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Busiest Week of the Year

May 1, 2017

To the UW community:

Good Monday morning, and happy May Day! After a wintry last week, I hope we see more spring-like weather as we transition to the end of the semester.

I am quite sure that last week was the busiest of the academic year for me. There were many, many end-of-the-year events along with interviews of candidates mixed with normal university duties. I suspect this week will bring more of the same as we close in on the final two weeks of the semester. I truly love this time of the year -- it certainly highlights our university’s best in terms of students and faculty. I thank everyone who has worked so hard to put on what is truly an impressive docket of culminating events.

Last Monday, I attended the final Faculty Senate meeting of the academic year, providing a president’s report followed by time for many questions from the senators. I was able to stay to hear the report provided by Drs. Anne Alexander, Susan Aronstein and Chris Rothfuss on the future of the Honors Program at UW. A task force has worked throughout the year to study our Honors Program, benchmark it against honors programs at peer institutions and make recommendations for future expansion and growth. Among the recommendations are to elevate the Honors Program to an Honors College, recruit a permanent dean and expand the curriculum to include major-specific honors courses and more upper-division courses. The Honors Program will move to the Guthrie House this summer to provide expanded room for faculty and students. Combined, these changes will provide heightened visibility to honors, strengthen the honors curriculum and provide a powerful tool to better recruit and retain our best and brightest Wyoming (and beyond) high school graduates.

We also had the opportunity on Friday evening to attend the Honors awards dinner, where faculty presented freshmen book awards, graduating seniors were presented their graduation stoles, and faculty awards were presented to Kenneth Thompson, Robert Kitchin and Elizabeth Goodwin. Congratulations! And huge appreciation to Susan Aronstein for her leadership of Honors these past two-plus years.

Tim and I were happy to host Sumbul Ali-Karamali -- author of “The Muslim Next Door” and an attorney specializing in Islamic law-- at our home last Monday evening. Sumbul presented a brown-bag discussion on Monday and a public lecture on Tuesday to a full room. The lecture examined historical, psychological and monetary reasons for the development and persistence of negative stereotypes of Islam and Muslims. It was most informative. As I left the lecture, I was reminded of how education truly does open minds and broaden our thinking.

Tuesday morning was delightful, as I had the opportunity to talk to the Laramie Lyceum group about my first 100 days and what I see for the University of Wyoming’s future. There were about 40 in attendance -- many retired faculty -- and the conversation was lively! I enjoyed recapping my start-up at UW from May 16 to the start of the academic year in late August, and then discussed our work throughout the academic year. I always enjoy sharing my thoughts about future opportunities at UW, which generated many comments and questions from the group. Laramie Lyceum is composed of very active and intellectually engaged people and is a wonderful resource for the university. I also stayed for the first half of the second program featuring our own Rocky Mountain Herbarium with curator Ernie Nelson and the director of the volunteer program, Charmaine Delmatier. They did a terrific job talking about Aven Nelson and the origination of the herbarium, as well as the scope of the collection, and present-day opportunities for volunteers. It was timely for me to hear this presentation, as I am currently reading “Aven Nelson of Wyoming,” which is a fascinating biography of Aven Nelson -- but also presents wonderful history of UW’s beginnings. Nelson was one of the first eight faculty at UW -- a botanist -- although in his early days as a faculty member he taught many subjects, including physical education. Jean Garrison offered the book to me and told me that it would help me better understand UW -- it certainly has!

Another really fun experience last week was being the guest of Professors Peter Parolin and Duncan Harris and their English 2025 “Introduction to English” classes. On Tuesday, they combined their sections to tour the American Heritage Center. The class (and yours truly) had just finished reading “Maus” by Art Spiegelman, which is a fascinating graphic novel of his father’s experience in a Nazi concentration camp. Molly Marcusse of the AHC shared some of the AHC’s materials related to the Nazi era, including interesting historical information on comic books. I had not read “Maus” previously; the two-volume novel is a fast read, and so interesting both in literary style and content. Molly did a great job of exposing us to some really unique holdings of the AHC, too. Thank you, Peter, Duncan and Molly!

Tuesday’s fast pace continued as I hosted a WyoCloud town-hall meeting, where I introduced the changes that will be coming about July 1. Others more knowledgeable than I presented on the change process itself, as well as training opportunities that will provide users the instruction and support needed to move us from the old financial system to the new. While I know that this is a time of great change, which produces stress, it is also very exciting to be getting to a point where we will use a much newer and more sophisticated financial and human resources software system. As I said during the town-hall meeting, I thank everyone who is working above and beyond to get us into a new, cloud-based, integrated system. We will support and encourage you as we move through the final two months of FY17 and then into the new FY18! Thank you, everyone, for your diligent efforts to get us there. We will be a better university when we have successfully made the upgrade.

One more event on Tuesday worth highlighting was the 105th inauguration of the ASUW president and vice president, held in the Wyoming Union on Tuesday afternoon. Ben Wetzel and Jaynie Welsh took their oaths and made comments about the year at hand under their leadership. It was a touching ceremony, with several past ASUW leaders in attendance. I look forward to working with Ben and Jaynie as they represent the student voice and become members of the team leading UW into a positive future. Congratulations to our newly elected student leaders.

