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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

5 teaching tips to boost student completion and retention … what are yours?

I love practical tips … and I love lists, especially short ones.

I couldn’t resist sharing this story from the Chronicle of Higher Education, which I’m constantly reading for grant ideas:

The 5 Tips for Student Success That a Longtime Instructor Swears By

Tony Holland

The tips are from Tony Holland of the Alabama Community College System, a former dean of instruction who taught chemistry for almost 30 years. During the annual meeting of the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) in Dallas, Holland said his I-CAN approach (improvement, constant and never ending) increased associate degree completions by 67% and retention rates by 27%, with the greatest improvements shown by minority students.

Here’s the quick list, as they appeared in the Chronicle story:

1. Pass out course evaluations early in the semester
2. Set clear learning objectives for each unit
3. Create 10-minute videos for each objective
4. Give frequent quizzes, essays and group work
5. Provide early, intrusive interventions

If you want details, I urge you to read the entire story here, or watch Holland’s 30-minute talk, “Five Strategies to Revitalize Your Teaching and Invigorate Learning!”

What would you add to the list? I’d love to compile some tips from our own faculty. Even if you have just one excellent tip, please do share. Who knows … it might inspire your colleagues …. or an entire grant project. Email

Posted on May 4, 2018

Why we must collaborate, inside and out

If it seems like I’m a little obsessed with the buzzword “collaboration,” it’s because a bunch of grant funders are, too.

Let me give you two recent examples:


GO Virginia

You may have heard about the GO Virginia program, which has funded some economic development projects in the Roanoke region, including the RAMP business accelerator where Virginia Western offers entrepreneurial programming.  

I attended a “how-to-apply” GO Virginia workshop in Richmond earlier this month, and my biggest takeaway was that the program is designed to encourage collaboration — “incentivized collaboration” is the term used in its mission statement. The state is carved into 9 regions (pictured above), and each region has produced its own Growth and Development Plan, which identifies specific industry clusters. We are in Region 2, which includes the New River Valley and Lynchburg. Priority clusters for Region 2 are (1) manufacturing, (2) life sciences & healthcare, (3) food & beverage processing, and (4) emerging technologies & IT. Not only are proposals for funding expected to be collaborative within our region (working with at least two localities, or another community college, for example), but GO Virginia is now promoting a separate “competitive” grant program that requires collaboration between regions. My personal take is that the VCCS could be in a strong position to convene stakeholders across two or more regions. If you’re curious what that could like like, I encourage you to read my workshop summary report ( GO Virginia Workshop Summary ), which includes a list of previously funded workforce-related projects across the state, along with a matrix of overlapping target industry clusters across the 9 statewide regions.



On the horizon are a couple of grant opportunities that help fund the state’s FastForward initiative. FastForward, formerly known as the Workforce Credential Grant (WCG) program, helps pay tuition for students who enroll in our non-credit Workforce training programs, including Industrial Maintenance Technician, Machining, Welding, and a new Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) program. The purpose is to get students — especially working adults — an industry-recognized credential that will lead to better employment and higher wages. One of the capacity-building grants for FastForward has been the annual Institutes of Excellence grant program, which funded the start-up costs for Virginia Western’s CCMA program. But the IE grant has changed significant this year. Individual awards will be bigger than than years’ past; however, the VCCS only expects to fund four projects across the state in 2018-19. The expectation is that these projects will be highly collaborative — with business and industry, and with other colleges and community groups – and they must be sustainable and able to scale statewide. These proposals are due July 16.

A spirit-boosting TED video

I know collaboration is messy … it can take time, and sometimes it’s just plain hard. It requires those soft skills that even we struggle to emulate for our students. But the collaborative process is also where some of our best ideas come from. I was delighted to watch this TEDx video from the Netherlands, “Speed Up Innovation with Design Thinking.” It’s only 12 minutes long, but researcher Guido Stompff reminded me of the magic of interaction and learning by creating. As he says: “Ideas fundamentally arise in between us.” Watch it here:

(With a big thanks to Sam Steidle, who told me about the video last week.)

