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The Green House Grants Blog

Foundation Center class on Dec. 13 will help us find grant money

As we note in our popular training video, one of the most frequent questions we receive in the grants office is “Where do we find the grants!?”

The Foundation Center is one of those places.

The website ( ) offers a comprehensive database of grant opportunities, along with profiles of all active U.S. foundations and recent grants awarded by the nation’s top funders.

If you’re interested in finding funding for a specific program or idea, this is a good place to start.

However, Foundation Center requires a $$$ subscription, which the Roanoke Main Library provides free of charge to the public.

If, like me, you’re curious about how to make the most of this service, please join me on a field trip on Thursday, Dec. 13, when the library’s Virginia Room hosts a hands-on class about Foundation Center.

The class begins at 2 p.m., but I will be leaving Virginia Western at 1:30 p.m. If you would like to carpool, please let me know:

And please don’t forget to register for the workshop by email at

Foundation Center Basics
What: Learn how to find grants for your nonprofit in this hands-on class.
When: 2 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 13
Where: Virginia Room, Roanoke Main Library

Posted on December 3, 2018

How one Innovation Grant will help thousands of biology students

Dr. Matthew Goff was awarded an Innovation Grant to pay for 3D anatomy and physiology software that students can access for free.


I really can’t rave enough about the Virginia Western Educational Foundation’s Innovation Grants, which are due in March.

These annual grants award up to $10,000 to faculty and staff (including adjuncts and part-timers) … and because it’s an internal grant program, the odds will be ever in your favor (unlike more competitive federal, state or foundation grants).

I have previously blogged about the perks of Innovation Grants, but I will summarize:

  1. An innovation grant project can amplify your strengths and what you love most about your job.
  2. They can be a way to solve a problem that you have long complained about.
  3. Grants are professional development — not only will they stretch you and your collaborative skills, but they will get you noticed on campus, in the community, and if it’s successful enough — throughout higher ed.
  4. You can test an idea with this “starter grant” and build bigger funding opportunities based on what you learn.
  5. But most of all, the best Innovation Grants fulfill the mission of the community college and help our students succeed.

I will give you a perfect example.

Dr. Matthew Goff is an associate professor of biology here at Virginia Western. Last March, he proposed one of the five grant proposals that were funded by the Foundation.

This is the project summary from his application, which earned him bonus points because he specifically addressed student retention:

“Currently, 30-40% of students who fail BIO 141 do not return to VWCC the following semester. This could be due to discouragement of failing a course, cost of tuition, and/or not being able to afford the materials required of the course; therefore, not being properly equipped to pass the assessments. The purpose of this project is to obtain a software program that will allow students enrolled within A&P at VWCC to access the software free of charge to the student. This is part of a greater plan to eventually have the course sequence being at minimal cost to the students.”

The members of the Foundation’s Scholarship & Grants committee — made up of representatives from the business community — gave high scores  to Goff’s proposal, and he was awarded $5,940. The entire award paid the one-time fee for the Ovid Visible Body Software program, which features 3D medical visualizations that can be accessed on mobile devices. The program was implemented in Fall 2018 and will provide free access to students for years to come. The grant was part of a bigger department goal to reduce the cost of course materials through the introduction of an OER textbook and “in-house” lab manuals.

The project is a little over halfway complete, and Goff reports the software has had a greater impact than he originally expected. Not only do students in BIO 141/142 find it useful, but students enrolled in BIO 101/102 and other health programs are using it as well. He estimates it’s potentially benefiting 800 to 1,000 students each semester — and he plans to compare grades from previous semesters to the sections offered this year to determine if it has had any impact on student success.

I was curious to know more about what Dr. Goff thought about the Innovation Grant process … so I sent him these questions:

Why did you propose this project?

We have many students that are on a fixed income, and I want to provide them with the materials and knowledge that they need to be successful in their program of study at the lowest cost possible. Therefore, the project that I proposed and was awarded provided the students with a software program that covers all major concepts in anatomy and physiology — at no cost to the students.

What has been the most successful part of the project so far?

I have received positive feedback from many students and faculty on the program. This includes how the program has been helping students understand material for assessments in their courses and from faculty in other disciplines on how the software also benefits their students.

