Experiential learning and inclusion among topics explored in CMU Board of Trustees’ April meetings

Trustees engaged students, faculty and staff in conversations about student success

| Author: Ari Harris | Media Contact: Aaron Mills

In one of the busiest months on the university campus, the Central Michigan University Board of Trustees gathered to hear updates on a number of initiatives and activities, including strategic planning and academic visioning. Trustees also engaged with numerous students, faculty and staff to deepen their understanding of the academic and cocurricular programs at CMU.

Strategic planning update

CMU President Bob Davies said CMU held more than 40 strategic engagement sessions during the last 60 days, involving university stakeholders on campus and in the community.

“These efforts included meetings with groups such as the Academic Senate, Student Government Association, academic colleges, alumni, donors, and the greater community,” Davies said.

The engagement sessions, as well as online forms submitted by stakeholders including high school guidance counselors, parents and supporters, and former faculty and staff, yielded more than 200 pages of feedback. Members of the Strategic Planning Team are now reviewing and distilling the information, and they are seeing many themes emerging from the data.

“The team plans to share the first round of themes in an open session next week, incorporate feedback and share a draft of goals with the Board of Trustees in June,” Davies said.

Concurrent with the strategic planning efforts, Davies said an academic visioning process also is underway. Led by Executive Vice President and Provost Nancy Mathews, this process will consider the changing field of higher education and CMU’s place in it. 

Emphasis on real-world outcomes

During Wednesday’s committee meetings, several presentations emphasized the powerful impact of hands-on and experiential learning on student success.

Ben Swarts, faculty member in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, gave a presentation on his department’s required student research capstone. Every student in the program completes a self-driven research project, supported by faculty, that they are encouraged to present at conferences and/or publish, Swarts said.

Swarts was accompanied by current student Izzy Gaidhane and 2015 graduate Amanda Clark, who spoke about how the experience helped them develop technical and professional skills, secure scholarships and unique learning opportunities, and, in Clark’s case, a leadership role in her chosen career field.

“All of these experiences can really point back to the hands-on mentorship and training that I had in the lab and in classes back in my days at Central. I learned critical thinking and problem solving – which is, hands down, important no matter what you’re doing – even outside and away from the bench,” Clark said. 

During the Trustees–Faculty Liaison Committee meeting Wednesday, Trustees heard from faculty and students from the Disabilities Studies and Community Inclusion program. JoDell Heroux, faculty member from the Department of Teacher and Special Education, and Shay Dawson, faculty member from the Department of Recreation, Parks and Leisure Services Administration, told Trustees about the interdisciplinary program’s course offerings and how it could be applicable for students from a variety of majors. 

Heroux and Dawson were accompanied by students Carley Ostrander and Jessica Hetzel, who said experiences in the program have shaped their current studies and career ambitions. Ostrander, for example, said her participation in the program helped her gain admission to graduate school to study speech pathology, while Hetzel talked about a deeper understanding of how she could bring intentional inclusivity into her chosen career field, public relations. 

Dawson said students also can participate in a three-week study abroad program focused on how different countries approach services for people with disabilities. In past years, he said the trip has involved creating a recreational campus for children and adults with disabilities.

The presentation also included a discussion of the Healthcare Education Engaging Disabilities Studies program, established in partnership with Dr. Neli Ragina from the CMU College of Medicine. The four-year program seeks to address health care disparities for patients with disabilities through education and training for future physicians. 

Inclusion and accessibility also were a focus for the 25th anniversary of the Threads Fashion Show. Fashion Merchandising and Design faculty member Ian Mull and department chair Tanya Domina updated Trustees on this year’s Threads Fashion Show. This was the largest fashion show in Michigan, Mull said. The event, Cosmic Odyssey, featured the work of 24 designers worn by more than 100 student models. 

Several designers worked with models who use wheelchairs and other assistive devices, and the fashion show featured clothing created with accessibility in mind, Mull said. He said the production also involved students from many academic programs, including event design.

