Welcome back; MLK, JPD events inspire; State of State speech

Welcome back to what will be a great semester

Spring semester classes started Tuesday and, frankly, I couldn’t be more excited. You can feel that extra kick of enthusiasm and activity on campus when we get down to business. I felt it when I was at UW-Stout as a student, during my time as a faculty member, dean and administrator and now as chancellor.

This is the start of our 125th anniversary year, and some big events are coming our way: The national Science Olympiad in May, the reopening of Harvey Hall in September and our homecoming celebration in October. Details about our 125th anniversary events are available here.

Please accept my best wishes for a great 2016 spring semester, and remember graduation is only 107 days away!

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Inspired by Martin Luther King Jr.

A number of events Monday in Menomonie celebrated the work and words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Our own Jim Handley led a workshop in the Glass Lounge that exposed participants to the nonviolent methods of change modeled by Dr. King during the 1960s.

Handley teaches peace studies and geography in the university’s social science department. In 2015, he became a certified Kingian Nonviolence trainer after a two-week program at the University of Rhode Island. The UW-Stout workshop was sponsored in part by the Wisconsin Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies. Handley is on the institute’s executive council. Over the next two years he will conduct other training sessions at public and private universities and colleges throughout Wisconsin. While I wasn’t able to attend the event, I am hearing rave reviews about it and I’m looking forward to a session that I can attend in the future. More information is available here.

One event that I was able to attend was held Monday evening at the Raw Deal, where community members met and shared artwork, music and poetry to commemorate the work of Dr. King. A local children’s choir sang a beautiful rendition of Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror.” A portion of the lyrics reinforces Mahatma Gandhi’s suggestion that each of us be the change we seek in the world:

“I’m starting with the man in the mirror
I’m asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you want to make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change”

As King stated: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” He also stated: “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically … Intelligence plus character — that is the goal of true education.”

Those words serve as a timeless reminder of our role as a university.

Special Thanks to Alex Greene, senior in industrial design, for providing photography

A great professional development session

We offered some great sessions during January Professional Development week, and I hope you had the opportunity to participate in several of these sessions.

I attended the session Intercultural Conflict Styles facilitated by Phyllis Braxton. It provided a background on “direct” versus “indirect” conflict management styles as well as “emotional expressive” versus “emotional restraint” conflict management styles.

Workshop participants took an inventory to determine their conflict management style. I fell into both the “direct” and “emotional restraint” categories. The workshop gave us tools regarding how to work with each conflict management style to be more successful.

It was a great session and it afforded me the joy of working one-on-one for several hours with our wonderful faculty and staff.

Reaction to the State of the State speech

Gov. Walker Tuesday night delivered his State of the State speech and spent a considerable amount of time promoting his plans to hold down the cost of a college education in Wisconsin. I sent out a statement to the media following that statement and thought you should see it in its entirety:

“It is important for every UW System campus to make a college education affordable for all of our citizens,” UW-Stout Chancellor Bob Meyer said. “We take that challenge very seriously at UW-Stout and have made a number of major changes to keep costs down for our students.”

In 2013, the university revamped its curriculum and requirements for graduation. The result is that 44 of the 48 undergraduate majors at UW-Stout require 120 credits to graduate. The four remaining programs exceed the 120-credit limit because of accreditation requirements.

“We are doing everything we can to help our students graduate in a timely fashion,” Meyer said. “Reducing the number of credits needed for graduation was a big step in that direction.”

While the effort is still relatively new, it appears that the average number of credits that UW-Stout graduates are taking is coming down, he said.

Another way to help reduce the burden of student debt, Meyer said, is to do a better job retaining students so they receive a degree and land a good job. In that area, UW-Stout also is showing improvement, with the one-year retention rate for freshmen increasing from 71 percent in 2009 to almost 76 percent in 2014.

“It also is important to remember that 97.1 percent of our students are working within six months of graduation,” Meyer said. “Securing that first job at a good salary helps our students pay off whatever student debt they may have.”

Meyer also said that this year the university saw gains in the percentage of students graduating after four and six years.

On the cost side, Meyer said the most recent example of improvement is the administrative reorganization that reduced the number of colleges at UW-Stout from four to three, saving almost $400,000 a year.

“We are constantly looking for ways to improve our efficiency to ensure that our students receive the best education possible at the lowest cost,” Meyer said.

Finally, Meyer noted that UW-Stout has one of the three-year graduation programs Gov. Walker described. The program has been in effect since 2010 and includes four undergraduate majors.

While participation in the program has been relatively small, Meyer said, the university is working on ways to streamline enrollment and to increase participation.

UW-Stout also offers a four-year graduation guarantee.

Details on the 120-degree credit limit are available here.

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