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About Stout Transcript: March 25, 2008

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Doug Mell: Welcome to another edition of About Stout. As usual, I am joined by Chancellor Charles W. Sorensen. Welcome, Chancellor.

Charles Sorensen: Doug, good to be here.

Mell: For the second half of this show, we’ll be joined by Forrest Schultz, chairman of the chemistry department at UW-Stout, but the real reason Forrest is joining us today is because he’s chairman of the polytechnic steering committee. This month marks the one year anniversary of the UW System Board of Regents approving a new designation for UW-Stout, that of “Wisconsin’s Polytechnic University.” That accounts for the bulk of our show today, but first we have to talk about some good news. We made an announcement earlier this month that the UW-Stout foundation has received a total of about $5 million in donations from donors in the last few months. Do you want to talk a little bit about that?

Sorensen: Yeah, it’s quite exciting. In the last five months, we have received a little over five million dollars. That includes money for scholarships; that includes money for faculty development; that includes an endowed share for engineering; that includes an endowment to underwrite the center for the study of ethics, so we have had a very, very good one half year, and I think it demonstrates -- to me it demonstrates -- that we have people out there, both alums and non-alums who think so highly of us, they’ll dedicate money to make sure we can complete our mission.

Mell: And it tends -- we had Dave Williams on our show earlier and we talked about this, but it tends to build on itself.

Sorensen: Well absolutely right, I believe that people want to give to schools that attract others to give, and we’re doing that right now. We have the momentum going; our foundation has increased to right around $35 million in wealth right now, up from $2 million 20 years ago, so we’ve seen substantial growth, and we expect that to continue in the future as well.

Mell: You’ve talked in the past -- I mean the money that we received; the money that we announce is actually money that we’ve received, it’s not promises two or three generations out, that kind of thing.

Sorensen: Yeah, this is not part of campaign. Campaigns are great; I don’t want to denigrate them, but in the campaigns you count everything -- you count annuities -- first life annuities, second life annuities, you count plan-giving, you count everything, and often times that is very slow in coming, or it may not come at all. This is money that we received in stocks and bonds and cash, so we have that money in the bank right now.

Mell: Let’s talk a little bit about the ethic center, this is something that will be new for UW-Stout. It’s going to be new, obviously in the whole UW System. What’s your plans for that, Chancellor?

Sorensen: We had an ethic study center maybe about four years ago that we funded on the margins, out of our own money; budget cuts came and we had to get rid of it, but this is a $1 million endowment to have an ongoing center for the study of ethics, and what we plan to do, and this is the donor’s wish and our wish, to infuse the issue of ethics into all of our majors, so that whether you’re in hospitality and tourism, or whether you’re in engineering or education, all professionals deal with ethical issues, so we’re going to infuse that into the curriculum so that young people coming out of here understand what some of those issues are, that they’ll face as professionals.

Mell: Why is the time right now for this?

Sorensen: Well I think, I read the headlines about the corporate greed and corporate scandals and political right and left, and I think that the donor thought, and we agreed, that the most important thing we could instill in young people today -- the future leaders of our businesses and industries in our society -- is a sense of ethics, and so we’ll play a role in doing just exactly that.

Mell: While the donations obviously are good news, they’re also bad news in a way in that it marks the passing of one of the real big friends of UW-Stout, someone who’s been very, very interested in our manufacturing engineering program, etc. Do you want to talk about that?

Sorensen: Well, Fulton Holtby was a marvelous man -- came to us right around 13 years ago, maybe 15 years ago. He had spent his life as an engineering professor at Minnesota. He liked what we did here, our hands-on approach, the applied approach was very much a polytechnic approach to education, and gave us the bulk of his wealth -- $3.5 million. And for the past 10 years or more, he’s been giving as many as 45 scholarships every year to engineering students -- just an amazing man. So this money that he gave to us -- about $3.5 million -- 1.5 will go toward an endowed chair in engineering.

Mell: Which will be important for our new STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) college.

Sorensen: Oh, critical for the STEM college, for the engineering programs themselves, computer electrics and polymers, then another 750 for development of the faculty, and then another 750 for scholarships, so Fulton has left a tremendous legacy at UW-Stout, and I can’t say enough about this fine, fine man.

Mell: Well, we hope there’s more successes like that in the future.

Sorensen: There will be; there will be.

