2012 Faculty and Staff Fall Convocation

Streaming Video of 2012 Fall Convocation

Address by President Earl H. Potter III

Welcome to fall 2012.  It’s a new year…… and we are going to build on all of the hard work of the last few years and the work that many have done this summer.  It’s a time of great promise but before we begin it’s time to pause, take stock, and celebrate.

I want to start by introducing four individuals who have assumed leadership positions since our last convocation.  All four bring significant expertise to their new roles and each has already proved to be valuable addition to the St. Cloud State community.

Len Sippel joined us a month ago as interim vice president for finance and administration.  He came to us equipped with an MBA, a CPA and 42 years of solid experience.  He has been a senior administrator for budget analysis, finance, administration and operations at colleges, universities and businesses across the country.  A Wisconsin native, he is most recently from Washington, D.C..  I am grateful that he has committed six months to this position and while a nationwide search for a permanent vice president is underway, make no mistake….Vice President Len Sipple will make a difference while he is here.

Our new Director of Athletics, Heather Weems, hit the ground sprinting on June 1st.  She is infusing new energy into a strong Husky tradition that is centered on a commitment to the success of our student/athletes.  Originally from Iowa, she began her career in athletic administration at the University of Denver.  She most recently served as associate athletics director at Drake University in Des Moines.  During her career she has honed skills in collaboration, strategic planning, image and culture building and – most importantly – making the coaches and athletes who are the heart of our athletics program…the center of our attention and effort.

Holly Schoenherr joined us as Human Resources Director on February 1st.  She has years of experience in a number of different organizations and universities in Ohio, Minnesota, Florida and Texas  She holds a Ph.D. in higher education administration from the University of South Florida.  Holly is a strategic leader who has both a command of the details of human resource administration and a vision for employee development and success.  She is a team leader who will bring people together to build the workforce that SCSU will need to thrive in the future.

Mark Springer was named Dean of the College of Liberal Arts in May, after serving in the position on an interim basis for 16 months.  He has been a classroom and music studio faculty member for 16 years, serving as Chair of the Music Department from 2002-2007 and as interim associate dean of the then College of Fine Arts and Humanities from 2008-2010.  An award-winning musician, Mark has been involved in the greater St. Cloud arts community since he joined the faculty of the Music Department at St. Cloud State in 1996. In addition to the strength of his practice, he has demonstrated deep understanding of the strategic opportunities and challenges that face the College of Liberal Arts.

Each year we say goodbye to colleagues who retire or move on to other opportunities.  At the same time we are fortunate to attract new faculty and staff to fill our open positions.  Since the beginning of spring semester we have hired 39 new faculty and staff members.  Our new colleagues come to us with talent, experience and – most importantly – a commitment to students.   They bring fresh ideas and enthusiasm to the good work we are doing as a campus community.  Please join me in welcoming our new administrators and all our new faculty and staff. 

Earlier this month St. Cloud State was once again listed in the Forbes Magazine ranking of the top 650 U.S. colleges and universities.  That places us among the top 25 percent of all four-year institutions in the country.  What I like particularly about this ranking is that it focuses on criteria that matter most to students: the quality of teaching, career prospects, graduation rates and levels of debt.

As I said before, these are exciting times.  Even during the summer months, our campus community has been alive with learning activities and events that enhance our identity and highlight our value as a community partner.  Let’s revisit some of these events…..you remember those assignments in the first week of school… “How did you spend your summer vacation?”  Well, here we go….

  • Most visible, of course, is the progress of our two major construction projects: the National Hockey and Event Center and the Integrated Science and Engineering Laboratory Facility.  These buildings come with the promise of much more than an altered campus skyline.  Each will change the way we work and the way that we are seen.  I encourage you to watch their progress on the St. Cloud State website…or better yet, go see them up close.
  • One building project that was completed this summer is the renovation of Hill-Case residence halls.  This is the second residence hall renovation to be completed and there are more to come.  Stop by to see the bright, inviting spaces that encourage our students to set aside their computers for a while and engage with each other.

……and while these are the most visible goings on, there was so much else that happened that will also have an enduring impact.

