Pedagogo Podcast S4E5 with Guest Craig Pepin

Pedagogo S4E5: Community Building in Professional Higher Ed Organizations

Hear Dr. Divya Bheda’s discussion with Dr. Craig Pepin about the role that community plays for professional organizations in higher education. Learn about the opportunities and responsibilities higher ed professionals share in supporting the shared mission and vision of their community.

Guest Bio:

Dr. Craig Pepin is a Professor and Assistant Dean for Assessment in the Core Division at Champlain College, and Lead Faculty in the Champlain’s new Degree Design Lab. He is also serving a second term as President of the New England Educational Assessment Network (NEean). He earned a Ph.D. in European History from Duke University, with a special interest in the History of Higher Education. Teaching interdisciplinary, inquiry-driven courses at Champlain led him to the importance of integrative learning in developing students who can think broadly and synthetically, and in particular, to the intersection between integrative thinking and assessment. Most recently, his research and praxis has focused on competency-based education, particularly in a general education context.

Transcript:

Announcer:
Pedagogo. The podcast for anyone and everyone in higher education.

In today’s episode, we’ll explore the role of community for professional organizations in higher ed. We’ll discuss what it takes to make space for innovation while supporting a shared mission and achieving shared goals as a community.

Pedagogo. Brought to you by ExamSoft, the digital assessment solution that gives you actionable data for improved learning outcomes. When assessment matters, ExamSoft has you covered.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Hello, everyone. I’m so excited to have Dr. Craig Pepin with us. Thank you, Craig, for making time for this conversation. It’s gonna be an exciting one and I’m looking forward to it.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Thank you so much, Divya. I’m looking forward to it as well. Thank you for the invite.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
So, my first question to all my guests this season is, why is community and community building important in today’s world for educators?

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Yeah. You know, I thought about this a lot and, um, I think that, you, you included the clause for educators in there. And I think that’s really important because I think in many ways, education feels more under threat today than it has in the past or at least in-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Mm-hmm.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… my 20-plus years of being in education it feels that way. It’s increasingly becoming a national issue in K-12 schools. Um, it’s become part of the culture wars and then of course, the financial pressures on so many institutions because of COVID. And it’s sort of changing higher education landscape.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
I think for all those reasons community building is just so much more important now today, even more so than it was before because there’s so many challenges and it’s so easy to feel isolated out there. So, that’s why I think it is particularly important today.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Thank you for sharing that, that context because I hadn’t thought of it before but you’re absolutely right. When we have all of these challenges that we’re facing there is a time that we need to engage, possibly come together to engage in some collective action. And that requires various forms of community or collective being towards working towards a particular goal. So I, I really appreciate that context. So with that, I wanted to ask you if you could share a quick overview of NEean and how it came to be and where it is today for our listeners because I know we’ll be talking a lot about NEean. And I wanted to set that up before we get into it.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Yeah, thanks. So the New England Educational Assessment Network is actually 26 years old now. It’s one of the oldest. Um, we’d like to say the oldest although we’ve never fully verified it-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
(laughs)

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… uh, a regional assessment group and in the United States. And so, it was originally started back in the ’90s. The idea was that they wanted to provide, uh, a place where people who had newly important assessment responsibilities or at their institution or, had maybe not a position in there but still had to do something with assessment could find ways to sort of exchange ideas with each other, provide support for each other. and so, um-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
And build community together bas- … (laughs)

Dr. Craig Pepin:
And build community of course, yes.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Build, yes. No, everything that you’re saying is the community building, right?

Dr. Craig Pepin:
100%.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yes.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
So for roughly the first 20 years of its life, NEean was really primarily characterized by in-person events.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Mm-hmm.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
And so they started with an annual conference, the Fall Forum and when that proved to be successful, the added a few more, Dialogues in the Disciplines, which is primarily aimed at faculty. And trying to talk about assessment in particular disciplines was the original vision for it. Then they added a Summer Institute, which was designed for a retreat atmosphere for teams, where NEean board members and others would sort of serve as consultants, free consultants essentially.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Oh, that’s nice.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
And, and so when I joined the NEean board about six years ago, sort of the rhythm of the board was pretty much determined by these three events.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Mm-hmm.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
And so that pretty much characterized most of our activity. Uh, the other thing is that we started a journal-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Okay.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… a scholarly peer reviewed journal-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Nice.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… uh, with Penn State Press to also again, provide sort of an outlet for scholarship. So there are a few other things going on as well. And we would talk about various things that we had hoped to do. But really it was those in-person events that drove the community building and the sense of relationship building that, that NEean was trying to, to build.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Learning assessment specifically really drove, you know, certainly the early founders of NEean because they saw, we, we should be doing this regardless of where there’s accreditation-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… pressures, right?

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
We really want to know.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Mm-hmm.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Honestly, we have a moral obligation to know if our students are learning.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Absolutely.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
And, and so I think that it was not just the accreditation, which comes around every 10 years or every five years and there’s often lulls in between then but the people who really gravitated to NEean were the people who saw the value in doing it for improvement to-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… see if we’re meeting the promises that we’re making to our students essentially. So I think that was part of sort of the common purpose of NEean.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yeah.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Um-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
The shared vision and shared goal of folks coming together.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… which-
Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yeah, thank you.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… is so important, yeah.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yeah.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Yeah, which is so important to community building. And so that was the energy that sustained NEean.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Mm-hmm.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Um, but really until COVID hit, we weren’t, we really weren’t pressured to sort of rethink our models or rethink our, our ways of building community and networking until COVID hit. And all of a sudden-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… just like everybody else, you know, we had a conference scheduled for the end of March 2020.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Mm-hmm.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
That obviously went away.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
And we were faced with like, “Well, we have this mission. We believe it’s important. We want to s- maintain this community as best we can. How do we do that? How do we meet our mission?” And that like so many other people sort of forced us into these entirely new venues.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Uh, and moving into those new venues really got us to start rethinking a bit about, you know, what are the ways we can build community in this new networked, uh, and network I mean, like, you know, over the internet basically-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Virtual, yes. Yes. (laughs)

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… virtually, in this new virtual world? What, what can we do that will be relevant and helpful for our members but also the assessment community as a whole?
Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.
Dr. Craig Pepin:
And that really pushed us to start thinking about channels for reaching people that did not require in person but that also meant that we could reach across the country-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Mm-hmm.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… uh, to, even to other countries. We have a affiliated board member now from Mexico. We had a number of international attendees at our last Fall Forum. So-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Nice.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… all of a sudden, you know, it still says New England in the name-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… but we had to sort of think about, “Okay, but we’re not just New England anymore- (laughs)

