Exceptional UND enriches learning

In 2010, students, faculty and staff engaged in a series of conversations to determine a strategic vision to guide UND. After input from over 600 stakeholders representing different facets of the university, the next five years under the leadership of President Robert Kelley will focus on creating an Exceptional UND, a university system recognized internationally for it’s dedication to promoting the well-being and education for the future generations of leaders.

“It’s about working and collaborating between disciplines,” Kelley said. “We’re coming together and having fun doing it.”

Putting students first

Associate Provost Dr. Steven Light has been critical in turning these conversations into a working framework.

“I know we deliver a high quality education and student experience now,” Light said. “We want to transformatively take what UND does and take it to the next level while keeping students at the heart and center.”

Keeping students first has been critical in the process. Student voices have been represented in working groups alongside faculty and staff.  Intentionally centering on the student body, the first initiative of the vision is to enrich the student learning experience.

“That’s at the heart of what we want to do,” Light said.

The initiative is twofold. Primarily, to examine teaching and learning in the classroom and then the co-curricular experiences including internships, student organizations, research and experiential learning.

“Right now there are opportunities for undergraduates to do their own research,” Light said.

According to Light, Research opportunities will be improved with the creation of a clearinghouse website that can match students with other research conducted and processed. Internships and alternative learning opportunities will be treated similarly by expanding the website for more inclusive information and listings.

For incoming freshman, the initiative to enrich the student learning experience has inspired First Year Experience programs. Classes have been constructed specifically for incoming students to aid the transition between high school and college classes. Instead of large lecture halls, these classes max out at 25 students and focus not only on the class subject but on long-term college success. Among others, study skills, library usage, public speaking and critical thinking are crucial to class curriculum.

“We want to engage you and help you be successful right away,” Light said. “Very intentionally, it is a small class where essential skills are built into substantive courses and can be applied to assignments.”

These are three credit classes that fulfill Essential Studies requirements.

Encourage gathering and facilitating collaboration

The second and third initiatives are to encourage gathering and facilitate collaboration at UND. As new buildings, such as the Gorecki Alumni Center, or redesigned buildings such as the College of Education and Human Development, the layout intentionally creates spaces for students and faculty to gather for study or collaboration. Buildings such as the Memorial Union are being evaluated for their effectiveness in promoting academic gathering.

The call for collaboration goes beyond providing the physical capital. Much of the research and current issues students deal with cross academic disciplines and UND is looking to make collaboration available and necessary. Light said a great example of this is the western oil boom.

“The best way to look at a big challenge and opportunity is not to be isolated in the way we look at it,” he said.

When political science students look at the oil boom from policy perspective, they should work with law school students to understand legal boundaries, and further with engineering students who have further knowledge about the technological aspects. This will create a “bridge across disciplines,” Light said, who hopes to see this research also continue to partnerships between students and faculty.

Expand presence

The fourth initiative guiding UND is expanding its presence to within the community, the state, the nation and the world. Recently, UND student art has been displayed in the Grand Forks Empire Arts Center and UND courses are offered through online classes worldwide. Moving forward, work groups are reaching out to local businesses to expand internship and co-op opportunities for students.

Faculty and staff

Finally, the fifth initiative is to enhance the quality of life for faculty and staff. According to Light, it’s all about finding ways to help faculty and staff do their job better.

“We want to keep our faculty happy and healthy,” he said. “This way, they can help the student more.”

As an institution, UND is looking at what needs to be done to ensure cutting-edge teaching is used and faculty and students are able to work together through their educational experience.

Exceptional UND is a cumalitive effort that each new student becomes a part of. No one person can accomplish the entire vision, but the vision is set.

“We have a flexible framework that working groups and teams on campus can use as targets,” Light said. “These teams will fill in the A to Z.”