University of Wisconsin Stout | Wisconsin's Polytechnic University
That’s how employers describe UW-Stout graduates. Our innovative, career-focused degrees combine applied learning and the liberal arts.
That’s how employers describe UW-Stout graduates. Our innovative, career-focused degrees combine applied learning and the liberal arts.
Doug Mell: Welcome to the first edition of About Stout for 2008. I am Doug Mell, UW-Stout director of University Communications. Once again, I am joined by Chancellor Charles Sorensen. Thanks for joining us today, Chancellor.
Charles Sorensen: Good to be here, Doug.
Mell: In the second half of the show, the chancellor and I will be joined by Doug Wahl, UW-Stout’s chief information officer. I thought, Chancellor, we’d start out with the big news on campus, which is the realignment plan that you and the provost, Julie Furst-Bowe, worked on and with a lot of other people on campus, and it’s been approved by the faculty senate, the senate of academic staff, and it goes into effect July 1st. Essentially it creates four new colleges that replace the colleges we already have: the College of Arts and Letters, the College of Education, Health and Human Services, the College of Management and the College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. You’re also going to create a center for interdisciplinary collaboration, and the graduate school remains unchanged. Let’s just go through some of the issues with this. What do you think the new structure will accomplish, or at least what do you hope with the new structure?
Sorensen: Well, let me start by making a simple comment, that higher education is the last to ever implement change in the entire history of the world, so I think what we pulled off is pretty significant. But I think, though, as we look at the 21st century and the demands on programs and what we must give the students to educate them properly, you have to have a real good program alignment, and we’ve had an effective program alignment here; we’ve had effective colleges, effective program directors, all that, but for the 21st century it’s got to be even more than that. So what propelled us to discuss this initially was how are the disciplines changed on the edges? How do the sciences now relate to technology? For example, three or four years ago, we put in place a biotech minor, thus combining biology and technology and mathematics. We’ll do a lot more of that in the future. So in the realignment we thought, let’s ???? through the programs together that really make sense for the future. So the college of management, for example, best example of all, I think.
Mell: Something you’ve wanted for a long time.
Sorensen: For a long, long time, because we have management all over the campus, great management courses, but they were not aligned with one another. And they’re good programs; people like them; they get good jobs from those programs. Now the College of Management, we talk about more efficiencies, talk about best practices for teaching management; we can talk about we’re going to have some endowed money for the College of Management; we can talk about perhaps bringing in some key people to at least expose us to brand new ideas about management. So I think that’s a good example of an alignment that just makes sense. The STEM college: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics; that’s nationwide, that’s going into high schools, that’s being recognized by NSF (Nutritional Science Foundation), again, because you have the marriage of engineering and sciences, math and engineering, math and the sciences, so that makes a lot of sense as well. So then the College of Arts and Letters we’ll have a couple great programs there: the art program, design program and the College of Education and Human Sciences. That’s the least affected, a little bit of a merger there with education, but we think we’re aligned now properly for the 21st century, and we think, almost know, that this will allow us to attract really good candidates for deans’ positions. 3:42
Mell: What process, obviously it’s been going on for a long time, but could you just briefly describe the process that we use to get to where we are now?
Sorensen: On the realignment? Sure, I mean, we began talking about this probably a year and a half ago with the faculty, we ????? 3:55 that a great deal with all kinds of different groups, listening sessions; we went to special sessions with the senate, the faculty had special sessions on this, and we always kind of argue the same thing, that for the 21st century, alignment is really needed. And it’s not radical. This is not a radical realignment; this is kind of a modification of what we had before. So we let everyone say their piece. We listened carefully; we made some modifications in our models; we took the criticism, I think, in a very constructive way, and then we asked for support for this, and both senates, the academic staff senate and the faculty senate, did support this by passing resolutions in favor of realignment. So it was a long process; it was a thoughtful process; it engaged, I would say, virtually the entire campus, and I can’t say that everyone applauded this, but I think there was a strong consensus that this is the model for us for this next 10 or 15 or 20 years.
Mell: Do we have the power- do you have to go to the system administration, Board of Regents to…?
