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 another edition of About Stout. This is the first one of the academic year. Joining me today is Chancellor Charles W. Sorensen who’s beginning his 21st year at the helm of UW-Stout. Welcome, Chancellor.
Charles Sorensen: Good to be here
Mell: It sure is good to see our students back for another year, isn’t it?
Sorensen: Well, the campus comes alive suddenly, and they’re all over campus today, and it’s really fun to see the energy of the student body back on campus.
Mell: Yeah, we’ve got a lot of kids.
Sorensen: We have a lot of kids on campus.
Mell: (Laughing) We’re going to be talking about that a little later. Joining us a little later will be Scott Griesbach. He’s the head of University Housing at UW-Stout. He’s got the enviable or unenviable task of finding rooms for all these kids.
Sorensen: It’s a good problem.
Mell: It’s a great problem, we are not complaining about that at all. I thought maybe what we’d do is spend a little bit of time before we bring Scott on, talk about some of the things that happened over the summer here on campus, bringing people sort of up-to-date on some of the major projects we’ve had going on here. The first, and it’s really hard to ignore, is we had a big hole on campus, and now it’s starting to fill in.
Sorensen: With cement.
Mell: With cement. It’s the Jarvis Hall science wing remodeling project. It looks like it’s going pretty well.
Sorensen: You know, Doug, I’ve been in higher ed. now 35 years, I guess, and this is probably the most dynamic start I’ve ever seen in my career. We had a tremendous year last year – we got two new programs, 10 new positions; we have Jarvis Hall is going up now, we see that hole being filled up; a record freshmen class; probably a record graduate class; probably a record number of foreign students on our campus – so there’s a lot of energy out there right now. It think this year’s going to be exceptional.
Mell: Jarvis is really going to become, when it’s done, will sort of become a lynch pin as far as the future of – .
Sorensen: Oh, absolutely. Not only is it symbolic, but it’s real, because our polytechnic designation has driven us towards a lot more engineering, a lot of good science. Our science program that we began in 2001 or 2002 has record number of –.
Mell: The applied science program.
Sorensen: The applied science program has a record number of students in that. And I was down there talking to the scientists and they’re all, they’re really excited about the incoming group of students and the building, but the building will shift the center of gravity from north campus to the center of campus, so it’s going to be a real, not just a symbolic shift.
Mell: It’s a $43 million project. I mean, it’s going to be basically state-of-the-art.
Sorensen: Oh, absolutely. We’ll do some fine science in that building, and the young scientists that we have, and the old scientists that we have – the mature veterans – they’re all excited about this, believe me.
Mell: Pretty soon we’re going to start work on our Harvey Hall theater remodeling, which has been a 20-some year effort on your part.
Sorensen: When I first interviewed for the job, they said, “What will you do about Harvey Hall theater?” and I said, “I don’t know.” It’s probably been about 24 years in the making. We finally will hire engineers in the fall to design it, and hopefully we’ll have construction going next spring sometime, and another year out we’ll have the theater finished.
Mell: And pretty soon, and this obviously affects students a lot, is we’re going to renovate the Price Commons dining area, which is getting a little long in the –.
Sorensen: Right. Scott knows a whole lot more about that than I do, but we’ll have a good project going up there as well. Probably in the Student Center as well, if that passes the student body this fall. We will have a lot of renovation in the next two to four years. An awful lot.
Mell: That’s good for the campus; that’s good for everybody.
Sorensen: Absolutely right.
Mell: One of the things when we were at the Board of Regents meeting recently, they approved a new welcome center in Bowman Hall. I know this has been a priority of yours, is to move admissions down into a new welcome center.
Mell: Really to kind of open things up down there for a more welcoming atmosphere for parents.
Sorensen: Well, the Admissions Office right now is in Bowman Hall, and the people enter through, in a sense, through a back door, through a parking lot into the back door. We know that competition for freshmen will become very keen in the next four or five years, so we want a very, very nice space for them to enter into. So we’ll take the south area of Bowman Hall, renovate that into a very nice entry level where we’ll have the admissions office. We’ll have good parking right there, make it a very welcome, very attractive area for students and faculty or students and parents to come and see the open door of campus, which we must make as nice as possible, just to attract people on campus.
