The student-centered university

Students playing in boats
Incoming new students play a real-life game of Battleship during Dawg Days last week.  The four-day, three-night retreat for new SIU freshmen and transfer students is filled with fun team activities led by returning SIU students.

There’s nothing like hearing from happy students and families as the school year begins. Last week’s move-in earned positive reviews, as usual, and welcome events such as “Light up the Lake” and the convocation for new students were full of positive energy.

As a campus and community, we have started the year by communicating strong and positive messages to students: We’re glad you’re here. You are important and welcome. Let us know how we can help.

These welcoming messages contribute to student success and retention. Let us all remember to thoughtfully and intentionally communicate these messages as the academic year progresses, even as we become focused on the demands of our work within or outside of the classroom.

Students are the reason each one of us is here. It is essential that we keep them firmly in our focus and remain student-centered throughout the year.

What does it mean to be student-centered?

I’ll offer my ideas and welcome yours. (Please note that I know that many of you already do these things every day.)

I think it means that we listen and respond, whether the question is about how to improve a grade or how to get a parking decal.

It means that we help students expand their knowledge by facilitating their participation in research, creative activity, internships, study abroad, community service opportunities and much more.

It means that we welcome their feedback, whether it comes to us in person, by email or through a course evaluation.

It means that we support them with services that address individual needs and concerns, whether they are homesick, struggling academically or seeking career advice.

It means that we engage them in campus life, whether they live in a residence hall or off campus, by encouraging them to participate in student organizations, attend a concert or cheer on the football team.

It means that we celebrate their personal and academic successes and help them learn from their failures.

It means that we tell them throughout the year that we are glad they are here.

What else?

I could go on, but I’m hoping I’ve sparked your own ideas about what it means to be a student-centered university, what we can do to deliver on the promise, and how you can adopt or build on student-centered practices in your own role. Please send your ideas and feedback so we can continue this important conversation related to retention and student success.

Momentum

As we begin a new academic year, it’s refreshing to look at the positive signs that our revitalization has traction. Here are just a few:

  • Our alumni and friends contributed more than $25 million last year, a 25 percent increase in giving over the previous year; this is a sign of confidence in the university’s future.
  • Our incoming new freshman class is strong based on test scores and high school grade point averages. We’ll have more detail when we have official enrollment data in a couple of weeks.
  • Participation in our July open house for students considering enrollment in fall 2019 increased by 17 percent over last year; this follows the year-to-year growth we saw in our spring open house numbers.
  • Proposals on new schools are moving forward through the review process, thanks to the hard work and engagement of our faculty.
  • We have expanded the REACH program with private support, providing more opportunities to engage students in research and creative activities, a key part of our mission.
  • The provost’s office has committed to the strategic hiring of about 25 new faculty members after several years of cutting faculty positions due to budget constraints.
  • We have renovated the pavilion thanks to a donor and added a bicycle lane through campus – just a few of many initiatives reinforcing our reputation for being a green university with a beautiful campus.
  • The Diversity Council has developed a plan, to be rolled out shortly, to support our commitment to diversity and inclusive excellence.
  • We have streamlined the application and admissions process and revamped recruitment strategies and materials to benefit future enrollment.

This is just a small sampling of what we’re doing, with much more in the works.

More to come

Our revitalization is a long-term effort. We know it won’t happen overnight, but it WILL happen with continued diligence.

There’s a lot going on behind the scenes that will lead to additional progress – from additional recruitment strategies to completely revamped marketing materials to new student engagement initiatives, including e-sports and a makerspace designated for the Student Center.

People across campus are working hard, and people off campus are cheering us on and lending support. There will be times when we may get discouraged, but positive signals like those mentioned here, as well as those to come, should reinvigorate us and keep us focused.

Let’s look forward with optimism. Let’s keep going.

Plan now for great fall events

Part of our mission to nurture student success involves creating a vibrant campus life for our students. With that in mind, I want to take a moment to look ahead to two really great fall events that help connect Salukis to their campus and encourage school spirit— Family Weekend and Homecoming.

While you might think it’s a bit early to be talking about events for late September and October, people are already making their travel plans. I encourage anyone from out of town to book their reservations early — hotels and other accommodations consistently sell out every year during these events.

