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.
Mell: Hello and welcome to the second issue of about Stout, a program featuring a variety of guests to discuss issues that are important to UW-Stout. I am Doug Mell, Director of University Communications. Our main topic today is a recent report by the Academic Quality Improvement Program, or AQIP, which gave UW-Stout high marks in a number of areas. I would like to welcome Chancellor Sorensen today, and our special guest, Provost and Vice Chancellor Julie Furst-Bowe. Thanks for joining us today. Julie, I was wondering, first of all, why don’t you explain to us exactly what AQIP is.
Furst-Bowe: Well, Doug, AQIP is the Academic Quality Improvement Program. It is an accreditation program that is sponsored by the higher learning commission, so while we’ve been accredited by the higher learning commission for decades, AQIP is a relatively new way to maintain that accreditation.
Mell: How does that accreditation process that we went through differ from what most universities do?
Furst-Bowe: Well, most universities go through the traditional process where every 10 years they put together volumes of information in a self-study and then a team of reviewers from across the country comes and pores over the information and meets with the faculty and staff and generates recommendations which largely sit on the shelf until the next 10 year visit.
Furst-Bowe: The AQIP process is different, really. It’s based on the principles of continuous improvement. The criteria looks a lot like the Baldrige criteria. So really, every year, we have to demonstrate that we are actively involved in continuous improvement to maintain AQIP accreditation. So either we’re working on improvement projects, we’re developing an improvement portfolio, we’re hosting a site visit. But it’s an annual process, as opposed to something that occurs every decade
Mell: Why did we decide, why did you decide that this was the best way to go?
Sorensen: AQIP is based very much in the Baldrige principles of improvement. And when we decided to apply for the Baldrige way back in 1999, and then won the award in 2001, AQIP was the logical next step for us to move in that process.
Mell: Was it kind of a fledgling organization then?
Sorensen: It was, AQIP was fledgling, they’ve worked out some of the kinks. But I just want to reinforce something Julie said.. I’ve been to three campuses, all accredited at one point by the traditional process, the 10 year process. And, In all honesty, it isn't’t very effective because you have the tendency to put that on the shelf and pull it down in about year number eight when you prepare for the ten year evaluation.
Mell: [laughs softly. ] Right.
Sorensen: I’ve been on evaluation teams where I saw schools do that. And I think this is much much more accountable. We’re accountable, I think, to our stakeholders, our students, our faculty, to Wisconsin, to the Board of Regents. This is a very, very good process. And I think that most schools probably should look at this, I think, because it is very effective. It is continuous. It’s daily.
Mell: In fact, that was my next question. Isn't’t it…This process is more arduous on a year to year basis, right? I mean, because you can’t just put it on the shelf and forget about it for eight years, I mean, you really, almost on a year to year basis, we have to be thinking about either the next site visit or getting ready for the next site visit and that kind of stuff or the portfolio.
Furst-Bowe: Well, I think it would be for many campuses, but for us, we’ve got it really well integrated into our strategic planning process so every year we’re always looking at the data, proposing new priorities. We’d be doing this, the continuous improvement piece, basically with or without AQIP, so we’ve been able to integrate the two pieces and it’s working quite well.
Mell: Do you think that the recent process that we went through, did it work pretty much the way you thought it was going to?
Sorensen: Yeah, I think it did. We weren't’t quite prepared for what to expect but once the evaluators got here, and began to talk to us, and got a few misunderstandings out of the way, it went very very smoothly. In fact, they said in the exit interview that we are our own best benchmark school. No other school…
Mell: [chuckles]You must have liked to hear that!
Sorensen: I did like to hear that! Because it demonstrates that we are in the forefront of using AQIP as a process for accreditation.
Mell: You talked about the team, they were really impressed in a number of areas, about UW-Stout. I have a couple of them here, including our continuous improvement approach that you talked about there that runs through the organization. They’re also very impressed by the innovative use of technology, and I was wondering if either of you could talk a little bit about why you think that is important
Sorensen: Let me start as a non-techie…
[Mell and Sorensen laugh.]
