Plymouth State University: The Right Place

State of the University Address
President Sara Jayne Steen, Plymouth State University, 10 March 2010

image001Welcome to the State of the University Address. I appreciate your being here today as we discuss Plymouth State University and its achievements and challenges. Last year I spoke with you at length about the ways in which PSU is moving through the current economic crisis to emerge an even stronger and more focused institution. The economic challenges have not ended, and I will speak of those later in this address. This year I want to comment on our progress toward the goals we set for ourselves more than two years ago in an ambitious five-year strategic plan. First, however, we look to this past year. Today is a time when we pause from the work we do in our individual offices and departments and view the University as a whole.

Plymouth State University is, as our students have phrased it, an amazing place. As a regional comprehensive institution, we focus on first-rate teaching at the undergraduate and graduate levels—and student success across the disciplines reflects that commitment. Our teaching is informed by research, scholarship, and creativity, and PSU students work with faculty members who understand our mission and excel in their support of it, having their art chosen for top exhibitions, their creativity shown in books, film, and performances, and their scholarship published in fine venues—and they mentor students so that students, too, bring that level of creativity and commitment to their studies. Staff members in Admissions or Financial Aid or Residential Life or other areas of the University are innovative and energetic in their support of students; they are regularly acknowledged by students and recognized for professional excellence. PSU is an engaged and vital institution, with people devoted to making a difference at home, in the region, and across the world, a place that emphasizes collaboration and partnership, a place where our motto, Ut prosim (That I may serve), is lived as well as spoken. A recent video created on campus and narrated by Executive Director of University Relations Steve Barba makes visible some of the faces and stories behind that motto. The video, aptly named Making a Difference at Home and in the World, is viewable on the PSU Web site. I encourage you to see it.

Two weeks ago, a student from the class of 2010 wrote about her thoughts as she approaches this May’s Commencement. She said that her involvement at PSU has advanced her “personally, academically, and professionally . . . a tribute to the faculty, administration, and staff.” She asked me to pass along her “sincere thanks to [all] . . . for creating an environment where students thrive.”

Thanks to its people, Plymouth State University is a wonderful place to live, to learn, and to thrive.

Let me provide a few samples of this year’s achievements.

  • Music, Theatre, and Dance undergraduates Jennifer Fijal and Daniel Brevik were selected for the competitive summer opera program in Salzburg, Austria during the renowned Salzburg Festival.
  • For the twelfth consecutive year, Master of Business Administration students earned awards in the National Small Business Institute Case of the Year Competition. Andrew White, Kim Lyden-Ricker, Patrick Melancon, and Greg Chase participated on teams that won first- and second-place awards with inventive plans for New Hampshire businesses.
  • Professor of Social Work Stephen Gorin was elected to the National Academy of Social Insurance, recognizing him as one of the nation’s leading experts on Social Security, Medicare, and related social assistance and private employee programs; and professor of Health and Human Performance Cheryl Coker was selected to lead the Motor Development and Learning Research Academy of the National Association for Sport and Physical Education.
  • Jennifer Frank, University Police special investigator, and Lauren Lavigne, head women’s basketball coach, were named to this year’s Union Leader “40 Under Forty” list of the most significant young professionals making a difference to New Hampshire.
  • Interim Associate Vice President for the College of Graduate Studies George Tuthill was one of three experts nationwide who explained the science behind athletic performance on the Science of the Olympic Winter Games Web site, produced in association with NBC Learn and the National Science Foundation.
  • Senior Chris Chambers from the men’s hockey team was named the MASCAC Conference Player of the Year; the men’s and women’s basketball teams earned post-season berths; the men’s ski team earned the combined alpine title at the Eastern Collegiate Championships and third place at the national championships, and the women’s team skied to a sixth place national finish; and head wrestling coach Tommy Prairie was inducted into the New England Wrestling Association Hall of Fame.
  • Langdon Woods Residential Complex was awarded a Building of America Gold Medal. The medal, presented by the Real Estate & Construction Review to honor the region’s “most innovative, unique, and challenging projects,” named Langdon Woods one of two such projects in New England.
  • At this year’s National Association of Student Affairs Professionals conference in Rhode Island, undergraduate Jeannie Choe received the Catch a Rising Star Scholarship for New Hampshire for her academic achievement and her contributions. Ashley Phillips, residence hall director at Blair Residence Hall, received the Richard F. Stevens Outstanding New Professional Award for New Hampshire. And Vice President for Student Affairs Dick Hage was honored with the Institutional Leadership Award for a region including New England, the Canadian Maritime Provinces, and Europe; he was honored for leadership in making PSU, in one nominator’s words, “a nobler place.” Dick is retiring from the vice presidency after more than three decades at PSU. Please thank him for his good work.
  • And PSU again has been named to the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll by the Corporation for National and Community Service. This honor represents recognition at the highest level of PSU’s commitment to community service and civic engagement; our students commit hundreds of thousands of hours to working on behalf of others. This is the third year that PSU has been so honored.

