As we reach the end of the fall semester, we look forward to celebrating our students’ accomplishments at Thursday’s commencement ceremonies for undergraduates (2 p.m.) and graduates (7 p.m.) in the Lyman Center.
As we congratulate our students, we can also be proud of our own efforts in helping them achieve their goals, particularly in light of the fiscal and other challenges that we have faced in recent times. Your commitment to student success is admirable, and I thank you all for your many contributions.
As we did last year, we will hold a university holiday celebration in January, when the pace of campus life is a little less hectic! In the meantime, I wish you a happy, peaceful and relaxing holiday season with your family and friends.
NATIONAL RECOGNITION FOR COMMUNITY SERVICE
The recipients of the 2014 President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll have been announced, and I am very pleased to report that Southern has received recognition in two categories: General Community Service and Education Community Service.
Launched in 2006, this national honor highlights the role colleges and universities play in solving community problems and placing more students on a lifelong path of civic engagement. Each year, the President of the United States recognizes higher education institutions that reflect the values of exemplary community service and achieve meaningful, measureable outcomes in the communities they serve.
This is the third time that Southern has been named to the Honor Roll; the previous occasions were in 2008 and 2009. This year’s application highlighted the following exemplary projects:
For the Education Community Service award:
• Gear Up-Reach Up
• Southern Academy
For the General Community Service award:
• Southern Athletics Community Service Cup
• Adopt-A-Family Food and toiletry drive
• Ronald D. Herron Day of Service
As a public university, we have the opportunity and the responsibility to impact positively the civic and economic health of our state and our nation. Southern has stepped up to the challenge of supporting our community in any way that we can, and I am very proud of the efforts of our students, faculty and staff in helping to solve local problems.
A long-standing example of our community commitment was held on Sunday, when more than 100 students and a team of staff volunteers joined the New Haven Police Activities League to collect and distribute toys to 1,200 city children at the Lyman Center. The annual Friends of Rudolph event has been held since the early 1990s and is a wonderful way for our students to perform community service, interact with local children and deliver a slice of joy during this holiday season. Congratulations to student affairs, residence life, university police and other campus groups for coordinating this fun-filled event.
NEW FISCAL LEADER
As I announced last week, we have found a worthy successor to our long-time Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration, James Blake. Mr. Mark Rozewski is currently the Vice President for Finance and Administration at the University of Southern Indiana (USI), a state university of about 10,000 students. The Evansville, Ind.-based institution mirrors Southern in scale and has a similar emphasis on access and affordability.
During the last decade at USI, Mark has held a broad and deep portfolio, including oversight of accounting and finance; facilities planning; campus security; human resources; student housing and financial aid. His record as a strong, experienced and innovative fiscal planner will serve us well during a period of continued financial uncertainty for our university.
I thank Dr. Frank Tavares and his search committee for their excellent efforts in selecting a high-quality group of finalists for this important position. And I again extend our gratitude to Jim Blake, who has stewarded our institution with care, efficiency and integrity through 18 years of challenge, turbulence and transformation. Jim will be leaving us on Feb. 1 and we have all benefited immensely from his able guidance and deep experience.
Like Jim, Mark is not a newcomer to higher education, having begun his career in the Office of Physical and Capital Planning at Rutgers University nearly 30 years ago. Mark spent two decades at Rutgers, starting at the central Brunswick campus, where he rose to the position of Director of the Office of Physical and Capital Planning. Later, he served as Associate Provost for Finance and Administration at the Camden campus for nearly 10 years. During his time at Rutgers, Mark gained a great deal of experience in campus facilities development and, latterly, managing in collective bargaining environments.
In 2005, Mark moved west to Evansville, where he led the development of a campus master plan to support an eventual doubling in enrollment. This effort included the completion of a new library, a business and engineering building, a fitness center addition and a theater. He worked to realign employee benefits, in consultation with the campus community, and introduced a new retirement plan for support staff. And he developed initiatives aimed at preserving the institution’s affordability while providing needed resources to offset declining state support.
Mark holds a master’s degree in city and regional planning from Rutgers and a B.A. in urban studies/planning from the same institution. He is looking forward to returning to Connecticut, where he began his career as a research assistant at the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority in Hartford.
We are indeed fortunate to have identified and attracted a professional of Mark’s experience, knowledge, integrity, and strategic planning and fiscal management skills. I have no doubt that he will transition seamlessly to Southern, while bringing his own special flavor to the next stage of our university’s development. Please take the opportunity to welcome him personally to campus when he joins us on Feb. 16.
A well-deserved recognition for long-serving Exercise Science Professor Bob Axtell came when the New England Chapter of the American College of Sports Medicine’s (NEACSM) executive committee voted to name the organization’s undergraduate scholarship in his name.