Sorensen: For the colleges-, since we really didn’t change the colleges or create new ones, or dissolve colleges, no. But then the next step that I want to take next fall when we have this in place sometime in 2008, 2009, is within each college, identify a school. We, I think, have to have a school of engineering within the STEM college because that will give it some visibility, that will allow us to talk about a school of engineering just like Madison has or Minnesota has. I think we need a school of hospitality management within the management college. So we’re going to start to pull out some of the programs that really deserve distinctness or need it, and that will take board approval, but I don’t think that’s going to be a real issue for us.
Mell: Obviously you hope that this benefits students, but sometimes they’re removed; they don’t even recognize which college they belong to. How are students going to benefit from this?
Sorensen: It’s going to be simply program alignment, program efficiencies; it’s going to be hiring the best faculty for those programs that we can. You know, all this is in the context, if you remember, in the polytechnic, and we’re using that platform to develop this or to move this campus forward to a different level of excellence, so with that we’ll have to hire very good deans, I think ads go out for that this month in January. We must hire the best faculty. We’ve done a very good job of that in the last half a dozen years or last 10 years. So I think to have this realignment, to have a college of management, will strike a lot of people in management; wow, they know what they’re doing, and we’d like to go teach at that university. We know if we-.
Mell: So it all starts with hiring the right faculty.
Sorensen: Oh, absolutely.
Mell: And many students benefit from that.
Sorensen: Absolutely right. Yeah.
Mell: You talked before about hiring the new deans. This goes into effect July 1st. Is it realistic to have the new deans in place by then or is that going to go for a while?
Sorensen: Well, I think we believe fundamentally that we must have the STEM dean in place since that ad will go out first.
Mell: So it’s going to be in phases, then.
Sorensen: Yeah, I think so. We may get the other two out there to advertise for. Hopefully they’ll be filled by July one or September one. It’ll be a- that’s a big item because we have to do a lot of networking, I think; we have to go out and really find those that want to come to a school that’s really on the move and let them know that if you want to be at an exciting school; one that’s really changing; one that’s going to change the future of this area, to come to Stout. That’ll be the excitement of it, I think.
Mell: Is the market good for deans, not so good for deans? 7:43
Sorensen: I think for administrators, basically, there are shallow pools out there. You really have to go out and recruit heavily. Same is true for faculty in most areas now; the pools are less than they used to be, so you have to go out and really recruit heavily, so, but we’ll find them. I think that people look for challenges, and this is a tremendous challenge, and I’ll add one more thing: for the 2008-2009 budget, we have nine new positions given just by the state: two new engineering programs, beef up nanotech and biotech. Beef up education, so whoever takes these jobs are coming into a school that has some resources to work with for the first time in a number of years.
Mell: Could you talk a little bit about your hopes for what the center for interdisciplinary collaboration will accomplish?
Sorensen: Well, we know for a fact, and this school has been very good historically to collaborate across disciplines and I can give a lot of examples of that. Biotechnology is a very good example of a minor that was developed between two different colleges and two disciplines. I think what we know must happen; we must see more collaboration between how we design programs, how we deliver programs, because when students leave here and go to the real world, they don’t artificially separate that in the newspaper business. You have to know a lot to become a good journalist that goes beyond just writing a paragraph. So I think that this will provide us the opportunity to bring faculty together,faculty and students together, faculty-student research across disciplines, so we have a cognitive neuroscience concentration. Five different disciplines or maybe six. That’s what’s going to happen here, I think. So that students know that we don’t have knowledge in silos, knowledge that cuts across all disciplines.
Mell: You talked a little bit about this, but I was wondering if you could expand a little bit about how the role of the polytechnic designation did play in this realignment. You’ve said many times that you hope that becomes the umbrella under which we make a lot of our decisions here. How did the polytechnic designation-?
Sorensen: Well, I think the polytechnic designation 9:57 drove the decision to realign. We’ve talked about realignment periodically; we’ve never done this, but here’s the one opportunity we had as we got the designation from the Board of Regents; the faculty approved the designation, and so it was a chance for us, maybe the only chance you have, the perfect patterns come together. Let’s realign now and not maintain the status quo, so the polytechnic was a major influence on the thinking of myself and I know the provost, that we should be looking at some restructuring.
