Making Connections with Our Students

Launching the academic year brings many occasions to talk with colleagues around campus about their hopes and plans for the year ahead. A personal high point of the past couple weeks was delivering the keynote for our campus’ annual Teaching Retreat, hosted by the Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence. More than 200 energetic, enthusiastic teacher-scholars participated in the day-long event. When I asked participants about teachers in their lives who had a significant influence on their learning, common themes emerged: effective teachers developed communities of learners; took a personal interest in the success of students; created engaged, active learning environments that brought academic material to life; and helped students develop a true sense of belonging in the university.

A survey of 30,000 college graduates, conducted by Gallup in partnership with Purdue University and Lumina Foundation, echoes the reports of our retreat participants. Results revealed that graduates who had at least one professor who cared about them and served as a mentor and/or participated in a capstone experience were significantly more likely to be engaged at work and thriving in well-being.

As we start a new year, it’s the right time to think about how successful we could be if we built the type of relationships that strengthen learning and help students feel a deep sense of belonging on campus. As we welcome roughly 3,300 new freshmen, our current data predict that 6 of 10 are likely to complete the baccalaureate within six years, 7 of 10 within eight years of starting college. What would be possible if every new freshman and new transfer student found at least one significant educational connection at the U, whether in a great class with a great professor, in a learning community, in a research experience, or in a student organization? We could, quite literally, improve the odds of success for our undergraduates.

There are many sources of assistance if you would like to learn more about involving undergraduates in your research, creating a capstone experience, enhancing your teaching, or other strategies to promote student success (Undergraduate Studies). As we launch the new year, thank you for joining in the effort to ensure that every undergraduate connects with the university, finds at least one mentor, and has access to the experiences that matter for their success.

2014-08-18 Teachers Retreat

SVP Ruth Watkins speaks at the Annual Teaching Symposium

Rising Stars at the U

Andrea Bild Lincoln Davies Dave Huebner
Jake Jensen Beth Krensky Matt Might

Getting to know all of you – as many of you as possible – has been one of the great pleasures of this first year at the University of Utah. I’ve met the amazing people in all corners of the university, faculty and staff from the main campus and in health sciences, as well as graduate and undergraduate students. The statement that a university is only as good as its people could not be more accurate, and I can say with certainty and from experience elsewhere, our people are tremendous.

It is a special privilege, then, to tell you about six rising star faculty members. These scholars come from many different segments of the university, with varied roles, responsibilities, and profiles. They share the special distinction of excellence in scholarship, education and/or outreach at their career stage. Because of the generous support of a donor who wishes to remain anonymous, we are able to recognize these six rising stars as Presidential Scholars, a newly created distinction for early- to mid-career faculty members. Nominated by department chairs and deans, and selected by a small review committee, each individual will carry the Presidential Scholar recognition for three years. In addition to this special designation, they receive discretionary support to advance their scholarship. The inaugural cohort includes:

• Andrea Bild, College of Pharmacy
• Lincoln Davies, College of Law
• Dave Huebner, College of Social and Behavioral Sciences
• Jake Jensen, College of Humanities
• Beth Krensky, College of Fine Arts
• Matt Might, College of Engineering

Please join me in congratulating these stellar faculty members and in celebrating the excellence of the institution that attracted and retained these talented mid-career scholars. I am particularly grateful for the support of the alum whose steadfast dedication to the success of the University of Utah facilitated this gift. This support will positively influence our faculty, supporting their productivity and our ability to attract and retain talented scholars, for decades to come.

As we look to the future, turning toward the next fundraising campaign even as we celebrate the success of Together We Reach, a focus on attracting and retaining faculty talent is essential. We have scores of remarkable faculty, and too few tools to recognize and reward scholarly excellence. I look forward to partnering with you and our donors to build capacity to recognize and reward excellence.