Plymouth State University: Building for the Next Generation

State of the University Address
President Sara Jayne Steen
Plymouth State University
27 March 2013

Welcome to the State of the University Address. It’s hard to believe that a year has passed since we met to discuss the University’s progress toward our goals. This address is part of my commitment to accountability to you and our wider public, allowing us to come together to look at the University as a whole, to celebrate some of the year’s successes, and to delineate challenges and issues on which we must focus. Thank you for attending this afternoon.

And joining us, I would like to acknowledge some of our special guests. We have with us today Executive Councilor Ray Burton and his intern Ben Belanger; we have from our Board of Trustees our Chair Dick Galway, trustees Wally Stevens, and Carol Perkins, and Alex Nix, and USSB representative Jill Tarkleson; Plymouth Selectboard Chair Val Scarborough; award winners Dick and Betty Hanaway; President’s Council member Ed Wixson; Grafton County Economic Development Council Executive Director Mark Scarano; and Plymouth Regional Chamber Executive Director Scott Stephens.

Plymouth Normal School Class of 1913I’d like to begin with a photo recently bought for us at auction by a generous community member. It is of the Plymouth Normal School class of 1913, each young woman carefully identified on the back. Fifty-five students are posed in front of Rounds Hall—Ella, Phila, Annie, Cora, Helen—in their white blouses and long dark skirts, their hair upswept, some smiling, some solemn, and many looking to my eyes older than their years, in the way of that era. It was quite a year, 1913. The nation was dealing with storms and floods. There were wars overseas. The nation’s president was a Democrat and former academic dealing with the controversial social issue of women’s suffrage. These women, educators entrusted with young minds, were not yet entrusted with the vote. In the photo, they seem tranquil. With bright eyes and clear gazes, they look to the camera and the future.

Ernest Silver was president of the Normal School then and remained so until 1946. I was fortunate last month to visit two distinguished former faculty members, Drs. Henry Vittum and Norton Bagley, each of whom discussed Plymouth’s history. Dr. Bagley described President Silver as having been dedicated to students and to mutual respect between students and faculty. I was able to tell these beloved educators that Plymouth State had been recognized again last fall by the Chronicle of Higher Education as one of the nation’s Great Colleges to Work For, and that among the categories was teaching environment: educational innovation and commitment to student success. We can imagine that President Silver would smile to know that in that regard this vibrant comprehensive university of 7,300 students continues the traditions of 1913.

Rounds HallStill, it is a different era. Higher education is in the midst of enormous upheaval, with some people questioning the value of higher education in relation to its cost and others predicting higher education’s demise in the form we know it. State support for public higher education nationally is at a new low, while expectations for a college degree and the need for a highly educated population have never been greater. Shifting demographics mean increased competition for students, and the introduction of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and competency-based certification will alter how we think about learning and its assessment in ways we can’t yet fully predict. Higher education must be accessible and offer high quality if our nation is not to leave behind those who are the first in their families to attend college or have fewer financial resources on which to draw—and many of us here today would have been in those categories.

Responding to such challenges means our being nimble and engaging in constant planning and adjustment and readjustment, bringing good minds together in ongoing conversations about Plymouth State and serving students. At the same time that we at PSU are increasing access to high-quality programs through technology, for example, we also are continuing to enhance the value of PSU’s strong residential experience in order to become even more “distinctive in niche and distinguished in performance,” as Executive Director of University Relations Steve Barba often phrases it, while we are building for the next generation.

Student focused on a computer screen.Through technology, PSU faculty and staff have been enhancing access and excellence. This year, four undergraduate degrees are offered fully online as well as on-site: Business, Communications and Media Studies, Criminal Justice, and Nursing (the completion program for registered nurses). Faculty are supported by professionals in Information Technology Services and in the Office of Learning Technologies and Online Education, where they can study the educational impact of emerging technologies. One student told me recently that the innovative learning in his online course was eye-opening. Plymouth State had entered the online arena early with first-rate graduate study, and the online MBA, offered for a decade, attracts professionals around the globe. This year, the national learning review ranked PSU’s program in the top 20 on its list of “Best Online MBA Programs” in the country.

Through the College of Graduate Studies and the Division of Online and Continuing Studies, PSU this year had 5,000 online enrollments, for 15,000 credit hours, one-half of all online programming offered by the University System of New Hampshire. PSU provided 550 sections in fully online and hybrid formats, the latter combining online and face-to-face work. Those courses and programs provide wonderful flexible opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students who are working or overseas or place-bound. Current residential students also take advantage of online access, because it allows them to take additional coursework during the Winterim and summer sessions or to combine online and residential courses and earn their degrees more quickly.

