My personal connection with Hurricane Harvey and an appeal to help the victims

Everyone, it seems, has been transfixed on the tragedies that continue to unfold in southeastern Texas and adjoining areas after Hurricane Harvey settled in on the Gulf Coast and dumped in excess of four feet of rain on the already low-lying areas, causing horrific damage and deaths and disrupting hundreds of thousands of lives.

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The videos and stories are impactful enough, but my wife, Debbie, and I watch with a heightened sense of concern because our youngest daughter, Melly, lives and works in downtown Houston.

We were thankful that Melly was out of town when the hurricane hit and lives in a high-rise apartment building far above the floodwaters. However, her employer, an oil and gas exploration company, has been closed all week. Also, it took Melly all week to make it back to Houston, her apartment and her beloved cats (who were well taken care of during her absence!).

Therefore, I am writing to ask the UW-Stout community to do whatever you can to help the Hurricane Harvey victims in their time of need and to help with the recovery efforts on the Gulf Coast. I am sure many of you have done this already, but I would remiss if I didn’t use my personal connection to appeal to our generous faculty, staff and students, as well as our friends in the community, for assistance.

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So how to help? Experts say financial support remains the most effective way to give aid. Here are some recommendations:

  • The American Red Cross, which has opened shelters and is getting supplies to victims, is accepting donations on its website. Donors also can call 1-800-RED-CROSS or text “Harvey” to 90999 to make contributions. Alternatively, some companies are collecting donations for the Red Cross relief effort on their websites.
  • The Salvation Army, which says it has disaster teams from across the country mobilizing to help Harvey victims and will support long-term recovery efforts, is also taking donations on its website. Or, you can call 1-800-SAL-ARMY or text “STORM” to 51555.
  • For assistance with a Wisconsin connection, former Wisconsin Badger football star JJ Watt, now a Houston Texan, has organized a crowdfunding effort at YouCaring that has raised more than $10 million for charities in southeastern Texas.

These obviously are just a few of the ways to help. My only hope is that you try to do something for the hundreds of thousands of my daughter’s fellow Texans who find themselves in dire need of assistance.

Thank you.

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Engagement Sessions a great way to start a new academic year

Welcome to another academic year! I hope everyone had a great summer, and I look forward to working with you to make 2017-18 a tremendous success.

On Monday morning I addressed the campus at our annual Opening Day event, which included our Engagement Sessions. If you couldn’t attend that session, a video of it is available here.

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I want to thank everyone who took the time to attend the Engagement Sessions and offer your feedback on the two important topics we covered, Campus Climate and Strategic Enrollment Management.

I attended several of the small-group sessions and was very impressed by the passion and insight I heard from the participants. I want to assure everyone that the breadth of the feedback we receive will be carefully considered by the Strategic Planning Group and my Cabinet as we chart future actions on these topics.

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I would especially like to thank everyone who helped make these sessions a success, including the facilitators and note-takers who kept the discussions on track and recorded the comments. It takes a lot of planning and execution to make this important day happen, and I couldn’t be more pleased with the result.

A fantastic trip into the wilderness

While I genuinely enjoy serving as your chancellor — it really is my dream job — I also treasure my time away.  This summer I had the tremendous opportunity to spend time in Quetico Provincial Park in Canada, where I canoed, camped and fished with family and friends.

Going into the wilderness is the one time I can really disconnect from the demands that come with all the technology we now use to do our jobs. It gives me a chance to reconnect with the family and friends who are important to me, as well as renew my appreciation for all that nature has to offer.

To top it off, we had tremendous fishing success!

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University Communications produced a great video in which I talk about my trip into the Quetico, along with Provost Patrick Guilfoile’s hiking adventure in the Cascade Mountains. The video is available here.

Weekly blogs will provide campus updates

For those of you new to campus — and I had the opportunity to meet a number of you during last week’s employee orientation sessions — I will use this blog to give you weekly updates on significant developments and other news affecting UW-Stout. It is one of the main ways I try to communicate on a regular basis with our students, faculty and staff, and I hope you find it informative and useful.

Again, welcome to the new academic year and I hope it is a great one!

