Letter from the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies

March 30, 2016

 

Dear colleagues:

This is my third quarterly update for the 2015-2016 academic year.

There is little doubt that philanthropy that directly benefits students will only increase in importance as we move forward. That is why it is so encouraging that Daralyn Gordon Arata, our pre-law advisor, was able to address guests from the Greater Kansas City legal community at an event earlier this week.

Joined by President Schulz and KSU Foundation representatives, including Director of Development for University Programs Nicole Askew, Arata's remarks included news about our current pre-law students' many diverse undertakings and successes; her vision for the program's growth and development; and an appeal for support. Members of the Pre-Law Advisory Council were on hand, as were past, current and possible future K-State benefactors.

Sticking with pre-law for a moment more, know that Arata and her colleagues at Washburn University School of Law are in the process of creating a "Rural Legal Practice Initiative" designed to encourage, support and prepare pre-law students for careers in rural legal practice. Unfortunately, many Kansas communities are underserved by the legal profession: K-State and Washburn Law, as well as other key partners, are teaming up to address this problem. Such cooperative and mutually beneficial programs, like our previously concluded Legal Education Accelerated Degree program agreement with the University of Kansas School of Law, entail putting our students' and our state's needs first. But doing right also is a path toward doing well. Such programs do much to highlight K-State's distinctive, and in Kansas, unique, land-grant mission.

Indeed, defining our undergraduate academic programs' distinctive qualities also is likely to become increasingly important as we move forward. For example, when President and First Lady Schulz recently visited the Honors House it drew attention to the fact that we are deeply fortunate to attract so many highly talented and dedicated undergraduate students. It also highlights, in particular, the intellectually stimulating residential facilities and related learning opportunities, which, as a result of cooperation between student and academic affairs units, are increasingly available, prominent and recognized by many of our most highly sought-after prospective undergraduate students. The Honors House is a gemstone.

Sticking with the University Honors Program for a moment more, know that, as a result of statewide budget uncertainties, we have had to suspend the national search for a director to replace Justin Kastner when he steps down in June. I will serve as acting director in the interim. With the help of many, a dedicated UHP staff, and gratis teaching support from none other than Kastner himself, I am confident that we will cope with this turn of events and assure that our newest and returning honors students are provided every opportunity and benefit they richly deserve.

I was corresponding recently with John N. Gardner, who, it is widely acknowledged, developed the first "first-year program" in U.S. higher education. It occurred to me that decades have passed since Gardner undertook this innovation, and that perhaps we are occasionally lulled into taking for granted understanding of their purposes. For the record, let me state that nearly one-half of all undergraduates who begin with us but who do not ultimately graduate leave K-State during their first year of study, many never completing even their first semester. The thinking goes: we had better attend to this key transition with stimulating and well-supported academic challenges as well as with all due social and cultural sensitivity. Additional key transitions, such as from general to specialized major(s)-specific education and from undergraduate to post-graduate life and livelihood, also require our attention. But far too many students never make it to these later transitions, having run into shoals before ever truly setting sail. Hence the profound importance of K-State First, First Scholars, etc.

These same considerations lie behind our investments and proposed investments in academic advising. In some areas, we need additional advising staff in order to maintain manageable advisor/advisee ratios. In others, we need career ladders and appropriate compensation for high-quality and professionally assessed academic advising. I am an advocate for both, as well as for providing faculty and primary role advisors with state-of-the-art tools and the study and support required to realize their maximal benefit. At the end of the day, such investment is justified inasmuch as it improves student success; that is, additional and better compensated advisors using the best technology at-hand should result in improved learning and improved graduation success. Imagine the student who is able to double major and incorporate study abroad and/or undergraduate research into their four years at K-State. Now, compare that student to one who is unable to select a major in a timely manner nor undertake any high-impact practices at all, and who therefore spends a costly extra year pursuing a degree that has not prepared them as well as it might have for a competitive career or for post graduate education or training. This speaks to what is at stake.

Sticking with advising for a moment more, know that January's K-State/NACADA Winter Institute, which focused on advising transfer students, was a great success. February's presentations on advising to the Council of Deans and President's Cabinet were great successes. NACADA Region 7's Feb. 28 to March 2 annual meeting hosted in Manhattan was a super great success. Also, Kansas State University is working to integrate GradesFirst and the Education Advisory Board, or EAB, Student Success Collaborative by the fall semester, which we hope will lead to many, many more great successes. GradesFirst is a technology that K-State Athletics has been using to support student success for six months. The thinking is that what's good for our student-athletes — and everyone in Athletics, by the way, seem to greatly appreciate the changes facilitated by GradesFirst — is very likely to be good for all undergraduates. We look forward to providing faculty and primary role advisors with access to, and training regarding, "SSC Campus," which is the name EAB has given to the combination of SSC and GradesFirst.

Let me conclude by drawing attention to several upcoming events. If you have yet to attend the Developing Scholars Program Annual Research Poster Symposium, your next chance is from 1:30-3:30 p.m. Sunday, April 17, in the K-State Student Union Ballroom. While K-State sponsors more than two dozen major undergraduate research forums annually, including a KBOR-wide showcase at the State Capitol in Topeka, the Developing Scholars Program's Symposium, as it is has been called for the past 15 years, is the flagship universitywide celebration of what faculty, postdoc and graduate student mentors can achieve when they collaborate with highly talented, hard-working and well-supported undergraduate students. The result is a wonderfully diverse display of research posters staffed by truly top-shelf developing scholars.

Let me also highlight events, the planning for which has been led by the Beach Museum of Art, that invite reflection on the tragic internment of Japanese-Americans during the Second World War, including the meaning for us today, people but a generation or two removed from the experience of war-time hysteria and the advent of American concentration camps. Consider "Behind the Glass Eye: Photographs by Toyo Miyatake and Minidoka on My Mind," from 5-7:30 p.m April 7 at the Beach Museum of Art Auditorium and Pelton Gallery, and "You People: Mistrust of the Other," from 2-3:30 p.m. Sunday, April 9, in the Leadership Studies Building's Town Hall. These events are well-suited for student involvement.

Finally, I have recently represented or anticipate soon representing K-State at the following professional meetings: NACADA Academic Advising Administrator's Institute, Feb. 18-20, where I served as a member of the faculty; the Reinvention Center UVP Network Meeting at Florida State University, June 1-3; and NASPA's Closing the Achievement Gap: Student Success in Higher Education Conference, June 9-11, College Park, Maryland, at which I will co-present with Diane Schorr, executive director of the Suder Foundation, on leading change in higher ed.

Very best wishes,

Steve Dandaneau,
Vice provost for undergraduate studies