Monthly Archives: March 2018

Liberal arts an important part of a polytechnic university education

Anyone following higher education issues in Wisconsin is by now familiar with the controversial proposal at UW-Stevens Point to eliminate 13 humanities and social science majors, including English, history and political science, because of declining enrollment and a budget deficit. The administration also wants to add or expand 16 majors in science, technology and other fields.

My intention here is not to comment on what UW-Stevens Point administrators have proposed; it is hard enough being a chancellor of a UW campus these days without having to worry about colleagues weighing in on what I might have proposed here.

However, the debate swirling around the UW-Stevens Point proposal — and a similar one earlier at UW-Superior — has raised questions about the value of the liberal arts on campuses that are trying to align their programs with shifting employer demands. In fact, some faculty members have asked me to state my position on where a liberal arts education fits into a polytechnic university. I’d be happy to oblige.

First, I’d like to point to a section of my last commencement speech, delivered Dec. 16. I said: “One of the many misconceptions about polytechnic universities, at least in areas like the Midwest where they are a rarity, is that we are some type of glorified technical college. I’m a former technical college president, and I’m here to tell you that UW-Stout is not a glorified technical college. We are a regional university that offers a comprehensive curriculum in many fields, including the liberal arts. In fact, one of the best-kept secrets about UW-Stout is that we have the largest arts program in the entire state. Our students graduate with a well-rounded education; we just make sure there is an applied learning aspect to how we go about our business — and that they get a good-paying and challenging job once they graduate.”

Furthermore, we would be doing an extreme disservice to our graduates — and the employers who seek them for their businesses and industries — if we did not ensure that our students leave UW-Stout with a solid foundation in the liberal arts, which help develop the so-called “soft skills” or “essential skills” so necessary in today’s workplaces such as critical thinking, communication, creativity and the ability to work collaboratively to solve problems.

In fact, Atlantic magazine in a recent article called for a new educational hybrid that blends liberal arts education and technical education. I would argue that we already do that at UW-Stout, and we will continue as long as I am chancellor.

Our mission statement refers to UW-Stout as a “comprehensive polytechnic university” that uses a variety of approaches, including “humanistic understanding,” to educate our students. I believe we can’t do that without the liberal arts.

WACTE Conference, ATEA Conference participation

On March 16, I attended the Wisconsin Association for Career and Technical Education annual professional development conference. WACTE includes more than 600 teachers, counselors, school administrators, teacher educators, support staff and business/industry partners who promote career and technical education.

I served on the CTE Executives Panel to discuss “accelerating partnerships in CTE.” The purpose was to recognize that demand for CTE graduates continues to grow and to explore ways educational institutions can engage in effective partnerships to meet this growing demand.

Many effective partnerships are underway, and the discussions identified new opportunities for partnerships and ways to eliminate barriers to partnerships. Also serving on the panel were Bryan Albrecht, Gateway Technical College president, and Bethany Ormseth, LakeView Technology Academy principal. Paul Gabriel, executive director of the Wisconsin Technical College System Foundation, facilitated the panel.

On March 21-23, UW-Stout co-hosted the American Technical Education Association’s 55th national conference at Gateway Technical College in Kenosha. I was proud to serve as emcee for the award dinner, introducing several speakers, including: Keith Simpson, national education director for FESTO Didactic Inc.; Morna Foy, WTCS president; Rebecca Kleefisch, lieutenant governor; and Winnie Tu, business administration director for Foxconn Technology Group.

I also had the pleasure of serving on another panel regarding Pathways and Partnership that included: Clark Coco, dean of Washburn Tech, Kansas; Ormseth; and Al Bunshaft, senior vice president of Dassault Systems Americas Corp. The panel was moderated by Jaime Spaciel, Career Pathways and Program Effectiveness director at Gateway Technical College.

Some of our CTE professors also were on hand, including Barb Bauer and Sylvia Tiala. UW-Stout students Anna Stamschror, Erik Olson and Derek Doescher also attended.


This photo was taken at the ATEA 55th National Conference and includes (from left to right) Bryan Albrecht (Gateway Technical College President), Bob Meyer, Barb Bauer, Anne Stamschror (front row), Eric Olson, Derek Doescher, and Sylvia Tiala.   


