WOW Stories from 2022 AFIT Summer Institute

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This year's AFIT Summer Institute was a magical group, full of some of the most heartfelt and passionate people facing the most challenging conditions and still wanting to grow and create an impact for all. We had to share a few WOW stories to highlight these colleges' commitment to their purpose and people. 


AIMS Community College


AIMS Community College offers 280 degrees and certifications, which include career and technical aviation, welding, and engineering. They have recently applied for their 1st bachelor's degree program. The campus, located in Northern Colorado, is one of the ten top-growing areas in the US. In order to meet the training needs of this expanding community, they have four campuses with 8000 students and 139 full-time faculty.


The Greenhouse Build


In preparation for the Greenhouse Challenge, the AIMS team hosted activities for each member to share a keyword of happiness and a theme they wish to cultivate moving forward. Words such as 'unity,' 'harmony,' 'kindness,' 'joy,' and 'happiness' were translated into symbols like rainbows, sunshine, human figures holding hands, and stickers with quotes like "the team that plays together stays together." 


AIMS approached the greenhouse build with a focus on the optimal conditions for growth and how they can be applied to their strategic goals. These goals include creating more diversity, equity, and inclusion, which aligns with the condition of belonging. AIMS prioritize self-care by helping employees identify what they want to work on and grow in. So that both the individual and the organization can be accountable [another greenhouse condition] for that self-care goal. 



The soil in the greenhouse represents support-how each member can help others to grow while supporting them in the services they provide within the college. They are implementing this concept within their faculty, teachers, leaders, and students [FTLS] team by being deliberate and intentional about building student wellbeing so that it is top of mind as faculty teach and help their students grow. Learning sessions focusing on student wellbeing, mental health, and identifying what impeds learning are available to the faculty. They walk away with actionable tools and resources for the classroom to free students' minds while being mindful of what they are experiencing. These sessions aim to roll out kindness- to ripple the impact- from faculty to students. AIMS is creating a community of care, which keeps students coming back because the instructors care, and there is a sense of collaboration.  


The Greenhouse design and decorative elements represented all members of the AFIT representative team, a collective of faculty, staff, and administrators. The final design represented the community-building and collaborative values that AIMS Community College aims to represent daily. With that, the greenhouse design came together, earning AIMS the "Best Team Greenhouse!'


Ripple of Impact


One way AIMS College ripples impact is with the Sunshine Team. Members of this team visit folks throughout the campus, dressed as sunshine and rainbows, delivering snacks, games, and a sprinkle of joy, showing care and support for all AIMS team members. The happiness team took it a step further during the pandemic by visiting quarantined colleagues to uplift and encourage them during their illness-keeping a safe distance, of course. 



Each year AIMS holds Convocation Day, a professional development day for all employees across campuses. This year's focus is on creating sustainable growth using the DH Me, We, Community model and higher purpose and values frameworks. Recognizing prioritizing purpose and people is critical to success, the Employee Services team invited Sunny to guide them through DH exercises to take the learning from AFIT to the next level. AIMS is in the 5th year of its strategic five-year plan. It is a time of celebration and an opportunity for reflection on the original purpose, which was to build a stronger community—using this time to bring in all stakeholders to revisit and see if it still resonates. 


The AIMs team loved the vibe of AFIT so much that they have begun implementing some aspects within their organization, such as placing fun items, like fidget toys, on tables during onboarding and using the DH playbook as inspiration for a playbook for new faculty. They left with a renewed commitment to the goals identified during the conference and, going forward, plan to implement them throughout the year. The entire team is excited for the bigger conversation and collaborations to come. 


Arizona Western College


Arizona Western College [AWC] is located in the leafy green capital of the US, on the border of California and Mexico in Yuma, AZ. The college has nine campuses serving 10,000 sq miles of a highly rural river and desert district. They have been serving this community for more than half a century. AWC has an annual student population of 11,000. Over half of these students are Hispanic, so AWC truly embraces their 1st generation student status. Nearly 70% of students identify as the first in their family to attend college, while 40% of faculty and staff were the first to attend college in their family. Arizona Western College is transforming lives and building thriving communities. This access to education is not just life-changing for the student but can change the trajectory of a family and the fabric of a community. 


