Office of the President

2008 Faculty and Staff Fall Convocation

Streaming Video of 2008 Fall Convocation

Address by President Earl H. Potter III

Well, it may have been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon, but it certainly won’t be a quiet week here!

Welcome to the 2008-2009 academic year.  I appreciate this occasion for greeting and catching up with each other before the students arrive in force.

While most of you have been here for some time, we have some wonderful new additions to welcome:

  • Frank Harrold, Dean of the College of Social Sciences;
  • Ann Radwan, Associate Vice President for International Studies;
  • Judith Siminoe, Special Advisor to the President;
  • Paula King, Associate Dean, College of Business; and
  • Ruth Zietlow, Associate Dean, Library Services.
  • I’d like to also acknowledge Mike Gillilan, named permanent associate vice president for Student Life and Development after serving in that interim capacity for two years. 

We are also being joined by about 100 new faculty and staff.  Many of them are here this morning.  Let’s give all our new colleagues a warm welcome – the kind of warm welcome you gave me just one year ago. 

I also want to take a moment to express my appreciation to a few others in leadership roles:

  • Sharon Cogdill has moved to the position of acting dean of the College of Fine Arts and Humanities after serving so capably as interim dean of the College of Social Sciences for three years.   
  • Thank you also to Margaret Vos for her service as interim associate vice president for international studies.  It takes a special kind of ability and courage to step into challenging positions and take on new responsibilities when called upon to serve.  Sharon and Margaret are great examples, and I thank them both.
  • A special thank you to Provost Michael Spitzer, who will be retiring at the end of this academic year.  I’m grateful he has agreed to stay through this year as we continue academic planning on many fronts and begin to implement our plans on others.

This morning we have the opportunity to step back and take a look at what we’ve accomplished together in the past year and to look ahead at what we plan to achieve together during the coming academic year and beyond.

One year ago, in my first convocation address, I said that we would build on our strengths – and become a force for transformation.  We would be a place that helps students realize their dreams, a resource Minnesotans point to with pride as an excellent learning community and a wellspring for social and cultural enrichment.

I ended by encouraging you to take more pride in your contributions as individuals and in our contributions as a university.  I talked about enhancing St. Cloud State’s reputation by telling a compelling story of excellence.  If we do this well, I said, we will attract more public and private support as well as students who are seeking to build a solid foundation for their future.

Well, we must be doing something right.  In the past year there has been a growing sense of the university’s value in our community.  Perceptions are changing both off and on campus.  Last May, together with the City of St. Cloud, the university commissioned a survey from the most scientifically sound research pollsters we could find:  The SCSU Survey, led by Steve Frank, Stephen Wagner, Michelle Kukoleka-Hammes and David Robinson.

The results were overwhelmingly positive. Ninety-four percent of the respondents said they are proud to have our University as part of their community.  Ninety-six percent see the University as an asset to the city.  Ninety-two percent feel welcome when they come to campus, and 94 percent believe the diversity of our students, faculty and staff is of value to our community.

When student pollsters of the SCSU Survey conducted their annual Spring Survey, it was even more good news.  About seven of ten students said they are always or usually proud to be St. Cloud State students.  That’s about the same percentage of positive answers for that question as in past years.  But eighty-seven percent said that they feel St. Cloud State is on the right track, and that’s the highest percentage the Survey has ever registered for that question.

Opinion makers and community leaders have recognized that it’s a new day at St. Cloud State.  We’re reaching out and others are reaching back as we strengthen old partnerships and develop new ones. 

Last fall, after visiting the neighborhoods and neighbors around campus to encourage responsible student behavior during Move-in Weekend, a St. Cloud Times editorial noted the impact of delivering this message in unity with city leaders and neighborhood residents. 

It read: “City and University officials and neighbors worked hard last weekend to welcome those folks who become new city residents with the start of a new school year…by most accounts,” the editorial went on to say, “the annual move-in day weekend was deemed an improvement from recent years.”

We’re grateful for this and other affirmations of continued change on and around our campus.  Some of the changes already made are visually evident…Faculty, staff and students of the G.R. Herberger College of Business have  settled into their new offices and classrooms as well as the  inviting spaces for studying and quiet introspection that private giving allowed the university to provide.  They’re joined by the Department of Philosophy and many of the significant student services that make up the Center for Student Success.

The $15.2 million Centennial project received generous support from the Herberger family, from alumna Dee Griebel and from the business students of Delta Sigma Pi to raise the final $2.2 million needed to make this facility a reality.  These efforts are a great example of what we can accomplish when we work together.

