Hello, Governor!

UND shows Gov. Doug Burgum its plan for opportunity in a challenging higher education landscape

North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum (middle) made a five-hour visit to the University of North Dakota campus on April 6, during which he heard UND’s plan to overcome higher education challenges to serve its students and the state. Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum (middle) made a five-hour visit to the University of North Dakota campus on April 6, during which he heard UND’s plan to overcome higher education challenges to serve its students and the state. Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum walked into the board room of UND’s Robin Hall Friday morning and got to warmly shaking hands with every person in it.

Soon he came to Morgan Tomchuck, a dietetics major invited to share her experience with UND’s new Math Active Learning Lab (MALL).

“I’m Morgan Tomchuck – I’m just a student here,” she said timidly as she gripped Burgum’s hand.

“No, not just a student,” he replied. “You’re why we’re here.”

This was the first stop of a five-hour visit to the University of North Dakota, during which the governor heard from campus and community leaders and students about recent achievements of the One UND Strategic Plan, current building and infrastructure challenges around campus, and ambitious plans to make UND the research giant of the Northern Plains.

It was a lot to pack into 300 minutes, but the UND team was primed for action.

“We recognize the fact that there have been a lot of changes going on in higher education,” UND President Mark Kennedy said, addressing the day’s initial gathering. “Our belief is that the changes that you see now are just a shadow of what’s yet to come.”

President Kennedy further explained to Burgum, first lady Kathryn Helgaas Burgum, Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford and their staff that UND is harnessing these changes through its Strategic Plan – for the benefit of its students and the state of North Dakota.

Kennedy said that a swell in automation is altering the career landscape, causing demand for four-year and advanced degrees to rise. The day’s presentations would highlight how UND will be ready with the necessary innovative technology and leading-edge program offerings.

Dietetics major Morgan Tomchuck explains to Governor Burgum and his team how UND’s new Math Active Learning Lab (MALL) took her from dismal grades in College Algebra to acing every test. Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

Dietetics major Morgan Tomchuck explains to Gov. Burgum and his team how UND’s new Math Active Learning Lab (MALL) took her from dismal grades in College Algebra to acing every test. Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

Financial fortitude, tech opportunities

Big intentions are nothing without solid financial planning. UND Associate Vice President for Finance Karla Mongeon-Stewart led the gubernatorial group through “Academic Finances 101,” and how UND is encouraging campuswide innovation through MIRA – Model for Incentive-based Resource Allocation.

“This is going to transform UND,” Mongeon-Stewart said. “We’re rewarding effective use of our resources, we’re capturing data so we can actually measure what we need to measure to be successful, we’re aligning our resources with our strategic priorities, and we’re aligning our physical and human capital to meet the needs of our students, our state and our world.”

Provost Tom DiLorenzo laid out how the University is leveraging technology throughout the seven goals of the Strategic Plan, beginning with high-tech active learning classrooms.

He explained the benefits of the online student success and retention platform Starfish, as well as the anticipated rise in timely graduation rates from new Degree Planner software, and turned it over to Student Body Vice President Erik Hanson, who sang the gospel of UND’s free open educational resources (OER).

“This has truly been a difference maker in terms of cutting down the costs of education,” Hanson said, adding that UND has become a case study for other universities. “We’re not just leaders in this state – we’re leaders globally on this.”

These high-tech tools – coupled with new offerings of high growth degrees, like Data Science and Cyber Security, and new internship partnerships throughout the community – are setting up UND graduates for successful careers in fields not even yet imagined.

Jeff Holm, project manager of UND Strategic Plan Goal Three (creating more educational opportunity online and on campus), described how a partnership with Pearson online program management will help UND survive and thrive in an increasingly competitive online education landscape. Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

Jeff Holm, project manager of UND Strategic Plan Goal Three (creating more educational opportunity online and on campus), described how a partnership with Pearson online program management will help UND survive and thrive in an increasingly competitive online education landscape. Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

Leading online

The University is executing plans to build on its current position as the largest online education provider in an eight-state region – something Strategic Plan Goal Three (providing more educational opportunity) project manager Jeff Holm says UND is now in position to do.

With an already region-leading online foundation and new partnership with Pearson online program management to assist with upfront program launch investments, Holm says UND can keep up and thrive in a higher education world that is become increasing niche, flexible and mobile.