Mell: Let’s talk about our polytechnic designation. As I said in the opening, this month does mark the one year anniversary of our meeting we had at UW-Parkside where the Board of Regents gave us our designation. No other university has such a designation, or has a designation at all, this was kind of uncharted territory for the Board of Regents and for us. Has the last year gone pretty much as you thought it would with how we’ve used the designation, with people’s acceptance of it?

Sorensen: It’s gone very well, I think. It was brand new; it was a different model for us, a different model for Wisconsin. The model is not too uncommon in other areas like Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo -- unusual for us. So we began, we were very much involved in the marketing of the polytechnic, and we did internal marketing, external marketing, and we, I think, maybe stumbled once in a while or didn’t go as fast as we wanted to, but after one year, I now see great progress. We now have an integrated marketing team. I reviewed that plan only this morning actually, and it looks very, very good. We have broad acceptance of this on campus. There was some push back initially; we dealt with that in a very professional way. We talked about this, we had great dialogues, and I believe that after one year, people look upon us as the polytechnic university, which is exactly what we wanted.

Mell: I think we’re starting to see, and especially, you can measure a little bit in the media, I mean just about every time somebody writes now about UW-Stout or frequently, it’s as Wisconsin’s Polytechnic University, so I think it’s starting to -- I’m getting mail addressed to Wisconsin’s Polytechnic University.

Sorensen: Well, that’s just a very good example of how this has infused itself now into the culture of the area. When we go out and talk to businesses, we’ve talked to quite a few the last 12 months, they all liked the idea. When we presented to the Rotary Club last week, they loved the idea. When I presented to the Chamber of Commerce about a week or two ago, they really embraced the idea, so the certain pride in the area that we are a different school, we’re quite unique, special mission, polytechnic mission, I believe that people really see the benefit of that.

Mell: What do you think has been the biggest gain for UW-Stout so far? Obviously the recognition, but what do you think it’s helped, for example, students here? 

Sorensen: I think that it reinforces our belief that our educational philosophy -- applied education -- our belief that it’s hands-on, that it’s active learning. I believe that’s reinforced all the time through this, and that simply helps the students. We still have a 95 percent placement rate during this recession we’re in right now. That’s very, very high. We talk to those who employ our students, whether they’re agencies or manufacturing corporations, they say the very same thing; these people come to us with a work ethic that’s unbelievable and well-prepared to enter the professional workforce the day they arrive, and that does benefit our reputation.

Mell: How have you and other administrators on campus used the designation? Are you using it as a planning tool, as a model for making decisions, etc.?

Sorensen: You know, you use the word designation, I now use the word “model” because I think that’s more clearly how we use it, so model for planning is that all new programs, or new program modifications, or old program modifications are viewed through the prism of the polytechnic. We’re planning for a discovery center, a research center. That’s through, again, the model of the polytechnic. Our ethics center was through the model of the polytechnic. So everything that we do now, we say, “Does this fit our polytechnic model and our core values of a polytechnic?”

Mell: What do you see, like we say, we’re celebrating, and we had a celebration on campus that a lot of people came to for year one. What do you see for year two?

Sorensen: Year two, I think we’re going to sophisticate what we’ve done -- become more sophisticated in the integrated marketing plan we have. It looks very good on paper. We’ll roll that out, beginning very soon, and we’ll see a lot of physical evidence on campus -- the way we advertise, our idea for banners to celebrate in Menomonie and on campus. The planning model for new programs will continue along the basis of the polytechnic. I believe that our fundraising efforts will continue in a very aggressive way to focus on the polytechnic and what we have there to make a truly excellent school that we want to become. So I think we see a much more sophisticated approach, a much more mature approach after year one, because that’s the year where you’ll learn, and you’ll stumble once in a while, but you’ll learn from that, and we’ve done that I think.

Mell: We have a new realignment of our college taking effect on July 1.

Sorensen: That’s a great example.

Mell: Was the polytechnic designation a key in how you -- there’s the provost, etc. -- approached that realignment?

Sorensen: I think it’s fair to say we’ve talked about the need for some adjustment for some time, but as we adopted the polytechnic model -- as a planning model and as a focus -- it became clear that we had to realign. The STEM college -- the science and technology and engineering and mathematics -- that’s nationwide now. It’s in high schools; it’s in two-year schools; it’s in universities, so we really had to adopt that because that really is a 21st century model. The college of management, we have a big management focus here on all of our areas, and to put that under one umbrella, so we can look at excellence in management education is what we have to do. And we’re going to be very aggressive in the college of management too, and the same way with education and human sciences, we’re going to be very aggressive in that, and also in liberal arts and design, we’re going to be very aggressive there. We have four very, very good colleges now that realign well.

