Josie: Hello and welcome to another episode of Josie and the Podcast. This is your host Josie Ahlquist, and I am very excited for my guest today. All of these guests that I get on the show, we feature leaders who share everything from their latest tweet or podcast or hashtag they started, to their leadership and life philosophy.
My goal is to always try to connect those dots between tech, social media, life, living in leadership with a whole lot of heart, soul, and substance. But this podcast would not be made possible without my sponsor, Campus Sonar, who have some amazing resources coming out very soon that we collaborated together on in a report called Tuning In: Higher Ed Execs Online. We’ve found that the digital presence of campus executives, like my guests today, Owens Community College President Steve Robinson, says a whole lot about an institution. The more socially engaged campus leaders are, the more emotional connections and relationships your campus builds with your audience.
Our guest today is so socially engaged that he blogs, podcasts and even initiated a Twitter campaign, #EndCCStigma, which we’re going to get all into.
The new research from yours truly and Campus Sonar examines leaders like president Robinson who we refer to in the episode as Steve, to determine how good digital leadership impacts your institution. Campus Sonar analysts research, listen to and analyze the digital presence of 194 higher ed presidents and vice presidents over six months. With the goal of improving our understanding of digital leadership trends and providing recommendations for effective executive digital presence. You can request a copy of this study info.campussonar.com/higheredexecs.
Josie and the Podcast is also part of a podcasting network just for higher education. We are called ConnectEDU. Come check us out at connectedu.network.
All right, let’s dig into our amazing featured guest for today.
Dr. Steve Robinson is President and Chief Executive Officer of Owens Community College. Appointed by the Board of Trustees As the seventh president on April 11th 2018. He previously served as the Vice President of Academic Affairs and then provost. He previously has served as executive dean at Mott Community College. Robinson spent 15 years as an English professor and the Humanities Division at Mott Community College. During his time in Ohio, Robinson has become a statewide leader in higher ed and transfer issues and serves on the Ohio Guaranteed Transfer Pathways Steering Committee. During his time in Ohio, Robinson has become a statewide leader in higher ed and transfer issues serving on the Ohio Guaranteed Transfer Pathways Steering Committee. He’s also part of the Rotary Club of Toledo and Raise the Bar Hancock County Board.
Robinson earned a PhD in English from Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan.
A few highlights from this episode which was such a fun conversation. As the episode title describes, we’re going to talk about this movement started with the Twitter hashtag, #EndCCStigma all talking about how we need to relook at our assumptions and presumptions about community college. We also get talking about how presidents can be podcasting and blogging and we also explore ways he can start to personalize his Twitter feed. Maybe even sharing the most recent vinyl record he’s jamming out to. You can find a president Robinson and I on all the socials down in the show notes. On Twitter especially find the podcast at JosieATpodcast. I’m @JosieAhlquist and Steve is @OCCpresident.
Everything we talk about, resources, people, posts, music, podcasts and more can be found on my website, josieahlquist.com/podcast.
Josie: On the show this week we have president Steve Robinson on who in the higher ed terms was going viral a bit the last few weeks for a very, very good reason, which we are going to get to very shortly, but to kick us off president, if you can share a little bit about your most recent Twitter post and maybe a story behind it as we get to know you more on this show.
Steve: Sure. My most recent Twitter posts was from this morning. I’ve been running around to meetings where I couldn’t have my phone out and so our partners in Findlay, Ohio, just part of our legal service district. I’m on the economic development board down there. For the fifth year in a row have become the number one micropolitan economy in the United States. So kind of an economic development happy story that I retweeted this morning as I was going from one meeting to another.
Josie: Oh, that’s great being able to capture those moments on the go. I can only imagine being able to squeeze all that type of content in. Is Twitter your primary space? Are you jumping on to any other platforms?
Steve: It’s a great question. I’m pretty new to Twitter. I actually asked the folks in our marketing department when I became president to help me get on Twitter. I did not use it when I was a provost or in previous roles. I have a blog that is one of my primary ways of communicating for work and a lot of emails and stuff, but relatively new to Twitter.
Josie: We’re going to bring up that blog and a little bit too, and his podcast, not my podcast, your podcast that I didn’t even realize you had all these spoilers that I’m already bringing up at the start of the show.
But before we get to those, let’s talk about years and years ago when you were even jumping on this to record, you were already talking about your kind of … you geek out about microphones.
Steve: I do.
Josie: So technology is all over the place, right? Where that might range from and definitely not just social media. But what about early, early days. What was your very first memories of technology in your life?
Steve: Well, that’s such a fun question. That goes all the way back to my grandfather. I’m thinking of my mom’s dad, was kind of a hi-fi person in the ’50s and ’60s. I always remember asking if I can use turntable and reel-to-reel recorder and his stereo. Throughout the remainder of his life, he and I were kind of audio buddies. My father’s dad was also kind of a gadget freak in the ’60s. I remember playing around with his a shortwave radio. So most of my technology memories, early childhood Memories, focus on audio equipment. The only thing I’d add in there is in the late ’70s, early ’80s, my mother was the first person that anybody knew who had a computer. She took out a small business loan to run a business out of our house. I still have the receipt for her Radio Shack TRS-80 and she was the first person on our block to get a home computer when that was a big deal.
Josie: Wow. Radio Shack just around the corner from us closed down last year.
Steve: I know. The end of an era. Where are you going to go out and buy a Solenoid now? You’re going to have to get online and order things like that. Capacitors.
Josie: I have no idea what a solenoid is.
Steve: I don’t know. I’m not that technically … But I do repair audio equipment sometimes and you’d have to order all that stuff online now.
Josie: Yeah. So fast forward to today, the majority of your career you have spent within community colleges.
Josie: So what do you love about serving that community?