If you could go back in time, would you do anything differently?

I may have taken a survey before submitting the grant asking students about additional resources that they would like/need for success in Biology courses.

What advice do you have for your colleagues interested in pursuing an Innovation Grant? 

It is not an extremely tedious process. If you truly desire the best for our students and college then it is very much a rewarding process.

How might the college better assist you with grant projects?

I believe the guidelines for submitting the grant need to be improved. I had to go back and forth a couple of times to figure out who I needed to submit information to. For newer faculty that want to pursue grants, it is nice having clear guidelines on the process and those involved in the grant process.


Thanks to Dr. Goff for his feedback … and his efforts to remove costly barriers for our students.

If you’re interested in pursuing a grant this spring, I urge you to attend an Innovation Grant workshop during January’s in-service. This will include an overview of the application process, with helpful tips for refining your ideas and putting together a budget. There will be time for Q&A.

Note that attendance at a proposal workshop will be required to submit a grant this year (and the in-service session would fulfill that requirement). More workshops will be scheduled this winter. I would be happy to answer any questions in the meantime.

— Stephanie Ogilvie Seagle,

Posted on November 27, 2018

3 brief bits about one big issue: Poverty

Last year, Roanoke’s newspaper reported on a New York Times analysis that ranked Roanoke in the bottom 10 in the nation for economic mobility.

Just today — Oct. 1 — the Census Bureau and researchers at Harvard and Brown universities published the Opportunity Atlas, which maps searchable, nationwide data about the outcomes of adult children and the neighborhoods where they grow up. Or, as the New York Times put it, data that will make it possible to pinpoint “where children of all backgrounds have the best shot.”

As the Times story notes, what seems to matter most for success is the neighborhood within about a half a mile of a child’s home.

“For any government program or community grant that targets a specific place, this data proposes a better way to pick those places — one based not on neighborhood poverty levels, but on whether we expect children will escape poverty as adults.”

Researchers believe the findings will help cities identify new sites for Head Start centers, or where students might receive more priority for selective high schools or other programs.

“The larger question is how to convert struggling neighborhoods into places where poor children are likely to thrive.”

Explore our region’s outcomes at


2. Poverty tops list of priorities in latest Community Health Assessment

Carilion Clinic, the Roanoke Valley’s largest employer, must conduct a Community Health Assessment every three years as a requirement of the Affordable Care Act.

The latest report was just released in August, and the following are the 10 priority health-related issues in the Roanoke Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), which includes the cities of Roanoke and Salem and the counties of Botetourt, Craig, Franklin, and Roanoke.

The 10 priorities for our service region are:

  1. Poverty / low average household income
  2. Transportation / transit system
  3. Access to mental / behavioral health services
    1. Access to substance use services
  4. Culture: healthy behaviors not a priority
  5. High uninsured/underinsured population
  6. Affordable / safe housing
  7. Access to dental care
  8. Poor diet
  9. High cost of care
  10. Educational attainment

To show you progress from report to report: In the last CHA (2016 to 2018), the top priorities for the Roanoke Valley included: (1.) Poor eating habits/ lack of nutrient dense foods in diet (2.) Access to mental health counseling/substance abuse (3.) Access to adult dental care (4.) Access to dental care for children (5.) Lack of exercise/physical activity.

The report notes “the work of conducting this CHA and the public availability of its findings is intended to enable the community to effectively plan the vital work of maintaining and improving health.”

Carilion also requires all funding requests for its community grant program align with these new priorities. Grant proposals are due Oct. 15 and April 15 each year.

If you have ideas for health-related projects that align with these needs, please discuss with your dean/supervisor and the grants office. Highly collaborative, impactful projects that avoid using funds for personnel costs are encouraged. Awards usually range from $5,000 to $20,000.

Jordan Herrera, a social worker, operates Amarillo College’s Advocacy and Resource Center, which includes a food pantry and clothes closet. Photo from Lumina Foundation’s Focus magazine.

3. A Texas community college pursues anti-poverty mission

Finally, I stumbled onto an excellent example of how one community college is addressing poverty in the panhandle of Texas.

Amarillo College, which serves about the same number of students we do (10,000), has embarked on a No Excuses Poverty Initiative.

