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.
Mell: Thanks for watching another edition of About Stout. We’re well into another exciting academic year here at UW-Stout and the pace of life certainly has picked up. Joining me today is Chancellor Charles W. Sorenson who is again leading UW-Stout for a 20th year. Welcome, Chancellor!
Sorenson: Good to be here.
Mell: Joining us a little later will be Michael Lubke, the president of the Stout Student Association. We’ll get Mike’s perspective on some issues from the students’ viewpoint. Chancellor, the big recent news on campus is the action recently by the Board of Regents that will rename the Library Learning Center after your predecessor, Chancellor Meritis Bob Swanson. Could you discuss a little bit about the reasons behind the push to rename the Library Learning Center, and then we’ll talk a little about Chancellor Meritis Swanson as well.
Sorenson: Well Bob is an extraordinary man, and the man who began his career here as a freshman and wound up as Chancellor and did a lot to reform the school, and for that reason we wanted to honor Bob and we did so by taking the most important building on campus, I think, the very soul of who we are, the library, and we named it after him.
Mell: A lot of terms have been used since this news came out about Bob Swanson, but a couple of them are honesty and integrity, and obviously you came in right after him. Did you get that sense, when you came in the office, that those were a couple of the hallmarks of Bob Swanson’s administration?
Sorenson: Yeah, I did. Bob had taken over the school, the leadership in 1972, I think, something like that. And what he epitomized to me, the way he treated me was with honesty and integrity. He didn’t interfere with my chancellorship, he didn’t come to see me and try to say this is the direction you should take or continue. Bob sat back in a very gracious way and allowed me to fulfill my role here as chancellor. So I think anyone I’ve ever talked to, graduates, or students, or his collogues that when here, would reflect that he was a very honest man, great integrity. When Bob said something, you could believe what he said.
Mell: He oversaw this campus through some very tumultuous times.
Sorenson: He did.
Mell: I mean, the late ‘60s, ‘70s, and early ‘80s
Sorenson: That’s right.
Mell: And it sounds like, I mean, he guided things with a very even hand. He was calm, cool, collected and was able to persevere and made some significant improvements on campus over all.
Sorenson: Always. You know, Bob took over in ’72, and the legacy of the Vietnam war was still there, the campus was still in a state of unrest and Bob did provide very stable leadership. He did introduce new programs. He did introduce the whole issue of tech-transfer in a significant way here; strengthened, I think the corporate relationships, strengthened career placement so that the career placement center became a very important office here. So Bob did a lot of very good things, but that calm, steady leadership was so critical in the early 1970s.
Mell: And he also laid the groundwork for the information and technology boom that obviously you took over and expanded upon greatly.
Sorensen: That’s right. Bob understood technology very, very well. He invented a machine as a matter of fact, a plastic molding machine, I think, and so Bob was very aware of technology, very aware of the future technology and promoted that here.
Mell: Yes, and so in November we’ll rename the Library Learning Center.
Sorensen: That’s right, the Robert E. Swanson Center.
Mell: Is the mission of the library going to change, though, because of that?
Sorensen: No, it won’t. We named the building, actually. The building has multiple uses right now. The library is one of those. The library is changing, I’ll say that. The digital world will change the library and how we identify and define what the library is, but it remains the very soul of who we are, for teaching, for research, for students engaged in learning, so it won’t be a fundamental shift at all, just a real recognition that this man played a very important role at this campus and directed it towards the 21st century.
Mell: We just recently completed a whole series of our listening sessions that we have every fall that is geared- that is very much a part of our strategic planning process that’s ongoing here at Stout. You obviously presided over every one of those…
Sorensen: That’s right.
Mell: …and then sat and listened to both faculty, staff and students what they had to say. What are two or three of the key points that you gleaned out of those sessions.