Mell: We just reviewed some numbers recently on an alumni outcome survey that’s conducted by system administration. We participate in it, and other campuses around the system participate in it. I thought we could talk about some of these numbers. And obviously, these numbers are familiar to us, but sometimes they get so familiar that we don’t even recognize them. The survey showed, and these are graduates that have been out two and three years, so these are recent graduates. Just 1.7 percent of the graduates form ’03-’05 were unemployed, while a staggering 90 percent were employed. That compared to only 77 percent system-wide. Let’s just talk about employment first. What is it about UW-Stout, do you think, that contributes to these outstanding numbers?
Sorensen: Well I think two or three major things. Number one, our program array. We’ve been very selective in the programs we’ve developed here, and they always relate pretty directly to a profession in the outside world. That’s number one. Number two, we have advisor committees made up primarily of those from outside the university to advise programs on how to adjust and how to change to real-world situations. Number three, we have a very strong co-op program; 80 percent of our students do a co-op, one of the highest in the nation, by the way. That allows a company to review the students, their activity, their ability to work, and vice versa. A student can look at a company they want to go to, or may want to go to. I think those are real big factors. And we’re going to be talking to faculty this year about shouldn’t we make the co-op experience mandatory for all students before they graduate?
Mell: It seems to be a trend. We’ve seen some stories in the national press lately about a handful or so of colleges, I know Alverno in Milwaukee.
Sorensen: It’s interesting. In those schools the New York Times cited, only one school has a higher percent than we do: that’s Northeastern in Boston. The rest of them have many fewer students taking part and we have 80 percent. But I think, I want to engage the campus in, shouldn’t this be a requirement for all students before they leave? Some kind of external experience outside the campus. And I think it would be tremendous, a good marketing tool for us. We educate the whole person. But in all honesty, you want an education to get a good job, to have a good career, so we have combined that into a good package here at Stout and I hope then people realize how good that really is.
Mell: Well, we have some numbers I think that show that. Nice segue. Same survey, graduates from ’03-’05; 23 percent of these graduates were making more than $50,000 a year, and this is two and three years out of college. Three percent were making more than $70,000 a year, and again, UW-Stout exceeded both the system and the national statistics for high-end salaries. Do you think part of that is because our program array, again, the co-ops, or is it just the kinds of jobs that we educate people for?
Sorensen: Well, that combination with the kinds of programs we have, the co-ops, and also, on campus, we’re 13:38 a very lab-based school. We really tout the applied learning philosophy at Stout, and so when they hire our students, and you heard this as we travelled around to companies this past year, students come out of Stout, and the term they use is “they hit the ground running.”
Mell: They’re ready to work. They sit down the first day and…
Sorensen: And make money for the company. So I think that it’s the philosophy of the program array, the co-op experiences. We really have a mature student body, and I think that adds to it as well.
Mell: You know, you talked about those companies that we did visit, and we spent four or five days out in western Wisconsin. What did you take back from what you heard from those companies?
Sorensen: Well, one thing just hit me right in the face and that’s globalization, you know? I gave a little graduation speech called…
Mell: Dubai to Durand.
Sorensen: Yeah, Dubai meets Durand. We visited very small companies in Baldwin, in Somerset, River Falls and Hudson, and every one was international scope, every single company we met. So I think that that really challenges us to do a better job about how we teach globalization to our student body, how to understand other cultures, how to understand the world economy, how to understand the impact the Internet has on the world economy. This is critical for the future. I was struck by that and almost awestruck by that; it was so pervasive and whether it was Wausau or Somerset or River Falls, they’re global.
Mell: We’re going to take a short break now. We’re going to be back with Doug Wahl, our Chief Information Officer.
Mell: We’re now joined by Doug Wahl, our Chief Information Officer. Doug, thanks for joining us today. We’re going to talk about a subject that’s near and dear to the chancellor’s heart, which is our information and technology system here on campus. First of all, why don’t you tell us a little about yourself, how long you’ve been on campus and exactly what a chief information officer does.
