Trust the process

It’s been a good week at Tennessee Tech by the numbers. Our first national rankings in U.S. News & World Report came, followed closely by news of a significant jump in our freshman retention rate.

As exciting as it is to share these numbers, it takes context and backstory to see how these numbers matter and shape our future. Marilyn vos Savant cautions, “Be able to analyze statistics, which can be used to support or undercut almost any argument.” Over the next few months, we’ll have ongoing discussions about the elements of our national ranking, but for now let’s look at what the retention rate increase really says about our campus.

Tech’s one-year retention rate for our cohort of first-time, full-time freshmen in Fall 2015 was 79 percent, by far, the largest one-year retention rate in the past 20 years.

This increase from the previous six year average of 74 percent is a result of vision, change, teamwork and hard work.

Though we were the envy of many regional universities at around 74 percent, we looked at what it would take to move the needle. Our Flight Plan goal, set three years ago, aspired to rise to 80 percent in five years.

Enrollment Management leadership asked that we put resources and focus on two areas: student class attendance and a support system that allows advisors to give excellent service to students.

In fiscal year 2013, we committed resources for the next year to hire 15 professional advisors and create a director of advisement services, a director of retention services and a director of military and veteran’s affairs. In 2014, colleges and professional advisors worked together to create a retention strategy centered in Student Success Centers in each college.

We found opportunities to use people involved in the student life cycle so that we had a long view of how advice and decisions would affect students throughout their college careers.

Creating a culture of student success before the first semester is key, so leaders worked together to create SOAR sessions that set high expectations and gave information so students know when and how to ask for help.

We also have seen a positive effect from preset schedules given to incoming freshmen. Since Summer 2013, we’ve had an 11 percent increase in the number of hours these students attempt, plus an almost 5 percent in increase in the number of these students above a 2.0 GPA, an important threshold in retention.

A registration campaign, which directs intentional contact with students who don’t register for their next semester classes by a certain time, has helped students overcome barriers to staying enrolled.
Through Freshman Flight Path, we contact about 600 freshmen per semester when they miss class. They may get an email, phone call or face-to-face visit from a resident assistant.

I’ve heard great stories about how RAs find ways to help students. If a student says they oversleep, some RAs set their own alarm clocks so they can go wake students up, even if they don’t have class, to help them develop a pattern of getting up on time.

One RA noticed several students were missing the same math class, a class the RA had taken, so he created an informal mini study group to help them with that class.

We continue to hear from our successful students that when they needed help, a genuine community of faculty and staff cared for them and helped them.

The great news is there are so many people involved in this success story across campus as Provost Ghorashi mentioned earlier this week in his note to the campus community. Thank you to every faculty and professional advisor who committed to our new approach. Thank you to support staff, resident assistants, admissions staff and orientation leaders. I want to particularly congratulate and thank Enrollment Management leadership, Bobby Hodum, Melissa Irvin and Julie Longmire. Great Job!

Go Eagles!

Posted in Announcements, News

What Do You Believe?

Event_Orientation_WOW_DancingOnDixie_19AUG16_00008 copy-smLife is good at Tennessee Tech to begin our second century. As we wrap up our first week of the fall semester, it is a beautiful late summer day in the Upper Cumberland. The 10,000-plus new and returning students animate the campus landscape and hallowed halls with their unique forms of positive energy. We feel the promise of this new academic year from the classrooms to the athletic fields. It is truly a special time of year.

Reading a common book serves as an annual ritual designed to welcome and acclimate our new freshmen class. This year’s committee selected This I Believe II, a book of short essays written by everyday people from all walks of life to express their personal perspectives about life. The effort originated with Edward R. Murrow in the early 1950s and has since seen a number of iterations in books, radio broadcasts and TV shows.

As you might guess, it is an easy but very thought provoking read. I was challenged by the freshmen orientation staff to write my own personal essay to share with incoming freshmen. It is actually much harder than I expected to condense my personal perspectives on life to 500 words, but I found the effort very rewarding. I encourage anyone not only to read the book, but to take the time to write your own personal essay for your own benefit. If you care to read mine, here it is.

Best wishes to everyone for a healthy and productive 2016-2017 academic year.

Go Eagles! #WingsUp


If you do write your own personal essay and would like to share it, you can do so at https://www.tntech.edu/machform/view.php?id=295994. The essays will be reviewed, and possibly posted online for public view.

Posted in Messages

A State of the University message to campus

At the end of each academic year, there’s a natural tendency to reflect on the health and well being of the institution.

