Sun sets on past — rises with new UND conversation

Clear direction for University of North Dakota drives renewed positive perception

The setting sun descends upon the western edge of campus as a new sense of enthusiasm takes hold, illuminating the UND college experience -- thanks to enhanced communication efforts and a new solid sense of direction for the University. UND Archival Photo.

The setting sun descends upon the western edge of campus as a new sense of enthusiasm takes hold, illuminating the UND college experience — thanks to enhanced communication efforts and a new solid sense of direction for the University. UND Archival Photo.

High school senior Sydni Martin walked in the front doors of the Gorecki Alumni Center with a beaming face, matching that of her parents and her little brother. The family had travelled from Minot, N.D., to tour the UND campus and get a firsthand feel of the pre-med program.

They were not disappointed.

“I can imagine myself going here. It’s a really pretty campus,” Sydni said. “My friends are really excited that I’m touring here.”

That enthusiasm for the UND college experience is spreading, thanks to enhanced communication efforts and a new solid sense of direction for the University.

With the establishment of information vehicle UND Today, the development and implementation of the One UND Strategic Plan, and new branding strategies for the University, the dial on UND buzz is tilting from negative to positive.

“My conversations with people around the state on UND have shifted from the controversies of the past to excitement about the future,” said UND President Mark Kennedy.

Kennedy noted that UND’s navigation of difficult budget cuts and other challenges drove several headlines over the last academic year. But the University’s trials were matched with a robust effort to proactively communicate and engage the campus in multiple open fora for public discussion.

“UND Today regularly covered the rationale for decisions in a timely manner,” Kennedy said. “It also highlighted the many good things happening at UND – path breaking faculty scholarship, engaging learning experiences and service to the community.”

UND President Mark Kennedy

University of North Dakota President Mark Kennedy says the topics of conversations he’s having with people around the state have shifted from controversies of the past to excitement for the future. Photo by Jackie Lorentz.

Gaining traction

The evidence of this resurgence of UND excitement can be found in the figures. UND Director of Admissions Jason Trainer said his office is seeing an upward trend of enrollment deposits this summer, and although actual fall enrollment may vary, the deposits could be an early indicator of a larger incoming class.

“We’ve been maintaining about 50-60 students depositing ahead of last year’s numbers, which is great. It’s positive especially when you think of how we’ve had to make some tough choices as an institution with athletics and some other areas,” Trainer said.

As UND continues to reverse a slight downward trend in overall enrollment, it will take more than a year or two of growth in new incoming classes for total enrollment to increase – but it’s a promising first step, and those committing to a UND academic career are wise to do so.

The most recent UND Career Services outcomes survey found 96 percent of UND graduate respondents were employed, serving in the military, volunteering or pursuing further education. Eighty-five percent were in an occupation directly related to their major.

But UND isn’t resting on those statistics. Student success before and after graduation is the priority of the One UND Strategic Plan, which proposes innovative new programs, more online course opportunities and hands-on learning experiences to help graduates meet their personal career goals and the cutting-edge workforce needs of North Dakota. And regional leaders, including AE2S CEO and UND alumnus Steve Burian, are taking notice.

“The Strategic Plan is a very focused and action-oriented plan that will serve UND extremely well.  I’m pleased with President Kennedy’s actions and I believe he is the right man for the time,” said Burian, who also serves as co-chair of the Valley Prosperity Partnership Executive Committee. “UND is critical to the economic vitality of the State and the region.  The Strategic Plan realigns UND with that critical mission.”

Setting course

A solid plan for the future must be accompanied by a rock-steady University identity. That was the goal of a recent UND branding initiative that will help UND articulate what makes its students distinctive.

“With well over 500 people engaging with the development of our new branding as Leaders in Action, people are getting excited that we will be more effectively communicating how special it is to attend and graduate from UND,” President Kennedy said.

“It’s really going to be helpful to have this brand strategy in place as we continue to roll out the Strategic Plan,” said Sarah Nissen, UND executive director of marketing & creative services. “It’s important that everything we’re going to do from a marketing standpoint uses this foundation to help meet the strategic goals, so we can wrap our story together and share it.”

The stones of this positive groundwork continue to be laid, as UND intensifies its focus on buffing up an already beautiful campus, celebrates four Division I conference championships (and UND’s first trip to the big dance in men’s basketball), and collects grant after grant supporting society-shaping research and scholarship.

It’s clear – to Grand Forks, to North Dakota, and to prospective students like Sydni Martin. The home of the Fighting Hawks is truly taking flight.

“The sky’s the limit from here,” Nissen said, with trademark UND determination.