Sorensen: Sure, well I would say first of all, we had the most inclusive process for planning that any school has in Wisconsin, I would think almost the country. We listened to right around 500 people in eight sessions on what they thought the issues were for Stout around information technology, enrollment planning, reorganization, so we do include a lot of people. In fact, one school came to visit us a couple years ago- one our sister schools- to look at what we did and they walked away saying, “We can’t do that, it’s way too much work.” So, I mean, it is an awful lot of work for a lot of people, but it’s effective. I think, first of all, I came away with the sense that our faculty and staff and student body are very engaged in the future of this campus. They are very proud of it, they have very insightful comments to make about it and really want to see this campus go from being a very good to a very great campus, that’s my first impression of that. Secondly, they understand the issues of the future. They understand information technology, and they asked tough questions about how we should shape that for the future and they know it’s an integral part of what we are doing and have to do, and yet what I heard loud and clear was keep it, humanize it as much as possible too. Don’t become simply a virtual campus but make sure we have that good human contact. I think thirdly, the campus is very aware that change has to take place. That, if you’re going to be a school of the 21st century, you must be able to shift and change, be flexible, be agile, and I hear that loud and clear. They understand why we have to reshape and realign our programs, and they’re quite willing to, and have been engaged in how we do that, so I think we had a very positive eight sessions.
Mell: You take what you heard in these listening sessions, then what comes next?
Sorensen: What comes next is simply we write everything down, we began to review these at my advisory council that will look at the themes that come out of these sessions. Themes always emerge…
Mell: Sure, oh yeah.
Sorensen: …we give those back to the colleges and they use them in their planning. The unique thing about this year is we’re looking at a visioning session for 2008 with stakeholders. We’ll invite about 100 stakeholders…
Mell: June I believe it is.
Sorensen: …June or July, whatever it is, from about 15 different areas around stakeholder interest. They’ll come spend a day with us or half a day, and tell us what they think the future should be. So much of our discussion this year was, how do we shape the visioning session for 2008, and that will shape what we’ll do for UW-Stout 2015. But it is widely shared, discussed, and it leads to our summer retreat where do then look at the future of Stout at the retreat and what the priorities should be.
Mell: How does this very involved process, how does this make UW-Stout better?
Sorensen: I think that-
Mell: What would the students see that’s an improvement because of it, or how would a faculty member or staff member-
Sorensen: Well, I think the face to face contact, we listen to them very carefully, has reshaped the school. For example, in 1997 we made the decision that we had to build a first-class infrastructure for technology, and we did that. We build a first class network. From that came the whole issue of the laptop, discussing how to use a network to better the educational process for students, we adopted the laptop in 1999. So we listened to what people have to say and actually then, around that creative priority, and then fund that priority. The unique thing about Stout is we don’t have priorities unless we have money behind that. We do walk the talk and that’s reshaped this campus in a very fundamental way. Program development, we knew we had to have that. So we fund teams, we have brand new programs for the 21st century, and then fund those programs and put those in place. So we listen, and then we created priorities and then implemented them.
Mell: We just had over 300 employers on campus for three days on campus that came here basically to interview and talk to our students…
Sorensen: That’s right.
Mell: …and probably get a lot of good job prospects…
Mell: …have you spent a lot of time over at our Memorial Student Center talking to these employers?
Sorensen: I did.
Mell: What impressed you the most about what you either heard from the employers or the students when you were over there?
Sorensen: Well, it’s a very fun occasion because in three days we brought in over 300 companies.
Mell: From all over the country.
Sorensen: All over the country. I talked to folks from California, from Colorado, from Texas, and what’s exciting is, they came here for a reason. Our graduates are sought after nationwide in areas of our majors. So we had construction companies from California, Texas coming up here to look at our construction majors and hire them. What impressed me though, is the image that we have out there, in the professional world, in the areas of our majors. We’re highly respected. We have people coming here and say, “I want to hire your graduates, because they come to us prepared to work the very first day. We don’t have to retrain them.” They are problem-solvers, they are hard workers. On more than one occasion, I’ve heard, “We like your graduates because of the work ethic of upper Wisconsin.” So I came away very impressed, very energized by how the private sector and public sector looks at our graduates. It’s really a great experience.
