2013 Faculty and Staff Fall Convocation


Address by President Earl H. Potter III

Welcome to the launch of the 2013-2014 academic year.  … I hope you found a few beautiful days during this all-too-short summer to get out on the water or into the yard or wherever your favorite summer place is for some relaxation and renewal. Christine and I were able to visit family in both the Northeast and Northwest.  I satisfied my need for fresh seafood but Christine didn’t get enough grandchild time….so she will be returning this fall when our next grandchild arrives in Seattle.

As we begin this year, I want to introduce the new members of our leadership team and ask you to offer them a special welcome:

  • Vice President for University Advancement Matt Andrew joined us just three weeks ago.  He is already implementing plans to better manage our relationships with alumni and other key internal and external constituencies. Matt and his wife Nancy come to us from St. Louis, where he was Associate Vice President of Alumni & Development Programs at Webster University, demonstrating considerable success at fundraising and alumni engagement. Matt also has significant experience in public relations and marketing. 
  • Interim Vice President for Finance and Administration Richard Duffett brings more than 34 years of experience in a range of key leadership positions at Ferris State University, Big Rapids, Michigan, including 13 years at the vice president’s level.  Most recently he served as Vice President for Administration & Finance and University Advancement & Marketing, and Executive Director of the University Foundation. 
  • Dean of Learning Resources Mark Vargas came on board July first.  He had been Director of the Robert and Mary Rita Murphy Stump Library, Saint Xavier University in Chicago.
  • Since July first the College of Science and Engineering also has a new Associate Dean in Adel Ali, who has served as professor of software engineering and head of the department of Math, Science and Technology at the University of Minnesota, Crookston.  Adel also will serve as Director of the school of Computing, Engineering and Environment.
  • Our first-ever Veteran’s Resource Center director, Monique Coleman, is applying her wealth of experience in veterans’ support services to this new position.  Among the more than 10,000 student veterans in MnSCU colleges and universities, well over 700 are at St. Cloud State, and the members of this valued student group and their families deserve not only our respect for their service, but our support and guidance as they make this often-challenging transition.  St. Cloud State has consistently been among the 20 percent of the 8,000 U.S. colleges, universities and trade schools to be included in G.I. Jobs magazine’s annual Military Friendly Schools list.  The designation was created to help guide veterans in their choice of an institution that has benefits, services and programs, services and organizations that offer active and veteran military a good educational value and a welcoming environment in which to prepare for a successful civilian life.

I’d also like to announce recent new administrative appointments for some familiar faces:

  • This summer we announced the appointments of Orn Bodvarsson as Dean of the School of Public Affairs and Monica Devers as Dean of the School of Health and Human Services.  Both had been serving in those positions on an interim basis.
  • Dan Gregory took his place as Interim Dean of the College of Science and Engineering June first.  Economics Professor Patricia Hughes has assumed Dan’s former position as Interim Associate Provost for Research and Dean of Graduate Studies.
  • In May Raymond Philippot was named Associate Dean of College of Liberal Arts and School of the Arts and Director of the School of the Arts.
  •  I also want to acknowledge the good news that we have filled 23 probationary faculty positions, added 21 new fixed-length faculty and have three pending hires in this category for the  academic year.  These and a number of new staff hires represent a signal that we are turning the corner and  recovering from the impact of major cuts made during 2009 through 2011.  
  • Please help me welcome all our new faculty and staff.  Would you all please stand and be recognized?

And while we’re paying tribute to members of our St. Cloud State community, I am pleased to recognize alumnus and our Minnesota State Representative Zach Dorholt, who earned his undergraduate degree in community development and master’s in counseling psychology on our campus. 

This is my seventh fall convocation address, and I would like to acknowledge the quality and depth of our work together.  We have accomplished a great deal.  You can see it in the new Wick Science Building Addition, the renovation of Riverview, the Parking Ramp and Public Safety Center, Brown Hall, the Welcome Center, Coborn Plaza, the most recently completed updates to the Atwood Center and Miller Center, ongoing work in Shoemaker Hall and transformation of Case/Hill residence halls.  This morning we will have the ribbon cutting for the magnificent new Integrated Science and Engineering Laboratory Facility – or ISELF – and next month we will celebrate the grand opening of the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center, a stunning renovated space fit for our award-winning Husky hockey program.  And as we complete Phase I of the Brooks Center we will move forward towards Phase II bringing new performance capabilities and an expanded focus on community interaction.

Significant change and progress have also come with our efforts to reassess, reorganize and reform our academic, administrative and service functions to help us better meet our commitments to our students and each other.  These changes have not come without challenges and the hard work to meet those challenges.  But we are now in a better place to offer our students the opportunities that lead to personal and professional success.  Our new banners declare this promise to our students:  we will provide them with the inspiration, knowledge and tools to become people who “think, do and make a difference.”

