A strong community and a great national reputation helped Delta College attract its newest president

Dr. Michael Gavin has been at the helm of Delta College for little over a month, but the Great Lakes Bay Region already feels like home.

Gavin, who served as Vice President of Learning at Anne Arundel Community College in Arnold, Maryland before coming to University Center, fills the vacancy left by longtime President Dr. Jean Goodnow. Gavin holds a doctorate in American studies from the University of Maryland, and studied literature at the American University in Washington, D.C. He recently moved his family – including wife, Alycia, and daughters, Isabelle, 15, Maya, 9, and Ava, 5 – to the area.

Q. What drew you to Delta College and the Great Lakes Bay Region?

A. There’s a strong foundation here in terms of the talent of the employees, and the facilities are amazing. One of the reasons I applied here in the first place is that it has a great national reputation and I just want to build on those things.
This is a gorgeous area, full of many different businesses, both small and large, with a wealth of opportunity for our students. I’m also grateful for how welcome I’ve felt since I’ve been here. I’ve felt like part of the community since I’ve been here, and I’m overwhelmed with the beauty of the area as well. It’s a gorgeous area.

Q. What are some of the things you’re looking forward to completing or seeing change?

A. I don’t have a desire to change. I think the only thing that I would do is to maintain focus on the longer-term goals in terms of equitable completion for our students – how we do that is going to be up to our faculty and staff to guide us.
I’m taking the foundation that she (Goodnow) laid and I laid out a plan that really only has two major components to it - making sure students complete their degrees and equity. I think of them both as one thing. We complete as many students as possible without any gaps in terms of equity. To give a little more context, community colleges were built for the last number of decades on an enrollment paradigm, and Delta is in the throes of shifting toward a completion paradigm. The goal for many years has been access oriented, so you’re letting as many students as possible in the door, and we haven’t been structured in a way to make sure we’re keeping them until they complete. We’re going to be shifting our mindsets and offices toward the completion paradigm, over the next four to five years.

Q. Now that both Saginaw and Midland campuses are open, what about Bay City?

A. We’re looking to reinvigorate the course offerings that we offer. We’ve got some four-year partners that are interested in being housed there with us. We would like to ensure that we’re offering courses that lead to those four-year degrees, so that literally a person wouldn’t have to leave Bay City to get a Bachelor’s Degree – that’s what we want to get to. We’ve actually re-staffed some of the positions at the Planetarium for that effort. At least the pathway for the student – if not the pathway itself – should be laid out by January. We’re almost complete with that project.

Q. What are some of the changes you anticipate in student population?

A. There are all indications that the part-time student will increase in terms of the percentage that we serve over the decades. So, we’ll be serving more adult students and part-time students, and we know that because our high school population will be declining in the next five to 10 years. We’re also seeing higher levels of ALICE populations – those populations of people that are technically not at poverty line, but can barely make ends meet. The question is how do we serve those people through education the best way possible? That’s going to be through some of those technologies. For example, a single mom puts her kid to bed and we need to be able to allow that person education when she’s free. Part of the conversation we’re having is trying to make it so that Delta fits into people’s lives rather than them having to fit Delta into their lives. We know that. The colleges that can pivot to make those changes will be successful in the next decade, and the ones that don’t are going to continue to see enrollment declines.

Q. How does career technical education fit into that?

A. I think part of our job is going to be ensuring that we are offering programming in the skilled trades, and changing the narrative that skilled trades is not going to college. Skilled trades certainly is going to college. We’re also trying to think about ways in which there can be an interdisciplinarity between those kinds of fields, if you will. We know from employers that what they value is not just somebody who can turn a wrench on a vehicle, but somebody who can communicate and be on a team. So how do we prepare the most well-rounded person, who happens to be working in the skilled trades, or who happens to be a poet? It’s not the exclusion of one or the other, but how to be more intentional about the interdisciplinary of both.

Q. How has COVID changed the dynamic at Delta College?

A. Right now we’re running 50% face-to-face, and 50% online. What I’m hoping to do is to engage our faculty and staff in conversations about innovations that they’ve had to create as a result of pivoting online. We have a lot of disciplines where they never taught online before – for good reason. It’s interesting to look at some of the things the faculty creatively did, in the past 18 months, and start to ask them questions about how we keep some of what they did, to provide education for students who otherwise couldn’t have had it. We’re rolling out a process internally to figure out where there are some programs and courses that we’re going to be cutting edge and known for offering online, that our competitors will potentially come back to whatever normal looks like.

Q. Any certain programs that stand out as innovative in the “new normal?”

A. I wouldn’t say programs, but what I’ve seen in different disciplines, for instance in a machining course, a faculty member who is able to use video in a way to illustrate what had to be done to do machining properly. From that, he was able to have that class fully online, and he’s used that video technique in his face-to-face classes because it allows more people to see what only two people could see before. So, what you see is that these disciplines that never thought about going online had to engage with technology that they never would have and they’re starting to see new pedagogy. I want to make sure that we’re providing the faculty the support to continue to explore those pedagogies, if you will.

Q. Any last thoughts on what you see coming in Delta’s future?

A. I do think that one of the most not-pandemic related important things that higher education needs to be exploring is ensuring that there are no what I call opportunity gaps between racial groups on campus. In terms of ensuring that all students can succeed, and looking at the data, we, like most institutions. have significant gaps between different racial groups, and being very intentional about how we can close those over the next four to five years is a significant goal that I’ve laid out.