Steve: Well, I love to describe myself as a community college person and this probably gives me a great opportunity to tell you an origin story for me. I was halfway through a master’s degree in English literature and I tagged along with a buddy who was teaching freshmen comp at the local community college and I literally had one of these conversion stories. It was like a lightening bolt hit me. I looked around and this classroom was different from any classroom I’d ever been in. I went, it had a pretty heterogeneous, homogenous high school experience. It was a good experience, but it was mostly with kids like me. When I went off to big state university, same kind of situation, kids my age, kids from my social economic background.
What I’ve loved about this community college classroom is that there was such a range of ages and different types of people from different walks of life. And the conversation was fantastic and I’m not kidding you, Josie, I made up my mind that day. This is what I want to do. I want to teach at a community college. So I changed my emphasis, got a master’s degree in community college teaching in English, started teaching full time. And the first 15 years of my career I was a community college English professor.
Josie: Nice. It’s great to hear that love really come out and the need that is to serve that type of institution. I don’t think I realized there was actually programs that specialized community college teaching. What do you really see as the difference or what was the different types of courses that you took to prepare?
Steve: Right. That program is actually gone, sadly.
Steve: Yeah, it is. But it’s on my master’s degree. I have my master’s degree diploma in a more prominent place in my office, then my PhD diploma because it says community college teaching on it. So anyway, there were a few emphases in the master’s program in English where I went to Michigan state and there was a track there for folks who are interested in teaching the two year college. We had some coursework in developmental writing and approaches to adult learning. I just loved that. I actually later developed a master’s seminar in that at the University of Michigan-Flint, long after that program had gone away. They don’t have it anymore. It’s more of a standard rhetoric and composition track now. But I love it. And again, I’m very proud that it says community college teaching on my master’s degree.
Josie: So from master’s degree specialization community college to presidency of a community college, and most recently where your love and dedication and advocacy community college comes out is in a tweet that you post on February 9th, that was a photo of you and a sign that read out #EndCCStigma. We’ll link this in the notes to the show so people can find that tweet, retweet it, comment, all those good things.
In the comments you wrote, “We are proud to be a community college. We’re not going to change our name. We’re going to change your mind.” And then obviously there was some hashtags in there.
Please let us know what prompted that tweet, even maybe what are some of those misconceptions for listeners and then how we can help clarify that.
Steve: Great. Well, there’s a lot in embedded in that question.
Steve: But I can handle it. I’ve actually been answering this question a lot lately, as you can imagine. I did an interview with a television station this morning over Skype and I, I’ve been doing local media around here, so I’ve got this answer down. So the impetus for the tweet really was a thought process that a lot of us in the community college area have had is that, despite the great gains that our sector has made in the last 50 years or so, since most of our institutions were founded, there still is this lingering stigma.
Most community colleges have a pejorative nickname. If you talk to the folks at your local community college, they know what the snobby kids at high school call the community college. It’s usually not very nice name. And, some of those thoughts persist. Even though we’ve made great strides in terms of awareness, there are a lot of economic development and political leaders who understand our value proposition. But when it comes time for them to talk about higher ed to their nieces, nephews, and their own kids or the people that they know who are considering postsecondary, some of these pejorative stigmas come out.
And so, one day on a drive to work, on about a 25 minute commute, and I thought, “It’s time.” I thought up this hashtag on the drive, quickly made that sign and that slogan kind of popped right into my mind. Some colleges have taken the word community out of their name. I’m not here to second guess that kind of a approach to the problem, but mine is very different. I’m super proud of the fact that we’re community institutions. In my mind, we’re sort of the 20th century equivalent of the Land Grant institutions that were founded after the Moral Act. We really have a great role to play in the higher education infrastructure. I’m proud that we’re community colleges. And what really surprised me is almost instantly this resonated with a bunch of community college people who agreed and retweeted it. It’s been an interesting ride.
The second part of your question about those misconceptions, they’re what you’d think they are, that people see this as a continuation of high school. Most campuses are smoke free now. But when I first started teaching, sometimes community colleges were called high schools with ash trays. There are these lingering conceptions that there isn’t rigor at our institutions, that there’s a transferability problem and we know that those are myths. And so I thought, let’s have a focused conversation about pushing back on that stigma.
Josie: And it came from your drive in your car.
Steve: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I’m sure like a lot of people, whether you drive or take public transportation to and from work is a time for reflection. To the topic of your podcast, it’s one of the few times that I’m away from my device. Right? Because it’s not safe.
Josie: It’s not safe. Sure, sure.
Steve: No, it is not safe to be tweeting on the road.
Josie: Right? Well, yes, both in policy and in practice one should not be legally doing that. But I unfortunately see a lot of people doing that on the road, often texting and driving. It’s not good.
Steve: I mean, I don’t want to take us off on a tangent, but on the drive to Columbus, I was run off the road by somebody who was on their phone.
Josie: Oh my God.
Steve: And I’m passionate about this. I’m as addicted to my device as anybody else, but for the sake of everybody else on the planet, if you’re listening, please put that thing down while you’re piloting a vehicle.
Josie: Yes. Yes, please. Yeah, I can kind of get those inspirations anywhere I’m on a run. So that’s great. On the drive, phone down, really focused on connecting and what this podcast is all about is connecting technology with some purpose behind it and not just being on Twitter to gain followers or traction even though that’s how I found you and the hashtag was because Inside Higher Ed featured you and then Reed then wrote about you and expanded the issue even further. So it just allowed for more amplification.
Josie: And I know I’ve had to do my own work even though I’ve worked in higher ed for dozens of years, doing a better job at featuring community college professionals because most of my work is bad at four year. I even got thinking my very first credits were from my community college while I was in high school.
Steve: Good for you.
Josie: I know. I was like, “Geez, Jos, this is on your transcript.”
