President's Blog

Help Portrait

Posted on December 6th, 2017

Owens Community College Brings Help Portrait Back to Northwest Ohio

On December 2, 2017, a group of Owens Community College employees, students, and community volunteers held a Help Portrait event at the Downtown Learning Center. Help Portrait is an amazing international community service movement that is based on a fairly simple idea. Volunteer photographers find people in need, take a professional portrait, and give it away. Created by Nashville photographer Jeremy Cowart, Help Portrait has taken place every December since 2008. The idea is explained very well in this brief video:

Owens volunteers, along with several photographers from the Toledo area, came together on Saturday to create a pop-up photography studio for the community. This was a very inspiring event, led by Krista Keissling, Michael Sander, Dan McInnis and a number of Owens staff and students. That last time there was a Help Portrait event in Northwest Ohio was 2014. Our friends and partners at Hart, Inc. generously provided $1,000 to assist us with the cost of obtaining the necessary photo paper, thumb drives, and additional printers required for the event.

Our Marketing department made a great promotional flier for the event, and we promoted it heavily on social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.). James Schuller was there taking video of the event, and Marketing will be producing a short video about the activity.

At the Board meeting yesterday, I gave a brief slide show of the photos I took that day. I am an amateur photographer, so these are not professional shots. But I do think the images capture the event; here are a few of my slides. During the event, I only did three things: 1) welcome people, 2) thank volunteers, 3) photograph the process. Here are just a few of the photographs I shared with the Board.

While Help Portrait is a simple idea, executing a quality event is not. Our team was fantastic and attended to every detail with precision, compassion, and enthusiasm. The volunteers from Owens and the community worked tirelessly to make this event a success. We all left the DLC so inspired by what had taken place that day. I am so grateful to the volunteers who came together for this amazing event. James Schuller shot a bunch of video that day and put together a great movie about our event.

We are all looking forward to next year!

Steve Robinson, Ph.D.
Interim President

Toledo-Area Campus Carillon

Posted on November 22nd, 2017

All of our campus locations are closed today, Wednesday 11/22, through Sunday, 11/26 for the Thanksgiving break. As we enjoy a few days away from campus, I thought I would share one of the many things that I am thankful for here at Owens: the beautiful carillon music on campus.

Up On The Roof

Those of us who work on the Toledo-area campus are familiar with the bells, chimes, and melodies emanating from Health Technologies Hall. Because of my deep love of music, I have always enjoyed listening to the tunes that ring out across our campus. Over the years, I have been curious about the carillon that makes this music. Recently, I asked Mike McDonald, Executive Director of Operations, to take me up to the tower in Health Tech to see where the music comes from, and I thought I would share what I learned with the campus community.

Maas-Rowe Digital Chronobell III

The source of the beautiful music on our campus is a Maas-Rowe carillon. The actual carillon “brain” resides in a closet the Business Affairs Office in Administration Hall. The rack-mounted Digital Chronobell III and CD25 Compact Disc Carillon communicate through our campus network to a speaker array on the top of Health Tech. Based on the equipment present in the rack, it appears that the system was upgraded in the early 1990s, but previously may have run on 8-track audio tapes. It is possible to program a year’s worth of music on the carillon.

The actual sound comes from an array of wide dispersion horn loudspeakers mounted on the very top of the brick facade of Health Technologies Hall, five stories above the ground. It was very windy the day we went to the roof to inspect the speakers. Roof access is from a 5th floor boiler room. I took some photos with my phone to give everyone a look at where the sound is made.

As an amateur musician and lover of music, I always like to know as much as I can about the composers and performers of the music I enjoy. By poking around with the carillon, I learned this and a lot more, and I am happy to share.

The musical selections were performed on an actual carillon by carillonneurs Cynthia Crenshaw and Lynn R. Kuhn. (Yes, the official name for a carillon player is carillonneur.) The performances were recorded from this instrument direct to digital. The recordings are stored on CD-ROM media (not compatible with standard audio CDs). The documentation has this to say about the instruments used to record the music:

“In the Maas-Rowe Symphonic Carillon, two bells are provided for every note on the keyboard. One of these bells is tuned “minor,” and the other “major.” This makes it possible for the carillon to sound perfectly “in tune” for any musical key. The Flemish Carillon Bells are tuned with a distinctive minor quality like the bells of European Cathedrals. The Harp/Celeste Bells have a pure, delicate sound similar to an Organ Harp. In some selections, combinations of bells are used to create extra-heavy bell sounds or add sparkle and interest.”

