Office of the President

Fall 2016 Faculty and Staff Convocation

Address by Interim President Ashish Vaidya

Video includes introductions and remarks from Interim Provost Dan Gregory and Student Government President Mikaela Johnson.

Thank you Dan and Mikaela, and welcome everyone to the start of the 2016-2017 academic year. Having all of you here and experiencing the buzz on campus as we prepare to welcome the class of 2020, I feel a renewed sense of pride in the work we accomplished last academic year and motivation for the work that lies ahead.

This summer was unlike any other in the history of St. Cloud State University. We all experienced a great loss, but through that experience we showed our resilience, our care for each other and our neighbors, and our ability to move forward, together, with a continued commitment to student success. As I have stepped into my new role as interim president, I am confident in the ability of this University and this community to continue to thrive and that is directly because of all of you.

In the days and weeks that followed President Potter’s untimely passing I was in awe of the outpouring of support that our community showed for each other and for the Potter family. The leadership team quickly came together along with the assistance and guidance of Chancellor Rosenstone and the team at Minnesota State to communicate the news to the campus and community, but most importantly to assist Christine and the Potter family and those most directly affected by the tragedy. Governor Dayton, our congressional delegation and local legislators offered their assistance and condolences. Hundreds of faculty, staff and community members gathered in the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center for the memorial. University partners and alumni from around the world offered messages of support. All of these people coming together put into perspective the vast impact President Potter had on St. Cloud State and on all of higher education. It also put into perspective how much this University means to our campus and to our communities near and far. For your compassion, support and kindness, I thank you all.

We have a number of guests with us today who have been especially supportive through our transition over the past few months. I would like to acknowledge in particular, Minnesota State Board of Trustees Chairman Michael Vekich and Minnesota State Chancellor Steven Rosenstone; St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis; state Representatives Tama Theis and Jim Knoblach; Senator Michelle Fischbach; and St. Cloud State Foundation Board Chairman Gary Anderson. Welcome and thank you for joining us as we celebrate the start of another academic year.

I would also like to thank the bargaining unit leaders; IFO President, Tom Hergert; AFSCME Council-5 President, Laurie Luethmers; MAPE President, Mike Terhune; MMA President Mark Hedlund; and MSUAASF President, Mike Sharp. Your partnership and expertise has been greatly valued and I look forward to the work we will do together.

Lastly, I would like to acknowledge and welcome my wife, Nita Vaidya, who joins us today. On Monday, August 15th, Nita and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary and she received congratulations from my family for her endurance, patience and continued sanity! She has been a steady and loving presence in my life, and the journey that began 30 years ago for a pair of graduate students working on their PhD’s, has been an incredible one filled with many joys and I thank you for that. I am lucky to have the support of my family and friends throughout this transition.

Speaking of anniversaries, some of you may have realized that I just celebrated my one year anniversary at St. Cloud State University and in case you were wondering the 1st year anniversary is a Paper Anniversary. So Chancellor Rosenstone, Vice Presidents and my dear colleagues, here are some ideas – Amazon Gift Certificates; Tickets to see the Vikings or the Timberwolves; of course I am happy to accept the flexibility that Cash provides as well.

Words cannot describe how deeply honored I am to serve as your interim president. Over the last year, I have come to understand how special this institution is and how committed you are to the success of our students. I came to St. Cloud State University because I believed deeply in the vision that you have developed together over the last 9 years. I, too, share this vision and feel privileged to be the president of a team that will deliver on its achievement over the next two years as we prepare to celebrate our 150th anniversary in 2019.

Leading a nearly 150-year-old institution may seem like an ominous task. Remember, I was dean at Cal State Channel Islands when they started as an institution. That was a different kind of challenge but what is true at both institutions is a shared commitment to serving students, a collaborative team, and taking prudent risks when appropriate.   

Being responsive is not what 150 year old institutions are necessarily known for. And the challenges facing public higher education across the country, the Minnesota State system, and St. Cloud State University are such that we must be more responsive and more accountable. In this new era, value will be the new virtue. State colleges and universities will have to focus on value from their own perspective and from the point of view of the many constituencies we serve.

But this is why I am so excited about leading St. Cloud State University. When institutions across the country have attempted to deal with declining public support and shifting student demographics, they have tried to reinvent themselves… to become a different kind of institution, to change their purpose, to abandon their academic core.  When faced with similar challenges, this institution chose a different path. We decided to double down on our core mission and emphasize it even more.  We embraced the American Association of State Colleges and Universities paradigm of “Stewardship of Place” as our call to action.

