Video: University Council meeting, and President’s State of the University Address

Armacost’s topics include enrollment, new programs, new construction — and riding a combine for the first time

Editor’s note: On Monday, Nov. 15, UND President Andy Armacost gave his State of the University address on Zoom during the fall University Council meeting. Armacost highlighted the 2021 fall semester, construction of new campus housing and a look ahead at future strategic planning for the campus.

A video of the meeting is a above, and a transcript of Armacost’s remarks is below. The president begins speaking in the video at 31:53. 

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Thank you, Professor Oancea! Let me begin by thanking you for your tremendous leadership of the University Senate this year. And I know you’ve put your heart and soul into it and continue the great legacy of previous leaders as well.

I appreciate this format. I’m going to begin with that comment. Hearing from the Deans directly, I think, gives the attendees — the members of the Council and the Senate — a great perspective about what’s happening within each of the colleges and schools.

And I know that last year, this was an initiative by then-President Liz Legurski, and I’m really thrilled that you continued that tradition, because I think it’s valuable to the members of our community.

So thank you, and thanks for the invitation to provide this presentation.

I hesitate to call this the State of the University, simply because it makes it sound like the State of the Union. And I don’t have the Supreme Court here nor the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

But nonetheless, I think what I’ll do is build upon the great comments of the deans.

This address comes in two phases, and this approach comes in two phases. In the spring we’ll do the same format with additional comments from the other deans as well.

I know that we’re slated to go for another hour, and I will assuredly not speak that long. My remarks are probably about 15 minutes. And that will leave plenty of time for questions and answers from the crowd.

With that, the purpose of today is to highlight — similarly to what I have done previously with other groups such as our Alumni Foundation and other foundations affiliated with the University — and to talk about some of the goings-on at UND, and to highlight what I feel are important areas of growth for the campus. Then we’ll point a little bit to the future.

I figured it would be best to start by introducing new faces on our campus. And of course, our Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Eric Link joined us this summer, and we’re thrilled to have his leadership of our academic programs, plus his great advice about many matters on our campus.

In addition, I’m excited to welcome Dr. Beth Hellwig, who is our Interim Vice President for Student Affairs. Beth will be with us through the end of the spring semester in an interim capacity as we’re beginning to search now for the permanent Vice President for Student Affairs.

So welcome to Beth. She has tremendous experience at numerous universities, is a huge basketball fan as well and apparently from what I understand a national champion and a table tennis player, so welcome to Beth.

Then finally, let me introduce Dr. Tamba-Kuii Bailey. Dr. Bailey comes to the position of special assistant to the president for Diversity and Inclusion. He’s a professor in the College of Education and Human Development. And his time right now is 80 percent supporting the President’s Office, with campus-wide initiatives on diversity, equity and inclusion.

Welcome to Tamba-Kuii, and again to Beth and to Eric as well.

I wanted to draw your attention to the fact that Kathy and I spent the summer going around the state to introduce ourselves to alumni and friends and legislators across the state of North Dakota. You see five locations here in each picture; you will see my arm in various states of repair, given a broken wrist that happened this year.

So you can chuckle and try to find the cast or the splint in each of the pictures.

But these images, I think, are important because they represent the connection that Kathy and I are trying to make with key members of our community. It was a delightful way to hear their ideas, their thoughts, their concerns, and really to take their feedback and see how the university can continue to meet the needs of the citizens of North Dakota, as well as the citizens of the region and nation.

And perhaps one of the most enjoyable experiences was in the upper left corner, when we were with a UND alum, Mike Appert. He and his wife, Linda, live on a farm in Hazleton, and Kathy and I did have a chance to ride combines and harvest rye that day. So it was an exciting time for us, since that’s a part of life that we had never experienced.

Then you see the other interactions on the screen as well — again, a chance to develop those relationships and to make important connections.

The fall semester then kicked off with a lot of great action. Here we see our students; some of these pictures, of course are from previous years. But the semester started off with the action that we normally see and that is a gentle return to campus as normal.

What we also saw was the highest enrollment totals coming in since 2018. We had overall a slight increase of about 1 percent in our enrollments, which is significant in that many of our partner schools within the state of North Dakota saw decreases in their enrollment.

Our new first-year students increased by roughly 9 percent. That’s a good sign for the future. But this comes at the opening of the fall semester from tremendous effort from so many faculty and staff members to get your classes ready, to figure out how to continue to use technology in novel ways — some are doing hybrid, more people are doing face to face this fall than last year because of the depths of the pandemic we were in.