You know that the list goes on. When I speak to external groups, I often say, “Let me tell you about the last week at PSU,” and the activities are impressive.

I would now like to shift to a different form of accountability and assessment, a progress report on our strategic plan. When I arrived on campus in 2006, I learned from the colleagues who were already here; I asked about dreams, what should be cherished and not changed, and where there were opportunities for PSU to shine even brighter. Departments across campus had developed thoughtful plans, and, in an inclusive process led by Provost Julie Bernier and Associate Dean of Institutional Research and Assessment Scott Mantie, the campus held forums and developed a University strategic plan to guide us through 2012. The process began, as strategic planning should, with our mission as a regional comprehensive university and our values. And we looked beyond. Higher education in the twenty-first century will be different because of technology and because of issues that are both more global and, ironically, increasingly local. We focused on ensuring that PSU provides an education relevant for today and for tomorrow.

In January of 2008, PSU unveiled the Strategic Plan for 2012. The goal was to make PSU stronger and even more distinctive as a regional comprehensive university. The plan is innovative and ambitious and divided into five sections: Excellence and Quality, the overarching principles; Student Success, our most important task; Faculty and Staff, support for the people who devote their lives to what we do; Partnerships and Engagement, a recognition that we are an engaged university of place, integrated with our region; and Physical, Technological, and Financial Resources, the foundation for other achievements. We have used the plan as a guide, as it was intended, and established a Planning and Budgeting Leadership Group to help align the plan with the budget to accomplish our objectives.

We are now at the midpoint of that five-year plan, and, in line with best practices, this is a report on progress, a time to celebrate accomplishment and to ascertain challenges. I am grateful to many people across campus not only for the activities described here but also for the creation of the online report itself—a substantial effort from the Office of Public Relations—which says something meaningful about the amount of good work being done. The report can be used flexibly, and I hope you will take time on your own to survey it.

advisingLet’s begin with Student Success, the most important of the goals. Academic departments have been revising undergraduate programs to remove barriers to students moving through their programs, and the Advising Center has in place junior and senior audits, with customized reports for every undergraduate. Graduation rates have increased six percent in five years. More classes are being offered when students need them, to accommodate students’ complex lives and work schedules. For example, faculty have begun to offer intensive “second-half” classes that begin mid-semester, and the Frost School has expanded online, hybrid, and evening and weekend courses, as well as offering courses in the summer and Winterim terms. Faculty members are supported in adding technology to their teaching by the Office of Online Education. Following up on initiatives begun by Mary Campbell in Undergraduate Studies, PSU is actively working with the Community College System of New Hampshire to develop agreements that allow students to transfer seamlessly to PSU. More than 40 agreements now are in place.

New programs respond to regional needs and reach new audiences. We are now well into the first year of doctoral study for our initial cohort in the Doctor of Education in Learning, Leadership, and Community, and have added academic programs in Sports Management, Environmental Science and Policy, and Tourism Management and Policy, all significant to our state and region, as are options in, for example, Small Business Entrepreneurship. Opportunities for undergraduate research and internships are being significantly expanded. Normally, a third of incoming undergraduates are in the process of deciding on a field of study, and the College of University Studies, with a beautiful learning environment in Mary Lyon Hall and strong mentoring, has been successful in helping students to decide on a major and graduate on time. That program is expanding.

