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Welcoming Prospective Students, Medical Education and More

June 26, 2017

Good Monday morning!

As I write my message to you on this beautiful Sunday, I am sitting outside of a cabin a few miles past Centennial with a rushing creek within feet of me. All around me are the Snowy Mountains, and the bright sun is warming up the cool morning. It is beautiful, relaxing and perfect therapy for the fast-paced lifestyle I have been leading for so many months. In moments like this, I know why people love living in Wyoming.

I begin my comments by congratulating the UW women’s rodeo team for its reserve (second) place finish at the College National Finals Rodeo in Casper. A special congratulations to Amelia Anderson, who was reserve champion in goat tying, and Kailee Webb, who finished third in barrel racing. The men placed 20th, with three men placing 12th for team roping (Denton Taylor and Dusty Taylor) and saddle bronc riding (Wyatt Hageman). Cori Terry and Ethan Cahill were named NIRA Academic All-Americans. Congratulations, students!

In the past few weeks, we have welcomed many high schoolers to our campus. I mentioned the Native American Summer Institute in my last message. Yesterday I had the opportunity to interact with two other groups -- both celebrating their conclusion and sending students home with great memories, new friendships and expanded dreams for their future.

Saturday morning, I joined the College of Engineering’s summer program for high schoolers as they had their final breakfast and concluding program. This group of about 35 students was from near and far, such as Virginia and California. The program invites students between their junior and senior year in high school to campus for a week of academic and career exposure in the field of engineering. This final Saturday morning, parents were joining their student so they could have a glimpse of UW, the CEAS, and of course transport their children home. I enjoyed greeting the students and inviting them back for the fall of 2018 as first-year students. I thank the many staff and faculty who take time in their summer to make the program so successful.

After the engineering group, I joined the High School Institute (HSI) for its brunch and final program. The institute organizers were concluding three weeks and recognizing the faculty, staff and each student participant. The program is sponsored by the Honors Program but includes a large team of faculty, staff and our own UW students who contribute. About 85 high schoolers participated, all from Wyoming and between their sophomore and junior year in high school. These students are nominated by their schools and represent some of the best and brightest from their class. I also offered remarks to this group, encouraging them to push hard in their final two years of high school and then to continue their education by earning college degrees. Of course, I always talk about the high-quality education UW offers and the many “deep” learning experiences to round out their education, such as the Honors Program, study abroad, undergraduate research, internships and the like. It is a goal to continue to recruit these strong students and see many of them back at UW.

A special thank you to Jeff Anderson, Teddi Hofmann and many others from the College of Engineering and Applied Science; and Rene Sanchez, Susan Aronstein and the many others who played a role in HSI. These are not only wonderful learning experiences for high schoolers, but they also become a major pipeline of strong recruits to UW. I look forward to meeting with other campers as summer rolls on.

One other student-related event was the Daniels Fund New Scholar Celebration held in Denver on June 17. This event welcomed 240 students to the class of 2017 scholars. A weeklong orientation and training program concluded with a lovely banquet and introduction of the 240 scholars to a crowd of 500-plus. I was happy to attend and welcome 15 of these scholars to UW this fall. The Daniels scholar program provides a four-year, annually renewable scholarship to fully cover the cost of education to these selected students. Applicants are judged on strength of character, leadership potential, academic performance and well-rounded personality. I am delighted to welcome 15 Daniels freshmen to UW this fall. 

In the past two weeks, I attended two meetings involving medical education. The first involved spending a few hours with the Educational Health Center of Wyoming (EHCW) during its annual retreat held in Laramie. This is the governance board for the Casper and Cheyenne residencies, as well as the newly funded HRSA (Health Resources and Services Administration, an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) Access Point clinic in Laramie. It was a good meeting where we discussed the complexity of governance for the residency programs, and some of the issues connected with their funding. Due to the recent departure of Medical Director Kevin Murray, we also discussed the search for a new director.

A second meeting was held with Dr. Suzanne Allen, vice dean of the University of Washington School of Medicine, and Dr. Larry Kirven, assistant clinical dean in WWAMI. Suzanne works with each of the states in their delivery of the WWAMI program, and Larry provides clinical placement for Wyoming WWAMI. Because Provost Miller and I are both new, Suzanne and Larry provided an informative overview of WWAMI in Wyoming and various programs to increase the supply of rural physicians. As you may know, Wyoming’s WWAMI program accepts 20 students per cohort, and beginning fall of 2018, a new curriculum allows year 1 and year 2 students to stay at UW for their education. This expansion into year 2 requires some facility improvements, specifically an additional classroom and an improved anatomy lab. We are working on both at the present time.

Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend the National Agricultural Alumni and Development Association (NAADA) conference in Columbus, Ohio.  I provided a luncheon keynote address on the conference theme of “Time and Change.” It was fun to attend with colleagues Pepper Jo Six and Anne Leonard, and to see my dear friend, Pat Whittington from Ohio State, who hosted and coordinated the conference. Since we were in Columbus, we also hosted a small alumni gathering on Wednesday afternoon, where I was able to meet a dozen alums/friends of UW who live in Ohio. It was a fun afternoon with many stories from the past, and an opportunity to provide updates about UW.

Another exciting happening in the past two weeks has been the selection of a firm to lead the development of a 10-year housing plan for UW. After an RFQ process, three finalists were identified. Each provided an hour-long presentation on its firm and proposed process to develop a comprehensive and longer-term housing plan. After an afternoon of presentations, the UW team selected its top pick, and once the contract is signed, work will begin. The timeline for this housing plan is short, with work occurring over the summer and fall semester. The end result will be a plan to address new and renovated residence halls, a plan for Greek housing improvements and recommendations for our apartments. While all are important, the residence hall portion is what we plan to address most immediately.

