Strategic growth in an uncertain time: UND in 2021

Across a challenging 2021, UND has emerged a stronger and better place, as a look back at UND Today stories shows

In addition to its other accomplishments, UND in 2021 registered the highest enrollment of new freshmen in three years. UND archival photo.

UND made progress on significant issues in 2021.

And that’s saying a lot, because 2021 – in higher education and everywhere else – was no ordinary year.

“Enrollment at U.S. colleges and universities is on track to fall by another nearly 500,000 undergraduate students this fall, continuing the historic drops that began with the start of the coronavirus pandemic,” National Public Radio reported in October.

“The decline of 3.2% in undergraduate enrollment this fall follows a similar drop of 3.4% the previous year, the first fall of the pandemic, according to the research from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.”

Those were the winds buffeting colleges and universities nationwide in 2021. And they’re worth remembering, because they put into perspective everything about UND that’ll be mentioned in this story – from the opening of new buildings to the launching of new missions, to the recording of modest but real enrollment growth.

John Mihelich (L), UND’s vice president for research and economic development, stands with Mark Askelson, executive director of UND’s Research Institute for Autonomous Systems, by the trailer as UND accepts delivery of a High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle or Humvee in September 2020. UND will use the vehicle as a platform for developing an augmented-reality system for Humvees. UND archival photo.

January

In this look back at 2021, we’re paying special attention to those developments that seem likely to matter to the University across decades, not just years. One such development is the University’s growing involvement with and expertise in autonomous systems.

The story UND to develop augmented reality system for Humvees described how UND, “already a national leader in developing technology for unmanned aircraft, now is bringing its autonomous-technology expertise to ground vehicles – specifically, the Humvee, the iconic tactical vehicle widely used by the U.S. military.”

Plus, not only will the project will help America’s soldiers, it’ll also put UND on the cutting edge of the burgeoning field of autonomous systems in civilian life. Think self-driving cars and countless other innovations, said U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., in the story: “This is an important opportunity to continue building UND’s research expertise and is part of our efforts to secure additional investment in our state’s tech industry, ensuring this sector continues serving as the third wave in North Dakota’s economic growth,” the senator said.

Along those lines, UND made its case to the North Dakota Legislature in January, starting a process that came to fruition during the Legislature’s Special Session in December. During the Regular Session from January to April, President Andy Armacost and other University leaders described how UND’s “asks” would benefit the state, as well as how the University’s 138-year-old tradition of helping to educate North Dakota’s professional workforce continues today.

As Armacost put it, “The state’s investment in higher education impacts every family, every town, every sector of the economy in the state of North Dakota. … Whether it’s our great academic opportunities or internships or research efforts, we directly benefit the state in many ways.”

Image courtesy of Tom and Konnie Middleton.

As described in $5 million gift made to UND School of Entrepreneurship & Management, Tom and Konnie Middleton made a signature statement with their exceptional gift. The couple donated $5 million to support the Nistler College of Business & Public Administration, and the College’s homepage now headlines the result: “Introducing the Middleton School of Entrepreneurship & Management.”

The newly renamed school, a part of the Nistler College, is where UND students develop an entrepreneurial mindset and launch businesses. “New and renovated buildings on our campus are wonderful, but it’s the programs occurring inside them which enable our students and faculty to engage in the education, conduct the research and provide the engagement opportunities that produce the leaders North Dakota needs,” said UND President Andrew Armacost.

The Middletons’ gift “will have a real and lasting impact on the future of our state and its citizens by contributing to a stronger and more diverse economy.”

Dr. Don Warne, director of the Indians into Medicine and Master of Public Health Programs at the UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences. UND archival photo.

February

In February, A voice that’s changing the world reported on the first of a series of honors that 2021 would bring to Don Warne, director of the Indians into Medicine and Master of Public Health Programs at the UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences

As the story reported, Warne was selected as a member of the inaugural “Explorers Club 50: Fifty People Changing the World (EC50)” class of the Explorers Club, based in New York City. The Explorers Club is an international professional society dedicated to the advancement of field research and exploration.

Before the year was out, Warne also would win the American Public Health Association’s Helen Rodríguez-Trías Award for Social Justice, learn that the School of Medicine & Health Sciences had been awarded a 5-year, $10 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to develop an Indigenous Trauma & Resilience Research Center, and preside over the founding of the world’s first Department of Indigenous Health. More on the latter accomplishment under the “August” heading below.

Enrollment advice from five very special alums described a unique event sponsored by the Task Force on the Future of Education at UND: A Zoom session featuring North Dakota’s five Tribal College presidents, UND graduates all, speaking on the topic of “Reaching Underserved Populations.”