Musical Selections

  1. Are You Lonesome Tonight
  2. Aura Lee
  3. Autumn Leaves
  4. Born Free
  5. Climb Every Mountain
  6. Deep Purple
  7. Edelweiss
  8. Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime
  9. Everything’s Coming Up Roses
  10. Fascination
  11. Fiddler on the Roof
  12. Harbor Lights
  13. I’m Always Chasing Rainbows
  14. Indian Love Call
  15. I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now
  16. Misty
  17. Mona Lisa
  18. Moon River
  19. O What A Beautiful Mornin’
  20. Once in a While
  21. Over the Rainbow
  22. Ramona
  23. Red Roses for a Blue Lady
  24. Singin’ in the Rain
  25. Smoke Gets in Your Eyes
  26. So In Love
  27. Some Enchanted Evening
  28. Somewhere, My Love
  29. Stardust
  30. Sunrise, Sunset
  31. The Shadow of Your Smile (Love Theme from ‘The Sandpipers’)
  32. The Song from ‘Moulin Rouge’
  33. The Sound of Music
  34. Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round The Ole Oak Tree
  35. Tomorrow (from ‘Annie’)
  36. Trees
  37. Tubular Bells
  38. Yesterday
  39. You Light Up My Life
  40. You’ll Never Walk Alone (from ‘Carousel’)
  41. When You’re Smiling (The Whole World Smiles With You
  42. Whispering

I have fond memories of listening to the bells from the carillon at Michigan State University during my time as a college student. Unlike the instrument at MSU, our carillon is digital. The University of Toledo also has a digital carillon (that carillon has an actual keyboard for live performance, which can be seen in this video). As you walk across campus and enjoy our beautiful carillon, now you will know more about the music and musicians that make it possible.

Steve Robinson, Ph.D.
Interim President

TV Ad Campaign

Posted on November 17th, 2017

Your Success Starts Here

Our Marketing Department has worked with Hart, Inc. to develop one of the best community college ad campaigns I have ever seen. We launched this campaign back in March of 2016, and three of the spots have been airing in select markets since then. Those three are called “Dream,” “Hard to Define,” and “Sounds Like Success.” All three of these are still fresh and on-message, so we have added a fourth spot to the rotation that will begin airing this week. It is called “Jobs.”

What I love about this ad campaign is that it features our real students and graduates, as well as our many employer partners here in Northwest Ohio. The new “Jobs” spot also features a faculty member; this was a suggestion made by employees. The faculty member is Janine Rosenthal, Associate Professor of Accounting. She joins the growing list of “faculty celebrities” that have been featured in our TV commercials over the years.

Our Marketing Department maintains a web page listing the students and alumni who appear in our ads:

It is extremely difficult to tell a story in a 30-second TV commercial. Over the years, I have had numerous conversations about our marketing efforts with faculty staff. We know that marketing particular programs in 30-second spots does not work. The primary role of electronic advertising is brand awareness and top-level messaging.

I especially like the scripts for these ads. All of these ads utilize the same voice talent as the “Narrator,” who asks questions or makes observations. Here’s an excerpt from the most recent “Jobs” spot:

Another element I really like about the campaign is that it builds upon decades of brand identity that we have worked so hard to establish in this media market. The tagline “Your Success Starts Here,” for example, is such an efficient way of communicating what we do as an institution. And if you grew up in Northwest Ohio, you can sing along to the completion of that musical phrase: “Owens Community College.”

Special thanks to Denise Grupp-Verbon, Adjunct Music Instructor and Internships Coordinator, for transcribing the jingle for me!

In addition to the new 30-second spot, the Owens Marketing Department has been working to develop short web videos for sharing on social media. We have also developed student profiles and short videos that highlight key initiatives or programs. Video is an important part of how we tell our story. I am very impressed with the efforts of our Marketing team, as well as our partners like Hart.

Steve Robinson, Ph.D.
Interim President

NJCAA Region XII District F Champions!

Posted on November 6th, 2017

I Drove to Port Huron, Michigan and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt

That is a joke of course. A big one. I drove to Port Huron and returned with this AMAZING t-shirt. Our Owens Express Women’s Volleyball team are NJCAA Region 12 District F Champions! This means that these exceptional student athletes with travel to Charleston, WV for the National Championship. They will face off November 16-18, 2017 at the Charleston Civic Center in Charleston, WV.