Four years ago after our academic reorganization, the Minnesota State board reaffirmed St. Cloud State University’s mission – “to prepare our graduates for life, work and citizenship in the 21st century” – not as a stagnant statement of the past but as a forward looking idea that is fundamentally grounded in our tradition of providing post-secondary education opportunities to improve the economic, social and cultural vitality of Minnesota and its people. This challenged us to imagine what students must know and do to be successful in a rapidly changing, technologically-enhanced and increasingly global world.

Our answer was Our Husky Compact – a bond shared by St. Cloud State and our students. Our Husky Compact is the essential and cross-cutting attributes of a St. Cloud State education that we value as a community. But it is more than just a set of learning outcomes. It is a commitment we make to our students and students make to their education that will set them apart and prepare them for success.

Underpinning Our Husky Compact is the belief that our students learn over time and across and beyond the curriculum. Intellectual and personal growth occurs as they are exposed to both broad and specialized knowledge and have the opportunity to apply what they have learned outside of the classroom – through research, service and community-based learning, internships, learning communities, collaborative experiences — in the communities in which they live and work. This belief applies as much to our graduate programs as they do to the baccalaureate. In fact the many stellar applied graduate programs we offer have the distinction of being regionally and nationally recognized.

Now that we have named what our students must be able to know and do,  we must ask ourselves… What kind of a place do we need to be in order to deliver on our mission? 

It is becoming increasingly clear that the complex challenges facing our state, country and world cannot be addressed by the traditional state university model. It also is clear that to successfully educate and graduate tomorrow’s diverse and non-traditional student populations, we must create an innovative educational environment that is responsive to their needs, their expectations and their goals and to prepare them for the professional, social and cultural environments they will contribute to and someday lead.

The fundamental answer is… we must be what we teach.  It requires us to be outward-facing, partnership-oriented and deeply engaged with our students and our communities.

Last year, we asked the Strategic Planning Committee to help us refresh our strategic action plan. We called it a refresh because we believe that our fundamental mission and vision are sound. But we needed to bring focus and clarity to our strategies and integrate our changing environment and Our Husky Compact into our thinking. Last week, the management team and the strategic planning committee gathered to review the latest iteration, and I am excited by the quality of the strategic thinking in the draft.

Our emerging strategic action plan challenges us to “build the 21st Century Engaged University.”  To create a university focused on engaging students, engaging communities and engaging our campus in achieving increasing levels of students success and do our part to contribute to a prosperous Minnesota.

So what does it mean to be an engaged university? We asked in a campus survey and received nearly 130 responses. Here are a few of those responses:

  • We are an engaged university when we identify the needs of our community and work to address those needs through relevant coursework and degree programs.  In addition, we are an engaged university when we meet the needs of our students by offering coursework and degrees that directly map into employment opportunities.
  • An engaged institution is one that is committed to the success of students, employees and the community. Success is achieved when students, employees and the community understand the value that St. Cloud State brings to their lives.
  • We are aware of the needs in our community and are actively involved in finding solutions.
  • An engaged university is one in which the institution knows, in a holistic way, who the students are, what their needs are, and how it can help students achieve their goals in an ever-changing world

I couldn’t agree more. And it was the thoughtfulness of the statements provided by the campus community that made me even more confident that our strategic planning efforts reflect who we are and who we will become through the plan’s three major themes: Engaged Students. Engaged Communities. And Engaged Campus.

These themes will guide our strategies over the next five years, but what approach will we use to deliver on our commitment?

FIRST, an approach to decision-making centered on whether our decisions contribute to the success of our current students and help us remain attractive to potential students; whether our decisions protect and enhance the quality and integrity of our academic core; whether they allow us to generate additional revenue for investing in our future; and whether we have found the best way to deliver value or whether we should look for other ways to accomplish our mission.

SECOND, we must answer the questions: Are our academic goals focused on innovation and excellence, promoting the student experience, and using the campus and the region as a laboratory?  Are the range of programs we offer meeting the needs of the region and our business, industry and non-profit partners?

AND THIRD, we must trust ourselves to work together to invent better and more affordable ways of doing things. If we are to successfully fulfill our mission we will need to work collaboratively in an environment that promotes trust and respect for differences of opinion, while holding ourselves accountable for results and outcomes. 

