Currently, as Vice Chancellor of Technology & CTO for the Foothill-De Anza Community College District, he has been committed to the use of advanced technology for these two colleges to support students on transfer or career/technical education paths. He believes that students need to have the greatest variety of opportunities for access to quality education because many students simply do not have the ability to attend college on a traditional schedule. He is proud of the fact that Foothill-De Anza colleges are deeply dedicated to student equity and closing the achievement gap between various student demographic groups and hopes that the ideas that evolve from Michelson Runway will address issues of student equity.
When he’s not busy thinking about how to create opportunities for students, he fits in time for wine tasting, traveling, hiking, and home improvements.
LEARN MORE ABOUT JOE’S WORK AND CRITICAL LEARNING MOMENTS.
TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF. WHAT ARE YOU PASSIONATE ABOUT? WHAT MOTIVATES YOU?
I have been a higher education technologist for more than 26 years. Throughout my career I have seen many important technologies transform the way colleges and universities serve students and do business. However, I believe the transformation we have seen over the last quarter-century will pale in comparison to the next five to seven years. Advances in mobile and wearable technology, human/computer interfaces, robotics, and artificial intelligence will cause the college/university of ten years from now to hardly resemble the institutions we know today. I believe I understand the big picture of this change and would be honored to have the opportunity to influence and facilitate these upcoming transformations.
HOW DID YOU FIRST GET INVOLVED IN THE EDUCATION/EDTECH SPACE; TELL US ABOUT A PIVOTAL EXPERIENCE THAT HELPED GUIDE YOUR CAREER TO WHERE IT IS NOW?
Nearly 30 years ago I was a technologist pursuing a career in the private sector. Having worked for a defense contractor, a major television network, and an architectural design firm, I found the work very unfulfilling from a philosophical perspective. Quite by accident I became interested in a position in higher education running a college media center. After just a few months on the job, I knew education was the endeavor in which I could invest my career and feel truly fulfilled. From the beginning I knew my actions and decisions would impact thousands of people seeking fundamentally the same thing – the skills, knowledge, and experience to change their lives for the better. To this day, every move I make or decision I consider refers to a single benchmark – will this action/decision have a positive impact on students.
WHAT DID YOU DO PREVIOUSLY THAT HAS PREPARED YOU FOR YOUR CURRENT LEADERSHIP ROLE?
One of the most important things I have done to prepare me for my current role is to build and maintain a significant and diverse group of colleagues nationally. None of us have all the answers to any set of challenges. We need to be able to rely on a network of trusted colleagues who can counsel us through new, different, and often very complex challenges. It is not a sign of weakness to rely on others for help. I believe it a sign of strength when we recognize our shortcomings and appreciate others’ willingness to share skills and talent we may not have.
HOW DO YOU STAY UP TO DATE WITH CURRENT DEVELOPMENTS IN YOUR FIELD?
I try to stay connected with colleagues; continuously engage in a variety of professional development activities (webinars, workshops, conferences, etc.); and look beyond my immediate sphere of influence for trends and inspiration.
IF YOU HAD THE CHANCE TO START YOUR CAREER OVER AGAIN, WHAT WOULD YOU DO DIFFERENTLY?
I think I would do a couple of things differently. I would work harder when I was younger. When I was young and had a much higher energy level or didn’t have children that needed my attention, I could have accomplished more. Also, I would have sought out multiple, diverse mentors. I think having different kinds of mentors might have helped me better understand the opportunities that were at my disposal.
WHAT IS YOUR DEFINITION OF EQUITY AND HAS YOUR WORK CONTRIBUTED TO MORE EQUITY FOR STUDENTS?
The best definition I have ever seen of equity is illustrated in the drawing to the left.
What this means to me is that we must customize the solutions we provide to those we serve. One size does not fit all. What is most important is that the people we serve have equal outcomes rather than simply equal input. Technology can assist us greatly with this aspiration.
WHAT PROMPTED YOUR INTEREST IN SERVING AS A MENTOR TO EDTECH ENTREPRENEURS AND WHAT SPECIFICALLY EXCITES YOU ABOUT THIS INITIATIVE?
Entrepreneurs and start-ups are driving significant innovation in many sectors of our economy. Being a mentor allows me to help entrepreneurs better understand the specific needs of higher education and other public sector agencies. These needs may range from functional and technical to the terms and conditions of licenses. The more in tune entrepreneurs are to the reality of public agency requirements, the better they can serve us and ultimately be more successful themselves.
PLEASE SHARE A QUOTE THAT HAS GUIDED YOUR PERSONAL/PROFESSIONAL PATH.
