Kilgore College may not be a Disney theme park, but that is not stopping the junior college from learning a few things from the corporation.
As the meat of the college’s spring convocation began Monday in Dodson Auditorium, a familiar tune could be heard over the speakers as “Heigh-Ho” from “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” began playing and their Kilgore College counterparts walked out of the wings holding signs over their heads.
Each sign coordinated with one of the seven characteristics displayed in the miners: (Be) Happy, (Be like) Sneezy, (Don’t be) Bashful, (Be like) Doc, (Don’t be) Grumpy, (Be like) Sleepy and (Don’t be) Dopey.
As explained by Manny Almanza, KC coordinator of marketing and outreach services: “Make eye contact and smile… Greet and welcome each other and greet and welcome each and every customer. Spread the spirit of hospitality; it’s contagious… Seek out customer contact… Provide immediate service recovery… Always display appropriate body language at all times… Create dreams and preserve the magical customer experience… Thank each and every customer.”
Kilgore College President Brenda Kays introduced the theme for convocation and the semester: radical hospitality, the college’s “commitment to be the higher education institution of choice in Northeast Texas.” She and the college’s four vice presidents each presented one of five tenants of radical hospitality.
We commit to smile
We commit to answering questions patiently and to asking extra questions for understanding
We commit to treating others as unique individuals
We commit to serving as ushers, not gatekeepers
We commit to partnering with our students and other customers
“We must never forget that students have a choice of where they decide to invest their tuition dollars. There are 11 institutions of higher education within a reasonable commute to Kilgore, Texas… I’ve been advised that KC can’t compete with those 11 postsecondary institutions, especially those who offer many more amenities than what we do; however, I beg to differ. I simply don’t buy that,” Kays said.
While she acknowledged some people might be uncomfortable thinking of students as customers, Kays added that is the “new normal” in higher education.
“Millennials are changing the way that we do business. They are looking for quicker answers. They’re looking for answers off of their mobile phones and their tablets, and they don’t want to respond to and interact with us any way but via technology. They expect the mobility that they have in their everyday lives to be reflected in their educational experience, any time, any place,” she said. “Whether we call it customer service or excellence in teaching or the student experience, it’s all about putting the learner at the center of our operations. What we need to remember is that customer service, at its heart, really means developing an exceptional student experience.”
KC employees have to start entertaining the idea of creating an enrollment period in which a student can submit their transcript, fill out financial aid paperwork, go through advising and orientation and register all within two or three hours.
Kays quoted Maya Angelou stating, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Vice President of Institutional Planning Staci Martin reminded the employees they may talk to students or parents on their first time on a college campus or first time to interact with someone from a college. Although the employee might have answered the same question many time, this might be the first time that student or parent has asked.
Coming back from the holiday season, newest vice president, Fred Gore, vice president of administrative services and chief financial officer, used an example of Christmas cookies to demonstrate how to meet students’ needs.
Each year Gore makes decorated cookies in the shapes of Christmas trees, stars and snowmen with cinnamon candies for buttons. After he finishes them, though, he starts getting feedback.
“Didn’t you make Texas Christmas cookies? … Didn’t you do any snowmen without Red Hots? … You know what the reaction inside you is: ‘Well you could make your own Christmas cookies,’” he said.
The same principle of customizing Christmas cookies can be applied to students who may not fit within the practices and procedures generally used at KC. Those policies and procedures should be in place, he said, but the employees need to know when it might not best fit a student’s situation.
“We are playing a part in preparing individuals for their lives after they leave the halls of KC. Every student who chooses to further their education here deserves that we consider creative solutions with them if they don’t fit our policies and procedures the best,” Gore said. “That might mean more effort for us, more time, demand more patience, but it’s the very least that we can do treating them as the unique individuals that they are.”
Kilgore College employees, Vice President of Student Development Mike Jenkins said, are to bring students into the world of higher education and help them reach their goals – not to only open the gate for certain people or types of students.
“We make this commitment with a full understanding that we, KC, we are the bridge from where a student is today to their desired goals. Therefore our job is to find a way to say yes; to make the path into and through Kilgore College one that is easily understood and easily navigated,” he said.
How KC communicates and engages with its students must change also as Jenkins noted current generations of students prefer to communicate via text or email with face-to-face and phone being their least favorite forms of interaction.
Vice President of Instruction Mike Turpin told the employees the college must adjust work with the students to help meet their needs. KC has also created partnerships with area universities to develop pathways for Kilgore College transfers and graduates.
KC graduate Nathan Essary, who first spoke to guests at fall’s scholarship luncheon, addressed the employees. Discussing his stepping stones of overcoming dyslexia, learning to read, enrolling in Kilgore College’s GED program and then beginning classes at KC, Essary took the Dodson Auditorium stage a week before starting classes at Texas A&M Commerce.
One of Essary’s greatest accomplishments at Kilgore College, he told the group, was being inducted by Jason Graves into the English honors society, Sigma Kappa Delta.
“I want to say, ‘I am KC,’ but I don’t feel that’s appropriate anymore because I’ve graduated, but I’m the product of KC,” he concluded. “I’m the product of all y’all’s hard work. I’m so blessed to have y’all in my life, and to know that y’all have impacted me and pushed me forward to the next stepping stone. I would like to say, thank y’all very much.”