The Greenhouse Build


The goal was to bring happiness and joy to the conference. They created an interactive limbo game using the Happiness Heartbeats exercise highs and lows as inspiration. Participants played during breaks, and our own Jenn Lim joined the fun. 



AWC wanted to showcase its students in their greenhouse build because they pride themselves on being a student-focused and student-centered college. The greenhouse showcased the sunny and bright desert in which the college is located while adding locally grown crops to emphasize the idea that AWC cultivates students from the moment they step foot on campus. Some agricultural students grew the plant in the middle of the greenhouse in the on-campus greenhouse. 


They also wanted to focus on the idea of nurturing our own greenhouse before we can grow others. Starting with the ME, using a watering can created by welding students, and moving to the WE, using lights to represent water that will nourish and cultivate them every day.   


The AWC team prides itself on creativity and design, so they decided that in addition to the Happiness Heartbeats limbo game and the Greenhouse Model, they also created a DNA balloon arch to represent the organization's DNA. The stars show the values and how they are integrated into the mission and vision of the college. They also serve as a guide for the team to always move forward with respect and agility. 



Shipping their creations to Nashville proved to be a real-life Happiness Heartbeat exercise. Two ladies from the AWC team spent a long time at the shipping office to ensure all of the hard work would arrive safely in Nashville. However, when they arrived in Nashville, the top half of the box was missing. The watering can gone, the trophy they won at last year's AFIT event lost, along with the table decorations. Sitting in a low, exhausted, and frustrated, the ladies decided to get a bite to eat before repurchasing the missing items. The time was well spent laughing and enjoying some good ole southern comfort food was a high moment of connection and laughter. After an adventurous journey through the outskirts of Nashville, searching for a watering can, their resilience was rewarded with the Spirit Award!



Ripple of Impact


Arizona Western College prides its unique culture, community pride, and sense of belonging on campus. It is a college of the community in which every student belongs. AWC nursing students were welcomed at local hospitals during the pandemic. Local events often highlight the college and its commitment to the community. AWC supports students by providing comfort and strengthening bonds in and outside the classroom. 


In 2018, they embarked on a strategic plan to build on this sense of belonging and strengthen community bonds. But then 2020 happened, and like most colleges, AWC suffered as they attempted to move online. The leadership decided to double down on building a collaborative culture together. Since then, 100 people have participated in culture workshops. Beyond Happiness lines up so beautifully with the culture work being done at the college. It helped them explore what it means to build an authentic culture where everyone is included. And the greenhouse conditions [alignement, belonging, accountability, commitment] are the underpinnings of a productive culture where everyone feels connected, which is the real ROI-ripple of impact.  


Arizona Western College is creating an authentic culture through its Sunshine Program. Monthly events include role-playing games, potlucks, and cultural celebrations. These events offer team members an opportunity not just to do the work but to speak up and lift up each other. They created a safe space to share while allowing leadership and all team to be true to their authentic self.    


Rippling the impact of the Greenhouse Model and AFIT experience, the AWC team would like to share the Beyond Happiness book with their larger district. They plan to offer a book club throughout the semester since the concepts from the book align well with the culture realignment work they are currently doing. 


Western Technical College


Western Technical College is within a few blocks of the mighty Mississippi River in Lacrosse, Wisconsin. They offer industrial, manufacturing, and healthcare programs within the state's robust technical college system. Western Tech's student population consists of 10,000 traditional students and industry training for local employers. The college comprises the main Lacrosse campus, five regional campuses, and a public safety training center. 


The college has been working on its culture for quite some time. They have developed Culture Statement with senior leadership and leadership forum groups with a phased approach to rolling these initiatives out through the college. The initiatives are clear about the culture and how it is being lived across the college. Their leaders are champions of the culture! 


