‘Shark Tank’-style Event Allowed Staff Chance to Suggest Improvements to College
Jackie Koerbel and Sheila Levings both admitted they were nervous before they took a turn presenting their projects at the College of Southern Maryland’s (CSM) Hawk Tank Pitch Contest. The inaugural event held at the college’s La Plata Campus on March 23 was a chance for CSM staff and employees to share ideas of ways to improve the college, after which a panel of judges and the audience chose the best.
“Both of us speak a lot to people, but this is quite different,” said Levings, who is the Health Sciences nursing retention coordinator at the college.
“You’re a lot more aware of who’s out there,” said Koerbel, a CSM Allied Health Advisor, referring to CSM President Maureen Murphy and the room full of college vice presidents and other decision-makers. “I’m just hoping that the PowerPoint works.”
Koerbel’s pitch for “Triaging Advising Process,” a plan to increase access to consistent information to students by embedding academic advisors within each of the college’s academic divisions, was the first of 14 pitches in the contest. The idea won immediate murmurs of approval from the tables of spectators.
Levings went seventh and used her allotted three minutes to suggest the college foster the ongoing development of its nursing students’ education by creating a guided career path from Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) to an associate degree in nursing and on to becoming a registered nurse. The idea, which was co-developed with Lori Proctor, director of healthcare in CSM’s Continuing Education section, stemmed from student survey results. Levings and Proctor plan suggested integrating CSM’s CNA students in a cohort “that supports and encourages additional education” would benefit the students’ work opportunities and assist the state with its nursing shortage.
Other ideas pitched included: ways to better acknowledge staff contributions, implementing more targeted marketing strategies, designing gardens friendly to pollen collectors as part of an effort to become an official “Bee Campus,” offering a stipend to employees who choose their spouse’s health insurance over the college plan, marketing CSM gift cards for college programs, including more digital ways to access student services to accommodate the tech-reliant Gen Z students, and hosting community days where residents could learn more about the college and their community at the same time.
“I’m excited at the diversity of ideas that’s coming forward,” Murphy said in her introduction of the event, noting the value of “creating a climate where people can take risks safely and bounce ideas off one another … Innovation is really, really important.”
The panel of nine judges was made up of volunteers or invitees from across CSM’s four campuses and varied services.
The judges selected the pitch by Assistant Vice President of Student Services Regina Bowman-Goldring on “Classification of Students for Enrollment and Marketing Enhancements” as the top winner. Bowman-Goldring’s idea, which was also designed by Health Sciences Outreach Director Helene Cameron, pointed out that CSM has programs that apply to residents at every stage of their lives — from the Children’s Learning Center and CSM Kids’ and Teen College for younger people, dual enrollment programs for high school students, credit and certificate programs for working age people and personal enrichment classes that are appropriate to seniors and all adult age groups.
Bowman-Goldring and Cameron suggested ways for the college to let participants in any of these programs know what is available next in “the pipeline” for them.
For second-place, the judges selected an idea pitched by Lead Web Services Director Kristen Titsworth, “Making Student Services More Accessible.” The idea, which also came from Web Applications Manager Cindy Breck, suggested that the college consider how to better provide services for CSM students who were born after 1995, known as Gen Z or iGen. “They are the true digital natives,” Titsworth said, adding, “email, while still necessary, is outdated” for this group.
For its No. 1 choice, the audience picked an idea presented by Registrar Carol Harrison and Lead Executive Assistant for Advancement Toni Kruszka. Harrison and Kruszka noted that CSM already has an annual excellence award for one faculty member and one adjunct faculty. There should be an annual award for staff excellence, too. “Toni and I believe we have outstanding staff, and they deserve to be recognized also,” Harrison said.
The audience had a tie for second place, including Koerbel’s pitch for “Triaging Advising Process” and one by Enrollment Advisor Tori Pasini about “Optimizing Meetings and Information Dissemination.”
Pasini noted that CSM offers so much to the community — more than 100 credit and degree programs, workforce training, personal enrichment and a growing variety of youth and family programs. To help alert college employees to new programs, new options and other changes, Pasini suggested a single monthly meeting where everyone could participate via web conferencing and “all information will be shared in the same location,” she said.
“I was wowed by my colleagues who pitched their ideas,” said Lead Executive Assistant Kim Yellman, chief organizer of the event with the College Innovation Team that initiated the contest idea. “Our first Hawk Tank Pitch Contest went well thanks to everyone who participated, including our voluntary judges and audience members. I’m looking forward to reviewing all the ideas again and seeing what can be implemented.”
“Regardless of who won the most votes, all these ideas will be vetted. The President’s Council will take a look at this,” Murphy said at the event’s conclusion. “I was very, very impressed. It takes a lot of guts for people to stand up here and pitch their idea.”
The idea behind CSM’s Hawk Tank Pitch Contest is consistent with Murphy’s approach to leadership. The president of the college since July, Murphy began her tenure with a lengthy listening tour. She visited all four campuses, sitting down with the employees of individual departments, and, while taking copious notes, listened to what they said about the work that department did, the particular challenges the department faces and the employees’ ideas for improvement.
“During the listening sessions, we heard incredible ideas from all across the college community,” Murphy said. “The College Innovation Team’s work with the Hawk Tank Pitch Contest makes it possible for everyone to hear these great ideas. It’s a way to celebrate our employees’ creativity and find ways for making the College of Southern Maryland even better.”
Vice President of Advancement Michelle Goodwin agrees. “If we are not a culture that embraces and cultivates innovative ideas that and challenge our paradigms, processes and thoughts, then we will find ourselves falling behind instead of competing in an exciting and ever-changing landscape and environment in higher education and in the world,” Goodwin said. “Think big and be bold.”
CSM administrators’ acknowledgement of the value of employees’ ideas comes through, both Koerbel and Levings said. “I definitely think [the pitch contest] is taken seriously,” Koerbel said. “I think they’re looking for ways to do new and different things, and they know they have people here who care about CSM.”
“We know how important it is for the students who come here to get what they need,” Levings said. “I’ve worked a lot of places, and it’s really obvious here — the level of participation of staff employees. This is a chance to enhance the educational process.”
For information on CSM, visit www.csmd.edu.