Mell: And it also gets a little closer to the center of campus.
Sorensen: It does. So, we’re excited about that. It’s not a huge project – less than a million dollars – but it’s going to really change that building pretty fundamentally.
Mell: And make it into sort of a student services, and I know that’s one of your goals, is to make it into a student services.
Sorensen: We’ll have one stop shopping for all students here. You know, when parents come here, though, the first thing they see is the admissions office, and so we have to make that something that’s extremely attractive and we’re going to do that.
Mell: You spoke in the beginning about the two new programs that we got. One came easily, one came with a little bit more effort. Want to talk about them?
Sorensen: Well, you know we’re a polytechnic school and as I look back to what we’ve done in the last decade now, we have three brand new engineering programs – manufacturing engineering, then in June it was polymer engineering or plastics, then in August computer engineering. So we have a real nice group of engineering programs – on top of that engineering technology as well, so really four avenues toward engineering. And these programs are essential for the future of this school, essential for the region for economic development, essential for the state. So these are programs that fit what we’re trying to do as a polytechnic; they fit what the state wants to do to grow jobs to keep people in Wisconsin and to maintain a brain gain, not a brain drain, so they’re critical for our future.
Mell: Yeah. We have now 32 undergraduate majors on campus.
Sorensen: That’s right.
Mell: I know it’s your goal; you’ve said 40. Do you think you can get there?
Sorensen: We do. We have about at least eight more programs in the queue. We have two that I think will go forward this year. So I think in about three years we should reach magic number 40. We had 26 when I came here. It grew to 30. Now we have 32. We should have 34 or 35 by the end of this year, but 40 then allows us to attract students who may not know exactly what they want, but they come in and shop around a bit, and if we have 40 and not 30, they have a little bit more flexibility, so that’s exciting for all of us.
Mell: And if you think about it, that would be more than a 50 percent increase…
Sorensen: Yeah, it would be. That’s right.
Mell: …in the number of programs.
Sorensen: And we plan to use the programs to grow. We’ll probably cap out at about 9,000 students. We’re at about 8,500 now, maybe 600 this fall. But I think 9,000, roughly, will be what we will cap out at for campus enrollment. Then grow the enrollment beyond that away from campus through virtual education.
Mell: Yeah. One of your big priorities in the coming year will be the establishment, the funding and getting it rolling of the Discovery Center. This is something you’ve been working on, you and others have been working on for a long time.
Sorensen: That’s really exciting. The Discovery Center – it’s been a dream for a number of years and we found a donor that liked the idea, a donor that said, “I’ll help fund that,” and then we worked on a proposal to him. A center that would do sponsored research with corporations and –.
Mell: So the whole idea is, we do research on campus now, but it’s the kind of kick start of this whole idea of working in collaboration with business and industry.
Sorensen: And involving faculty, students, that’s right.
Mell: In a more organized fashion.
Sorensen: Exactly right. And also the focus will be, in part, to take an idea to product, to design, to a company, so that we can grow companies in this region through the Discovery Center. So it’s a very generous alum; I think it’s an exciting idea. We’ll have it in place hopefully by January of 2009 and hopefully within a year or two see some real results.
Mell: And we’re also trying to get some state money as well.
Sorensen: Yeah, we do.
Mell: We have a budget proposal that involves…
Sorensen: That’s right, and the state may kick in as much as $500,000 for that as well, so we’ll have $2.7 million in that Discovery Center initially.
Mell: But, again, that all goes back to the whole effort from Governor Doyle on down of increasing jobs and bettering the Wisconsin economy.
Sorensen: Yeah, I think it’s that and I think too, you come to this campus and have a vision of a polytechnic school. A vision of having more engineering, more sciences. We’re really looking the 21st century right in the eye and saying, “This is what we have to have for this century.” The campus has done a great job planning on these programs.
Mell: You’ve mentioned vision. It’s the segue. We just completed I think it’ll be your second visioning session here on campus.
Mell: We invited a whole bunch of people on campus that aren’t normally here or usually here, to talk about the future of UW-Stout.
Sorensen: We had about 85 or 90 people here in July – July 16 I think the date was – and they were some really important people – chief execs.; they were superintendents; they were high level business executives, regents.