As part of the initiative, the college has opened an Advocacy and Resource Center which includes a food pantry and clothes closet, and helps students with bills including rent, utilities, and childcare.

Russell D. Lowery-Hart, Amarillo’s president, said initially “we thought, like a lot of people: ‘This isn’t our mission. The community is supposed to solve those problems.’ But we’re the community’s college. We had to see our mission in addressing these issues, even if that meant gluing the resources in the community together in a coherent program. We knew we had to do something.

“A majority of higher ed is set up for the students from the ‘80s,” he said. “But our communities depend on us educating the students we have, not the students we wish we had.”

And is the initiative helping students attain their credentials?

“When we first started these conversations, our completion rates were in the teens,” he said. “Now, our three-year completion rates are 45 percent. We can celebrate those, but our goal is to be at 70 percent by 2020.”

Get the whole story in this excellent article and video package produced by the Lumina Foundation:

Posted on October 1, 2018

Calling all Virginia Western superheroes

That’s me dressed as “Social Media Butterfly” … with “Captain Classified” … at a “Superheroes of Journalism” party years ago. Guess who suggested the party theme.


Have you ever thought about what kind of superhero you would be?

Like, if you assembled with the Avengers or Justice League or Guardians of the Galaxy, what would be your talent … your thing?

I think about this a lot — and not because I’m a huge fan of spandex or superhero movies.

It’s just a fun way to explain my philosophy of life and approach to being a parent … which means, I keep asking:

What are your superpower(s), and how will you use them to help others?

My mission as a parent is to raise an empowered, creative soul who can recognize her strengths while also seeing beyond herself and her own needs. To help her develop a careful balance of confidence and empathy so she can work effectively in a team (think “Avengers”) … ideally in a life of service.

Now, how might my family — and countless hours of schooling — help my daughter do this?

By nurturing a sense of agency and purpose, which author/filmmaker/entrepreneur Ted Dintersmith thinks is lacking in most schools.

After reading his 2018 book, “What School Could Be: Insights and Inspiration from Teachers Across America,” I watched Dintersmith’s short TEDxFargo talk  …. and then this longer presentation, where he explains why he became alarmed as a parent. He noticed his children’s conventional school emphasized and rewarded four things:

  1. Memorizing content
  2. Replicating low-level procedures
  3. Writing formulaically
  4. Following instructions

Which describes most of my own K-12 schooling.

Dintersmith is alarmed because this skillset — designed for the industrial age more than a century ago — is exactly what machine intelligence is good at. Which means we’re preparing our kids to excel at jobs that will soon be replaced by robots. (I’ve explored this topic before in “How might we design a ‘robot-proof’ education?”).

He also woke me up as a parent who started saving for my daughter’s college education shortly after she was born.

Dintersmith writes:

“Children should be encouraged to shoot for the stars, to dream big, to be supported by adults who believe in them. But college in America isn’t a means to a dream. College is the dream. We don’t tell kids to shoot for a star. We tell them to be a star student, to get good grades so they can get into the right college. And pity the child whose plans don’t involve college. They’ll get discouraging feedback from school, family, random adults, and prospective employers. Education should prepare our children for life, but we have it backward. We prepare children’s lives for education.

While the book focuses on innovations at K-12 schools across the country, Dintersmith did address community colleges in this passage:

“Our country’s community colleges are a powerful potential resource. Currently, they’re viewed as a consolation prize for kids who can’t make it to four-year college. Many are traditional in structure — subjects, lectures, two years of seat time to get an associate’s degree, and “weeder-outer” prerequisites. Completion rates are abysmal. But these community colleges could reinvent themselves. Call themselves Career and Learning Accelerators. Award digital certificates for shorter-term immersive programs tied to career-elevating skills (e.g., graphic design, compelling writing, welding, computer programming), capabilities (e.g., sales, marketing, leadership, project management), or intellectual pursuits (e.g., Victorian literature, humanity’s great philosophers). Train faculty in state-of-the-art pedagogy. Align courses with real-world challenges, internships, and mentors. Students return multiple times as their careers progress. Turn our nation’s 1,655 community colleges into a strategic asset to help citizens at all stages in life — from high school to older workers in dead-end jobs — to turbocharge their skill sets and expand their minds. Will our community colleges seize the day? Perhaps. In any case, a bevy of aggressive start-ups see higher education as a large market ripe for disruption. Don’t underestimate what they’ll accomplish.”