These students gained authentic, real-world experience and were able to showcase their skills in front of an audience of industry professionals, Mull said.

A community that lifts up students

James Span, Jr., executive director for Student Inclusion and Diversity, talked about efforts underway in Multicultural Academic Student Services to help students find community and resources on campus. He said his office has been supporting students for more than 40 years with work grounded in diversity, equity and inclusion. 

Over the past year, his team partnered with the CMU Counseling Center to embed a counselor in the MASS office to work with students from minoritized backgrounds. MASS also has several mentoring programs and collaborates regularly with academic and staff advising teams.

“It’s no magic that we’re doing, it’s just very intentional relationship building, building a sense of belonging, community, letting them {students} know they have access to resources and people that care for them beyond just their attendance here at the university,” Span said. “We’re here to help them and lift them up and point them in a positive direction as much as possible.”

Eduardo Dominguez, a recipient of the Multicultural Award of Distinction Scholarship, spoke about his experience coming to CMU as a first-generation college student and immigrant. Dominguez said he had been nervous about coming to college and struggled with imposter syndrome until he found ways to connect with other students and staff through a variety of on-campus involvements including the MAC scholars program, Central Bridge, Empowered Latino Union, Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers and others. Today, he said he serves as a peer advisor, helping other students find community on campus.

Erica Johnson, interim assistant vice president for student affairs, spoke about her division’s efforts to provide a more welcoming and inclusive experience for international students. She said Student Affairs has partnered with other campus groups to provide monthly shopping trips, increased options in dining facilities, and an additional stop for I-Ride on campus.

Graduate student Raj Kanchanapally spoke to Trustees about his experience attending an excursion to Detroit especially for international students. Kanchanapally said the ability to network with alumni in the Detroit area provided great insight into the career search process, and that additional events, such as a workshop on the process to apply for a work visa, were immensely helpful.

During the Trustees-Student Liaison Committee meeting Wednesday, Trustees spoke with student leaders representing the Student Government Association, Residence Housing Association and Program Board. Each group highlighted efforts to increase student engagement this year, such as SGA’s town hall with CMU administrators, the State of the Student Body address, and an upcoming TEDx event; RHA’s ice cream nights, therapy dog events, and inclusion events with campus partners; and Program Board’s spring concert and the upcoming Maroonzie event.

Trustees also thanked outgoing SGA President Taylor Idema, Program Board President Maezie Ervin, and Residence Housing Association Director Ryan Biller for their service, and welcomed new leaders Tyler Zimmerman (SGA), Hadlee Rinn (Program Board) and Christian Toney (RHA) to the committee.

Update on Residence Life facilities

During Wednesday’s Finance and Facilities Committee meeting, Associate Vice President for Facilities Management Jonathan Webb provided an update on plans for the North Residential Community. North Community was taken offline in Fall 2022 and has remained temporarily shuttered as CMU explored the best use of its space. 

Webb said that staff sent a survey to thousands of student residents earlier this year and held listening sessions with the SGA, RHA and the International Student Organization to understand students’ housing preferences. Based on the feedback received, Webb said there was no demand for use of North community for independent-style living units. He also noted that due to the buildings’ age and condition, the cost to make such renovations would be prohibitive.

Instead, Webb said the university will consider other possible uses for the space, including temporary housing for international students and housing for events. CMU will continue other housing upgrades outlined in the CMU Master Plan, including planned enhancements for Wheeler Hall beginning in May. 

Budget Model update

Joe Garrison, executive director of financial planning and budgets, updated Trustees on the university’s efforts to revise its budget model. The responsibility center management budget model, which had been in place since 1998, served CMU for many years, Garrison said, but needed to be revisited due to changes in the higher education landscape.