Another important meeting held last week in Casper was with presidents of the seven community colleges. Patrice Noel assisted in coordinating the daylong meeting, and a major topic of discussion was our efforts in recruiting and enrolling Wyoming students. With the downturn in the energy sector, many high-paying jobs for those with high school education are declining. Critical to Wyoming’s future is our ability to recruit these students to college to prepare for a skilled workforce that requires a higher level of education. During the UW trustees’ meeting in July, the community college presidents will spend an afternoon with the trustees talking about college attainment goals.      

Two groups visited campus last week, and I enjoyed assisting in welcoming each. The Wyoming Automobile Association held its annual meeting in the Wildcatter Suites last week, and I was able to join them on Wednesday morning to offer comments about UW, followed by a question/answer period. It was an enjoyable hour, and I was impressed with the level of enthusiasm for UW. Then at noon the same day, several from UW hosted a team from Hess Corporation which spent the day at UW, touring the High Bay and meeting with Dr. Mohammad Piri on Hess-sponsored research. Hess has partnered with UW for several years on unconventional extraction research and continues its R&D commitment.

One other most interesting event last week came about at least partially from the ENDOW initiative. At a meeting held earlier this year, Shawn Reese, director of the Wyoming Business Council, and I discussed ways to strengthen our entrepreneurship culture in Wyoming. We thought a visit to our three business incubators in Wyoming, at least partially supported by UW and the Wyoming Business Council, would be helpful. Director Jon Benson facilitated the visits and was joined by Shawn, myself and Chris Boswell. We began at the Wyoming Technology Business Center in Laramie to hear about this incubator and visit directly with several of the 15 startup businesses located here. Next stop was the Casper Business Incubator, where we were hosted by Christine Langley, who serves as lead at that facility. She was joined by Charles Walsh, who directs the Casper Area Economic Development Association (CAEDA), and Jared Stack, entrepreneur. We learned about their startup challenge, which includes a $50,000 seed fund to the finalists, and had a most interesting tour of their facility, where we had an especially interesting visit with McGinley Orthopedics, whose drilling device is revolutionizing orthopedic surgery.     

From Casper, we traveled to the Sheridan Technology Business Center/Incubator and met a full suite of entrepreneurs. They, too, run a startup challenge with a $50,000 seed fund, and several of the most recent winners were moving into the incubator. Both Shawn and I agreed that it was a productive and informative day to understand the entrepreneurship activity in Wyoming and the role each incubator plays in assisting these startup businesses to launch. Seeing these innovative, creative businesses gives one hope for a promising future in Wyoming. We thank everyone involved in hosting us and providing such an interesting, informative day.

One other visit during my travels last week was to Jentel, an artist residency program located about 20 miles southeast of Sheridan. Mary Jane Edwards and Lynn Reeves hosted us at this beautiful facility and provided an in-depth look at this innovative and nationally recognized artist residency program. We also spent time with Neltje, who provides much support to Jentel and to UW. Her property is breathtaking, and our group (including Trustees MacPherson and Brown and Foundation VP John Stark) thoroughly enjoyed understanding Jentel’s mission, and Neltje’s accomplishments and commitment to UW.

Rounding out these two weeks included serving as judge at the Chugwater Chili Cook-Off, where I (and several other judges) tasted 14 delicious chili recipes in the final round of competition. And just this past Saturday, I was honored to support our students as they celebrated Laramie’s first Pride Week. I joined many at the Saturday potluck held in Washington Park, and then attended the Matthew Shepard Candlelight Vigil held on Prexy’s Pasture Saturday evening. The latter was a beautiful remembrance of Matthew’s life and reminds us all that our work toward acceptance and celebration of differences is never done. 

This week, we continue interviews for the associate vice president for enrollment management. For more information about the finalists and interview schedule, please click here. This position will report to the provost and lead all recruitment, retention and enrollment matters for UW. Given our goal to grow enrollment and increase retention, this is an important position. I hope you can participate in the interviews and provide your feedback.

I want to conclude my message to you by saying that I have heard from many these past two weeks over concern about the action of the board at the June meeting involving cash balances. I understand your concerns and appreciate your reaching out to me to voice many unique situations where these funds are needed to conduct research or provide a unique program or service. As my message to you on June 16 indicated, we continue to work with deans and other unit leaders as we analyze 700-plus cash/revolving accounts. In this process, we are compiling a list of accounts that indeed would be problematic if funds were moved, and we are working on a plan to protect them. I would expect that we will have more concrete information in the next few weeks and will keep the campus informed as this progresses.

The challenge of moving more quickly on the cash balance issue is that we are also transitioning our entire financial/accounting system to the new WyoCloud/Oracle system. This is a monumental effort and is taking many people -- on and off campus -- a great deal of time and effort. The new system is still on track to go live on July 17, when we will operate in a real-time environment with all revenue included (gone are the days of Section 1 and Section 2), and working from the approved FY18 budget.

This is a big change for our campus -- and much needed. With this transition, we will have a budget, we can track expenditures and balances daily, and accounts monitored by individual Excel spreadsheets will be gone. The university will be in a much stronger position to strategically budget revenue, monitor budget to actual expenditures and close out the fiscal year in a timely manner. I have longed for this type of financial information since I arrived, and we are within weeks of having it! I can’t close this paragraph without thanking all those who have worked so hard to make this happen.

I end my message by wishing each of you a happy Fourth of July as we celebrate our country’s freedom. If you are traveling or participating in fireworks, be safe!  

Have a great week.

Laurie Nichols, President

1000 E. University Ave. Laramie, WY 82071
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