Mell: Legislators. We had a nice legislative discussion. 10:15
Sorensen: Yes, we did. And they came and shared with us what they thought we should be doing at UW-Stout. So, the day was a phenomenal day. I think it reaffirmed what we’re doing here, but also gave us some really good ideas as to what to look at for the future. So, we do this about every fifth or sixth year as a way to build a sense of community with our stakeholders, to build good lines of communication with our stakeholders and it provides us with a really good direction for this campus.
Mell: And now what?
Sorensen: Now we’ll take these ideas to the campus, beginning in about a week and a half. We’ll have eight or nine listening sessions, share these ideas with the campus. They will discuss these, maybe modify these, whittle these down to maybe half a dozen ideas. Next summer we’ll take those to a retreat and decide what short term priorities will be, what longer term ones will be. So, it’ll be the crux of UW-Stout 2015.
Mell: And this is all part of our ongoing strategic planning.
Sorensen: Ongoing planning process, that’s right.
Mell: Probably all goes back to Baldridge.
Sorensen: It does; it does. Absolutely right.
Mell: You talked before about 40 programs. One of the questions I forgot to ask you – is that going to be enough, do you think, or do you think looking into the future, I know that’s your goal, but…
Sorensen: Oh, I think as we near that magic number 40 we’ll have others in the queue or modifying programs into hybrid programs. You know, we’ve been very good about things like collaboration between – bioinformatics, a good example of the 21st century need for program collaboration. I think we’ll see, in four or five years, a need for other collaborations that may need new directions from new programs. So I can’t say 40 will be enough, but maybe we’ll drop a program or two if we don’t need it or if the numbers aren’t there. So, I think the program processes we put in place with the office of the provost is very dynamic and changes. I think as we near 40 we’ll have others lined up beyond that.
Mell: We’re going to take a break and we’re going to welcome our director of university housing in a couple moments.
Mell: I’d like to welcome Scott Griesbach, our director of university housing to About Stout. It’s your first visit here.
Griesbach: It is.
Griesbach: Thank you, thank you.
Mell: This is a busy time of year for Scott and his staff. You had to shoehorn a large freshmen class into our residence halls. How big? Estimate.
Griesbach: It’s around 1,650 of freshmen and we house about 95 percent of the freshmen class, so that’s quite a few students.
Mell: Wow. Before we get going, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself? How long you’ve been at Stout, that kind of thing.
Griesbach: Okay, sure. I just finished my ninth year. In fact, I started on opening day in 1999.
Mell: It seems like just yesterday, doesn’t it? (Laughing)
Griesbach: It does; it does. Before that I worked at UW-Whitewater for 12 years and I’ve done some stints for Illinois and Missouri, did my bachelor’s work actually at UW-Oshkosh, so I’m a proud product of the Wisconsin state system. And then I did my master’s work at Truman State University, which is in Kirksville, Mo.
Mell: What attracted you to the housing field?
Griesbach: Well, you know, it’s one of those fields you don’t know anything about until you get to college because you don’t know there is a profession that is housing. I lived in a residence hall and really enjoyed the experience and talked to my hall director about getting involved, and once I did that I was just hooked. So, I went on for my master’s work and became a hall director and did that for a while and then I just kind of continued to make my way through the system.
Mell: You were working with the students or…?
Griesbach: Yeah, and I love working with students, and that’s really the reason most people get into the housing profession.
Mell: It really is, of everything we do here, it’s one of the most hands-on kinds of – I mean as far as interacting with students on a daily basis.
Griesbach: Oh, absolutely, it is. The unfortunate thing is that as you work your way up the ladder, you get farther away from students, but I still maintain good contact with students for the most part.
Mell: Yeah. You were there on opening day, I’m sorry, move-in day.
Sorensen: I was. Yes.
Sorensen: Oh, it was great. It was a well-oiled machine, I thought. I talked to maybe a dozen parents. They were really pleased with the operations, with the support that housing gave them, the football team that helped them to move into the residence halls, but it was really an impressive operation.
Mell: The city and the state kind of threw us a curve ball…
Sorensen: The roads weren’t too good, but we got through that.