Family Weekend, Sept. 28-30

Family Weekend is an annual event that allows current students to show their families all the wonderful things Southern Illinois has to offer. While planning is still in the works for this fun-filled weekend, there are two major events already scheduled:

On Sept. 29, the Saluki football team will take on the Missouri Valley Football Conference opponent and 2017 NCAA Football Championship subdivision playoff qualifier University of South Dakota Coyotes.

The 2018 Saluki Comic Con will also take place over the weekend. There is already an amazing lineup of presentations and speakers, including Samantha Newark, the voice of Jem and Jerica from the classic Jem and the Holograms cartoon, and Trevor Von Eeden, the co-creator of the first original black superhero to have his own title.

Homecoming Week, Oct. 14-20

Later in the semester, SIU will host Indiana State University for its annual Homecoming game on Oct. 20. The week leading up to the game will be full of fun activities, including a parade, tailgating and more.

This year, Jason Seaman, a four-year Saluki letterman and elementary education graduate and heroic teacher who received praise for his actions during a school shooting in Noblesville, Indiana, will return to SIU to serve as grand marshal.

I’m already updating my collection of Saluki gear so I can show my pride in this great institution and have a little fun with the Dawg Pound. I hope to see you there.

What’s with all the mission statements?

Visitors to campus — and those of us who are here every day — may notice framed versions of the mission statement popping up inside entrances to our academic and office buildings.

These serve as a friendly reminder of our core values, our purpose — of what we are here to do. The mission statement speaks to our commitment to our students and region, of the importance of research and creativity, and of our commitment to inclusive excellence and the creation of new knowledge.

As I’ve written before in this blog, we are accomplishing our mission in many ways. It doesn’t hurt to make sure that the expression of our mission — our mission statement — is always before us as we go about our business. It should influence every decision we make and how we talk about ourselves as an institution.

A banner approach

As the academic year gets underway, you’ll see other reminders of our mission with the installation of new banners in parts of campus. The banners highlight some of the concepts of our mission statement in pictures or words. I also hope they help us take even more pride in our beautiful campus.

Our focus on the mission statement seems to be taking hold. Since it first started appearing in buildings, a number of people on campus have requested smaller versions for the lobbies of their office areas. We’re glad to share. Please email universitycommunications@siu.edu with your requests. (And thanks to the teams in Plant and Service Operations, Administration and Finance and University Communications and Marketing for their work on these projects.)

Core values

The mission statement must be our touchpoint when we reflect on our core values: supporting student success through experiential learning, ensuring that every graduate is emotionally intelligent and culturally competent, developing knowledge that addresses real issues, and serving as an economic driver and partner within our community.

Every action we take must be put within the context of our mission. That’s worth remembering, every day.

Teaching the science of brewing

Man stands in barley.
Matt McCarroll, director of the Fermentation Science Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, stands in a field of barley planted on university property last fall in anticipation of a new malting facility to be delivered to the FSI this year. The malting facility is just one of several major new developments at the fledgling program, which is aimed at training the professional brewers, vintners and distillers of tomorrow for key jobs in those growing industries. (Photo by Steve Buhman)

SIU’s mission statement covers a broad range of aspirations and goals. Whenever possible, we should design our programs, courses and extracurricular offerings to fulfill multiple aspects of this complex statement.

Today, I would like to talk about a particular program that blends different facets of our mission while still being relevant to the interests of modern college students: the Fermentation Science Institute.

This institute offers students the opportunity to learn about the business, process and science of creating beer, wine and spirits as well as foods that rely on the fermentation process. Now, I know many potential students may stop reading right there. “Beer? Sign me up!” At the same time, many parents may worry about how intensive or practical a bachelor’s degree in fermentation may be.

Multidisciplinary program rigorous and innovative

I would caution both groups to stop and take a serious look at our fermentation science program. It is intensive and interdisciplinary, involving faculty from the College of Science, College of Agricultural Sciences, School of Medicine and the College of Engineering.

Faculty and students in the program not only learn the ins and outs of creating delicious brews and managing a business, but they also actively participate in both hands-on practical and theoretical research.

Growing industry offers a range of job prospects

Jobs in this field are growing as interest in local and craft beer, wine and spirits has increased.

In January, The Atlantic explored the ways craft breweries have revamped an entire sector of the economy. In that article, the author cites the Bureau of Labor Statistics on the explosive growth of brewery jobs: “Between 2008 and 2016, the number of brewery establishments expanded by a factor of six, and the number of brewery workers grew by 120 percent.”

Career prospects for graduates are strong and expected to continue growing in the future.