In the coming weeks, I plan to spotlight some of Virginia Western’s collaborative success stories, to celebrate our innovators and to help spark even more ideas. And don’t hold back … tell me about some projects that should get the attention of the entire college. Or ideas you might have for those grant opportunities I described above. 


Posted on April 24, 2018

How do you show your Virginia Western spirit? (And why it matters.)

I painted my fingernails blue and gold, y’all.

I was shopping the Elizabeth Arden warehouse sale in Salem this past weekend (where we get a 10% discount with our VWCC ID badge!) and found the $2 nail polish along the back wall.

I thought the colors would be perfect during the week of Spring Fling, which is Friday.

But my Virginia Western pride doesn’t stop with a manicure.

I also make a point to wear a VWCC ball cap when I run errands on the weekend, which frequently provokes conversations about the college in checkout lines.

I do this on purpose because I know informal interactions are the secret sauce to building relationships.

They are also the pixie dust for innovation.

And this is where it all comes around to grants …

… stay with me.

Over the holidays, I stumbled onto this video of author Simon Sinek: “Why Leaders Eat Last.”

Sinek, who has a degree in cultural anthropology, is best known as the author of “Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action.”

I was hooked … and spent most of that day binging more of his YouTube and TED videos, where he talks about leadership and teamwork. I immediately ordered his 2014 book, “Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t.”

I highly recommend this book, especially as higher education — and Virginia Western — continues to transform and stoke our anxieties. “Leaders Eat Last” provokes questions about *why* we work here — and what motivates us to do our best work.

In the book, Sinek praises a few companies for their supportive cultures, including 3M, maker of Post-it Notes. Simply put: Post-its were born from failure. One of 3M’s scientists was trying to create a strong adhesive. Instead, he made a weak adhesive — but instead of burying his “failure” out of embarrassment, he shared the mistake with his colleagues in case someone else could figure out how to use it. Years later, another scientist at 3M remembered the weak glue when he was frustrated by his bookmark, which kept falling out of his church choir book on the music stand. He wanted that bookmark to stay put. Eureka! …. now Post-its cover everything we own.

Sinek points to the company’s culture as what made this breakthrough possible:

Innovation at 3M is not simply the result of educational pedigree or technical expertise. Innovation is the result of a corporate culture of collaboration and sharing. … The cross-pollination of ideas — combined with an emphasis on sharing across product lines — has led to an atmosphere of collaboration that makes 3M a place where employees feel valued. “Innovation from interaction” is one of the company’s favorite mottoes. (p. 169)

“Innovation from interaction” … this is how it relates to grants.

Grants are more than money. They are tools for creating change in our college and in our community, and they are powered by creative ideas. The most effective grants require imagination, courage, good planning … and collaboration.

And the collaborative magic doesn’t necessarily happen in formal meetings (but those help, too).

It happens when we pass each other in the hallways … the conversations we have while waiting in the coffee shop … the serendipitous interactions at events like Spring Fling.

We build trust and relationships in these small, face-to-face moments, which are hard to measure. This 3-minute Sinek video explains how consistency (not intensity) builds the healthiest cultures. For example, brushing your teeth twice a day … every day … (consistency) vs. intensity (going to the dentist twice a year). Going to the dentist is important and easy to track and measure … but the effectiveness of a single session of tooth-brushing? Not so easy to measure … but essential to dental health over time. 

All of the stuff we too often dismiss as unimportant or wasteful or frivolous … these are critical to the sense of teamwork we have at this college, and ultimately, the good ideas (and healthy failures) that can spring from this teamwork.

I hope to see you having fun at Spring Fling … with our without blue fingernails.

Posted on April 9, 2018

Contact Us

Grants Development Office
Location: Fishburn Hall F204
Phone: 540-857-6372

3093 Colonial Ave., SW
Roanoke, VA 24015