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Time in Cheyenne, on Campus and Beyond

February 13, 2017

To the UW community:

Good morning!

This week we celebrate Valentine’s Day and mark the midpoint of February. At least at this point, the weather forecast is for a sunny, warm week. I am looking forward to another productive week. Let me share a few highlights from last week…

Last Monday, I was taped for the weekend’s airing of Wyoming Chronicle with Craig Blumenshine of Wyoming PBS. The show aired over the weekend, Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday at noon. Our 30-minute conversation covered a wide range of topics, including the budget reduction, planning for the future, enrollment, residence halls and more. I was pleased with the timing, as I believe keeping the University of Wyoming in front of the public during this time of the year will be helpful.

Last Tuesday, I had the opportunity to visit the Array School of Technology and Design in Cheyenne on my way to the Legislature. During my visit to Array, I learned more about this six-month training program (primarily coding and programming) and met the director, instructor and first cohort of seven students. It was an educational visit for me, and I thank them for the invitation to stop in.

From there, I spent the rest of the day at the Legislature, where the first reading of the FY18 budget bill occurred in both the House and Senate. Our major conversations had to do with the block grant, where the Joint Appropriations Committee has recommended an additional $1.04 million reduction for UW. At this point, an amendment has been introduced to eliminate the UW reduction portion from the budget. Further action will occur this week. In addition, Vice President Boswell and I discussed FY18 funding for the Wyoming Excellence in Higher Education funds. Due to a significant drop in endowment earnings (note, this endowment is with the state treasurer’s office), an FY18 appropriation has been requested to bridge the budget until endowment earnings can rebound. We will know more about this request as the week progresses.

I had mentioned in my communication last week that I would be meeting with the community college presidents and vice presidents for academic affairs. We met at LCCC on Thursday afternoon and had a most productive afternoon. Developing and scaling two online degree completion programs was a major point of discussion, as was our need to collectively recruit more high school students to continue their education in Wyoming. We also discussed pending legislation where, together, we can have a larger impact. You may have noticed our jointly authored an op-ed article on concealed carry which has or will run in each daily newspaper in Wyoming. I feel as though our relationship is growing stronger, and we are improving on collaborations that can make a long-term impact for post-secondary education in Wyoming.

Thursday evening, Tim and I attended “The Music of Libby Larsen” where the UW Collegiate Chorale, Wind Symphony and UW Symphony Orchestra performed music written by this American composer. It was enjoyable to have Libby Larsen introduce each piece and offer her interpretations for each. Congratulations to the students and directors who did a beautiful job!

Friday evening was perhaps one of the most enjoyable evenings since I came to UW. The evening started at the Art Museum with the opening of the student art exhibit. Beyond a beautiful opening reception, an awards program saw some 35 awards given out to student artists. I was excited to present two of those awards to Bridig Grund, who exhibited a photograph titled “Junkyard Moon,” and Jessica Neilharz, with her oil painting of “Sagebrush Bridge.” Beyond this impressive juried student exhibit, the faculty art show also opened in an adjoining gallery in the museum. I was most impressed with the faculty show, and I highly encourage you to find time to go see both. You will not be disappointed. Congratulations, student and faculty artists! You are a talented group.

After the opening/awards program, Tim and I rushed to the UW international awards dinner. The awards are sponsored by UW’s International Board of Advisors. The evening also featured a keynote address by Punit Soni, UW alum and CEO of Learning Motors. Punit holds an M.S. in electrical engineering from UW and has settled in the Silicon Valley, where he has worked for Motorola, Google and Flipkart.  He currently is founding a new company (Learning Motors), a machine learning stealth startup focused on a real-life problem. Punit spent all day Thursday and Friday at UW and had the opportunity to visit several classes, tour campus and reconnect with old friends. Several of us also had the opportunity to host Punit for breakfast on Thursday morning and had a delightful conversation. He seemed genuinely happy to be back in Laramie and reconnecting with UW.

I congratulate this year’s international award winners:

-- Undergraduate student: Gabriel Selting

-- Graduate student: Carlos Garcia Santiago

-- Staff: Warren Crawford, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources

-- Faculty: Dr. Jake Goheen, associate professor of zoology and physiology

-- Excellence in Outstanding International Service: Mark Northam, executive director of the School of Energy Resources 

I also congratulate all who were nominated for these awards, and Mary Katherine Scott, acting director of the International Programs Office, who coordinated the evening’s event. The scope and caliber of international activities is very impressive.

Saturday morning, Provost Miller and I met with the Art Museum Advisory Board and had a most enjoyable discussion about the future of the Art Museum. Shortly after the board meeting, Jean Garrison, Dean Paula Lutz, Ambassador Gary Grappo and I drove to Casper to participate in the Senator Malcolm Wallop Conversations on Democracy. The program was sponsored by the Center for Global Studies and included Ambassador Grappo; Eric Nigh, M.A. candidate in international studies; and Dr. Jean Garrison. The topic was democracy in the Middle East and Iraq, with many lessons about U.S. foreign policy. I was impressed with the engaged audience members, who found the speakers highly knowledgeable. The evening concluded with Bill Schilling hosting a small group at his home for dinner and to continue the conversation. I enjoyed meeting Senator Wallop’s daughter, Amy, and learning more about Senator Wallop. We arrived back in Laramie around 11 p.m., and while we were tired and ready for bed, it was a most interesting and fun day. I am really glad I was able to go and learn more about the Middle East and Iraq. I might add, Ambassador Grappo is currently a senior visiting scholar in global studies. We are so fortunate to have him on campus this year. A special thanks to Jean Garrison and Dean Lutz!

To round out the week, Tim and I attended the Cowboy basketball game on Wednesday evening, where we defeated Fresno State in four overtimes! The men played an additional 20 minutes of basketball and hung in there to win, 102-100. Congratulations, men! We also attended Senior Day with the UW wrestling team on Sunday. They competed against North Dakota State, and while they did not win, it was a fun match to watch.

Since I am on athletics, I want to congratulate the men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams for earning the Scholar All-American award for fall semester. Congratulations to Coach Johnson and all the student swimmers and divers for high academic performance. You make us proud!

I look forward to this week, as we will hold the February Board of Trustees meeting via conference call on Wednesday, Feb. 15. Please see the agenda here. I will also spend time in Cheyenne as needed to support the university’s position on several bills. And I look forward to serving on the interview team to select next year’s Daniels Fund scholars

Happy Valentine’s Day, and have a great week.

Laurie Nichols, President


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