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Minnesota State University, Mankato

Minnesota State University, Mankato
Office of the President

2006 Convocation Address

Page address: http://www.mnsu.edu/president/archived/convocation20060821.html

Celebrating Our Next Steps

Thank you, Vice President Olson.

Welcome again everyone to the beginning of what promises to be another new and exhilarating academic year filled with several ongoing initiatives and some new opportunities that will continue to catapult Minnesota State University, Mankato forward as we take the next step to becoming one of the emerging new comprehensive/doctoral universities in the nation.

The video we just watched about the history of our university reminds us that the foundation on which this great university is built, leads up to the unprecedented change of today — and sets the stage for a vibrant future. As some of you know, one of my passions is the study of history and the past and I am especially interested in biographies. I am always amazed to see patterns in people's lives that tend to be repeated generation after generation. When we think about the video just viewed, one cannot help but speculate about what was going on in the lives of those students and professors at that time. I wonder how their careers and personal lives evolved, what were the struggles they encountered in life and how they made the right choices that led them to not only reach their expectations, but to go beyond anything they thought possible.

Recently, I visited with President Emeritus James Nickerson, who celebrated his 95th birthday this year. I was eager to talk about the past. However, Dr. Nickerson was more interested in talking about today. One of the reasons he was such a great president is because he was living for today and the future and yet everyone knows that he is a well-read and informed historian. We are eagerly awaiting the publication of his new book about the Viet Nam war period and the impact on our campus during the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Other presidents of Minnesota State Mankato have distinguished themselves and have had interesting careers as well. The first female president of a public university served here in 1872. And, who would have thought that President Emeritus Margaret Preska after leaving higher education would be CEO of a motorcycle company! Isn't life interesting? And, of course, the multitude of graduates who have succeeded beyond their expectations, including local businessman and proud alum, Glen Taylor, is truly incredible and inspiring to others.

"This is our legacy, nurturing passion in everyone and dreaming bold visions."

Isn't it astonishing to think how passion for life and goals can carry a person far beyond their dreams? This is our legacy, nurturing passion in everyone and dreaming bold visions.

As we celebrate our next step in the institution's evolution, we need to look back at our history. Minnesota State Mankato over the past 138 years has consistently and strategically reached further and pushed harder than most universities to be a relevant and futures-oriented university. Today we begin the year focused on the teaching/learning model of our heritage, and step forward with a focus on offering applied doctoral programs—continuing and building on the traditions that prepare our graduates for the workforce, ready to hit the ground tackling and solving regional, national and international problems.

Speaking of international problems, last year at this time, I visited with you about the landscape of higher education throughout the world and discussed global forces impacting us in the next 20-25 years and the importance for higher education to radically examine how we can utilize our resources to address these forces. It is surprising to learn that the seven forces leading to global revolutions has grown to more than 20 global concerns today. Clearly, we cannot be an institutional leader without addressing the global threats and issues facing the world and injecting ourselves into applied research that results in solutions.

I introduce these issues to you while understanding that many of you know far more than I do about the big forces. Here are a few of the major issues. I promise not to bore you with all twenty today...maybe I'll bore you over coffee instead!

The big global force is, of course, the population increase changing from five billion ten years ago to eight billion people within 20 years. This phenomenon will create a whole series of stresses on our planet.

Another major global force is the new world economy which is changing so rapidly that it will impact literally all aspects of our lives. We need to prioritize and find ways of managing the threats to our civilization in areas of global warming, depletion of fisheries, water availability, biodiversity and ecosystem loss, pollution, poverty, terrorism, infectious diseases and natural disasters.

Basically, as one researcher put it, "our global economy is outgrowing the capacity of the earth to support it, moving our early twenty-first century civilization ever closer to decline and possible collapse."

We are not the first civilization to address the challenge of an environmentally-induced decline. For example, the Mayans, Sumerians, Easter Islanders and Anazazi cultures all disappeared because of their inability to solve their environmental problems. If you have ever traveled to the Four-Corners of the Southwestern United States and walked, as I have numerous times, through the Anazazi ruins, you cannot help but visualize how the civilization collapsed because they could not change the environmental threats that were upon them. And, this must be serious for Stephen Hawkins to suggest we begin planning for habitation on Mars and the moon!

