Presidential Podcast: Episode #3


On his latest podcast, University of North Dakota Interim President Joshua Wynne recaps the excitement that bubbled on campus during Homecoming Week, Sept. 30 – Oct. 5. President Wynne also talks about the 2019-20 “Year of Retention” and what it means for improving student retention at UND.

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Prefer to read it instead? Here is the full transcript:

Hello once again, I’m University of North Dakota President Joshua Wynne. Thanks for joining me for the latest installment of my UND Presidential Podcast. We are only one week removed from UND’s Homecoming, a wonderful week of fun and fellowship, in which many alumni and friends came home to celebrate their University, and in many cases receive honors of their own. However, Mother Nature as she’s apt to do in October, decided cooler and wetter conditions were in order, forcing the unfortunate cancellation of the Homecoming Parade, a decision made after much consultation and with great disappointment. But it was the warmth in the hearts of the campus community and our alums during Homecoming that overrode any chilliness in the air.

One of the bigger occasions of the week was the Sioux Awards banquet on Thursday night. As it has done since 1962, the UND Alumni Association and Foundation recognized leaders in government and business, high achievers in various professions and alumni who have dedicated their lives to serving others. This year, the following alumni were honored Gary Hagen, Dr. Greg Everson, Jennifer Neppel and Gordon Henry.

Gary Hagen spent more than 40 years at Mayville State University and was the president there from 2006 until July 2018.

Greg Everson is a pioneer in medicine and in the treatment of Hepatitis C. He is the chief of hepatology at the University of Colorado. During his visit to UND last week, Dr. Everson even took time to talk with students about one of his areas of expertise, the function of the liver.

Jennifer Neppel is the chief and Officer for CommonSpirit Health, formerly known as Catholic Health initiatives.

Gordon Henry is the former longtime UND Vice President for Student Affairs.

That same night two UND alumni received the Young Alumni Achievement Award, which was established in 2002 to recognize recent graduates who have made their mark in the short time since they attended UND. This year’s awardees were Andrea Hanson, a 2002 graduate who currently is a portfolio manager for the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. And Christina Sambor, a 2005 grad, who went on to become a Bush Foundation Fellow, and today practices law in Bismarck.

We were thrilled late last month, when the State Board of Higher Education voted unanimously to allow UND to name its College of Business and Public Administration after Werner and Colleen Nistler, our lead donors in efforts to bring a new building to the campus to replace Gamble Hall. We were even more thrilled to actually welcome Werner and Colleen on campus to personally thank them and celebrate their incredible generosity during Homecoming.

I got the chance to get to know the Nistlers better during their time on campus. Werner, a North Dakota native, graduated from UND in 1968 with a degree in accounting. He has gone on to lead a successful business career as a founder of Touchmark, which owns 14 full-service senior living communities in the United States and Canada. Through our conversations, it was easy to sense Werner’s pride in his alma mater and its place in his heart. His humility and selfless nature also shone through as we talked about the importance of his gift for UND students, our faculty and the College of Business & Public Administration.

I look forward to working with the Nistlers, Amy Henley, who is dean of the College of Business and Public Administration. Deanna Carson Zink of the Alumni Association & Foundation; and many others, as we close in on our $70 million goal for a new building for the Nistler College of Business and public administration.

Another momentous Homecoming event was the groundbreaking for the new UND Memorial Union. I joked with the crowd about the chill in the air, and whether my UND-green shovel would be able to pierce the cold soil. But the enthusiasm in the air and excitement for the Memorial Union to come was all that was needed to warm things up. Those who braved the elements were treated to a strong showing of the student leaders, past and present, who led efforts to make the project a reality.

Representing the UND student body at the groundbreaking were Current President Gracie Lian and Vice President Matt Ternus; 2018-19 President and Vice President Erik Hanson and Kaleb Dschaak; 2017-18 Student Body President Cole Bachmeier; and 2015-16 President Matt Kopp.

Other past student leaders who played key roles in the project are Brandon Beyer, Blake Andert and Taylor Nelson Mitzel.

Also on hand to celebrate the big moment with us were Dr. Casey Ryan, vice chair of the State Board of Higher Education; Grand Forks Legislator Curt Kreun; and Grand Forks Mayor Michael Brown.

Now I want to take a moment to talk about exciting developments and challenges with some of our strategic initiatives at UND. In recent years, UND has devoted great effort to improving graduation rates, a key goal of the One UND Strategic Plan. That focus on graduation rates has paid off. Starting with the class that entered UND in 2011 and tracking the numbers through the class that entered in 2014, UND’s four-year graduation rate has increased by 38%.

With a strong run of improved graduation rates, it has become clear that we still have work to do when it comes to retaining our current students as they make their way toward earning a certificate or a degree. Recent analyses show UND freshman-to-sophomore retention rate actually fell slightly this year. That means the freshmen who entered UND last fall were a little less likely to return as sophomores than were the freshmen who entered two years ago, in 2017.

Designating the 2019-20 academic year as the “Year of Retention”, UND Provost Tom DiLorenzo and his team are focusing on retention as intensely as they have been on improving graduation rates. They are doing this by researching best practices, studying our own students’ decisions and plans and implementing those solutions campus wide. Some of those solutions already in use include access to a team of professional core advisors, who are equipped to help students through their individual academic careers, and the launch of a “Degree Planner” that allows students to map out in advance all of their academic decisions, as well as the most efficient paths to a degree.

According to Provost DiLorenzo, universities that have implemented “Degree Planner” tools tend to see on average, a 3 to 5% increase in retention. Going beyond tools though, I would like to emphasize the importance of our great faculty when it comes to retaining students. Alumni often cite particular bonds with faculty members as key reasons they stayed and were able to complete their degrees.

As an academician and university administrator, I am keenly sensitive to the time demands and many responsibilities that our faculty have to balance every day. However, I am also convinced that we can never do enough to support our students success. It is true that everyone on campus plays a role in retention, but it is our faculty and their positive interactions with our students that’s essential to any retention strategy we might have.

Lastly, I want to reiterate how pleased I was with the attendance at the first UND Faculty Lecture of the academic year, which featured Dr. Don Warne, director of UND’s Indians Into Medicine program at the School of Medicine & Health Sciences. At that lecture, Dr. Warne was joined by North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and First Lady Kathryn Burgum. There were very few empty seats.

I would like to challenge the campus community and our friends in the community to turn out again for the next faculty lecture at 4pm on Wednesday, October 23, in the UND Education building. Associate professor of English Crystal Alberts is set to deliver the next important talk. Professor Alberts’ lecture will tackle the difficult subject of how the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 are depicted and remember remembered through contemporary media, art and literature.

Well, that’s it for now. Thanks so much for your time. I look forward to joining you again for more UND news in a couple of weeks as always go UND!