I’m sharing a State of the University message with you to capture the accomplishments of faculty, staff and students as we conclude the semester.  I am happy to report that Tennessee Tech University is exceptionally healthy and secure in all areas of operations.

About four years ago, we collectively envisioned where we could take the university. We established leadership teams made up of faculty, staff and students.

Initially more than 50 members of the campus community came together in the Flight Plan process to address: What will Tennessee Tech become?

The major changes and successes we see today were born from the broad-based, data-driven, coherent process of setting goals and working together with discipline, persistence and intentionality as an entire campus community.

As we near commencement for our last graduating class of the Centennial Celebration, here are the ways we’ve improved and excelled in an effort to serve students.

 

Invested in Faculty and Programs

  • Five consecutive years of faculty/staff salary raises (average faculty salary has gone up 11 percent since 2012)
  • Increased full-time permanent faculty by 15 percent (55 faculty members) over five years
  • Reduced student-faculty ratio from 22:1 to 19:1
  • Added over four dozen new academic programs and concentrations

Improved Student Success Initiatives

  • Improved first-year retention rate to 75-76 percent, an increase of 5-6 percentage points
  • Improved six-year graduation rate to 53 percent
  • Saved and enhanced ROTC

Established best practices

  • Received exemplary on-site review by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, our accrediting agency
  • Earned near perfect accreditation visit last year from ABET, the College of Engineering’s accrediting agency

Increased Research, Economic Development and Resources

  • Improved Carnegie classification to Doctoral/Research University
  • Received 13 Intellectual Property disclosures this year, a record number compared to the last 10 years
  • Received largest competitive grant ever awarded to Tennessee Tech (~$4 million)
  • Announced total research monetary awards for fiscal year 2016 already surpasses all of last year, even without two large recent announcements
  • Significantly increased research proposal submissions
  • Partnered with local community and state to recruit approximately 2,500 new jobs to Putnam County
  • Created the most dynamic student/faculty entrepreneurial ecosystem in the Southeast
  • Posted the largest private fund raising year in history, $22 million to date compared to previous high of $8.7 million

Expanded and Improved Facilities 

  • Approved funding for $90 million laboratory science building
  • Launched $45 million student fitness center project
  • Renovated and renamed Oakley Hall
  • Began renovation of Jere Whitson Building as a one-stop Welcome and Enrollment Center
  • Completed Centennial Plaza
  • Expanded and improved food service options

 

What’s next?

As we move toward a new governance structure, we welcome the opportunity to increase campus participation.

We are forming an eight-member transition taskforce to help act as a steering committee as we stand up an independent board. The taskforce will be made up of four faculty members and former Faculty Senate presidents, and four senior administrators.

The charge will include reviewing bylaws, overseeing progress and prioritization of policy changes, and reviewing infrastructure, staffing and data handling.

We have a lot of work to do, but there’s still a need for long-range, purposeful planning while we continue working.

I’m looking forward to doing this together. I welcome your continued conversation about the future.

Have a great summer. Wings Up!

Posted in Messages Tagged with: , ,

2016 Research and Creative Activities Day

Spring semester at Tennessee Tech is always full of high energy fun with numerous events and activities almost every day.  One event that stands out is the annual Research Day, where students celebrate and showcase original research and creative efforts.  On Thursday, April 7, Roaden University Center will be packed with students standing beside their respective posters eagerly waiting to describe their latest scholarly discoveries to any interested person who passes by.  The work presented is never perfect, but always interesting and typically high quality.

Research Day 2015

Tennessee Tech was recently reclassified by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching as a Doctoral-Research University.  This important symbolic recognition reflects the maturation of Tennessee Tech as a university and the relevance of research to all the groups we serve.

Occasionally, I am questioned about the need for research on a university campus.  After all, aren’t we here primarily to teach students, not conduct research?  Certainly, there are both traditional two-year and four-year colleges as well as online institutions that award degrees by focusing exclusively on the one-way dissemination of information.  I am proud to say, Tennessee Tech is not one of them!

When universities are at their very best, they do two fundamentally simple tasks well.  First, they CREATE and DISSEMINATE knowledge. Second, they IDENTIFY and DEVELOP human talent.  Faculty led research and scholarship is the only single activity I know that accomplishes both of those objectives.

We all recognize that the best way to really learn something is by doing it.  The relationship between a student and a faculty mentor in the context of research or scholarly activities is most similar to that of an apprentice to a master craftsman.  The student invariably not only learns firsthand through personal discovery, but more importantly develops the complete set of skills necessary to become an independent professional.

