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Interacting with Staff, Students and Prospective Students

April 17, 2017

To the UW community:

Good Monday morning! I hope you had a happy Easter weekend and were able to spend time with family and friends. Those of you with younger children may have enjoyed an Easter egg hunt or Easter basket filled with chocolate eggs that have improved significantly since my childhood days.

Tim and I took a quick trip to see our oldest daughter, Jordan, who is completing an internship at the Clearwater Aquarium (Florida). We participated in their “trainer for a day” program yesterday and thoroughly enjoyed a behind-the-scenes look at the aquarium, including their rescue mission -- working with dolphins, otters, sea turtles and other beautiful creatures. You might have seen the film, “Dolphin Tale,” about Winter, a dolphin whose tail was hurt badly when it was entangled in a rope from a lobster trap. Ultimately she lost her tail, was fitted with a prosthetic tail at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and lives there today. It was not only enjoyable to see Winter, but more so to see the number of people with disabilities who obviously are inspired by her story. And Jordan is doing great -- learning a lot and thoroughly enjoying the internship. It was wonderful to see her and hard to say goodbye.

Last Monday, over 500 staff members gathered for Staff Recognition Day with a theme of “Cowboy Oscars.” Several offered thanks and congratulations to the staff, including myself, Vice President Bill Mai, Associate Vice President Sean Blackburn, Faculty Senate Vice President Donal O’Toole and ASUW President Michael Rotellini. Years of service were recognized in five-year increments with two individuals -- Diane Trotter and Karen White -- receiving recognition for 40 years of service! In additional, several staff members were recognized with specific staff awards, and Judy Yates from the College of Education received the Staff of the Year award. Congratulations to all those recognized for years of service or as award winners. It was a lovely event, and I again thank the Staff Senate for its work to sponsor such a celebration so we can thank and recognize our hard-working staff members.

I also had the opportunity last Monday to give a welcome and congratulations at the Wyoming History Day State Competition held on campus. Several hundred middle and high school students and their teachers participated in history competition at both junior and senior levels. Jillian Balow, superintendent of public instruction, also provided remarks to the group, and then awards were given for first and second place in each category. Those students who won their categories will go on to national competition. As a former high school teacher, I truly enjoy spending time with high school students. It takes me back to the earliest days of my career and reminds me of the energy level (and attention span) of adolescents! I thank Bridget Burke, director of the American Heritage Center, who served as local coordinator for the event.

Monday evening, Tim and I hosted the UW Daniels Fund scholars at our home for a reception. About 40 scholars attended, along with Provost Miller and Daniels Ethics Chair Kent Noble. We had a delightful evening as we met each of the students and learned about their background, major and career aspirations. Tim and I were impressed with the quality of students and diversity of academic pursuits -- all colleges were represented. The Daniels Fund sponsors these premier scholarships, which essentially fully fund a four-year college education for the recipients. We are fortunate to have so many of these bright, talented students at UW.

It would have been easy to call it a night, but I resisted and rushed back to campus to attend the Spence Law Firm Historical Trial Emi v. Kawai, the trial of the Heart Mountain draft resistance. The trial, coordinated by Steve Easton and his law students, surrounds the internment of Americans of Japanese ancestry during WWII. The trial focused on the controversy surrounding the reinstitution of the draft of Japanese-Americans in February 1943, and the resulting “Fair Play Committee” that encouraged resistance of the draft. The trial did not happen in real life but reflected the thematic undertones of the time. While I was only able to catch the second half of the trial, it was very interesting to understand the broader history of Heart Mountain and in particular two controversial cases that went to court in 1944 and 1945. Professor Easton, law students and law alumni did a great job.

Tuesday was a highlight of the week, when Chris Boswell and I traveled to Thermopolis for a community visit. We left Laramie bright and early and started our day in Thermopolis with a 7:30 alumni meet-and-greet at the local museum. About 40 alums attended the event, hosted by Keener Fry and the Alumni Association. Beyond meeting many people individually, I also had the opportunity to address the group and talk about our strategic planning process, budget reduction progress, plans for growth in outreach, overall enrollment, and questions about a new tourism degree (they are anxious for graduates). We also spent considerable time at Hot Springs County High School, where we met with Principal Scott Shoop and Guidance Counselor Courtney O’Connor. I also had the opportunity to spend nearly an hour with 12 junior high school students who plan to attend college. We talked about many aspects of preparing for college, including taking the ACT, selecting a college, applying and deciding on a major. It was fun to answer their questions -- and provides me insights as to programs we need to be marketing more aggressively to attract high school students (study abroad being one of those). What incredibly bright young people -- and you know me, I encouraged them to attend UW!