"I challenge the Minnesota State Mankato community to take these global forces that threaten our existence seriously and consider how each of our programs and departments might contribute to the issues facing the peoples of the world"

We could spend days talking about global issues and I do hope our academic institution will continue to engage in discussions on this topic. I challenge the Minnesota State Mankato community to take these global forces that threaten our existence seriously and consider how each of our programs and departments might contribute to the issues facing the peoples of the world; whether it be through engaged applied research, or through relevant curricular changes that will provide the sort of modern education that our graduates deserve in order to sustain our world.

Accomplishments

While it is fascinating to look at our world issues and discuss the role of higher education in this regard, we also need to be attentive to the local challenges and initiatives that we are currently focusing on at Minnesota State Mankato. I would like to take a few minutes to discuss our progress on a number of initiatives that so many of you have been involved with during the past year.

We received word a few weeks ago that the final approval had been given by the Higher Learning Commission and we are officially accredited for another 10 years. Everyone in this room had a role in gaining this achievement and all should be very proud. Pease join me in applauding your efforts, those of the self-study committee, and the co-chairs.

Thank you.

I challenged the university to consider laying the groundwork for a Baldrige National Quality Award. I am pleased to report to you that we have submitted an initial application and expect the critique of that application sometime this fall. Achieving this award is a lengthy process, but we will continue to work towards this goal and build quality into our programs and processes.

We also worked closely with leadership of the Diversity Commission last year and recently received its year-end report. The report noted the desire of campus constituents to become involved in diversifying the campus and the many and varied diversity activities. Challenges such as recruiting and retaining students, faculty and staff from diverse backgrounds and creating a more inclusive and welcoming campus remain critical issues for the university.

Also Fundraising efforts continue and as you heard earlier the campus campaign exceeded its goal. The legislature approved our request to allow the Minnesota State University, Mankato Foundation to construct a building on our campus and the Foundation Board gave the green light to moving forward with a capital campaign.

In addition, I challenged the public relations and marketing staff to implement an aggressive marking program that would elevate our name recognition. I hope that you all had the opportunity to see the striking billboards in the Twin Cities, perhaps you saw the Minnesota State Mankato bus as it traveled throughout the Minneapolis-St. Paul area—even winding through the University of Minnesota campus. We also instituted Purple and Gold Fridays and I encourage you to proudly wear our school colors during the coming year.

Last year, I indicated the need to invest in institutional planning and research and stressed the importance of linking budget and planning along with building an accountability component. This issue also came up during the accreditation site visit and we have already taken steps to address these issues.

We also augmented our existing Presidential Scholar program last year by infusing additional dollars into the scholarship program.

Last year, I challenged the academic affairs division to move forward with faculty support and involvement in developing appropriate new doctoral degrees. I will speak more about that later... as we celebrate our next step.

Also we continue to work on a formal plan for campus beautification and this year will report to the Board of Trustees on our campus master plan.

Last year, I challenged our athletic teams to bring home some conference and some national championships... My ring is testimony to one conference championship — however, we earned athletic conference championships in four sports and had one individual national champion. Our forensics team finished 10th in the nation, 3 of our theatre students received regional or national recognition and one of our creative writing students published a memoir that was circulated nationally and another won a national award for her poetry. Other students brought recognition to the university for academic achievement.

"Congratulations to all our faculty and staff who worked with our students and assisted them in excelling and representing our university with distinction."

Congratulations to all our faculty and staff who worked with our students and assisted them in excelling and representing our university with distinction.

Lastly, I challenged all to consider how to proceed with transforming our university to realize national prominence as an institution committed to promoting learning at the highest level. Too big a challenge for one year, but I am pleased with the national attention that our university received — for our campus tech rec center, our campus kitchens project, our beautiful Centennial Student Union and most recently our university was named one of the nation's "100 Best Campuses for LGBT Students" by The Advocate College Guide.

In addition to the challenges that I offered last year, there were many, many other important accomplishments that occurred. All of these are highlighted in the advertisement in today's edition of the Mankato Free Press; let me highlight a few ...

