About Stout Transcript: November 19, 2007

Full-Text Transcript

Doug Mell: Welcome to another edition of About Stout. Joining me today is Chancellor Charles Sorensen.
Chancellor Charles Sorensen: Hi, Doug.

Mell: Welcome Chancellor. Joining us a little later will be our athletic director, Joe Harlan. Chancellor, the state of Wisconsin finally has a new budget.

Sorensen: Finally.
Mell: It seemed like it was giving birth for a while to it.  (Laughing)  It's passed the legislature, it's been signed by the governor. It actually took a while, but it has some real good news for UW-Stout.

Sorensen: Well, it does, and I think the first good news is that, I've been here two decades now and this is the first year, I think, that we've had real new money for at least 10 years if not 12 or 14 years. So that's good news. And then there's more good news to follow, because we're getting special funding for engineering, and some nanotechnology programs as well.
Mell: So this budget will allow us, basically, to add two new majors here on campus, correct?

Sorensen: Absolutely.  We're going to add polymer engineering, which is really a needed engineering program for the state and region.
Mell: And that deals with-

Sorensen: Plastics. It's a little beyond plastics, I think these are composite mixtures and very strong materials, so we need a good basis in materials engineering, chemistry, those kinds of things, but it's one of the materials of the future. It's been around for a long time, and it's going to be around for a much longer time as well.  And the other program is computer electrical engineering, which is kind of a hybrid program with EE and computers, but, again, the kind of program we need and value to grow the economy, bring new companies in, and to see new jobs come here.

Mell: Well, that's one of the things, when you look at these two majors, it looks like it pretty much fits hand in glove with the kinds of industries, A, that we have in the Chippewa Valley and in the St. Croix Valley. And also what we want to do is help industries grow, so I think this will really help, should really help, in both those areas.
Sorensen: Absolutely. We have to train more young people in engineering that we're putting up, and keep them in the area to do that, you have to have the companies come here and pay high-paying jobs.

Mell: The budget also increases financial aid, finally, for students. Do you get a lot of questions and concerns, people usually go to the Chancellor's Office, students who really were hurt by the delay?

Sorensen: Well, they were very concerned about the delay because they weren't sure what the package would be for January. But now, we know, for the most part, they will have qualifying packages they can attend in January and beyond, and I think it's very good because we simply have to get more young people engaged in higher education. That's what the covenant's all about with Governor Doyle's covenant. Know How 2 Go program to get kids involved in looking at college early on in junior high school. So it does fit very nicely with what we're trying to do in Wisconsin.

Mell: Another initiative, and I know you heard about this at the Board of Regents meeting that voluntary assessment program that we're going to participate in, basically put our data online and allow people to compare universities.

Sorensen: Yeah, there's a lot of pressure in higher ed. to have transparency to tell people what admission standards are clearly, like what graduation rates are, what placement rates are for jobs after they leave school.

Mell: Well, we'll try to highlight-

Sorensen: We'll highlight that because we exemplify the best of all schools in the country for that one.

Mell: That will go in red.

Sorensen: That will go-. But we're trying to be transparent, so if parents want to, or if students want to, they can shop around to see all the data that all schools have, and we're the first school in Wisconsin to volunteer to do that, so we're out in front on that. But we've been transparent for a long time. We're a Baldrige campus, and we're proud of that. This goes back about a decade when we began to publish our data and give it to the public to look at, so this is an extension of that.

Mell: So, you're packing your bags for a trip.
Sorensen: Yeah, you bet. I am.

Mell: Where are you going and why?

Sorensen: I'm going with my wife and with my provost to Dubai in the Middle Eastern emirates, one of the richest countries per square foot in the world today.

Mell: But you're coming back? (Laughing)

Sorensen: I'm coming back. We were invited to present a keynote address in a big Baldrige conference, sponsored by the prince of Dubai. We're invited about back in 2002 right before the Iraqi war broke out and decided not to go. They invited us back one more time. They're focused sharply on building higher ed. for the Middle East for the masses over there, so they like us because we are best practices, we are a Baldrige campus, so we're going over there Saturday night and spend about five days over there for some presentations and meet some of the European Baldrige-type institutions.
Mell: I was going to ask, are there going to be any other educational institutions there or are we going to be the only education-?