Western Tech's culture journey began before 2020 with a series of leadership workshops. Then the pandemic came- these conversations about what the culture would look like had to happen virtually. This forced the leadership team to do things differently because times were different. What people want for their lives is different, and how people show up is different. The group recognized they must look at the whole person, allowing people to be comfortable and authentic, which supports and encourages diversity, innovation, and creativity. 


As an AFIT veteran, Western Tech truly loves that the conference is designed to make the attendees uncomfortable. The speakers intentionally challenge them to change how they think. Angela Martin, Director of BIS, said, "This is a different concept for education as it doesn't change that fast compared to the business world; the speed isn't there." The need to take action creates a safe space for transformation while empowering leaders to have conversations that can bring change. Growth is uncomfortable at times. 


The Greenhouse Build


Like many AFIT attendees, the Western team read Beyond Happiness before attending the event. "Beyond Happiness did a really good job of bringing together so many leadership concepts that we've learned about individually."- said Angela Martin, Director, BIS. The Western leadership team continuously focuses on growth and learning. The team saw a common thread between the individual themes of the leadership books they read over the last six to seven years, brought together in one book, Beyond Happiness. "When you talk about trust and vulnerability in leadership, trying to tie to getting your people to feel happy and positive where they are coming every day, Beyond Happiness brought these all together." [Angela]


In preparation for the Greenhouse Build, the Western Tech team felt it was only appropriate to start with the seeds, which are the foundation for how they want the organization to grow. This was the inspiration for the seeds packets in their greenhouse build. Each seed packet had a book cover of a leadership book they read, recapping and drawing parallels to Beyond Happiness. The packets connected the dots between what they've learned, how they have grown, and where they what to go in the future. 


Western TC Greenhouse 2


The idea of the seed packets identifying the content and knowledge they have experienced organically shifted into conversations of reflection on what's important and the stuff everyone brings into the workplace. This sparked the inspiration for the items within the greenhouse. Each team member brought items to Nashville to represent the people of Western Tech, the things they are doing on campus, the culture they want, and what the college is capable of being to the students, the faculty, staff, and the community. All this stuff comes together to contribute to making things better-; stuff is what creates the culture. 


The Ripple of Impact


Western Technical College has spent several years working on increasing campus diversity, equity, and inclusion. As a college that is not physically located in a very diverse community, they were intentional about uncovering any gaps so that every student feels recognized and valued for the unique backgrounds, experiences, needs, culture, skills, and stories that they bring to the campus. SPACE [The Student Place of Action, Culture, and Empowerment] was formed as a place where students from all diverse groups are represented, feel seen, heard, and have a sense of belonging. 


The next step in Western Tech's culture journey is holding up a mirror to workplace policies to see if they align with the culture statement -"Western strives to create a culture where people feel empowered to make a difference; where we are passionate about collaboration and student success; where we take equitable actions that respect our differences; and where we serve students, partners, communities, and each other from a place of unconditional positive regard." The goal is to ensure the culture is reflected in each policy on campus. Putting the culture into action and behaviors into practice will transform the culture so that it is seen and felt in every place on campus.  


Western College has spent years laying the groundwork and understanding the importance of culture. Now they have the opportunity to do the hard work by implementing changes to make Western's culture a place where all people feel like they belong. 


Western TC Greenhouse 1


Through Western Tech's work with community industries through employee training, they hope their culture work will ripple out to these employers. As businesses face workforce challenges, they can see Western Tech is leading the effort to make changes and provide resources and tools so that employers can make sustainable changes in their workplaces and beyond. 


The 2022 AFIT event was remarkable and encouraging as we saw the impact ripple out to their employees, students, communities, and the world. We can’t wait to see how the ripple continues to grow!


are you looking for ways to bring this kind of energy & impact to your next event? we can help! 


About the Author

Amanda Marksmeier

Amanda is the Growth Content Driver at DH. She has been writing and creating engaging content for nearly five years. She loves to use words to inspire and connect with people. Amanda thrives on helping and serving others through the power of the written word. She is always on the search for new and inventive ways to reach and educate others.


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