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

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.