2010 Faculty and Staff Fall Convocation

Streaming Video of 2010 Fall Convocation

Address by President Earl H. Potter III

Thank you fellow presidents, and thanks to all of the members of the campus community who have joined us to welcome the 2010-2011 academic year.  It’s the time of year that we hit the refresh button and recommit to our mission: Preparing graduates for life and work in the 21st century.

I want to welcome Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system Vice Chancellor for Human Resources Lori Lamb today.  Lori, we are glad to give you the opportunity to get out of St. Paul and into the real world.  We are also pleased that State Representatives Larry Haws and Steve Gottwalt and Senator Tarryl Clark are with us.  We are grateful that you have been willing to go to St. Paul to represent us there.  Your unwavering support is greatly appreciated.  And Mayor Dave Kleis is here with us as well.  I could ask for no better community partner than alumnus Dave Kleis. Thank you, Mr. Mayor.  Finally, I also extend greetings to you all from the other area legislators who could not join us today but sent their best wishes for the “new year”.

There’s unmistakable electricity in the air.  It happens every year and fall 2010 is no exception.  Our nearly 18,000 new and returning students haven’t yet worried yet about their first exams or been stymied by a tough lecture or daunting research paper.  They’re excited about the possibilities a new year can bring.  What a delight to be part of this fresh beginning for our increasingly diverse student body. 

As we begin this new year, we have many accomplishments to celebrate and many exciting opportunities to embrace.  And yes, we have sobering challenges to face.  It’s important to talk today about all of these…things to celebrate, new opportunities and the challenges…and I will.

Some have suggested that I should launch this year’s convocation address with Dickens’ most famous opening line: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”…but I am not going to do that.  I keep hearing Neil Rudenstine, former president of Harvard complaining about “money being tight”…and then observing, when his audience fell out of their chairs laughing at the thought of the president of an institution with billions of dollars in endowment complaining about tough times….that all things are relative.  Well, they are.  I just returned from India where they are trying to figure out how to make higher education available to 50 million more students by the year 2020.  I have stark images of Mumbai in my mind and the knowledge that we live in a very privileged nation and with that privilege bear a great responsibility.  We are facing tough times…relatively speaking…but we have a high calling and the responsibility to use all of our talent and resources to the best possible effect in order to prepare the next generation for leadership of this great country.  We are up to the challenge and we accept the challenge….I’ve got a lot of evidence to show just how good you are and how much you can do with what we have been given.

Both on and off campus we see positive symbols of pride in what this university means to its students and to the greater community. Campus and city banners hanging side by side, “Welcome Back Students” signs visible all around town, billboards showcasing outstanding students and alumni – all herald a heightened understanding of the significance of what happens here.

There’s also an unmistakable buzz about the new look of our neighborhood and the promising future of Fifth Avenue as a corridor of activity and opportunity.  Coborn Plaza is open for business after a flawless “move in day” in a brand new setting for our students (thanks to all of you who made this opening a tremendous success!).

But what excites me most about Coborn Plaza is the new St. Cloud State University Welcome Center…the University’s new “front door”…with university offices that interface with the community such as Continuing Studies, the Small Business Development Center, our new micro-loan program, Admissions and a satellite bookstore.  Meeting rooms will be available for use by community organizations like the Southside University Neighborhood Association.  The exhibit space will show student and faculty art and, in an expansion of our partnership with the state prison, the art of those who live there as well.  I will host a series of “president’s breakfasts” this year to showcase our academic programs and services.  I will ask many of you to partner with me to “take our show on the road”….well “up the street” to help us “turn the university inside out” and let the world know what we have to offer.

There is so much going on at SCSU that it is impossible to talk about everything that’s important.  But I must share a few examples of the work you are doing to help us become the finest comprehensive state university in the Upper Midwest.  Each example is a fine achievement but if you think about each example more deeply you will see that each is the product of the work of many hands working in collaboration for a purpose in which we all believe.  As a whole you will also see a resonance with our commitments to sustainability, globalization, community engagement and education that puts classroom learning into action:

  • We opened the newly renovated Brown Hall as home to our growing Nursing Sciences program, as well as Continuing Studies and Communication Sciences and Disorders.  The renovation allowed nursing classrooms and laboratories to be moved to campus from facilities across town.  Expanded and modernized facilities were created for Continuing Studies, which serves an estimated 50,000 individuals a year; and Communication Sciences and Disorders, an academic department which benefits community clients of multiple ages.  With this new facility on line, we will be able to double our nursing enrollment in order to address one of Minnesota’s most pressing workforce needs….not to mention making sure that there is someone to take care of me when I retire.
  • Our Science Express continues to “wow!” folks at every stop.  From September 2009 through May 2011 this mobile science lab visited 24 school districts and 29 schools, serving 12,000 students between fourth and twelfth grades.  Additionally, nearly 1,000 community members visited the Science Express during evening community open houses.  This rolling SCSU billboard is turning kids on to science and giving their teachers new tools to nurture their interest.
  • Last year’s certification of St. Cloud State as a Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance from the NSA and the Department of Homeland Security has resulted in substantial grant funding from the Department of Defense Information Assurance Scholarship Program  --  $92,000 in 2009 and $132,000 in 2010.  This recognition was the result of a collaboration among faculty in the College of Business and the College of Science and Engineering…not an easy bridge to build.  Not only does it place us in the company of national leaders in information security but it gives students a rich array of opportunities they would never have had without faculty who chose to go “above and beyond” to open new doors.
  • The College of Business Microloan Program was “jumpstarted” by a gift from ING which came about as the result of our efforts to engage SCSU Foundation Board members more deeply in the life of the University.  Alumnus and Board Member Brian Myres worked with our Community Engagement Task Force to shape the program and then brought his firm, ING, to the table as our first funding partner.  The partnerships are expanding and our program is now included among nine top universities including Yale, Cornell and UCLA – that have joined the Campus Micro Finance Alliance.  This is one of many university efforts to work with the community to increase opportunities available to St. Cloud people in pursuit of their dreams.
  • Another is the work of the Access and Opportunity Center, funded by MnSCU.  This is a joint endeavor among SCSU, St. Cloud Technical and Community College and local school district 742.  We are the lead institution in this program aimed at increasing participation in rigorous college preparatory course work in grades 8-12, improving high school graduation rates, and increasing postsecondary participation among underrepresented students.  The results show that we can make a difference but just as important as the results themselves is the strong scholarly framework that is giving principle investigator, Robert Johnson, the evidence he needs to show others how to use these approaches to make a difference in the lives of many other young people across Minnesota and beyond.
  • Another fine example of outstanding faculty scholarship is Mary Wingerd’s North Country: The Making of Minnesota, her history detailing Minnesota’s multicultural and multiracial origins from the mid-17th to mid-19th centuries.  The acclaimed new work was commissioned by the University of Minnesota Foundation and published by the University of Minnesota Press. It offers a new perspective on Minnesota’s past and a light on the way to our future.  It’s a courageous work that suggests what SCSU might be when we integrate our scholarship with our commitment to equity and opportunity.
  • Another example is the work of the Faculty Research Group on Immigrant Workers in Minnesota.  Faculty from six departments across campus helped to lead a successful conference in April, “The Global Goes Local,” funded by a MnSCU grant.  This research group is carrying out three research projects in conjunction with community groups.  By itself this collaborative research effort gives life to our commitment to align faculty capacity with the challenges that face our region.  Taken together, the Micro-Loan program, the Access and Opportunity Center of Excellence, Dr. Mary Wingerd’s scholarship and the Faculty Research Group on Immigration demonstrate that we are building a sustainable commitment to address the challenges that face our region over time….a programmatic and strategic focus that puts our values into practice.  Now that is not just some examples of good work…that is progress….progress with a purpose and it makes me very proud of our university. 
  • There are also many signals that our commitment to globalization is bearing fruit.  The number of our Fulbright and other U.S. government-funded international scholars has increased dramatically in recent years.  Two years ago we had three, last year we welcomed 16, and this academic year our campus will be enriched by 23 undergraduate and graduate scholars.  Yesterday, I met with the President of G University in Korea to explore opportunities for expanding our partnerships.  Governor Pawlenty has recognized St. Cloud State for leadership in international affairs and the U.S. Ambassadors to both Chile and Laos have cited St. Cloud State for exceptional success in developing international partnerships.  We are creating world class opportunities for students and faculty that will have lasting impact on the power of a St. Cloud State education.
  • And in St. Cloud we are taking on some of our most difficult problems.  With the support of the $300,000 Department of Education grant we received last year, we’ve developed programs that are helping students make responsible choices, strengthening relationships with our neighbors and improving the way our university and our students are perceived throughout the region.  A new University of Minnesota Study found that only half of the 351 colleges and universities surveyed provided intervention programs for students at risk of developing problems with alcohol.  Only a third had worked with their local communities on efforts to reduce students’ access to large amounts of cheap alcohol. We are proud of the great work that Dr. Rob Reff and his colleagues are doing to make a real difference in the lives of our students. Last year our high risk drinking rates fell by 6%.  They have fallen by over 19% since 2005 putting us below national averages.  The impact in our classrooms is also real and significant.  Over 91%of our students report that alcohol use has not impacted their academics.   