Sorensen: Because when I came to Stout, it was known as a high tech school, and it was. They were doing very very good things with technology, with gathering data, using technology to analyze that data, lab based. Way back in ‘88, in the 80s, we were the most lab intensive school in the UW system. But I think now we’ve even taken a step beyond that. It really began in the mid 1990s when we decided, very consciously, in our planning process, to be a very, very high tech school with a great infrastructure and built our technology around that. We’ve done that, the laptop being the very best example of using technology in a very innovative way for learning and learning outcomes.
Mell: But how are we taking that technology and transferring it to the classrooms? I mean, that’s obviously something you’re involved in with curriculum, etc. I mean, how… has it changed our curriculum, do you think?
Furst-Bowe: Oh, dramatically.
Mell: Improved it?
Furst-Bowe: Dramatically. If you look at our curriculum five years ago or ten years ago, we’ve seen just a transformation in teaching and learning, all of our classrooms are intermediated. So if you go into the classroom, you’re going to see the students and instructors using technology actively, whether they’re researching things on the internet, or doing writing and editing online. We’ve also taken learning out of the classroom with technology. For the past several years, UW-Stout’s been the leader in the Distance Education course offerings in the UW system. We’re definitely a leader in the course management system, Desire to Learn. About 80% of our courses are using that particular piece of software.
Mell: They were also impressed, and this was something that they talked a lot about in their report, about the relationship between new initiatives and budget allocation. I think this is probably putting your money where your mouth is.
Sorensen: Well, it is. I think about what I found out, and Julie has too, as we continue to visit schools with the Baldrige process, many, many schools, probably most, don’t align budget with the planning process, so therefore they plan…
Sorensen:.. without a budget behind that plan. We changed all of that in the mid 1990’s and decided that if we’re going to plan action items or priorities, whatever you care to call them, we’re going to fund those, and so if we can’t fund a priority, it’s either a priority that doesn't’t need funding ,it’s not critical to us. If it is, we fund it. And that’s very unique: the alignment on this campus between planning and budget and implementation is absolutely direct. I think that’s one very impressive thing that people always say about us.
Mell: Why is that important, though? I mean, why? Because it actually gets something done?
Sorensen: It gets something done. Exactly. And it’s funded. If you fund … you know, I think priorities have to… money follows priorities. And if it doesn't’t, they’re meaningless, so we make sure the priorities are funded. The best.. One good example in the mid 1990s when we decided to build an infrastructure was the network. We decided in July of 1997 to fund a first-rate network, a Cisco network. We had no pot of money. We sat around in July of ‘97 and said how do we do this? We glommed together an idea for money. We had that installed by January of ‘98. Six months in higher ed is rapid pace, believe me, [laughs] and we achieved that. That’s the importance of having priorities that are funded.
Mell: Another thing they were really impressed with was the planning process, which you’ve talked about, and obviously you’ve, as the person who kind of shepherded our Baldrige award, you’re very well aware of that. Can you talk a little bit how the planning process has been translated from the Baldrige award to something that we’ve made systemic in the institution?
Furst-Bowe: Oh, definitely. Our strategic planning process, again, compared to most campuses it’s very comprehensive, it’s extremely participatory. As the chancellor said, the early beginnings date back a decade ago for, you know, making the network a priority and how we were going to do that. Well, we really started formalizing that process. So now it’s an annual process, where each year the strategic planning group, which is a wide group of faculty, staff, students, administrators, comes together, looks at the past year’s progress, looks at our enduring goals, our focused 2010 goals. What do we need to take the campus forward? In the short term? In the long term? We draft priorities. We take those priorities out to the campus in the fall, probably a series of 8-12 listening sessions. The chancellor is at every one of the sessions, I’m at every one of the sessions, as are the deans. We talk about the priorities. Is this on track? Is this what you want to see happen? Do you have other ideas? And as the chancellor just mentioned, when we’ve gotten the input from everyone and decided these are the four or five things we really wanted to move on this year, we attach resources: budget, people, timelines, again, action plans to make sure that those things are indeed accomplished in the desired timeframe.
