Welcome back for Spring 2015! I hope that you were able to enjoy a restorative and healthy break, and that you begin the new year with renewed enthusiasm for all that is ahead at the U.

One major effort underway is preparation for the university-wide accreditation review that will take place in 2015-16. The current task is developing a comprehensive self-study report that characterizes the major accomplishments and aims of our entire institution, with a particular focus on how we evaluate our efforts and outcomes, and use evaluation as a tool for continuous improvement.

AVP Martha Bradley Dean Dave KiedaAssociate Vice President Martha Bradley and Graduate School Dean Dave Kieda are co-chairing a team with representatives from across the university tasked with developing this comprehensive narrative of the goals, achievements, challenges and plans of the U. Here’s a summary of team members and their task (charge letter). Accreditors will visit the campus in 2015-16, and will be interested in talking with faculty, students and staff during that visit.

Our accreditation report builds on four broad goals of the campus to organize discussion of our major efforts to advance the university. These four goals are:

• Enhance Student Success to Transform Lives
• Generate New Knowledge and Discovery
• Improve Health and Quality of Life
• Ensure Long-Term Viability of the University

We are planning opportunities to talk with the campus community about these goals in Spring 2015, hoping to hear from you about major activities underway and anticipated in your units that connect and contribute to these goals.

The self-study is a community-wide, open document, and drafts will be made available to the Academic Senate, Council of Academic Deans, and general community for feedback in the mid-Spring Semester. (self-study website)

We aim to have the self-study finalized during summer semester 2015. It will then be publicly available of the web.

I would like to extend special thanks to Marti and Dave for their leadership of the accreditation effort on behalf of our campus, and to all members of the self-study team. Self-study is rarely an easy undertaking; when it’s done right, though, the benefits are many. It informs all of us about where we excel, and where and how we can take action to improve the university.

My warm appreciation to all who work every day to strengthen the U, and my best wishes for 2015.

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.

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.

Diversity and Excellence in our University

I speak often of the close connection between diversity and excellence, the belief that we will be a stronger, more effective university – in education, scholarship, outreach and economic development – when we more fully represent the society we serve.

Janet and Theresa

Last week’s event celebrating our Hatch Prize recipient, Professor Theresa Martinez, was potent testimony to the significance of faculty diversity for institutional effectiveness and impact.  The Calvin S. & JeNeal N. Hatch Prize is awarded annually to an outstanding member of our faculty who makes exceptional contributions to teaching.  Professor Martinez was recognized by many current and former students as a remarkable teacher and mentor, and as a role model for students of color.  I heard the students’ voices very clearly; engagement with faculty from diverse backgrounds enhances learning and fortifies students’ belief in their potential.

Theresa and students

Undergraduate student groups have been active throughout the Spring semester in expanding the reach of the U to high school students from diverse backgrounds.  Three student groups, AASA, MEChA, and PISA, hosted high school conferences that brought hundreds of prospective 9th-12th graders to campus.  The Black Student Union (BSU) will host a high school conference for students and families on Saturday, May 10.  Like Professor Martinez, student conference organizers serve as models for those who may be the first in their families to pursue higher education, and make the U more accessible and welcoming.


Universities are designed to be places where people of different backgrounds and views come together to learn, innovate, and advance society.  This brings with it some natural tension as divergent perspectives come into contact.  Yet, public universities serve as a central place where talented, hard-working people from all backgrounds advance, founded on a belief in the “right to rise.”  We fulfill our public mission when we expand diversity in our faculty, when we reach out to welcome talented students from all backgrounds, and when we include many voices in our campus dialogues.

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,

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.