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Hate speech is not welcome at UW-Stout

First of all, let me welcome faculty and staff to the official start of the new academic year. I hope that the 2017-18 year is exciting and rewarding. I will be talking about the new academic year in more detail during my welcome address at 8:15 a.m. Monday, Aug. 28, in the Great Hall of the Memorial Student Center, followed by the Engagement Sessions.

But today I would like to address some potential questions and concerns you might have following the recent violence in Charlottesville, Va. It is hard for me to put into words the emotions I felt as the events unfolded: horror, rage, sadness and resolve. I say resolve because I came away from that incident with an increased awareness that, as an institution of higher learning, we must re-commit ourselves to at least three core values.

Becoming an even more inclusive campus: As chancellor, I know that it is important for me to work every day to ensure that our students, faculty and staff believe they are on a campus that values them for who they are, no matter their sex or sexual orientation, age, race, ethnicity or national origin, range of abilities, socio-economic status or political perspective. Everyone should feel welcome at UW-Stout. In fact, one of our official values is: “The nobility of spirit, a diversity of people, respect and inclusion for all.”

Valuing freedom of expressing: We also need to ensure that everyone feels comfortable expressing their points of view on the issues of the day. This goes hand-in-hand with fostering an inclusive campus. Informed debate over important concepts and ideas helps make a university strong and ensures that UW-Stout students are prepared for success in a complex society. For example, I believe that our new Center for the Study of Institutions and Innovations will help us advance civil and rational debate on important civil liberty issues guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution.

Ensuring that UW-Stout remains safe: At the end of the day, this is the No. 1 responsibility of a chancellor. Nothing else will matter if our campus is not a safe place to learn, work and visit. Therefore, I can assure you that I will do everything in my power, working with our campus police, student affairs and other offices to head off the potential for violence that wracked Charlottesville. Perpetrators of hate and violence will not be welcome at UW-Stout.

One final thought: As I was growing up, I can remember my parents often celebrating the many freedoms that we enjoy in this great country. Free expression is one of these coveted freedoms. But I can also remember my parents cautioning me that with every freedom comes great responsibility. For example, while we have the right to speak our minds, that freedom comes with the responsibility to do so respectfully. Free expression at a university allows us to openly debate even the most controversial issues of the day. But we have the obligation to engage in those debates civilly. Uncivil discourse, hate speech and even threats and acts of violence have no place in our forums of debate. I hope you agree and together that we exercise our right of free speech in a responsible manner.

I am sure that we will have the chance to discuss these issues in more depth as the academic year continues.

Thank you for all you do for our students and have a great year!

July brings the return of excellent STEPS for Girls program

July brings a special group to UW-Stout, campers who participate in the weeklong Science, Technology and Engineering Preview Summer Camp (STEPS) for Girls. The camp is held for four consecutive weeks, with new middle-schoolers arriving each Sunday and leaving on Thursday.

This is the 21st year of the camp, and it will always hold a warm place in my heart because both of my daughters attended. Each of them, I am proud to say, went on to graduate in a science or engineering field, so the camp influenced their career choices.

In fact, precamp and postcamp surveys consistently show that camp participants have a greater awareness of the importance of science and technology in everyday life and are more likely to major in a STEM field.

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One of the great things about the camp is our ability to offer partial or complete scholarships to ensure that girls who really want to attend the camp are able to, even if they come from a disadvantaged background. In 2016, for example, industrial or private scholarship sponsors supported 54 campers out of the total enrollment of 161.

Since the camp began, some 3,000 girls have attended. STEPS also benefits from alumni returning to work as counselors. Both of my daughters came back as counselors. At present our camp director, technical director and head counselor are STEPS alumni.

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Because more than 70 percent of the cost of the camp is covered by donations, I want to thank our Family sponsors ($15,000 or more): 3M Corp., our Stout University Foundation and the Hampton Family Trust; our Champion sponsors ($5,000 to $14,999): Xcel Energy and Polaris; and other sponsors, who can be found on the STEPS website.

 

A great partnership with Boys and Girls Clubs of the Greater Chippewa Valley

I really enjoy getting out in the community and learning more about some of our partnerships that are pivotal for Menomonie and Dunn County. Recently, Mike Wollman and Mary Hopkins-Best gave me a tour of River Heights elementary school to see how the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Greater Chippewa Valley are integrated there. Mary is on the Boys and Girls Clubs board, and Mike is its director.