This is a time to challenge ourselves to think beyond our individual unit, and to include the intellectual and financial health of our University.

So what are we going to do this year?

We will engage with students through our involvement in AASCU’s Re-Imagining the First Year. The demographics of our student population are changing, which requires that we change as well. That’s why I am proud that St. Cloud State is one of 44 AASCU institutions participating in Re-Imagining the First Year, an initiative aimed at improving the quality of learning and student experience in the first year and improving retention rates, especially for low income, first generation and students of color.

Aligned with this work, we have already made steps with the change to Huskies First Four, a new model introduced last fall that orients students holistically – both academically and socially. The effort is an expansion of our previous two-day new student orientation that focuses on the first four days, weeks and months and on to success throughout our students’ next four years. The university also is working to increase the number of students served by professional advisors to better assist students in selecting guided pathways to help them stay on track. In addition, we are testing a new first-year seminar course and ultimately an entirely new first-year experience for our students. This is exciting work that will undoubtedly have a great impact on student success and will lead to fulfilling the goals of being an engaged campus. 

In our work with students around Our Husky Compact, this year we will focus on the dimension of “Engaging as a Member of a Diverse and Multicultural World.”  I was thrilled that 40 members of the campus community came together last week to begin planning for the “Engage” dimension and design experiences that will challenge our students and prepare them for life in an increasingly diverse and multicultural world.

Our Husky Compact is also directly tied to our preparation for the Higher Learning Commission accreditation visit on November 7 and 8. Over the next few months as part of our preparations for the HLC visit, we will celebrate the great work being done throughout campus to support the university’s mission and vision, and create a campus-wide environment of camaraderie and a sense of common purpose in meeting HLC’s criteria for accreditation. Accreditation by the HLC is the standard mark of quality for a higher education institution, and we are prepared to showcase St. Cloud State’s excellence, and our pride in that excellence. I am thankful for the leadership of our HLC assurance argument faculty co-chairs Stephen Hornstein and Kristian Twombley in this work and I am also thankful for the many faculty and staff who have served on committees and assisted in other ways. There are still several opportunities for you to get involved and you can learn more tomorrow at 2:45 in the Voyageurs Room as part of the Convocation workshops organized by the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning.

Through our engagement with communities, we will remain committed to positive, reciprocal relationships with our communities that place our partners at the center of our academic, social and cultural efforts and places St. Cloud State central to their ongoing success. We must be deeply connected to our communities where “our classroom is the community; research is with, in, and about the community; and service is with, in, and for the community.” For example, In April gerontology students Thanh Dan, Natasha Meed, Pae Say and Maile Vang presented at the Community Engagement Celebration about their service learning at the St. Benedict Senior Community. Gerontology students take what they’re learning in class out into the community every year through service work at area senior agencies. The students helped seniors at the senior center with Housing and Urban Development recertifications, respite care and household chores, helped provide activities at nursing homes and helped their agencies with marketing and administrating a Bill of Rights for residents. The program is just one of several gerontology service learning projects, which connected students with 15 different agencies serving seniors in the spring.

Our faculty and staff also have a great impact on engaged communities. As a leader in intercultural communications, Eddah Mutua’s work has focused on peace education and communication that starts in St. Cloud, expands to Central Minnesota communities and extends all the way to East Africa. In the spring, she earned the Hellervik Prize for her project that promotes global understanding in Minnesota classrooms. Her project examines how technology can connect cultures and promote understanding of cultural differences. The project also advocates changes in how intercultural communication is taught and how Minnesota’s teachers are trained to promote cultural understanding.

As an engaged campus, we will remain committed to creating a university environment that is organizationally and financially healthy and that supports the success and well-being of our campus community. This means continuing our progress with the financial recovery plan, and our commitment to becoming an innovative learning organization that learns from, and supports each other as we strive to redefine equity and inclusion while serving a diverse array of students. I would like to point out the great work of Zac Mangas and the Veterans Resource Center that does an outstanding job of welcoming our veteran students and providing services to help support their success.