Without a doubt the foremost component of St. Cloud State’s ability to achieve our mission is the people whose knowledge, talent and dedication to teaching, mentoring and service make an extraordinary education possible.  In 144 years 105,000 graduates have left St. Cloud State with memories of special teachers and mentors who breathed life and passion into their educational experience. You are the individuals who are carrying out our core business…changing lives.

There many examples every day of how we succeed by working together.  One very recent example is the award of a $299,999 College Success Grant from the Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corporation for a new program called Facilitating Responsible Educational Experiences – or FREE – that offers 150 first-year students programming including common core courses, college transition workshops, tutoring, mentoring, and encouragement for campus involvement.

$4.5 million in college success grants were awarded to Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin schools to help students overcome obstacles that might impede their ability to finish school.  St. Cloud State is the only four-year MnSCU institution to receive one of the 28 grants, aimed at helping students achieve their educational goals by staying on track academically,  through developing the social and financial management skills necessary for program completion.  In keeping with our fundamental commitment to diversity, FREE targets those from low-income backgrounds, students of color and those who are first in their family to attend college. 

This program is also well aligned with MnSCU’s focus on ensuring that students have access to an extraordinary, affordable education.  The program is built on the understanding that access without success means nothing.  Free also meets the American Association of State Colleges and Universities’ Commitment to the Future, also known as the Project Degree Completion: A Public University Initiative that St. Cloud State has signed. This is a nation-wide commitment to offer accessible, affordable and quality public higher education for students of all backgrounds across America’s public campuses.

We know the best way to guarantee our institutional future is to continue doing what we do well while changing as we must to adjust to new realities.  Universities like ours are essential to the future of America, and to the world.  We are providing what America needs and we are doing the work a university must do to make sure that we are the best that we can be.  Among the many changes that we must make to keep pace with a changing world is to strengthen the interdisciplinary nature of the learning environment in which our students prepare for life and work.

The new ISELF facility that we celebrate today is a great example of a way St. Cloud State is fostering interdisciplinary approaches to teaching and meeting the needs of our communities and our state.  The building was designed with the advice of Medtronics and other Minnesota science-based businesses to provide learning spaces that are compatible with the way teams work in these businesses today.  To avoid becoming obsolete within its life span, the building is built to be flexible.  For example, the services in all of the labs are overhead and the furniture is movable.  This means that one could engage in a renewable fuels project this semester and reconfigure the space to accommodate a team including biologists, mechanical engineers and computer scientists working on a medical device project next semester.  The building’s teaching and lab spaces will not be owned by single departments because they are intended to promote interdisciplinary work.  There is even space in the building for business students to collaborate with engineering students in entrepreneurial work intended to bring a new product to market.  Perhaps the most exciting feature of the building is the space provided for regional businesses to work with faculty and students in addressing their real-world product development and testing needs.  The result of the overall design is a cutting-edge science and engineering learning facility in which university and community members will work together to prepare our graduates to participate in and lead a vibrant, growing economy.  It is a building that integrates our commitments to active and applied learning, community engagement and sustainability.  The people who come together in this building will be drawn from our increasingly diverse faculty, student body and community….bringing our fourth learning commitment…global and multicultural understanding….to life.  It is a building that will have a wide-ranging impact on our mission.

High impact practices are not limited to the sciences.  In fact, the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) has identified 10 high impact teaching practices that improve the retention rates and student success that can be used across all disciplines.  This year we are going explore the use of four of these practices: undergraduate research, service and community based learning, experiential learning and experiences focused on diversity and global awareness.  Our campus already provides students with many opportunities to engage in these practices.  I couldn’t tell you nor could anyone else tell you how many of our students have these experiences or how many opportunities they have.  Perhaps more importantly, nobody knows how well we are using these practices to help our students get the most out of their education.  We will start by taking stock of where we are; so much great work is being done by our faculty.  We need to identify our best work and learn from existing successes. But it is a sure thing that we need to extend and grow opportunities as well.  We will learn from peers across the nation and set goals for increasing our effective use of high impact practices beyond today’s strong portfolio until every student has multiple opportunities to experience a deeply engaging education.

Some of our best examples of existing high impact practices are found in our commitment to internationalization (for which we will be awarded the Senator Paul Simon Award in November).  We can only create international learning experiences with good partners.  One of the best of these is our partnership with the University of Concepcion.

This fall we are looking forward to hosting a series of events that will celebrate these efforts and offer new educational and cultural opportunities.  SCSU will welcome a Mapuche delegation representing the largest indigenous group in Chile from September 27th through October 5th.  The group is coming on a Chilean Government-sponsored visit to explore, learn about and develop connections with leaders in St. Cloud and across Minnesota, with a special focus on meeting with leaders of the Lakota and Ojibwe nations regarding retention of culture and language; entrepreneurial endeavors, health care and education as well as other aspects of community building.  The delegation includes Mapuche leaders, artists, entrepreneurs, weavers, and educators who will share their culture in some of our classrooms and lead a presentation to the SCSU student community on campus.

