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Students discuss campus issues at HLC open forum

April 24, 2008

The Higher Learning Council (HLC) for accreditation had an open forum for UW-River Falls students Monday.

  The panel, composed of members of the HLC, questioned students about their experiences and perspectives at UWRF.

  “What makes you proud to be a student at UWRF?” asked one of the three panel moderators.

  Among the attending students, “going green” was a popular theme that made students feel proud to be at a “leading university for sustainability in the country.”

  The Kinnickinnic River Theatre was filled with students as well as many standing against the back wall. Among the students were Student Senate President Derek Brandt and other Senate members representing the student body.

  “I was very happy with the turnout we had. I think it is a good indicator of how engaged students are on this campus,” Jennifer Wilis-Rivera, coordinator, promoter and writer of the self-study for the accreditation event, said.

  “I think about 160 people were there, which in itself [was] awesome because it shows student engagement and involvement,” student Jenifer Biss said in an e-mail interview. “For a comparison, I believe that Stevens Point had a turnout of only about 30 students at a similar event.”

  Students addressed the difficult to fund the requirements to study abroad with the international studies program.

  The moderators of the forum asked students what they thought about the diversity on campus. Njia Lawerence-Porter, the McNair Scholars program director, was mentioned by several students for her active voice in diversity on campus. One student recalled UWRF being “a rural school … needing more cohesiveness,” and with that eliminating racism and understanding differences of one another better.

  Gay Straight Alliance Chair Willow Gallagher mentioned the University’s attempt and carried out actions at correcting the wrong in certain hate crimes.

  Other topics that were brought to attention were about parking lots and commuters.

  The lack of free or inexpensive parking for commuters raised disagreement from some students in attendance.

  Others did not see walking a few blocks away for free to be a big deal.

  “One topic that was discussed that I thought was an important one was the various resources available to students to help them succeed academically, such as career services or the academic help center,” Biss said.

  There was widespread concern about first-year students and transfer students not having access to general information and helpful resources about the University. Resident Assistants were present to represent the residence halls and offer help.

  “One issue that was raised is how well students are connected to these resources. As I see it, at least as far as freshman go, there is a push to inform these students of what is available to them through such programs as SURF and Weeks of Welcome through the FYE [First-Year Experience] office. I do think that sometimes transfer students can be left out of the puzzle, but I believe that this problem has been identified by the FYE office,” Biss said.

  Computer science students addressed an issue of the education received in the program.

  Students expressed concerns that UWRF is not preparing them for graduate schools and jobs.

  The one-hour time block allowed for the open-forum was extended for an additional 15 minutes by the panel because of extensive student discussions.

  “I was also very pleased that the moderators were able to extend the question time for the students,” Willis-Rivera said.

  In this short time remaining, the students spoke of the “amazing” work of professors on this campus.

  Brandt had one of the last words as he spoke of growing international programs and the retention of students. He thanked the HLC for coming to the University.