Mell: Obviously, this is a very big undertaking for our career services operation here. They put together, I mean, it’s very well organized, it’s very well- but it also, is it probably plays a large part into why we have a 97 percent placement rate. I mean, if a student graduates from UW-Stout, they’re going to get a job. It’s almost guaranteed.
Sorensen: Exactly. I think that they do a great job in organizing that, but I have to say, that LaMont Meinen allows students to organize that. So it’s really a student-organized event that is one of the best, probably, in the country today for employers to come to a campus and look at graduates.
Mell: And talking to employers, they appreciate how well-organized it is and they also appreciate just the quality of student, I mean everybody who shows up, they are very professional when they talk to them, et cetera.
Sorensen: Exactly. And one more fun thing about it is, that a lot of our alums who are out there in the professions working, are sent back to recruit students from Stout. So we get a chance to see alums each of the three days and talk to them and their successes, and they’re enthused, they’re successful.
Mell: As I said in the opening, we have just started our new academic year; we’re about a month into it or so. It looks like we have really solid admission numbers this fall. Did they meet your expectations?
Sorensen: Yeah, they did, we’re at target in every category, up in some categories. We’re up a bit transfers, up a bit in graduate students-
Mell: Transfers were up; I mean transfers were surprisingly high.
Sorensen: Returning students quite high, freshmen almost right on target. We’re about 8,400 and 35 or 40 head count, and we’re pushing toward 8,500 by 2010, so we’re going to reach that target. So I’m pleased with that.
Mell: OK. Why do you think, obviously there’s a lot of competition these days for students. Why do you think UW-Stout’s been so successful, at least in the past, and hopefully in the future, in getting the new students here?
Sorensen: I think we’re very focused on our majors. We don’t offer all things to all people, but what we offer, we do a good job in instruction and research with them. Placement rate has to impress the parents of prospective students. I know that when they come here, their child will get a job upon graduation. That’s very important. We have a very professional staff in the admissions office. We have great faculty who talk to these young people when they come to campus, so inside the total campus, we have great student affairs, we have good extramural activities for students to participate in, so we try to sell the total campus, and they do a good job of that.
Mell: Thanks. We’ll be back in a couple minutes with our guest, Mike Lubke.
[Music plays during short break]
Mell: Joining us now is Mike Lubke, president of the Stout Student Association, the student government organization on campus. Mike is a senior in the manufacturing-engineering program here, and he’s from Neillsville, Wisconsin, and this is his fourth year in student government. He’s spent a lot of time in student government. Thanks for joining us today, Mike.
Lubke: Thanks for having me.
Mell: Let’s just talk a little personally about some things. Obviously, you’re from sort of the area, Clark County is an area that we do attract quite a few students from. What attracted you to Stout?
Lubke: Well, when I was a junior in high school, a lady from the applied math-computer science program came and spoke to my class, and I enjoy math a lot, so I decided to come. I also have a lifelong friend-
Mell: We find that around the table. Both of us enjoy math-
Sorensen: Yeah, yeah, unusual.
Mell: Yeah, you’re in good company here.
Lubke: Yeah, well, one of my lifelong friends came here for the same program as well, and he recommended it, so that was another reason I came. It’s also a smaller school, you know, the faculty are more personal, you’re not going to sit in a class with 350 kids, you know anywhere from 10, 15, 20, 40 on the high end.
Mell: Yeah. So when you got here, what impressed you when you came here and you saw the campus and you started talking to faculty before you made the decision, what impressed you the most?
Lubke: Well, I would say the inclusiveness of everyone around campus, you know, the people from the faculty senate, our senate, ()*&(*&14:57 staff, everyone who’s involved in all of the processes around campus. How-
Mell: That’s sort of what the chancellor was talking earlier with the planning process here, that it isn’t just top, I mean, you do Stout- listed a couple people and decide.