Transition to Change

This past spring at the open house reception for our beautifully renovated Riverview, we were reminded that during the first two-thirds of our university’s history, our number one enterprise was a laboratory school where we prepared teachers and launched generations of children on their educational journeys. 

We have come a long way since those days.  We prepare our education graduates to teach, lead and serve with great success.  Our graduates have made a difference in the lives of thousands of Minnesota’s young people and many have become leaders in education including one of the best among our distinguished alumnae, Dr. Valeria Silva, superintendent of the St. Paul School system.  Still, we have more work to do.  We have never been able to follow our graduates into their careers, to support them and gain an understanding of the effectiveness of our programs in preparing them for success.  Over the next few years we will receive $4.5 million in Bush Foundation funds to be part of a bold experiment with 13 other colleges and universities to transform our approach to teacher education.

We will change and we will continue to change.  It has never been the intent of this institution to keep doing things in the same way.  From normal school to teachers’ college to state college to state university, we have not stuck with the status quo.  We have changed to meet new challenges and take advantage of new opportunities.

We are about to change again….after three years of preparation, we are ready to make new choices.  We have explored a number of strategic opportunities together… and created a technology plan, a vision for our global role, a new diversity plan, a vision of the role of scholarship and much more.  We have tested our ability to make difficult decisions as we evaluated every academic program in the last twelve months and eliminated 32 programs in order to sharpen our focus and make the best use of limited resources.

Now we have a greater challenge to address.  We are ready to rethink the way we are organized to deliver the results we have promised to the people of Minnesota.  This is work that we have been preparing to do for three years…creating a portfolio of programs driven by the needs and character of our region.  It is unfortunate that we have to do this work under unprecedented conditions.  We have already cut 10% of our budget over the last three years.  To meet the challenges of the next biennium we will have to cut another 10%, that’s $14M to balance the budget for FY2012.

Over the course of this year we will reorganize the entire university starting with Academic Affairs.  I want to thank the more than 150 faculty members who worked together over the summer to prepare a set of proposals that we will discuss over the next month.  We will then move on to rethink the way the rest of our administrative services are organized.  No area of the University will be set apart.  When we are finished we will have aligned our structures to support our programs, making the best, most efficient use of the resources that we have available.

I don’t want to minimize the magnitude of what we have to do.  We will eliminate sports programs; we will eliminate academic programs; we will cut 80 faculty lines through a combination of attrition, early retirements and retrenchment.  We will eliminate staff lines as we reorganize to achieve savings and align structure with purpose.  The University will emerge from these trials better able to address both the opportunities and the challenges of the future.  However, it is impossible to deny that there will be pain and loss and that these results will not be clear until after a prolonged period of planning and uncertainty.

Over the next few days there will be a number of opportunities to gain an understanding of the complex processes that will able us to make these difficult decisions.  Our keynote speaker, Harvard Professor Richard Light will focus on the strategic significance of the work that we are doing.  I worked with Dick Light over 20 years ago.  You should hear what he has to say.  Provost Malhotra will explain the process that we will use to consider reorganization of the academic enterprise later today.  There will be two discussion sessions on Wednesday and Friday to explore the complexities of this process.  Also on Tuesday and Friday, Vice President Ludwig will discuss the budget challenges that we face and our plans for doing so.  Much of the work we need to do remains to be outlined.  The Steering Committee for the Administrative Reorganization process is nearing the completion of its work to outline a process and timeline for this work.

I know that anxiety is high.  Uncertainty is perhaps the most certain thing in our lives today.  I can’t tell you exactly what the outcome will be.  I promise that we will work together in an objective, open process to find the best course to our future.  And I can tell you that I believe in our capacity to do this work successfully and well.  But I know that in order to do this work well, we have to keep our purpose in front of us.  I can think of no better way to do this than to let one of our students tell you what this university has meant to her.

At this summer’s Brown Hall reception and tour for legislators and community leaders I heard senior nursing student Jenna Johnson talk about the difference the nursing program has made in her life.  Remember that this is a program that came about as the result of an effort to meet a real community need.  It was brought to life by committed faculty and the dream was realized by the day to day engagement of the hundreds of students who have chosen this program as the path to their futures.  Please listen to one of our best…..

