Full-Text Transcript

Doug Mell: Welcome to another edition of “About Stout.” Spring is in the air all over campus. I’m Doug Mell, director of communications at UW-Stout, and I’m joined, as usual, by our chancellor, Charles W. Sorensen. Welcome, Chancellor.

Charles Sorensen: Good to be here.

Mell: We will be joined in a little while, in the second half of our show, by Jane Henderson, who is director of Learning Technology Services, and coordinator of our e-Scholar program. Chancellor, first of all, it’s all budget all the time around campus, and you’ve had a series of forums around campus to talk about the 2009-11 state budget.

Sorensen: Right.

Mell: Why don’t we talk for a little bit about the process you and others have used to date to get to where we’re at and what happens now.

Sorensen: Well, Doug, we have a very thorough process for the budget – have had for a decade or more. It’s the same process we used to build budgets and spend money we use to cut our budget as well. First of all, we have principles that we follow. We have core principles about protecting the important things at Stout, teaching undergraduates and graduates, not cutting essential services. We follow those guidelines. And then we’re fortunate, in part, because we’ve had rather good planning around here and there’s always been; we’ve had cash carryovers in tuition and customized instruction. The programs we actually conduct for [pause] charge prices that the market will bear. So, we can draw down. We’ve got about a $4.4 million deficit at Stout. We had drawn down that budget by about $2 million through our reserve spending. And then the rest, about $425,000-$430,000 will be put out to the campus. So the cuts will be somewhat minimal in terms of real budget reductions for the campus. So we get through this biennium rather healthily, I think.

Mell: So, I guess the message is, you know, there will be pain.

Sorensen: There will be pain.

Mell: I mean, obviously, the state budget will have an impact here. It’s not going to, obviously--.

Sorensen: I think we’ll see some larger class sizes. We may see some adjusted teaching loads for the academic staff at UW-Stout, things like that, but, quite frankly, some schools are laying people off, some schools are taking much more draconian measures. We’ll get through this and still maintain our enrollment of right around 8,900 students, I think, without a great deal of difficulty this biennium. The next, I’m not sure about that, but I think we’re pretty healthy right now.

Mell: We have had, as you’ve said in the past, some slow but steady growth in our enrollment, all heading towards an enrollment peak of about 9,000 students. What part has that played in our ability to weather these budget difficulties?

Sorensen: It’s played a very important role because we began about eight or nine years ago in deciding that we’re going to build our enrollment slowly in the sense – smartly, and we’ve done that. So, we’ve grown enrollment to 8,900 students. We want about 9,000, and the result has been that we met our tuition target plus. And therefore the plus, the money that we go over the target, we keep, and that’s been the case, cash carry-over that we use now to draw down the overall budget.

Mell: So that helps – that plus helps soften the blow.

Sorensen: Absolutely right. And I think, too, and you mentioned in the springtime, the vibrant campus – with the campus at 9,000, things just change. When you walk out on campus today, you’re going to see students crawling all over the place, and it’s been that way all year long, and I think it’s because we have a healthy, larger enrollment. But that’s played a major role in allowing us to handle the budget in some kind of logical fashion without really injuring the very fabric of what we do at UW-Stout.

Mell: You’ve talked, also, in these budget forums about that fact that enrollment growth is predicated in a large part on our ability to add programs.

Sorensen: That’s right.

Mell: It was 21 when you came here.

Sorensen: It was 22, but yes.

Mell: It’s 34 now.

Sorensen: Yeah, we decided that we had to grow programs. We chose the number of 40.
There’s nothing magical about that, but we knew that would give us a broad array of programs, or at least a broader array than we have now. So, we’re now at 34 programs. We’ll have two more approved, I think very soon, within a month or so by the system, so that’ll be 36, and within two years we’ll have 40, and that’ll provide the students here a great range of choice to make so they don’t have to transfer elsewhere to get the bachelor’s degree. And I think a campus of 9,000, 40 programs, that’s about the right balance; I have to think.

Mell: And these majors are obviously in areas that employers and other people are asking for.

Sorensen: We’re really excited about the majors, Doug. We have two brand new engineering programs, plastics and computer electronics, engineering – ABET [Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology] engineering programs. We have a program in neuroscience coming online. We have applied social science coming online. We have emphases in nanotech and biotech. So, we have the programs that are going to help us drive the enrollment and maintain it, and also drive the economy in this region and the state. So, our growth agenda is very, very healthy.

Mell: Is there some irony in talking about growing programs in the time where we’re facing some budget restrictions?

Sorensen: There is, Doug.

Mell: You’ve been asked this in the past.

