Creating a Network of Utah Alumni

I loved my first commencement season at the U.  What I experienced was a campus-wide ceremony that was both grand and entertaining, including an articulate, astute Alex Smith as the featured speaker, and an astonishingly sage student speaker whose insights left us all feeling optimistic about what our graduates will achieve.  What I noticed with special pride was the investment of our colleges in creating events that warmly welcomed families, personally recognized graduates, and commended academic achievement.  What I discovered was the depth of talent and accomplishment of our most accomplished alums, those recognized with honorary degrees, an outstanding cadre who have quite literally made the world, particularly Salt Lake and the great state of Utah, better places.

20140502_121331_4_bestshot

Atmospheric Sciences’ Valedictorian, Brian Blaylock, speaks at the College of Mines and Earth Sciences Convocation.

As I became acquainted with some of the traditions of the University of Utah through graduation, I reflected on the importance of all of this ceremony.  It is the time when we welcome the newest alumni into the family of Utah graduates, a community of academics, business entrepreneurs, educators, writers and thought leaders, health professionals, artists and architects, scientists and engineers, performers, planners, lawyers and leaders – a community more than 200,000 strong that stands together to support the University, now and over the decades ahead.  Today’s graduates will drive innovation, discovery and economic and societal development in the years to come; and, if we do our jobs well, will remain a central force in the future success of the University of Utah.  It is both rewarding and prudent to form lasting relationships with our new graduates and to create opportunities for young alumni to build networks, with each other and with those who preceded them.  Vibrant universities have robust, dynamic alumni communities who remain connected across decades, and who sustain and amplify the strength of the U over time, supporting us financially and with their ideas and time, all of which are valued.

20140502_130814_5_bestshot

Student receives diploma from Dean Frank Brown.

The first step in building an energetic alumni community is ensuring quality in all aspects of the student experience, including the celebration of students’ achievement at commencement.  Special thanks to those of you who took part in this year’s celebrations.  For those of you who were not able to participate this year, I hope that you will join in the pomp and circumstance next commencement season.  Like me, I feel sure that you find it rewarding.

Listening and Learning to Develop Campus Strategy

Dear Colleagues,

Since joining the campus on August 1, I have had the pleasure to meet many of you during visits to the colleges and departments. I appreciate the warm welcome you have extended as I join the University of Utah, sharing with me your current goals, your perceptions of strength and challenge on campus, and your aspirations for the future. What I see is a University with remarkable opportunities built on a sound foundation of excellence and innovation, and a tremendous spirit of good will among colleagues. I am deeply impressed by the vision, energy, creativity and talent of our people, and excited about our potential to partner to advance the University of Utah to even greater levels in the years ahead.

As an academic leader for the main campus, my role is to build a vision for the future based on our shared aspirations, guide and enable continued excellence, identify and facilitate critical opportunities, and implement strategies and infrastructure investments that ensure innovation and vibrancy in scholarship, education, and outreach.

There are several consistent themes in the input that I heard during my listening and learning tour around campus, for example:

  • Many units are actively committed to the success of our undergraduates. You are creating scholarships to attract top talent independent of financial background, implementing course-based interventions to increase graduation rates, and promoting engaged learning experiences that prepare leaders and citizens for the 21st century. Taking these efforts to a more uniform and comprehensive level may be the next step. The importance of sufficient support to attract the best graduate students was also highlighted in several college visits.
  • Colleges are working to attract and retain top faculty talent to work within and across disciplines. Interdisciplinary efforts can face barriers, and recruiting and keeping strong scholars requires sufficient compensation, peers in related areas, and diversity to advance the institution. As the flagship university, we have a particular responsibility for the generation and dissemination of knowledge that is relevant to societal challenges.
  • Several units asked about a strategic agenda for educational technology, indicating that it would be timely to evaluate our campus plans and opportunities for using technology to enhance learning and promote graduation rates for on-campus students, increase access to a U education for those who cannot relocate or leave employment to attend, and build new programs that meet demands.
  • Needs in infrastructure were highlighted in several dialogues, such as reconsideration of the current campus budget model, enhancing physical facilities, and developing a plan for long-term financial health in a public research university.

These themes, arising from conversations with you, can help form the core of our work together. To refine how to proceed, several working groups have been formed, among them a Campus Budget Principles and Process working group, a Task Force to Enhance Graduation Rates, and a team focused on enhancing private support for the U. Thanks to all who are lending a hand in these working groups; you strengthen our university for years to come through your contributions.

This semester, I hope to refine these early ideas as we develop a strategy for the future vitality of our campus. Your input is key. I extend special gratitude for all who participated in the listening and learning effort in Fall 2013, and look forward to hearing from many more of you in the months ahead.

Thank you for the warm welcome to the University of Utah.

Ruth