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A Plan for UW to Achieve Its Full Potential

September 10, 2021
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By Ed Seidel 

I and my administration are committed to making the University of Wyoming a best-in-class, 21st century land-grant university true to its Wyoming roots. That objective is at the core of changes underway and proposals being considered by UW’s Board of Trustees.

You might have read media reports about the plan presented to the board during its July meeting. We are pursuing a transformation of the university’s academic programs to propel new and ongoing initiatives and to deal with budget cuts. Driving the plan is our desire to better serve our students by enhancing their UW experience and training them for success; to become a better engine for innovation and economic development in Wyoming; and to develop new revenue streams in part through increased research grants and corporate partnerships so that we are on a sustainable path for the future.

Among the proposals being considered by the Board of Trustees for possible action later this year are the creation of a campuswide School of Computing; a reconfiguration of UW’s academic colleges; and discontinuance or reorganization of some academic programs. Already underway are the formation of the Wyoming Innovation Partnership, in collaboration with Gov. Mark Gordon and the state’s community colleges; creation of a Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation; and the launch of a Wyoming Outdoor Recreation, Tourism and Hospitality Initiative.

The Wyoming Innovation Partnership (WIP) aims to develop innovative solutions that will support and enhance Wyoming’s economy and workforce. It includes an emphasis on focusing workforce development on high-potential areas; supporting and training entrepreneurs and new business startups; growing research and enhancing technology transfer and commercialization; and developing outside revenue sources such as corporate partnerships to provide new opportunities for students.

WIP is about aligning all of higher education to work together on training students—giving them skills to succeed in the new economy—and creating jobs—attracting companies and building the economy so students can stay in Wyoming after graduation. Statistics show that more than 70 percent of UW graduates leave the state. UW and its partners aim to help build a more diversified economy that would allow our graduates to stay and, in turn, create even more job opportunities.

That’s where the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CEI) comes in. It will make training in entrepreneurship available to all students at UW, and to the community colleges that wish to participate. It also will coordinate business incubators, lab spaces and innovation learning hubs across the state to create a stronger innovation ecosystem for Wyoming.

The Wyoming Outdoor Recreation, Tourism and Hospitality (WORTH) Initiative will serve the state’s second-largest economic sector. WORTH is designed to provide real-world experiences for students; courses, training and certificates via distance technologies to working professionals; outreach services such as market analyses and business incubation; and applied research in collaboration with industry.

Also connected with WIP and its related initiatives is the proposed School of Computing, which would advance UW’s offerings in computing and digital literacy. These skills are needed for all students and all disciplines of study, such as precision agriculture, and are central to supporting economic growth in Wyoming. The school, which could launch in early 2022, would ensure that computing and digital literacy become pervasive across all disciplines at UW. It also would support collaborations of computing across the state, such as software boot camps and degree programs in software engineering already under development.

The School of Computing would offer a bachelor’s degree with multiple tracks and minors available to all majors, with plans to develop graduate degrees later—helping produce tech-savvy graduates ready to fill and create jobs in a changing Wyoming economy.

These new initiatives would be funded, in part, by savings realized through the proposed academic reconfigurations and consolidations. These academic program changes are intended to increase critical mass of faculty and students into a smaller number of departments; reduce administrative overhead; better serve students; and organize better for research competitiveness and corporate partnerships. Informed by robust discussion on campus and around the state, we are working now to finalize these changes to present to the Board of Trustees, likely in November.

These proposed changes to our academic structures and new proposed programs should make us more competitive for research grants that both enrich our students’ learning and make UW a more powerful engine for innovation in the Wyoming economy. It is anticipated that federal funding for research in big areas of science, technology and computing applications, as well as support for innovation and entrepreneurship, will increase dramatically through a tectonic shift in roughly doubling national research and development funding through the United States Innovation and Competition Act (USICA). As of this writing, USICA was already passed by the Senate, with the House also on a path to support. We at UW aim to be ready to be more competitive for this funding for our faculty, our students, our WIP partners and our state.

All in all, these changes have the potential to transform UW into an institution that will give students the 21st century education they need and deserve; attract the very best faculty and staff members; conduct research to tackle the grand challenges facing Wyoming and world; and better serve the people, communities and industries of the state. We look forward to engaging with all UW supporters in the collaborations and partnerships necessary to reach our full potential. 

Ed Seidel is the 28th president of the University of Wyoming.

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