Sorensen: I have, but I was at a school in Michigan back in 1980-82 when we went through three years of horrific budget cuts and where the board declared emergency. We had to lay off even tenured faculty. What we did back then with the leadership of the president and provost and I was a dean then, we cut deeper than we had to cut to put new programs in place to create a healthy university, and Grand Valley today, grew from about 7,000, now to about 22,000 and in large part because the president made some strategic decisions in 1980-81 on growth programs we had to have. So you have to keep planning in times of crisis to maintain the vibrancy of a campus.

Mell: The legislature has just started to debate the preliminary areas of debating the state budget. What kind of impact will their decisions play on the ultimate budget decisions you have to make?

Sorensen: Well, I think the Joint Finance takes it up today. This is April 17.

Mell: Starts.

Sorensen: Starts today, and then it goes through both houses and back to the governor, but what I’ve seen in my 20 years here, and you’ve been around a long, long time in the state, the governor gets what he wants, basically, so I think what we see is very close to what we’re going to get. There is a one percent across the board budget reduction that will affect this campus – it’s a base cut – as part of that $4.4 million reduction. We’re asking that be lifted. Now, that could happen and would alleviate some of the problem. And the other budget cut is the auxiliary cut. They’re taking auxiliary dollars, money raised by students for projects for roofs or new buildings, they’re taking that for financial aid. Now, that affects us too, but more indirectly because that money was kind of put in the bank for a rainy day for a repair, so, but overall, there’ll be pain, but overall, we will manage it well.

Mell: Thank you. We do have another budget – the capital budget that the legislature will be considering, and we do have a major project in that budget that was just voted on by the State Building Commission. We were there, and now it goes to the finance committee and the legislature, which is the remodeling of the Memorial Student Center, an $18 million project. How vital is that to this campus?

Sorensen: I think it’s very vital, and you know, there’s an economic theory out there called the experience economy. People come, say, to Disneyland not just for the water park. They come for the restaurants; they come for the rides; they come for the hotels; they come for everything. They come for the total experience, and I think more and more we see students coming to a campus for the total experience. They want, certainly a good program, but they want good residence halls, a good student center; they want a good stadium; they want good grounds, so I think the student center will be the very heart of student activities and it’s going to be a magnificent renovation. It’s going to be open, a lot of windows a lot of light, a kind of City Center concept they’re developing. So, I think it’s very important for that total experience a student has or will have at UW-Stout.

Mell: I mean, building projects traditionally on UW campuses, here as well, have engendered some controversy among legislators. I mean, Harvey Hall, for example, took you 20 years to get approved, there were some questions about Jarvis, and we’ll talk about that later. There seems to be a consensus about this project.

Sorensen: First of all, it’s student dollars. They voted themselves another seg. fee to renovate it. Secondly, they supported it, and I think that they saw the need for it. Other campuses around the state and nation have been doing this for a couple of years now, so if you look at River Falls or, say, Parkside who have some magnificent student centers, students see that and say, “We need that at our campus too.” So I think that there was a minimum of controversy as this went through, and it’s going to change the nature of UW-Stout in a very significant way.

Mell: I also think the fact that we have a plan, we know what we want to do, when we want to do it, how we want to do it, and there really is no internal debate…

Sorensen: This planning took place over about four years. It’s been a long process and we let the students really drive the planning process, so when it came to the final architectural design, or basically that’s where it is now, the students had done most of that themselves.

Mell: Another project on the building front, we took a tour recently of the new Jarvis Hall Science Wing, a $43 million project, which is going on just east of the Memorial Student Center. What were your first impressions when you toured that?

Sorensen: Well, I’m very impressed by that. We have 90,000 square feet of new space in that building. We’ll have the finest science building and facilities, I think, or one of the finest in the state. It’s going to outshine most other campuses in the UW – at least comprehensive schools. Science is a big thrust of ours, and I think when this is completed, students wander through that building looking at a school to go to, and they want science, this will be the place to go. This is just magnificent space, a tremendous design, a lot of light, very attractive. It’s not a typical building. It’s something very special, and this will truly reshape the campus.

Mell: And the current science area, science wing, is also going to be remodeled, so it’s basically a two-for. I mean, you get new space and you also get remodeled space, and the sciences, applied sciences have been a big emphasis for you.

Sorensen: Oh, absolutely right. This is our future; one of our futures is that. We have a new STEM college – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – and we had to have a new facility, and I think we’ll sell sciences in a very significant way, and you’ll see within five years the programs in science growing rapidly because of the facilities, and students recognize that, parents will, it’s going to be a tremendous future for us.

Mell: The new wing is scheduled to be open, at least some of it, in August.

Sorensen: August of this year.