Sorensen: No, we're thinking they'll be about 150 participants and probably draw on heavily from Europe and the UK.

Mell: That's quite an honor to be invited.

Sorensen: Oh, we're very pleased to be invited, and we hope that we can create a relationship with Dubai that's more permanent.
Mell: I was going to ask you, there's been some preliminary work in that area.

Sorensen: We're working on a contract with Dubai that would allow us to have a more permanent connection with them.  And Dubai's doing this with major research one schools. Michigan State's over there with, it looks like a branch campus or a research campus. Carnegie Mellon. MIT's doing alternative energy research with Dubai right now, so they're inviting some very important American schools to join their effort in trying to build that whole Middle Eastern area.
Mell: It's important for a university, such as ours, to reach out internationally.  

Sorensen: Absolutely right. This should help our effort in the Middle East, to attract students from the Middle East over here, and hopefully we can play a role in building their university over there. They want a virtual university of about 400,000 people to reach out across the Middle East. Hopefully, we can play a role in doing exactly that.  

Mell: Does it surprise you just how much of a long-standing effect the Baldrige Award has had, I mean it was 2001, and here we're sitting in 2007. You're still going to conferences.

Sorensen: Exactly right. I think it demonstrates the real power of the Baldrige as an assessment tool, a tool to improve, and I think that this is not going to go away. Two states now, South Carolina and Washington State are requiring their campuses to write the Baldrige application as a way to assess who they are and to assess their weaknesses, their strengths, and where they have to go from here to meet the needs of those two states, so I think it's just beginning to roll through higher education.

Mell: Would that be a good way for Wisconsin to go?

Sorensen: Oh, I think so, and I'd ask my colleagues who sit around the table with me every month, but I think it would be, because I think, first of all, it's an assessment tool. It assesses leadership, it assesses your stakeholder influence, it assesses how you plan, it assesses outcomes, and I think that's important for everyone. Then, secondly, it requires best practices. You have to compare yourself to schools nationwide in terms of best practices, so then you see how you really are and how good you really are.  

Mell: It also seems that the polytechnic designation really fits well with the whole Baldrige-

Sorensen: Oh, absolutely, and it's just going to enhance the polytechnic effort that we're making right now.

Mell: We're closing in on a realignment plan for UW-Stout, and I thought we'd spend a couple of minutes, maybe you could share sort of your outline of what the plan is, where you think it's going to go, and maybe some timelines, as far as implementation.

Sorensen: Sure. Well, realignment is very important because we, if you look at this century, the disciplines that we offer at Stout, or any other school in the UW, they're starting to change around the edges. You have more technology and science being merged together, you have a real strong focus on management programs, good management programs. We're going to realign so we get the biggest impact of our program alignment at UW-Stout. So, we're going to have, for example, a STEM college: science, engineering, technology, and mathematics. That's the rage nationwide. NSF is going that direction; high schools are going that direction.

Mell: And you see, frankly, a lot of emphasis from the governor's office, et cetera, trying to emphasize, trying to persuade more high schools to add more STEM classes.

Sorensen: Absolutely, and we're part of that effort, too, at UW-Stout with high schools. We're going to have a school of management, because, again, we have a lot of management here where one person described to me one time, we're one great big management school, but we don't have a school of management.  We're going to have that, and that's going to allow us to refocus sharply on excellence in the whole area of management. We're going to have, then, some kind of college of liberal studies in art and design, and also in education and human services, so it's not radical, but it's a logical realignment to maximize the impact of clustering disciplines around one another and then build on that.

Mell: So we're taking programs or majors and basically kind of reshaping how we administer those. We talked before about the two majors we're adding. We're not really adding or subtracting any programs, but it's just aligning them differently to be more efficient and effective.
Sorensen: Exactly, and we're adding programs. Two engineering programs, cognitive science, we're going to add biotechnology, we're going to add gaming and design. We have about, maybe, ten that we want to add in the next several years. Can we do it all in two or three years? Maybe not, but in the next five years, you'll see probably at least eight to 10 new programs come on line at UW-Stout, all kind of focused on program expansion and/or the polytechnic designation.