chamber-singers-italyTo better prepare students to live in a diverse world and global community, we have contracted with ELS Language Centers to offer 12 levels of English as a Second Language to international students from across the globe. The presence of ELS has allowed us to extend our international recruiting, and ELS students well may choose to attend PSU when language proficiency has been achieved. An Internationalization Task Force recommended the formation of a Global Education Office, now directed by Deb Regan, and faculty members have increased the number of short-term, and thus more affordable, faculty-led trips for students, such as the recent course in which 32 students studied Italian from Remy Grosso with PSU colleagues Barbara Lopez-Mayhew, Dan Perkins, Kathleen Arecchi, and Lisa Ladd during the autumn and then travelled to Italy during Winterim for a three-week cultural immersion tour, with the PSU Chamber Singers performing at 11 sites. The Department of Languages and Linguistics has developed innovative programming in Mandarin, for example, and Arabic, and international partnerships have been created, such as one between the PSU College of Business Administration and the American University of Antigua. Faculty members involve students in global research: as I speak, the College of Graduate Studies TIGER program, integrating arts education and counseling, is performing by invitation at schools in Cairo, Egypt.

The $MART program to enhance students’ financial literacy, developed by the Financial Aid Team, has been successful, as has the move to federal direct lending, and a Service Learning Task Force is exploring best practices to enhance PSU’s already strong student options in service learning and civic engagement. These are initiatives focused on institutional goals for student success.

For Faculty and Staff Support, a number of initiatives are in place and under way. The academic affairs division is organizing into colleges to better reflect the campus growth and more fully integrate and advance undergraduate and graduate programming. The College of Business Administration was created this year, with Trent Boggess as its founding dean. The campus also is gradually increasing the number of faculty positions in order to maintain and enhance excellence through keeping class sizes small and balancing workload in ways that allow faculty members to engage in scholarship and have more time to mentor students. A Research Advisory Council and a Faculty Research and Scholarship Fund have been created to support faculty work. Professional development funds also have been made available to adjunct faculty members.

PSU’s first two endowed professorships have been developed over the past three years, the Stevens-Bristow professorship for those who educate the educators and the Wixson professorship of mathematics. These are term professorships, generously created by alumni Wally and Meredith Stevens and former faculty members Ed and Marilyn Wixson. It is my pleasure today to announce that the next Stevens-Bristow professor has been selected and will be Professor Marianne True in Education. You will be hearing more soon about her appointment. Additional awards have been created to honor employee excellence. You should have received today a copy of Excellence, an annual publication available in print and online that acknowledges the exceptional work being done on campus. The people featured in Excellence have been chosen by their peers, and there is no higher honor.

image002Partnerships and Engagement with the community and region have special resonance for a public regional comprehensive university. We are higher education working on the ground, and our region should be the better for our presence. The Center for the Environment, the Center for Rural Partnerships, the Center for Active Living and Healthy Communities, the Institute for New Hampshire Studies, the Small Business Institute, and more: all are working with and for our communities and in the process are providing extraordinary hands-on opportunities for students. Every Acre Counts, for example, is the result of a complex master planning process involving the nine towns of the Newfound Lake watershed, the Center for the Environment, and other partners; the outcome will be meaningful in terms of protecting Newfound Lake’s water quality and offering students hands-on research experience. The Center for Rural Partnerships has been actively bringing partners together to improve economic development and quality of life, especially in northern New Hampshire. The Coos County Outreach Initiative, funded by the Neil and Louise Tillotson Fund of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, and the newly developed North Country Economic Index are enhancing cultural, economic, and educational partnerships and bringing external funding to those who together can solve problems.

With our host community of Plymouth, we celebrated 1808 and two hundred years of partnership between the town and education—in this case, Holmes Plymouth Academy—with historical presentations and an original play with music. We have established a Business Liaison Office and created a series, Live, Work, and Innovate in Rural New Hampshire, that brings area businesses to campus, providing business leaders an opportunity to meet potential employees, and students a chance to learn about potential careers right here in New Hampshire.

Physical, Technological, and Financial Resources are foundational to much of what is achieved in the other goals. One priority is sustainability, a core value. PSU was a charter signatory of the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, and has formed a Commission on Environmental Sustainability that is completing our first Climate Action Plan. That plan calls for a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2025 and is available online for campus comment this semester. PSU has established an Office of Environmental Sustainability, directed by Bill Crangle, and created EcoHouse, a grant-funded living and learning laboratory for students that connects sustainability with historic preservation. Langdon Woods, a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) gold-certified building, has won four major awards. Sustainability fellows promote awareness of sustainable living, residence halls engage in energy competition, and Sodexo saves 35 tons of food and $160,000 a year with its trayless initiative.