Because students must be prepared for a global workplace and because international experiences are transformative and part of academic excellence, PSU has moved forward in international education. The University increasingly is and should be a multicultural community. This year the Global Education Office was recognized for “innovative work in education abroad” by the Center for International Studies with its first Going Places! Award before 8,500 people from 95 countries. At the same time, Vice President Jim Hundrieser and coordinator of international recruiting Dick Hage are expanding our partnership with ELS Educational Services to bring international students here. Plymouth State has been featured internationally as a host institution that integrates global experiences into the curriculum. The Center for Global Engagement in Mary Lyon Hall opened this autumn, offering a place for all students for international events and global programming. There are opportunities for students in Chile, China, Malaysia, Romania, and more.

Nursing student with patient.The campus also has looked to the evolving needs of New Hampshire and our region and responded. That is part of our mission as New Hampshire’s comprehensive university. New Hampshire has an aging population and a need for health care professionals, as does the nation. The recently established nursing program, geared toward the advanced “nurse of the future,” had two external reviews this year and was highly praised; in that praise we recognize as well our partners in Speare Memorial Hospital and Mary Hitchcock and others, who offer excellent clinical experiences for students. Business and industry partners confirm that the state needs Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math professionals, and with other University System institutions and those in the Community College System we are working to increase student enrollment in STEM fields. At last spring’s Commencement, we awarded our first doctorates of education in Learning, Leadership, and Community to wonderful educators who already are having a positive impact on education and our schools. It was a joy to see them walk across the stage in those deep Plymouth green doctoral robes and be hooded by their advisors and to learn about their research. They are developing collaborative initiatives and receiving grants for significant projects; one doctoral student’s book on literacy instruction has just gone to press.

When alumni speak of a PSU education, they speak of it as personal in the mentoring they received from faculty and staff and active in their engagement with real-world projects and hands-on learning. To advance that research and engagement, a faculty fellow position was redefined this year, and Thad Guldbrandsen, formerly director of the Center for Rural Partnerships, was named vice provost for research and engagement. During this year’s student research symposium on April 26th and 27th, colleagues and guests will be able to see the high quality of students’ scholarship and creativity.Rebecca "Becca" Jacobson As samples of student work this year, Rebecca M. Jacobson (Environmental Science and Policy) participated in a Research Experience for Undergraduates program that took her to the Abisko Research Station in Sweden, where she studied mercury dynamics. Undergraduates Abby Tibbetts and Dave Tardif (Biology) presented their research on the biological clock in horseshoe crabs to New Hampshire legislators in Concord. Art students who created the murals on Berlin’s Brown Company R&D Building saw a documentary on their work and were honored with the 2012 Preservation Achievement Award from the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance for outstanding education and advocacy.

Faculty are active in providing students with opportunities to demonstrate their work, develop professionally, and secure internships and positions by supporting student presentations at professional meetings and by bringing distinguished guests to campus. Our students impress those they meet. This year, the Office of Career Services has been enhanced, and manager Jim Kuras is partnering with Alumni Relations, University Studies, and academic departments to strengthen career offerings for students. A survey conducted by University Advancement indicated that many alumni are eager to assist our students with their career development.

Sustainability, too, is part of the Plymouth experience. With the guidance of Brian Eisenhauer, director of sustainability and the Helen Abbott Professor of Environmental Studies, students have updated the sustainability handbook and developed a green office program. They participated in the National Recycling Competition and led campus initiatives, as did faculty members like Jeremiah Duncan (Atmospheric Science and Chemistry), who coordinated with students a Plymouth clean-up campaign. Sodexo at PSU is the first college food service to be certified by the New Hampshire Lodging and Restaurant Association as an “Environmental Champion.” And, for the third year, PSU was recognized in the Princeton Review’s Guide to Green Colleges as among the most environmentally responsible colleges in North America.