Mell: Are you happy with the reaction you got, and I know that you've gone, you or the provost have gone, the college has gone out and basically talked to people about the realignment plan, there doesn't seem to be a lot of opposition.

Sorensen: Not a lot. We always have some-

Mell: Maybe some consternation, but-

Sorensen: Yeah, some pushback when you start to realign, but for the most part we're down now to two models, probably one model. We'll verify that by the end of this semester in December, and then beginning January 2008, start to put together a process to implement this by July 2009.

Mell: Now, obviously, everything we do here, any kind of improvement is, the first aim is to help students.

Sorensen: That's right.

Mell: How does the realignment plan help the students?

Sorensen: Well, I think that you can align programs together that fit together. You can start to look at what is a common core for the STEM college and redevelopment? What's a common core for management?  What are good intro courses for management that we don't already have now that we should have, to give everyone a common footing for that? So there are a lot of efficiencies, but more than that, there are a lot of simply quality efficiencies you can put into programs when you have them aligned properly. So it's kind of exciting right now. By July 2008, we will have a realignment, a realigned campus at UW-Stout.

Mell: You are starting a series of visits to businesses in western Wisconsin.

Sorensen: Right.

Mell: By spending a day, sometimes a whole day, sometimes a half day with a business, with a variety of businesses. Why is it important for the chancellor of a university to get out and visit a business?

Sorensen: We began this about a year ago, and we probably visited 15 to 18 companies in the Chippewa Valley, and then only last week, we went over to the St. Croix Valley and visited three; brand new startup company, entrepreneurial startup company, you were there, you saw how excited these young people were. We visited a very high-tech company in Somerset, I mean, as high tech as you'll see in any city in the entire nation, and then a very fine niche plastics company in Baldwin. But it's important for them to see the campus and to see me because, I think, just to reinforce just one thing: we want to partner with them in logical ways to enhance the educational excellence at UW-Stout, but also provide them resources they need to develop their company in strength and what they're doing there, so I think those trips are absolutely essential for me to do, and they're fun. You meet some good grads at those companies, and some high tech knowledge being employed in very creative ways.

Mell: And then also, it goes back, I believe, to the whole Wisconsin idea, and we've taken that to heart, obviously, with our Stout technology transfer institute, which I believe was based on the Wisconsin idea, but the boundaries of the state and campus and the state of Wisconsin and that universities have a responsibility to get beyond their boundaries and help wherever help is needed.

Sorensen: You know, a startling fact, Doug, and you already probably know this, but in an average year through our efforts and through the classroom and from STTI (Stout Technology Transfer Institute) or from the Northwest Manufacturing Outreach Center, we reach 200 companies a year for UW-Stout, and we're only a small school of 8,500, but we touch 200 companies every year to help them some way with their manufacturing process or their business process. That's really impressive, I think, and it does demonstrate the Wisconsin idea at work.

Mell: And the visits also give you a chance to talk, and I know you made a point of every visit, talking to these companies about the whole idea of expanding Momentum Chippewa Valley from the four counties that it currently has as members to nine counties or 10 counties.

Sorensen: That's right. Region development is critical because every part of the state is doing this now, and if we're to remain competitive as a region, we have to look at this nine-county area, the I-94 corridor area.

Mell: Well that brings us to the halfway point, and we'll be back in a little while with Joe Harlan, our athletic director.

(Music plays)

Mell: We now welcome Joe Harlan who is in his first year as athletic director at UW-Stout, but obviously, you're no stranger to the campus. To get started, Joe, why don't you tell us a little about yourself, where you're from, how long you've been here, et cetera?

Joe Harlan: Well, I'm originally from Phoenix, Arizona, and I've kind of been a variety of places with coaching and higher education and graduate school, but I came to Stout in the summer of 2000, so I'm now beginning my eighth year here.

Mell: So you're finally getting acclimated to the cold weather, just getting acclimated.

Harlan: Just getting used to it, and just getting enough jackets, so-. I came as the women's cross-country coach, the women's track coach, and an instructor in physical education and teaching a lot of coaching minor classes, and then gradually changed my responsibilities, and then this summer, changed over to the athletic director.