“During the meeting, the presidents talked about how they’d come to UND and how they’d succeeded at the University,” the story reported.

Then they offered frank advice about how UND could strengthen that process. Here’s just one example: UND also should set up more 2+2 programs, where students who spend two years at a tribal college can transfer readily to UND, said Cynthia Lindquist, president of Cankdeska Cikana Community College in Fort Totten, N.D.

“Right now, the Social Work program between my college and UND is thriving,” Lindquist said. “It’s absolutely thriving.” Students who take part can make a seamless transition from one school to the other, earn their bachelor’s degree in four years and save money, given that Cankdeska Cikana tuition is only $1,500 per semester, she noted.

This striking photo, taken in 1928 and looking west, shows the then-new Memorial Stadium as well as the tiny (by today’s standards) UND campus of the time. Note that most of the campus’ buildings could fit inside the Stadium’s footprint, a reminder of just how ambitious the Stadium project was. UND archival photo.

March

A Memorial for the ultimate Memorial served as a tribute to Memorial Stadium, the landmark that served as a campus centerpiece from its construction in 1927 to its demolition this year.

And just days before the wrecking balls started to swing, UND took time “to fondly look back on the Stadium, its legacy, its Athletics history and what it ultimately stood for as a memorial,” the story reported.

That reminiscence included a rare event: the opening of a time capsule, one that had been embedded in the Stadium’s cornerstone for nearly a century. The copper, shoebox-sized container opened up to reveal “vintage copies of The Dakota Student, The Grand Forks Herald and Alumni Review, various stadium fund-raising promotions and an actual ticket to the dedication and first game played at Memorial Stadium, on Homecoming Saturday, Oct. 8, 1927 — against Creighton University,” according to the story.

Tree Campus USA was the source of one of our favorite quotes of the year: “Nothing happens fast in the tree world,” said Jared Johnson, UND’s arborist. But that placid pace makes the arrival of a big event all the more significant – and so it was in the spring, when UND learned that it had achieved the designation of 2020 Tree Campus Higher Education for the University’s commitment to effective urban forest management.

As Mike Pieper, associate vice president for facilities, put it, “Year after year, UND is voted the most beautiful campus in North Dakota, and trees are a very big part of that.” Kudos to Johnson and others on the Facilities staff whose hard work led to the Arbor Day Foundation’s very real honor.

One other remarkable event in March is worth noting, and in this case, the headline says it all: UND + GFK = America’s busiest airport in early March.

“According to official Federal Aviation Administration numbers, Grand Forks International Airport was the busiest airport in the nation for a streak of days in early March. … Grand Forks didn’t trounce the likes of Atlanta and Chicago by numbers of passengers flown, but by the amount of instructions to take off or land – referred to as operations – issued by its control tower.”

And as if that isn’t enough, consider the following, as stated in this March 2021 story by Jeremy Roesler, UND’s chief flight instructor: “Given that the United States is home to the world’s busiest airports, we might have been No. 1 in the world earlier this month.”

The Longest Table event in Grand Forks, September 2019. UND archival photo.

May

If you haven’t seen it yet, take time to watch the two-minute video that’s at the heart of the story, UND, Grand Forks recognized for ‘Town & Gown’ collaboration. It’s an inspiring piece, all the more so because it accurately reflects the sense of shared purpose that animates the relationship between UND and its home community, Grand Forks.

This year, and partly as a result of that video, the partnership was recognized with one of America’s highest awards for outstanding town/gown relations. Grand Forks and UND were selected as the winners of the Larry Abernathy Award from the International Town & Gown Association. The award is given annually to a city and university that together best exemplify the mission of ITGA and demonstrate a clear desire to collaborate for the betterment of their campus and community.

“It’s an honor for the City of Grand Forks and UND to receive this award jointly,” Grand Forks Mayor Brandon Bochenski said. “The positive environment we’ve created will be crucial as we work on more value-added and successful partnerships.“

UND President Armacost agreed. “At UND, we treasure our relationship with Grand Forks. We’ve done so ever since city, UND and Dakota Territory leaders laid the campus’ first cornerstone back in 1883. …

“We are extremely grateful for the International Town & Gown Association’s recognition, and exceptionally proud of our close working relationship with Grand Forks.”

The eight-story-tall radar at the Cavalier Air Force Station operated by the U.S. Space Force’s 10th Space Warning Squadron can track hundreds of objects in space. U.S. Air Force photo.