In technology, too, PSU has moved forward. The Information Technology Services team has upgraded the campus infrastructure, implemented practices to lower technology costs, enhanced use of virtual servers, added text messaging and other emergency processes, and instituted an Academic Technology Advisory Group to enhance the integration of technology and learning. We welcome today new CIO Steve Campbell, who brings to PSU a strong background in technology and a commitment to serving campus users.

PSU_campusFacilities also matter. Students, employees, and visitors often comment on the beauty of the PSU campus. The physical plant and grounds crews take great pride in their work. Thank you to Ellen Shippee and the team—your impact is immeasurable. We are working on deferred maintenance and infrastructure replacement and prioritizing classroom renovations. We acquired Highland Hall, trading for it our former infirmary space adjacent to Speare Memorial Hospital, an excellent outcome for both PSU and Speare. The College of Graduate Studies is already established in Highland Hall, in an excellently remodeled space, and Information Technology Services will move to Highland Hall by the end of the semester. Holmes House has been remodeled for the Advancement division, the Bachelor of Fine Arts student studio has moved onto campus, and the renovation of Mary Lyon Residence Hall has been recognized with an Award of Merit for historic preservation. PSU’s Concord site, developed in partnership with the New Hampshire Association of School Principals and the New Hampshire Association of Special Education Administrators, twice has been expanded. PSU now offers more than 130 courses a year at that site. Two other buildings, the welcome center and ice arena and the former church on Highland Street, I will discuss in a few minutes.

This is a difficult time to strengthen financial resources, and I am enormously proud of the way people on campus have collaborated on behalf of the University. PSU has long worked to contain costs and operate efficiently, and the campus community strives to improve service, reduce energy consumption, and leverage technology and innovation. The members of the Planning and Budgeting Leadership Group and the Enrollment Management Advisory Group are knowledgeable, creative, and committed. Greatideas@ has attracted nearly a hundred suggestions, many of which have been implemented; not surprisingly, the people who work in a division often best know how to contain costs and enhance revenues. Admissions is collaborating with the Office of Public Relations on using social media for recruiting; with Advancement on an alumni recruiting program; and with Undergraduate Studies on a faculty program to make personal connections with admitted students. The campus encourages innovation that both aligns with the strategic plan and enhances revenues from sources other than tuition, whether that is through conferences, sponsored programs, or fundraising. Vice President for Finance and Administration Steve Taksar works closely with students, colleagues, and vendors to ensure thoughtful, prudent, and creative decisions.

In that regard, we have established an integrated Advancement division, combining Alumni Affairs, Development, and Advancement Services, with an addition of Parental Relations. This division is led by Executive Director of University Advancement Sylvia Bryant and represents a significant step for Plymouth State University in creating a culture of philanthropy. The President’s Council, composed of alumni and friends who devote significant time to advancing Plymouth State through fundraising, is shaping a new campaign, with provision for student scholarships and stipends, faculty and staff support, and capital projects. The President’s Council already is playing an important role on behalf of the welcome center and ice arena.

Two exciting interdisciplinary initiatives deserve discussion in more depth. As a regional comprehensive university, we are a university of place, with focus on our region and its vitality, and our mission includes a special responsibility to the Lakes Region and the North Country, a charge we take seriously.

The first initiative is the White Mountains Institute. We are fortunate to live in a glorious area, and I have watched with interest as ideas for the Institute have taken shape across campus. Through the White Mountains Institute, PSU can celebrate the heritage of the White Mountains and create a premier center for research and coursework, taking advantage of the spectacular living and learning laboratory around us and connecting it with programs in environmental studies, tourism management, natural resources, historic preservation, meteorology, arts and culture, and more. One feature is a Museum, a center of excellence dedicated to the study and appreciation of the White Mountains. Curator Catherine Amidon speaks movingly of the gift PSU recently has received from Dan Noel, who devoted a lifetime to creating a collection of thousands of White Mountains items— rare glass-plate photographs, stereoscopic images, hotel ledgers, postcards, first edition books, maps, and more—that is the founding collection, and for which we are enormously grateful. The Museum will be housed in the former Methodist Church on Highland Street, with the Karl Drerup Art Gallery; a campus group is working on the renovation design. Among projects associated with the White Mountains Institute are the current series celebrating the 2011 centennial of the Weeks Act, which established the National Forest System with the creation of the White Mountain National Forest, a landmark in U.S. history, and a related exhibit of photographs that opened last week at the Silver Center for the Arts. On these, PSU is working in collaboration with many wonderful partners.