This effort is jointly carried out by St. Cloud State University, Universidad de Concepcion, and the Chilean government.  During the time of their visit we also will have the pleasure of welcoming three other administrators from Universidad de Concepcion: Dr. Ernesto Figueroa Huidobro (Vice-Rector), Dr. Ivan Araya Gomez, (Director Office for Institutional & International Affairs) and Dr. Omar Salazar Provoste, Coordinator UdeC/SCSU Partnership.  The success of this 11-year multidimensional partnership brought us another distinction to celebrate this past year…the 2013 Heiskell Award for Best Practices in International Partnerships.

We have built a proud tradition of offering an education characterized by a broad range of points of view, perspectives and cultures that enable students to apply what they’re learning to the real world. Our students have benefited from an increasingly internationalized campus where more than 80 countries are represented each year among those come here to study and to teach. 

In October I will reconnect with many of our international alumni during my visit to Malaysia.  We have stayed in contact with more than 260 Malaysian graduates who live in places around the world, with the largest number in Malaysia and Australia.  We know there are hundreds more that we hope to connect with as a result of this first alumni gathering in Kuala Lumpur.  Malaysian students represented the largest international student contingent at St. Cloud State for several consecutive years, with as many as 155 here during the 2000-2001 academic year.  Currently we have nephews, nieces, sons and daughters of some of our Malaysian alumni studying at St. Cloud State.

Whatever their point of origin our students come to us with the knowledge that a St. Cloud State education is a great value.  In fact, our recognition is growing as an institution that offers the support and opportunities that lead to success. This summer our standing among the nation's top four-year colleges improved by over 100 positions in the most recent "America's Top Colleges" ranking by Forbes magazine. The University is ranked among an elite 24 percent of colleges and universities based on student satisfaction, post-graduate success, student debt, graduation rate and nationally competitive awards, according to an analysis published yesterday by the New York-based bi-weekly. St. Cloud State ranks 504th among 2,774 four-year schools, according to Forbes, which developed the ranking with the Center for College Affordability and Productivity in Washington D.C.

National recognition is powerful evidence of the quality of our work….it validates the efforts of many, many contributors to our mission.  As I move around the country more and more presidents that I meet are commenting on the success of your work.  Nevertheless, sometimes we are the ones who need to be reminded that this is a fine institution that is doing great work every day.  So, to keep our successes in front of all of our stakeholders….including those of you who are right here, we have found a way to tell our story better through the “Distinctions” project developed by University Communications and Information Technology Services.  The “Distinctions” website is a tool that lists distinctions and facts that set St. Cloud State apart, including descriptions of some of our most distinguished alumni. A distinction is an award, accomplishment, unique offering or excellent program. Facts are data-centered statements about the University.  It’s a living, interactive document with information meant to be used in many different ways and enhanced by submissions from you.

A good example of our distinctions is our membership in the United Nations Academic Impact program, which supports the U.N. Academic Impact initiative.  This global initiative aligns institutions of higher education with the United Nations Millenial Goals.  The program’s objectives fit with our learning commitments.  They focus on finding solutions to interconnected problems – climate change, food security, poverty, health care, human rights and opportunity for education for all are issues we all care about and that we have committed as a university to engage all our students in caring about.  We value education as a way to ensure a better future locally and globally, and so we enthusiastically joined this effort shared by more than 700 institutions in over 100 countries.  Our participation opens many opportunities to our faculty, staff and students.  As we continue to extend our internationalization work to touch more members of our community, we will be thinking together about how to live into our commitment to the UN Academic Impact Initiative.

Some might wonder how we can talk about doing new things when budgets are tight and we are making reductions in some areas of operation.  There is more to this than we have time for now but the most important reason we can do new things….even now…is the philanthropic support of alumni/ae and friends.  No pressure, Matt…..  We continue to nurture the relationships that help provide the resources that add to our ability to remain an affordable option for all our potential students.  The Foundation has been hard at work developing and strengthening the resources that come from philanthropy.  At our ISELF Grand Opening this morning you will hear about the substantial funding for equipment purchases provided by a College of Science and Engineering alumnus.  The Herb Brooks National Hockey Center project has been funded primarily through private gift support, including four gifts in excess of $1 million.  In 2013 giving increased to $5.1M from $4.5M. 

We have a great team and the team is doing fine work.  We must change because the world is changing. But change will focus on how we do our work…not our purpose.  Our purpose will remain the same….we make a difference in the thousands of lives every day….and it is because we do that our alumni/ae and friends will continue to give to help us do our work….these gifts will grow in size and number because we will continue to grow and improve and build stronger relationships for the future.  There is no way but forward….and I feel greatly privileged to be on this path with you.

And now I wish you all a rewarding and productive academic year.  And now….please join me in moving to our beautiful new ISELF building to celebrate the opening of this great facility.