President Mark Kennedy: career in review

Year-by-year reflection of a tenure of transformation for the University and its leader

Photo by Jackie Lorentz/UND Today.

During his first appearance at the Greater Grand Forks Chamber’s annual “Wake Up to UND” breakfast, in September 2016, UND President Mark Kennedy outlined his vision for One UND.

The goal: establish UND as the chief opportunity engine for North Dakota and its citizens.

Kennedy placed emphasis on technology, research and service to society while maintaining the core values of the University – collaboration, discovery, inclusivity, service and lifelong learning.

The physical campus also needed to advance with these ambitions. Hundreds of millions of dollars in deferred maintenance costs were spread across dozens of University structures, and many of these campus cornerstones needed to be brought into the 21st century.

“We can only achieve our goals as One UND,” Kennedy said to the gathering of local business and community leaders in the Memorial Union. “We are stronger together than apart.”

His call to action came amid not only a challenging time for UND, but across the higher education landscape, particularly in North Dakota. Two successive legislative sessions of higher education budget cuts led to every facet of campus facing the prospect of doing more with less.

Even so, Kennedy sought ways to invest in priorities for UND’s future.

Through the pages of our publication, UND Today, which Kennedy launched early in his tenure, his three years leading the institution saw major transformations in academics, research, campus renewal and enhanced student experiences. Some are complete. Others are ongoing. All strengthen the notion of One UND.

As Kennedy prepares to depart UND for his new role as president of the University of Colorado system, we thought it might be a good time to reflect on the progress that’s been made at the University since Kennedy’s first day on the job in July 2016. And what better venue to do that than through a “career in review” as told through UND Today:

2016

Mark Kennedy

Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

Kennedy was inaugurated October 10, 2016, as the 12th president of the University. Advancing new frontiers has always been at the heart of the UND experience, he said. He emphasized the University’s role as a primed competitor in the digitized educational landscape.

Photo by Jackie Lorentz/UND Today.

To get a sense of his newly-adopted home state, Kennedy took “Coffee with Kennedy” on the road in October to meet citizens across the region and share what’s happening at UND. He was accompanied by his wife, Debbie, and father, Eugene, who was a hit with locals in Hunter, N.D., where Eugene worked from 1952-54.

UND Football team

Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

The Fighting Hawks not only earned one, but two Big Sky Conference titles in one day in November 2016, making four conference championships on the academic year. This success came off the heels of an impressive UND Men’s Hockey NCAA National Championship run.

2017

Neel Kashkari and Mark Kennedy

Photo by Tyler Ingram/UND Today.

The first “Eye of the Hawk” lecture took place in January 2017, designed as a lecture series to bring campus together around important topics with the nation and world’s preeminent experts. Kennedy was able to attract leaders in economics, government and foreign policy to campus – including Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank CEO Neel Kaskari, shown above.

Laurie Betting, Mark Kennedy, Joshua Wynne and Doug Burgum

Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

As the state faced tough economic times in the looming 2017 legislative session, Kennedy made the case for UND as a regional talent powerhouse.

In front of lawmakers, Kennedy focused on the driving forces of North Dakota’s economy, and how research universities like UND can turn the tide. These presentations elicited the Grand Challenges – points of research and service to the state that took form during the strategic planning process.

Mark Kennedy, Tom Douple and Brian Faison

Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

Kennedy brought campus revitalization to the forefront as an ever-important piece of recruitment stratagem. Also to start 2017, UND finalized its plans to shift most of its athletic programs to the Midwest-based Summit League. Kennedy commonly referred to North Dakota Athletics as the “front porch” to the rest of campus. The Summit League avails UND the chance to reignite regional rivalries.

Photo by Richard Larson.

Months of planning involving dozens of University leaders and stakeholders preceded the One UND Strategic Plan – a five-year roadmap featuring a litany of actionable, measurable steps configured in seven goals and five Grand Challenges.

This plan was to be bolstered by an investment in UND’s identity. Months before its unveiling, the University announced a $3 million infusion into its marketing. The “Leaders in Action” tagline has transformed the way UND approaches prospective students, both online and on-campus. This investment also brought UND’s website more in line with the times, including mobile compatibility and a robust program-finder that has increased inquiries five times.

UND President Mark Kennedy

Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

Introducing the One UND Strategic Plan in front of a packed audience, Kennedy presented its three pillars. Learning: provide a strong undergraduate liberal arts foundation; increase retention and graduation rates and deliver more educational opportunities online and on campus. Discovery: enhance discovery at a level consistent with most research-intensive universities (Carnegie R1). Engagement: foster a welcoming, safe and inclusive campus climate; meet educational needs of active-duty military personnel, veterans and their families and attract support for the University by actively engaging alumni and donors.

Mark Kennedy, Walk at Work

Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

“We committed from the beginning that this would not be a plan that sits on the shelf,” Kennedy said. “Striving to achieve the learning, discovery and engagement goals of the plan will require the coordinated effort of faculty, staff and students throughout the University, often in tandem with community efforts.”

Mark Kennedy

Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

Shapeholders: Business Success in the Age of Activism released May 9, 2017 – a book written by Kennedy that zeroes in on how political, regulatory and media activists can shape business practices.

“Shapeholders are different than stakeholders or shareholders,” Kennedy said. “They are the politicians, media and activists who can shape a firm’s opportunities and risk, even though they have no stake in the organization’s success.”

Mark Kennedy

Photo by Jackie Lorentz/UND Today.