The second initiative is associated with health and wellness: the Active Living, Learning, and Wellness—ALLWell—Center. Over several years, PSU has engaged in a significant campus planning process to vault the University forward in all aspects of our mission by uniting the Department of Health and Human Performance (HHP) with its laboratory in athletics and recreation, enhancing teaching, research, student athletics and campus recreation, community programming for active living, and economic development. The project will be transformative. Health and wellness professionals, especially for rural areas, are desperately needed, and HHP now offers twelve undergraduate and three graduate programs. The first phase of ALLWell, a welcome center and ice arena, will open this summer, with special events for students, alumni, employees, and the community scheduled through December. The facility will be integrated with our host communities; the welcome center invites visitors not only to PSU but also to Holderness and Plymouth, and to the Lakes Region and the North Country. It will be named the Eugene and Joan Savage Welcome Center, acknowledging the leadership and community service that Gene and Joan exemplify, and the support they have given to the institution over the years. Students have been engaged with the arena from its inception, from “blueprints to last beam signing,” as student speaker Lindsay Harrington said at a recent Board of Trustees meeting.

The first section of the strategic plan, Excellence and Quality, really depends on the others. In the past few years, Plymouth State has been recognized repeatedly at the national level: with a 2008 Innovation Award from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation for policies that support career flexibility for tenure-track faculty; with the 2009 Chronicle of Higher Education’s “Great Colleges to Work For” designation, in which PSU was recognized in eight categories, including collaborative governance and mutual appreciation; and, for the past three consecutive years, with the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll designation, the highest federal recognition for commitment to volunteering, service learning, and civic engagement, appropriate to an institution with the motto of Ut prosim (That I may serve).

Clearly there also are challenges. The achievements enumerated here are far from the whole, and PSU is moving forward with such energy on our strategic plan because people at PSU are entrepreneurial and committed, and in spite of financial uncertainties and an economy that is slow to recover. The problems are not simple and require new ways of thinking. Whether we speak of national demographic shifts or an increased need to provide financial aid to students and their families, I am proud of the spirit and seriousness with which people at PSU have responded to the difficult issues we face together and applied themselves to creating solutions.

To those of us who work with planning each day, there is a conscious integration of planning and budgeting on campus that is critical; and the ideas you have heard today are thoughtful examples of appealing to new audiences, improving students’ educational opportunities, providing better use of facilities on a year-round basis, diversifying revenue streams, serving our region with distinction, and enhancing revenue through partnerships and fundraising.

psu-white-mountainsPSU has much still to accomplish, and in deciding what to fund and not to fund as we move forward, we will remain focused on our plan. We cannot stop investing in good ideas and in the future, even though some initiatives, such as fundraising and developing new public-private partnerships, are not immediate in effect: they require time. In budgeting as in mission we will take a long-term view. Perhaps the long-term view comes especially easily to a humanist who reads Shakespeare and whose disciplinary field calls the sixteenth century “early modern,” but I believe it comes naturally to most of us in education, because we know that education is not solely for immediate return—though it is that—but also for a lifetime and extending to future generations.

There will be difficult decisions especially this year and next, and we will make them. As always, I will keep you informed, and we will talk together. But there will be an economic recovery over time, and while we think of the short-term issues of closing a budget gap with the least negative impact, we also think of advancing PSU’s long-term strength, quality, and dreams.

I hesitate to close by reading a letter—I read them to you frequently—but I hope you will understand why I do so. This one is a two-paged, single-spaced letter of praise, listing people in advising, athletics, and undergraduate studies who delivered on the Plymouth State promise to give students their best. It concludes like this:

The cooperation, teamwork and dedication of these individuals will not be forgotten. They have exhibited exemplary professionalism and truly practice the philosophy that is unique to Plymouth State University.

Because of this experience, “Ut Prosim” is not so much a motto as hands-on, efficiently executed management procedure. Because of their efforts, another student is on her way to a hopeful, confident, productive life.

Well done, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you from two very grateful parents.

Today was a just a glimpse of the vibrant regional comprehensive university that is Plymouth State. For so much in programming, for our region, and for so many of us, Plymouth State University is more than a university of place—it is the right place.