The day continued with a visit to see the UW Extension office and meet with Barton Stam, Joey Johnson and Vicki Nichols. We also stopped by the local newspaper for an interview, dropped in at the local coffee shop, and then it was off to Rotary Club for lunch and brief remarks from me, followed by a robust Q&A. I have heard so much about Thermopolis and was anxious to see the community and meet community members. I was not disappointed: It is a beautiful community, and the people are warm and friendly. I am anxious to go back and enjoy one of those hot springs!

The Board of Trustees held a brief conference call on Wednesday morning where three items were approved:

-- Hiring of Plan One architectural firm from Cody for design of renovated WWAMI space, including a new and improved anatomy (cadaver) lab and additional classroom space. This is necessary for expansion of the WWAMI curriculum at UW. Beginning in fall 2018 or 2019, UW will teach both years 1 and 2 medical classes (currently we teach just year 1). Additional learning space is needed to accommodate this additional class.

-- Permission to use about $90,000 in contingency funds for additional infrastructure work at the High Bay Research Facility.

-- Approval to purchase the Pi Beta Phi House located on Sorority Row.

Let me comment on the latter item, as I believe an article in the Boomerang has caused some concern. The Pi Phi chapter closed about three years ago, and their alumni board has been trying to keep the house heated and maintained since that time. Because they no longer found this feasible, they approached the university to purchase the house. We were interested in doing so because we wanted to be sure this beautiful, historic house is in fact maintained, and because we hope we might be able to offer the house to another chapter in the future. It is our intent to grow Greek life at UW, including getting more chapters into housing on Fraternity and Sorority Row. I have shared my belief that a vibrant Greek system is important to a vibrant land-grant and flagship university. I do want to say, however, that in the meantime, we may use the house for other university needs -- but the ultimate goal is to keep fraternity and sorority housing aligned with a growing Greek system.

Last week I had the opportunity to interview two of the candidates for dean of the Haub School, with the third and final candidate on campus today and tomorrow. Again, I encourage you to participate and provide feedback to the search committee. More information can be found here.

On Wednesday, I enjoyed hosting Tori Kricken, District Court judge in Albany County, for lunch. I met Tori some months ago and at that time, she was under consideration for the position of District Court judge. When I learned she had been appointed by Governor Mead, I invited her to a celebration lunch. Tori is a graduate of the UW College of Law, and beyond a most successful career, she is a busy mom and active community member. Not only did lunch afford us the opportunity to come to know each other better, but we also talked about ways the Circuit Court, District Court and UW might collaborate to understand and address student concerns and needs. We are fortunate to have Tori as an alum!

I also had the opportunity to attend the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) networking dinner on Wednesday evening. I was able to provide a brief welcome to the group, followed by an address by Dean Pishko. His comments centered on strategic planning underway in the College of Engineering and Applied Science, and also the important role SWE plays in the overall success of students in the CEAS. Much of the remainder of the evening was table-based discussion and networking. It was fun to meet the student officers and learn about their activities this past year. As I mentioned in my comments to this group, women comprise about 57 percent of all college degrees nationally, but only 19 percent of degrees in engineering. While much progress has been made, we have more work to do. I appreciate the role of SWE in encouraging and supporting women who pursue engineering degrees.

The week wrapped up for me on Thursday evening when UW hosted the Laramie Chamber Business Alliance’s Business After Hours monthly social at the Enzi STEM building. Many of the community business members in attendance had not been in the Enzi building and were taken by the grandeur of the building and the beautiful atrium. Tours were provided to those interested so they could see some of the labs, too. It was fun to share the Enzi building and talk about plans for building out Lewis Street into a STEM corridor that will include the engineering building under construction and a future Science Initiative building. I thank all who helped in planning the event.

On Friday evening, I learned that finalists have been selected for the vice president for student affairs, and campus interviews are being scheduled. As with other searches, I encourage you to participate in the interviews of these finalists and provide your feedback to the search committee chaired by VP Aylward and Dean Lutz. I appreciate the search committee’s work to get us to this point.

I also learned that the Multicultural Association of Student Scientists (MASS), in conjunction with the UW EPSCoR office, were the only recipients this year of the nationally competitive Consortium of Universities for the Advancement of Hydrologic Science Inc. (CUAHSI) “Let’s Talk About Water” grant. The students of MASS presented the movie “Watershed,” followed by a moderated panel discussion. The well-organized, student-driven event was attended by over 150 people from UW and the surrounding community on Thursday, April 13, in the Education Auditorium. Congratulations!

There are a number of events this week. Two that I will point out are the UW Libraries’ annual author event tomorrow evening featuring Timothy Egan, and the “Take Back the Night” vigil on Wednesday evening. The latter will take place on Wednesday at 7 p.m. in Prexy’s Pasture. Beyond these two, there are a host of other events and activities. Please attend and enjoy whichever are of interest to you!

Have a great week!

Laurie Nichols, President


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