So … are you ready to seize the day?

I’ll ask again: What are your superpower(s), and how will you use them to help others? …

And where should our Virginia Western superhero team assemble? Perhaps for a grant opportunity?

If you are intrigued by Dintersmith’s ideas, I encourage you watch the following:

Posted on September 14, 2018

Idea seeds: Humanities + Biology + Camping trip

For the past few years, a creative team at VWCC has pulled together proposals for a competitive federal grant through the National Endowment for the Humanities. This program encourages the blending of humanities with other disciplines at community colleges ( details here ).

So far, we have been unsuccessful … but I thought I would share some “idea seeds” from other schools that might inspire some innovation right here at Virginia Western.

Oakton Community College in Illinois was awarded one of these Humanities grants to develop an eight-week summer field study called “Plants, Society and Human Nature: Scientific and Ecocritical Perspectives.”

The six-credit honors class combines biology with the humanities and is team taught by professors of biology and English. Also: The class featured a 17-day camping trip that included stops at Yellowstone and Badlands national parks.

Read more about the class at the Community College Daily …. and Oakton’s interdisciplinary Environmental Studies concentration here.

What interdisciplinary projects might enhance Virginia Western’s strengths? If we’re not doing it already, how might we take advantage of the abundant natural resources in our backyard — and integrate them into curriculum? Would we even need a grant to make that happen?

Posted on September 7, 2018

Paul Lee professional development grants due Sept. 15

What ideas are exciting you lately? Anything you want to learn? Anything our campus should be talking more about?

Don’t hold back … your ideas could turn into reality.

The VCCS offers two types of professional development grants for projects you would like to see happen in Spring 2019:

  • The Paul Lee Professional Development Grant, which awards up to 8 credits of time and $5,000 in expenses. (Open to all full-time and adjunct faculty.)
  • The Paul Lee Workshop Mini-Grant, with a maximum award of $1,500. (Open to all VCCS employees, including adjunct faculty and classified staff.)

The deadline for applications is Saturday, Sept. 15.

The VCCS suggests the following topics to get your ideas percolating:

  • Initiatives to enhance student success
  • Discipline-specific projects
  • Information literacy
  • Faculty learning communities
  • Student learning communities
  • Initiatives enhancing the use of technology in teaching and learning
  • Best practices in global awareness
  • Pedagogy
  • Leadership development
  • Developmental education
  • Alternative evaluation systems

To review the online application and learn more about these grants, go to

I have also blogged about one idea up for grabs … and the differences between the Paul Lee grants here.

The grants office would be happy to talk through you ideas. Please note all proposals must be reviewed by our office prior to submission. Please contact Marilyn Herbert-Ashton ( | 857-6372) or myself ( | 857-76084) for assistance.



Grant Award Who can
Project timeframe Deadline
VCCS Paul Lee Professional Development Grant Up to 8 credits of time (most are 3 credits) and $5,000 in expenses. Unallowable expenses: Equipment, supplies, books, software, student activities. Full-time and adjunct faculty Spring 2019 Sept. 15, 2018
VCCS Paul Lee Workshop Mini-Grant Up to $1,500. Funds are for conducting a conference/ workshop/ in-service activity, and can include food. Must involve more than one VCCS college. All VCCS employees, including adjunct faculty and classified staff. Spring 2019 Sept. 15, 2018
VCCS Paul Lee Professional Development Grant Up to $2,500. Unallowable expenses: Equipment, supplies, books, software, student activities. Full-time and adjunct faculty Summer 2019 Feb. 1, 2019
VCCS Paul Lee Workshop Mini-Grant Up to $1,500. Funds are for conducting a conference/ workshop/ in-service activity, and can include food. Must involve more than one VCCS college. All VCCS employees, including adjunct faculty and classified staff. Summer 2019 Feb. 1, 2019
VWCC Educational Foundation Innovation Grant Up to $10,000. Funds may not be used to cover student worker labor or student travel requests. Limited funds available for food/hospitality. All VWCC faculty and classified staff, including adjunct faculty and part-time employees. May 2019 to March 2020 March 2019
Posted on August 24, 2018

How might we design a “robot-proof” education?

