‘Swimming’ into a New Economy

UND touts student success, campus renewal and research as keys to smooth currents over ‘growing waters’

Mark Kennedy

UND  President Mark Kennedy, on Tuesday, told members of the North Dakota House Education & Environment Division, that UND supports the State Board of Higher Education proposed budget, which advocates stable funding and merit pay increases. Such a needs-based budget would let UND continue to focus on strategic investments in student success, campus renewal and research. Image courtesy of Peter Johnson.

BISMARCK, N.D. — For his testimony (please note that this is a large file) before a North Dakota House appropriations panel on Tuesday, UND President Mark Kennedy brought with him a few friends from home and Bob Dylan.

Kennedy led off by invoking lyrics of the great American troubadour to make a point about the direction UND intends to take as it sails into the future.

Come gather ‘round people wherever you roam and admit that the waters around you have grown
Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’

Kennedy summed up the passage with an eight-letter acronym: S.S.O.Y.S.A.S. (Start Swimming Or You’ll Sink Like A Stone). He and the rest of the UND contingent proceeded to make it clear that UND intends to swim and take the State of North Dakota with it.

Mark Kennedy-new mug

President Kennedy

The message was generally well received by lawmakers, especially by Rep. Dave Monson, R-Osnabrock, chairman of the House Education & Environment Division.

“It seems like all you people seem to know my hot buttons,” Monson said. “Bob Dylan is my favorite of all time. How did you know?” Kennedy replied, “That’s the value of research.” The exchange drew laughter from the packed gallery in  the Capitol meeting room.

Kennedy was joined by Hesham El-Rewini, dean of the UND College of Engineering & Mines; Tom Erickson, director of the Energy & Environmental Research Center and Jed Shivers, vice president for finance & operations. They also were accompanied by a group of UND students, including Student body President Erik Hanson and Macy Kopp, governmental affairs officer.

Hanson and Kopp, among other topics, spoke in favor of the North Dakota Challenge Grant, which matches state money with private donations to provide academic opportunities for students.

Mike Mannausau, vice president of development & major gifts for the UND Alumni Association & Foundation, spoke separately about the importance of the Challenge Grant. He explained that, since 2013, UND has been able to match privately all of its $17 million share of Challenge Grant funds from the state, garnering $34 million in gifts and other contributions supporting student success.

The money has launched 178 academic projects at UND, including 140 new endowed student scholarships.

Rep. Mike Nathe, R-Bismarck, an early supporter of the Challenge Grant concept, liked what he heard from Mannausau.

“I think the success and the numbers and the results speak for themselves,” Nathe said.

Macy Kopp

Macy Kopp (at the podium), governmental affairs officer for UND Student Government, and Student body President Erik Hanson were among a number of students who testified Tuesday in support of important legislation, such as the expansion of Open Educational Resources, the North Dakota Challenge Grant and student support of a new Memorial Union on campus. Image courtesy of Peter Johnson.

Sink or swim

The UND testimonies were among a daylong series of legislative hearings by the North Dakota University System and its member schools, led off by UND and the UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences, which operates under a separate appropriation.

Kennedy said UND supports the State Board of Higher Education proposed budget, which advocates stable funding and merit pay increases. North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, however, has recommended a 5 percent budget decrease for higher education, despite major cuts to the University System in the current biennium.

“We do believe that UND and the State of North Dakota are at an inflection point between sinking and swimming,” Kennedy told legislators.

But, by continuing to focus on strategic investments in student success, campus renewal and discovery research, UND is positioning itself to stay above water.

“We need to continue to invest in those areas for us to continue to succeed and help the state succeed,” he said.

Kennedy briefed legislators on several academic enhancements on campus in teaching excellence, professional advising and ensuring student success. He also stressed UND efforts to revitalize the campus through a series of public-private partnerships, removing aging buildings and infrastructure with modern upgrades that attract students, as well as exciting plans for online growth.

Kennedy also explained that UND, through a focus on research in five “Grand Challenge” areas (unmanned aircraft systems, energy & environmental sustainability, human health, rural health & communities and Big Data), is producing the talent that’s discovering new ways to diversify North Dakota’s economy.

Big Data economy

UND is embracing the promise of a New Economy, which is increasingly driven by high-powered computing and data, through the establishment of a Big Data Hub to support complex computational research across campus and beyond.

Hesham El Rewini mug

Hesham El-Rewini

UND recently announced plans to invest $10 million over five years to hire experts in artificial intelligence, machine learning and Big Data analytics, much-needed support for researchers across campus as well as students who are preparing for careers in the New Economy.

Those new hires also will be instrumental in searching out high-payoff opportunities for research at UND, which by extension, helps the state.

“For us to thrive in this New Economy, we need more of these kinds of hunters (for research funding) on our campus,” El-Rewini told lawmakers.

Tom Erickson

Tom Erickson

But to compete, UND needs more investment support so its scientists and creative thinkers can focus on exploratory research that leads to big returns. Traditionally, University research has been the most successful in turning exploration into Initial Public Offerings and venture capital, according to EERC Director Erickson.

“I believe the return on investment to North Dakota could be huge if there was more access to funding for exploratory research,” he said.

To that point, UND has teamed with North Dakota State University in support of new legislation that sets aside $50 million each year of the next biennium for research ($25 million each year for each school).

Using an aquatics analogy one last time, Kennedy emphasized the success of UND and its research has potential to cause ripples across the state.

“We do believe that together UND and the State of North can swim into the New Economy to create a bright and prosperous future for the state,” he said.

For more info

For more information, attend the next Provost Forum, 3:30 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 24, in Education Room 7. The focus will be the testimony, with questions from the audience.