In that sense, research is not a sideline or distraction, but rather the ultimate educational experience.  If you doubt that, spend some time with the students in the RUC on April 7.  I promise that their knowledge will impress you, but their passion and enthusiasm absolutely will convince you of the importance of research on a university campus.

Go Eagles!

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FOCUS Act will improve Tennessee’s universities

I wanted to share this opinion piece that I wrote about the FOCUS Act. It ran in today’s edition of the Tennessean.

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FOCUS Act will improve Tennessee’s universities

The FOCUS Act, a bill currently not familiar to most Tennesseans, will produce six public universities far superior in quality to those you see today.

So what should Tennesseans know? Why should you care?

Within the past six years, Tennessee has emerged as a national leader in higher education. In order to continue our state’s leadership in this area, we must hold higher education accountable for fulfilling its primary role: to provide relevant educational opportunities to fuel the state’s economy.

Starting with the 2010 Complete College Tennessee Act, Tennessee committed to student success and  would no longer tolerate poor retention and graduation rates in our public colleges and universities. The act established a funding formula which incentivized colleges and universities to successfully graduate students, and required public colleges and universities to provide students with reliable expectations for transferring credits.

Gov. Haslam quickly followed by introducing Drive to 55 and its ambitious goal of reaching 55 percent of Tennessee adults with a post-secondary degree or certificate by 2025. A major push toward that goal came with Tennessee Promise, which provides free community or applied technology college tuition to any Tennessee high school graduate.

The next step in Tennessee’s 21st century higher education effort involves restructuring the governance of the six public universities currently under the Tennessee Board of Regents and charges the remaining Board of Regents to place a sharper focus on community and technology colleges.

A bill, submitted to the Tennessee General Assembly as the Focus on College and University Success (FOCUS) Act, involves Austin Peay State University, East Tennessee State University, Middle Tennessee State University, Tennessee State University, Tennessee Tech University and the University of Memphis. While maintaining state control, the FOCUS Act allows each public university to establish its own independent state university board.

As historic as this proposed new structure is (the current TBR has been around for over 40 years), the question for most Tennesseans is likely, “Why should I care?” This may appear like a lot of furniture being rearranged, but for what benefit?

Higher education is a different enterprise than when the TBR was created in 1972. Then, state funding provided 70-80 percent of universities’s budgets. Now only 20-30 percent comes from the state. This means that public universities must now aggressively pursue students by providing the most valuable educational experience for their tuition dollars. While the tuition sticker price for students has gone up, the ultimate value of a relevant college degree in today’s world economy has never been higher.

Although some disagree, I believe competition produces good results for students because it leads to stronger, more relevant and cost-effective institutions. However, that achievement requires a different governance structure that provides each institution autonomy to move freely and respond quickly to the changing dynamics and demands now placed on higher education.

The current structure, designed for control and stability, served us well in the past. However, now we need speed and agility. Local autonomy is important because the educational markets for these six universities are very different. The market for the University of Memphis is very different than that for Tennessee Tech or East Tennessee State.

So why should Tennesseans care?

The ability to become the best university possible is ultimately what the FOCUS Act promises.

You will see universities able to thoughtfully and quickly adapt to changing public needs, providing the most relevant, cost-effective educational opportunities to drive Tennessee’s future economies.

Posted in News Tagged with: , , , ,

Inclement weather

I wanted to share with you the process Tech uses to obtain information that I use in deciding whether to close the campus. I take this decision very seriously and want to help everyone understand what information goes into reaching it.

Throughout the night, I am in constant contact with our head of facilities and our campus police chief, who serves as our campus liaison with city and county authorities. We also have regular communication and input from each college’s dean, Faculty Senate leaders and others in the university administration to ensure we have the most updated and relevant information in order to make an informed decision.

 Once I get this information about campus and the Cookeville area, the decision is made based on:

  • campus conditions
  • the ability to create safe ways to enter buildings (starting with each building’s ADA-compliant entrances)
  • information about conditions in Cookeville

The potential impact on commuters is a significant consideration, but ultimately difficult to accurately determine due to the diversity of originating locations. When we advise students and staff to use their discretion, we are letting you know that, no matter the conditions on campus and in Cookeville, you must make the final decision for yourself based on your individual circumstances.

If you do decide to exercise caution and not come to campus, know that the university has processes in place in case you feel you are being unfairly treated due to any absence due to inclement weather.