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… and what does that mean?” Before we’d see the same faces at the Fall Forum and sometimes at Dialogues or in the Summer Institute. And so there was these familiar names and faces from other schools. And it was great to get to catch up with them at those times. And of course, if you were on the board, then we were meeting in person, uh-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… five times a year, five, six times a year. And so-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… we did board also and there were just 12 board members at that point, would sort of build this sort of very, very tight network. And bond with each other.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Again, with a shared vision and so one of the things that we’ve been doing, is trying to expand the volunteer opportunities, expand beyond just the board members. And look for ways to sort of harness the volunteer energy that’s out there for people who care about assessment and want to be in contact with other people who care about the same things.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
As I’m listening to you, two things actually. So one, is how you talked about the changing composition of the members because of COVID and the changing modality, right? So communities can evolve and communities will evolve. Participation will change. And the question is, even a vision and a mission can also change. And the question is whether the group as a whole is moving in a unified direction, whoever the participants may be.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Rethinking constantly and the need to constantly check in saying, “Is this who we are? Is this what we still want to do? Is this where we want to go?” And I think what I have seen of the last year of your leadership with NEean, you brought in a lot of interesting programming really focused educational programming that can serve audiences beyond the New England area. I’m guessing that, that was intentional again, to be of service, so that assessment can serve everyone in the best way possible for continuous improvement and student success.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
And in some ways we’ve sort of stumbled into a larger audience. So I wouldn’t say our mission has changed all that much-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… except geographically. So that’s why I think it, it was easy for us to say, “Well, we’re gonna do this differently.” And I, first I don’t think we really thought too extensively about how this represented ways of reaching new audiences. It wasn’t-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Mm-hmm.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… really our intention. It was just we wanted to continue to be a service to New England.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
And if you look at some of our very early podcasts, one of the first podcasts… In fact, the first podcast we did was a interview with the outgoing president of NECHE, which again, very New England focus and if you’re not in-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… NECHE area, why would you want to talk to or hear what she has to say?

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
But then we did a series on equity in assessments and all of, you know, we published it widely ’cause we wanted to let people know about it. And all-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Mm-hmm.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… of a sudden like wow, we’re getting a lot of people from around the country.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
And so all of a sudden, it’s not just the same old faces we were seeing. But and, and-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… so the mission hasn’t changed. It’s the audience has changed.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right, right. Building on what you shared about you all thinking through now, how do we capitalize or how do we support interest in volunteering in the group, in the professional community in NEean, what is or should be the purpose and commitment of professional communities, especially on the other end, now that we’re on the other end of COVID?

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Yeah. I don’t think again, I don’t think the mission’s changed substantially. And I’m thinking not just of NEean but of any-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… any professional organization in higher ed.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
What has changed is that there is a clear need to make really good use of the tools that are now available and much more widely accepted, whereas before, uh, you know, Zoom certainly existed before.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Um, but it’s become much more normalized now and so-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… I think the purposes don’t really change all that much. You know, you have disciplinary organizations, AIR is another good example. AAC&U, so-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… their purposes don’t really change but I think they really have to redouble their commitments. We have to redouble our commitments to trying to reach people now because these tools are even more important, not just because COVID has really changed the name of the game but also the financial restraints are increasing.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
And, whereas, 10 years ago, there was plenty of money in budgets to fly to San Diego for a conference or to Los Angeles or Orlando or Washington D.C. or whatever. I think that a lot of those resources, as budgets have tightened, as enrollments are dropping or they’re shifting to other modalities, it’s that much more important to continue to serve the communities by providing them with outlets that are relatively low cost.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yeah.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
And certainly that’s the thing we’ve really seen is that the overall budget that we have is-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Mm-hmm.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… significantly less. But we’re providing many, many more opportunities because we’re just able to do them at a much lower cost.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
What you’re sharing is such a great point because what comes up for me is, you know, in the olden days like you said, you’d go to a conference. You’d meet people in person. It was the one time of, in the year you’d get to connect, talk about ideas. But then now, with these new modalities you can have these sustained conversations and sustained action that you can engage in.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
And so would you say part of community building or sustaining communities is about that collective action and staying in sustained conversation? So when you have sustained conversation there is, it opens up the door for better collaboration, better collective action. So how would you say for NEean that work has changed?

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Oh, how has work changed? I think, um, well, for one thing, I, and I think this is true for a lot of others as well, really miss the in-person component.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Mm-hmm.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
And so, we’re really looking to now do much more sort of hybrid events. And we’re also looking to try to get the board together in person, the board and the volunteers together in person, which has been a real challenge. It seems like we had several in-person meetings scheduled for this past year and each one turned out to be perfectly timed to coincide with a surge. So-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… you know, we had one in September and then Delta hit. We had one in January, then Omicron hit. Like, “Ugh.” Each time.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
How, how has participation or engagement changed in the community, if it has changed at all?

Dr. Craig Pepin:
I think it’s become harder because although the virtual networking does allow for much wider reach, I think there’s also important things that are missing.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
I think the ability to have those sort of hallway conversations, to just sort of run into people in the hallway, sort of-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… serendipitously, right?

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yeah.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
So much in, in virtual conferences, so much needs to be planned out and so-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Mm-hmm.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… one of the ways we’ve tried to address that is by trying to host these sort of virtual happy hours.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Mm-hmm.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Where we encourage people to show up and it can be tough at the end of a long day (laughs) of conference going to like-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… “Ah, I got to go back on Zoom.” But we try to do it in such a way that it’s really fun. We sort of create the opportunities to those, for those hallway conversations by creating these sort of small groups. It’s like, “All right. We’re gonna put people in a random, randomly, we’re gonna put you in a small group with four other people. And-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… you know, you can talk for 20 minutes and share things.” And we might, we’ll try to give an icebreaker. But we really want people just the opportunity to, to really connect with each other as best they can over sort of the virtual world. So, we-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yeah. That’s such a great point that you make because I notice that a lot of times, when I get such invitations to just hang out, you think, “That’s not the best use of my time. I have 15 other deliverables that I could spend the time on.” I, you know? (laughs)

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Exactly.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Uh, so I’m not, I’ve got to prioritize that. And in the rare occasions that I do go to these any kind of just, you know, let’s hang out. Let’s just get to know each other, right? Any of those, and especially in the professional organizations when they, when they set these things up, when I go in there, I leave with such a feeling of community, such a feeling of, “Oh, there are people like me.”

Dr. Divya Bheda:
And then you get to know them on that human level. It’s just like a hallway conversation. You get to know the full person and then that builds that relationship to a point where then you feel you can reach out to them about something or about life or about, “Can you help me with this?” I found that for all our listeners (laughs) take it from me-

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Yeah.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
… uh, but, take that time to, to prioritize actually going and being in community with no purpose, with no agenda, with no, “Uh, we have to work and finish this goal.” because what I have found over the last two years of community building virtually, is that there’s so much nourishment that comes. And I’m sure, Craig, you could talk to this as well. Like there’s so much personal nourishment that comes from being in a space where we’re just talking and connecting as human beings. And not, “Okay, we have to get this done.” right?