Museum of the White MountainsCampus initiatives demonstrate creativity and care for our region. The Museum of the White Mountains, designed to preserve and promote the history, culture, and environmental legacy of the White Mountains, opened in February, and already is establishing for PSU an identity as a place for learning about the Whites, allowing us to draw on our wonderful location. Director Catherine Amidon has engaged students in all aspects of the museum, from doing research to creating curriculum guides and planning the permaculture landscaping, as has faculty fellow Marcia Schmidt Blaine (History and Philosophy). The museum this year received three new collections: one of White Mountains art by women artists from Frances “Dolly” MacIntyre; another of pieces associated with THE BALSAMS Grand Resort Hotel from Steve Barba, former hotel president and managing partner and PSU’s executive director of University Relations; and a third of 6.000 volumes of rare books, maps, and historical documents from John W. (Jack) and Anne H. Newton. The current exhibit, Passing Through: The Allure of the White Mountains, funded by private support, is beautifully done. As we thank our off-campus advisors and our donors, I also want to thank many people on campus for excellent work, including the physical plant and ITS teams, University Advancement, and Public Relations.

Another initiative is the Enterprise Center at Plymouth (ECP), a business incubator and accelerator developed with the Grafton County Economic Development Council (GCEDC). With federal funding, the GCEDC purchased property in Plymouth and with PSU raised $2 million dollars from federal, regional, and state sources for the building, which the GCEDC will own and operate. The building opens in August, and its first anchor tenant will be Narrative1, a rapidly growing software firm created by PSU alumnus Tom Armstrong ’90. PSU is providing the ECP programming, under the leadership of executive director and College of Business Administration faculty member Michael Tentnowski, creating jobs for the region and opportunities for students, faculty, staff, and alumni in business, graphic design, communications and media study, computer science, and more, working closely with entrepreneurs. The ECP is supporting virtual clients now; it has served over 100 participants through seminars and already placed five students in internships with ECP firms.

As a regional comprehensive university, we fulfill our responsibility to the region in many ways. One example is a three-year Suicide Prevention Grant of $278,000 from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to assemble a Suicide Prevention Advisory Board of campus and community partners to increase mental health awareness and implement training on how to help those in need. Last week, PSU’s Center for the Environment hosted New Hampshire’s Water and Watershed Conference, addressing the clean water so critical to our state’s quality of life and tourism, and PSU hosted with the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance a conference on historic preservation’s role in a sustainable future. “TIGER Takes On Bullying,” produced with New Hampshire Public Television, premiered at the Flying Monkey; the show is a 30-minute television special to help children, schools, parents, and communities deal proactively with bullying. People at PSU are coordinating programs in math education for the schools, National History Day, watershed management with the Squam Lakes Association, professional development for rural educators, and forest management with the White Mountain National Forest.

Marking the Moment stage production.Two initiatives with our host communities of Plymouth and Holderness deserve special note. This year is the 250th anniversary of the Town of Plymouth, and community members from town and campus are engaged in a celebration that began with the Educational Theatre Collaborative’s production of an original historical musical on Plymouth, Marking the Moment, with lyrics by Trish Lindberg (Educational Leadership, Learning and Curriculum) and Manuel Marquez-Sterling (Social Science) and music by Will Ogmundsen, a New Hampshire composer; the celebration will continue through the summer. The second initiative is a new partnership being led by the Plymouth Rotary on behalf of the wise use of the Pemi River and Livermore Falls sites, about which you will hear more soon.

PSU students this year contributed hundreds of thousands of hours to community engagement and benefited from the mentorship of those in our host communities and region, and PSU again was named to the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll. I regularly receive comments about students; two mentors who guided students recently described them as “motivated, creative, actively engaged, respectful, even kind”—and said they could go on. Those are wonderful words from people giving of themselves to guide our students.

Let me pause for a few samples of recent student, staff, and faculty recognition:

  • Valerie Schlegel (double major in Spanish Language and Literature and in Political Science) received the Gilman International Scholarship Award to study in Argentina, the first time a PSU student has been recognized by the Institute of International Education.
  • Sam Wisel (Business ’12, now in University Advancement) was named a national Newman Civic Fellow for his commitment to creating lasting change in his community, one of 162 students nationwide believed to be among the next generation of the nation’s civic leaders.
  • The Athletic Training program was recognized with the national Cramer Professional Development Award for student community service and its strong academic program. Students sitting for certification had a 100 percent pass rate, compared with approximately 65 percent nationwide.
  • Student teams from the MBA program earned two “Project of the Year” awards in the National Small Business Institute® Competition for the second consecutive year, the first time any school has achieved that distinction. Retiring director Craig Zamzow was named an SBI Fellow, the organization’s highest honor.
  • Gary Goodnough (Counselor Education and School Psychology) was named the Marijane Fall Counselor Educator of the Year as a national leader in the counseling profession by the North Atlantic Region Association for Counselor Education and Supervision.
  • Marjorie King (Health and Human Performance) was inducted into the National Athletic Trainers’ Association Hall of Fame. King is one of only 271 (and 12 female) inductees in the history of the organization to receive the Hall of Fame designation, the highest honor an athletic trainer can receive.
  • Shandra McLane (Art) was named a 2012 Remarkable Woman by New Hampshire Magazine for taking her artistic work in fused glass to extraordinary levels of technique and imagination.
  • The Panther field hockey team captured the ECAC Division III New England championship; Casey Stoodley (Physical Education) was named Division III Honorable Mention All America, the first Panther ever to be named for volleyball; the New England Football Conference Academic All-Conference team included 17 Panther student-athletes, 7 for the second straight year, and 3 for the third consecutive year; and men’s hockey won the MASCAC title for the second consecutive year, both men’s and women’s hockey teams saw post-season play, and coaches Ashley Kilstein and Craig Russell were both named coach of the year.
  • Irene Cucina (Health and Human Performance), president of the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, led in the development of a new national Presidential Youth Fitness Program. The goal is a new era in children’s health and wellness.
  • Athletic Director John P. Clark and fellow alumnus and former men’s basketball star Adam DeChristopher ’00 were named to the inaugural Little East Conference Hall of Fame at a ceremony in Providence.
  • Stephen Gorin (Social Work) was named chair of New Hampshire’s State Committee on Aging, the committee to make recommendations regarding policy and procedures to best protect the wellbeing, rights, and quality of life of older citizens.

We can be proud of Plymouth’s people, of what PSU is, and what PSU is building.

This year the campus has a number of planning processes under way, part of the ongoing conversation about “building for the next generation.” And that means referring back to the kinds of higher education questions I mentioned at beginning of this address. Who will our students be, and how do we provide the education that will transform their lives?

Students outside.Today our students come from 43 states and 34 countries, and 58 percent of undergraduates are from New Hampshire. Forty-four percent of first-year students are the first in their families to attend college, and PSU’s students persist and graduate at significantly higher rates than national averages. Demographics across New England show declining numbers of high school graduates through 2021, and there are new audiences in adults who are shifting careers or come from geographic locations with demographics that differ from New England’s. Students planning to enroll may vary more in age and seek flexible educational options.

One challenge for the future, then, is enrollment management, broadly defined. And meeting the challenge belongs to us all, not just to Vice President for Enrollment Management and Student Affairs Jim Hundrieser or Director of Admissions Andy Palumbo.

First and foremost in enrollment management are strong academic programs and facilities that enable students to succeed at the highest levels. Faculty members can be proud that PSU’s programs attract students from New England to China, but no institution can be static. Over the past two years, colleagues have examined PSU in preparation for next year’s accreditation review by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges. The Planning and Budgeting Leadership Group is guiding a strategic plan. Provost Julie Bernier has asked faculty members to consider the changing educational landscape, to explore ideas and engage the imagination. As we look to new markets, what should be done through technology? What best through other modes? Most of us believe that residential campuses will continue, and the most successful ones will be distinctive and offer an education that is increasingly value-added. How can we enhance campus learning? Some faculty are exploring contemplative teaching, looking to deepen student learning. What are the most useful co-curricular programs? In this, we also employ relevant data about current and potential student interests in order to meet our mission and employ resources wisely.

View of Rounds Tower.Space and facilities matter, and consultants are meeting with the campus to determine current and future needs so that we utilize space as effectively as possible. Academic planning is being coordinated with a ten-year facilities master plan, the latter under the leadership of Vice President for Finance and Administration Steve Taksar. We know, for example, the effect of the Boyd expansion, from new majors and increased students and faculty members in the sciences, to a Center for the Environment and over $10 million in research funding and $2 million in gifts. The Hanaway Rink and Savage Welcome Center, the first phase of ALLWell (for Active Living, Learning, and Wellness) has enabled new classes and wonderful opportunities for students in athletics and recreation, as well as supporting student recruitment and community programming. The next phases of ALLWell also are important, enabling the Department of Health and Human Performance to expand its capacity for students in much-needed health and wellness fields, supporting academic programming including exercise prescription, physiological and cardiac testing, health and wellness, and laboratories for student and faculty research; as well as athletic and recreational opportunities for the three-quarters of undergraduates who use the facilities, affecting both recruitment and retention—not to mention employee health and wellness. Space on the Plymouth side of campus will need repurposing and remodeling. At a recent career fair, one speaker described ours as the most beautiful campus in the state. I think all of us are proud and should thank Ellen Shippee and the physical plant team for their care.