For instance, Minnesota State Mankato is the lead institution in the newly created Minnesota Center for Engineering & Manufacturing Excellence.

The legislature authorized $55 million for the second phase of Trafton Science Center addition and renovation. Additionally, the Board of Trustees approved our plan to build a new suite-style residence hall. Site work started this summer on the residence hall, and we will break ground on both of these construction projects on September 15.

Also, our university habitat for humanity chapter sponsored its first house construction project, completed the home, and the family has moved in.

In addition, interest in our bio-fuels research, testing of E-85 conversion kits, testing of E-85 fuel blends in plug-in hybrid vehicles, and our Center for Renewable Energy has reached the national level. Governor Pawlenty recently announced his support for the testing work on our campus, and the University received $500,000 in federal funds for renewable energy research.

Every unit, program, office, department at Minnesota State Mankato has truly gone beyond possibilities. Our goals were ambitious, but everyone rose to the challenge. Please join me in applauding your diligent and creative work.

"Building on our achievements from the previous year, we are now positioned to take the next step..."

Building on our achievements from the previous year, we are now positioned to take the next step... This step is a big one, but we Mavericks are passionate about accomplishing great things, and so I set before you today our plan to take this next step.

Retreat

Our plan is an outcome of conversations during the annual fall planning retreat we held a couple weeks ago when more than 70 campus leaders participated in discussions involving planning for the future and strategic priorities. There was a variety of interesting presentations from campus leaders and others, including students, with a focus on how we can address the issues facing us. It was a very successful retreat and helped set the direction for the coming year. Most importantly, the retreat illustrated the importance of shared governance at Minnesota State Mankato.

Challenges and Strategic Priorities

Consistent with my thinking about strategic planning, our plan limits the number of priorities to a handful of manageable and achievable goals.

Therefore, I want to underscore 6 priorities that will be emphasized with special attention this year.

  1. Reviewing and Enhancing Graduate Education
    "The big step for the University, during the coming year, will be the continued development and approval of two applied doctoral programs..."

    The big step for the University, during the coming year, will be the continued development and approval of two applied doctoral programs — one in education and one in nursing. Faculty and administrators are completing the final proposals for discussion with the appropriate meet & confers and submission to the Office of the Chancellor by the September deadline. I believe that next year I will stand before you at this time to open our academic year with the announcement that for the first time in the history of this institution, we will be enrolling our first students in doctoral programs. This next big step in our history will immediately raise the stature of Minnesota State Mankato and give us reason to celebrate.

    Also, beginning this fall, the Center for Excellence in Scholarship and Research will be available to faculty as a resource. Patterned after the successful Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, this center will focus on research and creative activity.

  2. Promoting Diversity
    "We will continue to promote diversity as one of our important strategic priorities."

    We will continue to promote diversity as one of our important strategic priorities. I am pleased to announce the appointments of Professors Betty Young and Linda Duckett to co-chair the Diversity Commission. The specific focus this year will be to develop a recruitment and retention plan for underrepresented populations of faculty, staff and students. I intend to be personally involved in meeting with the Diversity Commission and promoting our efforts to maximize our progress toward diversity and a multicultural environment because diversity is so critical to our future. This is my way of sending a message to everyone that this is one of our top priorities.

  3. Implementing an International Education Plan

    In the area of International Education, The planning group will continue to focus on both a short-term and long-term plan for promoting internationalization on campus, as well as recruitment and retention of international students. The group will also develop strategies leading to an increased number of partnerships with carefully selected universities around the world.

  4. Developing and Implementing an Enrollment Management Plan
    "One of our most pressing priorities is to move forward aggressively to develop and implement an Enrollment Management Plan."

    One of our most pressing priorities is to move forward aggressively to develop and implement an Enrollment Management Plan. Given the projected demographic changes in Southern and Greater Minnesota we need to secure an increased market share of high school graduates and other students throughout the state and local region. Our goal is to hold enrollment steady on campus and increase off-campus enrollments dramatically. This means we must focus on delivering programs to more regional communities.