Mell: Yeah, August of this year.

Sorensen: And then the rest in the August of the following year. So, by 2010 it should be finished.

Mell: As I noted at the beginning of the show, this is sort of the show at the end of the academic year. What are some of your memories of the academic year this year?

Sorensen: Well, I think that –.

Mell: If you had to capsulize it.

Sorensen: Well, maybe two or three. One, we got the enrollment close to where we want it, and I remember last fall when the students came back to school, I told my staff, “Go out there and look at how active this campus is.” Suddenly, the most active campus I have ever seen at UW-Stout. That’s one tremendous memory, and it remains that way today.

Mell: And we have a healthy class for this coming fall.

Sorensen: Oh, a healthy freshman class coming in, too. The second is, and I’m very proud of this because I have a team of people, and you’re part of that team, that manages the budget process very, very well. We didn’t come apart at the seams, talking about, “How do we cut this? Who’s going to get cut? Who isn’t? We put a process in place, we shared it widely, it’s pretty transparent. People may disagree with parts of it, but I think the way we managed the dollars, managed the budget, because we did good planning going back 10 years that led to this; I’m just very proud of a leadership team that could pull this off with a minimum of controversy on the campus.

Mell: One of the things that you talked about this year is the participation of the students in the November election.

Sorensen: Oh, very much. They were actively involved in the election, a historic election, and this campus was alive with that activity. And, of course, on the athletic side we went to the frozen four for the first time.

Mell: We’ll have Jane –.

Sorensen: We’ll have Jane talk about that, but you know, the hockey program has matured, has come into its own now, so a lot of good memories, and the people that we’re hiring for the campus – we’re hiring good, young social scientists, historians, engineers, scientists. We have a crop of people now, a young group of people on the faculty and academic staff that are truly good visionary thinkers and very good researchers. And one more good memory – we landed private money this year. Even at a time of tremendous stress, we have an ethics center funded by a million dollar gift; we have a discovery center that will be funded by – the startup cost of about $170,000 by private gift and definite gift. We have just a lot of good support out there privately because they see that we’ve established a good vision and a good mission [unclear].
Mell: That we’re moving in the right direction.

Sorensen: Right direction, that’s right.

Mell: Thank you. We’re going to take a break now, and we’re going to be back with Jane Henderson.

(Music plays)

Mell: I’d like to welcome Jane Henderson to “About Stout.” Jane, besides being the proud mother of a UW-Stout hockey player, is in charge of our e-Scholar, or our laptop program, and other technology-related programs on campus. Welcome, Jane.

Jane Henderson: Thank you, Doug. Nice to see you, Chancellor.

Mell: Let’s talk briefly about what we mean when we say e-Scholar program or a digital learning environment. I think there’s a lot of terms that are used. You hear laptop program, e-Scholar; you hear digital learning environment. What do we mean by all that?

Henderson: Well, I think the name has evolved, Doug. I think we started out calling it our laptop program because that was something that was familiar, and really we’re talking about mobile technology, and so we talked about the laptop program; we had some pilot programs that worked in trying to get that program started on our campus. Then we realized Stout is about more than just technology, but we really wanted to focus back on people, and so we came up with the name of e-Scholar because it talks about our instructors as well as our students, and so we moved to the e-Scholar program. The program itself, though, is more than just the laptop, and so it affords us to look at education differently, and I think the chancellor talked about revolutionizing education on our campus, and so the mobile technology, the laptop, the e-Scholar program has now transformed into the digital learning environment, which means it’s more invasive to everyday life, and it is incorporated not only into the educational side, but also in the social side. I think the chancellor was talking earlier about the entire campus being alive and the Student Center renovation. The e-Scholar program is such a part of who Stout is and how our students operate, and that’s how it’s pretty much evolved, so it includes the digital stations that we have, the mediated classrooms; the software is over $3,000 loaded onto the machines of the students to have at their fingertips to help them with their learning experience.

Mell: What kind of a crazy idea was this to start a laptop program here at UW-Stout? Did people think you were nuts?

Sorensen: (Laughing) Yeah. We scanned the horizon a lot at Stout. We’re good planners, and we began to look at this in the mid-1990s about [unclear] of the schools, Crookston, Minn. They were one of the first to go in that direction. Wake Forest, we had them in talking to us about their program out there. So, we did it after we looked at some other programs very carefully. But, again, if you’re going to be a modern, high-tech campus, you have to adapt to that technology, and that was really the decision right there, but Jane’s so right, we were pushed also by students. We had students come in and say, “Why aren’t we there?” So, we began pilot programs in two or three areas and they were successful, and once we saw that success, then we decided to go live for the entire campus.

