AFIT's learning partners. From left: Mike Wilson, editor of The Dallas Morning News; Brent Frey, director of education at Apple; Kari Granger, founder and CEO of The Granger Network; and Mike Flores, chancellor of Alamo Colleges District.

Takeaways from Texas

Pictured above (from left): Mike Wilson, vice president and editor of The Dallas Morning News; Brent Frey, director of education at Apple; Kari Granger, founder and CEO of the Granger Network; and Mike Flores, chancellor of Alamo Colleges District.

It’s hard to believe that a month has passed since AFIT's 2019 Summer Institute in Plano, Texas. Fortunately, the learning lives on! We asked our members and guests to share a key takeaway that resonated with their team and how it will impact the way they work and support student success moving forward. Here’s what we heard:

Choosing just one was difficult! The concept that most resonated with the Aims team was creating a new era, and, as an organization, how we want our staff and students to feel. We want Aims to continue to be the best workplace. Creating new realities will revamp how we perform and offer services. Moving forward, this concept will guide us to let go of old ways, to end old eras, and remove obstacles, therefore, bringing greater value to our institution. Creating a new era will have an impact on how we develop higher quality experiences for our students.

Arizona Western College recognizes that higher education can learn from what industry has experienced in their evolution and sees creativity and empathy as important skills for driving innovation and transformation. For an institution focused on improving student success outcomes, defining success is key so the institution can develop a holistic, student-centered strategy across the entire student experience—from the classroom to support services to campus operations to relationships with the community and industry partners.

Brent Frey, director of education at Apple, spoke to the idea that an institution’s culture and values enable innovation, driven by its leader’s pace and messaging. He quoted Apple CEO Tim Cook as saying, “Cultures of innovation begin with a culture of empathy,” and described how Tim weaves this message into most of his communications.This resonated because Campus Management supports higher education through our solutions. If we are going to continue driving innovation, an anchor of empathy for and with the institutions we serve is foundational to effective innovation, not innovation for its own sake. We define our customer as the colleges and universities we serve, as well as their students, staff, administrators, and the communities in which they serve. Brent Frey’s session is challenging us to also rethink how we anchor this within a culture of empathy, understanding our customers’ challenges from their unique perspectives. We are partners in higher education, innovating together to make the world a better place.

CampusWorks walked away from Summer Institute with a better understanding of the importance for us to communicate our mission and vision often and embed it in everything we do. This concept came through many of the sessions in different ways. Our CampusWorks vision statement is a driving/motivating factor in what we do for our clients and we need to embrace that. We are a mission-driven organization and our mission is closely aligned to that of higher education institutions. It is important that our clients, prospective clients, and employees understand that we are driven by student success.We are going to begin putting transformational goals on the agenda for internal launches for each client engagement so that all of our consulting teams are committed to helping schools achieve transformational goals as part of the tactical day-to-day activities. For example, when the contracted engagement is a simple technology implementation, our teams are going to have goals to ensure that the users of the technology change workflows to help achieve a transformational goal and we are not just installing a technology tool but also assisting the institution in leveraging the technology for organizational change and development.

The concept that resonated most was the transformation of culture — creating an impactful environment to inspire and engage. The future we’re creating must address the things that are fundamentally important to the people we’re trying to engage. They want to be able to contribute to that future, and they want to be recognized for their contribution. This resonated because we knew institutionally that if we were going to continue to impact student success, we would need to change our culture.

This concept drove Lake Michigan College to set our guiding principles in short order. It has driven action and buy in campus-wide, which has been cultivated by our leadership team. Ultimately, we are taking the first steps in changing our culture. Culture + Values = Innovation

Northwest Vista College, one of the Alamo Colleges, had an amazing Summer Institute experience. A few days after we returned to Vista we had a deep debrief. Most of the team members had never been to Summer Institute. They said things like, “This was the best institute/conference I have ever attended. I learned so much from the speakers but especially benefited from our team time. We advanced our work by months, if not years, through our team time application of key concepts.


The Richland Community College team continues to talk about curiosity and passion as tangential ideas. We’re not sure what we are going to do with this discussion thread but we do know we want to engage new employees while reinvigorating current employees to move out of their comfort zones. We need to determine new ways to engage the 21st Century learners and reengage veteran employees who may have lost the “spark” for what they do.

It is hard to pick just one concept, as our team had several resonate with us from this year’s Summer Institute that we plan to explore and incorporate into our work. One concept we are putting into place right away is “Naming an Era.” During our college-wide meeting in late September, the entire college will be introduced to the concept and invited to submit their thoughts and ideas on what our next era should be named. We will acknowledge the work we have done in the past and then focus our energy moving forward. It is perfect timing as we adjust our Strategic Plan for 2020 and beyond. We are excited to embark on this journey together as a college as we continue to improve the experience for our students and change their lives.

For St. Louis Community College, the concept that resonated most was Brent Frey’s statement that cultures of innovation begin with a culture of empathy. Brent’s statement reflects the importance Apple places on designing products based on an empathetic understanding of how others might want to use them. Likewise, educators should design curriculum and systems with empathy for students and the different ways they might use these educational “products.” This concept is a good reminder to always keep student success, and recognition of the many different ways students approach their education, as the guiding idea for all of the work we do.
The concept that resonated most was assessing the current/previous era in preparation for beginning a new one, which helped us with re-framing our point of view or the lens we are looking through. The second equally important concept for us was co-creation and understanding and incorporating different perspectives and points of view by “shifting your hips.” What’s our orientation to the future? How do I shape my orientation and the orientation of those that I lead?Having just received our accreditation reaffirmation, we are embarking on a new strategic planning process that will launch concurrently with our new Academic & Career Pathways in Fall 2020. This was perfect timing. We are looking to better define shared governance. We have been CQI focused and are now asking how do we not lose that focus and be comfortable as a college with innovation and transformation? The accountable definition also impacts this as we move from task focus to outcome focus. Orientation and perspective are essential to transformative leaders and what’s going to happen next will impact our actions now. This is critical to drive the change and transformation happening at MATC.

The concepts learned at Summer Institute will help us frame conversations through active listening so that we may articulate a collective understanding of how (specifically) the new era will be different for the student, and WHY we are shifting to a new area based on an improved student experience. All of this leads to better opportunities for stronger engagement with students and employees that will support the focus on the tools and outcomes for student success. The orientation to the future is key to student success. It will require mutual and collaborative engagement by key stakeholders to co-create the future.

The Western Iowa Tech team realized we need to change the way we observe things and take a different action to obtain a different result. If we take a different approach and look at what we can do rather that what we can’t do, that will help move us forward. We love the idea of looking at what we can do and focusing our efforts moving forward and not getting stuck on what can’t be done.

We had a diverse group of employees from all over the College attend Summer Institute. This will help us observe differently, and we learned to continually branch out to different areas of the College to get employee feedback and utilize their expertise. If we use all of these different vantage points, we will get a better understanding of how we can impact student success.

Thanks to everyone who joined us at the 2019 Summer Institute. We hope to see you next year in Denver!