Year’s worth of thriving – not just surviving

Kennedy updates business community on strategic plan progress, urges leaders to work together

Mark Kennedy

UND President Mark Kennedy recently updated about 100 members of the Greater Grand Forks Economic Development Corp. and The Chamber of Grand Forks-East Grand Forks on how UND’s roughly year old One UND strategic plan is surging ahead. He also urged the business community to get behind the University as the chief opportunity engine for the region and premier flagship university on the Northern Plains. Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

My, how things have changed in a year.

It wasn’t long ago that President Mark Kennedy unveiled the University’s comprehensive One UND Strategic Plan for the Grand Forks-East Grand Forks business community.

He was at it again recently, updating about 100 members of the Greater Grand Forks Economic Development Corp., and The Chamber of Grand Forks-East Grand Forks on how that roadmap for UND’s future is surging ahead.

Kennedy also urged the business community to get behind the University as the chief opportunity engine for the region and premier flagship university on the Northern Plains.

“We want to become that magnetic place that brings people to UND and to Grand Forks,” Kennedy said. “And if you want to be that magnetic place, you have to have a strong relationship with the world’s best college town.”

Standing out

Kennedy said, despite a period of major cost-cutting, UND was able to find ways to stand out in a crowd by carving out $3 million for new marketing initiatives.

It funded a branding overhaul at the University with new slogans and messaging, led by the “Leaders in Action” tagline – a spirited summation of UND’s students, faculty, staff and alumni. With new light pole banners now lining University Avenue, he spoke of upcoming plans to tie the campus to downtown Grand Forks-East Grand Forks with complementing banners, helping to solidify the town-gown bond.

More transformation came with the launching of UND’s student-centered and mobile-friendly website, a primary portal for prospective students and their families.

“During its first month, we’re seeing an 84 percent increase in undergraduate leads (interest from prospective students) and a 52 percent increase in graduate student leads,” Kennedy said. “This should have an impact in the fall of 2019.”

UND also streamlined the process for transfer students to continue their education in Grand Forks. And by collaborating with NDSU on a new digital “Degree Planner,” prospective students are able to map out exactly what they’ll need to do to graduate quickly.

Beautification efforts

In an effort to right-size and beautify the campus core, UND will have removed 52 buildings by the end of the summer that are underused or past their prime. This has trimmed more than $70 million in deferred maintenance for the University. And those savings will only grow as other campus changes are enacted.

Plans also are on track to remove the unsightly Steam Plant from the heart of campus and build a new, more cost-efficient version on the University’s western edge. A new revenue model ensures the move won’t cost the University or the state.

Improvements to iconic buildings, such as Merrifield Hall, and adding a more majestic entrance to the Chester Fritz Library, are part of future plans. Furthermore, UND students, in the future, will have a chance to vote on funding a new Memorial Union with increases to their student fees.

Challenges accepted

Kennedy spent a good portion of his talk on UND’s research enterprise, which topped $100 million in expenditures last year. Much of the focus was on UND’s 5 Grand Challenges, an effort to maximize the University’s research in a few broad areas important to the state and region: unmanned vehicles, big data, energy and sustainability, biomedicine, and rural health.

As part of this work, UND repurposed $4 million for Grand Challenge seed grants, aimed at securing much more in federal or other sourced funding.

Kennedy used the opportunity to think big and to share thoughts for the future, including visions that one day unmanned system studies at UND, now largely nested under RIAS (Research Institute for Autonomous Systems program), would be as big as UND’s Energy & Environmental Research Center.

Kennedy said good things have happened at UND and in North Dakota regarding UAS research, but other states are quickly catching up.

Also, given the importance of energy exploration and sustainability in the state, Kennedy wondered if the time might be right for UND-affiliated energy extension outlets throughout North Dakota, similar to the existing agriculture extension model.

Kennedy added that UND, with its School of Medicine and Health Sciences and other allied health partners, and their collective focus on rural health, is uniquely positioned to develop an Institute for Clinical Studies to meet the healthcare needs of rural America and to combat the nation’s growing opioid crisis.

Keith Lund and Connor Murphy

UND President Mark Kennedy (right) converses with Keith Lund, president and CEO of the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corps., before Kennedy’s recent presentation to Grand Forks area business leaders. Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

Echo chamber

Kennedy also talked about UND’s growing global presence in online education. Currently, UND has about 3,500 students taking classes exclusively online and nearly 3,000 taking some combination of on-campus and online courses.

About a fourth of UND’s salaries are paid through online tuition, he said.

Recently, UND partnered with Pearson, a leader in online education management, to initially help UND launch two degrees– one in graduate level accounting and the other in cyber security. The arrangement allows UND to offer online the same quality education for which it is known on campus, while Pearson handles much of the marketing and promotion. In addition to enhancing online and on-campus educational opportunities, the partnership provides potential growth in enrollment and new tuition revenue for UND.

It also could lead to more new jobs for the local economy, Kennedy said.

The online expansion strengthens UND’s reputation, certainly, as regional leader in online education, but also as a player in a market now dominated by marquee institutions such as Penn State, Arizona State and Purdue University.

“We believe that UND can be even bigger than you could ever imagine, and this is what energizes us,” Kennedy said.

In response to a question from the audience about how the local business community can help UND succeed, Kennedy kept it simple.

Much like the One UND plan — it’s a team effort, he said. The University and the community must stand with and for each other; the synergies are vital to the long-term success of both.

“Our goal is to have UND thrive not just survive,” Kennedy said. “That only happens in an echo chamber with a community working together in lock step with each other.”