Enrollment management also requires an investment in technological infrastructure and content. This year PSU is moving to a customer relationship management (CRM) application to serve potential and current students more effectively, building embedded videos to tell the PSU story, and providing a Virtual Campus Experience online. In the more competitive environment we have entered, branding, communications, and marketing play a new role.

Thank you to all who have been participating in these thoughtful conversations. And I know there have been many, many of them. As a campus we will integrate the thinking and assess the outcomes and then do it again. How we talk together and make decisions effectively will matter. You should know that the University System Board of Trustees has changed its procedures to provide the campuses more autonomy and flexibility. More decisions will be final here on campus, with accountability to the Board, but fewer approvals that reduce our ability to move quickly. At this time, I also note other changes: former chancellor Ed MacKay retired earlier this month, and with us today is Todd Leach, president of Granite State College and interim chancellor; Anne Huot, the incoming president of Keene State College, was approved and introduced to Keene yesterday; and this year we lost two former trustees and true champions for education in Eugene Savage and John Crosier. Both will be missed.

Another challenge is the cost of higher education. Certainly we are working to enhance revenues in order to keep tuition and fees reasonable. PSU recently has been awarded research funding of just over $3.6 million, and the total funding of grants and contracts the Office of Sponsored Programs is managing is just over $10.5 million. Those dollars enable exciting opportunities for students, staff, and faculty members. University Advancement, led by Vice President Sally Holland, is actively engaging alumni and friends as donors to scholarship funds, capital projects, and the Annual Fund. All unrestricted Annual Fund gifts directly support the operating budget, and our volunteer fundraising board, the President’s Council, has participated with 100 percent annual giving.

And we are working with the governor and the legislature. Even before the legislative reductions of the last biennium, we were cost-effective and prudent, spending approximately 20 percent less per student than many comparable institutions, and with a higher proportion of that spending applied to direct instruction for our students. We have worked to reduce ongoing energy expenses and to enhance the use of technology in institutional processes, again reducing costs as responsible stewards. When the state appropriation was reduced by 49 percent, we came together in campus forums and maintained our commitment to students and absorbed 80 percent of the reduction through voluntary separation plans, salary and hiring freezes, and reduced benefits. We deferred some investments. Over the past decade, Plymouth State had seen increases in student numbers, in students with financial need, and in the amount of aid students needed, and we had increased the proportion of state appropriation devoted to aid for New Hampshire students. During the last biennium, we maintained that aid, demonstrating our dedication to students. The Operating Staff and the Professional, Administrative, and Technical employees (PATs) increased their personal scholarship giving; and the faculty created a new fund, the Supporting Our Students Faculty Scholarship.

Nonetheless there was an increase in tuition, and New Hampshire citizens and families rightly are concerned about the state’s support of higher education. This year, all of the University System residential campuses saw a decline in New Hampshire students, some of whom may have chosen to attend community colleges or schools out of state, some of whom may have decided not to further their education. The loss of those students has a significant impact on our operating budget and on our public mission. New Hampshire is aging and many adults will be leaving the workforce; the in-migration of educated adults has slowed; and national data indicates that New Hampshire ranks seventh in the nation in the high proportion of jobs that will require a bachelor’s degree by 2018, only five years from now. Students with degrees will earn more and be less subject to economic downturns. We also know what an education means at the most fundamental level, and it is more than jobs, however important they are. It is about one’s mind and life.

As a result we are working actively with Governor Hassan and the legislature to restore our appropriation and to continue the state’s investment in our buildings. Governor Hassan has proposed to increase the University System appropriation from its current $55 million to $75 million in the first year of the biennium and $90 million in the second, and we will freeze tuition for two years and increase merit, need, and STEM aid to New Hampshire students. We have a strong advocacy campaign, led on campus by Steve Barba with colleagues across the University System. I have testified before various committees, as have Plymouth State faculty and staff, students, parents, friends, trustees, and alumni, and materials are available online at PSU Works for New Hampshire. New Hampshire is a grass roots democracy, and we are reaching out to state legislators to reestablish and enhance our partnership with New Hampshire.

In sum, Plymouth State is a community where people collaborate so that current students and the next generation of students will thrive. When we look at an incoming class, we know that education is personal, and our students have names: Alex, Jill, Ryan, Lexi, Ben or Becca. Building for the next generation will require intelligence and flexibility and a willingness to take appropriate risks. It was not easy in 1913, but they accomplished much, and so will we. Thank you for letting me share the journey with you.

Plymouth State University Class of 2016
Plymouth State University Class of 2016