It is hard to believe we have already reached the month of August for 2015. August for me is always a month ripe with anticipation – looking ahead to a new school year for K-12 children, as well as higher education; looking forward to the end of another growing season and hope for bountiful harvest; looking forward to another Husker football season; and looking forward to a sea of new faces in the incoming class of our students who will grace our campus, classrooms, and cultural life for the years ahead.
This is an unparalleled year for me personally as well, as I am entering the school year ahead with the opportunity to work with all of our academic enterprise across the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus as senior vice chancellor for academic affairs while continuing to serve in my usual IANR role. I consider it a rare privilege to work with a highly talented team of academic leaders across the campus at a time when we are at an inflection point in meeting the UNL goals of enrollment growth to 30K students, $300M in research expenditures, 160 additional tenure-track faculty, enhanced graduation rates, and the full launching of phase I of Nebraska Innovation Campus. We are so well poised to not only meet but exceed these goals in the years ahead! And, there is no doubt in my mind we will reach even higher success if the campus works together across all of our boundaries, whether they be east or west campus, or across colleges, departments, centers, and institutes.
In the coming weeks, I am going to have the chance to immerse myself into all of the academic affairs colleges across the campus – I am looking forward to that very much and know I will not only find them on a path to success in meeting these goals, but will be amazed at the impacts being made across the board. I have already been pleased to find that each of the colleges is strategically positioning themselves nationally and internationally in ways that will lead UNL to greater heights. While we have work to do, particularly in some areas, we are clearly well on our way.
As I move into the weeks ahead in anticipation of the new academic year, I also must admit I am doing so with a refreshed perspective. As I am writing this blog, I am on a plane coming home from spending the past week as a part of a mission team of Lincolnites on a Habitat for Humanity build in Ahuachapan, El Salvador. My wife Jane and our daughters Kelli and Regan had participated the past two years with this team from our local Sheridan Lutheran church family. Jane thought this would be a particularly good year for me to go as well for a number of reasons – including knowing the year ahead at UNL would be a fun but challenging one for us in covering all of the bases. It was a wise decision.
While we are rightly concerned about increasing our national and international reach and reputation as a prominent leader in higher education, it is so easy to lose sight of how graceful and blessed our lives are amongst the 7.3B people of today’s world. Words cannot describe how fortunate we are…….abundant and safe food and water, safe and highly comfortable shelter, a level of general wealth previously unseen in history, abundant natural resources, freedom to live and travel as we choose, ability for creative expression, and of course – being at the center of the innovation engine that has driven the world for the past 150 years – America’s higher education system. The vast majority of the world’s people do not enjoy very many of the items in this list.
This past week while I was helping to build a septic system for a new Habitat home for a young Salvadoran family, I was reminded it is equally (and perhaps more) important we look not only “inside” at what we want UNL to be, but outside to remember the power of education, research, and translational extension. Inward focus would keep us worried about metrics defined in ways that seek to measure us in comparison to our peers in ways that are likely not the most meaningful; i.e., are we as big, do we raise as much money, do we bring in as many federal dollars, do we have as many members of the National Academies, do we rank up there with our Big10 peers, are we in the “elite” list of academe, etc.?
Perhaps the real questions should be ones like how are we impacting every student with whom we have the opportunity to work, mentor, and help to critically think about the world? How many of those students are ones who have a whole new world opened up to them with the education they are receiving; i.e., who thought they would never have such an amazing opportunity? How are we equipping them to be productive citizens of an increasingly complex world ahead? How is the research and creative work we are doing everyday adding to increased human quality of life for Nebraskans and people around the world?
What I know is if we remind ourselves every day of the unbelievable opportunity we have to make a difference in the lives of those around us in our classrooms, our labs, our studios, our clinics, and our fields – we will be changing the world as a world-leading, forward-thinking, dynamic and exciting 21st century Land-Grant University. I hope you will join me in attacking the next year with a renewed sense of unbelievable blessing that we can spread to the world through the 25,000+ students gracing our presence – what a privilege and honor we have been given!
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