Mell: What surprised you the most-? You were obviously involved in the athletic department before, but what surprised you going into the management of the athletic department?

Harlan: You know, I'm not sure a lot surprised me, really. Obviously, you have to switch some hats and some of the things you do, and the way you do things. At my previous college I also went from being coach to also being athletic director, and had to come here and start it over as a coach, so it's a transition-

Mell: You had experience as an A.D. (Athletic Director)

Harlan: Yeah, I had experience, actually in a similar type situation and it worked out really well. So, a lot didn't surprise me, it's just a real change in the role. Obviously, a little less interaction with the team, a little more interaction with the rest of the campus and the administration. You certainly are going to a few more meetings and planning a few more budget-type activities, and there's a few less games. You're more concerned with eight team sports in general rather than one team sport in whole, so, there's a change in the way you do things, but I wouldn't say the job necessarily surprised me too much.

Mell: Chancellor, I mean, with the athletic director here, you've probably had this conversation with him, the overarching issue is probably the proper role of athletics in a Division III institution.

Sorensen: Exactly right. And I think Division III has this nice scholar-athlete philosophy, and we live that here. We believe that young people should have the right to participate, and they do, and Joe did a great job building the track team up after 2000, when he came here. We're not going to turn out a lot of pros, but we're going to turn out a lot of young people who are very successful in part because of the attention they get from coaches. There's one stat that always jumps out at me: our retention rate for athletes is extraordinarily high, in the mid 80s, from freshmen to sophomore, graduation rates remain that high as well. So the coaches do something really, really effective with student athletes here.

Mell: But it's got to be a balance, because everybody wants a winner. But sometimes that doesn't really mesh with the whole idea of a student athlete in a Division III school.

Sorensen: I think that if you track the right student, and the right student-athlete, and have the right coaches and the right athletic director, you're going to have championship teams at some point, and that just follows. We've seen our athletic programs, when I came 20 years ago, we had some good programs, some mediocre, some bad ones, but now every program is on a very solid foundation, and every program could win in any given year.

Mell: How do you balance, I mean, we have boosters, we have fans, win-win-win-win, how do you deal with that?

Harlan: Well, I look at it as they have three roles: they're here to be a student, they're here to be an athlete, thus the word student-athlete, and we also want to make them effective members of the campus community and the local community, and when they graduate from here, in society. So, it's kind of a mix between we're doing sport training, we're doing student training, we're doing social interactions, we're trying to promote good citizens, we're teaching hard work and leadership and teamwork, and all those things happen in the classroom; they happen in life; they happen in sport. It's kind of a lab; it's an extension of the classroom; it's another way the students can learn and interact, and become positive, and we can be good at sports, and we can be good at school, and we can be good citizens, and really we want to do all three. I think that all three of those roles are not exclusive; they're together, and when you do one thing better it makes it easier to do the other things better. We're trying to create good people that have good actions.

Mell: And it, probably, I mean, at a Division III school, you don't have the kinds of pressures, especially financial pressures at a Division I school where you have to be an engine for, you know-.

Sorensen: No, you know, there are other physical issues-

Mell: Absolutely. Right, right.

Sorensen: Because we amount programs based on student seg. fees, and state support, and donor support, and things like that, so it's a mosaic that we put together, but different stresses, but nonetheless, physical stress all the time.

Harlan: Absolutely.

Mell: How do you mesh boosters, and how do you mesh people from outside the program into the program, how do you make them feel welcome, but also kind of keep them at arm's length like-.

Harlan: Well, certainly we have an NCAA set of rules that this is what you can do and this is what you can't do, and then within that we have the WIAC rules, the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Association, so no matter what we do, we have our Stout set of rules, and we have the conference rules, and we have the NCAA rules, which provides us a pretty good guideline of what we can do and what we can't do. Then within that, of course, we want students to attend, we want the alumni and the boosters, things like homecoming and a lot of events. We'd like to see fans, and of course we have community boosters. We have things like Touchdown Club and Hoops Club, Blue Line Club. We need those people. We want to fill the stands, we want happy boosters, we want people cheering at games, and they need to understand their role is to cheer, is to help and to support us, but not to create our rules and our structure. Our rules and our structure are pretty much in place from what Stout does, the conference, and the NCAA, and there's certain things we can do and can't do. Then within that, we put forth the best product, and if the alumni or the community can help with that, if they can provide financial support, if they can provide cheering support, if they can be active boosters, we're all for that, but they can't really change the rules. They can only support us.