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Absolutely.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yes. (laughs)

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Yeah, absolutely and I think this is one of the strengths that NEean had when I, even when I first joined. So the board meetings would be, uh, from 10:00 to 2:00. So it was-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… a fairly large chunk of time. And we-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… would drive from all over. I drove from Northern Vermont-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Mm-hmm.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… so it was usually about a four-hour or three and half-hour round trip to go to these things.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
But, you know, I’d show up, I’d see these other people and we’d always open a meeting by just going around and asking, “So, what’s the latest from you? What’s going on, on your campus? What’s going on in your personal life?” And so we’d take maybe the first 20, 25 minutes of the meeting-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Mm-hmm.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… just talking to each other about, “Hey, here’s what’s going on. Oh, my gosh. We lost our president.” Or, “My daughter is doing really well and here’s what she’s up to.” Or, “We just moved.” and, and, you know.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yeah, life.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Um, and that … Life, yeah. And, and, and, um, it’s, it’s, that is, that was so powerful and that time was so built into the board meetings. And then of course, 10:00 to 2:00, so we’d break for lunch. And there’d be more time for chatting over lunch. And I realized that, as I was thinking about this, uh, talking with you that we sort of switched board meetings to two-hour Zoom meetings.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
And we’ve started to not do that as much because we feel the pressure. It’s like, “We’ve only got two hours. We’ve got to get all this stuff done.” People have other commitments. Sometimes they can make it. Sometimes they can’t. So we’ve been sort of skipping that increasingly over the last four or five board meetings. And, you know, just thinking about when you asked me to do this. And I started to think about the topic, I started to realize like, “Oh, my gosh. We, we have to bring that back.”

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yes.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
We can’t afford to lose that because I-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yeah.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… think that’s part of the thing that made people feel really connected.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
And then once we had shared these either challenges we were facing professionally or, “Oh, my gosh. I’m trying to talk these faculty members into doing X, Y, Z.” or whatever it is. And that was the other thing that bonded us was we also, not only had a shared vision and a common goal but we were also facing very similar challenges.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
And so even just being able to vent about it even if you couldn’t-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… it wasn’t an automatic solution that somebody else could suggest, although, we did get many solutions, I did.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Um, just that was another way to really sort of build that sense of community and while I’m facing this challenge at my school and there’s so many of us who are sort of lone operators. There’s one learning assessment director. Or maybe it’s a two-person shop or, you know, you’re the faculty member who’s trying to organize the gen ed assessment or whatever it is, it can feel really lonely. And to, and to know that other people are like feeling similar challenges, facing similar challenges and frustrated by them as well.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right. A- as you’re talking, the parallel that immediately comes up is, a lot of times when I go and consult with clients or when I go and consult in the higher ed space, I’ll ask folks, “You know, how much time?” because I’m all for assessment, for continuous improvement. And I constantly make the case that if you’re doing assessment for continuous improvement, you’re fulfilling the accreditor’s demands.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
That’s what they want to see ’cause that’s the commitment they want to see to the communities that you’re serving. So when I go into these conversations I’ll say, “So how much time are you spending in your curricular meetings talking about assessment for continuous improvement or using the data for continuous improvement or reviewing your teaching and learning practices or your curriculum? How much time are you really focused on student learning and success?”

Dr. Divya Bheda:
And folks would say, and not on committee, like this has to go through committee in the next two days. And this deadline has come up. And like the procedural, we have to get stuff done. And so what makes me nervous now as I’m listening to you is, yes. Like all through Zoom, we’re getting to again, task-oriented community building instead of relationship building because again, we’re getting pressed for time. So what gets lost in there when pressed for time is that relationship building piece because we think that’s not important, when actually that should be the cornerstone of any work that we do.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
And so all, everyone will say, “We don’t have time. We have a one-hour committee meeting, curricular meeting once a month and we have to get so much done during that time.” But that’s the only time that folks come together. That’s the only time you can be in a space together across the whole program or across disciplines or whatever it is. And so again, listeners, if there are, if there’s times that-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
… you’re coming together as a committee or as a group for action, especially over Zoom, more so now than ever, please make time for checking in with each other as human beings because I think that will nourish you. And energize you for the work that has to get done. So we need to reprioritize our time.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
So I realize that I didn’t ask you, what is community to you and is community the same as networking?

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Yeah. I’d like to take the second one first actually.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Okay.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Um-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yes.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… I, I, because I don’t think they’re the same thing. I think they have-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Mm-hmm.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… different goals so if you’re-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Mm-hmm.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… and to me, networking is more individualistic. In other words-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… you, you sort of engage in networking for your own particular purposes-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Got it.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… if that makes sense?

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yes.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
And so there’s some overlap there where you’re trying to build some relationships but it’s not the same as building community ’cause the main difference there is that community is a place where people have a sort of shared sense of purpose, a shared sense of identity.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Mm-hmm.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Um, and that is not necessarily the same in networking so-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… I- if I was going to conferences to explicitly network. And I hand out my cards. I hope I’m gonna meet people. But then, networking could lead to community building but it’s not the, not the same thing. So-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Wonderful.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… it’s that shared sense of purpose, that shared sense of identity-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Common goals, that really that’s what characterizes community, so.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yeah. That’s beautifully said. Thank you, so much for sharing that. So, what are some challenges to building and sustaining community? And how do you build community when there is so much difference? We already, we started off with a context.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Mm-hmm. I think the biggest challenge and the biggest way to overcome challenges of difference-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Mm-hmm.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… are civility and transparency.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Mm-hmm.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
And so I, um-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Beautifully put, thank you. Yeah.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
It really is civility and transparency

Dr. Craig Pepin:
So the problem is and the challenge is that often there are real issues. And I was just listening to an interview of someone who, uh, writing a book or publishing a book called Against Civility. (laughs)

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Mm-hmm.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
And the argument was essentially like change doesn’t happen- (laughs)

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Mm-hmm.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… only by being civil because being civil can sort of mask the inequities that need to be challenged. And I, I-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… totally get that. (laughs)

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yes.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Um, but at the same time, I don’t think you’ll be able to overcome these differences unless you’re able to start a conversation.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
And so when there’s so much difference, you have to build that level of trust and build that level of community.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
You’re never gonna overcome the difference unless you’re able to talk. And you’re able to hold conversations.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
And it starts with civility. And it starts with respecting viewpoints that are different from yours. And trying to understand where those viewpoints come from. There’s less sort of political differentiation within, you know, the assessment community that I know of but then again, there’s probably more variation there that I simply don’t know about because-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… we feel it’s not really relevant to the goals of the organization.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
I think that the other challenge and this is when I became president of NEean. The thing that I really did want to change is I wanted to make the organization a little bit more transparent. I wanted the elections to be more open, so it was more clear who could be nominated. And who could not be nominated. When I was on the board, it was a great board.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
I was very lucky to be on the board but the elections could have been more transparent. You have to be open with people about, “Here’s what the organization is doing and here’s what we’d like to do.” And there will be differences of opinion. Certainly we have disagreements at board meetings. We decide by voting on it-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… clearly but in terms of building and sustaining community, I think those are the two things that are just so important. And it’s true of really any community whether it’s your neighborhood, whether it’s your professional organization, whether it’s the college that you work at, those two things I think it, it starts with them, so.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yeah. Great points. Thank you, for sharing. And so building on that question and your response, how do you structure and organize communities for action and impact? So whether it’s institutional communities or communities like NEean, professional communities, what are the best practices so to speak that come-

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Oh.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
… to mind for you?