Mell: It makes sense with our designation.

Sorensen: It makes sense and it’s focused on how they’re aligned internally and how they relate to the outside world.

Mell: Thank you very much, we’re going to take a short --.

Sorensen: I do, I want to mention one thing, Doug.

Mell: Go ahead.

Sorensen: It’s a great day to be green, it’s a great day to be red. You know, Michigan State and Wisconsin did very well. We’re in the Sweet 16, and it’s not much better than that.

Mell: No, that’s right. This is basketball season.

Sorensen: (Laughing) That’s right. I’m a Spartan; you’re a Badger.

Mell: And we’re going to have another Badger coming up here, so you’re going to be outnumbered here in a couple of minutes. We’re going to take a little break, and we’ll be back here with Forrest Schultz, who’s chairman of the chemistry department, graduated at UW-Madison, will come in here and sing “On Wisconsin.” We’ll be back.

(Music plays)

Mell: Thanks for joining us, Forrest. Besides leading the polytechnic steering committee, you were also part of the faculty senate last year when we went through the whole designation process. You presented along with the chancellor to the Board of Regents a year ago. Does it seem like a year?

Schultz: It does not. It seems like just a couple weeks ago, but it’s been a good year, it really has.

Mell: We talked before a little bit with the chancellor about what he thought the benefits were of the designation. From the faculty standpoint, what would you say two or three of the benefits of the designation that you see at least in the first year. Obviously this whole thing hasn’t played out yet.

Schultz: I think one of the important benefits has been with this designation that it really re-emphasizes us and recenters us on the mission that we’ve always had at UW-Stout. I’ve heard the chancellor say “hands-on, minds-on learning,” and that’s been one of the big things over the years, and that’s really strengthened that, and that’s been a benefit. I think as we looked at other polytechnic universities, we saw, at times, a wider curriculum array of programs, and I think that faculty are seeing that, like, you know, maybe we need to offer a few more programs along the polytechnic model.

Mell: Something the chancellor has been saying for a long, long time, that 30 just aren’t enough-well, 32 when we had the two new ones come on board.

Schultz: I think another benefit has been this model of recognition of collaboration with other schools and business and industries, and that’s something that faculty really can benefit through their educational delivery and research programs.

Mell: When you were looking at the polytechnic model, did you do that side by side with our mission? Because I hear a lot of people say what Forrest just said, that the polytechnic designation and the model fit so well within our mission.

Sorensen: Yeah, we did exactly that, and we lined up the programs at schools that were polytechnics, and we looked at ours and they’re very close. Most schools had a broader array, as you said, and we have to have a broader array. We looked at the philosophies of education, the employed &^&%&^14:11 we were doing, it was almost something like a mirror image of what we have been doing under what we call the “special mission,” and so it was a very easy step to say the polytechnic model is simply a better, more powerful expression of what we’ve done here for a long, long time.

Mell: One of the things I did when I came here is went through the debate that the faculty senate had over the years, and it was extensive; it really was. It was well-discussed on campus, in my opinion anyway, that we’re seeing less discussion about whether or not it’s a good thing to have the designation, and that’s pretty much turned on, how are we going to use it? And maybe some details on what it exactly means. Is that the kinds of things you’re seeing too?

Schultz: Oh, absolutely. We had some intense discussions, and I think as we went through this, we learned there was a tremendous commitment by faculty to the Stout learning community and tremendous commitment to Stout students, and something like this does create an opportunity for change which can create a little bit of uneasiness, but as we talked about it more, more and more people got involved and I think faculty played a critical role in shaping how this is going to come about, and I think we’ve got it to a point where the designation presents opportunities for the future of UW-Stout and the faculty and students here.

Mell: Did you really think that the acceptance would be so great? I mean, it’s only been a year, and there’s always more questions about how are we going to use it rather than why did we do it.

Sorensen: Yeah, I think the first four or five months were the months I thought were more flammable, I guess, in terms of on campus. But I think we had healthy discussions and there was respect for both sides of the argument; but once people settle in and saw that it was changed, but not dramatic and radical change, it was we built on, as Forrest said earlier, our very rich and storied past.

Mell: And it was mission-driven. You could go to the mission.