On Wednesday, I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Susan Oliver of the University of Essex, thanks to Caroline McCracken-Flesher’s introduction. Dr. Oliver visited UW a few years ago while on sabbatical and more recently has returned for a month each year to continue collaboration with Dr. McCracken-Flesher and others in the English Department. Dr. Oliver has worked extensively at Essex to promote equity and provide leadership opportunities for women. Joined by Caroline and Anne Alexander, we had a dynamic discussion, comparing practices and programs at our respective universities and brainstorming possibilities for the future. I enjoyed the conversation and look forward to continuing our dialogue -- including building an even stronger relationship with Essex.

Wednesday also provided an opportunity for me to visit the Laramie Chamber Business Alliance leaders at their downtown office. I met with J.J. Harris, president and CEO, and his staff, and they provided a nice overview of the chamber. We also discussed at length their work on economic development for Laramie, and how the university and chamber can work together more effectively. We also discussed typical topics for a healthy town/gown relationship such as housing, retail and building a vibrant community that attracts and retains residents. It was a good introductory meeting, and I look forward to working with J.J. and the chamber in the future.

Wednesday concluded with Tim and I attending the Center for Global Studies spring barbecue held at Jean Garrison’s home (great fun), and then going on to the opening night of “Company” performed by the Department of Theatre and Dance. The theatre and dance students opened the show by honoring Audrey Shalinsky with a heartfelt, customized version of “So Long, Farewell” from “The Sound of Music.” Audrey is a longtime supporter of the performing arts, faculty member and administrator at UW, and will retire this summer. It was a sweet and fitting honor. And the musical production of “Company” was funny, provocative and beautifully performed. Congratulation to the cast, Director Sean Stone, Assistant Director Daniel Daigle, Choreographer Maurice Watson and Conductor Michael Griffith. Well done!

Thursday began bright and early when I had breakfast with our first candidate for vice president for research and economic development. I also had the opportunity to interview our first candidate for vice president for student affairs the same day. We will have several more interviews this week as we work to select our next leaders for these important divisions of the university. As always, I encourage your participation and feedback in these selection processes.

I also had the opportunity to welcome a group of guidance counselors from the Denver public schools who were visiting UW to become more familiar with our campus and academic offerings. I encouraged them to promote UW to their students, including sending them our way for summer camp opportunities and campus visits. I thank the Admissions Office for arranging and hosting them at UW.

Thursday afternoon was a special day, as we hosted Stephane Lessard, consul general for the Canadian Consulate in Denver, and his team, which included Jerome Pischella, consul and senior trade commissioner. They began with time in the College of Engineering and School of Energy Resources; I connected with them at a luncheon I hosted in their honor. They also toured the High Bay Research Facility to see our newest facility and learn about cutting-edge energy research at UW.

The Canadian team visited us to celebrate the signing of an MOU between our College of Engineering and Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT). This program has been in existence for many years and is essentially a 2+2 program for associate degree students in petroleum engineering from SAIT to compete a B.S. in the same major at UW. The day ended with a panel discussion on “Wyoming-Canada Links in Higher Education: Preparing the Workforce of the Future” with panelist Stephane Lessard, Dean Pishko, Executive Director Mark Northam, Dr. Richard Horner, Attorney Robert Jensen, Doug Cuthbertson and myself. We had a dynamic discussion on collaboration and future workforce needs, particularly around the energy industries. This was followed by a reception hosted by the Canadian Consulate and with many of our Canadian SAIT students in attendance. It was a very exciting day as we celebrated our current collaborations and explored new possibilities for moving our collaboration forward. Consul General Lessard is a warm, engaging man who really loves Wyoming. His friendship will be important to UW in the future.

Tim and I concluded Thursday by attending opening night of the 68th Laramie River Rendezvous rodeo. We were a bit late but made it in time to watch team roping, saddle bronc riding and breakaway roping. I wish we could have watched the entire rodeo, but it was good to get there for some of it and support the UW rodeo team. I hope the remainder of the rodeo on Friday and Saturday night went well.

Friday morning began with a 7:30 “Meet and Greet” between UW and the Wyoming Business Council. The morning coffee was organized by Megan Goetz and held at Pence and MacMillan Law Office. A good representation of UW and WBC folks attended. Beyond networking, we had time to do introductions and talk briefly about ENDOW and future economic development opportunities. The idea for this gathering came from a conversation I had with Megan several months ago. She took the ball and ran with it, and I thank Megan for organizing this event and the WBC staff for driving over from Cheyenne so early in the morning.

Friday continued at a fast pace with Alyssa Bever interviewing me for K2 TV’s “Good Morning Wyoming,” and then I went directly to the Tobin Memorial and Rosemarie Martha Spitaleri award program. Fourteen seniors (seven women, seven men) were selected and interviewed -- and they are all outstanding. Truly, I was amazed by the quality and caliber of these students. As I told them, they are all winners!  The committee ultimately selected Anthony Farmer for the Tobin Award and Sarah Maze for the Spitaleri Award. Congratulations, Anthony and Sarah!

