March 2014 Letter

 

Provost’s Letter to Faculty, Staff and Students of Tennessee Tech

 March 2014

Welcome back! I hope you enjoyed your Spring break and had an occasion, or two, to relax, reflect and leave your cares behind.

“…When I go forth on such a pleasant day, 
One breath outdoors takes all my cares away…” William Henry Davies

I have devoted the first part of this letter to our students as well as our advisors who play a crucial role in guiding our students. The second part contains an update on some of the progress that has been made since my last letter.

As I have indicated in my past writings, I don’t wish to use slogans. It seems to me that, more often than not, slogans do not necessarily define the state of an organization, but often are used to inspire folks to achieve what they might lack. In that sense, it is not a slogan for us to say that we are all about student success. Because, by-and-large, we do put that principle in practice in most aspects of our everyday conduct. Yet, we can always make improvements in certain areas. A Kaizen attitude of ongoing improvement by everyone will take us to the next level of ensuring student success.

***

As we recently announced, Tennessee Tech has become a member of the Student Success Collaborative, a partnership that will provide data analysis to advisors and administrators about the trends in students’ academic performance. As I have mentioned repeatedly, focusing on student success is not a new initiative at Tennessee Tech, rather it is a part and parcel of the Institution’s culture. The Collaborative partnership allows us to make data-informed decisions as we continue our tradition of continuously engaging and assisting our students.

We have formed a leadership group, consisting of the directors of student success centers and other key individuals from Enrollment Management, Institutional Research, and Information Technology Services, to help with the implementation of this platform. I wish to thank Robert Hodum, Julie Galloway, Edith Duvier, Demetria Mells, Melissa Irvin, Rick Cumby, Glenn James, Kristy Cunningham, and Kay Hume for their willingness to serve.

***

At the beginning of this semester, I asked Dr. Julie Baker to assist us with identifying some of the bottlenecks that our students face in terms of retention and graduation. As of her last report to the Deans’ Council, Dr. Baker reported that she conducted 35 meetings across the university over a four-week period. These interviews included deans, chairs, directors, Institutional Research Office and Enrollment Management staff. Since then, Dr. Baker and Ms. Laura Ezell, who assists Dr. Baker in this endeavor, have conducted many additional interviews. Based on these interactions, Dr. Baker and Ms. Ezell have identified numerous factors that need attention. We have shared their findings with the academic deans and we are now focusing on ways to address those issues. To that end, I have asked three volunteer deans (Dean Smith, Dean Mullens, and Dean Rencis) to work with Dr. Baker and others in order to develop a plan for addressing the administrative and logistical issues that are identified.

***

 Presently, we have various groups on campus with the sole mission of assisting our students with their needs. By all accounts, these colleagues are performing excellently in helping our students. Yet, it seems to me that the organizational structure that is in place is not quite conducive to the type of collaboration and interactions that are needed to identify the root-cause of the problems and promptly address them. We will have to pay close attention to such services as: tutoring, Learning Support, Student Success Centers, advisement and retention offices, Campus Compass, learning villages, and other related student services to ensure a seamless structure capable of providing the maximum amount of assistance to our students in a timely fashion. Moreover, we have to establish appropriate checks and balances and the technology (e.g. prompt survey of those who seek help to measure their satisfaction) that would enable us to maintain and enhance the quality of the services that we offer.

***

 I still vividly remember the advice that a senior colleague gave me when I first started my professional career as an assistant professor. In reference to my students, he said: “be a father to them”.  Frankly, at the age of 27, it was hard for me to imagine myself as a father to 21-year-old juniors. But that advice began to resonate in the ensuing years. We have to remember that many of our students are first-generation college students. Some freshmen students are undecided about their majors and are bewildered by a drastic life-style change.  Often, they simply don’t know where to go and how to ask for help. Being a father, a mother, a sister or a brother to them goes a long way to help them make the right decisions. And as for us, realizing that we are in the business of cultivating young minds is the greatest reward in itself.

***

 Following is an e-mail that I received from Mr. Jacob Metz, Assistant Speech and Debate Coach in the department of communication:

The TTU Speech and Debate Team returned from our second tournament of the semester with several more trophies to fill our trophy cases with.  The tournament we attended at Murray State essentially held three separate tournaments that we competed in and we brought home a team award from each of three tournaments!”

 Congratulations to all the award winners and their capable coaches.

***

 Also, I received a note from Professor Lisic who is in charge of our Undergraduate Research Program. He commented on their recent visit to the Capitol for the Posters at the Capitol event, as follows:

“We had a great trip, and I set up times for the students to meet their State Senators”

***

Progress Report on Various Initiatives

  • I am very grateful to our colleagues who served with dedication on the Admission Standards Ad Hoc Committee. They completed their task in a timely fashion and submitted their recommendations to the Admissions and Credits Committee, which I understand has approved their proposed plan. The next step is to seek approval from the Academic Council and, if approved, we will submit the plan to TBR for their approval. Thank you colleagues: Barbara Jared, Susan Laningham, Sandi Smith, Linda Null, Dennis Tennant, Edith Duvier, Melinda Anderson, Robert Owens, and Robert Hodum. Also, special thanks to our students: Nathan Cole and Alex Martin. We truly appreciate their hard work and the great service that they provided.

 

  • We are working with the Enrollment Management and Registrar’s Office to implement a system that would enable us to show our students’ “Minors” on their transcripts as recognition of their efforts.

 

  • I understand that over twenty of our colleagues recently attended a help session to learn how to prepare winning proposals for the Provost’s Microgrant Program. Please remember that this program is open to all faculty, staff and students.

 

  • We are working on development of a “Parent Portal” – an interactive website dedicated to TTU parents with the goal of enhancing parents’ participation. We will work with TTU Parents Association and other institutions that have implemented similar programs to construct a very beneficial and user-friendly portal.

 

  • Our colleagues at the College of Interdisciplinary Studies have been hard at work developing their strategic plan. They will soon inform the rest of the campus by making a presentation at the Faculty Senate.

 

  • We are starting the search process for four college deans, namely: Agriculture and Human Ecology, Business, Education and Nursing.  Once the members of the search committees are identified, we will proceed with the goal of identifying the permanent deans sometime during the next academic year.

 

  • The Graduate School Executive Committee and the Academic Council approved the name change for the Graduate Studies Program and we just received TBR’s approval. This change in name from Graduate Studies to the College of Graduate Studies involves no additional funding or personnel.

 

  • SACSCOC reaccreditation preparations are progressing well. Many thanks to Dr. Huo, the SACSCOC Compliance Committee and all of our colleagues who are involved in this very important task.

 

  • I understand that many proposals are already submitted to the Undergraduate Research Program. As I announced during the fall semester, we have substantially increased the funding for this program to invite more student and faculty participation. A total of $145,000 is available this year for distribution to our faculty and students. 

 

  • We recently submitted our Letter of Intent to TBR for two partnership programs with ETSU. Many thanks to our colleagues in Nursing and Engineering for their hard work. We have started some preliminary discussions with other TBR institutions for potential future partnerships.

 

  • All colleges are moving forward with their Business Continuity Plans. In particular, I wish to thank our colleagues in the College of Business for their meticulous planning and attention to details. Recently they held a very informative workshop/seminar luncheon to discuss their plans.

***

Finally, I am delighted to announce that during this month, some of our esteemed colleagues in the Department of Music will perform at New York City’s Carnegie Hall. Tennessee Tech’s Tuba Ensemble will return to New York City’s Carnegie Hall for their eighth performance. They make us very proud.

With warmest regards and best wishes,

Bahman

 

 

 

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