Back in March, when a state grant paid to bring Diane Mulcahy to Virginia Western to speak about the gig economy, I had the good fortune to be seated right next to the author during our group lunch at Cedars in downtown Roanoke.

I asked Mulcahy which schools were doing it right — who was truly empowering students for this entrepreneurial, gig economy. She immediately pointed to Northeastern University in Boston, which distinguishes itself with the “Northeastern Experience” — a longstanding experiential learning program that includes supervised co-ops, research and study abroad opportunities.

Somewhat serendipitously, I learned the president of Northeastern, Joseph Aoun — had recently published his own book: “Robot-Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence.”

I immediately ordered “Robot-Proof” — but I have to be honest. I was motivated to read this book mostly because of my role as a parent to a rising kindergartener.


The author mentions the same World Economic Forum statistic that rattles me as a mom who has obsessed about schooling options since before my daughter was born: 65% of children entering primary school today will eventually work in jobs that don’t exist yet.

How do we know what skills to emphasize?

Aoun outlines the framework for a new discipline to help our students navigate the changes. He calls it “humanics,” and he breaks it down to three literacies and four cognitive capacities:

Three literacies:

  1. Technological literacy (which includes math, coding, basic engineering and computer science principles)
  2. Data literacy (and exploring the social, economic and political contexts of data)
  3. Human literacy (emphasizing the traditional humanities, especially art and design, along with the power of personal relationships).

Four cognitive capacities:

  1. Critical thinking
  2. Systems thinking
  3. Entrepreneurship (“Teaching entrepreneurship — especially social entrepreneurship — should … be a matter of national consequence and priority for universities.”)
  4. Cultural agility

As a parent, this broad framework will help me design learning experiences for my daughter — but I’m also thinking about my own future. What can I do to prepare for major disruption?

Aoun argues the self-directed, lifelong learner will be the most robot-proof person of all.

I would love to see camps or workshops where myself AND my daughter can learn together (like basic coding or engineering, for example — is that an opportunity for this college?). I’ve also looked into a data analytics bootcamp offered by Northeastern: A relatively affordable, short-term certificate program that I can complete online.

But what about Virginia Western? Where might we fit into this conversation?

Based on Aoun’s book, I’m betting he would applaud our involvement with RAMP — the business accelerator in downtown Roanoke — and *especially* our development of entrepreneurial mindset courses through Workforce, as entrepreneurship is one of his key cognitive capacities.

He also recognizes community colleges for serving adult learners — a growing demographic.

“For generations, [community colleges] been the standard-bearers for extending the promise of higher education to the most vulnerable and underserved populations in U.S. society … The ranks of the vulnerable now include those threatened by technological change. This renders the mission of community colleges even more vital — a mission that they traditionally have met by giving students a conduit to a four-year degree and teaching career-oriented skills.”

“As AI, robotics, and high technology give rise to an unprecedented need for people to learn, retool, and upskill throughout their lives, higher education would do well to consider shifting its perspective …. Going forward, colleges and universities have the chance to recognize that they are not merely in the specific businesses of undergraduate education, graduate education, and research — although all of those remain vitally important. Rather, they are in the larger business of lifelong learning.”

I’m inspired by Aoun’s vision about what that might mean when we talk about Virginia Western alumni. Did you know about 85% of our alumni stay in the region after completing their programs? Keep that number in mind as you read Aoun’s prediction:

“[T]he standard alumni operation of the future will provide lifelong learners with access to venture incubators and startup assistance. It will connect professionals with accomplished mentors, offering coaching and institutional support. It will connect alumni businesses with faculty expertise and research. Furthermore, it will be the focal point for communities of interest, drawing together alumni who share professional goals, hobbies, or philanthropic objectives. In this way, the literal meaning of alma mater (“nourishing mother”) will be reinforced as graduates continue to be nourished and supported by their institution for their entire lives.”