Faculty Senate held fitting tribute to Chancellor Emeritus Sorensen

Career Conference impressive; Rube Goldberg always fun; happy spring break 

I’d like to express my appreciation for the efforts of our Faculty Senate on Wednesday to honor the memory and achievements of the late Chancellor Emeritus Charles W. Sorensen. It was a deeply touching event, which included a moment of silence as well as time for those in the audience to share their stories of working with the man who served as chancellor for 26 years.

I had a chance to talk about the impact he had on the university’s growth and improvements throughout his administration. The words that came up often during the ceremony were “vision” and “drive.”

It certainly was my perception that Chancellor Emeritus Sorensen had a keen vision for where he wanted UW-Stout to go, and he was driven to achieve that vision.

The Faculty Senate event, chaired by Petre “Nelu” Ghenciu, was a fitting tribute.

I’d like to thank everyone who participated. More information on the event is available here 


Spring Career Conference a total success  

It’s hard for me to leave the semiannual Career Conference that our incredible staff at the Career Services office puts on in the Multipurpose Room of Johnson Fieldhouse. That’s because I keep running into alumni who want to talk about their experience as students and how that translated into a satisfying career after graduation.

I spent quite a bit of time Wednesday, Feb. 28, at the second day of the Spring Career Conference and was pleased to see a lot of our exceptional partners there: Greenheck, Cobblestone Hotel and Suites, Sleep Number beds, Market & Johnson and Menards, just to name a few. The conference is a great way to match our job-ready graduates with an employer, either for a co-op or a full-time job. The only complaint I ever hear is that employers wish we could send more graduates their way.

Erin Oman, talent acquisition program manager for Sleep Number, said she couldn’t be happier with the Career Conference and how it was organized. “The students are amazing, and the Career Services employees are amazing,” she said, adding that the UW-Stout conferences are the best ones she attends each year. “This is my favorite,” she said.

I love to hear those words, and I would like to thank Career Services Director Bryan Barts and his staff for a great two-day event. More information on the conference is available here 


Rube Goldberg event teaches important skills 

As an engineer I really enjoy attending the annual Rube Goldberg contest on campus. High school teams from around the region attend the technology and engineering challenge to create machines that are intended to use the most steps possible to accomplish simple procedures.

I attended the event last Friday in the Memorial Student Center and watched the teams fashion contraptions to pour a bowl of cereal.

The teams are judged on creativity and functionality, and the participants have a lot of fun while learning valuable math, technology and engineering skills. Congratulations to Elk Mound High School, which won this year’s contest. More information is available here 


Have a great spring break 

Finally, I want to wish our students and employees a great spring break. For those of you who are traveling, I hope you stay safe and enjoy your time away from campus.

I intend to be away from campus most of the week and recharge my batteries because the pace of activities picks up considerably as we head to commencement May 5.

SkillsUSA students impressive; new state senator visits campus

For 35 years, UW-Stout has been hosting the Regional SkillsUSA competition, and I can’t tell you how impressed I was by the talent and ingenuity I saw on display last week as 380 students from high schools across Wisconsin came to campus.

The competition is sponsored by the College of Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Management and involved 75 of our students and 25 faculty and staff volunteers. Brian Finder, a professor in the operations and management department, is the glue that holds the event together.

A new competition this year involved students using remotely controlled robotic vehicles to search a simulated building for artificial ordnance. The course was built by a UW-Stout student, majoring in mechanical engineering, and his father.

SkillsUSA is intended to help participants get career information as well as learn about technology and develop leadership and technical skills.

As an engineer myself, I really enjoyed visiting with the students and seeing them getting even more excited about the STEM fields. It was great seeing a longtime colleague and alumnus, Brent Kindred, the technology and engineering education consultant at the state Department of Education. Brent was back at UW-Stout to participate in the event as the SkillsUSA Wisconsin executive director.

More information about the SkillsUSA is available here.


We welcomed Sen. Schachtner to campus for the first time 

Last Monday, I had the pleasure of welcoming our new state senator, Patty Schachtner, to campus for the first time since her election in January. She replaces Sheila Harsdorf, who is now secretary of the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

Sen. Schachtner, who also is on the Somerset school board, met with the Stout Student Association, our governance leaders and my Cabinet, and I was able to spend a half hour with her. I was very impressed by her willingness to dive right into the important higher education issues in Wisconsin, especially our need for increased salaries for our faculty and staff and more operational and bonding flexibilities.

I also am pleased that Sen. Schachtner has secured a seat on the state Senate’s higher education committee, which former Sen. Harsdorf chaired for many years.  I look forward to working closely with Sen. Schachtner in the years to come.