Steve: Yeah. It should be on your CV too. That’s what I’m telling everybody. Even if you started at a community college, put it out there, be proud of it. I’ll tell you what, I’m insanely jealous. I went straight off to a research university. I had a great experience, but since I’ve devoted myself to two year colleges, I really wished that I had an associate’s degree. I’m jealous of people who started at a community college.
Josie: Well, we definitely need folks like you from … I mean, whether you got it there or not, you are advocating and amplifying the need to reframe. So I greatly appreciate it.
Josie: I don’t know if it was a week later, but it was after it was getting some traction. Then you came back onto Twitter, you made a video.
Josie: And then also posted one to YouTube about that shared a bit more about the theory that, basically what you just shared. Community college is real, it’s culturally constructed, and it’s not a feature of the quality of our institutions. The only way we can change it is to call it out directly as a stigma. So, you mentioned you jumped on a local news station this morning and now you’re on by podcasts.
Josie: So what has happened since you kind of started this movement and what do you hope will come from it in the future?
Steve: One thing is my marketing department and I have been talking a lot more than we normally do and I’m pretty hands on with marketing because we’ve got really talented folks in PR and marketing. But, it wasn’t long after I did that, that first tweet, that a couple of folks came up to my office and say, “Oh, this isn’t normal. This is bigger than what you’re usually doing.”
They liked that. So we’ve tried to take a look at, okay, well, how can we use this moment to really guide this conversation about our identity, that stigma and maybe upgrading the accuracy of people’s conception of our institution? So that’s one way it’s had that impact.
That video, it’s funny, it seems like the only place I think is in the car, but that idea, I came up with that and the drive too. The three part theory is that it is a stigma and it’s real. I mean, I think there’s some people would say, oh, particularly in some communities, there are communities in this country where the community college is a powerhouse institution. That really, and so, I think there are probably some people in our sector would say, “what are you talking about? We’re not stigmatized like that. We’re the 800 pound gorilla in our town.”
But I think that generally this stigma that we’re talking about is real. And the second piece, you paraphrased it pretty well there is that it doesn’t emanate from who we are. In fact, the value proposition for us in the two year college network in contrast to say research universities is it’s not just affordability that’s a class size. I mean if you take it, for example, I taught freshman comp for 15 years at a two year college, I would stack my section of freshman comp up against any of your listeners at a four year school. I mean I had a PhD in the subject. I loved it. It was a small class size and if you took that class at say a research university, you’d probably be taking with a graduate student. There’s nothing wrong with graduate students.
But there I was as the teacher with a PhD in written comp, delivering just a top-tier class. So it’s not our quality. And then the last piece is I think we’d have to directly address it. We can’t just say, “Oh, here are positive stories.” We have to call out and say, “No, there are inaccurate misconceptions about community colleges. We need to call them out and then try to change them.”
Josie: I believe it was in one of the articles or maybe in a Twitter thread, there was bringing up specific populations that we might want to target in this re-education and like high school guidance counselors or teachers and parents are potentially trying to reframe that narrative for them.
Steve: Yes. And, there’s some recent surveys of, for example, high school guidance counselors. Going back, and you probably remember, and I’m forgetting the researcher’s names, but there are a couple great white papers that come out of Stanford in the last few months about thriving after and selectivity. And one of the pieces of research there, it says, look, you can talk to some of these guidance counselors until you’re blue in the face about it doesn’t matter how selective your institution as, what matters is all the things we know from the research: fit, connection with a mentor over many semesters, great faculty. These are the things that make a difference in whether people succeed in college or not. And still this perception of, oh, it has to be a college high up the US News ranking in order for it to be effective, these stigmas really die hard.
So, I think that reaching out to specific populations. I spend a lot of time talking to K-12 superintendents, principals. I’d love to get this message to guidance counselors.
Tell a funny story about that. I’ve got two kids in high school and they noticed that their guidance counselor didn’t have any stuff on the walls from my college, from Owens Community College and they said, “Dad, can you give us some posters and stuff that we can give to our counselors so they can put it up there on the wall with all the other four year colleges?” I loved it.
Josie: They’re your street team.
Josie: That’s fantastic. Wow. Thinking about like News World reports and rankings and things, what are the things that you think that Owens does that not enough people know that they do very well?
Steve: Right. And I’ve got a great answer for that. But what I want to say, taking it back to the other question about how’s this sort of change this conversation? For me anyway, I feel like I’m speaking on behalf of other two year colleges. I’m always in promote Owens mode because I love this place. I’m very proud to be the CEO of a great community college, but when I have an audience like this, I really want to broaden it out and say what other community colleges do because we’re actually, we’re pretty similar to most community colleges. If you were to come up with a kind of a composite view of what a mid-sized, urban community colleges like, that’s us.
So with that as a preface, we have a number of things. So for example, we have a very strong transfer mission. We’ve been in the transfer business for a long time. Like most community colleges, we have great relationships with our destination transfer partners. At Owens in particular, we have these great concurrent enrollment programs where students can be simultaneously admitted to the four year destination into the community college and their credits transfer in real-time. At Owens, we call that our express program. We have one with Bowling Green State. We have one with the University of Toledo. Got one with Lourdes University. We’re developing others.
So, for transfer students, Baccalaureate Brown students, we have that as an option. The other thing that we have is probably a more direct line to getting involved in campus activities. I use myself as an example. I was a passionate about student radio when I was at a big state university.
Josie: Sure thing.
Steve: It took me forever to get my show on the air, years, because the competition was so stiff and it was an FM station. If you’re interested in radio at Owens Community College, we can get you a show on our Internet radio station this semester and get you playing around with the mixers and recording and doing whatever you think is fun right now. So there all kinds of activities and we also have the other things I talked to you about, smaller class size, probably more wrap around services. So those are some of the advantages I would say.
