Strategic Scheduling for Student Success Initiative (S4I)

Some of my most salient memories from my first year at Utah involve our talented and hard-working students – students like Teresa, a working mother of three who came to my office with the request that we help her finish her degree by improving the logistics of our course schedule (she had required gateway courses that were scheduled both early in the morning and late in the day), and Mitch, who was arranging special permission to take the two remaining courses that he needed to graduate even though they overlapped about 20 minutes. I imagine that Mitch’s professors were as horrified by that request as I was, but even more concerned about deterring his aim of degree completion if they did not approve the request.

When I met Teresa and Mitch, I recognized the scheduling challenges that every major university faces. Departments build their own schedules, often without consultation with other academic units (because there is no central mechanism for such consultation), and driven by faculty and space availability. A key difference, though, is that our students face unique challenges as they strive to complete their baccalaureates. Nearly all of our undergraduates are working, and many have family commitments while earning their degrees. More than other research universities, we need a coherent academic course schedule, one that makes use of the vast data that we have about student enrollment patterns and builds a predictable, empirically-driven academic schedule that facilitates student success. Complete College America includes structured, predictable blocks of courses (i.e., related core courses offered in efficient time sequences that adhere to a scheduling grid) as one of their “game changers” in accelerating full-time enrollment and promoting degree completion.


We are fortunate to have an exceptional team of leaders working to enhance strategic scheduling at the University of Utah. Co-chaired by Professor Ann Darling and Assistant VP Sharon Aiken-Wisnewski, talented department chairs, advisors, faculty, and other staff members are working to build a better schedule for our institution. You can find the charge letter and team members at the following link. This is challenging work, and the S4I team is depending on our help to implement their ideas for enhancing the student experience. Here’s a quick note from Ann and Sharon on their progress to date. To date, the committee has focused on detailed process and data analysis, addressing questions such as:

• What are the most common course enrollment patterns for our undergraduates?
• How does the course scheduling process work at the U and could it be improved?
• How does the availability of classroom space interact with scheduling patterns?
• What are demonstrated best practices nationally in scheduling that promotes student success and degree completion?

As the S4I team continues their work, subcommittees will consider options for (a) creating efficient scheduling blocks, (b) improved scheduling for high enrollment courses and majors, and (c) an integrative and collaborative multi-year process for developing the campus course schedule.

Thanks for your partnership in this important Student Success effort! Stay in touch for more information about the S4I effort, and thanks in advance for your efforts to promote student success.

Supporting, Serving, and Celebrating Transfer Students

Parker Erickson

Parker Erickson (shown left) is a remarkable undergraduate student. He is a center on the Utah football team who has earned a 4.0 GPA. With the full endorsement of the university, he recently submitted a Rhodes Scholar application. Parker is also a transfer student, joining the U after studying at both Salt Lake Community College (SLCC) and Snow College.

I suspect that you recognize that the University of Utah serves many transfer students, primarily from SLCC but including a wide range of institutions. Last year, transfer students earned roughly half of the baccalaureate degrees awarded by the U.
What you may not realize is that transfer students are highly successful at the U, with graduation rates of nearly 70% for those who join us after completing 58 or more credit hours at another institution.

Transfer students bring remarkable and diverse talents and backgrounds to the U, and they face unique challenges as they work through the logistics of transfer in pursuit of their academic aims. I’ve recently asked a working group of faculty, staff, and students to help us improve the transfer process, work effectively and creatively with partner institutions, and meet the needs of this high talent, high potential population. The group is chaired by Professor Kent Ono and Associate Director Teri Clawson, and includes leaders from across the campus. Here is the working group’s charge letter.

Working Group

Like Parker, I transferred institutions twice on my path to a baccalaureate degree, surely an unconventional journey for a future higher education leader. In the process, I learned quite a bit about the challenges associated with attending more than one institution, from navigating degree requirements and transfer credit to building a sense of belonging in a university. My own experiences as a transfer student motivated my work with Lumina Foundation on implementing strategies that facilitate transfer and success for community college students moving to research universities.

We are a university enriched by our transfer students and by our relationships with partner institutions of higher education, particularly our colleagues at SLCC. We also want to be a “transfer friendly” university, implementing best practices as we recruit and educate transfer students who become noteworthy alums. Thank you for your contributions to enhancing this vital aspect of the U of U mission.

President Pershing Recognized for Outstanding Commitment to Student Affairs

By Guest Blogger: Barbara Snyder, Vice President for Student Affairs

President David W. Pershing has been selected to receive the 2014 President’s Award from Region V of the National Association of Student Affairs Administrators (NASPA). NASPA is the leading association for Student Affairs administration with over 13,000 individual members and 2,100 member colleges and universities from around the world. Region V includes the states of Utah, Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, Nevada, Montana, Alberta and British Columbia.