Dr. Craig Pepin:
You know I’m just a-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Do I have a whole day? Is that, is that, uh … (laughs)

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Well, I’m not even sure I’m the best person to ask. I’m just a professor of history who stumbled into this leadership position who’s doing the best he can. Honestly, you know, I, I never had training in any of this stuff. I try to start with certain basic principles. And if I had to add one more to civility and transparency it’d be empathy.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
I think there’re also challenges depending on the size of the organization and the, and the community.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
NEean has grown somewhat bigger. We created a new category called the Affiliated Board Member who basically participate in board meetings and volunteer and do everything except vote on, vote on the issues, right?

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Mm-hmm.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
So we will have to change our constitution at, at some point. And so one other way we’ve evolved is to meet less often as a board because we used to just, the board did everything-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Mm-hmm.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… right? And we’d get together at these meetings. We’d hammer out, “Okay, what’s the conference theme gonna be next year? What are we gonna do with membership rates? You know, uh, how are we gonna come up with, you know … How are we gonna support the, the journal?” all these different things. And the board met collectively and decided everything. And we, we’ve tried to do has, evolved a little bit more, so we have more of a committee structure.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
So the board still meets. Obviously, it meets a little bit less often and we try to have more committee meetings. So it’s smaller groups of people-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… uh, four or five or six as opposed to the 12, plus the eight or 10 affiliated board members depending on who comes to a board meeting.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
So we just had to be but I think, we’ve retained our structure of being even more open, uh, as transparent as we can be. But also being a very flat structure. And I think it’s really the community building that enables that flat structure. But it’s harder to maintain that at a larger organization.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right. And as I’m listening to you I’m thinking of all the conversations that I’ve had. And the research that I’ve done into how different organizations are set up. And I think what comes up is, it can be hierarchical. It can be flat but from a interaction, powerplay, decision-making space. There needs to be flexibility and there needs to be actually openness. And like you said transparency and distribution of power. If it’s very hierarchical in terms of roles and it’s also hierarchical in decision-making and power then there’s less opportunity for community building in terms of everyone having a voice, in terms of-

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Mm-hmm.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
… in terms of everyone there then the responsibility falls more on leadership to make sure that the organization is driven in a direction. And has a sense of community so they’re messaging becomes really important. In the other conversations that I’ve had, it comes up. It’s like, “How do we check for power? How do we allow for different viewpoints to have same weight, same value in any conversation in driving decision-making.” So any other thoughts that come to mind?

Dr. Craig Pepin:
I guess, you know, when I was a young academic, I was convinced that the power of ideas were sufficient to make change happen.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Mm-hmm.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
And so at, at, at Champlain College, we attempted radical transformation of our gen ed program about, about 15 years ago. It was driven by a president who really had this idea, this vision he wanted to achieve. And he asked faculty across campus to come up with ideas. He said, “Blue sky thinking, what are really innovative things that we could do?”

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
So I was super excited about this. I was involved in like two separate of the working groups and, um, the ideas we came up with were really amazing. But then you’ve got to get all of the faculty together to collectively agree on something.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Mm-hmm.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
And it’s so easy for things to get watered down.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
And I was so convinced that the power of the ideas was enough. And I was new at the institution. I only had been there about a year and a half when we went through this thing.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right, right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… um, that I got very strident and was actually thought of as not very collegial as a matter of (laughs) fact by-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… my colleagues because I was convinced we should do this. Why can’t we do this?

Dr. Craig Pepin:
So what it really brought home to me is that, you may not always overcome the sort of differences but if you have relationships-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Mm-hmm.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… that are built up over time, it was the people who had been there for 10 years, for 12 years, for 15 years-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… who were able to sort of, “Well, here’s how we’re gonna try to get things done.”

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Mm-hmm.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
And that was one of the things that really started to bring home to me just the importance of community building at my own institution. So if we’re talking about my institution now-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… I think, you know, showing up to things is so important.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Um, just being there when your colleagues are presenting on something and it’s so much harder to do under COVID. But that’s where the relationship building really starts I think, so.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
… uh, that’s such a great point because, I see more and more the need in meetings for celebration. Where we celebrate one another the little things, the little wins, the accomplishments because it’s such a positive way in which again, it’s such an easy way to build relationships, meaningful relationships if we take the time, the two minutes to say, “I really appreciated this.” Or, “This was wonderful and I read this article.” ’cause that again, becomes relationship building without an agenda. I’m not saying, “This, do this.” So that you can, you know, that becomes a networking ploy, (laughs) right?

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Yeah.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Um, but from a community space where it’s saying, “Oh, I can see where you’re doing this and I’m doing this. And I can see a connection.” Or, “I learned a lot from what you did and that helped me act in this space a different way.”

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Yeah. So in, in communities-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yeah.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… right, you care about the other people in the community.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
And that’s again, a difference between communities and networking, whereas-
Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… networking is sort of our, like a use case there. (laughs)

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yeah.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
But for communities you care when other members of the community are successful.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yes.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
And you care because you care about them as individuals, not just because you have this shared purpose but because you feel connection to them in some way, shape or form.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yes.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
And so-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Beautifully put, yeah.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Right.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yeah. So you started talking about this. So you recently started a new program in Champlain. What is it about and how did community building help overcome the obstacles to getting it started? know you started alluding to this and, you know, I’d like to go deeper.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Yeah. So actually what I was talking about earlier was a comprehensive redesign of our general education system-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Mm-hmm.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… which we did 15 years ago.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Okay.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Um, but over the years, and it was completely interdisciplinary-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… which was one of the things that really drew me to it. I was like, “Well, that’s new. I’s not set in particular disciplines or it’s not a menu-driven gen ed system.”