Mell: Is that kind of inclusive, kind of priority setting normal on campuses? Or is..?
Sorensen: I think it is. I think I’ve been on, again, three schools, and even though I came here, the process normally was the department, the dean, the provost, to the cabinet, and then the president makes a decision. And that was the process we followed at UW-Stout until the mid 1990s. Grand Valley did that in Michigan where I was. Winona state did that. And therefore, the amount of input that you have is much more limited. If people don’t care to attend these sessions, and some don’t, and we have our critics of this process, but truly it’s much, much more inclusive and democratic than any one I’ve ever seen in higher education.
Mell: Does it make getting things done easier, too, because there’s, before a decision’s been made, there’s been so much discussion about an issue. It isn't’t like you’re, you know, just drop it on someone that by the time it comes around to implementing it, it’s been talked about thoroughly.
Furst-Bowe: Oh there is. There’s buying in on the ideas. The action planning part is very important because it isn't’t just an idea floating out there, it’s been assigned to a person or department. They’ve got budget, they’ve got a timeline, they have expected outcomes. And every six months, their group gets back together to look at progress. So there isn't’t any way of anything really, slipping between the cracks.
Mell: Another thing that they talked about, and I can attest, because I’ve seen a lot of this, is the fact that UW-Stout is data driven. We don’t do things, you know, on a wing and a prayer here. We have data. Why is that important?
Sorensen: Well, very historic, here at Stout. When I was nominated for this position and I got the materials for this position, I was absolutely awestruck, by the amount of data given me to review in preparation for the interview. So we’ve always been data driven. And I think that it allows for much better analysis, a more independent analysis than simply intuition. And we have maintained that. It dates back, I’ll bet it dates back 30 or 40 years, quite frankly, and for us now it’s commonplace. We look at data virtually every time we meet as a leadership group. We look at bad data, good data. I want negative trends as well as positive trends. And for us it’s just a tool that we use all the time that leads towards good decision making.
Mell: And without that data, the Baldrige award wouldn't’t have been possible, right? I mean, you had to use the data as part of our submission, correct?
Furst-Bowe: Oh, truly. The Baldrige, your application is scored on a scale of 0 to 100. And part of it is your processes, the things that we’ve described—how you get your work done at an institution. But a bigger part of it is really showing the results. That you were able to accomplish what you said you were going to accomplish. And actually prove such in areas of graduation rates or student job placement rates, that you have the data, and that the data is improving over time, and that the data compares very favorably to other institutions nationwide.
Sorensen: I would just add that many schools, and I’m sure myself, will leap out and say “We are known nationally for this program or whatever.” But quite frankly, most schools aren’t…
Sorensen: They’re pretty regional, pretty local, pretty, you know, they’re pretty state-bound. But when you have the Baldrige, you have to demonstrate, over time, that you are best practices. You have to go out and measure yourselves against schools nationwide. Not just say we’re good, but demonstrate that you compete against good California schools or New York schools or Texas schools and have the data to show that. And we’ve done that. Our peer group is about 25 different schools…
Mell: Which we’ve changed in the last year.
Sorensen: Which we’ve changed to polytechnics now, but even before then when we were out there with the Baldrige and some of the schools that we chose for our peer groups were the polytechnics. Because they had the same program array that we did. So I think that the beauty of it is that you simply can’t just say you’re good, you’ve got to prove you’re good. The data has to say it in black and white, and that is very hard to do for a lot schools.
Mell: One of the initiatives you’ve been involved with, Julie, is the curriculum development process, which is new on campus, the formalized process. Can you talk about that a little bit how that works?