Partnerships create economic boost

As I said earlier, the Fermentation Science Institute touches on multiple aspects of our mission statement, delivering on the promise of innovation in research and creativity and outstanding teaching focused on nurturing student success. In addition, it has tremendous potential to serve as a regional economic catalyst.

We recently announced that the institute hopes to add a production-scale brewery, which will help local craft brewers bring their creations to market while providing hands-on educational opportunities for students.

In addition, the service lab allows local fermentation-based businesses to access laboratory and analytical services from SIU and technical assistance for growers and producers.

This is just one of the many programs that will help SIU thrive as the economy grows and changes in the 21st Century. I hope you are as excited as I am to see what they have in store.

The benefits of attending a research university

Just in case you haven’t noticed, SIU has amazing students. Our mission is to give them equally amazing opportunities to contribute to the discovery of new knowledge through research and creative activities.

One way we support student research is through REACH grants and Tedrick Undergraduate Research Fellowships. These competitive grant programs provide undergraduate students with funding to complete research and creative projects under the guidance of a faculty mentor.

More than 30 students earn grants

Yesterday, we announced that more than 30 students have won these prestigious undergraduate research grants and will begin work on their projects this fall.

The topics of their projects are wide-ranging and impressive. Here are just a few:

  • “Arsenic Filtration from Contaminated Water”
  • “Veterans and Their Reintegration to Civilian Lifestyle: The Roles of Communities and Recreational Activities”
  • “Flash Drought in the United States: Drivers, Causes, and Predictability”
  • “Units: An Exploration of Modular Construction”
  • “Use of Combined DHF and Environmental Enrichment in the Treatment of Pediatric Frontal Brain Injury”
  • “Modulation of Bone Marrow Functions During Salmonella typhimurium Infection”

I encourage you to learn more about the proposals from these remarkable students. Each of them — as well as other students across campus who engage in research and creative efforts in our laboratories, classrooms and other facilities — will gain experience that will make them more competitive and successful after they graduate.

A personalized experience

Opportunities like the REACH grants and Tedrick fellowships demonstrate the value of attending a research university. Our students benefit from hands-on, experiential learning mentored by nationally and internationally recognized faculty. And they don’t get lost as they might at a larger institution. This is why I continue to say that SIU stands out because we can provide an elite, personalized private university experience at a public university cost.

We cannot do this without the commitment of our faculty and the support of our friends. The new Tedrick fellowships, for example, are possible thanks to a generous donation from SIU alumni Roger and Sally Tedrick.

I know you share my thanks to the Tedricks and my pride in our students.

Statement on July 16, 2018, meeting of the SIU Board of Trustees

As I have said in the past, I believe that system leadership questions were between the board and the president. I am pleased these questions have been resolved.

I look forward to working with Dr. Dorsey, our colleagues at Edwardsville and the Board of Trustees to reinforce and build on the strengths of the SIU system and its campuses.

I also look forward to continuing the acceleration of the advancement of SIU Carbondale in collaboration with our strong faculty, staff, alumni, friends and community members. While there is work to be done, we have much to be proud of. I look forward to celebrating past achievements and future directions when we mark our 150th anniversary next year.

Moving forward on a new academic structure

On Tuesday, the Faculty Senate approved RMEs, or program change plans, for six proposed new schools, another step forward in the revitalization of our academic structure. The schools are:

  • Applied Engineering and Technology.
  • Biological Sciences.
  • Computing.
  • Earth Systems and Sustainability.
  • Health Sciences.
  • Psychology and Behavioral Sciences.

A special senate committee that is conducting initial reviews of the program change plans has asked the provost’s office for more information or modifications related to four other plans.

I greatly appreciate the time and effort that faculty members have invested in their thoughtful review of the program change plans. I am also grateful for the work of the provost’s office under the leadership of Interim Provost Meera Komarraju, who has been shepherding the process since her appointment in April.

We have posted an update of where each school is in the process, and we will also post an update on the full structure as it stands, even as it continues to evolve, in the days ahead.

Continuing our revitalization efforts

While there are important steps still ahead of us and we are still discussing several proposals submitted as alternatives, I’m pleased that through this collaborative process, our re-envisioning of our academic programs is beginning to take shape.

