Collaborating for Student Success
“Collaboration is key” was the main message reiterated by UNT President Neal Smatresk during the 2019 Planning Implementation Workshop, which delved deep into the three focus areas of UNT’s forthcoming strategic plan – Student Empowerment and Transformation, People and Processes, and Scholarly Activity and Innovation.
“In everything we do, we must be working together and collaborating. We’ve made tremendous strides as a university in the last five years, but now we’re on the launch pad ready to take off and achieve even more for our students and university. We have to get outside of our silos and understand how we are connected – not just our own, unique operations,” Smatresk said.
About 160 faculty, staff, students and administrators attended the annual workshop held Aug. 8 at the University Union. The 2019 workshop, themed “Collaborating for Student Success,” involved the review of goals, strategies, activities and metrics that may be included in UNT’s 2020-2025 strategic plan.
Smatresk, Jennifer Cowley, provost and vice president for academic affairs, and Debbie Rohwer, vice president for planning and chief of staff, began working on the strategic plan in January by visiting 56 academic departments and hosting six strategic planning town halls with all university constituent groups. Summer listening tours with staff in each division also are shaping the strategic plan, which will be presented before the UNT System Board of Regents in November.
Workshop participants self-selected into one of three groups to focus on the plan’s three areas. During afternoon workgroup sessions, each of the three groups reviewed the goals, strategies, activities and metrics that have potential to be included in the strategic plan, as well as had the opportunity to provide feedback on activities and metrics that were missing.
Scholarly Activity and Innovation
Strengthening UNT’s research enterprise and cementing UNT’s status as a Tier One university will continue to serve as priorities for UNT in the coming years.
Provost Cowley gave a highly engaging presentation about UNT’s rise as a Tier One research university. She outlined UNT’s 25-year path from Carnegie’s “doctoral level university” designation of R3 to R1, the “very high research activity” designation that is given only to 3 percent of universities.
UNT earned Tier One status in 2015 and it was reaffirmed in early 2019. UNT’s new strategic plan will focus on implementing a continued incremental strategy to help the university move from the fourth quartile to the middle level of Tier One institutions.
As Cowley revealed the key metrics that have guided UNT’s research growth, she highlighted UNT’s strengths in the arts, humanities, social sciences and STEM disciplines that have led the university to earn its Tier One status.
“We achieved Tier One status by being true to our identity as the most creative university in Texas and by caring deeply about our mission to serve a diverse student population,” Cowley said. “We aren’t going to change who we are, but understand how we can remain authentic and make changes that will strengthen our standing as a Tier One research university.”
Additional Scholarly Activity and Innovation metrics identified by the workgroup for possible incorporation into the strategic plan included increasing the number of grants submitted and their success rates, expedited completion of Institutional Review Board applications and increased engagement with corporations.
“We have grand aspirations for what we want to achieve, and yet we have limited time and resources,” Cowley said. “I see the challenge for us as figuring out how to take all of these amazing ideas and filter them into things we can actually accomplish in a reasonable amount of time without losing the hope and aspiration we have for the future.”
People and Processes
UNT is committed to becoming a first-choice institution not only for students, but also for faculty and staff. In its quest to become a Best Place to Work, UNT will focus the new strategic plan on supporting and celebrating these individuals within the campus community and improving processes to best reflect UNT’s caring nature. By improving UNT’s customer service and processes, more time can be devoted to the UNT mission of empowering students to thrive.
“We need to stop falling back on broken processes and start understanding how our work and our processes are connected,” Smatresk said. “We have big ideas that are daunting and sometimes sweeping, but we can’t let that make us afraid. We have to lean in to improve the path for our students and each other.”
For every process and project, collaboration should be welcomed and encouraged, Smatresk said.
“If we build barriers to how we interact with students through the processes we have, and if we send students to 19 different stops along the way to complete a simple task such as financial aid or course enrollment, we’re not going to be able to succeed and ensure student success,” Smatresk said.
He added that as a campus, everyone must work together to remove barriers and celebrate the university’s accomplishments. This year a focus also will be placed on teamwork and faculty staff development, he said.
“UNT’s caring spirit is a differentiator when compared to other universities,” Smatresk said. “And we can make sure that our values are reinforced by processes that show how UNT cares.”
