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Finals Week, Holiday Events and Legislative Presentations

December 11, 2017

To the UW community:

Good Monday morning!

Today is the last day of regular classes, with a final exam preparation day on Tuesday and finals beginning on Wednesday, continuing through the rest of the week and concluding on Dec. 19. We also hold fall commencement Saturday morning. And, with this last full week of the semester, we also find a few lingering holiday celebrations and other campus activities.

As I write this, I am traveling to Phoenix to attend a meeting of the Board of Directors of the Mountain West Athletic Conference. We meet Sunday and Monday; I return to Laramie Monday evening.

Last week was a week of hosting holiday celebrations. Tim and I began on Monday evening by welcoming the UW leadership team of vice presidents and deans at our home for a holiday dinner -- an opportunity for me to thank them for their leadership at UW. Tuesday evening continued with a fun-filled holiday reception for Phi Beta Kappa, and Wednesday evening was the UW/Laramie community holiday celebration held at the Gateway Center. Tim and I were joined by Mayor Andi Summerville, ASUW President Ben Wetzel, Staff Senate Chair Rachel Stevens and Faculty Senate Chair Michael Barker in hosting and welcoming guests.

While the evening was cold and blustery, attendance was excellence, and we welcomed hundreds of families who came to meet Santa, Pistol Pete and Cowboy Joe, and have a wagon ride with our own Haflinger horses, Pistol and Pete. Guests enjoyed a variety of musical groups, decorated Christmas cookies and enjoyed the hot chocolate bar and other snacks. Face painting and many other games and activities were available for families’ enjoyment. We concluded the evening by lighting the Christmas tree outside the Gateway on Grand Avenue. I thank everyone who generously contributed time and talents to make it so festive, with a special thank you to Mary Ivanoff, who coordinated the event.

Last Monday, we hosted guests from the Tokyo University of Science at Suwa, including President Hiroshi Kawamura, Professor of Mechanical Engineering Tasuka Hoshino and Professor of Information Application Engineering Tetsuyasu Yamada. They were visiting UW to explore a potential partnership with departments within our College of Engineering. I had the pleasure of meeting with these guests for an hour and learning more about their university and areas of research, including the development of a personal vehicle of single spherical drive and applied research of deep neural networks. I am exciting about future possibilities for global engagement, and this seems like a great fit for students and faculty within our Department of Mechanical Engineering and Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

On Tuesday, Chris Boswell and I had the opportunity to meet with Mayor Andi Summerville and City Manager Janine Jordan. As usual, we discussed a number of town/gown topics, including the city’s tightening budget due to a proposal for a new state allocation formula to Wyoming cities and municipalities. We will continue to monitor this for specific implications for UW.

I continued the morning by meeting with the Staff Senate Executive Committee. We had a productive discussion covering a wide range of topics pertinent to staff. I appreciated the staff’s reflective statements about the changes occurring at UW and how staff members in particular are responding to these changes. I was encouraged by the positive stance of our Staff Senate and simply say thank you for your leadership of our staff members -- and for your ability to see beyond a budget reduction to improving the overall governance culture at UW.

I ended my morning by touring Dr. Baski Thyagarajan’s Molecular Signaling Laboratory. Dr. Thyagarajan is an associate professor in the School of Pharmacy, College of Health Sciences. I learned about the regulatory role of transient receptor potential (TRP) ion channel proteins in obesity, pain and neuromuscular diseases. It was a fascinating tour, where I heard firsthand from a team of 13 undergraduate and graduate students as well as postdoc and fellow collaborator Dr. Padmamalini Baskaran. I was impressed with what I learned, and it made me proud of the state-of-the-art scientific research occurring on our campus. I was particularly impressed with the stellar education our students are receiving as they work in this lab and alongside Dr. Thyagarijan. I thank the Baski Lab for the invitation and informative tour.

Tuesday afternoon continued when Dean Pishko, VP Synakowski, VP Boswell and I traveled to Cheyenne to meet with Governor Mead to discuss ENDOW and specifically our proposed Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. We walked through the proposed institute and talked about the connection to ENDOW as we work to infuse an entrepreneurial culture for our students and faculty. A specific component of the institute is the Business Creation Factory, and this provides an opportunity for those at UW and across the state to access expertise to evaluate innovation for potential commercial implications. It was a productive meeting, and the governor was complimentary of our work to develop entrepreneurs for Wyoming -- and to improve our ability to move faculty and student research out into the market.

Thursday was a very big day, as we presented to the Joint Appropriates Committee (JAC) from 8 a.m. until nearly 6:30 p.m. This was our opportunity to present the FY 19-20 biennium budget to JAC for the three budgets appropriated to the university. These include budget 067, often referred to as the block grant; budget 069, which is the WICHE budget request; and budget 167, which is the budget for medical education. Embedded within 067 (block grant) are specific divisions/units such as the School of Energy Resources, Tier-1 Engineering, NCAR, brucellosis research, athletic competitiveness and the like.

I began the day by providing JAC a “state of the university” overview, and from there we walked the legislators through our budget request, item by item. As I mentioned in last week’s message, we included just four exception requests to our block grant:

-- Move $100 million from appropriated sources to the university budget for the construction of the Science Initiative building.

-- Continue footnote language for a low-cost loan for the research aircraft.

-- $1 million in one-time monies for carbon engineering research.

-- $100,000 for the rodeo program.

The WICHE budget request had two exception requests: an increased allocation for dues by $29,266 and continuation of a clerical position at $41,000. The medical education budget had many exception requests, primarily for the Casper medical residency program, along with a few for the Cheyenne residency program, WWAMI and the administration of the 167 budget.

It was a long day, but the overall feel was that it went well, with many good questions from legislators. The next step will be for JAC to take the governor’s budget recommendations and do a “mark-up” for legislative consideration. There is a possibility that we could be requested for a “call back” in January to provide further information on any item of interest by JAC. This year’s legislative session begins Feb. 12.

As we work with the JAC, we continue our legislative dinners across the state -- this week in Rock Springs-- where we discuss with all legislators our budget requests and provide updates on UW. Rock Springs will be our third such dinner, with four more to come in January.

Another effort in the planning stages is statewide engagement, with service organizations such as Rotary and Kiwanis clubs, to talk about the Science Initiative in general, and specifically the proposed building to elevate interdisciplinary research and offer enhanced active learning in science courses to our students. About a dozen of these are being scheduled for January, and various faculty and students will lead these presentations. I thank Jean Garrison for coordinating these community presentations.

This week, we host the ENDOW Executive Council on our campus for its December meeting. The council will meet at the Gateway Center today and tomorrow. UW will have time Tuesday morning to present four ideas to expand economic development in Wyoming. I look forward to our discussion with the council, which is very close to providing a report to the governor. It will accompany his request to the legislature for some $30-plus million to begin to implement ENDOW recommendations.

On Wednesday morning, the monthly meeting of the trustees will take place. This month the meeting is held via conference call. Please see here for the agenda.

I also extend an early congratulations to those who will graduate on Saturday. Commencement will take place in the Arena-Auditorium at 10 a.m. Saturday. Please join us and congratulate our newest graduating class members on their completion of their degrees -- a life-changing event, to be sure. We are proud of all of our graduates!

I wish you all a successful last full week of the semester and, for those departing UW at the end of the week, safe travels and a happy holiday. I will send my last Monday message of the calendar year next Monday as we conclude the finals schedule on Monday and Tuesday (Dec. 18-19). Best wishes on finals, students!

Have a great week!

Laurie Nichols, President


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