But your focus on committing to delivering a high quality education has just been extraordinary. So let me please accept my thanks and my appreciation for making that happen.

Also what helped set the vibe on our campus is the outreach that we had from so many to our students over the last year — answering their questions reaching out just to check on them to make sure they were doing OK. The outpouring of support from faculty and staff members to our students was extraordinary — so, great job there.

One area of academics I wanted to highlight is an ongoing, incredible story over in the School of Medicine & Health Sciences. Here we see our newest department at UND, the Department of Indigenous Health. Last year, we had announced our Ph.D. program in Indigenous Health. And then organizationally we’ve now structured activities supporting our American Indian students in the health professions here within this department.

From left to right, we have Melanie Nadeau, Amber Lyon, Kyle Hill, Nicole Redvers, Joycelyn Dorscher, Shawnda Schroeder, Don Warne, Allison Kelliher, Andrew Williams, and Ursula Running Bear. They comprise this new Department of Indigenous Health, the first of its kind in the nation.

We’re extraordinarily proud of the services that we’re providing to our American Indian students in the health professions. It signals our commitment as a University to support our American Indian students across all of our disciplines.

So congratulations to Don Warne for the vision of this, and his success in making it happen.

Of course, we see a return to action on the sports fields. If you recall last fall, we shut down because of the pandemic. But things are alive and well in the sports fields again.

So we hosted our last home football game this past Saturday with a victory over Illinois State. It came down to the wire, but it was a really good game, and we came out on top.

Of course, our other sports as well. In the lower right, we have hockey, which hosted the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game down in Nashville, a great chance for many of our UND fans to come down and cheer the team on.

Unfortunately, it was a loss to Penn State. But nonetheless, the team worked hard, and the fans, I think, had a wonderful time.

What really struck me about that was the many fans who use an opportunity like a sporting event to come together as families. So there are many family reunions and sports reunions and class reunions that happen. And really, this epitomizes the connections that we see among our alumni community.

In addition to sports, let me focus on esports. Cindy Juntunen — Dean Juntunen — talked about esports as well and the growing program that we have — esports management, and we have an esports team.

Our esports team is coached by Travis Isbell, and they’re doing amazing things. It’s a new frontier of both education and competition.

For those who haven’t participated in esports, there are esports competitions that are filling up NBA and NFL arenas around the U.S.

One of the founders of our program on campus and a real force in the local community to make esports a bigger thing is Kaleb Dschaak. Kaleb founded a company in town called Fenworks. Fenworks, I gather, has about eight or nine full-time employees now. And their focus is on promoting the field of esports.

Kaleb and his team are doing absolutely wonderful work, and congratulations to Travis on his work with our esports team here on campus.

I want to focus on the idea of partnerships. You hear me talk a lot about partnerships and what it means to create partnerships.

The first partnerships are with the community. There’s no better example of community partnerships than putting up new buildings, using the tradespeople from the local community: from what I understand, 90 percent of the work that happens is with Grand Forks-sourced tradespeople. The pride that they show in the work is extraordinary.

We’ll see this Residence Hall Public Private Partnership Project continue to grow before our eyes. This was a project that we put before the State Board of Higher Education this summer, and they approved it, and we secured the funding.

With all the all the projects going on campus, we asked: where do students spend the majority of their time? It’s actually in their dormitories with their friends.

And so, modernizing our living experiences — particularly for our first-year students — is an important step towards the growth of enrollment on campus.

On the right-hand side is our town-and-gown relationship. This was a picture taken from Wake Up to UND, which happened in the new Memorial Union.

But I wanted to highlight the town-and-gown relationship, the important connection that UND has with the City of Grand Forks. And in fact, that connection is so strong that we were jointly recognized with the Larry Abernathy Award, which is the top award given by the International Town Gown Association to recognize the close partnership between a college and its host city.

This was just a great opportunity for us to come together as a community for breakfast, and to celebrate that close relationship.

In addition, we have other partnerships as well — partnerships with local government; there you see City Manager Todd Feland, speaking in the upper left; and in the lower left, we have our friends out at Grand Sky. In particular, this is one of the tenants at Grand Sky, which is General Atomics.

There is great work happening between UND and General Atomics to do work on unmanned systems.

Of course, our work in space R&D is going to grow in importance as well.

Our partnerships with the military are essential, and Dean Bob Kraus just mentioned that work. I think you saw this picture as well: of the signing of the University Partners Program. This is an historic agreement that really focuses both education and research opportunities across our entire campus.