Incheon High School Visit

The President’s Award is a special recognition given to a college or university president who has, over a sustained period of time, advanced the quality of student life on campus by supporting student affairs staff and programs. In his nomination materials, President Pershing was cited for his unwavering commitment to students at the University of Utah, where he has served for over 35 years. He will receive the award at the NASPA Western Regional conference in Anaheim, California on November 11, 2014.

President Pershing and students

U Opens New Asia Campus in Partnership with Korean Government

By Guest Blogger: Mike Hardman, Chief Global Officer

Following six years of exploration, discussions, and negotiations, the U officially opened its Asia Campus (UAC) in Incheon, South Korea on September 1, 2014. The Opening Ceremony, held in conjunction with European partner Ghent University Belgium, featured an inspirational presentation from President Pershing, a welcome video from the U main campus to the inaugural cohort of UAC students, accolades from Korean dignitaries, and a western style barbeque complete with burgers, fries, U cowboy hats, and line dancing.

Asia Campus

The U is a founding member of the Incheon Global Campus (IGC) along with Ghent University, the State University of New York-Stony Brook, and George Mason University. Saint Petersburg Conservatory in Russia joins the IGC in 2015. The IGC, located within in the Songdo International Smart City, will eventually be home to 10 universities and 10,000 students. Along with President David W. Pershing and Dr. Sandi Pershing, the new UAC students were greeted by Utah State Senator Stephen Urquhart, Representative Keith Grover, Representative Eric Hutchings, as well as many U leaders, faculty, staff, and alumni.

Asian Campus students

The small, enthusiastic, and highly qualified initial cohort of UAC students, including six from the main campus, is joined at the IGC by eight U faculty members, the UAC leadership, as well as academic and operations staff. The campus is the first of its kind in the state of Utah and will eventually become home to 1500 undergraduate and 500 graduate students who will spend at least one year of their academic experience in Salt Lake City at the main campus. Fall classes are now underway with all freshman students participating in the Global Citizenship Block U General Education Program. The first undergraduate degree programs include Communication (emphasis in media), Psychology, and Social Work. The Master of Public Health Degree is the first graduate program.

Application for Spring and Fall 2015 are open, and student recruitment initiatives within Asia, Europe, and the U.S. are in full swing. Additional (and very interesting) campus information (including admissions, programs, faculty, and student living and learning support services) can be found at

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.

The U’s Distinctive Mission

Annika Pecchia-Bekkum

As a new leader in University of Utah’s academic community, I am often asked what has surprised me about the U, or how the U differs from other higher education institutions that I know. The question was on my mind this past week when I heard that one of our honors undergraduates, Annika Pecchia-Bekkum, was chosen as a Gates Cambridge Scholar, a highly prestigious recognition that will support her medical science graduate work at Cambridge. And it was on my mind when I met Teresa, an immigrant, first-generation undergraduate at the U, who is raising her adolescent children and working full-time in a key role in the local community, while gradually pursuing her dream of a baccalaureate degree. It was on my mind when I read about discoveries in Bioengineering and the Scientific Computing Institute that reveal ways to optimize blood vessel growth, research that, long term, may have implications for improving vascular function for individuals with heart disease and diabetes. And it was on my mind when I visited Continuing Education and came to understand the significance of the U’s presence in offering college-credit courses in Murray, Sandy, and Bountiful, as well as in supporting the English Language Institute, which has enabled thousands of learners – newcomers to our community from around the world with a wide range of personal stories and circumstances – to gain English language proficiency sufficient to enable further education and full participation in the workforce.

So, what is it that differentiates the University of Utah? The U is a world-class research university, with path-breaking discoveries underway every day that address our most significant societal challenges in health, energy, education, environment, and beyond. At the same time, the U is an educational gateway for first-generation college students, with about 40 percent of our undergraduate degree earners becoming the first in their families to complete the baccalaureate. The U provides a context where the brightest, most promising, top achieving 18-year-olds participate in class alongside 50-year-old adults with wisdom and perspective earned through remarkable life experiences, where refugees to the U.S. learning English can ultimately move into the university and into roles in research laboratories, where we create and embrace educational opportunities for undergraduates who juggle heavy work and family responsibilities with their educational agenda. Sometimes the balance between these roles is a little uneasy, as we strive to offer courses and programs at times and in ways that meet many urgent needs, for example. Yet, our role as both an educational gateway and a world-class research university creates an extraordinary university, one that that lends deep benefit to society through access and meaningful participation in high quality education for a remarkably wide range of people and generates knowledge that improves quality of life and the human condition.

This indeed differentiates the U from nearly all of our Pac-12 peers and certainly from other research-intensive universities across the nation. Our role as an educational gateway is striking and is celebrated alongside our achievements as a top-tier research engine and as a university-of-choice for the highest achieving high school students. There are unique opportunities and challenges created in an environment that combines these elements. We are committed to creating a path of excellence across these arenas and to leveraging our unique features to advantage the University of Utah as we move forward as a university of national prominence and distinction.