Sorensen: We’re all curious about that. (Laughs)
Mell: Gets the chancellor coffee every once in a while. (Laughing)
Sorensen: Get me caught up on this. (Continues laughing)
Wahl: Once in a while. I’ve been Chief Information Officer here for two and a half years, almost three. I’ve been an employee here at Stout for just about 19 years here at the end of the month, serving in various roles. I’m a regional native, so I’m pretty much from this area.
Mell: What does a chief information officer do?
Wahl: That’s a good question.
Mell: Something your boss would like to know.
Wahl: In a nutshell, I’m responsible for all technology on campus, technology directions. The former CIO played an integral part in forming our e-Scholar program along with the chancellor’s vision. But basically it’s all the networks, the telephones, the computer labs, the computers, you know, the laptops themselves. We have a helpdesk; we have the financial systems; what am I missing here? I mean, there’s just a wide variety. The classroom technology, as far as doing audio-video like we’re doing here, all of those things. And without getting specific in each one-.
Mell: Anything with a wire attached to it.
Wahl: Or not.
Mell: Or not.
Wahl: Or not.
Sorensen: I just want to mention how far we’ve come in this area. When we decided to appoint a CIO way back in 1996, we had, I don’t know, 15 e-mail systems or something like that. We had 15 or 18 different models of different computers. We had software that may not be compatible on half the computers but were in the other half, so what Joe Brown did, the first CIO, and now what Doug did, was brought order out of chaos and now we have a much more efficient system.
Mell: Why don’t you talk about, just how big this system is? How many computers do we have, miles of wire, wireless points, you know, what kind of numbers?
Wahl: I brought them just in case you asked.
Wahl: As far as computers, and I think we’ll talk about this a little bit more later, is there’s about 7,500 laptops on campus, and that’s just for the students. We have another about 1,200 for faculty, and then there’s the clerical staff computers, the lab computers, that I think somewhere in total are about 12,000 on campus, which is a phenomenal amount of computing to support here. As far as active ports-.
Mell: And they work perfectly every day too, don’t they?
Wahl: Yeah. On a good day, we don’t get any calls. But as far as the networking goes, we have about 10,000 wired ports; that goes for classrooms, there’s dedicated ports to each faculty and staff member’s desk, and for the residence halls there’s a port per pillow which usually amounts to two per room so that each student can plug directly in the wall. We have about 225 access points, which I’d like to say we’re 100 percent wireless, that we get a signal everywhere; we don’t quite get that. I don’t think that’s even achievable with today’s technology, but I think we’re very close to it. And that’s a moving target too. I mean, when we introduce new access points here and there we have to adjust sometimes the other ones too that are supporting it to get the best signal. 19:26
Mell: That doesn’t seem, I mean, for the entire campus, even outside, I mean we can take it outside and use it out there, that doesn’t seem like a lot. That surprises me.
Wahl: No, it doesn’t seem a lot, and a lot of it is due to density. We have a steadfast rule that we use about 25 to 30 connections per access point, so we look at the classrooms and the capacity and the adjacent rooms, around, above, below, everything like that that kind of goes into the formula to make this coverage, and sometimes it’s very difficult because the building composition has a big part to play in that.
Mell: Oh, sure.
Sorensen: You know, and I think, Doug, from a layman’s point of view, and I clearly am a layman in this whole arena, we have, perhaps, the most modern campus, based on technology, of any school in the upper Midwest, including the Big Ten schools.
Mell: Well we certainly see that when we travel around, when we go to Board of Regents’ meetings and other places or wherever, I mean, just the disparity that we see from here compared to other places.
Sorensen: A sister school was bragging that they have 600 computers for their students to use. We have a 21 student/faculty ratio. For computers, we’re one to one, and I mean, every student has a computer and that’s changed who we are in a very fundamental way.
Mell: You brought up the e-Scholar laptop program. Why, first of all, that was your idea.
Sorensen: Well, I can’t say it was my idea. We had kind of a think tank of people that talked about this for a couple of years and we saw other schools doing this- Wake Forest.