How might Virginia Western serve students for their entire lives? One idea Aoun floats is offering a subscription model — where alumni would have continued access to services and learning opportunities. This is a more entertaining example … I’ve seen a Virginia Tech at Kings Dominion day  — where Hokie alumni and their families get discounted admission. I once joked about starting occasional bowling nights based around career clusters — an advanced manufacturing team, for example, which could serve as ongoing alumni connection and a welcoming event for adults students who were curious about our programs. We could also organize our services more overtly around “jobs” — we might expand the role of the Hall Associates Career Center, help alumni upskill throughout their careers with discounts/subscriptions, and perhaps start a “Jobs Festival” to help draw families to campus and connect employers with the community.  

What ideas would you like to share? How might we help “robot-proof” our community?

Posted on August 21, 2018

The money book I wish I read in college

During the summer after I graduated from George Mason University — almost 20 years ago — I remember buying exactly three books to signify my passage into adulthood. I was wise enough to know that my new bachelor’s degree did not address some important life skills, like cooking and managing money.

One of those books was “Get a Financial Life: Personal Finance in Your Twenties and Thirties” by Beth Kobliner — a book that prompted me to make small sacrifices (i.e., no cable TV) in order to pay off my student loans quickly while also taking advantage of my employer’s 401(K) match early in my career.

I’m grateful for reading that book, but now I wish I had read another title that summer: “Your Money or Your Life: 9 Steps to Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence,” by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez.

This bestseller was originally released in 1992 …  and I just read the revised edition for 2018.

The book emphasizes frugality — but in a much more meaningful way than “The Millionaire Next Door,” the 1996 bestseller that I read for the first time last week.

Not only will “Your Money or Your Life” force you to track how money flows into and out of your life — ideally with a wall chart — but it urges you to shift your mindset and think of money as life energy. Author Vicki Robin explains this simple approach as “putting money in service to your values, other than your life in service to money, and moderating your consumption to a point of ‘enoughness,’ rather than the treadmill of ‘too muchness’.”

My favorite chapter addresses how we spend our time — looking specifically at our definition of work. The authors argue we are suffering from “Job Charming syndrome” — where we look for the perfect job that not only pays the bills but will also fulfill all of our greatest desires: Status, meaning, adventure, travel … the list goes on.

“The real problem with work, then, is not that our expectations are too high. It’s that we have confused work with paid employment. Redefining ‘work’ as simply any productive or purposeful activity, with paid employment being just one activity among many, frees us from the false assumption that what we do to put food on the table and a roof over our heads should also provide us with our sense of meaning, purpose, and fulfillment. Breaking the link between work and money allows us to reclaim balance and sanity.”

I do wish I read this when I was 20 years old — especially as the authors show some paths to early retirement  — but I probably didn’t have enough life experience to truly connect with the message.

So why do I bring this up?

Money always seems to be on my mind — and not just because I work with budgets in the grants office. It touches everything we do, doesn’t it? As the student debt crisis escalates, we know many students choose Virginia Western because it’s more affordable. We know many of our students struggle with their bills — so much so that food pantries are starting to appear on campuses around the VCCS and the nation.

And our programs are helping all of our students find or improve their “work” — using the broad definition from the book.

Virginia Western (and each of us) have the power to transform the lives of our students — to improve the quality of their lives. This is the kind of book that makes you think deeply about your purpose and reveals if your values are aligned with the time you spend earning and spending money. It just might change how you approach your job. I found it incredibly empowering.

After I read “Money or Your Life,” I (frugally) reserved Vicki Robin’s latest book from the Roanoke library: “Blessing the Hands That Feed Us: What Eating Closer to Home Can Teach Us About Food, Community, and Our Place on Earth.” This title appeals to me because I also think a lot about the place-based mission of Virginia Western — about our role in community wealth building. We are educating our neighbors, our caregivers, our community builders. That’s powerful stuff. So I continue to read more about local investing and other ways to make our communities more resilient. I hope to share more insights about that topic in the future.

Posted on August 2, 2018

3 numbers that blew my mind about online learning

Dr. Barbara Lockee of Virginia Tech presents the keynote talk during the 5th annual Instructional Technology Mini-Conference, held July 13 at Virginia Western Community College.