I took these photos with my phone, which has become a major PR device for the college! The shot on the right is of the actual t-shirt.

Way to go, ladies! District F Champions!

Watch the Games Live Online

Because of the great efforts and excellent technology skills of the team parents, it is possible to watch the volleyball matches from the comfort of your home or right on your phone (I have done both). My schedule did not permit me to attend the first part of the tournament in Port Huron, so I watched from a distance on the Owens Express YouTube Channel, here:

I streamed the game to the TV in my living room, and it was great! The games stream in HD, and you will be amazed at how much fun it can be to watch at home. But I was there at Saint Clair Community College for the big game (that’s me on the balcony with the big Owens flag!)

On behalf of everyone at Owens, I want to congratulate this very special team for an amazing season. On to Nationals!

Steve Robinson, Ph.D.
Interim President

Veterans Hall Ribbon Cutting

Posted on October 31st, 2017

Veterans Hall Ribbon Cutting Ceremony

Thursday, November 2, 2017

We are very excited about the ribbon cutting ceremony for Veterans Hall this Thursday. I encourage everyone to stop by for a brief program and ceremony on Thursday; the formal program will begin at 10:30 a.m. A number of important guests will be present.

More than two years ago, while planning to re-locate our Veteran’s Center, a number of us here at Owens became excited about the idea of naming the entire building in honor of our commitment to veterans. Formerly called Kingsley Hall, this building started as an awkward and “funky” kind of space. The building had no elevator, which made the second floor unusable because of accessibility issues. As one of the former PENTA buildings acquired in 2008, the building that contained the elevator and walkway had been demolished. The transformation of this important learning and service space is nothing short of amazing. If you have not had a chance to visit, I encourage you to stop by for a look.

At the ribbon cutting ceremony, our team will explain the vision for Veterans Hall. We intend it to be a focal point for our veteran students and their families, but it will also serve as a resource for the veterans community in Northwest Ohio. As I plan to share with those who attend the ceremony, naming the building Veterans Hall has literally put our commitment to veterans on the map.

A dedicated team made up of employees from Facilities, Student Services, the Foundation, and other areas of the college have prepared a brief but significant program for Thursday morning. I personally invite you to join us. During the ceremony, we will also be paying tribute to the late Mike McAlear, former Owens Community College trustee. Prior to his death, Mike McAlear made a generous gift to the college and the circle drive surrounding Veterans Hall is now named Mike McAlear Way. Members of Mike’s family will be present for the ceremony.

I hope to see you Thursday.

Steve Robinson, Ph.D.
Interim President

P.S. The ribbon cutting ceremony today was spectacular. While it was a bit windy, the weather cooperated. I thought I would add this photo taken by James Schuller of the actual ribbon cutting. Thank you to everyone for an exceptional event!

Online Learning is 24/7

Posted on October 30th, 2017

Over the weekend, a utility interruption caused a disruption in our web-based IT services. Buckeye Telesystems experienced a “fiber cut” and spent most of the day on Sunday, October 29 working on repairs. Despite the fact that the college is not open on Sunday, our entire leadership team realizes that online learning takes place 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The interruption in service was not caused by anything at Owens, but we took immediate steps to inform our students, faculty and staff about the outage.

The difficult thing about communicating an Internet service outage is fairly obvious: we can’t use our web site to inform people! ITS and Marketing did a great job of letting people know via social media. I shared updates on my Twitter account. The most helpful source of information was the following site maintained by ITS:

This site kept everyone informed about the status of the outage. Because not everyone is aware of this helpful link, I made the decision to use our campus emergency notification system to send a message about the outage that included this link. Special thanks to Public Safety for sending the message, and to ITS for keeping the information current for our faculty, students and staff.

The outage was resolved shortly after 8pm last night. Thank you to everyone on our team for their extra efforts to communicate. Again, an outage like this impacts hundreds of students and their faculty. During my many years teaching online classes, Sunday evening was a very popular “due date” for many of my online assignments. We recognize that online learning at Owens happens 24/7, which is why we worked so hard to communicate about the outage.

I want to thank our online students and faculty for their understanding, and acknowledge the great work of ITS, Marketing and DPS for excellent communication during the outage.

Thank you!