  5. Enhancing Academic Excellence in Undergraduate Education

    Discussions will continue on the issues related to enhancing undergraduate studies and tightening up of academic standards. Much work has been accomplished; however, I challenge the faculty and academic administrators to continue discussion and provide recommendations on such outstanding items as grading standards and curriculum.

  6. Developing and Implementing a Health and Wellness Plan

    The campus health and wellness task force anticipates providing their final report and findings to the campus in October. During the past year several subcommittees were at work. Open Forums will be held in mid-October with the final report presented shortly after that.

Other Initiatives

These 6 priorities will be our major focus. However, there are other initiatives that are important.

"I want to underscore the high level of importance I place on professional development for faculty and staff."

I want to underscore the high level of importance I place on professional development for faculty and staff. We are already doing a great job in this area, thanks to the Professional Development Committee; however, we need to fund our campus activities at a higher level than presently.

"I cannot stress enough that we need to be leaders in implementing the Chancellor's and Trustee's work plan for the year. "

I cannot stress enough that we need to be leaders in implementing the Chancellor's and Trustee's work plan for the year. Our existing and new goals closely parallel the work plan. I believe the Trustees, the Chancellor and his staff already know that we are leading the System in innovations and raising the bar in almost every area as we consistently go beyond the targets that we set for ourselves. We are already accountability-minded at Minnesota State Mankato. I have challenged the Cabinet to exemplify the "best in class" as leaders of the entire System. And, I have not been disappointed.

We have been very fortunate to have outstanding student leadership since I have been at Minnesota State Mankato. Again, we have a group of student leaders this year that have a passion for representing the student interests and promoting their issues. I have decided that this coming year I will schedule special luncheons on a bi-monthly basis to meet with approximately 10 student leaders each time. I'll ask the student government President and Vice President to help coordinate these visits with me. These will not replace my regular meetings with the student government leadership. As President, it is important for me to stay in tune with what students are thinking and needing.

I also intend to be in the CSU Heritage Room for breakfast and coffee several times a week early in the morning and hope to visit informally with many of you during this time.

I look forward to these occasions to promote communication with students, faculty and staff.

Conclusion

Before concluding my remarks, I want to share a few personal observations I have made while serving as your President during the past four years.

It is clear to me that our graduates are sought after because employers know what they are getting; students who have strong analytical and communication skills, a strong work ethic, a genuine appreciation for differences and diversity, students who have leadership abilities and are adaptable to change. Our graduates want to and will make a difference.

Last year, you heard me promote a new vision statement for Minnesota State Mankato. I talked about our vision being one that was built on a solid foundation of action and history. This thought was captured in the Promise video that we saw earlier this morning.

The message says it all.

We are what we claim to be. And, the proof can be found in our students as we continue to document the innumerable accomplishments of our graduates as leaders across Minnesota and the world that are realizing their dreams.

I honestly believe that Minnesota State Mankato is setting the benchmark for other institutions in Minnesota and raising the bar for standards of achievement and expectations. Our positive reputation is growing and people in all walks of life are taking notice of our University and our graduates.

"Clearly, we are strategically positioned as a first-choice institution for the majority of our students."

While I imagine every institution and president across the country might argue they too are focused on excellence, leadership and education, the proof is in the action and the outcomes, not the rhetoric. The action at Minnesota State Mankato is tangible and highly visible in multiple ways; ranging from dramatic improvements in curriculum, to enhanced professional development for all employees, to increased student and faculty scholarship, to student-focused learning, to a physical campus environment that is beautiful and to the growing sense of pride that is so very much prevalent on campus. Clearly, we are strategically positioned as a first-choice institution for the majority of our students.

Last year, I emphasized that "we are all involved in something big, something lasting, a legacy in the making." We continue along that journey today with even higher hopes and aspirations that we become the flagship state university in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System.

And, we will be successful provided we keep in mind that Minnesota State Mankato is all about students, learning and discovery...our basic and simple mission! Thank you everyone for making this a reality!

We are ready to celebrate our next step as a doctoral university looking to the future! When I wake up each morning, I think to myself, "what a privilege it is to serve as President of such a great university!"

Thank you.