And as Bob pointed out, this is a real boon for not just the Odegard School, but also the College of Engineering and Mines and the College of Arts and Sciences, as well as opportunities to look at policy, legal and ethical issues associated with operations in space.

We think that the main of the campus, the entire fabric of UND, can be contributors to this important work that’s happening with the U.S. Space Force.

In addition, we of course, have partnerships with Cavalier Air Force Station, which is now a Space Force station, in terms of workforce development opportunities and research opportunities. Our local Grand Forks Air Force Base has missions in unmanned systems, but also in space systems that will tie directly to the work that we’re doing on campus.

And we recently hosted 40 worldwide leaders that are connected with Grand Forks Air Force Base to talk about how UND can support them, and also how UND engages in the strategic planning process to move forward. Our military leaders took a few notes about how we do strategic planning to support their strategic planning as well.

So, lots of great activities happening on campus with respect to research and education, tying to national security.

Our state partnerships are important as well. I think it was mentioned several times by the deans: the fact that the support we’re getting from the state and our local legislators, as well as from around the entire state of North Dakota, has been absolutely stunning. And there’s funding that has come forward for the EERC continuing its role as the state’s Energy Research Center.

The North Dakota Industrial Commission has lent its support for our Drilling and Completions Lab; if you spell out the acronym, it’s something like Dracula.

The Drilling and Completions Lab also does work on extraction of rare earth elements, as well as the drilling technologies and how we can make drilling actually a more effective process. Our Center for Innovation has connections with our Department of Commerce and supporting new businesses and entrepreneurship. And of course our Department of Commerce supports our Small Business Development Center, which is located within the Nistler College.

And then finally, the Northern Plains UAS Test Site and the Vantis system have gotten tremendous support, so that we can support what we call beyond visual line of sight operations across the entire state of North Dakota.

The legislative session last spring was very, very strong. We got many of the resource asks, the funding asks, from that legislative session. And, just last Friday, the Legislature finished its special session where they’re allocating ARPA funds. These are the American Recovery Plan Act funds – federal funds that were coming to the state for use in a variety of projects. We’ll report back after the governor finally signs the legislation, but I can assure you that we got great support from the legislators in terms of how to support projects on our campus with that funding. And the question now is how the governor is going to respond and whether the governor supports what the Legislature has suggested. So, a lot happening in the world of the state of North Dakota and the support for our campus.

I wanted to talk a bit about planning for the future and talk about focus areas as we go forward, and give you a sense of what’s on my mind in the upcoming year. The first is the redesign of the UND Strategic Plan.

Originally, I had taken the position that we were just going to update the current plan with the seven goals that exist with a couple of modifications and kind of continuing the trend. As we spoke with the team captains from each of the goals, it became clear that that there are opportunities that we really need to take advantage of. Furthermore, when you look at the current strategic plan, it looks more like a list of things to do rather than an aspirational document. And so we’re retrenching a little bit and we’re going to launch a plan to do a more complete review and modification of the strategic plan. I put four bullets here just to highlight as I think about the strategic plan.

As we seek to be more aspirational, I think this new strategic plan should do a number of things. Four of them are listed here. One is to focus on excellence in our educational and our research programs – a statement about excellence, a statement about trying to do some incredible things. I’d love to see a Rhodes Scholar return to our campus, not an ex-Rhodes Scholar, but find and develop students at UND that have the preparation to compete for international scholarships, like the Marshall or the Rhodes Scholarship, and really set our sights on promoting that sense of educational excellence.

I’d like to develop a true sense of community both on and off campus. This is a sense of connection across our departments. What really pleased me was when the deans were talking about the connections that they’re forming across Colleges and Schools on campus, and this is the essence of who we should be. Most issues that we’ll face in society actually span multiple disciplines. And we should find ways to really promote that spirit of cross-discipline work across College and School work as well.

I think we should also seek a stronger connection of our curricular and co-curricular programs. I say this simply because when I look at the mission statement of the University, it’s about developing our future leaders. And we have great assessment programs for our academic programs. But if we think about our co-curricular programs, where our students are really testing out and developing their leadership abilities, if we believe in our mission, then we should also believe in the power of those co-curricular programs, and put emphasis there as well on how we assess them and deliver those programs.