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
When you’re in a community, you want to try to reach compromise because you don’t want to, um, upset the applecart. You don’t want to be seen as a non, you know, somebody who’s not there. And that’s one of the potential negatives of, of community-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Mm-hmm.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… is that it can be really hard to do something that’s truly different.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Like people don’t understand. And so about four years ago, we had the opportunity to pilot a new program. It was a build your own major-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Mm-hmm.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… basically, using the existing strengths that Champlain had in professional education.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
And also had a competency-based gen ed component.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Okay.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
So the idea was that this magnificent gen ed structure, this interdisciplinary genre, which I taught in for 12 years, which I’d liked on many, many levels, but I felt that there was something we could do a little bit differently in the world of competency-based education where we have these institutional learning outcomes. We call them our college competencies and they’re present in the curricular structure and in the curricular planning but they’re not really visible to the students. And the students-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… really didn’t know that much about them.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
And so in this new program I wanted to say, “Okay, I want to bring those front and center. So things like communication, collaboration, information literacy, inquiry, analytical thinking.” Those sorts of things. Uh-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… it sounds familiar to anyone who’s done institutional learning outcomes, no doubt. But we wanted to really make them front and center by basically making them the clear purpose of general education and also asking students to demonstrate proficiency in them as a condition of graduation, which really helps focus the students on coursework not as some hoop to jump through. Like, “Oh, I could take that second year of gen ed course and now I never have to think about it again.”

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
But rather as learning opportunities like, “Is this developing my competencies? Which ones am I developing?”

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yep. And how does it, how would I apply it in the real world? And-

Dr. Craig Pepin:
And how-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
… you know?

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Exactly.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yes.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
And how would I apply it in the real world? So, competency-based education’s pretty new. I mean, there’s some places that have been doing it for a long time. And it had a moment in the sun about four or five years ago when everybody was talking about it. It certainly was something that a lot of my colleagues found it very difficult to understand. Um, and they were very suspicious of it, “What does it mean for my program? What does it mean for the gen ed program that exists now?” Um, and so-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yeah. It’s like, uh, it’s an overhaul. You have to think of it like from a whole different angle, systemic change, yeah.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Yeah. So we could never do the wholesale change. Like we’re not gonna change the entire curriculum again to be this competency-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… based education.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Mm-hmm.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Um, so we instead, we’re just gonna do a pilot program. Let’s treat it as a standalone professional program where the students build their own major and they have this competency-based gen education spine.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Mm-hmm.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
But it, it threatened the identities of a lot of people at Champlain for different reasons. My colleagues in the general education sphere were pretty much threatened that our program was gonna be replaced for some students by this completely different program. And they didn’t know what that meant. And what it would look like.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right, right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Our colleagues in the professional programs were really skeptical of the idea of combining two different professional areas into one major. It took us a long time and a lot of meetings. And a lot of one-on-one chats over coffee explaining things to people, you know, that the number of times that I sort of explained the same thing over and over again before it finally people go, “Oh, I understand what you’re trying to do now.” (laughs)

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Mm-hmm.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Right?

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yeah.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
It was just a lot of sort of hostility to change. And when you’re in a community, the innovation can be really hard, right?

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yeah. Yeah.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Uh, unless-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
You make a great point, yes.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
So that was really where community building helped in. You know, it was the faculty. It was myself and three other faculty members who were gonna be the lead faculty in this new program. We did not have a program director ’cause we wanted to have a very flat organization within the program.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Uh, but, you know, most of us had been at the institution for over 10 years. And so, that meant that we already had reputations on campus of people who had worked together two of my colleagues had previously been presidents of faculty senate. So, there was some basis of trust that already existed-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… with a number of us. But it still took an awful lot of one-on-one meetings. And, you know, as I was saying and sort of build enough of a consensus where we could finally take it to curriculum committee, get it through faculty senate and finally start it up. So and we started up. The first year we had 10 students, we’re now in the second year. We have 19 students, which for a new program at a small college like Champlain is pretty good.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
That’s great.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
We’re pretty happy-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yeah.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… about that, so.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
I think the story that you just shared, highlights building trust aspect, building those relationship’s aspect. The importance of communication, clarification. And the point that you raise I don’t think I’ve ever heard it so well put before about it may- because community’s often a shared identity, a shared vision, a shared goal, when you want to take a 180 from it, maybe because the pathway that you see to the goal is different from what everyone else sees.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Or you want to approach it differently or you want to move in a whole new direction because that’s what you see as speaking to that mission or your interpretation of it. It can be really hard to get to build a community to move with you, and then when you go back to the point that you made about caring for your community then you are responsible and you are, in most situations you are committed in some ways or expected to bring that community along unless, you’re saying, “Okay. I, I don’t think that I can and so I think this community is no longer for me. And I have to find another space that I can call community. And move and identify with and move forward.” right? So, uh, it was just beautiful. Thank you, for sharing that experience and that example with us.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Yeah, and I’ll add one thing.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yes.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Yeah.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yeah.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
I’ll add one thing and that is, when you’re in a community-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Mm-hmm.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… you, uh, care about the other members of that community.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
And so if they feel threatened in some way, shape or form, you don’t want them to feel threatened.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yes.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Right?

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Absolutely.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
So again, that’s the danger that communities can prevent change from happening, prevent innovation. So-

Dr. Craig Pepin:
But at the same time, if you’ve built up a level of trust then perhaps they’re willing to give you the benefit of the doubt. And say, “Okay, well, I’m really worried about this but I trust you. You know, I, I see you. We get together socially once a month. Uh, I see you on campus. We get, we have lunch sometimes together or we all work at the same institution. Uh, and we want the institution to succeed.”

Dr. Craig Pepin:
And so in, in some ways that was one of the ways we had to try to move beyond this particular interest or identities with their special programs.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… they have identities that are rooted in those particular fields.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
But then they also have an identity that’s like, “Well, Champlain College, we want to see Champlain College succeed.” And we had to sort of appeal to that. It’s like, “Look, we’re gonna be able to reach students that Champlain has otherwise not really reached, we think. And provide them certain students that have been, we’ve lost at Champlain because of particular focus and structure of Champlain by providing them with an alternative. And reaching out to students who might have looked at Champlain but really didn’t want to commit to a major first semester, first year.”

Dr. Craig Pepin:
So appealing to that shared sort of emphasizing the identity of the community of Champlain.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Mm-hmm.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
And saying, “That’s where we, that’s what we share and that’s what we can do together.”