“With over 3,000 exclusively online students, we’re the only institution in the [North Dakota University System] that is operating at the level at which it can sustainably be a net revenue generator,” Holm told Burgum. “As competition increases … there’s the necessity of going big in this area, or going home.”

“This is the kind of conversation we’ve been trying to have,” Burgum said about UND’s desire to blend online and campus opportunities to stay relevant and support student needs. “It’s been misconstrued that I’m for online and against on ground. I’m for financial solvency.”

“And so are we!” Mongeon-Stewart piped in, to the laughter of the room.

Community connections

Following remarks from Vice President for Student Affairs and Diversity Cara Halgren regarding revived connections with North Dakota’s tribal colleges – including new “Finish in Four” programs that help tribal students complete their education at UND – the governor heard from VP for Research & Economic Development Grant McGimpsey about UND’s research strides in addressing state societal challenges and diversifying the economy.

As the morning’s final presenter, Associate Vice President for Facilities Mike Pieper explained how UND initiatives, like a 30-year master plan and Coulee to Columbia beautification project, will help to right-size, modernize, and better connect UND’s campus with the Grand Forks community.

The University has aligned planning and funding with the City of Grand Forks to revamp University Avenue as a new “main street” connecting UND with downtown, making the stretch more attractive with enhanced public transit and pedestrian features, as well as proposed mixed-use developments to draw people to campus.

Jonathan Holth of Evolve Grand Forks unveiled his organization’s part in connecting UND and downtown – a contest called the #MainStreetGF Challenge, in which UND and high school students pitch their community-building ideas for a chance at a hefty cash prize and a lead role in developing their concept.

These collaborative projects fall in line with the pillars of Burgum’s Main Street Initiative – creating healthy, vibrant communities using smart and efficient infrastructure to attract and retain a 21st century workforce.

“This is so awesome. You’re addressing all three pillars, and you’re tying in youth engagement in a really solid, meaningful way,” the governor said. “One of the things that’s been missing is the youth engagement piece, and you have really opened the doors here.”

The multifold morning session included many blueprints, anecdotes, facts and figures, but – at this time in the state’s history – it was just what the governor wanted to hear.

“The financial models of universities are under threat from multiple different directions, so it’s so refreshing that we’re actually having that discussion here,” Burgum said at the conclusion of the presentation. “We’re not talking about ideology – we’re talking about economics and how economic business models can be driven by dramatic changes in technology. This is happening to every industry, and too many universities act like it’s not happening to them.

“So … we can just stop right now. It’s been a great hour,” he added with a satisfied smile.

Governor Doug Burgum takes a moment after lunch at UND’s Wilkerson Commons to pick up some raffle tickets from Alpha Sigma Phi’s Carson Hein (far left) and Mark Frahm. Photo by Kaylee Cusack/UND Today.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum takes a moment after lunch at UND’s Wilkerson Commons to pick up some raffle tickets from Alpha Sigma Phi’s Carson Hein (far left) and Mark Frahm. Photo by Kaylee Cusack/UND Today.

Just the start

Following a morning of intense strategic discussion, Burgum and his team were whisked off to a rolling campus tour, examining areas that could benefit from renovations or rebuilds and describing how actions from the state could help turn those plans into realities (see this UND Today story for reaction to that tour).

Burgum then sat down for lunch with UND Senate leadership, at which dining topics spanned the new Task Force for Higher Education Governance, collaboration with North Dakota State University, and the state’s K-12 education system.

From there, it was off to the last stop – a demonstration from the five captains of UND’s Grand Challenges in research (see this UND Today story for reaction to that presentation).

But before hopping in his ride, Burgum took a moment to once again connect with those who drove the visit – the students, this time selling raffle tickets for a cause in Wilkerson Commons.

Three hundred minutes – one collectively successful conversation about how UND can change with the winds of education, with a little support from the state’s top official.

“I think that Governor and first lady Burgum walked away from their visit with a far more positive view of the University of North Dakota,” President Kennedy said at day’s end. “They were impressed with the innovation UND is embracing to not just survive, but thrive, in today’s turbulent times for higher education. They better understand our role in generating opportunities for our state and students with our dedication to learning, discovery and service.”