Furst-Bowe: We’ve always had a very traditional curriculum development process, like many of the schools, where ideas went from the faculty member to the department to the college, up to the university.. a couple of years ago, basically at the request of some of our newer faculty members, we were sort of told to turn it around. What they really wanted to do was to not just work inside of their disciplines or their departments, but to work with people across campus on some of these emerging curricular areas, such as neuropsychology or nanotechnology, things that really require the sciences to work with psychology, to work with mathematicians, and computer scientists. It’s been really exciting.
Mell: To kind of break down the silo’s..
Furst-Bowe: So the last two years, we’ve been able to come with funding, through our budget process to fund teams of faculty that are now putting together some really exciting interdisciplinary proposals.
Mell: And we’re about ready to see the fruit’s of that. I mean, some programs have already been approved by the board of regents. Can you talk a little about those?
Furst-Bowe: Oh, certainly. We’ve had two new engineering programs: polymer engineering program, and a computer electrical engineering program going through the first stage of regent approval.
Mell: Something very important in this area given our plastics industries, given our computer technology industries. I mean, I’m sure it’s something that business people have been asking for.
Furst-Bowe: We’ll have a new degree in science education going forth before the board this year, again, a growing area, and a nice collaboration between our science faculty and our teacher educational faculty. And then we’re doing something that UW System just commended us on, and that’s a new degree for individuals that want to be certified in both science and technology education. A good, nice fit for Stout, a nice complement to the polytechnic.
Mell: Also, a national effort to increase the number of teachers that we have in that area.
Sorensen: I want to return to the incubation center just for one moment because we found 100,000 dollars two summers ago to fund eight different teams to work over the summer to look at that collaboration. This summer it was more like 50,000 dollars. But we were the only school in the UW, and I would guess one of the few schools in the country, that have an incubation center as an incentive for faculty to cross lines, get together, use their creative thinking powers, and come up with brand new ideas for new program development. I’m proud of that. We should all be proud of that because it shows a commitment to what we do here. We teach. And we require excellence in that.
Mell: This summer, I found, is sort of the culmination of the planning process that we’ll see the results of in the fall. Can either one of you talk a little bit about the retreat, and how that works?
Sorensen: Well, I’ll start, and Julie can wind it up. But, we gather the planning group on campus, plus about, I don’t know, 15 other faculty, so we have 40 people roughly, I suppose. And we prepare for it with three pre-retreat sessions. Review all of our data, all of what we have done in the past, where we’re going, what the proposal is maybe for the future. And we sit there in a very facilitated process, a very facilitated setting, and talk about this for two full days. And normally, it’s a little different this year, normally, we come up with two or three action items that we want to bring back to campus.
Mell: Do you think it works well? I mean, is it too much talking or do you really see results from it, do you think?
Furst-Bowe: Oh no, each year we do end up with a set of new initiatives to bring forward to campus, try to close out on the previous set of initiatives so we don’t have too many things going on. I think it really helps the campus, I think we’re more cohesive than other campuses, when it comes to knowing what the goals are, knowing what the priorities are, having everyone be on the same page, rather having everyone working off their individual agendas to try to get things done.
Sorensen: I think we’re much more transparent than other schools. We recently interviewed someone for a pretty high level position on campus, and they came from a private school over in Minnesota. And they were amazed at how transparent we are, in our budget, how we spend money, where we spend it, our planning process, our inclusivity. He was from a very good private school and was simply astounded by the transparency of the processes here at Stout.
Mell: It seems that some of these processes must be working. We have a recent survey, which I know you’ve all seen, of recent graduates, that shows that more than three quarters of undergraduate alumni, said their programs were very effective, either highly effective or effective. And more than two thirds said that the value of their education was exceptional. Both of you must be heartened by those kind of results because that shows that what we’re doing is what people want.
Sorensen: Yeah, we both are, I know that. And last fall, about a year ago right now, I think, we visited about 10 or 15 industries around the Chippewa Valley. We heard that time and time and time again, it was repeated every stop that we made. We are presently involved with Spectrum industries on a very exciting science project to build a workstation for those who are, who have a certain kind of handicaps…
Mell: Which we got a federal grant for.