Sorensen: Exactly right. And then people began to say, “This isn’t bad after all.” And then with the realignment, that’s somewhat surprising -- it was also a very intensive debate -- but both senates, all three senates approved it in the end -- and then people saw the logic, I think, to align management under a single college. I was once told by management faculty that our school is one great big management school. In many ways it is. Stout has always been in management. Now we have a college of that. People saw the logic STEM too, very , very quickly. So, the alignment fell into place much more easily than I thought it might. Very few schools can pull off a realignment in 12 months. We did that in a very healthy way.

Mell: You obviously are a full professor here, teaching students. Do you get a lot of questions from students about the polytechnic designation? Or is it just something that’s not on their radar screen?

Schultz: Early on and during the process there were a lot of questions, and again, I think this gets back to the commitment that students have to Stout -- the experiences they have and the benefits they know they’ll receive as they leave the institution, so I think one of their concerns is that, does polytechnic mean we’re becoming a tech college? We have that influence in the region, and the tech college system in Wisconsin is very good, but there’s a reason why students come to the university system -- the education that we offered them. They did not want it to certainly go in the direction of tech college, but I think what we’ve seen as we’ve explored what a polytechnic is and the model we’ve put in place, this is going to increase their diploma value; it’s going to increase their opportunities as they leave UW-Stout.

Sorensen: I’ll add two things. One is look at applications. There’s a big concern, as Forrest said, with this diminished interest in Stout. Just the opposite. Our applications are either at or where they were last year which was a record high last year, so they’re up, and so the interest has not been diminished at all because &&^%&^18:24 people have got programs. Then secondly, this is not well-known, but we were just chosen to be one of 13 schools nationwide to look at the effectiveness of assessment tools, and we’re in a crowd with Ann Arbor, Michigan, not a bad school.

Mell: Even though...

Sorensen: Against Michigan State. (Laughing)

18:44 Mell: It’s hard for him to say that actually -- kind of choked on that a little bit -- he thought about it.

Sorensen: U of Minnesota’s in that group, and MIT’s in that group. And we’re the only Wisconsin school in that group, one of 13 nationwide, so I think that, and that’s not because of our model of being a polytechnic, but because we have a historic commitment to assessing what we do in the classroom. So I think that reputation is really starting to grow now.

Mell: One of the things the chancellor asked the polytechnic steering committee -- and I also serve on it -- was to come up with a tenets, basically the pillars of what we mean, and this is something we did after the designation. I think to more clearly explain to people what we mean by a polytechnic, do you want to talk a little bit about that effort?

Schultz: Yeah, absolutely. So, the tenets probably began as an internal marketing type of thing to make sure everyone’s talking about the same type of thing here, and looked at the mission very closely and recognized those strong points of what we’ve been doing over the years, and we developed three tenets, which, I think represent UW-Stout very well, and those tenets begin with a career focus in our programs and curriculum, and it recognizes a wide range of curriculum. With the career focus, there’s an applied learning emphasis, and that’s something that Stout has done very well, of blending theory and practice.

Mell: Goes all the way back to 1891.

Sorensen: It does, exactly.

Schultz: I think that’s one of the things, as we think about students coming to Stout, they probably come for that reason. They want to be able to make a difference early on in their programs, want to get involved in doing things in whatever program they’re in, so applied learning is a big part of it, and then the last tenet is collaboration, and I think as we’ve recognized Stout over the years, collaboration with outside entities, business and industry and other educational institutions has been very successful for us, and we’ve been very good at it, and I think this model will allow us to do that even to a greater extent.

Mell: Do you think that tenants are something we’re going to be able to use as we move forward, not only to explain the designation and the model by what we mean by polytechnic, but basically further explain how we do business at UW-Stout?

Sorensen: I think you’re absolutely right. We had a few people on advisory boards looking at those tenets and said “that’s exactly what we like. We want to see a succinct statement of your tenets of a polytechnic, and these three are succinct; they’re to the point; they reflect who you are.” So, I think it’s a very, very good way to explain very simply what we’re about. Those tenets, by the way, are not unfamiliar with other polytechnics. Cal Poly has almost the very same tenets, but they say it in Latin, that’s all.

(Laughing)

Mell: Well, we’re not going to go there. Let’s go back to the regent meeting last year. Were either of you-and we were all there, and you two presented along with a great student -- were either of you surprised at, like I said at the beginning, this is uncharted territory for the Board of Regents. No other university has received an official designation. Some call themselves things, but no one’s gone to the board and said, “Listen, this is where we’re going to stake our future.” Were you surprised that there was absolutely no disagreement, that there was no; I mean this is a large board, they’re known to ask questions, they’re known to be skeptical.