Lubke: Yeah, and how students are empowered, you know, they’re in charge of allocating a $420,000 budget to the student organizations every year. That’ something I’ve been involved with the last three years, so that’s one thing that really impressed me, that they put that into the students’ hand. That’s a pretty good process, I think.
Sorensen: I’ll just say one thing, when I came here, I’d been to two other schools, one in Michigan, one in Minnesota. I was impressed with the maturity of the student body here, and I think in the large part, like Mike just said, they do have responsibility here, and they’re accountable. That really makes a difference.
Mell: So, you talk to kids back in Neillsville, I’m sure they ask you where you go to college, I would assume that you recommend the university, why would you recommend Stout?
Lubke: Well, there are lots of different aspects about Stout, you know, the student body is very friendly, goal-oriented; the comradery at Stout is amazing, you know, students from all around campus, you can go and talk to pretty much anybody. I’ve been down to- well La Crosse, for example, I go and visit my friends every once in a while and an example would be, one day we were walking down to go get some food, and these guys drove by and they’re like, “Hey,” and I was- there were two guys from Stout that went with us, and we were both just like, “Hey,” and the other guys were just kind of like (shows their strange expression) and I was just like, “What is going on here?” So that’s just one thing, just the student body in general and the culture of the campus.
Mell: You have a younger brother who’s a UW-Stout student.
Lubke: I do.
Mell: I guess the family really likes the education here.
Lubke: Definitely, definitely. Well, my little brother, he’s been to visit a few times last year, he liked the culture of the campus, and, you know, I talked to him a lot about the different things I do on campus, and my program, and one day we hope to have our own company, hopefully involved with bio-fuels, bio-fuel production, and he’s in the manufacturing engineering major as well and he has a great passion for physics and just all around science and learning.
Mell: Bio-fuels is obviously a very emerging tech- it’s something we’ve been very interested in (motions to Sorensen)…
Sorensen: That’s right.
Mell: …here too. I think we see this a lot, where students come here, and five, ten years later they come back here, looking for employees.
Sorensen: I think too, what we’re trying to do more of is faculty-student research, so that we get students engaged in a very early age, or time in their career, in research with faculty, and that’s going to lead to what Mike’s talking about. *&^*&^*(& 17:23entrepreneurship.
Mell: Do you work here a lot with faculty here? I mean hands-on sort of…
Lubke: Oh yeah.
Mell: …hands on sort of way?
Lubke: Definitely. My program is pretty much all hands-on, from the first day-
Mell: You don’t have a lot of professors standing up in front of a chalk board lecturing?
Lubke: Well, there are some as well, but you know, from the first day you start introduction into engineering materials, you’re doing a lab every single Friday, Thursday, whatever it is, and you’re doing anything from Rockwell hardness testing and all kinds of things like that. You get into the plastics class, you learn all the different plastics processes, you know, thermoforming…
Lubke: So, you know, everything, all your classes pretty much have labs that go along with them and you’re doing hands-on processes where if you go to a bigger school, you might not have something like that.
Sorensen: I did- one story18:07, I walked to the dorms yesterday, I handed out cookies to the freshmen. I met a freshman, though that, he’s in industrial design. His first project was to make a chair, a chair with a platform that rocked, that had no fasteners. It had to fit perfectly and that he could sit on and I saw he finished that, and actually, that was his first hands-on lab project, and it’s a magnificent example of what Stout is known for.
Lubke: And it goes right along with the polytechnic thing, you know. It’s hands-on, minds-on, so-
Mell: And that’s, what he talked about and what you talked about, that’s what James Huff Stout envisioned, I mean, this school has stayed true to its mission since 1891.
Sorensen: And I would say too, you mentioned polytechnic, we are a polytechnic, the latest, most recent public polytechnic, and if you look at the school I admire so much is Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and that’s exactly what they do as well. We’re almost a mirror image, and how we- and our philosophy of education, and how we operate.