Mell: It’s not going to happen without the chancellor.
Sorensen: No, I really got behind it in a very significant way and we pushed that very hard.
Sorensen: Because it is a tool, number one. It’s only a tool, and we always understood that, but a tool that was going to dominate the 21st century. We began talking about this in 1997-98, and it is, I mean the technology dominates everything we do now, but you have to use it wisely, and we knew that if we could provide the laptop to every student, they would leave here fully, I think, prepared to work in the modern workplace in the 21st century, whether it’s teaching school, working in a high-tech manufacturing company that we saw a lot of recently, or working at a state agency. They’ll be prepared for it.
21:44 Mell: Why do you think that- the chancellor just talked about what it does for students when they leave here- but as far as what the laptop program does for students while they’re here, what are some of the myriad ways that our students use them, and how do they benefit from them do you think?
Wahl: Well, I think there’s a number of large factors. I think one of the biggest ones is it puts every student on a level playing field. Everyone has all the technology they’re going to need throughout their career here at Stout.
Mell: And it’s supported.
Wahl: And it’s supported.
Mell: Software, hardware.
Wahl: Absolutely. Both. Just to give you an idea, I think we’re around 19,000, 20,000 helpdesk tickets a year that are supporting students, well, faculty, staff, everyone else. But I think one of the big things, as I mentioned, was that we give the tool to the students and they have everything they need to succeed, at least from a computing standpoint. The rest is up to them. We have very large applications that a normal student wouldn’t be able to afford. We have AutoCAD on them, we have the Adobe Suite on them. We have the Microsoft suite that’s supplied for them; we buy the license for them so they can take it with them afterwards. So I mean it’s a big program, and I think it’s a big value, especially, the chancellor mentioned earlier about hitting the road running, well they have those skills wherever they go where they have the computing skills built in- their curriculum and their instruction, their schoolwork, everything. It’s a big part of what we do here.
Sorensen: Well I’ve noticed in talking to faculty that use this very effectively, students’ habits have changed about research. They use this as a tool to do research. They communicate with one another, with their families, in the classroom, outside the classroom. There’s not any ubiquitous way in which we use it, but it’s used in every educational endeavor that we have, and probably everything they do on campus is touched by the laptop computer and how they do it. So our teaching paradigm is changing pretty fundamentally. Our learning paradigm is changing pretty fundamentally. I’ve had members of the faculty telling me that students who may be shy in class are not shy about chat box. They’re not shy about asking questions. They’re much more engaged in a discipline than they would be in a lecture class. In fact, this is Tuesday, Jan. 15, and we had a guest speaker today about the transformation of the curriculum. He said the lecture method is absolutely ineffective, period. And we all know that.
Mell: Something we’ve known for years.
Sorensen: We’ve known for years. And now we’re changing that model here to make our learning paradigm more effective.
Mell: But to make sure that gets transferred into our classrooms and labs, we have to make sure that the technology just isn’t in the laptop, but our technology goes into the classrooms and labs. That’s also a big part of your job, isn’t it?
Wahl: Oh, definitely. I think, you know, when we go back to when Stout was first looking at the laptop program or e-Scholar, we had to build the infrastructure in order to do that, and we did that. 24:44
Mell: And that’s expensive.
Wahl: Very expensive. We’ve been wanting duration since that, but that was the key portion that really made that program work. And we have it not just in other buildings, we have it in all buildings. And right now, we’re trying to look at some different technologies to try to make it more integral into the classroom and make the program more efficient and more enticing to the students for their learning.
Sorensen: And we knew when we began going down the road of technology, this was in 1996-97, that we had to invest first of all, in a robust network. We did that at some cost and then ever since then, I don’t know, Doug, how many millions of dollars we spent on technology and its infrastructure. It’s been tens of millions of dollars. It’s been considerable. But it’s worked for us very well. And I’ll go back to the fact that we’re probably the most modern campus, in terms of technology, in this entire upper Midwest.
Mell: I mean, we couldn’t take the laptops away from the students now…
Sorensen: They would rebel, right.
Sorensen: So would the faculty, by the way.