  • As part of an ongoing effort to engage our neighbors, we joined with south side neighborhood groups to co-host a multi-dimensional educational celebration of our connections to America’s first Nobel Prize-winning author, Sinclair Lewis.  Participants commented on the unprecedented diversity of the long list of project partners: Besides the south side Historic preservation organizations and university offices and alumni association, partners included the City of St. Cloud Arts Commission, Stearns History Museum and Research Center, Sinclair Lewis Foundation, St. Cloud Public Library, St. Cloud Reading Room Society, Paramount Theater, St. Cloud Municipal Band, and St. Cloud Hospital Archives.  And as lasting tribute to the Lewis family, the historically accurate exterior renovations to the renamed Lewis House are just about done.  More than words our neighbors have noticed a new commitment to care for the history that they value so much.
  • This commitment “goes deep” so to speak as you could see this summer when Archaeology faculty members Debra Gold and Mark Muniz led students in an archaeological dig on Shoemaker Hall’s front yard.  They learned mapping and field archaeology techniques on land that now is the northeast corner of Shoemaker.  On an 1869 map it was a residence for early neighbors of the new St. Cloud Normal School.  It is good to remember that others have been here before us.
  • On a perfect June day we continued our new “Celebrate St. Cloud State” tradition by welcoming thousands of community folks to campus for the 39th annual Lemonade Concert and Arts Fair.  Each year this unique celebration is made possible by the hard work and creativity of hundreds of our staff and students.  It’s an unparalleled opportunity for St. Cloud State to show our hospitality and our beautifully maintained campus.  
  • Student athletes spread Husky pride and joy among the thousands of parade-goers lining the route of the Granite City Days Parade.  We even had a brush with Olympic fever when the Olympic flame traveled through Alnwick during its 69-day trip through Great Britain and some of our students had the chance of a lifetime to hold it before passing it along to the next community.
  • On August 1st we took the final step in our commitment to becoming a tobacco-free campus.  This move has not been without controversy, but it followed considerable campus-wide discussion and study by the Tobacco Policy Task Force and continued with the work of the Tobacco Use Policy Implementation and Sustainability Committee (thanks, folks, for your hard work in taking the lead).  I am sure you can see the difference that this move has made as we join the growing number of universities nation-wide that have become tobacco free.
  • Also in August we welcomed more than 60 alumni of the Advanced Preparation Program back for the program’s 25th reunion celebration.  This Award-winning program has had a tremendous impact on more than 600 incoming students.  Graduates from as far back as 1988 returned to share memories and renew friendships. "APP gave me a better understanding of my own identity," said Bernadette Wilson, currently director of the Intercultural Center and Student Human Rights Office at the College of Saint Benedict and a member of that first class. "It helped me become the person I am now.”   One of our current APP students was joined at the reunion by his mother, who traveled from Florida and represented the APP class of 1995.

The APP program is just one of many ways St. Cloud State has of reaching out to students in order to help them succeed.  Other special programs offer resources to student veterans, students with young families, and students who need help coping with challenges that without help can become insurmountable barriers to success in college.  You make a difference in the lives of thousands of students every day.

We promise our students an “education for life.”  That promise is much more than a slogan.  It is a pledge that is rooted in our mission, embedded in our vision and assured by our learning commitments.  It drives our strategic plan which aligns well with Chancellor Rosenstone’s commitment to provide an extraordinary education for all our students. This is what we do…it is who we are.

Nevertheless, we in higher education – especially those who are employees of the state – are under siege these days.  Politicians and citizens, frustrated by a still-challenged economy, are questioning the value of a college education and the value of what we do as public servants.  I’m here to say that I see how hard you work-- day in and day out--to give our students your best, and your best is offering them an education that can give them the skills, knowledge and confidence to live a full and valuable life.

An education for life challenges students to encounter new ideas and struggle to understand them.  Together we create the experiences that foster these encounters and help our students to build the skills to handle these challenges.  In order to do this work we have made a commitment to grow ourselves…in our capacity for understanding and our ability to teach others to understand.

  • One example of how this work takes place is the Faculty Learning Communities created through The Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning.  Milton Cox defined Faculty and Professional Learning Communities as “cross disciplinary faculty and staff groups of six to fifteen members who engage in an active, collaborative, yearlong program with a curriculum about enhancing teaching and learning with frequent seminars and activities that provide learning, development, the scholarship of teaching, and community building”.  In 2010-2011, nine faculty members worked together and impacted the learning of 250 students.  Last year 25 faculty and instructional staff participated to impact more than 1,000 students.
  • Another great group of faculty and staff working together to create transformational learning opportunities is the Anti-Racist Pedagogy Across the Curriculum Initiative, a two-year-old collaboration between the Community Anti-Racism Education Initiative and the Multicultural Resource Center.  The program was awarded a 2012 Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Diversity and Equity Award in the category of Innovative Practices.  The initiative’s mission is to provide intensive training for faculty to learn how to incorporate anti-racist pedagogy into their existing courses across disciplines and across campus.
  • In addition to these groundbreaking collaborative efforts, the campus-wide Task Force on Diversity and the campus-wide Task Force on Globalization have presented their recommendations for making this university the place we have long said we want to be…and we will make it happen.