To pretty much universal celebration on campus and in the community, the long-awaited, beautiful new parking ramp and Public Safety Center are open for business in their new facilities.  This $9 million project will open St. Cloud State University to our community guests as well as serve our students more effectively.

Construction on the $15 million addition to the Wick Science Building will be completed this fall, with move-in next spring.

Plans are underway for other exciting new and improved facilities.  The $15 million renovation of Brown Hall will begin in the spring.  Riverview is under renovation, and this $4.5 million project is on track to be completed next summer.

I recognize that we have a lot of capital needs in many of the facilities across this campus.  We will continue to address these concerns through our facilities master planning process during the coming year. But this planning is for our future.  We have a few huge projects on our doorstep right now.

Our number one capital improvement goal for the next few years will be to secure full funding for a $42 million integrated science and engineering laboratory facility….ISELF, for short.  We received legislative funding to begin planning ISELF.

This new facility will position us as a leader in educating science-based business leaders, science educators and professionals in other scientific fields.  You may know that this facility was slated for $25 million, but with the tenacity of Dean David DeGroote and others, as well as great support from Chancellor McCormick and his office, this facility will truly be a signature building on this campus for decades to come. 

No project funded for planning has ever been denied full funding for construction…the question is “when will that funding be provided?”  We will be doing a full-scale push for the 2010 legislative bonding session to get construction funds as soon as possible. 

Now on to the National Hockey Center. 

We received this past session $6.5 million in legislative funding.  With great community support, efforts are underway to raise additional funds for a $28.5 million facility that will transform the National Hockey Center into a regional events center that will help make St. Cloud an entertainment and education destination for Central Minnesota.  It’s a plan, a St. Cloud Times editorial said, that “brings with it more optimism than a freshly Zambonied sheet of ice.”  And it “speaks volumes about the communitywide interest, enthusiasm and fundraising realities of this impressive idea.”

I want to take this opportunity to publicly thank our legislative delegation: Sen. Tarryl Clark, Rep. Larry Haws, Rep. Steve Gottwalt, Rep. Larry Hosch, Rep. Michelle Fishbach, and Rep. Dan Severson.  Their support made all the difference in what some have described as a “clean sweep” for St. Cloud.  Still, the winning position in which we found ourselves was founded upon a great deal of good work that went before. 

One reflection of this work was the many positive comments I repeatedly heard from policy makers…SCSU takes good care of the facilities we have.  I want to say thank you to all of the individuals who do a superb job of maintaining our campus.  Many of them were on hand to greet Gov. Pawlenty when he came to St. Cloud State this past May to sign the bonding bill into law. 

We all thank the Governor for the powerful statement of support that he made by coming to share this moment with us.  I want to thank all of those who made this success happen.

People are excited about the plans for the National Hockey Center as an anchor for a grand plan to reshape St. Cloud from the campus to the Civic Center downtown.  The redevelopment plans herald some stunning changes for this part of our city.  Changes that will help make us a true University town, with a strengthened appreciation for and pride in the good living we derive from shared cultural resources and creative, progressive ideas.

New and exciting changes are afoot at St. Cloud State and in the community, and in ways that have not occurred before.  The vision and the planning are coming together.  Our university community will be a leader in planning and executing the “Fifth Live” project that will connect us aesthetically and physically with our downtown. 

By the way, one of the leaders of this effort is local attorney Brian Schoenborn, a 1992 St. Cloud State graduate and former Student Government president.  Thank you, Brian, for your leadership and your loyalty to your Alma Mater.

A new coalition of regional partners also is being formed to look at better ways to incorporate the Mississippi River into all of our future planning.  Together with the city of St. Cloud, Centra Care, the St. Cloud Chamber, the St. Cloud Area Economic Development Partnership, and the Central Minnesota Community Foundation we will do a better job of positioning our community on one of America’s great rivers.  The result of our shared work will strengthen our position as a creative center…a great place to live and work.

These changes are happening because we’re thinking about this community and this university in new ways.  Together we seek to develop our full potential as engine for economic development based upon the creative talent that universities draw to a community.   

Our new “welcome back” campaign is a good example.  We approached other campuses and the St. Cloud Times with an idea to visually and emphatically welcome our students back to the community.  It’s a simple but highly effective way to remind our community how much our students and the presence of our educational institutions benefit us all, economically, culturally, and in so many other ways. I am grateful to Loren Boone for developing this concept and leading in its realization.
I cannot overstate how important community partnerships are to the work that we are doing.  We’re building strong relationships with our neighbors through our neighborhood visitation programs and by close consultation with our neighbors and neighborhood leaders as we make plans.  We’ve strengthened our working relationship with the city, thanks in part to the enthusiastic support of Mayor and alumnus Dave Kleis.  It was Dave’s idea for us to reach out together into the neighborhood to welcome new students on move-in weekend, and we’ve formed partnerships on many issues.  We share the philosophy that the community needs the university and the university needs the community to move forward.