Mell: Has it been more successful in the years following?

Sorensen: Oh, absolutely. More ubiquitous, I think. I called it the laptop program for a long time until Jane finally changed my mind and called it differently, but it’s ubiquitous. It permeates the life of the student and the faculty, I think. Whether it’s using this in the classroom or for communication or for access to libraries, it’s very ubiquitous.

Henderson: And I think as we think about the 21st century skill sets that are necessary for our graduates to go out and be successful, our grads are hitting the ground running because it’s just a way of life on our campus, and I credit the leaders as well as the students to help us push and be the best at that for the 21st century.

Sorensen: But Jane made a very important point a couple minutes ago; you have to have the infrastructure to support all of this. So we’ve invested very – our first investment was a new network, a Cisco network, because we knew we had to have that, and now my CIO told me, Doug Wall, that we’ve changed our network two and a half times totally in 10 years – replaced it totally in 10 years, so we’ve invested heavily in the network and support for it as well.

Mell: When you talk about how ubiquitous it is, when I started here in October 2006, I walked into Memorial Student Center; we have a little bowling alley there, and I looked and I looked, and these kids would bowl and they’d go back and they’d be keeping their score on their laptops.

Sorensen: Yes.


Mell: I used to work in a bowling alley. I’ve been in a lot of bowling alleys in my life. I think that was the first time in my life I’d ever seen a laptop computer in a bowling alley. And every one, every single one. And we go to other campuses and I’m always amazed, and I know you are, at what you don’t see because you walk into a student center or you walk into any kind of place for students and here you just normally assume they have their laptops open, because that’s how people interact, that’s what they do. And you don’t see that anymore.

Sorensen: It used to be a ratio, you’d go buy one computer for every 30 students. We’re one for one here at Stout.

Henderson: A little bit higher with our specialized labs.

Sorensen: That’s right.

Mell: We have done some surveys recently that talked about the effectiveness and the use of our digital learning environment around campus both in classrooms and in the social area. Do you want to talk a little bit about what – I mean we don’t have to get into specific numbers, but generally what those surveys show, Jane?

Henderson: Well, we’ve taken our surveys to a different level. We’re really looking at not only satisfaction with the technology and the program, but looking at how it’s impacting student learning. And what we’re getting back from our students is, is that it’s improving their learning, it’s convenient and it’s also improving their engagement, so it’s been a very positive, I think, influence on what’s going on in the classroom, and I really think celebrates Stout’s active learning goal.

Mell: Give me an example of how you think it’s improved learning. Why would, I mean theoretically I know, but in a practical sense.

Henderson: OK, in a practical sense. As I mentioned before, there’s over $3,000 worth of software loaded on the machines. Stout prides itself on looking at not only the application, but also the theory and putting it together, so our students are actually using AutoCAD and becoming familiar with AutoCAD, so when they go out in the construction site in our construction management program, they already know how that works, and so that company does not have to reinvest dollars to train for six months to 18 months on a software program. The other thing that it will do is that our instructors know that that software is there, so they’re able to utilize it and incorporate it into their curriculum across the board, and so, it’s real-life examples, I guess, of what the students are utilizing, and they’re practicing with that software and learning how to communicate with their peers because those are the skills you need in the 21st century.

Mell: You’ve talked to employers, you talked to students – graduates who’ve gone out. Do you hear that that’s one of the advantages that Stout has, is that… They come out, because of the technology, because of the way they learn here, do they hit the ground running?

Sorensen: Oh, absolutely. Jane’s absolutely on target there. They say that they don’t have to retrain at all. Well, the cliché is “hit the road running.” I don’t like that cliché, but that’s what they say a lot, so they’re prepared for the workforce, prepared to be a positive impact in the company the first day they’re on the job.

Mell: Let’s talk a little bit about, I mean, obviously we’ve talked about the laptop program and what’s in it, but as far as classrooms, as far as instructors using our digital learning environment, how’s that moved us up, do you think?

Henderson: Well, I think it has changed what is going on in the classroom, and I think that that’s one of the things the surveys are saying to us is that our instructors, and compared to our polytechnic peers as well, and the national comparisons, our instructors are utilizing the technology very effectively and that is reflected in, also, that the students are saying it is impacting their student learning experience positively as well, too. And so, they’re utilizing the tools, and the other thing I think that’s really nice is we’re not just checked into a 30-minute period or 45-minute period. The digital learning environment has allowed us to extend that classroom, and so the instructors are able to have higher expectations for our students to say, “It’s out there 24/7; come to class prepared.” So, the discussions and, I think, the instruction and the learning that’s going on in the classroom is different than what it used to be when it used to be more of an, not necessarily an information dump, because we have so many labs, but the lecture aspect of that. I think there’s an opportunity for deeper learning, deeper conversations and more problem-solving critical thinking for the students and the instructors to go back and forth with.

