The last major in-person gathering of people from all of Virginia’s Community Colleges had been three years before, so it was no surprise that last week’s 2022 New Horizons Conference was abuzz with the excitement of just being together.
“It’s almost like a family reunion,” said Jason Vance, Canvas Administrator at Virginia Peninsula Community College (formerly known as Thomas Nelson CC). “It’s just such a chance to share and collaborate with colleagues from different parts of the state that are very different. I’m so glad I came, and I know we’re all keeping our fingers crossed about Covid.”
“It’s just wonderful to get back together again,” added Amanda Mansfield, director of the Virginia Western Community College Educational Foundation. “We’ve all been so isolated, and to be able to make that real human connection is a big part of why we work in community colleges; we’re here for the people.”
Roughly 700 college faculty and staff, along with colleagues from the system office and VCCS Shared Services Center, gathered at the Hotel Roanoke for the system’s premier teaching and learning conference April 6-8. The event was built around the theme of Building Opportunity, in support of the VCCS Opportunity 2027 Strategic Plan.
Setting the tone for the conference, futurist and trends researcher John Martin said unstoppable developments in American society will require community colleges to take active steps to help students from diverse backgrounds succeed by learning new skills and earning credentials essential to a changing workplace.
“That means you got to be an organization where everybody, every race, every age, every mindset, can feel like they belong and that they’re affirmed,” said Martin. “So, the implication is, you have an imperative to advance equity and explain it to people, and to make sure that you understand all your students and where they’re coming from.”
Martin’s Richmond firm, SIR (Southeastern Institute of Research, Inc.) has assisted several of our colleges make informed decisions about rebranding, and also advises the VCCS in making research-based decisions about maintaining relevance in the dynamic 21st century marketplace.
“You need to follow your ‘North Star,’ your strategic plan,” said Martin. “I help develop strategic plans and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion plans for state agencies. Opportunity 2027 is one of the best and it is your opportunity to lead.”
New Horizons featured more than 120 different sessions ranging from big-picture trends – Knowledge, Connection, Inclusivity and Collaboration – to targeted strategies for success in the classroom, ranging from integrating active learning strategies, to unlocking the power of prior learning, to using humor in instruction. (Editor’s note: we’ll have a story about that in a couple of weeks.)
You can view more photos from the New Horizons Conference on the VCCS flickr page.