The clubs provide high-impact programming that give young students opportunities in three core areas: academic success; good character and citizenship; and healthy lifestyles. The clubs fill the gap between school and home by providing welcoming, positive environments in which kids have fun, participate in life-changing programs and build supportive relationships with peers and adults. In these times, students come from a spectrum of family situations and backgrounds, and the clubs are an important resource for them. On an annual basis in Menomonie, 165 youth are served by the program and have been provided more than 8,000 meals and snacks outside of school hours. Participants have lower school absence rates and higher academic success.

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While touring the program, I was pleased to learn that many UW-Stout students assist these youth as workers or interns over the summer, including Lacey Sikora, Morgan Reichardt, Josh Gilland, Harly Van Brunt, Victoria Librande, Queen Harris, Jay Alston, Keith Bolden, Olivia Revolinski, Jon Mortenson, Katelyn Bird and Chris Reardon. Tyler Ball, a second-year applied science student, also was on hand demonstrating the chemistry and physics associated with dry ice.

 This is a partnership that brings value to all involved. For more information regarding this program or to sponsor the club’s activities, contact Mike Wollman at mwollman@cvclubs.org or visit the club’s website.

 

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Three major building projects get the final OK

We had a very successful day Wednesday in the state Capitol as the Wisconsin State Building Commission unanimously approved three very important building projects on our campus. The projects, which received final approval are:

  • Bowman Hall exterior maintenance and repair, $8.95 million
  • Renovation and an addition to North Hall residence hall, $21.74 million
  • Renovation of first floor of Merle M. Price Commons, $7.57 million.

I attended the meetings in Madison, as did several other staff members, because of the extreme importance of these projects to our campus. Everyone knows that Bowman Hall, with its 135-foot Clock Tower, really is the symbol of UW-Stout. The project will help restore the exterior luster to this 120-year-old building.

North Hall is our residential workhorse for our freshman class, and this project will help modernize the facility. The Price Commons project is needed to give the staff and students who use the first floor better offices and meeting spaces.

I was overwhelmed Wednesday at the kind words of the legislators who considered our proposals, including Sen. Terry Moulton, a Republican from Chippewa Falls, who described a recent tour he took of the exterior of Bowman Hall and how important the building is to the history of UW-Stout and the entire UW System.

The highlight of the meeting was when Gov. Scott Walker brought his UW-Stout coffee mug to the meeting and made sure everyone knew he was using it! We took a picture of the governor and his mug and sent it out with the news release. You can read about the building commission meeting here.

 

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UW-Stout to help Coach Gard’s cancer research foundation

On Monday I was privileged to spend time with Greg Gard, head coach of the UW-Madison men’s basketball team, his wife, Michelle, and others who are involved in their family’s Garding Against Cancer foundation.

The Gards were in Menomonie to tour our athletic and meeting facilities because they are planning to hold a luncheon in the Great Hall of the Memorial Student Center on Thursday, Sept. 7, to support the foundation.

They also will hold a family event in Johnson Fieldhouse as well. Most families have been affected in some way by cancer; Greg Gard recently lost his father to brain cancer, and this foundation is his way to honor his father’s memory.

I am happy that the Gards have asked us to help with their foundation. We will send out details of the events as soon as they are finalized.  You can read more about the foundation here.

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National task force work a privilege; cheers for CTE Summit, pay increases

Last week I was honored to be in Washington, D.C., to help the American Association of State Colleges and Universities with a major project. I was asked to participate on AASCU’s Task Force on University Partnerships, chaired by Richard Rush, president emeritus of California State University-Channel Islands in Camarillo, Calif. Doug Mell, UW-Stout’s executive director of Communications and External Relations, attended the meeting with me.

The task force will issue a report in the fall that is intended to be a guide for university chancellors and presidents, as well as other higher education leaders, on the best ways to form partnerships with external stakeholders, the benefits of partnerships and the potential pitfalls. Muriel Howard, AASCU president, told task force members that business leaders “are asking for our help” to build their workforces, and “we are going to have to go to the private sector for more resources.”

The evening before the task force met for the first time we had an incredible dinner conversation with former U.S. House of Representatives Majority Leader Richard Gephardt, who was asked by AASCU to discuss his views on higher education and partnerships. This former Democratic presidential candidate still is full of enthusiasm and passion at 76 and stressed the importance of education in building and maintaining this nation’s middle class.