Jenna Johnson’s speech:

                I would like to start by saying it is an honor to be speaking here today. My name is Jenna Johnson and in the fall I will be a senior in the nursing program. I have been a student at SCSU since 2006 and I am from Little Falls, MN. I was initially inspired to become a nursing student at SCSU to serve various populations surrounding central Minnesota. I never could have dreamed where the next 4 years would take me.
                SCSU Nursing has put a lasting impression on my life.  I have known that nursing was the path destined for me since I was a young child, and gaining acceptance to the program was one of the happiest moments of my life. Through every class and clinical experience, I am gaining knowledge and increasing my skills in my life’s greatest passion, and enjoying every minute of it. SCSU Nursing has given me the upmost respect for education and life long learning.
                Besides SCSU Nursing, a large part of my life is embedded in my military career. I joined the US Army National Guard to serve my country and help pay for college when I was just 17 years old.  In December 2008, a year into the nursing program at SCSU.  I was called to active duty and deployed to Baghdad, Iraq with an Infantry Unit out of River Falls, WI.  The transition from Nursing Student to one of seven females out of over 230 males in an infantry company was quite a change from my civilian life, and while challenging at times, it was an experience that in the end made me a stronger person.  The entire time I was gone, coming back to the program was a constant motivator. I kept in contact with professors and classmates, which was a great morale booster.  I had my textbooks sent overseas and while many of my fellow soldiers spent their free time on the internet or playing Xbox, I wanted to keep as tuned in to nursing as I could.
                In a place like that you hold onto your hopes and dreams in regards to returning to a sense normalcy, and at the same time words can’t even begin to express how humbled one can be by a world so far removed from what you have always known. 
It makes me more thankful for the little things in life that I now know I will never take for granted.  My dreams were strengthened by my experiences overseas and I felt more motivated than ever. I returned to school this past spring a week into the semester, and only one day after I had been released from active duty.  All of my experiences overseas prepared me again for a transition, this time from soldier to nursing student. Through the support and dedication of my professors and faculty of the nursing program I was able to make a successful transition back into the program.  Reintegration was challenging but it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. The increasing importance of teamwork was again apparent, and although there was a great amount of time to be put in, and work to be done, I felt as though everyone was cheering me on.  Each day, I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by how thankful I was for family, friends, professors, faculty, and classmates who were all so supportive.
                I take great pride in fulfilling my duty overseas and even though I had to leave my life here behind for a year it was a true honor to serve for the freedom of my family, friends and the citizens of the United States of America.  All of my experiences overseas prepared me again for a transition, this time from soldier to nursing student.  In addition to my military service, I also take great pride in saying that I am a nursing student at St. Cloud State University, which has instilled values to strive for excellence in both my personal and professional life.  I will take that with me when I represent the university in the pilot group traveling to Concepcion, Chile this November for Public Health and Home Care clinicals. I hope to use this experience to increase my knowledge on global health care needs, as well as continuing to connect with diverse populations. This has fostered an opportunity to increase my Spanish speaking language skills, which is a great asset in the health care field today.  The nursing faculty has been incredibly encouraging of our ventures to other parts of the world, working with underserved populations and increasing awareness of health care needs on a universal level. 
                Coming up to my senior year I am looking to the future with great anticipation, but understand the importance of living in the moment, yet also never forgetting that the past that has shaped who I am today.  In the next year I will venture into the professional world, a career in my life’s greatest passion, but it doesn’t end there.  One thing that SCSU Nursing has taught me is that this is so much more than a job, or a career; it is a way of life.  Through my upcoming experiences abroad I hope to be able to understand human kind on a greater level, breaking down barriers and increasing compassion as well as competency amongst the health care field.  I want to say again that it is a blessing to be here today, I feel so thankful to be home, even after 5 months, I still feel like I have to pinch myself.  It is an honor to call St Cloud and SCSU home for me, an institution where traditional values as well as an emphasis in diversity pave the way for a greater future for individuals and the world around us.

Thank you, Jenna.  Through good times and bad it is a privilege to work at a university that is fully committed to the success of every one of our students.We are not what we will be -- but what we are is a fine university that makes a difference in the lives of thousands of people every day.

I wish that I could wish you “fair winds and following seas” but I know that there are storms ahead.  It is a sound ship and a skilled crew that makes me sure that we will come through the storms to find fair winds again.  Thank you for all that you do.