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
And that’s ultimately I think how we were able to get it through.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yeah. And what you’re saying is actually something that I haven’t heard before or at least for me, what it’s also saying is that there is an emotionality to it because you’re invested because you care. So the stakes are higher or you’re engaged in a different way with your whole human being, which can then also be frustrating because then, if you’re working in a way where you don’t feel supported in that community or you don’t feel everyone understands your vision or your direction.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
If you’re not able to get the group behind you, get the community to understand and align with what you’re trying to do for the community or with the community. Then you’re hurt that much more, you may want to disengage that much more. So there is an emotional element to it because you’re trying to be empathetic. You care. You’re invested in that relationship so, thank you. Thank you for sharing.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Yeah.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
I would say and there’s one other thing and that is if you have been embedded in a community for a long time-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Mm-hmm.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… it can be very, very difficult to leave that community.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
So because you’ve built those relationships and I’m thinking of a really a good friend of mine who was passed over for promotion and then sought a professional opportunity, uh, at another college-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Mm-hmm.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… administrative-level position.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Mm-hmm.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
They’d been at this one place for 16 years and had all these relationships. And had served in an interim position, in this administrative position. And thought that going to another school would allow them to like, “Oh, I’ll just do this same position at another school.” They found that by going to that other school, they were essentially starting from scratch. And…

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… all the relationships that they could sort of count on and the level of trust that they had built up at their previous institution did not exist at the new place.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
So there’s a pretty steep cost to-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… for, for institutional communities going from one to the other. It can be, it could be very challenging.
Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Um, and hard. I don’t think, you know, it would be much harder for me to do that- (laughs)

Dr. Divya Bheda:
No, and you raised these really, really good things to think about, which is so when we are making this change or transition or anything, we need to be thinking about what is that gonna take? What is building community in the new space gonna take? And I have to invest that energy and I have to account for that time. It’s not gonna be all rosy and, (laughs) uh, easy because I have the experience. I have the skill. All of that may be there, but you have to build up trust. You have to demonstrate transparency as you said.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
You have to show empathy. Show that you care. Build alignment over a common vision, so everything that you’ve said, that has to be done all over again. And that takes time, too. So thank you, Craig.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
So I have, uh, just a few more questions for you. So one is, is collaboration possible without community? What are some tools that people can use to build consensus, given your experience?

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Two questions, yes.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Two separate questions.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yes.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Let me take, uh, is collaboration possible without a community? It, it absolutely is. Um-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Mm-hmm.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… because collaboration is usually, particularly if it’s for a defined purpose, for a defined length of time.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
You don’t need to have community in order to have successful collaboration. And, I think anyways and I, I thought about this-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yeah, but both require relationship building though, right? Collaboration?

Dr. Craig Pepin:
I don’t, I don’t think it does. I mean I think collaboration can work better-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Can be task oriented, okay.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
It, it, it can-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yeah.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… be task oriented.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Um, and I think, I’ve thought about this in part because collaboration is one of our college competencies.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
And so we’re thinking about how to teach it. I’ve worked with faculty in the business school and in our game studio.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Mm-hmm.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
We have a really big game design program.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
And the game studio in particular, um, it’s very intensive. It has very intensive, collaborative spaces.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Mm-hmm.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
And they’ve thought long and hard about how to make collaboration successful.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Okay.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
In particular when you don’t necessarily, you know, it, it’s not people that you

Dr. Craig Pepin:
You don’t see them outside of work. You know, there may be a relationship there. There doesn’t have to be a relationship for collaboration to work.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
You do have to, you know, understand what the-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Communicate-

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… you get to communicate with each other. You have to know what the processes are.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Uh, you have to have shared accountability. It has to have a common goal just like a community does.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Um, but you can definitely have successful collaboration-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Mm-hmm.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
…without community, although it usually goes better-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… if there’s a connection that extends beyond the project that you’re working-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… on at that particular point in time but, yeah.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
No, you don’t need to have community in order to have successful collaboration.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yeah. No, well said. I, I, take back-

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Yeah.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
… what I think, I’m convinced by your logic.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Hmm.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
So. (laughs)

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Mm-hmm, yeah.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
And then how do you build consensus or what, what are your strategies?

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Oh, my gosh. Um, that’s a much harder question. (laughs)

Dr. Divya Bheda:
(laughs)
Dr. Craig Pepin:
You know, it is certainly what assessment professionals are trying to tackle all the time. (laughs)
Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.
Dr. Craig Pepin:
Right. It is really, really difficult because consensus, you know, going back to what we said, “What is a community?” A community is a shared vision. Well, if you don’t have that shared vision-
Dr. Divya Bheda:
Mm-hmm.
Dr. Craig Pepin:
… right, you really have a challenge. You don’t really-
Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… have a community. And so to some extent, having a consensus of some kind, or at least a shared goal as a precondition for even having a community, to begin with but then how do you build consensus that this is the way to go? Oh, um-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
(laughs)

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… I honestly, you know, there are so many tools that we can use and none of them is a silver bullet-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
(laughs) Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… if that makes sense, right? There’s just-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yeah. No, absolutely.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… there, you know, you do the relationship building, you try. You make the case over and over again. You are patient. It’s like, “Well, I’ve said this for the sixth time.” I was in a meeting with an administrator just recently. Um, uh, (laughs) whereby we had patiently explained this new degree design lab multiple times. And they didn’t get it. They didn’t understand it. Didn’t think it, it fit with some of the other things we were doing. And, uh, just all of a sudden like the sixth time we explained it, they’re like, “Oh, I get it now.”

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Craig Pepin:
I’m like, “Yeah, you’re just like my students.”

Dr. Divya Bheda:
(laughs)

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Why should we expect that grownups are in any way different? You know-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… they need to be exposed to it multiple times.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
You need to live with it for a little bit. So-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yeah.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… in some ways, consensus building is sort of becoming accustomed to new ideas.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
And so-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
That’s a great way to put it.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Yeah.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yeah, yeah.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Yeah, Kwame Appiah talks about this a lot in, there’s this great book, which I love called Cosmopolitanism.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Mm-hmm.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
And it is all about, really how do people who have these fundamental differences learn how to coexist and even form communities?

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
And one of the key takeaways from that book is you just become used to each other. (laughs)

Dr. Divya Bheda:
(laughs)

Dr. Craig Pepin:
And I think it’s, it’s, it sounds so simple.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Familiarity, right?

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Yeah, familiarity.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yes.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Right. You just become used to each other. And he talks about growing up in communities where there are people with different religions and, in the wider contexts, those religions are often opposed with each other. And engage in violence against each other. But he says, “There’s plenty of communities where those, those just aren’t an issue.”

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
And he, he says that part of it is you just get used to being with those people. And they become-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… part of your world.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
And I think the same thing goes for ideas. Is that, people have to sit with them for a little bit. You know, and again, going back to when I was the young … I won’t call myself a firebrand but I was-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
(laughs)

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… certainly excited by the potential of really amazing innovation.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.
Dr. Craig Pepin:
And utterly could not, I, I just could not figure out why other people couldn’t see the power of that idea. (laughs)

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yes, yes.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Right?