We continue to be a leader in inclusivity and internationalization in Minnesota and have cultivated a growing multicultural and engaged campus that prepares students and employees to live and work in a larger global community. Most recently, St. Cloud State’s finance majors increased by 25 percent when almost 60 students from Nankai University Binhai College arrived to start their first year of classes in the Herberger School of Business through the new 2+2 Bachelor of Science in Finance Program. The students in the 2+2 program have already gotten to know business faculty members Grace Kang and Joe Haley who taught accounting and finance to students in the program in the summer of 2014 and 2015 at Binhai. Intensive English Center faculty also taught at Binhai and several faculty members from both groups have visited Binhai College as they worked to develop the 2+2 program. The students’ arrival to St. Cloud State marks the completion of almost 10 years of work by St. Cloud State and Binhai College faculty and staff to make the program a reality. It is also the beginning of a program that will transform students from both institutions, as well as the Central Minnesota community, for the future of the global economy by giving them unprecedented access to live, learn and grow with people who have perspectives different from their own. Vice President Zhao is with us in the audience and I would like to welcome him to St. Cloud State University.

As these examples show, the work we have to do is not a dramatic change in direction for the University – it is an extension of the work we do best that will benefit from a laser focus put in place through the strategic plan refresh. This is work we should all take great pride in as we strive to fulfill our goals and prepare for the HLC visit.

But know that our work does not start and end with HLC accreditation and that we must continue to celebrate our accomplishments and advance our mission, vision and opportunities for growth and sustainability as a 21st Century engaged university. I encourage all of us – faculty, staff, students and community partners – to take advantage of every opportunity to engage – big or small. That means me too. That’s why today I am launching St. Cloud State’s first presidential Twitter account @PrezVaidya. I hope you will follow and take advantage of the opportunity to connect and share messages of the great work being done at St. Cloud State on social media. I haven’t posted my first tweet. I wanted to share that landmark moment with all of you so here we go… For those of you following along, I look forward to your tweets, mentions and commentary about my first Convocation as interim president.

These are indeed exciting times as St. Cloud State is positioned to answer the call for a more responsive, more student success oriented, more accountable and more engaged university, and to become a true partner in the success of our state and its people. For most of you, you know how important this work is and have been an integral part of the planning and success that has gotten us this far. For some this is your first taste of what’s to come. As you entered the auditorium today, there was a list of employees scrolling across the screen for whom this will be their first convocation. A year ago, I was where you are. I have only been in Minnesota for a short time and for those of you who noticed my parka over the winter while some cold-weather veterans roamed campus in t-shirts, you know I am still adapting to the dramatic changes in temperature and learning about the nuances of living in Central Minnesota. And yes, I have learned a few things. So in the spirit of David Letterman’s Top 10, I give you… from Jack and Jim’s Event Center in Duelm, Minnesota, here’s are the top 10 things I’ve learned during my first year in Minnesota:

10. The trick to enduring winter in Minnesota – three layers underneath a 40 pound parka and plenty of single malt scotch!

9. Minnesota has nearly 11,000 lakes – what they don’t tell you is that each one has a million mosquitoes waiting for summer to come out!

8. If you are brave enough to withstand the crowds at the Minnesota State Fair, be prepared to find more fried foods on a stick than a candy store in Disneyland.

7. The cuisine in St. Cloud is becoming more diverse - now you can substitute Norwegian lutefisk for the tasty Somali sambusa.

6. I am beginning to appreciate Ice Hockey although it will take time to figure out the various penalties. For instance I am still confused between butt-ending and high sticking!

5. I am told that all Minnesotans have been ice fishing - the rest of us have watched the news where a truck has gone through the ice on a not-quite-frozen lake.

4. If you Google celebrity sightings in St. Cloud, you get Garrison Keillor, football player Chris Kluwe, and Kim Kardashian in 2011 – Mayor Kleis, I guess you and I don’t count!

3. I continue to be impressed with how nice Minnesotans are. For example, when I've asked what people think about an idea and they say “That’s interesting or That’s different,” what they really mean is “That’s a really stupid idea!”

2. The source of the mighty Mississippi is Lake Itasca in Northern Minnesota. A raindrop falling in Lake Itasca, MN would reach the Gulf of Mexico in about 90 days which is about the same time that it takes to get your travel authorization approved at St. Cloud State.

1. The only thing that works harder than a Husky is a pack of Huskies.

Now the last one is particularly true. None of this would be possible without all of you. It is our people and our ability to work together as a team that is going to set us apart, and that will be the difference between what everyone else says they do, and what we actually do. What we have to offer is distinctive, it is valuable and it will withstand the test of time. Most importantly, it makes a difference for our students, our communities and our campus. Thank you.