This semester, staff members received new name badges that said, “Global. Innovative. Excellence.” These three criteria were the main points highlighted in the 2012-2017 strategic plan and have been focused on by campus administration over the course of fall 2012, despite the struggles of the year.
When it comes to the success of a university, Brad Caskey, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said, “It’s really simple. We have one job, and that’s to educate students to be successful – that’s it.”
Even though the concept may seem basic, there are many different aspects that tie into a well-rounded education that UW-River Falls promotes. That is where the strategic plan starts to come in.
Global perspective is the first point labeled on the name badges of faculty. Caskey said that the levels of students at UWRF who travel abroad “have just been surprising.”
He said when he talks to his peers at other colleges they are surprised at the numbers of students who travel abroad and also the different options students have to travel abroad.
In fall 2012 alone, 53 students traveled abroad and 87 are getting ready to go abroad during J Term.
Thinking globally is not just limited to students studying abroad. It also includes bring faculty to campus who have international experience. Caskey said that it is a question that is starting to be discussed more in his college when hiring new faculty. Just this last year, the College of Arts and Sciences hired two international professors to educate students and bring different perspectives into the classroom.
Innovative is the point that follows global on the name badge. This means that the University is striving to support student learning and development, and to promote the University to the surrounding community.
One of the issues with the view on higher education is that people believe its sole purpose is to prepare students for jobs, Caskey said.
Caskey said that instead, it is to educate students so they can have a part in innovation in the future by developing products or ideas themselves.
Another aspect of innovation is bringing awareness to the community about the university piece.
When Glenn Potts, the dean of the College of Business and Economics, thinks of how UWRF is perceived, it does not align with his view.
“There is no reason why we shouldn’t be known as a university, and the College of Business and Economics known as a college, as the place to go.”
He said that he wants to see UWRF as a first choice for students, “rather than their second choice, or just a convenient place to go to school.”
The final goal is excellence.
This year there have been various projects around campus, like the interactive learning classroom in Hagestad, lab renovations in the biology department, the Falcon Center project being developed and more majors being developed or strengthened that play a part in excellence. Programs have also been developed that have promoted excellence, like the Falcon Scholars program and the Comprehensive Campaign.
Excellence can be teamed with student success as well. Caskey has seen a variety of ways that students can be successful in his college, like winning competitions and presenting research.
This success is seen by Chancellor Dean Van Galen as well in commencement numbers alone from last year.
“Commencement is an inspiring day and the University awarded over 1,600 degrees, the greatest number in our history,” Van Galen said.
The fact that UWRF has started the initiative to rebrand the campus is something that he likes.
“I think we have undersold ourselves for a long time at River Falls. We are a much better institution than sometimes we are willing to say. And so the idea of us saying you know what, were really good at things,” Caskey said.
He said that while people may know UWRF for their agriculture and professional studies programs, there are also other areas that the University excells in as well.
Potts agreed. “One of the things which I believe is important is that we work hard to make certain that our brand is well-known through out the region.”
Over the same year, there have been financial burdens as a result of the budget cuts to education from the state level.
This made the University and campus deans reevaluate their budgets.
Caskey said they had to “look at the curriculum and really look at, not what we used to do for students in programs, but we’re putting students out for the next 10, 20 years and really look at the curriculum and have a department really going through and saying, what do we need to change, if anything.”
That’s really the big challenge right now, is kind of looking in that crystal ball and trying to guess what are students really going to have to have,” Caskey said.
Van Galen noted also that, “Although this is not primarily in our control, there is a critical need to improve faculty and staff compensation. It is important that we are able to recruit and retain outstanding people.”