Sorensen: …a federal grant for, and a CETH Grant for that through Madison. So we are, we are a school that actually does provide value added for our students that go out into the work force and add value to those companies and thus society.
Mell: Why do you think alumni, I mean, I met with an alumni, and her kids come here to this school. I mean, we seem to have generation after generation coming to Stout. Why do you think that is?
Furst-Bowe: I think our alumni base is extremely loyal. I think they’ve, they’re very proud of Stout. They’ve had a good experience here, both in and out of the classroom. As the chancellor mentioned, they’re able to get very good jobs and move up in their companies. And I think they like to keep the connection, whether it’s through taking graduate courses, or coming back for activities, or sending their own kids here to school. It’s definitely a very loyal alumni base; I think more like you’d see at a private institution than at just any other public university.
Mell: One of the, one of the developments you talked about earlier, Julie, it’s something I’d like to talk about a little bit, it’s the effort here to put our courses online. In fact, starting in the fall, we’re going to put the entire Golf Course and Enterprise Management program online in the fall, which is a really big development, the entire course is going to be. Do you see more and more UW-Stout courses and/or programs going online? How do you think that is going to affect the campus?
Furst-Bowe: Oh it’s definitely it’s happened. Over the past ten years or so, we’ve put a number of our graduate and undergraduate programs online. And for the most part, it’s been very good for the campus. We’ve been able to reach students we wouldn't’t otherwise be reaching. We have a Master’s degree in Vocational Rehabilitation online, which is attracting practitioners world-wide. The same thing with the professional development program for educators. For the traditional students, I think most of them still prefer to come to class, live in the residence hall, have the college experience. But, what we’re finding is that the online appeals to them as well. They’re tech-savvy. This summer, the campus will look quiet, even though our enrollments are actually up because so many of our course offerings are online. I think our College of Arts and Sciences has 90% of their course offerings online. And it’s really attractive to students whether they’re on campus, off campus, off working somewhere. It’s very convenient.
Mell: Is that the wave of the future, do you think?
Sorensen: Well, I think we’re seeing the future right now, the tip of it, actually, of the iceberg here. I think that we’re undergoing a real revolution in higher education. Look at the online universities out there now: the virtuals, the for-profit’s, the privates. And we have tough competition, and therefore we keep adjusting to that competition. But this is the future. Higher-ed is undergoing dramatic change right now.
Mell: It might be kind of heartwarming, I’ve been walking around campus the last couple weeks, and it’s orientation time for new students to actually see the..
Sorensen: For very young students…
Mell: Yeah, well, yeah well that, [laughs] and the new freshmen are coming through too, and it must be heartwarming to see the new crop of freshmen walking around.
Sorensen: Yes, they are young. Yes, but it is heartening, because it is the new generation; these are the leaders for the next 20 years of our society. And they’re good. They’re different from when I was in school, when you were in school, probably even Julie. But they’re different, because they are tech-savvy. They want, they know what they want, they want it now. They want the resources now. And I think it’s very exciting. These are bright bright young people that we are getting. Bright, sometimes in a different way than we were, but extremely bright.
Furst-Bowe: And we’ve done so many things the last few years to make that first year a great experience for them. We have the first-year experience in place, we have learning communities, we have centralized advisement, we’ve blocked scheduled them so they really know they’re going to get a full schedule of classes they need for the fall. We’ve done things with the math and the math lab, and the English and the English lab, all designed to give them a really good start that first year.
Mell: Good. Anything else you folks would like to talk about?
Sorensen: Well, I think we have a good year coming up, exciting year. I think we’re going to focus sharply on our new designation, and I look forward to a very rewarding year.
[Exit music begins]
Furst-Bowe: Thank you, Doug.
Mell: Thanks. I’d like to thank both the Chancellor and the Provost today for joining us. I think it’s been very informative. I hope you’ll join us next month for another addition of About Stout. Goodbye for now.