Sorensen: Well, we did some groundwork on that. Forrest was involved and I was involved in talking to the regents, sometimes one-on-one, about why, about what it meant and why, and I think those that were skeptics initially, in those small one on one discussions, saw the logic of it, saw that we weren’t violating any kind of basic assumption about who we were as a campus, only building on that, and these regents are very, very professional; they’re very good and they really want to see each university within the system, I think, succeed. So they saw for us; that’s our road; that’s our differentiation between us and other schools.

Schultz: Yeah, I would agree with that. I think, as it proceeded through the process with the regents, I think they began to recognize that this was a meaningful designation. As they thought about that, they at one point did ask some questions like, “Why don’t other universities do something like this?” And so, I think they gave us a lot of credit for doing this, recognizing who we are, and positioning ourselves for the future of higher education in the state. I think the other thing that really made sense to them, as we think about western Wisconsin and a lot of growth potential in this region, that a polytechnic university makes a lot of sense for this region.

Mell: Do you think that as -- and you’ve used the word “competition” quite a bit, as far as competing for resources, competing for students -- as higher education gets more competitive, these kinds of designations are at least trying to figure out where we fit in the market place; is it going to become more standard for universities, or do you see it?

Sorensen: Oh, absolutely right, and I think we have the advantage there. We’re speaking to donors almost every week from UW-Stout; donors that will be very generous, and one thing they like about what we’re doing is we’re differentiating ourselves from other schools, and they believe that we’re being true to our mission, and they believe that this is the kind of mission that is needed for society, not just jobs, but to create good, civic-minded people. So, I’m impressed with how impressed they are with what we’re doing here. We’ve gotten accolades from some very important potential donors on this whole effort.

Mell: We talked in the first segment about what the chancellor thought was going to happen in year two for the designation. What do you think will happen? What do you think should happen? I mean, obviously, we need to cast a wide net here on how we use the designation in year two, three, four. I mean, it’s something we’re going to have forever now. It’s set in stone, so what do you see for year two, Forrest?

Schultz: I see some great opportunities, and even some strong efforts already, along the lines of delivering new programs and expanded programs. I can look out on the Stout Web site about our academic plan, and it’s an aggressive plan, and some really neat programs are being developed; they’re in the works, and-

Mell: Things we’re going to be presenting in April to the Board of Regents.
Sorensen: The provost will, yes.

Mell: Yeah, the academic plan, that’s correct.

Schultz: And again, it’s a wide range of programs. We’re in-masters of fine arts, things like game design and development, as far as a collaboration between art and math, a great polytechnic-type program. Cognitive science. Then also programs related to really address some of the working force and increasing the number of some of the backasomething 25:49 degrees with things like a degree in professional studies and perhaps an applied social science type of degree, and these offer great opportunities for students in this region.

Sorensen: You know, Forrest spent some collaboration a while ago talking with the outside world, but what I’m impressed with, and I really applaud the faculty for this, the internal collaboration. The programs we’re looking at are all based on collaboration, so the cognitive science program, I think, has six different departments involved, for example. And I think that’s the future of education, of higher ed., is exactly that.

Schultz: Yeah, I would recognize that, that’s one of the things that we learned. We did talk to some folks from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo that we asked them the question of where they thought they should be heading or could be heading, and they mentioned interdisciplinary activities a lot, and I think that’s really where we’re at right now, and we do well at that.

Mell: Anything that surprised you about the first year, how things went? Did anything really surprise you?

Schultz: No, I think overall it’s been smooth.

Sorensen: But I think in the large part to the faculty, to the faculty senate and to the leadership of the two senates and how they got behind us and really helped us to push it, to market it and it’s been widely accepted. So, the faculty, we owe them a debt of gratitude for really getting behind this whole effort.

Mell: So, you’re glad Wisconsin’s in the Sweet 16?

Shultz: (Laughing) I am so glad.

Sorensen: I want to see a Spartan-Badger final.

Mell: You never know, I mean.

Sorensen: That’s right.

Schultz: They count the score on your --.

(Laughing)

Mell: Izzo 27:26 and Ryan aren’t exactly the best of friends, so that’s going to -- that would be very, very interesting. That brings us to the end of another edition of About Stout. I’d like to thank the chancellor for joining us again, and for Forrest for joining us, and we’re going to be back soon for another show.