June

Here’s a story whose significance has dramatically grown with time: At Space Force facility in N.D., UND and Space Force talk partnership. The previous month, “a group of 10 UND faculty members not only got to see the inner workings of the Cavalier (N.D.) Air Force Station’s massive eight-story concrete structure, which supports a powerful octagon-shaped phased-array radar, but also discussed possibilities for research and workforce development collaborations between the University and the U.S. Space Force,” reported UND Today’s Patrick C. Miller, who accompanied the group.

During the visit, there was much talk of partnerships and future collaborations between UND and the U.S. Space Force, the new service that the Cavalier facility now is a part of. But what couldn’t have been predicted was the speed at which those partnerships would take shape. By December, UND Today would be reporting on plans for a UND Satellite Operations Center, UND Satellite Design and Engineering Lab, and UND Satellite Fabrication and Assembly Lab, among other new faciitiles.

The University’s National Security Initiative, with its initial focus on Space and autonomy, promises to be a prime force in UND’s development for many years to come.

The Gershman Graduate Center at UND. UND archival photo.

July

UND’s elegant home for graduate students introduced the UND community to a remarkable resource on campus: the Gershman Graduate Center. Thanks to a generous gift from Hal and Kathy Gershman, UND extensively renovated the Stone House – the oldest building on campus, and an elegant Victorian home that once housed UND’s presidents.

“The renovation is a show-stopper,” the UND Today story reported.

“The main floor is a Victorian showplace, with formal décor and furniture, restored to its original glory. And instead of being off-limits, students are invited to sit on the antique furniture, attend lunches and dinners served in the formal dining room, browse the lending library, and use the piano for recitals and other functions.”

A student lounge downstairs is “meant to be a home away from home for grad students and faculty.”

Study spaces and conference rooms are available, with the entire building wired for state-of-the-art Internet conferencing and connectivity.

“It’s impossible to pick a favorite part of the new Gershman Graduate Center,” said Chris Nelson, associate dean of the School of Graduate Studies. “In supporting multiple uses, all of which are equally important, the Center enables us to assist in preparing students for success at UND and in their respective futures. We couldn’t be more excited to open the space!”

NDIC members in the Drilling and Completions Lab. UND archival photo.

August

An extraordinary resource for education and research earned a high-level visit from the North Dakota Industrial Commission. Gov. Doug Burgum, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring – along with NDIC Executive Director Karlene Fine – in early August visited the high-bay building that once housed the power plant for the city of Grand Forks,” UND Today reported in the story, Welcome to the world’s largest oil drilling simulator.

“The building is now occupied by the Drilling and Completion Lab (DRACOLA) run by the College of Engineering & Mines’ Department of Petroleum Engineering. Next to the full-scale oil and gas drilling rig, a pilot plant is being constructed to extract rare earth elements from North Dakota lignite coal under a UND Institute for Energy Studies project with the U.S. Department of Energy.”

As Department chair and Professor Vamegh Rasouli pointed out, the facility adds unique-in-the-world stature to UND’s petroleum engineering program, already in the top three in terms of student numbers in the United States.

The Seal of the United States Space Force is the official seal of the U.S. Space Force, the space service branch of the U.S. Armed Forces.

Two other “firsts” highlighted August: UND becomes first university in new U.S. Space Force program, and the opening of the World’s first Department of Indigenous Health. The Space Force partnership promises great things for UND, President Andy Armacost said: “When I see the four goals of this program – research and workforce development; collaborating in research with other universities; establishing educational opportunities for students and ROTC cadets; and developing diverse, STEM-capable graduates for the Space Force – I can say with confidence that UND is well positioned for all of them.”

Ditto the establishment of the new Department of Indigenous Health at the School of Medicine & Health Sciences. “We have a longstanding history of Indigenous programs at UND, beginning with INMED,” says Dr. Don Warne in the story linked to above.

“Adding this full department in a medical school, we now have the opportunity to promote more synergy across our research, education, service, and other training opportunities that focus on Indigenous health and health equity. It creates a unique platform to expand the innovative work we’re already doing, and explore more innovative programs.”

Also in August – and on several other occasions throughout 2021 – UND administrators answered questions via Zoom from the UND community in Town Halls. Both the Faculty & Staff Town Hall and the Student & Family Town Hall focused almost exclusively on the pandemic, with questions being asked and answered about vaccine incentives, study abroad and the campus environment, among other topics.

But the August Town Halls were just two in a long series – and that’s the point. From the start of the pandemic in 2020, UND leaders have taken pains to communicate with the campus, and frequent Town Halls have become an important part of that effort.