The Research Institute for Autonomous Systems came to fruition over the course of 2017, created to take UND to the next level to become a global leader in unmanned and autonomous research application and policy development. Kennedy consistently referred to UAS development as a key area of economic diversity for North Dakota. UND delivered the first accredited four-year degree in UAS operations in the nation, with many of its graduates working for the best in the unmanned business.

Mark Kennedy

Photo by Jackie Lorentz/UND Today.

UND making the U.S. News & World Report Top 25 Most Innovative Schools list for 2018 placed North Dakota’s flagship among names like Stanford, Harvard and Berkeley. The report surveyed college presidents, provosts and admissions deans, asking them to nominate the institutions they believed were making the most cutting-edge changes.

The Grand Forks Herald lauded Kennedy’s leadership in advancing the One UND Strategic Plan by naming him its 2017 Person of the Year.

2018

Mark Kennedy

Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

Kennedy and his collaborators recognized campus for its “good bones,” as well as the importance of the student experience at UND, when finding ways to right-size the University. Establishing a 30-year UND Campus Master Plan set the course for campus cornerstones – preserving many, incorporating others in new projects and dismantling those too costly to maintain. At the time, estimations of deferred maintenance costs were around $500 million. To date, that figure has been reduced by $70 million.

Coulee to Columbia Committee

Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

Coulee to Columbia represented a major step of that master plan, and University Avenue’s reconstruction represents its latest movements. The initiative’s committee not only had a focus on reworking University Avenue, but implementing a number of impressive building projects – a new Memorial Union, a new College of Business & Public Administration and extensive renovations to the Chester Fritz Library.

University Avenue initiative 2018

Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

Kennedy worked to strengthen ties to the Greater Grand Forks community, especially with its economic leaders in developing the University’s strategic planning and campus planning. The City’s plans to rehab University Avenue fell in step with the Coulee to Columbia initiative, and both entities submitted a joint grant to the Department of Transportation to receive funding for safety and amenity work to accompany campus core restructuring. Programs developed between the University and City aim to engage and retain UND students.

Photo by Jackie Lorentz/UND Today.

UND took Gov. Doug Burgum, his wife Kathy and Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford on an extensive tour around campus on April 2018, leaving the first-term governor impressed with UND’s innovation during trying times. They learned more about the One UND Strategic Plan, the Grand Challenges and the University’s requested capital projects during their visit.

Photo by Jackie Lorentz/UND Today.

A private-public partnership was reached to replace the rapidly-aging steam plant near the heart of campus. Its new operators, Johnson Controls, are bringing UND’s buildings and facilities into a cleaner energy era. Finding ways to move UND forward with minimal state dollars created new opportunities for the University. Engaged alumni and donors, in addition to new partnerships, have campus renewal in full swing.

Hal and Kathy Gershman have ensured the future of what was formerly known as the J. Lloyd Stone Alumni Center, or Oxford House, with a $3-million donation, creating a new engagement center for graduate and international students. An anonymous UND alumnus contributed $20 million toward building a new College of Business & Public Administration. In addition to already-planned Chester Fritz Library renovations, more funding has been added to address deferred maintenanceUND Today has chronicled many personal contributions to the University, from people who want to see its academics provide the same impact it made for them.

Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

In a move not seen for a generation, the presidents of UND and NDSU shared the stage around the western region of the state making the case for state-driven research funding. With the backing of the Valley Prosperity Partnership, an influential economic development group, the presidents spoke with lawmakers, business leaders and fellow educational leaders about the game-changing potentials of increased research dollars.

2019

Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

The historic Babcock Hall, the original School of Mines, is transforming into the Big Data Hub for the College of Engineering & Mines along with a $10 million investment in hiring computational scientists. Other storied structures will receive new purpose by way of the campus master plan.

Mark Kennedy at U Council

Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

Kennedy has been a stalwart proponent of advancing UND’s leading online presence.

“The day of on-campus only students is going away,” Kennedy said. “We need to go big or go home with online programs.”

UND’s partnership with Pearson Online Learning Services is helping the University launch new, fully-online degrees. Cyber security and accounting were the first two implemented, and more are on the way for in-demand programs.

Mark Kennedy

Image courtesy of Peter Johnson.

Once again in a position to work with the state’s legislature, Kennedy remained dedicated to advocating UND’s priorities in Bismarck. He said that by continuing to focus on strategic investments in student success, campus renewal and discovery research, UND can thrive in the future of higher education.

UND came away from the session with approvals for the $80-million Memorial Union; to raise $35 million for the second phase of the High Performance Center; matching the $20 million anonymous donation toward a new College of Business & Public Administration; along with $5 million for the EERC and $28 million for UAS beyond-visual-line-of-sight development.

The legislature also approved a needs-based budget for the North Dakota University System, providing stability and also mandated pay increases for positions funded by state dollars over the next biennium. The first set of salary increases takes effect July 1. The University’s own effort to improve compensation has increased the pool by which staff and faculty can receive merit-based raises.

Mark Kennedy

Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

“My nomination wouldn’t have been possible without the progress we have achieved together at UND,” Kennedy said in his April statement to the University, after he was named finalist for the presidency of the University of Colorado System. “With our partners in the community and state, we navigated fiscal challenges and embraced shared goals in our One UND Strategic Plan.

“Together, we have brought about a remarkable transformation – a ten-percentage point improvement in our four-year graduation rate in just three years, a jump in research expenditures, hundreds of millions invested in campus renewal, and being named by U.S. News as one of the nation’s 25 most innovative universities.”