Dr. Divya Bheda:
I, I can, I can empathize. (laughs)

Dr. Craig Pepin:
And so, yeah. (laughs) So it then becomes this living with that idea for a while. So I think that’s part of how you build consensus and there’s another element to it, to the extent to which I talk about identities a lot because being an interdisciplinarian means that you get introduced to new things all the time, which is wonderful. And one of the concepts I got introduced to about six, seven years ago, when I started to teach a brand-new course was social identity theory.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Mm-hmm.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
And social identity theory talks about communities in terms of group identities.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
And if you think about it from that angle, you see things in a very different light, I think when it comes to communities because it really is about, it’s shared purpose. It’s shared sense of belonging to the same community. That shared sense of belonging and one of the things that’s very effective at mobilizing consensus is a threat from outside. And so ideally, we would be able to build positive communities. But sometimes if, you know, your program is threatened or your general education program is threatened, somebody wants to come in and dramatically change it. That can be an enormous way of building consensus. (laughs)

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yeah. Yeah.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Uh, it’s not-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
No, and, and, and that’s the truth, right? It’s a great insight and it’s a great tool. So you can build consensus by planting a seed, letting it sit, then repeating that idea. Letting the idea grow on people. You can build consensus because there’s a common challenge or a common thread. Or like there’s a shared vision so there are multiple ways where everyone aligns with the goal. Thank you. Is there anything else, any other strategies or thoughts-

Dr. Craig Pepin:
No, I think-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
… about consensus building?

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… you know, I think reminding people of that shared vision and then providing, as we talked about earlier-

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… the sense of belonging.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yeah.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
So even if there isn’t a shared vision, a completely shared vision-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Mm-hmm.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… I mean, we may think we’re on the same page. But when we get talking too, are like, “Oh, well, that’s not what I was thinking about or…” (laughs)

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
You know, but going back to what we were saying earlier is just that building that sense of belonging. And that sense of belonging comes from caring about the other members of the community. And caring about when they’re successful and helping them when they’re running into roadblocks. Or just being a sounding board to vent, you know, if somebody wants to vent, just being there listening to them. It’s like, “Look, yeah. Wow. That sounds awful.” And it took me a long time to build that listening thing-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Mm-hmm.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… because I, by nature, I’m a problem solver.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Mm-hmm.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
And so when people come to me and talk about the challenges they’re facing, it used to be that my first reaction was, “Well, let me help you find a solution.” (laughs)

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
And, uh, (laughs) this is what being married for 30 years will get you.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yeah.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
It was like it took me a long time to figure out that sometimes, my wife just wanted me to listen. (laughs)

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yeah. (laughs)

Dr. Craig Pepin:
She didn’t want a solution. (laughs)

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yes. (laughs)

Dr. Craig Pepin:
That’s all she wanted and so taking that-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yes.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… it took me, oh, I don’t know, 15 years of marriage to figure that out. So taking that with me to thinking about community building it’s like, “Tell me what’s going on, and you don’t want me to come up with a solution. You just want me to say, ‘Wow. That sounds terrible. I’m really sorry you had to go through that.'” So- (laughs)

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yeah, yeah, and-

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… it took me a while to figure that out.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Thank you, for sharing that’s again, great insight for many of us, um, listening. So I have one more important question. What types of leadership does it take to build and sustain a community? What are your insights on effective leadership?

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Wow. Um, I think what a community needs is dependent on where that community is-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Okay.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… so there are times when a community needs someone who comes in with a clear vision that they’re gonna try to provide guidance.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Mm-hmm.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Say, “Let’s see where we fit within this vision.”

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Mm-hmm.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Um, there are times when a community needs healing and empathy-

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… where they’ve gone through traumatic episode of some kind. And they need someone to come in who is more of a listener.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Uh, so it really depends on the community, on where the community is, but it just gets back to the things that I talked about at the beginning, uh, really. I, I circle back to that, you know, civility, empathy and transparency. One of the things I learned from an earlier president at Champlain College was just be really open with, “Look, here’s our budgetary situation. Here’s our enrollment situation. Here’s what the numbers look like.” I learned from that president, Dave Finney, just how valuable that can be, the transparency.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
And how much it makes people feel, even if they’re not part of the decision-making process. If they know what’s going on and you share the overall picture with people, I think it makes a huge difference in their sense of belonging. I remember, years ago when I was working for another institution. And something went wrong with my paycheck. And so I had an appointment with somebody in the human resources department. And they were gonna ex- they were gonna tell me what was going on. And they wouldn’t explain to me why. And it was so frustrating. It was like, “That’s just the way it is and we’re going to do this. And we’re going to do that.” And I got so angry.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Mm-hmm.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
And finally, he just explained. And it was just this mundane explanation.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Mm-hmm.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
And I said, “Thank you. Was that so hard?” (laughs)

Dr. Divya Bheda:
(laughs)

Dr. Craig Pepin:
I was not very nice about it. But, you know, (laughs) if you understand the reasons behind why things are the way they are, you’re much more likely to be accepting of, “Oh, I, yeah. I see why we’re not getting a raise this year.” Or, “I see why we’re redirecting resources to this.”

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Or, “I see…” you know.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
And that was something I learned from President Finney, which I thought was really, really helpful to know. And so that’s one of the things I’ve tried to take to NEean is like, “We want to know everybody knows. Well, here is where our budget is. Here’s how our planning process is. We’re not making decisions behind closed doors. We really want people to know.” And then the civility of course, and the, and the empathy. So I think those are the three things I keep coming back to. I don’t think it’s, I really don’t think I’m the first person to say those things but, uh-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
(laughs) Uh, no, but thank you for saying them because in calling them out, it’s super helpful I think to contextualize it, to see how it plays out with examples in higher ed. So my final question to you is, for folks who are, I don’t know whether introverts is the right word. But for folks who do feel alone and I know a lot of assessment folks feel alone. A lot of faculty may feel alone in their experience within their departments, outside of their departments, staff members, right, depending on the culture of the organization, the level of toxicity, the level of imposter syndrome, all the interplaying (laughs) forces. How do you find community when you feel all alone and-

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Oh.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
… and you don’t know what to do?

Dr. Craig Pepin:
You know, it, it’s so hard especially in the last two years, I think-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Mm-hmm.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… um, because all the forces that have sort of helped accidental community be created, uh, have been sort of taken away. And so the running into people in the hallway, having lunch with people, seeing them on the walk as you’re going to and from class, having fun before the meeting starts. One of my good friends, uh, like a month after the pandemic started he said, and this, I’m gonna out myself as a real nerd here.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Mm-hmm.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
He said, “Hey, would you like to join a Dungeons & Dragons campaign?”