Student Success

I often have the opportunity to talk with alumni groups and faculty members about their experiences as undergraduate students. When asked about factors that influenced their success, many people highlight particular individuals who demonstrated a special interest in them – a faculty member who involved them in scholarship, an advisor who reached out to help at a time of need, a donor whose scholarship made it possible to attend college, a staff member who genuinely cared about their well being, or members of a network from a residence hall or sorority who became “friends for life.”

As a campus, we strive to ensure the success, through graduation, of all of our students. We all have a role in promoting retention and graduation of Utah undergraduates, from those of us who recruit talented students to the U, to those who advise and teach students, to those who engage students in high-impact experiences like study abroad, service learning, or leadership, to those who provide support services throughout the university, to those whose jobs give them the opportunity to be a welcoming presence on campus. With an “all hands on deck” approach, we have formed a Comprehensive Task Force on Enhancing Retention and Graduation Rate, bringing together faculty, staff and student representatives from units across the campus to study our data and develop a set of critical recommendations to increase retention and graduation rate. Associate Vice Presidents Martha Bradley Evans and Mary Parker are leading the Task Force; the charge to the group and members are provided here.

As we focus together on enhancing the success of our students, I hope that you will remember the role that you play in this effort. You may be the one, recalled some years in the future, as a person who contributed positively to the success of our undergraduates, as that person who showed a special commitment to student success. Thank you for all that you do to support positive outcomes for Utah undergraduates. Your efforts make a difference.

Plan to Finish

In the months ahead, you may hear the phase “Plan to Finish” and see the graphic, below, around campus.

Plan to Finish

The U is joining with other institutions in the state in the shared agenda to increase four- and six-year baccalaureate graduation rates. The U’s Plan to Finish campaign is tailored to the unique talents and needs of our students, with five components:

  1. The New U Student Experience – expanded opportunities for Utah undergraduates to engage in high-impact learning experiences, such as learning communities and capstone experiences
  2. Academic Planning – resources to build adaptable academic plans from the first days on campus
  3. Advising & Mentoring – access to ongoing advising and mentoring as academic plans change and new opportunities arise
  4. Flexible Scheduling – expanded course opportunities to meet student needs and promote completion of 30 hours per academic year, with new scheduling options, such as more summer courses, more hybrid and online options, and weekend course opportunities
  5. Financial Incentives and Awareness – new scholarships designed to reduce students’ work obligations, increased education about economic consequences of protracted time to baccalaureate degree completion

Our Plan to Finish campaign is under the leadership of Associate Vice President for Undergraduate Studies, Professor Marti Bradley Evans. With her colleagues in Undergraduate Studies, Marti is guiding this project and serving as our liaison with the Utah State Higher Education office. There may be opportunities for you and your unit to engage in the Plan to Finish effort, perhaps by teaching in an alternative format, implementing a new advising model, or adding a capstone experience in your major. We hope that you will be part of this effort in a way that fits your unit, and facilitates the goals of the Plan to Finish initiative.

The Scholarship Imperative

The University of Utah is committed to excellence and access, excellence in the students we bring to our campus, the learning experiences we offer, and the success of our students, and access to higher education for talented students independent of their financial backgrounds. These are core values, as vital today as they have been over many preceding decades at the U.

And yet, these aspects of our core mission are at risk. Although a U of U education remains remarkably affordable with our tuition the lowest among Pac-12 peers, the cost of a Utah education has increased substantially over the past decade. Half of our students work at least 20 hours per week to cover the cost of their education, and about one-quarter of our graduating senior work full time. These are difficult demands to balance, no doubt challenging our students to complete their degrees in a timely manner and limiting opportunities to take full advantage of the high impact learning experiences that we encourage (e.g., internships, study abroad, research with faculty, community-based learning) .

In light of these needs, we launch a scholarship initiative to increase financial support for our students, ensuring continuation of the core values of excellence and access. Scholarships will meet urgent student needs and advance campus priorities, within three major areas:

  1. Ensure ACCESS for talented students with significant financial need
  2. Reward ACHIEVEMENT to recruit the highest performing students, and
  3. Promote COMPLETION for students who need support to cross the graduation finish line, including students transferring to the U

We have garnered significant new support to dedicate to these pressing needs, beginning with the Fall 2014 incoming student cohort, thanks to generous private and corporate support. To maximize these resources, we have created a challenge funds, allowing us to incentivize additional donors to contribute to the scholarship initiative, with the opportunity to double the impact of their current use gifts now through December 2014. Campus leaders and major gift staff at all levels are assisting with this strategic scholarship initiative. The scholarship Initiative has the power to ensure access, reward achievement, and promote degree completion for our students, truly transforming the lives of many. I hope that you will consider joining with us in this effort. Additional information about the scholarship initiative and challenge program will be available soon on the SVPAA website. Stay tuned.

With best wishes,