Bob has been teaching at Southern since 1984 and has been involved with NEACSM Leadership for nearly 25 years, including the presidency from 1994-97 and regional chapter representative from 1998-2001. Now the coordinator of our graduate program in human performance, he has been an exemplary teacher and mentor to scores of undergraduates, many of whom have gone on to earn advanced degrees.
Congratulations to Bob on this notable honor.
In my previous blog post, I mentioned the encouraging upward trends in our early enrollment numbers for fall 2015, at both graduate and undergraduate levels. While these trends are continuing, the outlook for spring 2015 is not as positive, as we face a potential 1.3 percent decline in overall enrollment, mainly due to students transferring or dropping out.
Certainly, there is still time for the spring scenario to improve. However, it does beg the larger question: Why are students leaving – or not coming to – Southern, in significant numbers?
I have already mentioned our enhanced efforts in recruitment and marketing, which appear to be bearing fruit as we look toward next fall. However, now is the time to take a serious look internally, to make the university “less difficult to be successful in” for our current students. In short, we need to start identifying, and then modifying or removing, the policies and practices that are tripping them up.
Our Student Success initiatives, including enhanced advisement, more co-curricular opportunities for sophomores and transfer students, and increased emphasis on academic skills building will certainly help retention. However, these are new initiatives, and we must collectively examine our existing practices and decide if they are a help, or a hindrance, to student progress.
With a 2 percent decline in the available pool of Connecticut high school graduates, recruitment is going to remain a competitive process for the foreseeable future. With this in mind, the emphasis must not only be on bringing students in, but also on assuming responsibility for helping them make the smoothest possible progress all the way to graduation.
FIFTEEN TO FINISH
Finding new ways to improve graduation and retention rates nationally was the central theme at the Complete College America conference in Miami, Fla., that I attended recently with a delegation of Connecticut state legislators and higher education officials.
Against the specter of spiraling student loan debt, more colleges are adopting the 15 to Finish program – a campaign that provides incentives for students to take 15 credits per semester to graduate in four years. Studies have shown that students who earn 15 credits a semester – or a combination that equals 15 including summer classes – are more likely to finish college on time, earn better grades and have higher completion rates. As part of this process, students taking English and Math courses in their first year of college are also more likely to graduate on time.
Graduating in four years alleviates the need for additional tuition and housing costs – and therefore, more loan debt. And it gives students the option to enter the workforce and begin their career, move on to graduate school or take time off to travel or perform volunteer service.
Of course, non-traditional students may find that 15 credit hours are more than they can handle both financially and academically. So the key again, as I stated earlier, is to make the path to a degree clearer and achievable.
As we know, the accessibility of evening, weekend and online courses is important to working students. Planning and high-quality advisement are also crucial: for example, in states such as Florida and Tennessee, colleges are developing “meta pathways,” using information such as past performance in high school to recommend programs of study to students that match their skills and interests and help refine their academic and career goals.
With this information, students work with their advisors to choose from an initial set of broad academic pathways that lead to specific academic programs. First-year students select a “meta major” in a broad area — such as STEM, arts and humanities, social sciences, health care, business, or education — and then narrow into a more specific major — such as chemistry, nursing or early childhood education.
Clearly, innovative thinking is the key to helping more students enter college and stay the course to complete their degree in a timely, goal-oriented and cost-effective manner. And with the CSCU Board of Regents recent policy requiring a 120-credit maximum on bachelor’s degree programs, it is time to seek more effective ways to help our students achieve their academic goals without conceding the rigor of a quality education.
COMMITTING TO GROW STEM NUMBERS
On Dec. 4, I had the pleasure to join hundreds of college presidents and other higher education leaders at the White House, where President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden announced new actions to help more students prepare for and graduate from college. The White House College Opportunity Day of Action helps to support the president’s commitment to partner with colleges and universities, business leaders, and nonprofits to assist students across the country in helping the nation reach its goal of leading the world in college attainment.
Participants were asked to commit to new action in one of four areas: building networks of colleges around promoting completion; creating K-16 partnerships around college readiness; investing in high school counselors as part of the first lady’s Reach Higher initiative; and increasing the number of college graduates in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
Our commitment at Southern is to increase the number and quality of students graduating in the STEM disciplines, and in particular, to ensuring the preparation of effective K-12 STEM teachers. To this end, we aim to increase our graduation rate in STEM degrees by 35 percent and STEM teachers with initial certification by 25 percent over the next 10 years.
To achieve these student gains, we will focus primarily on three areas:
- K-12 student success in STEM disciplines through a teacher preparation program and associated initiatives. This will include enhancing STEM education for low-income, female and underrepresented minority students at the university level. Our efforts will focus on transforming the preparation of 21st century teachers by integrating STEM into various programs, including elementary education and school leadership programs.