Mell: …with the road project. And it must have been good for you, I mean, getting out there with the students. I mean, they haven’t had any tests yet, so none of them were crabby.
Sorensen: They were very focused on getting that stuff from the sidewalk to the residence hall. They had a lot of stuff, too, by the way.
Griesbach: Students bring a lot of belongings to make their rooms feel like home.
Sorensen: They do.
Mell: One of things that I’ve always been impressed with is how much we offer students here that they don’t have to lug into their dorm rooms, and I’ve heard that from a lot of parents. Why don’t you talk about that?
Griesbach: Yeah, you know, we’ve started to talk sometimes when we’re working with the families about the fact that we’re kind of a campus of convenience because we do offer a lot of conveniences that not a lot of other universities necessarily provide. The most recent things we added were the metal lofts to students’ rooms, and that allows –.
Mell: That probably saves a lot of…I’m not so sure the Wal-Marts and the lumber yards were happy, but…
Griesbach: Well, and that made our process for moving go much more smoothly because people weren’t hauling rented lofts from these big semis to their rooms, so by providing lofts in the rooms – we also provide a micro fridge, which is a microwave, refrigerator, freezer combination unit, so there’s one of those in every room. All of our rooms are carpeted, so some schools don’t do that, and you combine that with our laptop program, with our textbook rental program, which is, to me, so phenomenal and it just saves students so much money, and then you start to realize that those things… Our ID cards – students can use their ID card to eat in places; they can make copies; they can get in and out of buildings. It just works everywhere, and they can even use it in the local community if they have money on their card, so it really is a… We’ve done a lot of things to make the process of going to college as simple as we can for our students and for their families.
Mell: Yeah. We talked before a little bit about how big this class is. That did present some challenges for you, presented some challenges for you. (Points to Sorensen and then Griesbach.) Are you happy with how things went?
Sorensen: Well, I am. I think, from our point of view, we had to find more classes and hire some more adjunct staff to cover those classes. I think Scott had a bigger issue…where are you going to put them? How did that work out?
Griesbach: You know, it worked out pretty well. We were very fortunate that we were able to create some what we call extended housing spaces, and so we have some students who are living three to a room. Some of those rooms are a little bigger than the standard double room, and then we also created some spaces in our floor lounges and in a few lower level areas, some basement areas. They still have the full-size window, but they are kind of partially below ground, and so we were able to add 38 students to our basements and floor lounges, and we added about 68 students to triples, and so…
Mell: But, as the chancellor said before, it’s a good problem to have.
Griesbach: It is. It’s a very good problem to have, and then the nice thing about having students in those triple rooms is there’s one or two of those on every floor throughout our first year experience buildings, and so then if we have any students who leave that floor or drop out or whatever, we’re able to move them right within the floor, because it’s really important for us to maintain that community as much as we’re able to. So, a good number of our students, especially this fall semester, when they get moved to a new room, they’ll get moved to a room either on their floor or maybe on the floor below or above, so they’ve already made those friendships and developed those relationships, they’ll be able to maintain those more easily.
Mell: One of the things, when you were talking before about the stuff that people lug in, how have the student expectations, do you think, changed over the years as far as what they want in rooms?
Griesbach: Well, what they want and what they can fit are two different things at times, and that’s one of the reasons the lofts have become so popular that we went ahead and bought those a couple of years ago, but our students’ expectations have changed in a couple of different ways. One is, you know, even 15 or 20 years ago, people would go to school with maybe a TV if they were able to have one, and some sort of typewriter or something, and you know, you’d have some nice stereo equipment, and that would be about it, and we’re at a point now where we’ve had a student who moved, I think it was a 40-inch flat screen TV into his room and, you know –.
Sorensen: I saw that last year, as a matter of fact.