Mell: It's no surprise that our football program last year went through some turmoil. This year, I would assume that both of you are happy with what you saw both on the field and off the field.

Sorensen: Oh, extremely. I think the program is back on track, and I think that Duey did a great job. All the coaches did a great job. So did Joe on that whole issue. So I think that our football program is really rebounding and I think we're going to have a very strong, strong program next year.

Mell: Are you happy with the state of-?

Harlan: Certainly. Duey Naatz and his assistants have done a fantastic job, you could see it this summer, they were really trying to get organized and to do the right thing, and to stress character. Winning was a byproduct of that, but it wasn't the only thing. They were really working on a lot of things into making good kids with responsible decisions that were going to be going to class and doing a lot of community service. We've done a lot of community service this year. Duey and his staff have done a great job saying, "This is our program; we're part of the big team; we want to be successful. We're going to do the right things; we think we're going to be successful. We improved our record from last year." But we really also did a lot of community things and we did a lot of outreach, and you can just see happy people, and people are really looking forward to the future, and we think it's a bright future with these guys. We really enjoy our staff.

Sorensen: We had a referee write us after one of the football games saying he had never officiated such a fine group of young men as the Stout football players. Now that's a real testimony, I think, to the coach, coaches, and to the players.

Mell: Let's talk a little bit about recruiting because, obviously, that's how you bring those happy players to campus. How has that changed over the years, and just how much emphasis can a school that doesn't give scholarships, how much can we really do as far as recruiting goes?

Harlan: Well, it's a different story than it is in Division I or Division II where they have a full ride. They can offer you a full ride, and here's a reason to come to school. We're selling something different because we don't have a full ride. We sell the school, we sell our programs academically.

Mell: The wonderful administration. (Laughs)

Harlan: We sell the coaches.

Sorensen: Leadership.

Harlan: We're selling our facilities, we're selling our tradition; all sorts of things, but really what we're selling is a holistic experience of come here and be a student athlete. We have a great community, we have a great school. Within that school, we're going to give you a great opportunity in a program that you're going to enjoy, to compete and have wonderful experiences, and you're doing it for the love of the game, you're doing it because it fits within your college education, and it's a holistic package, so, I think, I know when I was a coach, I sold the school; I sold the attributes of the community; I sold my program and my coaching philosophy, and the athletes on the team that this is a great place to be, and we're having a lot of fun, and you're not doing it because we're paying for your books or $200 of your tuition, you're doing it because you love it and because it's a great experience, and really, isn't that what we should be selling?

Mell: Yeah, I think so. Do you get involved in recruiting at all? Do you talk to-?

Sorensen: Not very frequently. Once in a while I'll go and say hello to visiting athletes looking at the program, but very infrequently. I don't do much of that.

Mell: When you recruit, do you have to sell the student, do you have to sell the parents, or do you have to sell both?

Harlan: You have to sell everything. I think sometimes, obviously the student is sort of your core group; that's what's going to come to school here, but the parents are very influential in the decision; the high school coaches are often influential in the decision, and sometimes we're working with other people, so I think, of course, the student athlete having the major and having the program they'd like here is very important, but having mom and dad be happy and having the coach think it's a good next logical step for them. They're going to develop as a student, as an athlete, as a person. You want to make sure all those things fit. So the parents and the high school coaches have a lot of say.

Mell: And athletics are actually very, very important as far as the overall sense of the campus, don't you think so?

Sorensen: I think so.

Mell: In student engagement, and student satisfaction.

Sorensen: Exactly right. We built the new athletic complex, or renovated and built a new stadium, and made this, what I think is a first-class athletic complex that we didn't have before. That sells not just the athlete. That also sells the school to anyone who's coming here because they see a well-rounded facility that they want to enjoy.

Mell: It's the total package.

Sorensen: It's the total package, as Joe said.

