Preparing Them for a Future We Don’t Know

I’m not sure why I dug out my college transcript the other day.  Perhaps it was nostalgia born of a birthday of minor significance—one that ends in a five.  More likely it was creating my example video for IUP’s inaugural Three-Minute Thesis competition, which required that I review the research captured in my doctoral dissertation more than 25 years ago.

(Watch the video, then leave a comment to let me know how I did. Then, please take a moment to see our graduate students’ presentations. Our Three-Minute Thesis program is part of a worldwide competition, and we are excited about the opportunities it presents to the IUP community.)

Whatever the reason, as I looked at the course titles I was pleased with how they evoked faces and memories of faculty members and fellow students who were important to my learning and growth as a scholar and as a person.  I smiled as I traced the obvious connections between my mathematics, science, computing, and engineering courses and my research, my dissertation, and the first phases of my career.

I was more impressed as I scanned the list of my general education courses—the courses in the humanities, social sciences, and the arts that I was “forced” to take to graduate.  Viewed through the lens of decades of life experience, I see how these courses, chosen out of idle curiosity or scheduling necessity from a list of requirements, served me well as I navigated the world.


Our job today is to carefully craft an experience—in the classroom and in the world—that will serve our students well in a future we will not know.


A series of courses on the Old and New Testaments gave me a deep intellectual understanding of the basis of my personal faith, an understanding that served me well as I learned to be a transformative servant leader in the crucible of a challenged church in Oregon.  And my struggles in a course on Hinduism (I barely managed to get a C+) helped me to understand the many ways people approach the spiritual side of life, an understanding that developed into strong empathy for all approaches—something that serves me well as the leader of an incredibly diverse university.

Introductory political science courses showed me that there were as many philosophical frameworks for human society as there have been great political philosophers.  A following course in international relations posited the professor’s theory that war is the natural condition of nations, a theory strongly supported by history and as strongly rejected by me as I have since had the chance to work with people from around the world.  I think that my conviction that we must build bridges between people from different lands is of immense value as IUP prepares today’s students to be global citizens and as we welcome nearly a thousand international students to Indiana, Pennsylvania, every year.

And the music appreciation and performance courses gave me enhanced knowledge and love of this art, enriching my life and my 30-plus years of marriage to a woman who studied opera performance.

The most important lesson of my walk down memory lane was to recognize that as a college student, I had no understanding that what I learned in these courses would so enable my success in my life and my career.

Our job today is to carefully craft an experience—in the classroom and in the world—that will serve our students well in a future we will not know.  And just maybe we can help them to get an early glimpse of how that student experience will enrich their lives many years hence.

Meaningful, Memorable Nuggets

Especially because winter break cuts so late into January, February at IUP is jammed pack with activity. It tends to move at what seems like lightening speed—a blur that keeps all of us moving toward that one common goal of creating meaningful and memorable experiences for students.

Photo, 2015 Undergraduate Scholars Forum

A glance at the 2015 Undergraduate Scholars Forum.

 

The academic side of the house is putting the final touches now on this year’s Undergraduate and  Graduate Scholars forums, which coincide with Research Appreciation Week in April. In the last few years, the topics students have explored have been impressive. More important, they have been tangible efforts at solving some of life’s real problems. Last year, we saw studies in kidney regeneration in Zebrafish, which could have larger implications on the human kidney; high school and college student drug use; and pedestrian fatalities in Pittsburgh, among many others.

Students work closely with faculty mentors to identify topics, lead their own research projects, and then, after months of study, make a convincing argument on their findings at the forum.  Many go on to present at professional and scholarly conferences.

Photo - Leslie Stapleton, a senior on the basketball team roster who is pursuing a degree in biology.

Both the women’s and men’s basketball teams are in the postseason hunt. In the photo, senior Leslie Stapleton, in IUP’s match up against CalU.

Our athletes are in the thick of the winter season. Swimmers are focusing on the PSAC championships this coming weekend, and we have high hopes for the post season for both the men’s and women’s basketball teams. It has been nice to see many IUP Leadership Society members at basketball games and receptions. Let’s hope for more!

February also is the traditional beginning of our internal fundraising efforts, starting with Philanthropy Day. On February 25, students, faculty, and staff will gather in Stapleton Library’s commons to jot out postcards of thanks to people who this year have invested for the first time in the IUP experience. Annually, we also ask students to reinvest in their own education through the Senior Class Gift program, and we ask our faculty and staff members to give to IUP through our University Family Drive.

Some might find it odd that we ask our own employees to give—and even odder that we ask students. Think of it this way: If our faculty and staff members invest charitable dollars into their own work, we believe we make a statement that our work is worthy of the investment of alumni and others. Likewise, when students give to the university, they take responsibility for the future.

When you attend the annual Leadership Society reception on March 2, you’ll have the opportunity to see the results of some of their generosity. As you know, this year’s reception takes place in the new Humanities and Social Sciences building. Gifts from current and retired faculty members helped to establish the building’s Irwin Marcus Public History Room, and students who gave to the Senior Class Gift last year chose to restore stained glass windows from the long-demolished Thomas Sutton Hall. You’ll see the windows in the lobby and on the second floor.

I am thrilled with both efforts. In the case of the Marcus Room, students now are working to archive historical materials that will be used for generations to come.  The stained glass window project returns to the public eye craftwork that has been in storage since the 1970s—nearly two decades before the Senior Class was born. Both cases illustrate that students have an appreciation for our historical culture and that they want to pay that forward.