He repeated over and over that the keys to a successful economy are education, training and research and admonished us to be “obsessive” in our quest to preserve access to higher education for all Americans.

I also was happy to reconnect with Christina Hamilton, the former chief of staff to former U.S. Rep. Dave Obey, who now works for Gephardt and who I got to know before Rep. Obey left office.

Serving on the task force is an incredible privilege and is important to me because I believe so strongly in the value of strong partnerships with many groups, including the private sector. We will share the task force’s report with the campus when it is published.

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CTE Summit a success

Kudos to our career and technical education faculty for putting together an outstanding CTE Summit Monday and Tuesday in Jarvis Hall Science Wing. The event attracted CTE educators and others interested in the field from around Wisconsin and beyond, and I was pleased to be part of it.

Participants reviewed actions that have taken place since the 2016 summit; discussed how to “groom talent” to meet the emerging challenges of the workplace; and discussed the future vision of CTE in Wisconsin.

The event also was an excellent chance to network with many in the CTE field.  More information is available here.

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Salary increases appreciated

I also wanted to take a minute to reiterate how much I appreciate the efforts of all our advocates, both on campus and externally, who helped make the case for increased salaries for our employees. The Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee has approved two increases of 2 percent each for UW System employees, one that will take effect Sept. 1, 2018, and the second May 1, 2019.

While I certainly would have liked the increases to be larger and to take effect sooner, I appreciate the efforts of the governor and legislators to help us address the salary inequities that many of our employees find themselves in.

I also will do everything possible to try to find additional campus resources to provide supplemental increases, although we continue to face challenges in the enrollment area for 2017-18 that will make the job harder.

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Thanks for a great year; commencement, leadership awards are special year-end events

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As the 2016-17 academic year comes to a close, I want to thank the students, faculty and staff for their tremendous efforts over the past year and for everything each and everyone one of you does to make UW-Stout a special place for me.

Even though I have a long history with this university, as a student, faculty member, administrator and now chancellor, I continue to be amazed by the special things I see happen every day in the classroom, laboratory and athletic fields, in the student organizations, through our outreach efforts to employers, and among all my colleagues who continue to impress me with their hard work, innovation and dedication to UW-Stout. I feel it is a privilege to serve you as chancellor.

I hope that you have the chance to recharge your batteries during the summer, to reconnect with family and friends and to enjoy as much as possible the best months in Wisconsin. I have some vacation plans that I am looking forward to as well.

On the immediate horizon for 2017-18, we will be hosting the UW System Board of Regents in October, a great opportunity for us to showcase this campus and everything we offer here.

Commencement address focused on Baldrige, polytechnic designation

This past academic year was heavy on anniversaries. In 2016 we celebrated the 125th anniversary of the founding of UW-Stout by James Huff Stout. This year marks two major, more recent milestones: the 15th anniversary of UW-Stout receiving the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award and the 10th anniversary of UW-Stout being designated Wisconsin’s Polytechnic University by the Board of Regents.

I used my commencement address Saturday to discuss the impact on UW-Stout of both events.

I love everything about commencement; everyone is happy, and it shows. The graduates are proud of what they have accomplished and are ready to embark on the next stage of their lives. Pride also shows in the family and friends who helped their graduates secure that valuable diploma. It is a great day all around. Here is the text of my commencement address.

Here are links to coverage of the event:

Leadership Awards an inspiration

 

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I attend a lot of celebrations during the last few weeks of the academic year, but I always make time to attend the Leadership Awards presented annually by the Involvement Center. These awards are for students who have made outstanding contributions in student organizations, advocacy, service, student employment and advising. In short, these students will be the leaders of tomorrow in their workplaces and communities.

The ceremony also includes the Outstanding Co-op Student of the Year awards and the Samuel E. Wood Medallion award winners, sponsored by the Stout Student Association, for seniors who have shown outstanding leadership and excellence while at UW-Stout. It was an inspiring night. Much more information and a list of winners is available here.

This will be the last of my regular weekly blogs for the academic year, but I will post if there is a need during the summer. We will do our best to keep the campus apprised of the 2017-19 state budget as the Legislature works on the document in May and June.  Have a great summer!