Creating college values and living by them daily

Convocation at Anne Arundel Community College in August. (Photo: AACC)

Many colleges have institutional values, but how many employees can name them? How many employees live by them?

As the first community college in the country with an engagement coach training program accredited by the International Coach Federation (ICF), it only made sense that Anne Arundel Community College (AACC) in Maryland implement and stand by its own values.

This article is part of a monthly series provided by the National Council for Marketing & Public Relations (NCMPR), an affiliated council of the American Association of Community Colleges.

Establishing college values

The college began the process of establishing its values in 2017. Strategic communications and human resources worked together to moderate a brainstorming process where faculty and staff identified values they wanted to see the college embrace. Volunteers from the coaching program consolidated the collected submissions into categories of similar themes, which were refined through college-wide open forums; online discussion; and faculty, staff and student surveys.

Finally, the president and vice presidents approved the final five:

  1. Community and relationships
  2. Opportunity
  3. Positivity
  4. Innovation and creativity
  5. Equity and inclusion

It’s no surprise that community and relationships appeared on the list: By choosing values through a collaborative approach rather than coming from college leadership, every employee could see their ideas reflected in the final choices.

“Having faculty and staff involved from the start helped them buy into this process,” AACC President Dawn Lindsay said, adding that the values help drive the college’s strategic decisions.

For example, human resources overhauled the employee evaluation process to better align with the values. Rather than an annual evaluation, supervisors meet with their subordinates multiple times a year for a conversation focused on how they are incorporating college values into their work. This new model earned AACC the 2022 HR Innovation Award from the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources (CUPA-HR).

Letting values drive convocation

The values continue to play a part in the annual convocation, which is a chance for college faculty and staff to gather and celebrate the coming academic year. It is also a good opportunity for the college to recommit to and exemplify its values.

“How we relate to each other matters,” Lindsay said. “It affects how we treat each other, and that makes a difference for our students and their experience. When instructors and support staff are engaged and living the values, students can see it, and that inspires students to continue their educational journey with us.”

Like many colleges, AACC has returned to a fully open campus. However, some offices are on a hybrid schedule, so employees do not always have the chance to interact with colleagues. One of convocation’s main goals is to recommit to the value of community and relationships in the hybrid environment.

This is how AACC uses convocation to reflect its established values:

  • Begin with a coffee hour to give everyone a chance to mingle.
  • Use the president’s remarks to set the tone.
  • Encourage employees to share a memory of a time someone at the college made an impact on them.
  • Have faculty and staff share a photo from their phone that brings them joy. Encourage them to interact with someone new who they do not spend a lot of time with.
  • Hold a panel discussion where college leaders evaluate topics through the lens of the college values. For example, the changing role of higher education as related to DEIA initiatives or advancements in technology as opportunities to be innovative.

Creating a partnership

Colleges looking to incorporate values into their own convocation gatherings should first establish a partnership between the president’s office and the college’s communications office. Anne Arundel’s strategic communications executive director began to host the event to keep up energy and engagement, which led to conversations about continued involvement.

“Our role in convocation didn’t come about overnight,” said Dan Baum, strategic communications executive director. “It was a continual process of building that relationship with the president and vice presidents.”

Now, Baum helps craft core messages, takeaways, and engagement activities; and he continues to moderate the event.

By incorporating college values into all parts of the college, AACC employees know the values and live them daily. When students say things like, “My professor helped me solve a problem” or “My advisor made me feel welcome at AACC,” they are using the language of the values – and that is the ultimate goal.

About the Author

Alicia Renehan
Alicia Renehan is the public relations manager at Anne Arundel Community College in Maryland. She is also a member of NCMPR’s 2023-24 Leadership Institute.
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