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Road Map to Success

January 4, 2018
man and woman looking at laptop computer
Students Christie Wildcat and Stephin Littleshield study at the new Native American Education Research and Cultural Center.

The establishment of key centers and offices will help bring UW’s strategic plan to life.

By Micaela Myers

For University of Wyoming students Kailyn Washakie and Taryn Jim, both from the Wind River Indian Reservation, the new Native American Education Research and Cultural Center (NAERCC) already has become a gathering place for Native American students on campus. 

“I think the center is important because [before] it seemed like we never really saw each other,” says Jim, who is a senior majoring in speech-language and hearing science. “Just in the few weeks we’ve been here, it seems like I see everybody here all the time. We have classes here, there’s a computer lab, there’s a kitchen and a library.”

Washakie, a senior majoring in English and secondary education, agrees: “It creates more of a community center for everybody. They have weekly meetings here, and I come here for class.”

The NAERCC is one of several new centers and offices created to support the five-year strategic plan at UW. Others include the Global Engagement Office, the Office of Graduate Education, the new Honors College and the Office of Engagement Outreach, which you can read about on the following pages. To learn more about the strategic plan, visit

Native American Education Research and Cultural Center

What many had been advocating for over the last 15 years became a reality in September when the NAERCC celebrated its grand opening with speeches, tours and an evening of traditional dances.

“It’s always been a high priority for students and for those of us who were faculty and administrators,” says Judith Antell, founding director of the American Indian Studies Program and former director of the High Plains American Research Institute, both housed in the new center. “We needed a place that would speak community to our students and to each other. We also wanted to have a place where non-Indian people could come and be with us and be welcomed.”

The High Plains American Research Institute facilitates education and research collaboration between tribal nations and UW faculty, staff and students. The NAERCC also houses the Keepers of the Fire and other student organizations and is home to the Native American program adviser, who provides one-on-one academic, financial aid, and personal and cultural guidance, and will help recruit and retain Native American students.

UW President Laurie Nichols hopes to increase the numbers of Native American students—including members of the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes of the Wind River Indian Reservation—who enroll in and graduate from UW. The center will provide opportunities for personal growth, physical health and leadership development for Native American students, helping them connect their traditions and cultures to their education.

“Education is community development, and it is economic development,” says James Trosper, director of the NAERCC and chair of the Native American Advisory Committee to the president. “In order for Native American tribes to be successful, they need a workforce that has skills in analysis, problem solving and communication that a higher education will provide. The Native American Education, Research and Cultural Center is here to support and develop the future leaders of tribes to obtain the skills they will need in order to return to their communities and make a positive contribution to the growth of those communities. A major focus of the center is educating graduates who are grounded in their own culture but have the social, civic and work skills to contribute to a multicultural global society. ”

Global Engagement Office

The strategic plan calls for expanding recruitment of international students, broadening the exposure of faculty and students to international events and cultures, and increasing student and faculty participation in programs abroad. The newly formed Global Engagement Office replaces International Programs and brings together the offices of International Students and Scholars, Education Abroad and the English Language Center to provide centralized leadership overseen by a new associate vice provost.

“Our goals are to increase numbers in all areas,” says Director Carrie Hesco. The goal is to go from 791 to 1,050 international students by 2022. There are currently 425 faculty and students who participate in education abroad, but the new goal is 650. To achieve the latter, the office hopes to offer more faculty-led courses abroad, among other things. 

“It’s beneficial to have the international students on campus, because it helps expose our students to international perspectives, it gives a lot of diversity to campus, and it also brings in tuition dollars,” Hesco says. “We also want to increase education-abroad numbers to build our students as global citizens so that, when they go out into whatever field they’re studying, they have that understanding of issues outside of Wyoming and the United States.”

UW already has great strengths in education abroad, with one of the largest land-grant university study-abroad scholarship endowments in the United States: the Richard D. and Lynne V. Cheney Study Abroad Scholarship Endowment.

“We are able to offer most students who are studying abroad a scholarship,” Hesco says. The office also welcomed additional support staff to advise students. Students can study abroad in English if they choose, and engineering students can even be matched with programs that keep them on track for a timely graduation. Future articulation agreements will help students know exactly what degree credit they can expect for the courses they take at select partner universities abroad.

“Our International Students and Scholars office is great with supporting our international students,” Hesco adds. “It’s that personal touch that’s so well known about UW.”

man leaning over table with group of people
Associate Vice Provost for Graduate Education James Ahern works with anthropology graduate students Kristen Broehl, Ebony Creswell, Alexander Garcia-Putnam and Ryann Seifers moulding archeological teeth in order to study past diet.

Office of Graduate Education

The new Office of Graduate Education will serve as a central clearinghouse for everything related to graduate education. To lead the office, UW anthropology Professor James Ahern was selected as associate vice provost for graduate education.