In this YouTube screenshot, DeAnna Carlson Zink, CEO of the UND Alumni Association & Foundation, delivers the 2021 State of the UNDAAF Address.

September

Perhaps the Town Halls and other communications efforts helped bring about two good-news stories that surfaced in September: UND moves enrollment needle forward for third year in row, and Record performance for UND Alumni Association & Foundation Endowment Fund.

“UND’s 2021 fall semester is in high gear, and data shows there’s more students on campus to take in all the University has to offer, the Enrollment story reported.

“Census Day — the official enrollment-tallying period for all North Dakota University System institutions — came and went last week, with UND posting an overall student headcount of 13,772 students. That’s a little more than 1 percent higher, or 157 students, than in fall 2020, and is UND’s highest total enrollment since 2018.”

The numbers mean UND has seen modest but steady enrollment growth for the past three years, the story reported.

As for the University’s endowment, UND’s endowment fund reached a value of $366.1 million on June 30, the end of fiscal year 2021, the UND Alumni Association & Foundation announced.

“That’s a record amount for this vital tool that establishes a legacy of giving far into the future,” said DeAnna Carlson Zink, CEO of the UNDAAF, during her State of the UNDAAF Address.
Carlson Zink also announced that alumni and friends of UND gave $64.4 million during fiscal year 2021. While that doesn’t equal the record $80.1 million donated in FY20, it’s the third-highest yearly total ever, and brings the total giving over the past three years to $212.2 million.

“We are so very thankful that we have so many alumni and friends of this university who want to do good in the lives of UND students each and every day,” said Carlson Zink.

UND Memorial Union. UND archival photo.

October

Dazzling Union, state-of-the-art Library, new era at UND, the headline announced, and users of the news and/or wonderfully renovated facilities surely would agree.

Recall that the Chester Fritz Library originally opened in 1961, then was expanded in 1981 – and that both of those dates almost entirely predate the age of personal computers.

No wonder “technology was front and center” in the latest renovation of the Chester Fritz Library, said Madhavi Marasinghe, UND’s chief information officer.

“These days, technology touches everything that we do,” she continued. “It’s part of our lives. So having robust technology allows us to create spaces where our community can innovate, get their hands dirty with new technology and let the creative juices flow.”

The newly renovated library enables just that, Marasinghe said in the story.

As for the Memorial Union, especially notable is the pattern it helped establish for major construction projects at UND of all kinds: extensive use of private funding, coupled with state support.

“On Nov. 20, 2018, UND students voted to support funding for a new Memorial Union,” Armacost said at the dedication ceremony.

“It was a bold statement that signaled not only their commitment to the university and its strategic priorities, but also a vision for those who would follow in their footsteps.

“Today, we can see and experience firsthand what this new addition means to our campus,” Armacost continued.

“And I cannot express enough the gratitude that we have for our students for shouldering this responsibility, and for all those who have supported this endeavor.”

A drummer performs at the Feel of Korea cultural festival on the UND campus, November 2021. UND archival photo.

November

The first-ever Feel of Korea cultural festival brought a lineup of not only professional drummers and dancers, but also VIPs, including the lieutenant governor of North Dakota and the Republic of Korea consul general himself. In fact, “nearly 1,000 people came from near and far to take in the sights, tastes and sounds at UND’s inaugural Feel of Korea event,” UND Today reported in its story, K-pop, hanbok and the Consul General of Korea.

“The daylong cultural celebration was co-hosted by UND’s Korean Culture Exchange Club and the Consulate General of the Republic of Korea in Chicago — along with UND’s College of Arts & Sciences and International Center.”

North Dakota Capitol. State of North Dakota photo

December

Then in December, A Special Session to remember reported on the dramatic impact that the North Dakota Legislature’s actions in 2021 likely will have on UND long-term. UND emerged from the Regular and Special sessions “with real improvements, including projects that will change University and North Dakota life dramatically and for the better across decades to come,” the story reported.

The changes include not only the Space and autonomy projects described above, but also a $50 million appropriation that – in conjunction with up to $29 million from philanthropic sources – will significantly upgrade Merrifield and Twamley halls.

“I was very pleased and thankful for the support we got from the legislators,” UND President Andy Armacost says in the story.

“They really took the time to understand the impact of the projects and how they fit into the future direction of the university. They also were willing to advocate for these projects to make them happen.

“So it was a very good session for us,” Armacost continued. “But more important, it was a very good session for our students and, I believe, the state of North Dakota. These are great investments that will deliver tremendous value to the state.”