Fall faculty meeting

Serving students better will help reverse UTM’s recent enrollment declines, Interim Chancellor Robert Smith told faculty at the first general meeting of the fall 2015 semester.

In a presentation Aug. 18 titled “It is all about our students,” Smith outlined his campus agenda for the 2015-16 academic year. The agenda is based on a Gallup-Purdue University and Lumina Foundation study of the relationship of collegiate experiences to graduates’ workplace engagement and life success.

Contrary to popular belief that students should prefer to attend private schools, Ivy League schools, or larger public universities, the study found that the type of school attended “hardly mattered” in how graduates answered questions of work satisfaction and success.

Instead, the study identified six factors that graduates reported as most important to their success:

  • During college, they were supported by faculty members who care.
  • Their professors made them excited about learning.
  • Their professors encouraged their dreams.
  • They had internships or part-time jobs that allowed them to apply what they were learning.
  • They worked on a long-term project (such as research or service learning).
  • They were active in extracurricular activities.

“We’re already doing many of the things identified by the Gallup-Purdue Index,” Smith said. “We have to do more. Our enrollment drops are not all from Tennessee Promise or problems with recruitment. Much of the decline has come from losing students who were here and left.”

Specifically, Smith’s agenda to improve retention and recruitment involves all aspects of campus life. From administrators to faculty and staff, Smith asked UTM employees to:

  • Accept a moral imperative to support UTM students
  • Promote faculty/young scholar relationships, particularly by encouraging more faculty/student research projects
  • Ensure real-world applications of knowledge through developing capstone courses and requiring internships in every academic department
  • Create living-learning communities on campus
  • Have quality learning spaces by providing attractive, modern facilities; powerful, useful technology; and intentional use of space

“Our emphasis now is on how we take care of the students we have,” Smith said. “When we do that, more students will want to come here.”

Other challenges Smith said he will face this year include an anticipated $1.5 million budget shortfall and the selection of a new chancellor for the university. Smith took UTM’s helm as interim chancellor after the previous chancellor, Dr. Tom Rakes, resigned May 31.

In an emotional closing to his presentation, Smith pushed the audience to fully engage in UTM’s future.

“Make this the last year that we do not choose our own destiny,” Smith said, a plea that brought the crowd to its feet with applause.

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