NHTI’s has new marketing hashtags this Fall:#EmergeStronger, #ExploreStronger, and #EngageStronger. The stronger theme may seem surprising as we resurface from the anxiety and stress of the pandemic, but NHTI has been working diligently to learn from one of the scariest times in the college’s history to become a stronger, better college for the community.
We’ve learned nine important lessons from the pandemic in our mission to create a caring culture that prepares students for success in a rapidly changing world. We are stronger as a more responsive institution, we know our students better, and we recognize the need to reconceptualize instruction in ways that deepen learning. Extremely challenging times can bring out the worst or best in an institution, and I am pleased to share our best, stronger vision and lessons learned:
- Education on Demand
Our students want education when they want it and delivered how they want it to meet their needs, not ours. We will be building 14 hyflex classrooms that will allow students to choose how they participate in their education: in-person, online, both, or through classroom recordings. Life intersects with education, and we need to accommodate student needs.
- Services on Demand
It takes time to get a sitter, get to campus, park your car, and meet with an advisor or admissions staff. Gone are these days. Instead, our new chat boxes, virtual orientations, and micro-advising appointments save time yet have big impact. You can be standing in a grocery line, at a doctor’s office, or taking a break at work and meet with an advisor quickly and efficiently. NHTI now provides services when and where you need them.
Time is not on everyone’s side. You may not have two full years to get the credentials you need to find a meaningful career. Short-term credentials get you back to work quicker; microcredentials and badges do the trick as they focus on the specific skills and offer them at a faster pace. We will be offering more of these at NHTI.
- Student Connections
We need our students just as much as they need us. The pandemic showed us that without student voices at our decision-making tables, we are ignoring our number one constituency. Including more students on committees, in projects, and in meaningful work study assignments allows NHTI to both build student’s portfolios and gives us a wonderful gateway into new, innovative solutions with students at the center of the lens.
- Beyond Basic Needs
We already knew about student needs for no-low cost textbooks, food pantry items, mental health, and tutoring services; what we learned is the need expands to better WIFI connections, laptops, and calculators. The need expands even beyond this to finding ways for students to connect and form friendships. Nothing is natural during a pandemic, and colleges need to help students make these valuable ways to meet. We’ll be building more clubs, lunch groups, leadership opportunities, and connection hubs so students have affinity groups that they can join.
- Connection through DEI
The George Floyd tragedy intersected with the pandemic in a way that forced us to reexamine our diversity, equity, and inclusion programming and realize that it was not adequate. There was a learning explosion that began with a “Let’s Talk” series and extended into panels, DEI statement development, curriculum work, and a continued commitment to build a welcoming college for all. This work will continue daily.
Technology was a savior as students moved to online classrooms; personal lab kits were developed and shipped to homes; online resources were discovered. Students logged into virtual computer labs, complete with individualized program software, and WIFI was expanded throughout the college to improve the user experience. Although technology is often dehumanized, people brought their lives onto the camera. Children sat on laps, cats meowed, art hung on the walls, family members waved to say hello. Technology will now be our constant companion in teaching and servicing our students.
- Campus Matters
Many enjoyed the flexibility that technology afforded in being able to work or study from home, but just as many craved the familiarity of space, of the green quad, of food trucks, water cooler chats, and Taco Tuesdays. Socialization does not prevent work but helps with collaboration by building better work relations with each other. Much can be done without brick and mortar, but face-to-face connection in invaluable. Finding the right balance between the two is what NHTI is ensuring going forward.
- Community Partners
We truly need each other – not just our internal partners but our community neighbors. With our Boys & Girls Club of Central NH partner, we provided a space for childcare and lab experiences for our students. With our many, many bank, alumni, and Foundation donations, we were able to provide emergency service funds to our students. With our N.H. Charitable Foundation partner, we gave every 2021 N.H. high school graduate a free community college class. These partnerships became even more needed during the pandemic, and everyone stepped up to support each other in new ways, with new energy. We will continue to seek additional partnerships to support our students, the community, and NHTI.
We are a resilient bunch: students, faculty, and staff. We can come together during crises and find solutions to meet our mission. Not only did we meet our mission, we were able to keep our eye on the prize of our strategic plan and not get distracted by pandemic fears. We developed new programs and completed our fifth-year accreditation report, our students won prizes, and our facilities were improved.
We are a community college that has definitely emerged better and stronger!