“We are excited to have Dr. Ahern take on this important job in re-establishing the Office of Graduate Education within Academic Affairs,” Provost Kate Miller said in September. “To support the university’s mission and strategic plan, he will guide resource allocations to graduate programs and facilitate marketing, assessment, enrollment, retention, institutional teaching capacity, graduate student diversity and academic success.”

UW’s former graduate school was disbanded in 2010, and the new office fills that void. Keeping the office within Academic Affairs allows for strong integration. For example, the new office will assign graduate assistantships, and those graduate instructors play an important role in undergraduate education. Assistantships must be carefully assigned to meet all necessary undergraduate class needs.

Two of Ahern’s top goals are increasing diversity and recruiting more international students. “I think there’s no reason that we can’t improve the diversity of our student body,” he says. “Both diversity and internationalization are key components in the strategic plan. Internationalization is important to me because I’ve seen the benefits in my own research, and I’ve seen the great benefits to my graduate students working abroad, making connections and starting to do collaborations of their own overseas.”

With these areas of recruitment focus, UW can build on its already strong graduate student population. Ahern also hopes to offer more professional development opportunities for graduate students who don’t plan to stay in academics.

Honors College

In the spring of 2017, the UW Board of Trustees voted in favor of establishing an Honors College, which replaced the existing Honors Program. “Changing from a program, which oversaw a minor, to a college that oversees a concurrent major is part of UW’s vision to further enhance academic excellence in Wyoming,” says Donal Skinner, who was head of the Department of Zoology and Physiology before being named dean of the new Honors College. “The courses and opportunities on offer through the Honors College, which will work symbiotically with the other UW colleges and departments, will form part of an appealing academic package to attract the top students from Wyoming and other states to come to UW. A major motivation is also to broaden the honors curriculum to all disciplines at UW.”

The strategic plan calls for increasing the percentage of graduates with honors credentials from 4 to 8 percent by 2020. The Honors College will provide interdisciplinary and high-impact learning opportunities for high-achieving students, including the expansion of experiential opportunities, such as research, internships, education abroad and service learning.

“I have had the privilege of working with some incredible undergraduates at UW who have gone on to great things around the state and the nation,” Skinner says. “These are students whose lives have been transformed by the exposure to research and international travel. Working with the other colleges, I am excited to help bring these transformative experiences to a larger group of students.”

His first steps have been to gather data and meet with students. Skinner believes assessment is key to success and plans to build it into the fabric of the college. A multidisciplinary faculty advisory board will assist in his role as dean.

Starting from the ground up, Skinner is confident UW can build one of the best honors colleges in the country.

Office of Engagement and Outreach

“We recognize that part of being the land-grant university in Wyoming is that it’s our responsibility to be of service to the state, to collaborate with constituents and partners to address challenges faced by our citizens, as well as provide the best education for our students,” says Jean Garrison, who chairs a 16-member task force laying the groundwork for an Office of Engagement and Outreach. This year, the task force is busy doing an inventory of the outreach and engagement already taking place and conducting a needs and wants assessment and listening sessions with partners at UW and around the state. The goal is to have the office established for the 2018–19 school year.

The office will help coordinate and encourage outreach and engagement, as well as spread awareness. “We want to acknowledge and reward the great work going on around the state,” Garrison says. “We also want to really see that become
a very valued piece of the culture on this campus.”

Current examples of UW’s outreach and engagement include Saturday U, where UW professors visit towns across Wyoming providing free lectures and a short college course experience; UW Extension, which includes 4-H and community education; research conducted around the state; professors partnering with K–12 to bring their expertise to Wyoming students; National Geographic’s Mark Jenkins’ “World to Wyoming” annual tour; and the many camps, conferences and workshops UW hosts for youth and adults. Future areas for growth include additional K–12 engagement, growing community college partnerships and more service-learning opportunities for UW students.

The task force is studying best practices, and the office will seek the esteemed Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching Community Engagement classification. The application takes place every five years for colleges and universities, with an institutional focus on community engagement, and provides a documentation framework to assess the nature of an institution’s community engagement commitments.

“Such a designation connotes commitment to a long-term reciprocal relationship, in which we orient our land-grant mission to be part of an ongoing and continued dialogue with our constituents,” Garrison says. “As the sole four-year public institution, we have an opportunity for an all-university, all-Wyoming approach placing UW students, staff and faculty at the center of a broad definition of community that includes the local, state, tribal, regional, national and global contexts.”

Breaking Through

“A strong road map is important, as it communicates direction and a focus to build the best University of Wyoming possible,” President Nichols says in her welcome letter to the strategic plan. “Through hours of listening sessions, the people of Wyoming and our own students, faculty and staff shared their thoughts. Then, as themes were identified, we looked to the future to push limits and become an even stronger flagship land-grant university.”

The new offices and centers are part of this road map and will play key roles in implementing the five-year plan, helping UW have an even larger impact on students and the state.

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