Chief of Staff Gary Stocker’s Vision for Westminster
BY JIM MALVEN
Since becoming President Akande’s chief of staff last September, Dr. Gary Stocker has had three main goals: to improve campus technology, use technology to appeal to nontraditional students and acquire corporate partnerships for the college.
According to Stocker, Westminster’s technology is average to other small colleges, but he wants to go beyond the standard. The first steps in doing that, he said, are to strengthen the campus’ Wi-Fi connection and to increase computer bandwidth and storage.
Stocker said that he wants to improve Westminster’s technology not just to enhance the educational environment for traditional students but also to create a better experience for older, nontraditional students, whom he is interested in for two reasons.
First, he said that few higher education institutions appeal to nontraditional students, meaning that there is little competition to enroll them.
“Adults are more accessible,” he said.
As the pool of nontraditional students widens, so does the potential financial gain for the college.
Second, Stocker, a former nontraditional student himself, said that he is able to relate to the experiences and desires of these individuals, which include more efficient courses and quicker degree programs.
To cater to the first of those desires, he plans to use technology to eliminate the necessity of on-campus classes, an inconvenience for many nontraditional students. This would involve improving the quality of online classes and utilizing live video lectures in addition to online readings and assessments.
“In 2016, geography should not be a constraint,” Stocker said, in reference to the physical distance between nontraditional students’ residences and campus classrooms.
Recalling that he owned an enormous, now-obsolete Apple computer in the 1980s, Stocker said he “cannot even begin to describe how far technology has come.”
He added that he can barely imagine the kinds of devices that future technological advances will bring.
But for now, Stocker is focused on employing what he called “data-driven software” for nontraditional students. Such software, however, is not purchased cheaply.
“The capital cost of technology is high,” he said.
Although certain expenses, such as data storage, continue to drop, Stocker said that other technology costs, including hardware, bandwidth and technical support, can really cut into a budget.
Partly because of these costs, Stocker has sought out local educational partnerships. In a self-published article on “cohort learning,” or the education of groups of adults sponsored by corporate partners, Stocker explains that corporate community partners know what skills they need their employees to have and that they can work with a college to suggest coursework for certificate programs. These certificate programs can be structured to build up to a degree.
Last Thursday, President Akande announced in a mass email that Westminster and Ameren Missouri had formed one of these alliances, which he called “a new educational partnership.”
The partnership will allow Ameren employees to complete a B.A. in Leadership. The degree is “designed to fit the needs and schedules of working adults,” the email said. This “design” includes being able to take classes online, on site at the Callaway Energy Center or on the Westminster campus.
“I look forward to us exploring more educational partnerships as we reach out to offer the professional development and education that today’s workforce needs,” Akande said in the email.
According to a statement from Rob Crouse, director of media and public relations at Westminster, “Ameren Missouri employees in the program will learn the fundamentals of organizational management and advance their knowledge in data analysis, decision making, problem solving, strategic planning, sustaining a productive work environment, and strategies for leading diverse groups, and inclusive excellence.”
The first Ameren-Westminster classes began on Jan. 28, 2016.
Although Stocker spearheaded this project that offers degrees for nontraditional students, the chief of staff urges traditional students to earn their degrees while they are still young.
“You think life gets in the way when you’re 22?” he asked. “Imagine when you’re 32 or 42.”
Additional reporting was contributed by Joseph Nieves.