We are advancing and we are making a difference for this region through all that we do together.  Yet, we are also faced with our own challenges.  Last year I stated my commitment to developing an “anti-racist” culture for the sake of our own campus community and in order to become a center of strength to better serve our city and the surrounding region.   This past year we had some serious threats to our students and to their sense of safety.  Some of our students were powerful advocates as we sought the appropriate way to deal with these issues.  We met this challenge together as a community, openly and honestly, and we’re a better campus for it. 

We are involving a broader group of advisers in our efforts to confront the hateful actions of those who would spread fear and intimidation.  We’ve brought students together to talk about the standards and values we share as a community, and how we can educate those who don’t “get it.” We are also reshaping our approach to setting expectations for our campus community.  A dedicated team is helping to update and expand the scope of the required Respect and Responsibility workshop.  We will separate the approaches we use to address sexual harassment and assault and race-based discrimination and tolerance.  Our goals are to maximize the impact of both elements of this program.

As president, it’s important for me to lead the whole university…and that means caring about the whole university.  I must always consider the perspectives and the interests of every student of St. Cloud State University.  I must think about the individual dignity and the individual needs of every faculty and staff member who has come here to help us create the learning community in which our students find their futures.  If I don’t do that, I can’t ask you to do it.  And I am asking.  I ask for your support as a community as we work to increase the impact of our work to set and enforce standards that are essential to our success as a learning community.

Recently after hearing me talk about my vision and goals for elevating the reputation of St. Cloud State, a local business leader asked me: “How will you know when you get there?”  When I offered a detailed, “academic” response, he offered his own ideas….which I like much better.

In order to succeed we must build a reputation as a place that cares about our students.  If we do this, our students will come here because we care about them and help them achieve their dreams.  Faculty and staff will come because they know it’s a great place to work.  Donors will give because they want to be part of supporting a great university. 

Having said this, in order to make our case and know that we are doing the right things…not just doing things right, we need to do a better job of measuring and documenting our success.  A number of ways to measure the impact of a university have been developed in recent years.  You may know that the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Board of Trustees has created a set of measures designed to help make us accountable to the legislators, governing boards and – most importantly – to the people who are paying for the education we offer.

With the leadership of the University’s Strategic Planning Committee we have developed an additional set of measures that will guide our efforts as we move forward.  Our overall goal is to become the best state university in the upper Midwest.  This is not a vague assertion.  We know how to describe success and we can compare ourselves with our peers.  We have a ways to go to realize this commitment but we can do this if we plan and act with purpose.

During the last year we engaged in an academic planning process that addressed our strategic priorities. Those priorities are:

  1. Enhancing Excellence:  To provide a challenging, rich, global and diverse curriculum and learning environment informed by active research and scholarship.
  2. Expanding opportunity:  To improve access, satisfaction and success of all our students, especially those who are underrepresented or traditionally underserved by higher education.
  3. Enriching Community:  To engage in partnerships that contribute to the well being and stability of the University and the Central Minnesota community.
  4. And, Elevating Practice:  Innovate and continuously improve to provide our students with the best possible education and to meet future opportunities and challenges. 

The resulting academic plan will enhance those distinctive characteristics that set us apart from our peers:

  • An array of research and service programs that enables the university to address the needs and opportunities that characterize our region,
  • A portfolio of distinctive programs that reflect our strengths and character (i.e., a set of programs related to the issues facing our region that are strong because of where are located and what we have become),
  • Education that drives knowledge into action…and
  • Accessibility….that opens to the door to success.

Building upon the foundation of the work that we completed last year, we will continue the development of our vision along specific lines: 

(1) We will work to align strategic planning and budgeting.  This work will include the development of processes to evaluate and support new program offerings as well as strategies to increase focus on our greatest strengths;

(2)  We will create a vision for the “global university” that will guide the management and program development of our efforts in international studies;

(3) We will create a comprehensive technology plan that includes plans for teaching, administrative and laboratory technology;

(4) We will create a vision statement for on-line learning that grows from our commitments as a regional, comprehensive university that values face-to-face contact with teachers and mentors as well as convenience and flexibility;

(5) We will pursue the development of action plans that derive from the work of faculty/staff task forces on staff development, faculty development and the development of a community of scholars. 