And then, we have a whole different range of a career focused programs at the one year certificate level and the and the two year certificate. There are great careers that don’t necessarily require a bachelor’s degree right now. And the reason I say right now is I am pro-baccalaureate. I’m not saying, you don’t need a bachelor’s degree. You may, you probably will, but you might not need one this second. You could start off in any number of technology and health care careers at the associate degree level now get some early momentum and success and then move on.
Josie: Yeah, and I feel like those are all nice earmarks to look for if you are looking at a community college, the transfer rate, the involvement opportunities, class sizes. And then if it is just that career, that certification quality to look into those. So thank you so much. Those are great. Anything else about end CC stigma?
Steve: Well, I’m excited and it means a lot to me that somebody like you … I mean, you’ve got this cool podcast, you’re writing this great book about this topic and so, I appreciate everybody’s interest in it and I don’t know what it is about that. It’s about timing I suppose. I think it’s probably time to have this conversation. We’ve probably spent a lot of years saying, well, if we just promote ourselves, if we just tell our success stories, if we just get enough friends, and I think that’s worked to a point. But the reason to call it out as a stigma is, I can tell you about specific conversations I’ve had with people who I thought understood what we did until I kind of watched them deploy that in their own lives again, as they’re talking about higher ed to a niece and nephew or something like that. They say that’s fine at work or they can talk that talk, but do they really internalize it?
Like I said in the wake of some of the recent research on what really amounts to thriving in college and after college, I think people really need to look at us, give us a second look. And they could even, if it’s about the affordability piece, maybe they can conserve those resources to get a master’s degree or start their business when they graduate. I had to a university president tell me last week said, “Look, it’s not in our best interest if our students run out of money before they earn their degree. And you can really help with that.”
Josie: Right. College and higher ed is so baked into our society as a rite of passage, as the thing that you do after high school or go back to and we can really set some folks up well for success, but problematic if we get them to the wrong institution too soon.
Steve: Well I think that’s right. If you talked to most community colleges, their average age of student is about 26, and a good chunk of those folks actually went off to college and had an unsuccessful start, spun their wheels and then they get maybe more of a focus or a career focus and the path to come back to the community college. And I guess what I’d like us to do as a country is to sort of pause and say, “Hey, is that the right order of operations? Why don’t you start at the community college, get some early momentum and success under your belt going forward?”
And I think the answer to that question is usually, well then that wouldn’t count as a success. What counts as success is going away to school. And that’s kind of shortsighted in my mind. It’s like, what’s the goal? Do you want to graduate? Well, let’s get you there. How do we get you there?
Josie: Yeah, well it’s a big undertaking right? To ship that even people will say, “Yeah, I agree.” But in practice, do you actually for your own kids or your grandkids, nieces and nephews, will you-
Josie: IS that by practice?
Steve: Given the focus of your really cool podcast, you think about other ways that college leaders have leveraged social media to get their message across. And I think about another #RealCollege, which I’m sure you’ve paid attention to.
Steve: So in my mind, real college is a great a idea, a great movement. And in my mind it’s actually bigger than this end CC stigma. This is a smaller piece of that. The folks who are using the #RealCollege are saying, “Hey, look, college is a far more nuanced than you think. We have food insecurity in college. We have homelessness in college. We’ve got our kind of public sphere conception of what happens in higher ed is really a kind of a Norman Rockwell mom and dad dropping the kid off at the dorm in the station wagon situation. And the reality is far different.”
Steve: In my mind, end CC stigma is that it’s actually a small piece of that. Real college is saying, hey, let’s take a real look at what postsecondary is like in this country, and it’s not the stereotype that we have.
Josie: Well, it could be the feeder hashtag movement into this bigger real college. We had Sarah Golder on in the fall. She definitely took us to church about-
Steve: We all need to go to church on that. I’m serious. I mean, like I said, that’s a very important conversation and I’m obviously very attached to this stigma issue. It’s why we’re having a conversation. But in terms of a Venn diagram, that’s a much bigger bubble in my opinion. We have to let everybody know that there’s a lot more to this thing we call college than you see in a movie.
Josie: Right. Absolutely. Connecting back to your use of tech and amplifying, especially at the community college level, you are a president that not only uses Twitter, but you’ve got a podcast and a blog or some version of what one might define as a blog to help communicate to your campus. Again, I would say, I had no idea about you until I started to do a little bit of digging. January 29th, if you’re listening to this right now, it’s March, it’s probably still winter in parts of the country. I never know in LA because it’s always 70 degrees and mostly sunny out here.
Steve: Don’t rub it in.
Josie: I know. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.
Steve: It’s 20 here right now.
Josie: You posted about extreme cold that that was going to be coming your way. And that’s very common right? They’re always sending out weather announcements, an email, or even on tweets. But you made it into a YouTube video. You embedded it into a blog, which I thought was really innovative to, and I have no idea what the analytics of that actually were. But give us a little bit of background and why even an announcement like that. Because you were even outside. In the campus you can see the wind and how cold you were, which is just really fun to me.
Steve: Well, thanks for bringing that up. It was an exceptional situation. I mean we have … Well, here in the Great Lakes, we do have weather and I’ll just take a little aside. As a higher ed institution, it’s really hard to get the whole whether closure thing right. Because the K-12, they close sooner because they’re in charge of transportation. And of course you’re going to have a hard time empathizing with this coming from LA. But if you’re, say a K-12 superintendent, you’ve got a fleet of buses and kids from kindergarten on up, coming and going on, on ice and snow, they do two hour delays. They sometimes cancel completely. And we had a pretty rough winter in the Great Lakes and that happened a lot.
Steve: At colleges, four year colleges and community colleges, we cancel less often, but we kind of have it down. We can monitor the roads, we monitor weather conditions. The incident you’re talking about, I’ve been doing this for a long time. I’m in my third decade of this and I’ve never had to close a campus because of wind chill. I mean it was literally going to get to be like 50 below windchill. Now that it’s over, I mean we were worried about what can we keep the buildings warm all day. Canceling classes was actually kind of a no brainer. The universities had canceled class for one day and even the ones with the residents life.