For students, if you need to miss class due to the inclement weather, contact your professor to let them know. If you think you have been unfairly penalized for the absence, the university has procedures in place (TTU Policy No. 301: TTU Student Complaint).

For employees, you need to contact your supervisor if you can’t make it to campus due to inclement weather and use the appropriate leave time. 

Throughout the day, facilities crews have been, and continue to be, hard at work clearing more areas of campus and more entrances into buildings. If you encounter any unsafe conditions, please report it to TTU facilities at 931-372-3226.

Go Eagles!

Posted in Messages Tagged with: , , , , , ,

Tech’s Greatest Achievement?

Turning 100 years old is a big deal!  We officially started celebrating Tennessee Tech’s centennial last March and still have a few months to enjoy with the dedication of Centennial Plaza, a formal gala, and spring commencement.  One hundred years of Tennessee Tech history and tradition gives us much to celebrate proudly.

However as we begin to wind down our celebration, it begs the question, what will the next 100 years of Tennessee Tech look like?  When our successors start celebrating the bicentennial in 2115, what will they see in retrospect that was truly significant in the life of this great university?  I am reminded, as I was told, of a recent interview with Shimon Peres, the 92-year-old former president and two time prime minister of Israel.  When asked to name his greatest achievement he simply responded, “I don’t know. I haven’t done it yet.”  He went on to opine that “old age is when your achievements outnumber your dreams.”

Wow, what an inspirational attitude of optimism and confidence!  I feel that exact same way about Tennessee Tech.  Despite some tremendous accomplishments over the past 100 years, our greatest achievements are yet to be realized.  I feel it as I experience the creativity, passion and enthusiasm of our students every day.  I see it in the genius and diligence of our faculty like Ambareen Siraj, associate professor in computer science, who was just awarded a $3.95 million cybersecurity grant from the National Science Foundation.  I also see it demonstrated in the recent recognition of Tennessee Tech University as a Doctoral Research University by the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education.  At every turn, we continue to be tangibly reminded that Tennessee Tech faculty and students are prepared to soar.  We successfully compete with the best because we confidently aspire to be the best.

Yes, we have much to celebrate, but even more to look forward to.  You will hear much more soon regarding Governor Haslam’s FOCUS Act and its creation of an independent board of trustees for Tennessee Tech.  Also, please mark January 26 on your calendars for the unveiling of TechWall in the Roaden University Center.  We also will begin sharing key messages in the university’s new brand story, complete with a new university academic logo. Here’s to the second century of Tennessee Tech achievements!

Go Eagles!

Posted in Messages Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,

Long Ball

In baseball, home runs excite fans because they are relatively rare, unpredictable, and most often literal game changers. They immediately stir strategy and raise stakes. The Cookeville Higher Education Campus promises to be that same type of game changer for higher education in the Upper Cumberland region.

When the Tennessee Board of Regents announced the unprecedented partnership of Tennessee Tech University, Nashville State Community College and Volunteer State Community College to create the Cookeville Higher Education Campus, we as partners put the needs of students and communities ahead of everything else. TBR Chancellor John Morgan called it an unprecedented amplification of the state’s focus on students.

At CHEC, Tennessee Tech has become the managing partner, allowing all three institutions the ability to offer educational and training programs appropriate to the changing needs of local students and industry. Students who may have never imagined earning a degree or certificate was possible now have a one-stop shop for information, testing, advisement, admission and classes, plus transfer advice.

Tennessee is leading the nation in post-secondary degree completion initiatives. We look toward meeting the increasing workforce demands of the 21st century as jobs are rapidly expanding within the state. Innovative new educational models like CHEC are needed to meet these additional demands and lower the energy barrier for more students to succeed.

Although in a much different operational context, the CHEC initiative is strikingly similar in many ways to the founding of Tennessee Polytechnic Institute exactly 100 years ago. I believe the founding fathers of Tennessee Tech would be very proud to see that legacy of educational access continue to expand well beyond their contemporary vision in 1915.

Just as the African proverb says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together,” we look forward to a long and productive relationship with our CHEC partners. Ultimately, the students will be the real winners.

Go Eagles!

 

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University of Makers

Group_SAE_Formula_Team_28MAR15_00010Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the National Week of Making kickoff event at the White House hosted by the Office of Science and Technology Policy. This past year, thanks to the leadership of Dr. Vahid Motevalli, associate dean of engineering, Tennessee Tech was one of the first of now approximately 70 leading universities around the country to join the Make Schools alliance.