Mell: Right. With the advent of Title 9, you have to be, I'm sure, very, very concerned with balancing men's and women's athletics at UW-Stout. How do you do that?

Harlan: Well, you have to make sure each coach is recruiting, of course. And right now we currently have 10 women's sports, and eight men's sports. The numbers balance out pretty good. Of course, football's always the one that kind of throws it off because it starts off with 130 guys, we cut it down to 100, but already, there's no women's sport that has 100 athletes, so we have to have a couple more to sort of keep things balanced. Coaches obviously need to recruit, we want to offer successful programs men's and women's side. It's not a gender issue as much as let's have quality programming in every area we offer. If we have quality programming and quality recruiting, our numbers should be adequate. If the programming is not adequate, or if the number of sports is out of line, or if we're not meeting our student demands, that's where we're going to see a shifting in the balance, and then all of a sudden we're going to need to make some adjustments, but I believe if we make a quality experience with what we have currently, you know, who knows in the future, but we should be able to meet our Title 9 without any issues.

Mell: I assume it's getting a little bit easier to get those numbers basically aligned, just given the fact that girls' high school sports keeps growing and growing and growing and growing and participation keeps growing and growing. The pool that your coaches have to recruit women to UW-Stout is probably growing as well, although there might be more competition for those athletes as well, from other schools.

Harlan: I think both, but yeah, there is absolutely, and certainly we have some majors that involve more women; things like early childhood and art tend to be a little bit more on the female side. We have the same things on the male side, obviously with construction and some of those areas, but the women's athletics is growing great in high school and in college. Things like women's soccer are taking off, a lot of those types of sports that 15 or 20 years ago had small numbers are now becoming larger.

Mell: The chancellor brought up the facilities. Obviously our crown jewel is the football stadium. How much of an impact are bricks and mortar when you're trying to get an athlete to the university?

Harlan: Well, you know, it's large, I mean, kids look; everybody likes things that look nice; they want to be able to see that fans are going to be able to come support them; they want to play on nice surfaces, basketball floors, tracks, football stadiums. Whatever it is, kids want to have the newest and latest greatest toy. It's the same thing it is with cell phones or computers or anything. Nobody wants to play in something that's 50 years old and needs a lot of work. Everybody wants to have things that are new and updated, and anytime- you know we added our fitness center; we added our climbing wall; we added our football stadium; we redid our basketball floor. Anytime you do those things, it just makes it nicer for the students in intramurals, the fans, the student athletes; everybody benefits.

Sorensen: To reinforce Joe's point, the stadium isn't just used for football; it's used by intramurals year-round, so it really is a great facility.

Mell:  And by the community as well. You have the drum and bugle core competition, high school-. How do you balance, though; it's an athletic complex versus an academic building, I mean, you have to make those choices.

Sorensen: Well, when I came here, we made a conscious choice to really address the academic issues first and we knew all along that the athletic complex had to be addressed somehow, and by the mid-1990s, we had pretty much outlined what had to be done academically in buildings and renovation and we carried through with that, and then we attacked the other issue of the recreational athletic complex, and sold on that recreational athletics. We did a good job; we built a great facility, renovated the Field House, added onto that, renovated the soccer field, made a women's softball field. So I think overall, I think the campus plan for that was right on line and right on target.

Mell: But you have to keep-. It's a never ending process. Then there's the next project down the road, probably.

Harlan: Right. There's always something else, but one thing we currently do is pretty much most of our facilities and classrooms to the fields and the courts are pretty much used for practices or are pretty much used in the classroom from 8 a.m. to around 2 or 3 p.m., and then between 3 and 7 p.m., they're mostly used for athletic practices, and then from 7 to 11 p.m., but do a lot of intramurals and recreational activities and then weekends we bring in a lot of different events. So really, we can coexist as students sort of in the morning, as athletes in the afternoon and intramurals and recreation in the evening, and then a lot of various activities like drum and bugle, et cetera on the weekends, and really, we have a lot of versatility; we get a lot of use out of our facilities.

Mell: Well that brings us to the end of another edition of About Stout. I want to thank Joe for coming, the chancellor again, and we'll be back with another edition of About Stout in a little bit. Thank you.