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A Great End to the Fall Semester

December 12, 2016

To the UW community:

Congratulations to nearly 600 graduates who completed their degrees this semester. Both commencement ceremonies last weekend realized capacity audiences; it was fun to watch families arrive on campus to celebrate with their loved ones. I thought both commencement speakers delivered a strong message to the graduates, and the Happy Jacks performed several songs, including the UW Alma Mater, most fitting for this occasion. On a personal level, we hosted longtime friends from South Dakota whose son graduated with a B.S. in chemistry. They were so complimentary of his education, including a strong undergraduate research experience and wonderful mentor. I thank all the administrators, faculty and staff who attended, participated or helped plan these first-time, combined ceremonies. A special thank you to Matt Coulter, who coordinated the planning from the President’s Office. Congratulations, graduates!

Last week we announced the search committee for the vice president for research and economic development, and this week we will announce the search committee for the vice president for student affairs. Both Bill Gern and Sara Axelson will be retiring after many years of service to the university. I thank them for their exemplary service and the profound impact they have had on their respective divisions. We will celebrate their retirement later this spring. Based upon feedback received on the composition of the search committee for the VP for research and economic development, I will be adding a few more members this week. I appreciate those who made further suggestions to strengthen the committee. The committees will meet soon, and the searches should be underway after the first of the year. These positions are critically important to the future of the university, and I thank the search committee members who will lead us through national searches to find a strong pool of applicants and recommend finalists for campus interviews. Please stay tuned!

Congratulations to the UW Wildlife Society Student Chapter, which learned this week that it was selected for the Otter Oscar Award, sponsored by the International Otter Survival Fund. The students were selected for their regular monitoring of otters in Rocky Mountain National Park, an endeavor that has been going for over 15 years, producing a rich data set. Congratulations to student members and adviser Merav Ben-David.

Another congratulations goes out to the UW horse judging team, which performed extremely well at the American Quarter Horse World collegiate contest. The students brought home nine awards, and UW placed in the top five in every category. Congratulations to the students and Jenny Ingwerson, judging team coach.

Last week, I reported that statewide listening sessions had begun for our strategic planning efforts. I am happy to report that we have concluded all 10 community listening sessions. The communities we visited included:  Jackson, Cody, Rock Springs, Torrington, Riverton, Casper, Laramie, Cheyenne, Gillette and Sheridan. In total, nearly 1,000 alumni or constituents attended and participated in rich dialogue, with many suggestions offered. The minutes from each session will be turned over to the Strategic Planning Leadership Council, which will begin to analyze data and determine common themes across all community sessions. I thank the UW participants who attended one or more of the statewide meetings. The support for this university across the state is unparalleled. Wyoming citizens really care about the University of Wyoming.

Last week, Tim and I hosted two holiday gatherings. On Wednesday evening, we welcomed the members of Sigma Phi Epsilon to our home for Tim’s homemade chili. About 40 young men attended and, beyond consuming a large amount of chili, they also helped us break in our new pool table. A fun evening was had by all! Tim and I advised the SigEp chapter at SDSU for many years, so we were excited to connect with the UW chapter when we arrived. On Thursday evening, we co-hosted a university/Laramie community holiday celebration. I thank other co-hosts such as the officers of Faculty Senate, officers of ASUW, Laramie Mayor Dave Paulekas and women’s basketball coach Joe Legerski. Many others contributed to the festivities, including the UW Horse Unit, which brought Pistol and Pete and a wagon for children to enjoy horse-drawn wagon rides. Santa had hundreds of children on his lap, volunteers painted many children’s faces, and hundreds of dozen of cookies were decorated. Holiday music by the jazz ensemble and two a cappella vocal groups was enjoyed. The turnout was amazing. My favorite part was seeing all the children and their excitement for the holiday season. I thank all who contributed to making this campus-community event such a huge success, and a special thank you to Mary Ivanoff, who did much of the planning.

Saturday wrapped up the week with two other exciting events. I was able to attend the men’s basketball game against University of Montana on Saturday afternoon. It was a thrilling ending, with the Cowboys winning by two points, nearly at the buzzer. Congratulations to Coach Edwards and the basketball team! Then on Saturday evening, Tim and I attended the lovely holiday concert by our talented music faculty and students. I loved every number, but the grand finale of A Christmas Carol Fantasy, performed by the orchestra and combined choirs, was especially inspiring and beautiful. Thank you faculty and students for a most enjoyable evening of holiday music.

Despite weather challenges, I am in Chicago today attending the Midwest Regional CASE conference, where I am participating in a panel discussion. The topic has to do with the president’s role in fundraising and forging strong relations with university foundation staff. They were particularly interested in my perspective as a new president to a new university and new donors. I hope to learn new ideas as we prepare to take private giving to UW to a new level.

After I return to Laramie on Monday night, I look forward to hosting Phi Beta Kappa in our home on Tuesday night for a holiday celebration.

The Board of Trustees will meet by conference call on Wednesday morning. Approving the audit reports will be a major part of the agenda. Click here to view the full agenda.

On Friday, several of us from UW will appear before the Joint Appropriations Committee to talk about the reduction to the biennium budget and our supplemental budget request.

Because this will be my last Monday morning message for a few weeks, I want to wish Coach Bohl and the football team best wishes in the Poinsettia Bowl on Dec. 21. The Western Thunder Marching Band, cheerleaders and Pistol Pete also will attend to perform during the game. This will be the last game of the season for the Cowboys, and I congratulate them on a highly successful season.

I end by thanking you for your contributions to the fall semester. It has been seven months since I started, and while we certainly have challenges, I am impressed with UW and have enjoyed coming to know so many wonderful faculty, staff and students. Knowing the quality of programs and people makes me optimistic about the future.

I wish each of you happy holidays and look forward to working with you in 2017.

Laurie Nichols, President

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