Mell: We’ve talked about the polytechnic designation a lot around here, obviously. It seems that we’ve seen a sea change among faculty staff and especially students where they may not understand everything we mean by polytechnic, but A, they accept it, and B, they’re starting to get it. Is that your perception as well? I just attended a listening session. People aren’t asking anymore, “What do you mean by that?” It’s like, what are we going to do with it? So it looks like we’ve really overcome at least that marketing hump.
Lubke: Definitely, and I think that a lot of the students do understand what it is now, you know, there were some that were worried at first, because they didn’t really know what it meant and it’s not as common in the Midwest so-
Mell: It’s not common at all.
Lubke: Right. So after people were explained what it was and the table tents and the posters in the bathrooms I think really do help, and, just talking to students. People ask me all the time what polytechnic means. I was at that career conference you were talking about earlier and it said Wisconsin’s polytechnic on my resume and an employer started asking about what does polytechnic mean, so I explained it to him and he was just fascinated.
Mell: Well that’s good. It’s obviously our job to keep explaining that and we’re working on it, but I do think that we’ve made some significant-
Sorensen: We have.
Mell: I mean, we don’t get the kinds of questions that we- a year ago for example.
Sorensen: No. I talk to admissions virtually every week and now we start the recruiting for 2008 and I asked them, “What’s the impact of the polytechnic designation?” and there is no negative impact at all. It’s a positive impact.
Mell: And I also would say that a lot of departments on campus have done a wonderful job both embracing polytechnic and explaining it. For example, the career conference. We produced a piece that we gave out, that career services gave out to 300 employers that it was just targeted to them to explain to them what polytechnic means, and we’re obviously working on that every day to explain it, and to make sure that people understand just the advantages that it has for UW-Stout. You’ve spent obviously your whole career here at Stout involved in student government. That’s not something for everybody it’s sometimes not for the weak. (Laughing ensues) Well, you know, it’s student government. Any government can get a little contentious at times. What attracted you to student government?
Lubke: Well, actually one of the executives was on my floor when I was a freshman and I-
Mell: You got coerced. (Laughing ensues)
Lubke: Yeah, I had a lot of conversations with him, and he was actually the financial affairs director, so like I said, I was involved in financial affairs the last three years before I came to be president, so just talking to him and I just liked the idea of students being involved in the whole budget process. You know, being able to make a difference on campus when it comes with all kinds of issues.
Sorensen: I think too, I’ve been here now 20 years, I can think of one time SSA had weak leadership in all these years so it’s been a phenomenal support system for us as well.
Mell: You also work hard in incorporating them into government structure, I mean they sit on the chancellor’s advisory council. They have a seat at the table.
Sorensen: They’re involved. They’re engaged, yeah.
Lubke: Yeah, student governance is very strong on our campus. We go to student reps meetings with all the other UW schools and they have nothing- they have some student governance, but you look at the technology for an example, a student chair is the technology fee. I was talking to one student, I believe he was from Whitewater and they don’t even have a student rep on their technology fee. I mean, I’m not sure if it was Whitewater, but I was just blown away by that, and students are just fascinated every time we talk about student governance when we go to those meetings.
Mell: I think a lot of times the student government associations are treated by the administration or others on campus, well, what can you do for us? I mean, you go out and get the students to do this, rather than asking- the flip side is asking them what do you think we should do, taking, valuing their opinions and going forward with it.
Sorensen: And I think the student body has always given good feedback: good opinions, good questions, good analysis, good criticisms.
Mell: Because you are president, do the students come up to you all the time with opinions, you know, why are we doing this? Why should we be doing this? This is good. Do you get that a lot?
Lubke: Oh yeah. I have student complaining all the time to me, I have students saying what’s good all the time. For an example, I think it was yesterday, a student came in and complained about the temperatures in the different buildings, so-
Sorensen: You can be a chancellor. (Laughing ensues)
Mell: Good training for chancellor.