Engaging students—involving them with worthwhile pursuits—can happen in many different ways. What’s important is that they take away a meaningful nugget—an experience they’ll draw from later in life.

We value your involvement in the university. Please feel free to leave a comment here–or share a meaningful experience you had at IUP.

Volunteers Lend Many Hands, Deliver Better Results

English, Philosophy, Religious Studies, Geography and Regional Planning, and Journalism departments will move into the new Humanities and Social Sciences building in January.

English, Philosophy, Religious Studies, Geography and Regional Planning, and Journalism departments will move into the new Humanities and Social Sciences building in January.

In my last message, I described initiatives in our new strategic plan, which includes developing new programs in environmental engineering, public health, and digital science and security. You’ve seen in IUP Magazine or in IUP Alumni Connections that in January we will open a new building for our Humanities and Social Sciences programs and that we are planning a new building for our science programs.

You might wonder, after we decide to do these things, how we push them forward from shared idea to reality. Doing them takes an incredible amount of team work from the people who daily interact with students, who understand what their needs are now, and who must predict the needs of future students. What might surprise you is the number of volunteers who work right along with us.

Our Council of Trustees, the Foundation for IUP Board of Directors, the IUP Alumni Association Board of Directors, the IUP Research Institute, and the Student Cooperative Association all play a role in the variety of details, but we have other volunteers who will play a starring role in our success.

In recent interviews, our current Deans Merit Scholarship awardees have described how the people they have met at IUP—professors and peers alike—have had a most positive influence. This is something we hear often from alumni. We believe the time is right to capitalize on that sentiment and facilitate more opportunities for alumni to make further IUP connections and also to ask for their counsel. We are forming regional networks where the greatest concentration of alumni live and work, starting closer to Indiana, in New York, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh. We will eventually branch out from there.

In addition, our academic colleges and our Athletics Department have formed Advancement Councils.

In mid-October, we brought to Indiana 60 or so alumni and friends from across the country for our first-ever summit of those seven councils. We’re asking these subject-matter experts for their advice and wisdom, to help us be sure that we’re providing students with the right opportunities while at the same time working toward securing IUP’s financial future through philanthropy.

Among those volunteers is Tim Cejka ’73, the retired president of ExxonMobil Exploration Company, who serves on the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics Advancement Council. He and his wife, Deb Phillips Cejka ’73, have now fulfilled their $5 million commitment to our science initiatives. We are grateful for their confidence in us and for the confidence of all the members of the councils who have volunteered to work with us. The Cejkas’ transformative gift illustrates how far we’ve come and how much farther our careful planning and hard work can take us.

This conceptual drawing shows how a new sciences building could look, from the perspective of Oakland Avenue. Wilson Hall is shown in the center. Tim and Deb Cejka’s $5-million gift supports the building.

This conceptual drawing shows how a new sciences building could look, from the perspective of Oakland Avenue. Wilson Hall is shown in the center. Tim and Deb Cejka’s $5-million gift supports the building.

Last Saturday, we celebrated commencement—a ceremony that marks a brand-new beginning for the students who will cross the stage and then move their tassels from one side of the mortar board to the other. It seems like IUP itself is in the throes of a commencement, too. Students are thriving—thanks in large part to investors like you—and as we shore up these groups and networks, we are sure to receive the very best advice, direction, support to march on.

After all, what better source of wisdom and advice could we seek than that of those who know us best?

Let us know what you think by leaving a comment.

Best wishes for a happy new year.

What You Mean to Us

Our university is in an advantageous position. As I told the faculty and staff at the beginning of the academic year, AmericanDriscoll, Dr. Michael 82815D17 public higher education is at a crossroads. Institutions across the country are under fire for not delivering the very best return on investment, yet all are suffering from a lack of support and investment themselves from their traditional sources.

Many of those institutions are tripping up on new fads and finding it difficult to find focus and concentrate on the things they do best and on the things that will serve students best. As I told the faculty and staff back in August, we must face the realities of our time and redesign the way we do our business. I also told them we cannot let go of the things we know we do well—providing those eye-opening experiences to the first-generation college student,  being the place where students make lifelong connections, and providing the motivation or inspiration to try new things.

Over the last several years, you may have read in IUP Magazine articles about how the university community came together to confer and reach agreement on a shared vision for our future and then about our new strategic plan. The vision and the plan are our destiny.

In both of these documents, we have committed to ensuring that all students will participate in intentional and interconnected learning experiences in their studies, in their lives, and in the world; that we will engage students in carefully designed open-ended, hands-on experiences to reinforce and enrich what they learn in the classroom; and that we will demonstrate an excellent return on educational investment, whether it’s the student’s investment, the commonwealth’s, or yours.

Among the most exciting components of the plan are new programs in environmental engineering, public health, and digital science and security—programs we know will answer burgeoning societal needs as well as provide students with programs they want and deserve.

With the strategic plan, we have a vigorous roadmap for accountability to ensure we do not fail. We have a faculty and staff who all want the same thing—and they share those aspirations with many alumni who have expressed agreement and endorsed our plans.

Members of the IUP Leadership Society are a key force in IUP’s future. Your influence and your investment lift our university up so that our faculty, staff, and students can reach for and grab onto that proverbial brass ring.

I encourage you to follow the links I’ve provided in this message, read over some of the materials, and leave a comment. After all, this is your university, too.