“I would have written you a shorter letter had I had more time.” Mark Twain
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR ANY ENTREPRENEURS THAT ARE READING?
There are no dumb questions except for the questions that are never asked.
Especially in higher education, people are usually very willing to help a colleague or entrepreneur – they only need to be asked.
WHO IS YOUR ROLE MODEL/MENTOR, AND WHY?
I have had several throughout my career. Rod Foster, my first dean at Pasadena City College really helped me understand how to be successful in the higher education and specifically in the community colleges. My dear friend Larry Anderson, a retired faculty member at Mississippi State University, helped me understand the techniques and value of technology planning. My superb friend and colleague Henry Burnett, retired director of media services from UC Santa Cruz, helped me to learn how to always keep my eye on how technology benefits students.
WHAT ADVICE ABOUT LEADERSHIP HAVE YOU GAINED FROM YOUR OWN MENTORS?
When embarking on a new assignment or pursuit, let the “merry-go-round” make one full rotation before you change horses.
You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room and probably shouldn’t be. However, it is critical that you make sure the smart people are in the room.
HOW DO YOU DEFINE SUCCESS? WHAT GUIDING PRINCIPLES DO YOU RECOMMEND TO BECOMING A SUCCESSFUL ENTREPRENEUR?
I define success in the form of a question: Have my actions and decisions produced the most positive results for the greatest number of stakeholders? And to budding entrepreneurs, I offer this advice: Find a personal benchmark for success that you can support in a long term, unwavering manner. Make sure this benchmark reflects your deepest personal values. Stick to this benchmark so that people will always know what you stand for.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY ARE THE TOP THREE SKILLS NEEDED TO BE A SUCCESSFUL ENTREPRENEUR?
- Persistence – do not be discouraged by failure.
- Listening – pay close attention to what people say, and, perhaps more importantly, what they do not say.
- Keep one eye on the big picture – always know where and how your efforts and ideas, regardless of how big or small, contribute to the grand scheme of things.
WHAT SACRIFICES HAVE YOU MADE TO PURSUE YOUR DREAMS AND/OR TO BECOME A LEADER?
I have spent far too much time away from my family.
DESCRIBE ONE FAILURE THAT YOU HAVE TURNED INTO A GROWTH OPPORTUNITY.
About 15 years ago I advised my institution to enter into a contract with a start-up company that had developed an innovative new student portal technology. Although the project was very creative and innovative, the company was not well funded and ran out of capital a month after the project went live at my institution and the project quickly failed. This experience taught me to focus on start-up initiatives more holistically. The technology may be seducing, but it takes a lot more than just great technology to be successful.
WHAT’S YOUR MORNING RITUAL?
Sleep as long as possible; wake and greet the dog; shower, eat breakfast, grab a travel mug of coffee and hit the road for work. At the office, I clear as much of the email box as possible and get ready for an always full schedule!
WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT THUS FAR?
Personally and foremost, my greatest achievement is raising two wonderful daughters who have become strong, thoughtful, creative young women. Professionally, my greatest achievement is leading the development of the vision for the California Community College (CCC) Online Education Initiative (OEI). This project is fostering an unprecedented level of collaboration and cooperation among the 113 community colleges of our state that is resulting in improved course quality, greater retention and success for students, closing the student achievement gap, and leveraging the size of our the CCC system to achieve significant cost savings.
WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO ACHIEVE IN YOUR CAREER LONG-TERM AND WHO DO YOU HOPE TO IMPACT?
I hope to continue to promote statewide cooperation and collaboration among the 113 California Community College regarding online instruction. With more than half of our colleges already formally part of our project in just the first two and one half years, I am confident we can bring together all 113 colleges in new and creative ways before the end of the fifth year of the project. This will potentially impact more than 41,000 online courses and more than 625,000 students in the CCCs.
WHAT’S THE BEST CAREER ADVICE YOU’VE TAKEN AND OFFERED?
Taken – don’t pursue an executive position at your existing organization with a weak board of directors. They don’t have the capacity to see you in any other way than the way they already know you. If you pursue such an opportunity you will put yourself in a very vulnerable position for a very likely disappointing outcome.
Given – Be careful how quickly you move from one position to the next. You may be in demand now and changing opportunities gives you the opportunity to learn a lot quickly. However, a long string of short-term appointments may ultimately not represent you in the most favorable light as you mature in your career.
IF YOU COULD CHANGE ONE THING ABOUT THE CURRENT EDTECH ENVIRONMENT WHAT WOULD IT BE?
I would like stakeholders throughout our institutions to be as agile and flexible with technology as our students have become. Change happens slowly in higher education – mostly due to fear, but also due to ancient bureaucracy.