Traverse City News and Events

What Might NMC Of 2025 Look Like?

By Craig Manning | May 7, 2021

“A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” That’s how Northwestern Michigan College (NMC) President Nick Nissley describes the college’s new strategic planning process, which launched in April and is expected to carry on for much of 2021. While the strategic plan is specifically targeted toward shaping the college’s direction from 2022 to 2025, Nissley sees it as the pivotal stepping stone to a brand-new (post-pandemic) chapter for NMC. The Ticker sat down with Nissley to learn more about what the process looks like, why it matters, and how the community can get involved.

Ticker: Why is this strategic planning process so important?
Nissley: One, when you think about strategic planning, it's a forward-looking process. It’s about imagining that desired future. Particularly where we are now, in terms of the pandemic, that future is less clear than it's ever been. That's probably the greatest reason why we need to be undertaking this now.

Secondly, any good strategic planning process is about engaging stakeholders. We've been very clear that this is an opportunity for us to listen, internally and externally, to all of our stakeholders – from faculty and staff, to alumni, to NMC Foundation board members, to taxpayers, to K-12 partners.

Thirdly, it’s about seeing what we want to become and asking, ‘How are we going to get there?’ It’s not just about vision; it's really about how we are going to get to that desired future.

Ticker: So what’s happened so far?
Nissley: An important piece of context is that we're doing this in partnership with a strategic plan consulting group called CampusWorks. We chose CampusWorks for two key reasons. One is they've got a robust process for stakeholder engagement. We want to make sure this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to listen to as broad and deep an engagement base as possible. CampusWorks is good at that process.

The second thing I'm committed to is making sure this is a student-centered process. I think lots of folks undertake strategic planning and they think it's about asking, ‘What new buildings are we going to build?’ or ‘What new fundraising campaign are we going to launch?’ Those things should be secondary. We're undertaking this because we want to improve the college for our learners...

One thing we’ve done so far is what's called a ‘Student Experience Workshop.’ That was a half day and involved over 150 people here on campus, of which 51 were students. It was a good starting place.

You're probably familiar with the language of SWOT: strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats. That was one of the second key pieces. We sent out a SWOT survey, and I think we received back almost 350 responses. We’re now analyzing that [feedback].

What we're building to, on June 23, is called the ‘Future Summit,’ which is about the imaginative work I mentioned. Based on the trends that we're seeing, based on how COVID has transformed our lives, who we want to become? How do we live into that future? The Future Summit is going to bring together internal and external stakeholders, our students, our faculty, our staff, and that’s where we begin to do that work.

The plan is, in December, we will present a final draft to the board for approval. And on January 1, we will begin executing on that plan.

Ticker: For community members who are invested in NMC’s future, how might they play a role?
Nissley: We’ve got approximately 30 focus groups that have been scheduled. Folks may identify with one of those focus groups – whether it's K-12 partner, whether it’s local business, whether it's alumni – and participate. If someone doesn't fit into one of those focus groups, we’re also going to do what we’re calling the ‘Community All Call.’ That’s on May 26, from 3:30-5pm. It’ll by via Zoom, as are most of our engagements. And that call is for anyone. Even if you don't fit one of our focus group categories, we want to hear from you.

Ticker: How will COVID-19 affect all this?
Nissley: After seeing our college and our community in action over this past year, I truly believe this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to not just talk in theory about reimagining our future, but to see that, right now, everything is on the table because of the pandemic.

We've spent more than a year challenging established assumptions. I’ll give you one example: on March 13, 2020, when we had to make the decision to close down the college and pivot from face-to-face instruction to remote, the assumption the whole world had was that college was something that occurred on a campus. Very quickly, that assumption had to be abandoned. We had to reinvent ourselves overnight, to figure out how to deliver this thing called ‘college’ if you can't come to campus.

That’s the kind of challenge that we've had to address over these last 12 months. We know things are possible that we never thought could change…I think we’ve got to have the audacity to say that we want to design a college that's going to serve our learners – not just today, but into the future. And we need to do that, especially, because we don't know what that future holds, because of the pandemic.

The last time a new strategic plan was undertaken [at NMC] – where it wasn't just updated or adjusted – was over a decade ago [Editor’s note: Diana Fairbanks, NMC’s executive director of public relations, marketing, and communications, tells The Ticker that the college’s last “formal strategic planning process” took place in 2006-2007 and “did not have the extensive community engagement this process will have”]. So when I say this is a really unique opportunity, I mean it. We’re not just making adjustments. This is an opportunity to start with a clean sheet of paper. And given how the world has changed, how everything has become so topsy-turvy, I think that is exactly why we need a strategic plan right now. The world's changing so quickly and dramatically for our learners. We need to be able to fulfill our commitments and help prepare them for that.

Ticker: As president, do you have specific priorities that you are championing?
Nissley: I think of myself as a servant leader, meaning: My job is to help enable others. So I don't have selfish goals of my own, because I know that I'm entrusted as a steward, by this community, to carry out the mission of the college. That said, I’ve spent the better part of these past 12 months doing some deep listening, and I can tell you some of the things that I’ve heard from our stakeholders...that I will help support as a servant leader.

One was experiential learning: we have a new Experiential Learning Institute on campus, and there's a tremendous amount of passion around that, because it’s about asking, ‘How do we enhance the quality and the employability of our students, while at the same time cultivating our community and business partnerships, so that students get those hands-on learning-while-they're-earning experiences’?

Another piece that I've heard a lot about from our stakeholders is that we need to continue to reinforce the college's relevance to employers, and to do that through investing in our workforce development…

We've also got a number of what you might think of as NMC’s ‘signature programs’: things like the Great Lakes Maritime Academy; the Water Studies Institute; our culinary program; our aviation program; the International Affairs Forum. We need to make sure that we're continuing to invest in those programs.

Ticker: Anything else to add?
Nissley: The process that we're undertaking, I hope, is not just something that we're going to do this one time during strategic planning. I hope that we're building a muscle for broad collaboration and that we are going to carry that forward for future engagements with the community, with businesses, with government, and with education institutions.

But what I'm most excited about is there's a tremendous amount of excitement on campus and in the community [about this process]. And I think that excitement is about what's possible for the college…


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