying out the degree programs (about 10) and specifying required courses. The development of the Red Book was huge and consequential. Advisors exhaled a common sigh of relief, and students were screaming for their copy. Slowly, the nine competencies were adapted and changed. Degree planning became a much more opaque process. President Ken Kalb secretly enrolled in the Degree Planning Seminar and created a degree plan for the fictitious “Thelma Spieler” so he could understand the process better – and Thelma’s plan was sent through the Academic Review Board (ARB). During those days, all student degree plans were reviewed in a two-day marathon meeting of the ARB at the Waterbury Central CCV office. They were chaired by Nancy Chard, clutching her famous coffee mug that said “I’d rather be having a beer!” All students received direct feedback from the ARB. It was a cumbersome but thorough process that is unthinkable today – student numbers were so much lower than today.
The grading system in the 1980s was pass/fail. Students received a written, narrative evaluation of their learning, based on common “essential” objectives that were slowly designed by the curriculum committee with the help of teachers, using Bloom’s Taxonomy. This was a huge undertaking but very successful as it clearly delineated student learning expectations/outcomes common for all CCV courses. CCV academic staff believed strongly in the usefulness of these narrative evaluations. Students, however, felt differently. They wanted grades. CCV staff lost that battle, and pass/fail remained the automatic option but grades could be requested by filling out forms with signatures, etc. In the 90’s, this changed to numerical grades becoming the default.
While not preserving the significance and value (as many advisors felt) of the narrative approach, this made student transfer easier as more and more CCV students started continuing on to other colleges as CCV transcripts had become increasingly accepted in Vermont.
Advisors/coordinators, at that time, served also as financial aid counselors, until in the late 80s specialized Financial Aid counselors were hired, much to the relief of the academic advisors. In some CCV sites, academic staff at CCV was divided into specialized coordinators – those working with teachers, and those working with students. In the mid-80s, this changed through the creation of a more comprehensive role for coordinators – they became the “CIAs” – Coordinators of Instruction and Advisement.
In the late 80s, CCV started to establish a library. This development came in response to concerns by the regional accreditation teams. How could a college exist without a library? Students had had to mainly rely on their local libraries. Under the guidance of Eileen Chalfoun, a distinctive, decentralized library system was developed: each CCV site had a dedicated, small library with common titles that would hopefully meet the resource needs for students writing lower level undergraduate research papers. At the same time, students were able to call a 1-800 telephone number, free of charge, to get help in designing research papers and accessing resources. Library staff wrote the first CCV library manual – “Bibliothec”. Several librarians were hired and located at various sites. It was a unique and creative system that was continuously adapted as technology changed.
Staff meetings were often held at the homes of staff. Regional course lists were planned and hashed out over pizza on someone’s back porch. Everyone knew one another. Relationships at work turned into lifelong friendships. There were few ‘bosses’ – the governance structure was quite flat, and it was easy to access anyone in charge of something, and to suggest and create changes. I believe that is one reason for many staff to stay as long at CCV as they do.
There was, and still is, a lot of work to be done by CCV staff. But CCV was a very mission driven institution, and the mission was shared. I am not suggesting that everyone was always happy; but there was a shared belief in the ‘big picture’ of the significance CCV had in our communities. There was lots and lots of discussion between staff and many projects were tried out (some failed, some changed the college forever, for the better). New staff either stayed on for a year or two and left, or basically stayed forever.
In the 80’s, a lot of staff was hired due to the colleges’ growth and expansion. There was a large group of staff, especially among coordinators, who had come to the college with an ethic of personal engagement and certain political beliefs resulting from growing into young adulthood in the 1970s, and time of societal change, upheavals, and new ideas about community and individual responsibility as being part of common community responsibilities. Problems were addressed and worked out until there was some kind of smart solution to the issues. Long-time CCV staff Dee Steffan used to say: “CCV staff is less polite, but more respectful”.
Much of this is still true at CCV to this day. But the college is so much larger now that it’s hard to know everyone the way we used to. However, if you put the entire group of coordinators in one room, and I expect the same is true for a college-wide group of administrative staff, there is a ‘hum’ and excitement in the air that is palpable. Colleagues are glad to see one another. Staff actually likes to be on committees. There are still silly skits, jokes, wild costumes, lots of tongue-in-cheek performances, sassy and funny comments, and various types of sanctioned outrageous behavior. There is also shared grief and caring for one another during difficult times. CCV has grown into a mature and established organization that affects the life of thousands of Vermonters in a positive way.
It has been a pleasure and privilege to be able to contribute to this institution’s success.