And one of the reasons I did the blog post and the video was we were closing the campus completely and that was a little different. And actually, I actually had the idea to do that video as I was leaving a meeting about that and just walked outside and I said, “Look, how easy is this? I’ve got a television studio in my pocket.” Just pull it out. And so that was a total extemporaneous video that you saw. It’s also hard to communicate that. And we have like a … you can opt in for text updates about weather and campus emergencies. And so we push out information that way. But in my mind, it’s an important to over communicate in situations like this.
Josie: Well, and I love just even way you described your phone, you’ve got this mobile station that you can just bring out and start recording. It doesn’t need to be this big production, all this funding that’s going to this shoot. It doesn’t have to be this crazy high quality production. It may even feel a little bit even more genuine when it actually feels like it’s being shot from your perspective.
Steve: Well, I couldn’t agree more because I mean, we actually have, like I said, a great marketing department. We have a full time photographer, videographer.
Josie: Oh, wow.
Steve: But here’s the thing. We’ve had these conversations. Some of these things need to have kind of a DIY homespun look and feel first of all. And second of all, I mean, they’ve got more important stuff to do. As I was walking out of that meeting, I suppose I could have gone to, “Hey, I’ll stop by marketing, see if they can shoot a quick video.” You don’t need to do that. You’re exactly right. There’s a place for a DIY off the cuff use of tech like that.
And then there’s also, the time where higher production values. I mean, our marketing team did this amazing video that we entered into our local Addy Awards and they’re, they’re so talented. I have conversations with them and say, “Hey, if I’m ever doing this from my phone kind of thing, and you say, ‘Steve, we want you to up the production values here,’ just let me know.”
But they also let me do my thing, which is, which is good.
Josie: Yeah, or they can coach you on some notes, like lift a little bit higher.
Steve: They do. Yeah, they do. They do. Yeah. I rely on him for stuff like that. They’re a talented group of people.
Josie: Oh, that’s fantastic. So there’s another blog post that I wanted to highlight that talks about your strategic plan in that process and the outcomes. I’ll link to that in the show notes. Some of it has a mission and vision and where you’re going. So considering where you landed with your strategic plan, it may not have been obvious in the way it was written, but how do you see tech and social media feeding into the outcome of this strategic plan or the development in orchestration of it?
Steve: Both. So let me start with the outcome because I’m very much living in that world right now. We spent eight months doing external field work. We did like 26 community meetings. I facilitated those, just talking. It was a lot of fun. As you can tell, I’m really passionate not just about community colleges, but about our community college. And so getting out into local libraries and talking about it is really fun. So the output of that is that there is one goal of our strategic plan, which is specifically about institutional image and getting that image out. We’re going to lean really heavily on social media for that.
Luckily we have really talented people in our media department who maintain, Twitter, Instagram, Shutterfly, everything. We’ve got a pretty robust set of social media outlets for the college. But we’ve noticed that, that is what really gets our message out there. I tell people I’m a Gen Xer, so I just start feeling really old now that I actually sign the requisition to film a six second ad. I mean, we have these little six second ads that will populate in YouTube. I tell that story in rooms where people are even older than I am. I say, “You have to design a piece of media that is short and can get the message across even if it’s muted.” We have this suite of ads that we put out, designed to target a particular student population that would be effective if you’re looking at your phone under the table. And so that’s one example.
Another example is we have a goal about finances and capacity and we’ve expanded our thought about that beyond facilities to technology. We realize that, as a community college, a career focused community college, we have to have the best equipment in classes. We have to make sure that we’re training folks on the gear that they’ll use when they hit the workplace.
So technology is a big part of that plan. It was also a big part of helping make it. Our team who invited all these community members and I don’t directly use these tools, but they have email marketing campaigns to get people to come to these meetings. Constant Contact, I think is one of them. I use the blog as a way to update. We have a culture here at our college where we don’t have a big monthly faculty meeting. And so, the blog for me is a great way to connect with the campus because there aren’t these regular convenings. And some as big as strategic planning, I want to make sure that people felt plugged in to that. So I use the blog and in that way.
Josie: Fantastic. Thank you so much for sharing and giving that insight. It really does come out in so many different ways and strategic planning is definitely one of those commonalities across institutions no matter the type as we look to the future.
So to shift to another type of content creation that you do, which again, I had no idea your background in radio so long ago, so it makes perfect sense why you would have not one but two podcasts, Teachable Moment, and The Vinyl Hour. Tell us more.
Steve: Well, The Vinyl Hour is not technically a podcast. It’s a straight up radio show. It has an interesting origin story that I’ll tell really quickly. So when we launched the Internet radio station, I was really excited because I love radio, but I kind of was busy first of all. And second of all, I didn’t want to crowd out all the neat energy that was starting at the beginning. But I’m a vinyl record fanatic. I’m a music junkie. And about the time we launched the station, the owner of the local record store here in Toledo tragically passed away. And so I talked to the students, I said, “to commemorate, Pat’s passing, I’d like to do like an hour of radio where only play vinyl records.”
And so I put that together at home and I uploaded it to like a Google Drive and they made it into an hour of radio and it came with a request saying this is really cool content, we want more of this. So that’s why I created it. It’s basically a radio show. It doesn’t have anything to do with the campus. And the only rule is I can only play music from vinyl records. So it’s called The Vinyl Hour and it airs about four times a week. And I make it completely in my basement at home as a hobby.
So the podcast though, Teachable Moment, is specifically a campus engagement strategy. The idea behind the podcast is I talk with a member of our campus community about an idea or concept from their area of expertise. And so far, it’s only been faculty on the show. But I want to have staff members come and talk to me. It reminds me, you’ve probably had this experience, Josie, that some of my favorite conversations are when somebody knows a ton about something that I know nothing about and they teach me and they teach me what it is.