Steve Robinson, Ph.D.
Interim President

Connections with Owens Retirees

Posted on October 18th, 2017

Last Wednesday, the Owens Alumni Association hosted a Retiree Breakfast at Terrace View Café in Heritage Hall. This was a very special event. Nearly 50 former Owens faculty and staff attended the breakfast. It was great to visit with so many former Owens employees and hear stories about our fantastic college. In the past, this group of retirees has not had a formal connection with the college. Jennifer Fehnrich and the staff in the Foundation/Alumni office have started a conversation about how Owens retirees might create a more formal connection to the college by becoming a chapter of the Alumni Association. I think this is a very innovative idea, and the conversation went very well.

Because there are many Owens retirees who were not able to attend the breakfast, I have recorded a very brief (2 minute) video message for our former employees who would like to stay connected with the college. I am very excited about future events and collaborations with this valuable resource.

Note about the video: As I have done before, this is just a simple mobile phone video that I recorded myself in my office. It’s an informal and simple way to communicate, but it is not an elaborate production!

Retirees are a great source of knowledge, institutional history, and positive PR for our college. I truly enjoyed visiting with this large group of Owens people.  After the event, a group of these retirees wrote to the college, including: Dorothy Bonser, Sandra Laas, Craig Rhodes, Sarah Rodgers and Carol Russell. We also heard from individual retirees, including Bill Ivoska and others. Here is an excerpt from their very thoughtful letter:

Recently four Owens administrators of the college reached out to the retirees in an effort to increase our involvement with the college. They hosted a meeting and presented a proposal to the retirees to establish a retiree chapter of the alumni association which would allow for the increased engagement of retirees with the college.

We commend the efforts of those administrators who encouraged our reengagement. We have operated for the past twelve years as an independent entity with almost no support or encouragement from the college administration; thus we are very appreciative of the recent efforts they made to recognize the retirees and encourage our involvement with the college. The retirees were grateful to receive this encouragement to reengage as active members of the Owens family.

The Alumni Association has plans to continue this dialogue to make sure that our connection continues to grow. Below is the invitation that was prepared for the Retiree Breakfast Event. Special thanks to Jennifer Fehnrich, Bridget Shea, and Claudia Losek for their excellent work on this initiative.

Steve Robinson, Ph.D.
Interim President

Follow Me on Twitter

Posted on October 17th, 2017

Twitter: A Great Way to Connect

Before I became Interim President, I had never really seen or used Twitter. Over the past few months, it has become a great way to connect with our college community, as well as stay informed about what other regional institutions are doing. In addition to PR and promotion, I have noticed faculty members using Twitter to engage their students in the classroom. One of our faculty members, Scott Deaner, makes fantastic use of Twitter to connect his students with geography and important academic events related to his courses. In fact, he even uses his Twitter feed to promote registration and further scholarship in his discipline.

I hear lots of jokes about using Twitter as a college president. I always assure people that I do not tweet late at night, and I only post positive things about Owens Community College and higher education. I have found the @OCCPresident Twitter account to be a very valuable way to promote the college. Because I spend so much time at college events, my phone has become a pocket PR device. It is very easy to snap a quick photo and post something positive, as I did yesterday walking past Veterans Hall.

This post took no time at all; it was literally a quick stop on my walk between meetings on campus. We have so many wonderful things happening here at Owens Community College that it simply takes a moment to record and promote the great work that is going on here. If you know of events or items that should be promoted here on campus, please reach out to me and let me know. I love to share our positive stories!

The @OCCPresident account currently has 106 Twitter followers, which is not very many. For example, I just posted a tweet about the Pop-Up President’s Office session at the Downtown Learning Center later today. The folks at @DowntownToledo re-tweeted that to their 8,871 Twitter followers! Let’s hope that brings some people to the DLC. By comparison, Dr. Gaber (UT President) has 2,691 followers; Dr. Mazey (BGSU President) has 5,434 followers). I want to grow our Twitter following.

While it might seem silly, I have set a modest goal of earning more than 200 Twitter followers by the end of the semester. If you are on Twitter, I would love you to follow me. Tell your staff and students about the account. The more people we have, the better we can promote Owens and the excellent things we are doing here!

In the meantime, I promise to keep it positive and classy!

Steve Robinson, Ph.D.
Interim President

Yes, You Need the Microphone

Posted on October 6th, 2017

A Lesson from Twenty Years Ago

Everyone has little issues or small causes that matter a great deal to them. A few people on campus have noticed that one of mine is using the microphone during a large gathering. As educators, many of us feel that we have loud “teacher voices” that everyone can hear. I know I felt this way once. I began my career teaching in noisy classrooms and giving speeches in union halls. I also started college as a theatre major, so I was trained to project to the back of the house and speak from my diaphragm. But I always use the microphone if one is available, and I encourage everyone here on campus to do the same. The image above is a screen shot from a presentation I gave here at Owens shortly after I arrived. I didn’t always have this opinion. It was born from something I learned twenty years ago, and it comes with a little story.