Griesbach: And even though we have the laptops, we still have students who bring computers because they like it better for gaming. Gaming has gotten to be quite popular for students. And so those expectations have changed, but just the whole convenience factor. Students are used to the whole 24-hour a day convenience. They can shop online, they can get things all the time, and we’re very fortunate. There are a lot of services that are available most of the time. An example is our dining service. You can get food somewhere on campus from, I think it’s 6:30 in the morning until midnight. So that’s a good part of the day where they can use their campus card to get some kind of food somewhere in one of the facilities. Our front desks are open from nine in the morning until midnight, and so, we offer those services to students, and there’s a lot of things students don’t have to bring because they can check out from their front desk, so they can check out some cooking equipment if they want to make something, if they want to play sports outside or play games, we have DVDs available for students in the checkout process, so there’s just a lot of things available to them.
Mell: One of the things that always impresses me or I keep in mind is, talking about the residence halls and everything else, we really are operating a small city.
Sorensen: We are.
Mell: It’s like you’re a mayor because you have to worry about housing and –.
Sorensen: I’m not a vice president.
Mell: You’re not a vice president.
Mell: And police department, etc.
Sorensen: That’s right.
Mell: I mean, when chancellors get together, do you talk about residence halls? I mean, is this more of a kind of a…
Sorensen: Oh, sure. We talk about the issue of students, residence halls, issues. I think Scott has done a marvelous job here over the nine years, but this is where the issues take place, basically – living spaces. Whether it’s a misuse of alcohol or whatever the case might be, normally it takes place in a residence hall, so I think the challenge, and I think Scott stepped up to it, make them very nice, make them convenient, make them their home away from home for nine months of the year, and I think that we’ve done a pretty good job with that.
Mell: But we don’t have an unlimited budget, though.
Sorensen: No, we don’t. And there’s an aggressive plan to renovate. I have seen that, and it’s good.
Griesbach: There is; there is. And, in fact, when you were talking about some of the renovation plans, and you had talked about the Price Commons, which is one of our dining centers, and that will give a really nice interior facelift to the Price Commons. That building needs some refreshing and it will be beautiful. I’ve seen all the designs and plans, and it will be very nice, but in addition to that, on the north campus, the Tainter dining hall is pretty much on the end of its useful life, and so, our intent is to build a new dining hall and connect it to Hovlid Hall and connect Hovlid and Fleming together, and so, we will have a nice brand new state-of-the-art dining hall on the north campus as well as the remodeled one on the south campus, so that’s going to provide really good, modern services to our students, too.
Mell: And we obviously… Red Cedar is sort of still in its infancy.
Griesbach: It is. Red Cedar continues to be a phenomenal building. Students really love living there. It was an award-winning building. The jury that gave it the award talked about the fact that even though students are living in these suites where is the potential for them to sort of cocoon away from each other and not develop that social community. By providing the floor lounges with the full kitchens on every floor and then the laundry areas right across from that, it provides kind of a central area for students to gather, and we see that happening. Students do gather in those areas. They get to know each other that way, and so, we’re able to build a community in a building where some campuses have a lot more difficulty doing that.
Mell: Are suite residence halls the wave of the future? Let’s say every new residence hall we build here or other campuses build, are they going to be suites?
Griesbach: Well, I don’t think that that’s going to be the trend. There certainly have been plenty of suites being built. That’s much more common right now, but it’s because most campuses don’t have anything but the traditional two to a room or sometimes three or four to a room, and so there haven’t been a lot of options on some campuses, and so that’s been the wave lately. But we’ve seen some schools, UW-Madison is an example, they’re building what they call larger double rooms but they’re building double rooms. UW-Parkside has done some of that. I don’t know if we would build another suite building or if we would go with something maybe a little different style. Maybe some clusters where we maybe have 10 or 12 students in double rooms who then share a bathroom instead of 30 people sharing a bathroom, because a lot of it comes down to that bathroom space and how that’s used, and the type of privacy that students are afforded.
Mell: It all comes down to bathrooms.
Griesbach: It often does, and actually, some colleagues at UW-River Falls, they also built a new suite-style building and they built two new pieces, one on each end, and that will likely be more of this cluster-style housing. It probably will not be the regular suites.
Mell: How important is our whole plan for the north campus as far as our master plan? I know, besides Hovlid, we also have some other residence halls, but I mean…
Sorensen: Well, the master plan that we will, I guess, finally approve this fall and take to the board for their review and approval will link north and south campus and define more clearly campus boundary lines so when you drive by UW-Stout, you’re driving by a campus, not just a bunch of buildings on the east side of Route 25. So I think it’s a well-thought-out, well-integrated plan. Whether we can accomplish that in 20 years is a different issue with our restrictions on funding, but it’s well thought out.