With much work behind us and an increased capacity to deal with the many challenges that we face we now focus on the priorities for the coming year.  They include three defined by Chancellor Rosenstone:

  • Offering our students an extraordinary education
  • Being the partner of choice for Minnesota’s employers
    AND
  • Maintaining access, affordability and opportunity for all students

To these three priorities we add a fourth that is perhaps peculiar to St. Cloud State University…the development of a culture that is characterized by the ability to deal with difficult issues with respect in an atmosphere of civility.

None of the first three priorities can be accomplished unless we can manage to accomplish the fourth.  The fourth of our priorities – to establish standards for how we frame issues for discussion and how we communicate– will provide the foundation for accomplishing the first three.  Only in a university that allows itself to be subject to the principles of civil and informed discourse can our mission be achieved.

As we learn to communicate better and to engage others respectfully we will experience a cultural evolution that will permeate everything we do.

We must create a safe place for all our students to encounter new ideas.  In order for this to be so, we must be responsible role models of respectful discourse.  In truth, it is often true that we are not.

We see all around us the consequences of a failure to engage in open and respectful dialogue.  We see it in Congress, in our Legislature, and in our news.  We will seek new avenues of understanding and acceptance of the value of sharing our different perspectives openly while we listen to each other with courtesy and respect.

In pursuit of this objective, sometimes we will need to recognize that our students are showing us the way:

A good example of such a student is recent graduate, Waleed Issa, who came to us by way of a Palestinian refugee camp.  Waleed and I spoke last spring as he was preparing for his summer engagement.  His story is now international news.  Waleed is one of 10 young people – 5 Israelies and 5 Palestinians – who were brought to Washington D.C. this summer by a group called the New Story Leadership.  The group is introducing a radically different approach to peace-building.

In an article published in the Times of Israel, Waleed was quoted as saying, “I never had the chance to get to know Israelis and the American Jewish community from the inside.  By sharing an office with them, I’ve been struck by how they’re trying to do good things for the new generation in Israel and Palestine by working toward a two-state solution.”  An economics major, his dream is to launch a website or app where joint Israeli- Palestinian innovations can be “crowd-funded.”

Another trailblazing student is Tashiana Osborne, who grew up in White Bear Lake and came to St. Cloud State University to broaden her world.  She jumped in feet first, participating in a short-term spring break program at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in South Africa her first year.  She said the experience encouraged her to find new opportunities and made her feel like she can do anything with her life.

This summer Tashiana, who is majoring hydrology and meteorology, traveled on a National Science Foundation program to San Salvador Island in the Bahamas, for a field experience in Anthropogenic Climate Change. Tashiana has shown us that early experiences open doors and empower students to create learning opportunities for themselves.

This past week we learned about another exceptional student whose accomplishments have brought honor to himself and his university.  Chunyang Huang of Taiwan – better known around here as Timothy – is one of several international students the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders has recruited.  According to Dean Monica Devers, Timothy has excelled at SCSU.  This past spring he received recognition from his discipline’s statewide organization as well as an Excellence in Leadership Award. Now in Minneapolis completing his medical internship, he has been selected as a participant in the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association’s Minority Student Leadership Program.  Timothy is committed to opening doors to young people who need help to develop the power of communication.  He will do that and he will make a difference because of the education he has received at St. Cloud State University.

Now that we’ve paid tribute to a trio of students who are exemplary representatives of our student body, I want to end my address with a salute to a trio of faculty members who were honored in March with an invitation to perform at Carnegie Hall.  Soprano Catherine Verrilli, flutist Melissa Krause and percussionist Terry Vermillion, Trio Lorca, are three faculty members who embrace the PROCESS of making music - the DISCOVERY of shared ideas - the DISCUSSION of individual perspectives - and COLLABORATION that embraces each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

The opportunities for professional development that are offered by the University have allowed them the time to frame and reframe their ideas of what music is, and how it contributes to the core of who they each are. Their rehearsals and performances provide an oasis of creative freedom that is a world apart from their day-to-day lives, and it serves to enrich their teaching beyond what can be expressed in words.

I am delighted to ask you to please join me in welcoming Trio Lorca to the stage.  

(Trio Lorca performs)

Thank you Catherine, Melissa and Terry for that thrilling performance.

Have a great year.