- Our newly formed Office for STEM Innovation and Leadership, led by Director Christine Broadbridge, will generate opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to experience innovative research projects in STEM education, with the aim of translating this research into effective practices, particularly in urban contexts.
- We will also expand our urban initiatives, including the mentoring of undergraduates to enhance their awareness of how to address the challenges of teaching in high-need schools. In addition, we will work to prepare students for success in business and industry, as well as graduate education and leadership in research and teaching at the university level.
Enhanced success in STEM degree completion at the university level is a significant component of our broader student success initiatives, which strive to enhance retention and graduation rates across the university. Therefore, we are committed to graduating a diverse population of students with the skills and knowledge needed to compete and lead in the high-tech, STEM-oriented 21st century economy both locally and globally.
President Obama will soon announce new steps on how his administration is helping to support these actions, including announcing $10 million to help promote college completion, and a $30 million AmeriCorps program that will improve low-income students’ access to college. Today, just 9 percent of those born in the lowest family income quartile attain a bachelor’s degree by age 25, compared to 54 percent in the top quartile, according to the White House.
NEW TEACHER-TRAINING PARTNERSHIP
Our School of Education has joined Yale University’s Comer School Development Program and the New Haven Public Schools in a new partnership designed to improve teacher training. The W.K. Kellogg Foundation of Battle Creek, Mich., recently awarded a $600,000 grant for the creation of the Collaborative for Developmentally Centered Education at Yale, and as part of this initiative, our students will take part in professional development workshops in Elm City classrooms.
Michael Ben-Avie, our director of assessment, says that previously these opportunities were limited to New Haven teachers. The benefit of this new collaboration is that our students will now be participants in the workshops, which will focus on coordination of child development. Michael says these activities will help our teachers-in-training “assess why students are not learning, and whether the problems are social, physical, cognitive, language-based, psychological or ethical.”
Parallel to this effort, our School of Education will also be teaching a new course in the spring to apply this newly gained developmental knowledge. Combined with the new workshop program, this will help us better prepare our students to understand the needs of child and adolescent development.
In more good news from the School of Education, we learned last week that a group of our students received approximately $100,000 from the Connecticut Board of Higher Education in Minority Teacher Incentive grants. Nineteen Southern students received grants of $5,000 per year for up to two years.
The award also includes a loan stipend component, which they can use to help pay down any outstanding student loan debt they may have after graduation. The stipends are worth up to $2,500 a year for up to four years with certain stipulations.
Congratulations to the student recipients and to the faculty who nominated them for this competitive and valuable incentive program.
RESPONDING TO EBOLA
At the request of New Haven Mayor Toni Harp, I have been named an honorary chair of an emergency committee – Citizens to Drive Out Ebola – to help oversee a campaign to raise funds to supply Sierra Leone with vans and medical supplies.
As you may know, Freetown, Sierra Leone, has been a Sister City to New Haven since 1997. This special relationship places our city in a unique position to help drive Ebola out of West Africa.
The city received a request for aid from the Government of Sierra Leone Ministry of Health and Sanitation. With entire families wiped out and inadequate and limited facilities to isolate and treat the sick, the country is completely dependent upon foreign assistance for its beleaguered healthcare system.
The committee’s goal is to raise a minimum of $100,000 by Jan. 31, 2015, to purchase and send cargo transit vans to be used and up-fitted as ambulances and stocked with medical supplies. Donations to the fund may be made at: https://fundly.com/citizens-to-drive-out-ebola
On a side note, last week the first event in a new conversation series featuring Southern faculty discussing current cultural and social topics was held at our downtown location, Southern on the Green. In “Ebola: Facts, Fears and The Front Line,” John Nwangwu, professor of epidemiology, and Kathleen Skoczen, chair of anthropology, detailed what it is like to work on the front lines of the Ebola epidemic and explored the social and cultural impacts at home. John shared his first-hand experience working as a consultant for the World Health Organization in West Africa, where he and his team investigated the Ebola virus disease outbreak and provided control strategies to the government. Kathleen discussed the social, economic and political dimensions of Ebola.
A good attendance of almost 30 people attended the event on a rainy night – an excellent way to showcase the talents of our faculty to the broader community. Future conversations on global ideas in a local context are planned for 2015, including “Cyber Security Trends: The Anatomy of a Hack,” and “Limits to Labels: Are Eco-Labels like ‘Organic’ and ‘Fair Trade’ Working?” You’ll find more information at: http://www.southernct.edu/southern-on-the-green/social-series.html, or if you have ideas for future events, contact Southern on the Green Coordinator Alice Selverian at email@example.com or (203) 641-8437.