In addition to these efforts we will take specific actions to define directions and move forward.  The need for these efforts emerged from our planning work last year.  They will require new, focused initiatives:

First, a newly formed Diversity Task Force will begin work in September to develop a comprehensive diversity plan, starting with the examination of every aspect of our culture and character to find better ways of making ours a welcoming, safe community that values our diversity.  We have not had an honest, realistic diversity plan to which we pledge our full effort.  We must have one if we are to achieve the objective of building an anti-racist culture that offers the opportunity of success to every SCSU student and employee.

Second, I am announcing the creation of a Sustainability Task Force to develop an approach to “greening the campus.”  This task force will have two parts…one to focus on campus operations and one to focus on the issue of sustainability in the curriculum.  I was struck last year as I met with every academic department and staff unit.  We do a lot already but it is unfocused.  We waste potential and we fail to gain the recognition that we deserve.  We will change that.

During this academic year the University will also be participating in a nationally-recognized, campus-wide self-study of our first-year programs called Foundations of Excellence.  Through a carefully structured process of assessment, review and discussion, we will produce a strategic action plan by next May.

Most importantly, we’re doing a better job of pulling together and valuing ourselves and each other.  You as individuals and we as a university are having a tremendous impact on the community, the state and the world.  Last year I offered some examples of our best….staff and faculty who make a difference in the lives of our students.  This year I would like to offer you some examples of why we all work so hard….the wonderful students of SCSU:

  • Terri Johnson emerged as a caring and capable student leader and adviser as we worked through the challenges of dealing with the hurtful symbols that plagued our campus this past year.  She served on my ad hoc advisory committee on these issues and is a graduate assistant in the Multicultural Student Services office.  Terri, whose hometown is Rochester, also works as a mentor and teacher at Robert C. Johnson’s Math and Science camps. 
  • As student Fee Allocations chair and member of the technology fee committee, Kent Fichtner from St. Peter has overseen the allocation of nearly $25 million dollars in the past two years.  Kent has prompted changes and improvements to the fee allocation process and encouraged broader student participation with sensitivity and responsibility.   He also helps many students in his job as a senior supervisor for the access labs in the Miller Center.
  • Pa Nhia Xiong is secretary for the Hmong Student Organization and an enthusiastic and valued student worker both as an admissions tour guide and customer service representative and as a tutor in the Write Place.  Born in Thailand, she emigrated to St. Paul when she was 5.  Now she’s an English major who’s an empathetic resource for other students whose second language is English. 
  • Sophomore Ernest Langston also served on the ad hoc committee on hate crimes.  A student dedicated to change, he has been active since he arrived on campus – in the Hmong Student Organization, NAACP Student Chapter, and this year he’ll be president of the Asian Students in Action and Cultural Diversity Chair for Student Government.  A communication studies major from Maple Grove, he aspires to be president of Student Government.
  • Joe Storlien from Dawson, Minnesota, has been an environmental activist on campus and in regional river cleanup projects and other green activities throughout his undergraduate and graduate school years on campus.  His research in environmental and technological studies earned him awards and opportunities to present at regional and international conferences.  He just began his Ph.D. program at Texas A&M, but his influence lives on through other environmentally active students he mentored.
  • For the 1,000-plus international students on our campus, Meenakshi Vaskota is an advocate for interaction among all students.   A native of Kathmandu, Nepal, she’s part of the largest cultural group on campus.  But as president of the International Students Association, Meenakshi works with international students from all nations. Cultural sharing goes both ways, Meenakshi believes, and she encourages international students and U.S. students alike to share perspectives and traditions.  To establish more such connections, she helped launch the Cultural Café last semester.
  • Laura Hoffman, from Courtland, Minnesota, has been hooked on University Program Board event planning since attending homecoming coronation her freshman year. She has been enthusiastically organizing and mentoring other students ever since.   In her role as adviser, she trains and supports students in leadership development and organizing events. Laura recently was named a student representative on the National Association of Campus Activities Board of Directors.
  • Quincy Nang, a senior in pre-med, was raised in Paris but returned to his native Gabon for high school.  At St. Cloud State, he’s been president of the JP Network, a group that teaches Japanese culture;   a pre-med student adviser, international student peer adviser, student ambassador, male peer educator, and dedicated member of the Organization for Prevention of AIDS in Africa.  He’s helped get more international students into the Honors Program, and if that’s not enough, he’s on the national Sodexo Student Board of Directors and is a communications sergeant and field training officer for Public Safety.
  • Criminal Justice major and non-traditional student Evelyn Saxon is a single mother and grandmother who has been a committed and courageous leader in social justice issues.  The senior from Foley received the President’s Award at the American Indian Awards Banquet for her open stance against Indian mascots and logos in college-level sports. Evelyn is a motivated student who has found encouragement and support on campus from caring faculty and is helping other students in turn discover their potential.
  • Garrett Raboin from Detroit Lakes has distinguished himself as a hockey player and a special education major.  Garrett is more than a role model for aspiring hockey players.  He works with youth groups and camps on campus and in his hometown.  His classroom success was recognized last year when he was named to the All-WCHA Academic Team.  He had the rare honor of serving as an alternate captain of the Huskies as a sophomore and was selected to serve as captain for his junior year – a position that usually goes to a senior. 
  • Rosio Esparza, a junior from Sauk Centre, recently was awarded a $10,000 scholarship from the National Association of Broadcasters Education Foundation.  A double major in mass communications and Spanish, she received this honor for her leadership skills in her area of emphasis, broadcast communications.
  • Chris Strong, president of Student Veterans Organization, came to St. Cloud State after four years in the Air Force and service in Iraq. A senior history major from Maple Grove, Chris has worked hard to create and maintain a community of veterans who help each other.  Chris has been part of my committee for exploring veterans issues on campus and has raised more than $1,000 to co-sponsor a conference on returning veterans issues.