The next event was the Buchanan Lecture, and this year’s talk was given by Harold Bergman, professor emeritus of zoology and physiology. His talk, “Lessons My Students Taught Me about Life,” offered many stories about his 41-year career as a teacher and mentor. Perhaps my favorite lesson that Dr. Bergman offered was, “If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.” Great advice! Thank you, Harold, for sharing with us your rich career and the love you hold for students and learning.

From there, I rushed over to the initiation of Phi Beta Kappa and had the opportunity to congratulate the new initiates and hear President Emeritus Tom Buchanan give the keynote address. Tom’s remarks centered on the value of a liberal education, including differentiating a liberal education from a vocational education. It was well done! Tom was inducted into PBK as an honorary member at the ceremony. It was wonderful to have President Emeritus Buchanan back on campus -- his passion for education has not waned one bit! His continued support of our university is appreciated.

Friday evening concluded with two events, the Honors awards banquet mentioned above, and then on to the INBRE annual research banquet. While we did not stay for the entire program, we stopped in to say hello, congratulate the many INBRE students who were at UW for their annual conference, and to be present for special recognition of Vice President Bill Gern. I thank Scott Seville, who directs the INBRE program, for what was clearly a very successful conference.

On Saturday, I began bright and early by meeting with a group of about 20 juniors from Evanston High School. They had come to campus on Friday and spent the night, departing Saturday morning. I visited with the students and two guidance counselors for about 30 minutes and then sent them on their way home. The campus visit came as a result of my visit to Evanston High School last fall. I learned that many students were visiting universities in Utah but not UW. I offered to host them on campus and assist with expenses by having the students stay in our residence halls and eat in our dining facility -- which they did. It sounded like they had a good visit to campus, and I hope we were able to convince a few of these students to attend UW!

And many of you know that the rest of Saturday was filled with the 17th annual Undergraduate Research Day. This annual event celebrates the research accomplishments of undergraduate students studying at UW or any one of the Wyoming community colleges. This year included 105 posters and 272 oral presentation, with a total of 491 students participating. I was able to sit in on about eight oral presentations on Saturday, including a couple of senior design projects presented by mechanical engineering students; a couple of honors thesis/projects by honors students; a presentation by a pharmacy student; and a presentation by a student from Western Wyoming Community College. They were impressive! From there, Tim and I attended a portion of the poster presentation, where we heard from a few more students on their research -- and then on to the Undergraduate Research Day banquet program. At the program, Phi Beta Kappa provided several awards, and Engineering recognized top senior design projects. In addition, Vice President Bill Gern was honored for his tireless work to grow undergraduate research at UW, and the keynote was provided by our own Dr. Chip Kobulnicky, professor of physics and astronomy, who provided an entertaining talk on “The Cosmic Origins of Everyday Stuff.” It was fun and a great way to conclude a BIG and very successful day. Congratulations to all faculty mentors, VP Gern and to the research office for a job well done.

Although it would have been easy to go home after a full day, Tim and I rushed to the Fieldhouse to participate in breaking the world record in country swing dance. Unfortunately, we didn’t break the record -- but we did swing our partner and have fun dancing! Tim and I met on the Palouse (Idaho/Washington), and one of our favorite dates was to go country dancing at the North Forty in Moscow. Now, 24 years later, we are rusty and have far more ailing body parts, but we did get into it and had lots of fun dancing alongside many of our students. I’m a little sore today…

I want to pause from reporting on my events to congratulate the UW horse judging team, which recently participated in the spring collegiate horse judging contest in Oklahoma City. They placed eighth team overall, and Rayne Benson placed first overall as high-point individual. Congratulations to the team and to adviser Jenny Ingwerson. 

I want to be sure you are putting an upcoming lecture and reception on your calendar: Next Monday, May 8, at 4:30 p.m. in the Gateway Center, Dr. Scott Henkel, assistant professor of English and African American and Diaspora Studies, will present a lecture titled, “The Humanities and the Land Grant University Mission from the 19th to the 21st Century.” Sponsored by the Wyoming Institute for Humanities Research, the lecture will cover the founding of land-grant universities and their mission to engage the public in the broadest range of humanistic, scientific and cultural education. Land grants were first imagined amid the Civil War and Reconstruction. In W.E.B. DuBois’ words, to seize the “opportunity for a real and new democracy in America,” they were then built to serve the needs of people whose potential had yet to be fulfilled. In this presentation, Dr. Henkel will present a history of what the land-grant university has been, in order to ask what its mission could be in the 21st century. A reception will follow to continue the discussion.

At a time when we are working diligently to reaffirm UW’s mission and create a visionary five-year strategic plan, this topic could not be more relevant or timely. I hope you will find time at the very beginning of finals week to steal away for an hour to hear this important lecture. You won’t be disappointed!

As I end this message, Tim and I are off to Sigma Nu fraternity to enjoy dinner with the members, and then I depart for Buffalo for an overnight so we can start our Monday community visit bright and early! More on this next week.

Have a great week!

Laurie Nichols, President


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