Here’s the story.

In 1998, I was a delegate to the National Education Association (NEA) Representative Assembly (simply called the RA) in New Orleans. The RA is the largest deliberative body in the world: 9,000 union delegates debating and voting in a huge parliamentary process. I had just been elected President of my local union, a position I would hold for 10 years, and I was passionate about very hotly debated topic at this particular RA: a merger between the NEA and the AFT. This item was called The Principles of Unity, and unlike most of my fellow delegates from Michigan, I was strongly in favor of the merger. At our State caucus in a New Orleans hotel before the general RA session, we held a large caucus meeting to debate our state’s formal position. I gave an impassioned speech on the subject in that hotel ballroom. When I was finished, a fellow delegate came to talk with me.

“Young man, I was very interested in what you had to say,” she said. “You seem passionate about this issue, and I can tell you have really put a great deal of thought in your position.”

I assured her that I had.

“The problem is,” she told me, “I could not hear a single word you said. It isn’t about your voice; it’s about my ears. You need to use the microphone.”

Right then and there, I vowed to always use a microphone if one is available. For these past twenty years, I make sure that I do this and I encourage others to do the same. You may have the loudest “teacher voice” in the world, but your voice is no match for the HVAC duct in the back of the room that you cannot hear, the high ceiling or carpet that absorbs your voice, or the humming fluorescent light fixture above someone’s head. If there is a PA system and mic in a room, it’s there for a reason. Use it.

In addition, it is also important that we have ASL interpreters present if their services will be needed by anyone in attendance. Again, it’s not about the person delivering the message: it’s about the people receiving it.

Steve Robinson, Ph.D.
Interim President

What’s the Plan?

Posted on October 4th, 2017

As I reflect on my first 90 days at Interim President here at Owens, my interactions with our faculty, staff and students stick out as my most exciting and engaging experiences. We have a great college built on the work of wonderful people! A large part of my job has been moving from place to place to interact with Owens people and the people we serve in Northwest Ohio.  One thing our team has been working on “back at the office” over the past several weeks is a set of Strategic Priorities that will guide us through the fiscal year.

Since we emerged from Fiscal Watch, many employees have shared with me a sense of excitement and optimism about our current situation and our future. But more than a few people have stopped to ask me: What do we do now? Where are we going? Or as one faculty member very succinctly put it:

“What’s the plan?”

I am delighted to share a specific answer to that question. Yesterday, the Board of Trustees approved a set of Strategic Priorities for this fiscal year. This set of priorities was approved just hours ago, and this is the first place I am publishing the very rough draft. There is nothing secret or especially novel here: just a set of very specific priorities and goals that we can all work toward in this important year after Fiscal Watch. A more comprehensive strategic planning process will need to take place in the future, but we need a set of priorities and goals to guide our work NOW.

To help us achieve our essential function of TEACHING & LEARNING and WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT, the following four priorities have been adopted by our Board. Here is a first look at those priorities (this is a screen capture from the draft document that was approved yesterday):

Under each of these priorities is a set of goals that are key to our success; each one will be assigned a metric or set of metrics so we can monitor our progress over the year. Again, this is simply a screen capture of the draft adopted by the Board. We plan to create a more formal and specific document in the near future.

When a final document containing the Strategic Priorities is completed, it will be shared widely within the college. Because it might take some time to generate that document, I wanted to share what the Board approved as soon as possible. Enrollment and retention are obviously key issues for us given the demographic and economic situation in Northwest Ohio. If you are curious about my views on these and other topics, the blog entry I wrote on “Service Club Presentations” contains a video with a great deal of information about our current context and what we need to do to be effective and add value to our region. These Strategic Priorities will help us drive that work internally.

One thing we can all do RIGHT NOW is regarding Goal 1.3 “increase efforts in retention of current students.” Nearly everyone reading this will encounter an Owens student today. Make a point of asking them if they have registered for next semester. If they have not registered, encourage them to do so. One Owens faculty member that I follow on Twitter recently encouraged students to re-enroll via social media. That is FANTASTIC! However you interface with students, ask them about their plans for next semester and encourage them to register!

If you have questions or input on this important work, I would love to speak with you and discuss it.

Steve Robinson, Ph.D.
Interim President