Mell: Did you foresee this advantage when the laptop program was…

Sorensen: I’m not sure I did. I’m glad it turned out like that, but I think we see a lot of advantages quite frankly, but I want to underscore something that Jane talks about, the results, but again, we invested heavily in training for our faculty, and that’s changed over time. We used to have everyone go through the Nakatani Center. We did workshops for them, we did boot camps, advanced boot camps, and that’s changed now, hasn’t it?
Henderson: Uh huh.

Sorensen: We’ve invested literally millions of dollars in training of the faculty. We knew we had to do that to make this a success, and that’s been the result, I think. So, I think the upfront planning and the money we spent of investment has been very, very important.

Mell: But it does seem, though, that because we get around the system, you don’t see a lot of … I mean this isn’t something that’s been adopted around the country on a regular basis. You see more and more of them now and there’s user groups and … but why do you think that is? Is it the upfront investment, do you think?

Henderson: As I go around to talk to other campuses, because we’re called by other campuses and say, “Why are you doing this?” I think they’re frightened, and I don’t think that they have the leadership to say, “We are going to take this risk,” and to get beyond the logistics of it and reinvest in themselves for the 21st century.

Mell: Is some of it admissions-based, because, obviously, there is a cost. I mean, there’s an extra cost.

Sorensen: We found out; though we worried about that. Naysayers said, “You’re going to drive down enrollment to an all-time low.” Well, it’s been at an all-time high, because the moment we launched the program, parents said, “Wow, we want our student to go to that school for this reason.” And so, I think that was a fear that didn’t prove to be true at all, but it is a fear, I think. I think, quite frankly, we had resistance here among some core groups of faculty, but once they engage themselves in it, they change. Some of the worst critics of the program became the best advocates within a year or two once they learned the benefits of it and adapted to the technology.

Mell: We’ve talked that this program has evolved since it’s been at UW-Stout. It’s interesting to sort of look ahead. Where does it go from here, do you think, Jane? I mean, what’s the next thing out there?

Henderson: Well, I think one of the next things that we’re looking at from the instructional side is how can we look at instructional methodologies that we can do now that we couldn’t do before with the technology? For example, looking at video and creating artifacts, taking the multimedia component to the next level, because we don’t learn in just one modality. Oftentimes we look at several different modalities and various learning styles, and I think with the digital learning environment, we’re able to reach out to a number of different students, so as we start looking at some different populations as well – older students coming in – I think we’re going to help them be more successful, and so I think the next step is, is really trying to leverage that technology and, I think we also need to sometimes [unclear] and say, “We’re doing really, really good things.” We often go to conferences, and we’ll go to those conferences and we’ll say, “We were doing that three years ago.” And so, I think that’s kind of the next level, and when we go out and are more public about some of the things, I think that that then takes us to the emerging technologies, but the biggest thing I think right now that’s pushing us would be the Web 2.0 technologies, and we’re asking the questions of how does this impact learning?

Mell: Define Web 2.0 for those…

Henderson: Web 2.0 are interfaces where everything happens over the Internet, and so you look at Jing as a way to do tutorials for our students, or for instructional purposes or for a demonstration, and so it’s easy access and it is very ubiquitous; there’s no server site on our campus, so if we look at the infrastructure, there’s opportunities there, so, wikis, blogs, are considered Web 2.0.

Sorensen: How about Tweets and Twitters?

Henderson: Oh, very good.


Henderson: Well, a Tweet is an action, but Twitter is the program, how about that?


Sorensen: That’s right. There you go.

Mell: I’ve heard about professors who are going to do their syllabi on Twitter next year. They’re actually going to send their…

Sorensen: We have an English professor using–.

Henderson: Daisy. Yes, Daisy Pignetti’s doing Twitter. And I think that’s what’s really pushing us to – Doug, you asked us earlier where we were going. Our instructors now embrace that. The chancellor talked about new instructors coming in, and they’re pushing us and saying, “OK, let’s try this.” But the question that we’re asking now is, how is it impacting learning? An assessment for reasons of student learning is not a dirty word on our campus at all. It’s like, let’s look at it, and how can we embrace it and change it?

Mell: Well, thank you. That was a quick 15 minutes, huh?

Henderson: Yes, yes it was. 

Sorensen: Thank you. Thanks, Jane.

Mell: Thanks again for everybody out there joining us for another edition of “About Stout.” We’re going to be back with another show in the summer. Thank you.