Mell: Yeah. Talk a little bit about move-in day and how that works. How is that all coordinated?
Griesbach: Well, move-in day has really gone through some transformations in the past eight to 10 years, and we’ve put together, our staff and our associate director Martin Fritz does a really good job of working with campus police and the police work of the city of Menomonie to close off some streets. We have really tried to take feedback we’ve gotten from parents and families about how could this process be better, and so we’ve used that, and so we’ve created a color-coded system where every residence hall has assigned a color to it, and so the students who are helping moving things in are wearing those colored shirts.
Mell: Did he get a colored shirt? (Pointing to Sorensen)
Griesbach: No, he didn’t get a colored shirt. We could provide one for you next time. But we also have divided people into groups so that we don’t have everyone coming at 10 to two o’clock. We have groups coming at four different time slots. We’ve really laid out everything so that the process is the car pulls up, they unload their belongings, the car moves away and the next car can pull up, and it really is the fact that we don’t have enough street space and places for people to pull up and unload, and when we also started giving out room keys in the parking lot instead of doing that in the actual building, it made that process go more smoothly too, because the students already have their key, so as soon as that car pulls up, the student can run up and unlock their room and go in and move their stuff in.
Mell: It would be great if everything just went hunky-dory in residence halls, but you have issues that you have to deal with. How have those issues changed over the years?
Griesbach: Well, you know, the one issue that has persisted and, from when I was in college, you know, 25-30 years ago until now is alcohol and drinking, and binge drinking is a little bit different, but there have been some similarities and things that haven’t changed. We continue to see that it’s part of the culture of the state of Wisconsin.
Mell: This is something he’s talked about –.
Sorensen: A lot.
Mell: A lot.
Griesbach: Now, we have our new Smart and Healthy campaign, which is not only a Stout initiative, but it is a collaboration with the city of Menomonie and with Arbor Place, so that’s been really something I’ve seen a lot of people gravitate to, and something they can really kind of get their hands on, and the Smart and Healthy campaign not only talks about drinking, but it talks, just in general, about students being smart and healthy, not only in their eating habits and their drinking habits, but it’s in the way they study. It’s in everything they do. We have even tried to take that and moved it into a little bit into being sustainable and some of that, because, again, that’s a smart and healthy practice for our students to get into, and habits for them to develop, because so many students develop habits while they’re in college, that they will then use when they go into the world, and we want them to develop good habits here so those things are not things they have to unlearn and change and try to relearn when they get to be 23, 25, 28 years old.
Mell: I know you’re in support of the Smart and Healthy campaign.
Mell: It’s a product of the chancellor’s coalition of alcohol and other drug abuse. I mean, the main message is that 80 percent of the students at UW-Stout are not problem drinkers.
Mell: Now, we have the 20 percent, and that’s something that has to be addressed, but 80 percent are not.
Sorensen: They made good progress on this campus, I think – the coalition and Amber Gerber and that group. You’re on that group. I think we’ve made some real progress in the last decade.
Griesbach: Sure, it’s been real nice.
Mell: But you still have transgressors.
Griesbach: Oh, we do, and we have our systems in place. You know, we have the RAs, the resident assistants who live in the building, and we have the hall directors – we have professional staff who live in every one of our buildings – and they work with students. There are always roommate conflicts; there are always issues where people don’t get along. You know, we found that students come to college, in some ways they’re more prepared and in other ways they’re less prepared. You know, our families nowadays kind of program in students’ time awfully tight, and one of the things that students don’t always know how to manage is their time and what they might see as free time, so we really try to guide them in the beginning of the school year on all of the things that Stout has available, because we have so many opportunities for students to get involved in activities and programs and things, so, as long as we can channel that in a good direction, we are starting off on a better foot.
Mell: Well, that’s good. I think we’ve started this year off on a good foot. Thanks for watching another edition of About Stout. We’re at the end of this edition, and we are going to be back soon with another exciting program. Thanks a lot, Scott, and thanks Chancellor.
Sorensen: Thank you.