Published on 2021/01/06

Turning a Challenge Into An Opportunity

Becoming a leader in the word of higher education means prioritizing learning and seeing challenges and difficulties as opportunities for improvement.

Within less than a week of March 13th, 2020, Troy’s Continuing Education and Outreach (CE&O) had a vision, a strategy, and a plan of action to continue any services we were providing.  Services include four main categories: 

  • Training: workshops, certificate, academies, and individual customized courses 
  • Organizational consulting: areas not limited to strategic planning, performance management, employee engagement, mentoring programs, succession planning, C-level position search and hiring, job descriptions, developing policies and procedures
  • Executive coaching; Ed2Go
  • Conferences  

With these services, we have met and exceeded our financial goals each fiscal year.  This supports Troy’s overall financial goals and allows faculty and administration to become involved in CE&O whether through reputation, involvement, or consultative capacity.  Troy’s Information Technology Department already had the newest version of virtual platforms available.  CE&O instructors had an hour of practice with these tools and were ready to provide training and consulting to clients.

The biggest challenge for CE&O was not the virtual platforms but adapting highly interactive training to a virtual environment.  Contract professional development curricula has individual assessments and reflections, but many more experiential activities are conducted inside and outside a “classroom.”  The questions then became: “How can we make the virtual as engaging and interactive as in-person training?”, “How can we accommodate the four learning styles?” and “Can we maximize learning application and retention?”.  

The training program manager met with instructors several times to brainstorm and discuss alternative virtual activities for experiential learning, breakout rooms for group discussions, and, of course, the best way to manage attendees’ questions and comments.  The innovation continued when some clients chose to go back to in-person training in August.  Social distancing activities became an opportunity for CE&O to grasp.  A few of the topics that became a question of variation included Myers Briggs Type Indicator, tough communication in the workplace, and teambuilding.  CE&O overcame each challenge and turned them into opportunities for more engagement and high-quality training.

Another challenging area was strategic planning with a university.  When the pandemic demanded “safe at home” measures, the process of developing the university’s strategic plan was two weeks away from the first development meeting with faculty and staff, board and council and faculty senate.  Immediately, CE&O transitioned to a virtual methodology and even completed an eight-month project one month early.  Fortunately, the final presentation before faculty, staff and administration was able to be conducted in person.  Additionally, implementing performance management into a company presented similar challenges that CE&O successfully met.  

The annual Professional Administrative Conference was another area of opportunity for CE&O, who was hosting.  Conferences demanded a sharp learning curve and quick modifications from typical agendas, but the conference was offered as planned and had good attendance even though many employees did not have tech support at their homes.  CE&O’s Dothan Campus personnel registered and processed several thousand attendees for Troy’s leadership program. 

Finally, the pandemic became a challenge for marketing and business development.  However, CE&O’s market development manager immediately created opportunities for CE&O to work with chambers of commerce that reached hundreds of businesses and agencies to showcase our services while supporting thousands of their members. Additionally, within days, the manager started learning via Facebook live, LinkedIn articles, free seminars for anyone.  One of the most creative and productive outreach opportunities was Friday’s “Coffee and Conversation,” which lasted until people returned to work.  A diverse group of instructors presented on topics that would allow professionals to learn and become inspired.  Though meeting our financial goal for Troy looked bleak with the pandemic, CE&O met the goal with a little to spare.  It was not the normal CE&O pattern of exceeding goals but, as the media’s vocabulary said, this pandemic was unprecedented.  CE&O’s associate provost was instrumental in allowing CE&O to operate independently to meet the pandemic’s challenges  

What is the future of training and consulting at Troy CE&O?  In a staff huddle, this question has been discussed.  As Director of CE&O, I foresee the use of virtual and in-person services becoming optional for any future client, as we are currently customizing and modifying client services. Though we cannot maintain the number of free seminars we conducted for communities, companies, non-profits, and government agencies, we will continue to offer services each year at no cost for one or two non-profits.  We will continue a combination of pandemic market efforts along with our traditional marketing plan.  I also see executive coaching becoming more of a virtual service for the benefit of and cost effectiveness it affords to clients.  Though we have always conducted national and international coaching virtually, clients who were seen in person tended to enjoy virtual sessions. CE&O instructors, staff and administrative employees have always been innovative and forward-looking.  The pandemic presented an accelerated opportunity to expand offerings.  In the long run, as is the case with most continuing education departments, the revenue supports the university with whom they are associated.  As Chancellor of Troy University, Dr. Jack Hawkins says, “Troy leads the nation in many aspects.”  CE&O contributes to this leadership. 

John F. Kennedy said, “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each another.”   Many speakers have utilized this quote in leadership talks.  However, it became more personal to Troy CE&O because we do not just say it–we do it.  To remain a leader in Alabama and the nation for high-quality education and diverse instructors, we must stay open to change, oriented towards learning, and adaptable to demands.  Whether in a pandemic or not, continuing education departments must be learners first if they are to be leaders in this industry.

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