Then finally, just infusing this – I like to call it the spirit of wonderment – that there’s a lot to discover, and our sense of creativity and innovation on our campus should be obvious to anyone who steps here. This could be through our entrepreneurship activities, our creative pursuits and the arts, the sense of discovery that happens across all of our disciplines. For a student who steps on campus, it should hit them square in the face, that when they graduate from the University of North Dakota, their sense of creativity will be nurtured and fostered throughout their time here, and that that sense of wonderment should exist at every corner of our campus. So these are just some ideas as we think about our strategic plan.

Related to our strategic plan is our comprehensive campaign that’s coming up. We anticipate its launch in January of 2023. There, we’ll be working alongside the Alumni Association and Foundation very, very closely. And if you think about the way that we’re going to characterize that comprehensive campaign, it should be closely tied with the excitement and the energy that exists within this new strategic plan. So there’s a great opportunity to mirror those or to have those reflect one another. And when you read the strategic plan, there should be a direct connection to the comprehensive campaign, and vice versa.

Of course, on the top of all of our lists is the ongoing response to the pandemic and making sure we’re making good decisions for the campus. Bob Kraus talked about the John Houser Fund for mental health and aviation. That’s just one element of focus of the campus on the mental and emotional health support that we need to provide to our students, our faculty and our staff members. Of course, all eyes are on enrollments, this is kind of the coin of the realm for a university – that we should offer programs that attract students, and all of our great programs that we have on campus. There should be ample opportunity and increasing efforts to make sure that we’re attracting students to take advantage of all of our wonderful programs.

And then finally, we have our physical infrastructure improvements that are ongoing. This is an important part of offering world class education and programs. I mentioned earlier the great physical changes that we’re going to see over in the housing area as well.

And finally, just a reminder, it’s all about our students. And I wanted to highlight three of them, because I think each of these stories is pretty remarkable. Jonathan Wirkala at the top is a military veteran, and he’s an engineering double major. He works in his spare time with Engineers Without Borders, doing programs like water filtration systems for remote environments. And he started out at UND as an online student, then transitioned to in-person in 2019. He’s a great example of how students at UND can take their academic expertise and make a difference as leaders, literally Leaders in Action.

In the lower left, we have Sapir Sela. She’s a tennis player from Florida, and she has one of the most interesting academic stories that I’ve heard. In her first year here at UND, she completed her undergraduate degree. I’m letting that sink in for a moment. She finished her undergraduate degree, and she did that because she had an extraordinary amount of dual credit coming out of her high school, which I believe was in Florida. For UND, part of bringing her here was our ability to allow her to balance tennis with her academic plan. So what did she do for her final three years while playing tennis? Well, what Sapir is doing is doing a dual degree, a JD MBA, so she’s getting her law degree, and her MBA at the same time while competing in her final three years as a tennis player. And if that isn’t enough, if you’re at several football games this year, Sapir actually sang the national anthem. She’s got a beautiful singing voice, and she showcased that singing voice to honor our nation and the flag before the football games.

And then finally, in the lower right is Malika Barbie Odera, and Malika is from Brooklyn Park, Minnesota. She originally hails from Cameroon, and pursuing a degree in forensic science. And she launched a chapter of a student club. I’ll share the title in a minute. But when she described this club to me, I’ll tell you what it is, it’s the National Society of Leadership and Success. And when she described the reasons why she started the club, it became obvious why she did. Our conversation went like this: I said to Malika, “Wow, it sounds like the mission of your club-” and then she finished my sentence. She said, “Is exactly what the mission of UND is.” And so here she saw an opportunity and a need on our campus to offer leadership experiences for our students in ways that we might have had a gap. There are many leadership opportunities that we do have, but she just saw the need for a structured group like this particular National Society for Leadership and Success. And she launched it, she took the lead. So I was really proud of her involvement to create such a great opportunity for other students.

There’s no better way to end a presentation than to talk about our students, and to remind ourselves that that’s why we’re here. I think all of our actions should be focused on a number of areas. When I took the trip around the state, which I lead off with, there were five areas that I focused on. The first are my philosophies about educational leadership. The first is love your people. The second is, always remember, we’re here for our students. The third is make sure we treat everybody in our campus with kindness, dignity and respect. The fourth is to take every opportunity to learn and to make sure others do as well, and, as we learn more, we should also realize that we should learn with a sense of humility in recognizing that other people are learning things as well. And then the fifth is to recognize that everybody is great at something. And that it’s our job as a university to tap into that greatness of our students, our faculty and our staff members, and let them soar. So with that, what I’ll do is I’ll turn it back over to Professor Oancea, and we’ll turn it over for questions as they emerge. Thank you for listening, and hope you’re having a great day.