So I introduce the guest and then I say, “All right, it’s a Teachable Moment. What did you bring? What is your idea?” And so I had to geography instructor teach me a great idea from his intro class. Had a psychology professor teach me about something from her class. It’s about a 25 minute podcast and it’s super fun and it also allows me to promote the great people we have on our campus. So it’s been a ton of fun.
Josie: That’s great. I love the willingness to not always be the expert, which even in academia, academic expert, we feel like we have to know it all. But that is exceptional as the top executive, you’re here to learn and be in that learning process.
Steve: I mean, that’s what makes it fun for me. That’s why I’ve stayed working at a college my whole career. And I feel like there’s always something I can learn here. And particularly if I can learn it and promote it. A couple of these podcasts, faculty have used them in their class, “Hey, I could teach you, but” … I’ll give you one example is we had a photography faculty member explain ASA ratings and F-top. And so instead of like … or to amplify the piece of the textbook, they’d say, “Well, I actually recorded a podcast with the president where I explain all of this.” And they link it in their LMS, which I thought, that’s pretty cool.
Josie: Yeah. Oh. And I find students appreciate that so much because they’re taking in being able to have a variety of ways they can learn, it can be on the go. Some of this is can consume on the go. Some other things you need to be sitting right?
Steve: Right. Exactly.
Josie: And really taking it in. So this episode I’m sure I will probably offer as one of the … I teach grad and dot class at Florida State called Tech and Higher Ed.
Steve: Oh, fantastic.
Josie: And it’s not to like boost my numbers. I offer other podcasts too. And I find they just really enjoy having a lot of options to take in the information.
Steve: That sounds like a great class. I’d love to take it.
Josie: Yeah, it’s fun. It’s six weeks. We pack it in. Oh my goodness.
Steve: Oh cool. That’s really cool.
Josie: Yeah. Anything else about these podcasts where you see podcast growing for presidents? What advice you’d have for them?
Steve: Yeah. I’ve been thinking about this a lot because the president of our State Association, the Ohio Association of Community Colleges knew about this podcast and wanted to explore having the association put together a podcast. He’s launching a podcast, a higher ed policy podcast in Columbus. They haven’t started recording yet, but, so I’m kind of like the technical consultant for the association to get up and running on this.
And in addition to having a campus engagement strategy, like Teachable Moment is, and I think any higher ed leader could do that on their campus. Your place is swimming with people who are smart and engaging in conversation and so buy $300 worth of gear and go talk to them and amplify their voices. But on the state level, I think there’s a great space for policy in this podcast. For example, our state association would not only like to explore these ideas with thought leaders and policymakers, but also get get folks on record about these things. So it’s like a kind of advocacy journalism. So we actually at the Nice Odd Conference this year in Austin, the state association president and I are going to be presenting at that conference about podcasting as a way to engage your campus if you’re on campus leader or to advocate for your sector if you’re in something like a state association. So, we’re working on that.
Josie: Oh, fantastic. Well, let me know when that is up in live and I can add it back into our show notes so folks can find it. So they are lucky that they have you to help them with some technicalities, right? Like there is a big, other than like blogging, you can just jump onto a web pretty much set up and ready to go. You start writing. There are some other hurdles for podcasting. So if a president, a provost, executive was wanting to start one, what would be your first set of advice and who else they should be bringing on their team?
Steve: Well, it’s a timely question for me because I am starting to put together the slide deck for that presentation. And, this sounds corny, but I think you’d agree that, you could start a podcast just with your phone. I mean, we could be sitting across the table from one another or recording a telephone conversation using tech that you have in your pocket and that I have in my pocket. Now, we’re using a lot more technology to create a finished product. And I’ve listened to your podcast. It is top shelf. I mean there’s a lot of great production values, but it doesn’t have to be that way. You could start off with just something on your phone.
Actually, I put together a series of kind of scalable equipment purchases for the state association. Say, here’s your $300 option, here’s your $600 option. And you can start that way. I mean, obviously your podcast is going to sound better if you are using a quality microphone. If you have some good post-production or signal processing, editing afterwards. But one of my favorites, and it’s out in your neck of the woods. I was a big post punk new wave kind of guy and the bassist from the Minute Men is a guy, the name Mike Watt, who has a podcast radio show from San Pedro called The Watt from Pedro Show and it sounds like what records that on his phone.
Steve: He’s got thousands of people listening. If you know anything about California punk from the ’80s, that is a DIY kind of fanzine way of doing things. You don’t need a big production studio. It’s about the content. And so, listeners are interested in saying, “Well, my podcast has to sound like NPR in order for people to listen to it” should go listen to The Watt from Pedro Show. It’s like a three hour radio program with great interviews and I swear it’s recorded on like one microphone.
Josie: Yeah. Well, we’re totally going to link to it and folks are going to check it out.
Josie: And we just learn something else about you.
Josie: About your interests from the ’80s.
Steve: Oh yeah, I’m a total ’80s kid. I played in bands in the ’80s and I love all music, but like the vinyl records show is almost completely post-punk ’80s stuff because that’s what’s left on vinyl for me. I transitioned away from vinyl in the late ’80s. And so I got a lot of shows out there from that era.
Josie: We’ll, we’re definitely one of those like … at least out here in Los Angeles. I’m not sure what it’s like with you. There’s this revival of vinyl, right? People are buying it up and fix it up, record players.
Josie: My parents are like sending me all of ours from when we were kids and I love it. You don’t have to like keep looking at your phone to just switch the song. You’re actually listening to the whole record. Like when we’re cooking and it becomes more of like the experience of it, whether you don’t like that particular song or not, you’re just kind of in that whole moment with this artist or band.