Additional metrics for People and Processes identified at the workshop for possible incorporation into the strategic plan included decreasing the percentage of at-risk students by monitoring triggers for dropping out; increasing the diversity of faculty and staff; decreasing the time to obtain degrees for undergraduate, masters and doctoral students; tracking and reporting job placement and grad school acceptance rates by major; and tracking and setting goals for staff promotion rates.
Student Empowerment and Transformation
College is a time for academic and personal transformation, and UNT is focused on providing each of its 38,000 students with cutting-edge curricula, professional development, enriched campus life experiences, and opportunities that will increase their marketability in the global economy of the future.
UNT is committed to making sure students have exceptional experiences from admission through graduation. Additionally, UNT wants to help every student develop a growth mindset, which will help them embrace failure as part of the learning process, teach resilience and strategically engage challenges.
“Intelligence is not fixed, it’s not what you’re born with. Everyone can improve with work, help and strategy development, but our students sometimes think that when they fail, there’s not an opportunity to try again, put in the hard work and improve,” said Rohwer, the vice president for planning, who presented on the importance of instilling a growth mindset in students and the impact that faculty and staff can have on a student’s academic persistence and value of self-worth.
Rohwer touched on the importance of messaging to the students from the first class day, and shared examples of ways that positive, caring messaging can set a precedence for student success.
“We don’t know a student’s experiences, history or what’s been told to them throughout their lives and how it impacts them,” Rohwer said. “We have to think about the ways we message to them, help them deal with failures quickly, and then get back up.”
Additional metrics for Student Empowerment and Transformation that were identified for possible incorporation into the strategic plan at the workshop included student internships on campus, social engagement across campus, corporate student engagement experiences, increasing academic student engagement, and communicating and tracking alumni participation in student learning experiences.
UNT’s Forthcoming Strategic Plan
Workshop participants brainstormed dozens of new activities and metrics that could better help support students, streamline UNT processes and promote a culture of research and scholarship. The feedback will be considered by Rohwer and the UNT administration as they solidify work on UNT’s 2020-2025 strategic plan.
“There are so many ideas and so many best practices that can move the needle, so focusing on a few of them will be very important. We have to decide where we get the most bang for our buck and then make sure everyone feels good about that being the right step,” said Elizabeth With, vice president for student affairs.
Seeing so many faculty and staff work together to discuss student-centric issues and outline UNT’s strategic plan for the next generation was inspiring and motivating, said Student Government Association President Yolian Ogbu.
“I learned about the groundbreaking work that is being done in each area at UNT, and how so many people from different departments are coming together to have tangible conversations about issues that affect us all,” Ogbu said.
Smatresk also encouraged attendees to act upon ideas that can be accomplished now, without significant resources or university-wide investments.
“Remember that you are an influencer and you are capable of making change. If you have a good idea, you should feel empowered to talk with your VP and work toward implementing change,” Smatresk said. “Everything opens a door to us being a better university and sharing a better culture, so please look for ways that you can take what you learned today back to your units and keep the ball rolling.”
— Meredith Moriak Wright, University Relations, Communications and Marketing.
Attend the 2019 State of the University at 3 p.m. Sept. 12 at the Murchison Performing Arts Center. Doors open at 2:15 p.m.
2019 PIW Recap
“I think our challenge right now is ourselves. The university is growing; we’re defining our own road to what Tier One means – to what delivering real public higher education in the state of Texas and nationally means. For me, I think the challenges are where we want to go and how we’re going to get there.”
— David Wolf, vice president for university advancement
#UNTcares: Jazzmine Mendez
“Many of the ideas that were discussed today don’t require us to sit back and wait for them to become university initiatives. We can go ahead and make changes within our own offices and units.”
— Joey Saxon, associate vice president for Student Financial Services
#UNTcares: Lehi Tollestrup
“This was a wonderful opportunity to work with colleagues from across campus and to get their perspectives. It’s even more interesting to see how there were repeatable regularities in the data we were pulling together.”
— Jana Hawley, dean of the College of Merchandising, Hospitality and Tourism
#UNTcares: Steve Cobb
“Our discussions weren’t about problems that we have, they were about solutions and pathways to a result.”
— Brandi Renton, associate vice president for administrative services
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