Dr. Divya Bheda:
(laughs)

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Which sounds really funny-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Uh-huh.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… but it’s faculty and librarians and a group of us. And we would just get to meet every week. And we found increasingly that, um, uh, (laughs) we would, it would take longer and longer for us to actually start the game because we’d spend the first half hour, 20 minutes, 40 minutes and last the, you know, the last time we met it was like 48 minutes. I think I clocked it before we actually started the game, just talking to each other. (laughs)

Dr. Craig Pepin:
And so taking the initiative is part of it. And it doesn’t come naturally. It does not come naturally to me. I’m not a person who just automatically reaches out to connect with people. Um, how do we do it? Um, again, because it doesn’t come naturally to me, I’m not the best (laughs) person to ask, to be honest with you. But I do think that showing up means so much. You know-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yeah.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… it’s so easy to say, “Oh, gosh. So-and-so is gonna give, uh, gonna give a presentation on this, this new teaching technique that they’ve developed and I really want to, you know, I feel like I should go but I can’t take another Zoom meeting.” Showing up makes all the difference in the world, I think. And just being there for your colleagues so that they’ll be there for you. Um-

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… that’s not a very, not a very satisfactory answer is it?

Dr. Divya Bheda:
No, so given that that doesn’t come easily for you I think it’s a great answer because, when you started off responding to this question, you talked about those hallway conversations and walking across people. And as soon as you said that, like visually, I could think of, you know, how I would walk from one office to the other. Or from one meeting to the other and I’d find like as I’m crossing people I would smile. That was one of the nice things for me, right, I could smile.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Or you’d see someone, what they wore or something like there’d be an offhanded compliment. And then you’d see them often enough that over time then you’ll say, “Hello.” And then say, “Okay, where are you from? Where are you from?” Or, “What do you do? What do you do?” In that way you’d connect, right? And then what you’re saying about showing up is just, is in a way kind of that.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Like showing up to spaces where if you see a familiar face or if you see, a known name to just say, “Hello. It’s good to see you again or find you here again.” Just doing that actively, that’s the only step we do then there’s ways in which we can get invited into more spaces. And then find ourselves be part of a community. So-

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Yeah.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
… um, yeah.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Invited into more spaces. I love that phrase- (laughs)

Dr. Divya Bheda:
(laughs)

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… because I think that is, that is really what it’s all about is sort of-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yeah.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… in- getting invited into spaces. And so, I’m really, really worried about I g- … I don’t have a good answer because I’m really worried about it because it’s become easy for so many of us to just work from home. And when our president last year said, “We’re going back to in-person classes period. There will be no, no remote classes, for traditional students.” Uh, there was a big outcry because people are like, “Well, you know, I’m really worried.” And I was really glad that he, he did that.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
I thought it was really important. But even so, I increasingly see the halls in the, the building where I am, people come in, they teach a class and then they go straight home again. And so, it’s not true of everybody obviously but there’s, uh, a large number of people. And so those opportunities are less and less. And so I don’t have a good answer because I’m really worried about it. I’m really-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yeah.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… concerned about it. And I don’t know what a good solution to it is.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yeah. A- a- and I think you’ve just raised the awareness. And I want to actually end on that note. The insights that you’ve shared are so valuable, empathy, transparency, communication, to build a sense of belonging, to figure out what that community needs at each point in time. All of these things that you’ve shared in addition to that, you’ve also highlighted, which for me, this is what I want to leave our listeners with.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
It is very easy, I feel like what I’ve gained like the biggest thing now that I want to grapple with, (laughs) uh, from our conversation is actually this worry that you have because I am starting to share it. Like so, I’m in community with you. (laughs) I’m starting to, to share that concern that we unknowingly or unconsciously but very slowly are moving into a transaction-based environment because of the limitations of modality. That whatever spaces we had for impromptu spontaneous relationship building is getting lost, even though there are so many other conveniences of being on Zoom and being remote.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
And so we need to, now more than ever, actively and intentionally make sure we create spaces for spontaneous community, spontaneous relationship building and inclusion, right? So if we don’t do that, then you won’t have that hallway conversation because people are coming in, finishing their task and going out. So we have become more and more part of the capitalistic system of, “Oh, there’s increased efficiency now that everyone’s working from home. We thought the productivity will drop but the productivity is not dropping because we’re trying to do like 100%.” (laughs) You know, from home and all that time that would refresh us with the relationships and the side conversations and the check-ins, all of that is lost.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
We’re going from meeting, to meeting, to meeting. I want to leave our listeners with that, that if you take one thing from this conversation, uh, not that you should. There are all of these amazing tools, um, and insights that you’ve shared, Craig, and so I appreciate that. If you want to take one thing, I think both Craig and I, and I’m speaking for you, so. (laughs)

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Yeah.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Uh. Okay.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Well, I, I would add one thing.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yes.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
And that is that, you said I think the key thing you said is spaces for spontaneity.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yes.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Right, and, um, those can be virtual.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yes.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Uh, and I will say that I think there may be a generational thing going on here where I am having-

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… a difficult time adjusting to virtual spontaneity (laughs) spaces.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
(laughs)

Dr. Craig Pepin:
But it may be a lot easier for the people who are considerably younger than I am.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
If we can do that and make sure that we create spaces where we build, we make time for each other because that is just as important as getting a task done. Productivity is, can only serve us so much. Relationships help mental health, physical health, emotional health, makes all the difference and maintaining those needs, needs a community. So any final words, Craig, before we sign off?

Dr. Craig Pepin:
I would say also that we’re really seeing it in the students. I’m in the middle of doing these focus groups with first-year and second-year students, um, and it’s really striking. I’ve had conversations with colleagues. It was really striking how particularly the second-year students, the ones who came to college at the height of the pandemic, who experienced this, where most of their classes were online.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
So they were on campus but they were sitting in their dorm rooms. They’d come to the cafeteria and pick up their boxed lunch. And go back to eat it in their dorm rooms. And, uh, you know, were forbidden from getting together in groups. And you can see the effects of it. We’re talking about what is going on with the current crop of students. And I think-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… so much of it has to do with COVID and-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yeah.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… this inability because colleges for students are also places for community building-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yes.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
… really, really powerful community building. And that was taken away from them, uh, last year.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
So, you know?

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yeah. It reminds me of my five-year-old who, we keep teaching her how to share. And then during the last two years, we said, “No sharing. No, you know, don’t-

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Yeah.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
… don’t let anyone touch whatever.”

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Oh.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
And so the, the mixed messages of how I see that play out now saying, “Can I give her my food or can I give her my toy or can I…”

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Oh, gosh.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
And I can see what you’re saying about students, too. Like how do we do it now? We don’t know. We don’t have any… We’ve not observed it before so now, we have to learn this whole new tool. And so, as faculty, as educators, we have a responsibility to embody it and demonstrate it for our students and encourage it among them. And help them see that relationship building, community building is as important as getting work done. It’s part of getting work done.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
It is.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
So thank you, so much for such a rich conversation. Uh, time has just flown by. I really-

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Yeah.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
… appreciate your insights and your wisdom, Craig. Thank you.

Dr. Craig Pepin:
Well, my pleasure, Divya. It was a lot of fun to think about these issues and to have you push me to really think about them in ways that I hadn’t really thought of them before, so thank you again.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Thank you.
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Published: June 14, 2022

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