Lubke: So, you know, I got on the phone, I called some people and I asked about the temperatures in the different buildings, and you know, when it’s coming fall to winter, there’s a changeover time, so-
Mell: Has your family been involved in government? Do you come from a long list of-
Lubke: Not typically, but my dad is on the town board, so-
Mell: Oh, so he gets ^*&^*&^*&^&*&24:05
Lubke: Yeah, back in Hatfield, Wisconsin, so-
Mell: You’re in manufacturing engineering, we talked a little bit about that earlier, what do you like about that program?
Lubke: Well, not only all the hands-on things like I talked about earlier, but to further than, I would say, when you’re a senior, or super-senior, you build, you design a whole machine and you build that machine, so when you have, sometimes, not always, but most of the time you have companies come and they want a machine. For an example, Hormel, I believe it was one or two years ago, they had the students build a ham unwrapping thing to take the wrapper off the ham to process it, so our machines are actually being used in actual industry, and that’s one thing that really attracted me to the program when I got here, because, you know, I switched from applied math, and just the idea of me getting hands-on experience making a machine when I’m a senior was just crazy.
Sorensen: We have actually won competitions against big ten schools out of that program.
Lubke: Our SAE, which is the Society of Automotive Engineers, every year they compete, they build a car and compete, and I’m not personally involved with that, I’m a little busy otherwise, but I know a lot of the students that are involved in it. They do very well each year, they’ve competed against all the big ten schools, the Michigan Tech school, and they do well every year. They usually, if they don’t win, they place in the top three or four.
Mell: Another part of this where we place very, very high obviously, you graduate, we talked about this earlier with the chancellor, you graduate from here, we have a 97 percent placement rate. Did that play at all when you decided to come here? I mean…
Mell: …you get your diploma, we can almost guarantee you’re going to get a job.
Lubke: That’s the other thing, you know, I talked to Rich Rothaupt when I was trying to decide what I wanted to do, and he was just talking to me about the job opportunities after you graduate and the-
Mell: Are you already starting to get-?
Lubke: Oh yeah, there’s all kinds of stuff going on. I handed out maybe 20, 25 resumes at the last career conference, and it was pretty promising, but with our major, you can go out and be anything when it comes to engineering almost. You can be a quality engineer, a process engineer, design engineer; sometimes they even hire students as electrical engineers. So, all around, anything you want to go into, it’s very neat.
Mell: Well, that’s good. Anything you want to add?
Sorensen: No, I just think that we have captured a student that is a type we want on this campus, and Mike’s done a great job and he epitomizes, I think, our philosophy of education, a real hands-on approach, applied learning, and that’s where the 21st century is.
Mell: And someone who obviously wants to use UW-Stout for a very definitive career when they graduate from here.
Mell: Well, thanks a lot for coming.
Sorensen: Yeah, thanks Mike.
Lubke: Thank you.
Mell: And that’s going to bring us to another edition of About Stout, but first of all, I have to talk about my tie. This tie came from Lisa Walter, who is our police chief, and she just returned from China where she participated in the Special Olympics torch run, and she was one of the only police chiefs from Wisconsin, and one of the few from the Midwest that was going, and she brought me back this tie. Lisa blogged her whole adventure, it’s on the web and we can help you find it, but she brought back this tie, which I am very proud to wear. It was made in China, shipped over to the United States for some reason, and shipped back to China, and that’s where she bought it.
Sorensen: And we’re proud of Lisa Walters.
Mell: Oh we are very-
Sorensen: To be part of that Special Olympics as well.
Mell: Oh, that’s a great honor for UW-Stout, for Lisa personally, for our police department. She’s a great athlete. She beat me by this much in the Buckshot Run this year. I could have had her at the end too, but I didn’t- out of respect. (Laughing) I’d like to thank both the chancellor and Mike Lubke for joining me today, and hope that you can join us for the next program. We’ll be back soon with another edition of About Stout.