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Bringing the Academic Year to a Close

May 15, 2017

To the UW community:

Good Monday morning! Spring semester has concluded, and this Monday marks the beginning of summer recess at UW. I realize that many of you are still grading papers/exams, finalizing grades and completing lingering spring semester tasks. Best wishes as you wrap up final duties from spring semester and transition to summer.

Last weekend was a highlight for many of us: the celebration of graduation for nearly 2,000 students in eight commencement ceremonies. The official count was 1,959 and included 1,501 undergraduates, 358 graduate students, 60 law students and 40 pharmacy students. The weather was beautiful, which contributed to the festivities, and Laramie could not have been prettier with flowering crab apples, tulips and daffodils.

Commencement ceremonies began on Thursday when a group of us traveled to Casper to participate in the UW-Casper ceremony. Fifty-eight students participated in the ceremony, and I was struck by the personalized approach to the celebration. I send a special congratulations to our UW-Casper faculty, staff and graduates.

One other graduation event I was able to attend on Friday was the Veterans Services ceremony. Marty Martinez, Nicholas Whites and Aaron Lozano did a beautiful job of recognizing 27 individuals, 23 of whom served our country, while four were military dependents. Special tributes included naming the Meghan Gable Student Veterans Emergency Assistance Fund and honoring Sara Axelson with the Distinguished Service Award. I appreciate our veterans and the service our campus provides to veterans.

This weekend I was able to attend four commencement ceremonies for the Colleges of Arts and Sciences, Business, Education, and Agriculture and Natural Resources. As this was my first spring commencement at UW, it was fun to experience five unique ceremonies and see how each college/branch campus celebrates its traditions.

During the commencement ceremony for Arts and Sciences, we awarded an honorary degree to Peter Hassrick, and during the College of Business ceremony, an honorary degree was awarded to Paula Green Johnson.  Peter is an accomplished writer and independent American art scholar who focuses on the West. He was instrumental in building the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody. Paula has spent her life in humanitarian work, as she has advocated for children’s basic needs and social justice, particularly for women. Organizations that have benefited from her advocacy include the Boys and Girls Club, YWCA, Red Cross and United Way. I congratulate Peter and Paula for their outstanding contributions.

I also had the opportunity to provide the keynote address during the College of Education’s commencement ceremony. It was fun for me to reflect on my start as a teacher and my career journey in the fields of secondary and higher education.

I concluded Saturday by attending the ROTC Army and Air Force commissioning ceremony. It was a beautiful evening as Major General Luke Reiner, adjutant general for Wyoming, provided the keynote and 19 students took their oath and were commissioned into service via either active duty or the National Guard.

The highlight of the weekend for me was to shake many graduates’ hands and convey my congratulations and best wishes to them. Next year, I look forward to attending the college ceremonies for Engineering, Health Sciences and Law. And I thank all the college commencement coordinators who worked very hard to coordinate such a significant event for their respective colleges.

One other graduation-related event was the President’s Commencement Dinner held on Thursday evening. With about 200 in attendance, the evening recognized the honorary degree recipients, Peter Hassrick and Paula Green Johnson, along with several student and faculty awards. We concluded the evening by recognizing retiring Vice Presidents Bill Gern and Sara Axelson for their years of service to UW. The evening’s program featured both the Happy Jacks and the UW student jazz ensemble. And I also want to give a shout-out to UW Catering staff members, who went above and beyond in preparing an especially elegant and delicious meal for the guests. And one more thanks to Mary Ivanoff, who coordinated the event. It takes many talents to put on such an event, and I thank all who contributed.

Besides commencement-related events, the bulk of last week was consumed with Board of Trustees meetings. Monday and Tuesday were budget presentations by divisions and colleges. The FY18 budget presentations coincide with our new financial system and are an effort to both develop stronger and comprehensive budgets for colleges and other units, and to discuss the budgets in a more open and transparent manner. We agreed that it was a good start, we learned a lot, and the process will improve as we go forward. The trustees plan to approve the FY18 budget in June.

On Tuesday afternoon, just prior to the start of the board meeting, a special reception was held at the Enzi STEM Facility to celebrate this building receiving a national award in the R&D Magazine and Laboratory Design “Laboratory of the Year” competition. UW’s facility received special recognition for collaborative learning environment. The award was received at the Laboratory Design Conference April 24-26 in Raleigh, N.C. Architect Sallie Means, project manager Matt Kibbon and faculty member Mark Lyford were on hand to receive the award. The reception, in turn, recognized all those at UW who were a part of this beautiful building design and formally presented the award/plaque to the university. I thank those individuals who worked so hard on conceptualizing the function and goals of the building, and then those who designed and oversaw the construction of the building. It is truly a showpiece and a wonderful teaching and learning laboratory.

The trustee meetings began on Wednesday with committee meetings, followed by the full board began meeting Wednesday afternoon and continuing through noon on Friday. Highlights of the meeting:

--Approval to rename the Honors Program to an Honors College, with a dean as the unit leader.

--Approval of an increase of $28 per semester to the mandatory student fee for the purpose of student success programming for enhanced professional academic advising and tutoring.

--Approval to eliminate five academic programs, with associated teach-out plans: B.S. in Secondary Education - Industrial Technical Education; B.A. Russian; M.A. French; M.A. German; and M.S. Neuroscience. Other recommendations were supported, including placing admissions on hold for several programs for them to revise curricula and/or develop plans to recruit more students into the programs. For the full set of recommendations, go here.

--Several university regulation updates and introduction of drafts of new regulations for naming and for the operating budget.

--Several updates on reorganizations, including the Office of General Counsel and the College of Arts and Sciences.

--Updates on marketing, fall enrollment, the strategic plan, housing and more.

Two important appointments were approved by the trustees last week as well. I congratulate Sean Blackburn, who was named the next vice president for student affairs. Sean will succeed Sara Axelson this week, and as many of you know, he previously served UW as dean of students. I also congratulate Emily Monago, who will become UW’s first chief diversity officer. Emily is currently at Bowling Green State University and serves in a similar interim role. Emily will assume her duties at UW on July 17. Please join me in congratulating both Sean and Emily.

Last Monday, Dr. Scott Henkel provided a lecture to a full house. “The Humanities and the Land Grant University Mission from the 19th to the 21st Century” was the topic, and if you missed attending, you can catch his talk here. Scott did a great job tracing the history of the land-grant act and tying the humanities to both our current land-grant reality and future possibilities.  It was well done. Thank you, Scott!

As we transition to summer months, my Monday messages will come more infrequently, perhaps a couple of times per month. I will certainly continue to keep you updated as needed, but I expect the volume of news will decrease somewhat as campus transitions to summer activities.

I thank you again for a productive academic year with many positive outcomes. I also thank you for your resilience in persevering with me through this challenging year of budget reduction and financial uncertainties. Your suggestions and words of encouragement have meant more to me than you know. It was one year ago today that I arrived on campus and began my duties as president. Much has happened in this year, the best of which has been the opportunity to come to know so many of you, and to represent this great university. Today I begin year two of my appointment as president, and I look forward to a year in which we can work toward greater stability and begin implementation of a strategic plan.

I hope you have a wonderful summer, both productive in those things you hope to accomplish and enjoyable with at least a few things you want to do for yourself! Be sure to take some time to rejuvenate and do a few things outside of your work.

Have a great week!

Laurie Nichols, President


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