Mell: So would I.
Sorensen: So would you.
Mell: Students also expect the latest technology in their residence halls, and this is probably where some of your biggest challenges, I assume, come. We have older residence halls, we have newer residence halls. Sometimes students aren’t the best as far as taking care of what they have, that kind of thing. What sort of special challenges do the technology in the residence halls present? And then a little later, we’ll talk about music.
Wahl: Well right now, frankly, that’s probably one of the top three right now is just the file-sharing, the music-sharing, things like that, and I’ll mention more when we get there. Probably one of the big things now, I mentioned we have a port per pillow in a room. The students are able to plug in. Each resident has their own port that they can plug in. One of the obstacles that we solved here when we started the laptop program was that we need to somehow be able to track these people and do the registration. We used to do it by hand. Well we have an application now where they plug in, they bring up a Web browser, and they can register themselves and we don’t have to touch anything.
Mell: Let’s talk about music, because obviously not just here, and actually here it’s not as big an issue as on some other campuses, but why don’t you talk about file-sharing among students, what kind of an issue it is here and some kind of the things that we’ve done here to try to head problems?
Wahl: OK. The one thing that I want to make sure that you realize is that we don’t look at the traffic that the students are generating. The one thing we do offer is, I think for the last two years, we’ve signed on with Ruckus, and that’s a free music service that any student with a Stout e-mail address is free to use it. There’s also some social networking capabilities to the software, and I’m told, and this hasn’t been verified yet, but they’re also going to be talking about bringing movies into the realm also so that their music, movies on their own time will be completely free and legal.
Mell: That’s the key. I mean, Ruckus is legal.
Mell: Has it, do you think, decreased the traffic that UW-Stout students would have with the temptations they would have as far as the illegal downloading?
Wahl: Well, we know it does exist still and one of the problems with Ruckus and other types of music services, unless you’re using iTunes, you cannot transfer it to your iPod. But other than that, the other MP3 players, anything like that, they work just fine. So, I think that’s the biggest hurtle. But other than that, like I say, we do know that still goes on, but it’s actually at a much, or could be, a much smaller level. Back in the Napster days, I’m sure both of you remember that, but absolutely maxed out our network pipe to the Internet, I mean absolutely maxed it.
Sorensen: We improved the pipe actually. We did it from your office, actually.
Wahl: That’s correct. We had to look at what’s an adequate amount that we want to, at that time, pay for. But then we also started doing some, weren’t looking at content, but we were looking at the traffic patterns and we kind of, we didn’t put a halt to it, but we minimized it; let’s put it that way.
Mell: You said before that you believe, and I agree with you, as far as technology goes, we’re in the top echelon in the Midwest. What do we do to make sure we stay there? How do we stay there?
Sorensen: We keep reinvesting. I think that, I’m very pleased with the teams that I work with on campus because when we made the commitment in 1996-97 to put the network in, we knew that, and then the laptop, we knew the commitment was in perpetuity basically, because you have to maintain modern technology. For example, Doug, you know this, every member of the faculty can get a new laptop every third year, every secretary can get a new desktop every third year. Students get two computers in their four year degree here. So we’re constantly refreshing what we do here with computer technology. We spent a lot of money, it’s all reallocated; the state didn’t give us a lot of new money for this. They gave us no new money for this, so it’s all been our decision as managers to allocate in this area.
Mell: How do you take what he wants- how do we make sure that you’re staying on top of the advances that what we need?
Wahl: And that’s very hard. As you know, technology changes very rapidly. A lot of times it’s just in time. When something comes out, we want to take advantage of it and we do. I mean, Stout, historically, has been very technology-oriented, whether it’s labs for machinery or whatever; we want to make sure that we can integrate that, so, and it goes back to the students hitting the ground running in their chosen fields.
Sorensen: Once you reach a certain density of technology and keep it refreshed, then the investment every year is big; it’s not profound. We’re not starting every year from scratch.
Mell: Well that’s going to bring us to the end. And I want to thank Doug Wahl for joining the chancellor and me for another edition of About Stout, and we’ll be back soon with another show. Thank you very much.