Similarly, our other revitalization efforts, many outlined in April’s eight-month update, continue moving forward. A few examples:

  • We continue to work on the concept of a makerspace to support student research, innovation and creativity. Science Dean Scott Ishman is now leading the initiative.
  • We are also formalizing an e-sports, or electronic sports, initiative. E-sports are popular with students and provide opportunities for friendly competition on campus and with other institutions.
  • We continue to work on fall 2018 enrollment. About 250 new students are expected at Saturday’s freshman orientation, and active outreach and support continues for both admitted and returning students who have not yet registered for classes. While we know enrollment will be down, it will be down less than we anticipated eight months ago due to the diligence and efforts of the enrollment management and student affairs teams, as well as our faculty, staff and academic leaders in our departments, schools and colleges. The SIU Foundation and SIU Alumni Association also stepped forward, providing resources to support recruitment efforts. We continue to take every step possible to both to minimize the decline and position ourselves for future years.
  • In fact, all hands are also on deck to launch the recruitment cycle for fall 2019. We are deploying new strategies and materials and reinforcing everything we do. Open house numbers continue to rise, a signal that we are projecting a renewed energy at SIU. As I’ve said before, enrollment will not rebound overnight or even in a year, but we can make steady progress if we remain focused on our goals.
  • Finally, we are preparing to announce our fundraising results for fiscal year 2018. While I won’t spoil the announcement, I can share that donor support of SIU increased by about 25 percent over the previous year. I thank all of our alumni, friends, faculty and staff who demonstrate their confidence in SIU and support our students through their gifts.

Looking ahead

With so much happening in the world around us, it might be easy to become distracted from our mission. I remain confident that our outlook is positive and we have much to be proud of.

Every day, I learn about faculty whose work brings credit to our reputation and students who are finding success because of the many opportunities they find at SIU. These are the real stories that speak to who we are as a university. Please join me in telling them.

Making a difference in Southern Illinois

When faculty research leads to community impact, everyone benefits. Two grants provide strong examples of how research supported by external funding helps us fulfill our mission.

Helping STEM teachers

A recent grant from the National Science Foundation will help SIU continue to enhance the teaching of STEM subjects to junior high and high school students in Southern Illinois and beyond. SIU faculty from multiple disciplines will work with selected teachers, who will conduct summer research projects and participate in other professional development activities.

The newly trained “master teacher leaders” will in turn share their knowledge with other teachers, expanding the number of content experts in schools. The ultimate goal is to enhance science, technology, engineering and mathematics education and draw students into STEM fields.

Karen Renzaglia, plant biology, is principal investigator on the grant. Her co-investigators include SIU experts in plant biology, zoology, teacher leadership, effective STEM pedagogy and sustainability and environmental science.

Reducing gun violence

Tammy Kochel sits near her computer
Tammy Kochel, associate professor of criminology and criminal justice at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, receives a grant in partnership with the Springfield Police Department to start a focused deterrence program. The program works to decrease gun-related violence in the community. (Photo by Steve Buhman)

A joint, three-year grant to SIU and the Springfield police department addresses gun violence through a “focused deterrence” program that can serve as a model for other communities. The goal is to connect with individuals who are past or potential gun offenders and help them find an alternative path.

In June, following a year of research and planning by Tammy Kochel of SIU’s criminology and criminal justice faculty and her students, eight individuals participated in an interventional meeting and heard first-hand about the impact of gun violence. At the end of the meeting, they were given resources to assist them.

“That might be getting a GED, help getting a job, daycare, housing, mental health, substance abuse — a whole range of possible services,” according to Dr. Kochel.

Improving communities

Both of these projects improve our communities through the creation and exchange of knowledge – helping us fulfill the promise of our mission statement. These are just two examples of the outstanding work our faculty members undertake every day on behalf of Southern Illinois.

Statement regarding documents released by SIU system

A story in today’s Southern Illinoisan reviews documents outlining behind-the-scenes conversations about the recent reallocation proposal. While I was aware of some of this information, the deeper backstory is both disheartening and disturbing on a professional and personal level. I believe SIU Carbondale deserves far better and fairer treatment as a partner in the SIU system.

However, I also continue to believe that these issues must be resolved between the board and system leadership. For our part, SIU Carbondale will continue to focus on its mission and revitalization of both the university and the region. I will continue to represent the community to the very best of my ability.

I remain committed to our positive future and will continue to work to build upon SIU’s academic strengths and to establish Southern Illinois as a region of innovation focused on economic development. I fully believe we will achieve our goals to advance SIU as the second jewel in the crown of higher education in Illinois. I welcome your continued support.