These outstanding students, and many others like Student Government President Derek Mihm, represent a wide variety of backgrounds and cultures, lifestyles and life experiences.  Each has found ways to make a difference in the lives of others.  Many of them speak openly about how you, their teachers and mentors, have given them the support and the inspiration to discover their potential, and they are  anxious to pass that on to others.  Every day I am reminded of the wonderful students we have and what a privilege it is to be working for them.  And every day I’m reminded of the tremendous commitment and talent our faculty and staff so willingly share with these students and with the community. 

I talked before about some of the things I said in last year’s convocation speech and how we’ve worked together to accomplish some of those objectives.  I want to remind you I also said I liked being here.  This year I can say emphatically that I love being here.  And since there’s a picture of me with my wife Christine on the screen, I’d like to take this opportunity to introduce her. 

I want you to know how much I appreciate all the good work you do.  I know every president in every convocation speech says that this university is what it is because of the people who are here… because of your dedication and engagement.  But for those of you who are new, as well as for those of you who have been here for an entire career…It’s absolutely true that the identity of this university…what sets St. Cloud State apart for our students and for our alumni is the caring faculty and staff who put students first.  

That’s what makes others in the community, the state and beyond sit up and take notice of all the great things we’ve got going here.   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.

Next month, we have an opportunity to shine a light on the immense, positive impact St. Cloud State University has on our community and our world. On September 19th you are invited to share in the events that will celebrate my inauguration as president, including the traditional inauguration ceremony at Halenbeck Hall during the afternoon. 

I want you to know that this celebration is not about me….it is about our university and the difference that we make for our students, for the state of Minnesota and for the world beyond the borders of our state.  With our theme, “A Common Goal,” we also will have a weeklong series of other campus activities and community events to focus on the contributions our faculty, staff and students make to this community. 

Please join me in celebrating what we have been, what we are and what we will be as we move forward into the 21st Century.

We offer some extraordinary experiences to our students…including opportunities that extend beyond the classroom….experiences that are life-affirming and life-altering.  One of the most stunning this past year resulted from the vision, planning and execution that went into the Holocaust Oratorio project that involved 200 students and music faculty in an extraordinary series of events.  I want to thank the faculty and everyone who made this happen.  I love this place and I’m proud to be leading St. Cloud State University. 

We’re going to show a short video that will offer you a glimpse of an educational experience that is an excellent example of one of those opportunities that becomes the highlight of a students’ educational journey and brings new meaning and new perspective to everything they do for the rest of their lives.

Students and faculty from St. Cloud State presented the European premier of the Holocaust Oratorio, “To Be Certain of the Dawn.”  They were joined by children of the SCSU Cantabile Girls Choirs and students and faculty from the College of Saint Benedict and St. John’s University on a performance tour of Germany, France and Switzerland.  They presented their emotional oratorio in many settings, but it was the performance for World War II concentration camp survivors at the remains of the Natzweiler-Struthof camp in France that left an indelible mark on their hearts.
We’d like to share some of that experience with you through a video created by Holly Santiago and Dan Wildeson.

….and the learning has only just begun.  I want to thank the many music faculty and others whose vision and passion for this project has created an unforgettable memory for anyone who has been touched by its powerful message.  St. Cloud State University will never be the same.

Thank you for all that you do.  Thank you all for coming.  May a hopeful vision lead you forward and may the wind be always at your back.