Garrison outlined guiding principles that were considered as the new model was developed, such as a focus on greater transparency and an emphasis on shared responsibility, predictability and fairness. The new hybrid budget model will provide greater flexibility for allocating resources to areas that are future-focused and better position CMU for greater sustainability moving forward, Garrison said. 

Garrison said many campus stakeholders were involved in the development of the new model and noted that the campus community would receive more detailed communications about its implementation in the months ahead. 

Enrollment update

During the Academic and Student Affairs Committee meeting Wednesday, Trustees received an enrollment update from Jennifer DeHaemers, vice president for recruitment and retention.

Enrollments for summer session have increased among main campus domestic students, and enrollments in CMU Innovation and Online are also higher for undergraduate transfer students, she said.

CMU also is seeing positive signs for fall, DeHaemers said. Key indicators including deposits, orientation reservations and housing contracts are all higher among traditional first-year students, and there also are increases in applications and admissions among transfer students compared with this same time last year. 

DeHaemers also said CMU is seeing increases in interest among international students, with significantly higher numbers of applications and admissions.

Concluding her report, DeHaemers thanked the students, faculty and staff who have participated in recruitment efforts including Maroon and Gold dinners, campus visits, and CMU & You days. 

Budget discussion

In his opening remarks to the Board of Trustees, President Davies said the university is addressing the financial struggles impacting almost every public university in the country.

“We are not alone in facing the challenges of achieving robust enrollment while also navigating uncertain federal and state funding and the headwinds of inflation,” he said.

Davies said the university will begin a process to identify opportunities for strategic budget reductions next month. During this process, leaders will seek to minimize impact on the student experience, ensuring CMU still offers quality academic and cocurricular pursuits, he said.

Celebrating achievements

Davies also highlighted numerous achievements by CMU students, faculty and staff including:

  • Two Boren Scholarship award recipients, Elijah Joki and Elizabeth Valicenti.
  • Two Goldwater Scholarship award recipients, Xander Ault and Izzy Gaidhane.
  • Fulbright award recipient, Annabelle Fortine.
  • NSF Graduate Research Fellow, Dakota Keblbeck.
  • Newman Civic Fellow, Aaliyah Howard.
  • National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association award winner, Jennifer Nottingham. 
  • Mid-American Conference Outstanding Faculty Award for Student Success recipient, Ben Swarts.
  • Michigan-American Council on Education Distinguished Woman in Higher Education Leadership Award honoree, Maureen Eke.
  • Recipients of the President’s and Provost’s Awards for Outstanding Research and Creativity: Jennifer Schisa, Kirsten Weber, Chanseok Jeong and Heather Trommer-Beardslee.
Davies also acknowledged students Piao Satipanya, whose leadership during COVID-19 helped secure a position in public health with the U.S. Air Force, and Masha Smahliuk, a student journalist selected for a prestigious media fellowship in Washington, D.C.

There also have been successes in CMU’s fundraising efforts, Davies said. He noted that overall fundraising has increased and is trending ahead of last year. 

“Strengthening our relationships with alumni and other donors is yielding increased, much-needed support for CMU,” he said.

Other Board of Trustees business

Items on the consent agenda for Thursday’s meeting included a new traffic ordinance regarding the use and storage of electric scooters. Mary Hill, vice president of finance and administrative services, said the City of Mount Pleasant had entered into a contract with an electric scooter rental company. She said it is likely the rental scooters will be used on campus, and the new ordinance provides guidance so the scooters may be used safely. The ordinance was developed in partnership with other public safety agencies in the area, Hill said.

Other items on the consent agenda included approval of the quarterly contributions report, which shows an increase in philanthropic giving over this same period last year, and approval for renovations to the business incubator space within the Mount Pleasant headquarters of CMURC. Those renovations will be funded in part through a $1.4 million grant from the Economic Development Administration. 

In other actions, Trustees approved 2,413 spring graduates, granted emeritus rank to 10 faculty and staff members, approved the replacement of the McGuirk Arena videoboard, and more.

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