Steve: I obviously agree. The one thing about having MP3s is that it’s really easy to just fast forward, skip songs. If you went to the trouble of putting on a record, you’re going to listen to 22 and a half minutes unless you want to go over and move the needle around. And so yeah, I think deep tracks come out more on vinyl because they’re all connected. I love vinyl records. I’m just sitting in my office here at work. I literally have a turntable and speakers and all kinds of records. I’m sitting here right now. I have to work late tonight. I’ll probably put on a couple records and listen to them.
Josie: Well, I think that’s just one example, and I’m not sure if you’ve thought about doing this or if you have in your Twitter feed and I just haven’t picked it up yet, But I got that sharing like, “Hey, this is the record I’m listening to right now literally in my office” or those types of interests is what attracts students to maybe even apparent to us, it humanizes the presidency, I say. Music especially. Right. It’s such an equalizer.
Steve: Well, that’s interesting. I could ask you a question about this cause you know ton more about this than I do. So, are those kinds of personal post? This is probably, I don’t want to say wrong, but it sounds like you would be arguing for something different than what I’m doing. I share a fair amount of that kind of stuff about music on say like a personal Facebook account. One thing I have as a little bit of a worry of posting pop culture and music stuff on my presidential Twitter feed is I’ve got a real diversity of followers that are community leaders. And we were just mentioning, punk rock from LA in the ’80s. I have a lot of Twitter followers that probably wouldn’t appreciate some of that. So what’s your insight in that? Like a difference between your personal social media space and a professional media space?
Josie: Well, my philosophy and my research actually on presidents to vice presidents is, I think those that are really engaging, not just online but in life, do allow for some personalization. So, but it has to make sense, right? Like you really know radio and tech and music and vinyl. It’s literally in your office versus someone else might know all these crazy things about video games or they’ve always had corgi puppies. The president at Washington State, I had Kirk Schulz on the show and they have two Corgis and they have a Twitter account for them.
Steve: Oh that’s cute.
Josie: They bring them to campus and the crowd goes wild. Right? And they really do love corgis and these two dogs, and it’s the way some students come up to them or tweeted them because there’s a dog in the photo.
Steve: That makes a lot of sense.
Josie: I completely get why in context, some of these records or the lyrics may not connect. Right?
Steve: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Josie: But I do think there’s ways that in one tweet it’s about elevating the status of community colleges in the next, it’s what album you listen to on your drive in.
Something that just already kind of feels like this is part of you, it feels really natural and maybe music isn’t the piece for you, but I think there’s real value and I would start to look around other presidents. You might start to see doing that. I mean if you want to look at music, hip-hop pres, Walter Kimbrel, I’ve had him on the show.
Josie: I mean he knows hip-hop, he teaches hip-hop as a class.
Steve: That’s very cool.
Josie: He’s not quoting hip-hop lyrics, but I bet he’s posting articles about just like overall hip-hop. Even called out Dr. Dre how he gave all this money to USC when Dr. Dre-
Steve: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Josie: I think there’s value in it, but those considerations I think are worthy.
Steve: Well, I appreciate that. I’m sorry to flip the needle on you.
Josie: Yeah. No. I dig it. It’s okay. I get that question all the time.
Steve: Well, and it’s a great answer because I think you’re going to push me in a little direction because if you go back into the Twitter feed, this last month or so, I did do a couple of posts about The Vinyl Hour because we had a campus event for it. It turned two years old and I went over there and we had kind of a little birthday party and we did it live because I don’t usually do the show live. In fact, it was the first time I ever did it at our college radio station. So it’s feeling more natural to me to share some of that stuff. And, I think this conversation, you’ve kind of pushed my thinking a little bit. I’m going to think more broadly about my president Twitter thing and maybe push myself to do some pop culture or music posts.
Josie: Well, I look forward to seeing it.
Steve: Well, I love learning. You taught me something, Josie.
Josie: Hey, you flipped the script on me. We just did your podcast basically. Well, to wrap us up, I’ve got a couple questions I always end the show with. But before that, do you have any recommended resources or people, podcasts, books, you want to make sure people check out? If we’ve talked about the topic or not?
Steve: I don’t think that I would do a great job of curating those. What I would do, for anybody who was interested in doing a podcast would be to instill a little bit of research. One thing that YouTube is this wealth of information where people are interested in podcasting, there’s so much stuff out there. And then, I guess if you were going to make one purchase, I would get an eye quality handheld digital recorder or something like a Zoom because you’re going to have a use for that no matter. Until just a couple of weeks ago, a little Zoom H2 recorder that I bought 12 years ago was the engine of my podcasting and I do the radio show on that. I’ve got some newer gear now, but for gosh, $100 you can get a very high quality microphone built in piece of gear to produce a podcast.
Josie: Fantastic. Yeah. Making that accessible is important for sure. And where can people find you to connect? And we’ll include that in the notes as well.
Steve: The Twitter handle is @OCCpresident. The podcast lives on SoundCloud and the blog, the president’s blog is right on the main page of owens.edu. If you go over “About Owens” there’s a link president’s blog right there,
Josie: Fantastic. We’ll add all that in.
Okay, my work is all about discovering what is digital leadership in higher education. That is why we connect tech and leadership on this show. Sometimes it relates to life and what we’re leaving behind. If you knew your next tweet was going to be your last, what would you want it to be about?
Steve: Gosh, I think it would be something about family or music. Given our conversation here, it might be a list of great recordings that people could listen to some of my favorite music. That’s kind of telling based on the conversation we had. Even, I would break with being all professional, strategic planning, stigma topics and I would retreat to music because I’m so passionate about it.
Josie: Right. That’s interesting. Once we stripped down titles and get to the core of who we are, what comes out.
Steve: Yeah. And you taught me something.
Josie: So for now, how would you define your digital presence or why you’re using these tools and what you hope they’re doing for the world?