The Maker Movement is an interesting and exciting phenomenon bringing together communities of entrepreneurs, inventors, innovators, educators and political leaders of all ages from all sorts of disciplinary backgrounds such as art, design, science, engineering, advanced manufacturing and business. They coalesce around the shared passion for making things that solve problems and help people. Makers aspire to possibly launch the next Apple, Google, Microsoft, Garmin or Facebook, but what fuels them is the fundamental, natural human instinct to invent and innovate. It is the quintessential essence of American ingenuity.

The Maker Movement is about creating something, anything, of tangible value to offer the broader community. Modern tools like virtual reality, 3-D CAD and 3-D printers are now becoming more affordable and accessible to provide rapid prototyping of new ideas. We are now beginning to see “makerspaces” popping up around the country in schools, public libraries, community centers and university campuses.

I invite you to visit Tech’s new makerspace, iCube (Imagine-Inspire-Innovate), located on the third floor of the Volpe Library. A collaborative partnership of the Colleges of Engineering and Business, along with the Office of Research and Economic Development, the iCube is an open-access makerspace equipped with state-of-the-art design technology for students from any disciplinary major on campus. The technology is cool, but the most exciting part of iCube for me is seeing 40-50 students working in teams to create the next best thing. Some of those projects go on to compete in EagleWorks, TTU’s version of Shark Tank, and ultimately some will go on to achieve commercial success beyond TTU.

As a brand, the Maker Movement may be the new national trend, but Tennessee Tech has been in that business for 100 years. Tech always has produced makers. They are our graduates who are inspired to innovate, solve practical problems and produce products of value for their companies, communities and personal enjoyment. It’s exciting to witness the TTU tradition now becoming mainstream as we inspire the next generation of student innovators and entrepreneurs.

Go Eagles!

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Seriously, A Blog Post about Budgets?!

budgetGraphic-605x1386Even a short conversation regarding budgets can have the effect of a commercial strength sedative.

Although annual budgets seldom reflect accurate year-end expenditures, the value of a well-designed budget process for institutional stability and consistent progress toward strategic goals cannot be overstated. The old sayings “put your money where your mouth is” or “follow the money” are always true.

Ultimately, what we resource and how we do it identifies our true priorities regardless of what might be said.

Clearly, the current practice of incremental budgeting based on historic practices will not adequately support future institutional progress.

With that in mind, along with my belief that resources are best managed and invested wisely at the level where the work is being done, we initiated an effort over a year ago to create a new budget model and process for Tennessee Tech. During this time, the Dean’s Council and the Budget Advisory Committee made up of faculty, staff, and administrators have been working with the Huron Consulting Group to identify and refine potential budget models to best fit our current needs and future aspirations.

Our current budget model offers these characteristics:

  • Academic and administrative budgets roll forward automatically within the financial system each year, and once established, they have not been regularly evaluated.
  • Budgets serve as “expense authority” controls and do not focus on unit-level revenue generation.
  • Variation in year-over-year budgets is limited to decisions made by top leadership in conjunction with recommendations from the strategic planning and budget advisory committees.
  • Presently, funding requests are not based on established metrics.
  • Budgets have not been regularly evaluated by a central authority.
  • The budget cycle is not governed by a dedicated budget office, but rather by resources across the Business Office.

Many of our current budget’s characteristics do not support Flight Plan goals. So with that motivation, we are looking at an incentive-based model that allocates revenues to units, rewards performance, and is reflective of the university’s resource allocation and budget model guiding principles.

The new budget model should focus on these features:

  • Increased transparency of school and college budgets
  • Greater empowerment to deans for strategic growth
  • Revenue streams allocated to units based on student instruction, enrollment, and degree production
  • Unit incentives for focus on growing revenue and controlling expense budgets
  • An infrastructure and reinvestment pool to enable senior leadership to make strategic investments

It is time to give a status update on our budget model work and ask for broader review and discussion within the entire campus community. This is still a work in progress, and your input will help shape the final model.

Please join us for a Campus Budget Forum on Tuesday, April 14, from 9 to 11 a.m. in Derryberry Hall Auditorium. The event is open to the entire campus community.

I am very appreciative to all the deans and committee members who have diligently thought through all the issues and circumstances involved. At this point, I feel very good about the proposed model but realize some of the finer detail and related institutional behaviors may require some time for adjustment. Changing an age-old practice like how we budget is not an easy thing to do, but ultimately it may be one of the most important decisions we make that allows Tennessee Tech to become all it can be.

Please take the time to review the budget model as it is disseminated and openly discussed. Your thoughts and opinions will be most helpful at this next stage of evaluation.

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