So two related things happened this past week:

  1. I finished a book by Harvard business professor Clayton Christensen — “Competing Against Luck: The Story of Innovation and Customer Choice,” — one of the books recommended during the Data-Driven Innovation Boot Camp at RAMP, the new business accelerator in downtown Roanoke. I wrote about my top takeaway from that training here.
  2. I attended the 5th annual Instructional Technology Mini-Conference here on the Virginia Western campus. Our own Dr. Carrie Halpin has done an amazing job organizing these annual summer conferences, which have been funded by the Paul Lee Professional Development grant from the VCCS. The keynote speaker was Dr. Barbara Lockee, a professor from the Instructional Design and Technology program at Virginia Tech. Her keynote focused on adult online learners.

Honestly, I could write essays about each of those experiences and how they relate to Virginia Western, but I wanted to boil down some highlights into three powerful numbers specifically about online learning:


First, the ugly number: Research shows completion rates of less than 20% for degree-seeking students in distance/online programs. That stat is from Dr. Lockee of Virginia Tech, who delivered the keynote talk at the mini-conference: “The Magic is in the Mix: Strategies for Engaging and Retaining Adult Online Learners.” She focused especially on procrastination as a challenge — but noted that simply sending automated reminders about assignments/tests/etc. have been an effective way to help keep students on track.

Dr. Lockee also talked at length about the five magic ingredients to help with completion: (1) Relevance (adult learners need experiences that align with their motivation and interests … what’s their goal?) (2) Flexibility (adult learners have busy lives and demand more convenience and flexibility … can learning be made mobile? Could you use different formats, such as audio or podcasts? Can deadlines be made more flexible?) (3) Clear expectations (students should understand how the course works) (4) Responsiveness (how can students get assistance throughout the course? What other resources are available for support?) (5) Community (learning is a social experience, but realize interaction has different purposes and not all students are alike).

Dr. Lockee said her biggest failure and challenge as online instructor has been facilitating group projects. However, she did share a helpful tool for better engagement: FlipGrid — a *free*, easy-to-use video discussion platform. Check it out here.




In a 2016 survey, 95% of graduates of Southern New Hampshire University said they would go through their online-only program all over again. That stat came from the “Competing Against Luck” book by Christensen, the Harvard professor who dedicated almost an entire chapter exploring SNHU. The private, nonprofit school has been celebrated as not only one of the most innovative colleges in America, but as one of the most innovative organizations *in the world* (Fast Company, 2012). Christensen spotlighted SNHU to illustrate his “Jobs to Be Done” theory. In a nutshell, Christensen argues that innovation success is not driven by better understanding customers, but by understanding the job that customers have “hired” a product or service to do for them.

For example: Christensen notes the president of SNHU asked: What job were students hiring SNHU to do? Two answers emerged, and they broke down by lifestage. During recruitment events and tours, traditional, high-school-aged students were asking questions about the coming-of-age experiences they hoped to have on campus (sports? climbing walls?), not the functional part of their education.

Non-traditional students (average age of 30), who “already had all of the coming-of-age experiences they can handle,” wanted (1) convenience, (2) customer service, (3) credentials, and (4) speedy completion times. “The job they were hiring a university to do was to provide them with credentials that would improve their professional prospects as quickly and efficiently as possible.”


So that leads me to the third number. After exploring the jobs that students wanted SNHU to do, the college realized all of their existing structures, policies and procedures were not designed to support nontraditional online learners. And they realized their generic, one-size-fits all approach to recruiting potential students was missing the mark. In response, SNHU’s president led a session of 20 top online faculty and administrators to chart out their entire admissions process, from the first question from an interested student to the first class, and addressed the hurdles for online students. Mailed packets of information — and generic email responses — were replaced with follow-up phone calls in under 10 minutes of inquiry. Not a few days or even 24 hours. The school’s goal is to call back potential students in under 10 minutes. As the author notes, “[t]alking to a live human being, within minutes or hours, is a completely different experience from arriving home after a long, hard day at work to find a big white envelope nestled among the junk.” But the university’s answer isn’t just an immediate, sales-y phone call. “You can uncover and surface a lot of anxiety issues,” SNHU’s president says in the book, “so those calls are with a well-trained counselor with all the information he needs at his fingertips [to help the student overcome whatever obstacles they’re facing]. Calls can go on for an hour, an hour and a half. At the end of the call, you’re engaged with us. And we know you’re much more likely to enroll.” 