Steve: I would define it as developing. Here’s the thing. Like I said, I wasn’t a Twitter user before became a president. I actually approached marketing. I said, “Okay, so it’s probably time for me to get on Twitter. Right? And they helped me with that and I’m still learning. I get a lot of jokes about, “Oh yeah, that’s the last thing a president needs is a Twitter account.” Right? But I actually used it to leverage some great relationships for the institution. And so, I think I have a lot more to learn. I think I have to kind of find ways to integrate it.
Steve: At the beginning of our conversation, I said I’d gone all day without tweeting and now that I think about it, there are a couple of things that I could have very quickly taken a photo of and post it to say, “Hey, great meeting with the Regional Growth Partnership at the Maritime Museum.” I probably should have done that. It didn’t occur to me. I need to get better.
Josie: Always improving, always evolving.
Josie: Good place to be.
Steve, thank you so very much for your willingness to jump on this show. I’m so excited for this movement that you have. There’s been such a great response, your recognition that it’s just the tip of the iceberg of these bigger issues within higher education, that all I think helps the entire fields and society, something like ending stigma for community colleges, but also real college and it was just really cool to be able to discover so many new things about you from podcasting to blogging and this punk ’80s era.
Steve: That’s right. I’m a punk rock president.
Josie: Oh my God. Maybe that’s your new handle.
Steve: I don’t know. I don’t know. I’m going to be inspired by you to be more personal and we’ll see if I can go that far. I don’t know. But, I’ve enjoyed the conversation a lot, Josie. I really appreciate the invitation.
Josie: Yeah, my pleasure.
Okay, I’m going to be totally transparent with y’all. If you didn’t notice in that interview, wasn’t Steve’s audio amazing? He, and you got to check this out. I’ll link to it in the show notes. He’s got a professional setup for podcasting. I mean obviously we talked about he has two podcasts that he does, so his audio is amazing and I also am in a set up that should record really cool audio and it crashed mid interview. So what my audio was, is what you were able to capture, and we roll with it and that’s all good.
You know what? If I had a wish, if I had to balance the scales and say what I would rather it would totally be for the guests to sound better than me. I hope you enjoyed that interview. I had such a fun time despite having some tech difficulties and I love that we got to actually talking about podcasting, podcasting as a president, both for fun with vinyl and just almost like a radio hour to the show that he’s got where he’s interviewing his own campus, so very fun. I wrote a little bit about podcasting for canvas executives. You can find that link in the show notes that hopefully can be helpful to you.
But to dig a little bit more about this president’s approach to his Teachable Moment podcast, he explains it’s a campus engagement strategy that it’s not just this thing that, oh, everybody’s podcasting, maybe we should do one, too, that he’s really able to engage with members of his campus community and sit back and be the learner, bringing in experts that know more than you and really being able to pull out their expertise on some kind of idea or concept. So I love flipping the roles there. Really humanizing and podcasting is absolutely a fantastic avenue to do that. He also uses his blog that he can be able to embed YouTube videos and just give updates from the strategic plan to the weather. So those are really cool examples. Again, I’ve put those in the show notes as well.
But the big stuff that we talked about, the reason why I reached out to him was because I saw this hashtag trending and articles coming out about #EndCCStigma and as he shares, we have to directly address this stigma. We can’t just say, “Here are positive stories.” We have to call out and say “No, there are misconceptions about community colleges.” And he even called out one that I had in thinking goodness. My first college credits were in my high school where I took Western Wyoming Community College credits. And my history class was one of the hardest classes that I took my first “two years” of college. And he challenged me to put, I went to community college on my CV. I was like, “Oh my gosh, what a cool challenge.”
And that’s what he’s doing. Even his latest tweets, he’s continuing to post videos and pushing beyond boundaries and thinking about what community colleges meant to us in our lives as well as the role in higher ed and us amplifying and actually supporting and putting this theory to practice from encourage our family and our friends, to be approaching and thinking differently. So it’s not just talk, we’re actually pushing forward into some action. So make sure to go check out that hashtag, join in that movement.
And know, we also talked about the stigma is just one slice of it. It’s just the tip of the iceberg as we think about bigger macro topics of not just community college but student needs. And we talked about real college and how he brought on Sarah Golder [inaudible 01:00:35]. We talk about all these different components that especially community colleges are facing today.
I also love like the radio personality podcasts or that he is, he turned the interview on me at the end. How fun is that? Right? And I love that and being able to be so receptive and open to my ideas for him to start to personalize his social media feed. And for him, he’s really clearly only on Twitter, might have a Facebook page, may have LinkedIn, but he’s really all in on Twitter. And how simple my suggestion was of sharing what you listen to on the radio or the vinyl you listened to last night. Or, I’ll share the show notes, he plays a musical instrument and the music he’s going to be playing later. So I love that. It’s what is something that you’re already doing?
So naturally, if you’re going out for a run, if you’re going to go see your favorite musician and her favorite TV show, it doesn’t have to be these huge revelations about yourself or exposing your family or even what you ate for your last meal, unless maybe you’re a foodie or you absolutely love to cook, or you make this dish that was handed down from generation to generation that we could just have a little slice of life into your life. Because that really is what humanizes and attracts people into your orbit from current to potential students, faculty, staff, community members. We really want to know our leaders and feel connected to them. You get to choose what that means to you. And that’s why we use the word personalization, so I’ll kind of define as integration, how you can integrate those parts of your life. Call them personal, call them whatever you want into how you show up in your life. May it be on campus, at home and so on.
So I want to thank Steve, the punk rock president for pushing the message of #EndCCStigma. It was such a blast learning all the fun, exciting things about you. I’m excited to dig in more into your Vinyl Hour podcasts, rock out a little bit. Thank you so much for your passion and dedication to community college. This work is so, so necessary.
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