The calls also aim to remove as many burdens for the busy adult as possible. During these phone calls, counselors get permission to acquire any existing transcripts (and pay the nominal fees to do that), so the student doesn’t have to worry about that piece. Any questions about credit transfers and financial aid should be resolved within days. The school also pairs each student with a personal adviser to notice any red flags and keep in touch throughout their academic journey. The result? In 2016, there were more than 75,000 SNHU students in 36 states and from countries around the globe, and their online division employed about 1,200 staffers. In fiscal 2016, they brought in $535 million in revenues, a 34% compounded annual growth rate over the previous 6 years. Annual surpluses have helped the nonprofit college keep tuition affordable.

If you’re hungry for more, I suggest exploring the Southern New Hampshire University website.

For more about business innovation, I really do recommend the “Competing Against Luck” book, which is available in the Roanoke public library. You might also enjoy my previous blog post about the Data-Driven Innovation Boot Camp at RAMP.

And as always, the grants office would be happy to help you develop a proposal for a Paul Lee Professional Development grant, a Virginia Western Educational Foundation Innovation Grant, or some other funding opportunity. Come see me!

— Stephanie Ogilvie Seagle,





Posted on July 17, 2018

The most important lesson from Innovation Boot Camp

So I’ve probably mentioned that I have an “Idea Shelf” in my office.

This is a whiteboard where I collect all kinds of random ideas as they might relate to this community college, ranging from outdoor preschools to a trades academy for historic renovation to a “Made in Roanoke” fair.

I love ideas. I *live* for cool ideas.

But ideas aren’t the only important ingredients when it comes to innovation.

Earlier in June, I had the privilege of attending a Data-Driven Innovation Boot Camp at RAMP, the new business accelerator in downtown Roanoke (which features a nifty mural designed by our own Joe Collins).

There was a lot to cover in two days’ worth of presentations by Mike Abbott and Lisa Garcia, who both teach NSF Innovation Corps programming to Virginia Tech students (among other impressive international gigs). They were in Roanoke to help coach the latest batch of RAMP entrepreneurs, a cohort of eight companies specializing in STEM-H fields. Learn more about the cohort here

So the focus of the training was on these startup companies and explaining a lot of business jargon (minimum viable product?), but my biggest takeaway — especially as it relates to my grant work at Virginia Western — was:

Focus on NEEDS first, solutions second.

This seems like common sense, but apparently it’s a huge problem for fledgling businesses. According to the Mike and Lisa, the most common reason for startup failure is the that they create cool products or services … but no one wants to buy them. They can’t find customers, or they didn’t understand their potential customers in the first place.

So I’ll share the four key questions that startups … or anyone with an entrepreneurial mindset … should focus on, according to the RAMP training:

  1. Are you going after a top-of-mind need?
  2. Who is the person you are seeking to serve?
  3. What is the person seeking to do better? (Or, what do they struggle with?)
  4. How do they define better? (To establish metrics of success)

So how do we find the real needs? Google searches for data and general chair-based research is a start, but we have to actually talk to people, according to Mike and Lisa. This summer, each of these startups is expected to interview 100 potential customers — preferably face-to-face interviews to get the most honest feedback, with phone calls as the last resort. No emailed questions are allowed. It was also understood that these should be strategically targeted customers … not just the first 100 people they meet at the mall or 100 of their friends. This will be hard work, to be sure, but it’s essential to understanding the real needs they want to serve.

So if you ever work with me on a future grant project, you will understand why I will be obsessed with needs. I will be asking lots of questions about workflows and processes, digging more deeply into the problems we’re trying to solve. Experience has taught me that sometimes the problem we thought we were trying to solve wasn’t the real problem at all.

Which brings me to a quote I jotted down during the training: “Innovation is like solving a mystery.” 

I will continue to collect creative ideas for my “Idea Shelf” — not because I intend to write grants for any or all of them — but to have a bunch of possibilities ready while we figure out the most important needs. Bring on the mysteries.

Posted on June 21, 2018

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