Welcome to the 2020-21 academic year

Typically on this day – the Wednesday before the first day of fall classes – many of us enjoy the annual tradition of coming together for the Faculty and Staff Fall Convocation. This year, of course, we’re doing convocation virtually and I hope that, whether you’ve returned to campus or you are preparing for the fall semester at home, you will take a few minutes to view the following messages as we virtually kick off the new academic year. Best wishes for a successful and safe fall semester.

Archive of Past Convocations

2018 Fall Convocation - Video

The Next Big Thing
Fall Convocation - President Fritz Erickson
Aug. 22, 2018, 1100 Jamrich Hall

Thank you, Alec. I consider myself very lucky to have the opportunity to work with such a thoughtful and creative campus leader as you.

Welcome. Thank you all for attending today and helping to kick off the 2018-19 academic year – Northern’s 119th.

A special thank you to those who brought a donation for Northern’s new on-campus food pantry. The food pantry is located on the first floor of Gries Hall.  I hope that each of you will consider contributing to the pantry throughout the year. Donations can be dropped off at the pantry or at the Dean of Students Office in Hedgcock.

I would be remiss if I didn’t also personally thank the facilities and safety department staff members involved in addressing the water safety issue this summer. Even though we were not required to do a comprehensive set of water tests, we knew it was the right thing to do. We are so fortunate that we only had three buildings with elevated lead levels considering the amount of lead used in construction in the 1950s and 60s, when many of our facilities were built.

Also a big shout out to the Engineering, Planning and Facilities staff for the work on the university campus this summer. Kerri mentioned a few of the academic renovation projects completed but (pause) we bit of a lot and they delivered. All six buildings of The Woods residence hall complex are now open and housing students. Kerri and I took a walk through them to see the new Student Success Center and everything in the complex looks fantastic. Also, Northern Lights Dining – formerly The Marketplace – is open but with a few final parts to the renovation still being completed. Watch for a faculty-staff Grand Opening event date.

We have completed the planting of about 180 trees from the project we began last fall. In addition to the new trees. We have put in several new donor-funded gardens in the Academic Mall, including one in memory of our former provost and friend, the late Dr. Paul Lang. During Homecoming, we will be dedicating two other donor-funded projects – the new bronze Wildcat sculpture on the Mall, along with the new football center in the Superior Dome. Parking lots have been reconfigured to better mesh with our new facilities. And, the transformational renovation of the University Center is well underway with a goal of being completed in April, in time for our academic year-ending celebrations. I’m really excited to see the final result.

Regarding facilities, in July, the Board of Trustees kicked off our strategic campus master planning project for Northern’s physical campus. This academic year, we will be holding a series of discussion sessions for students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members to give input into the next version of our campus master plan.  Campus master plans are done by universities about every 15-20 years as a way to envision how the physical campus and facilities might develop over the next decade or two and to guide related decision-making. We have realized many goals from the current campus master plan. I encourage you to take advantage of the opportunity to attend one or more of the feedback sessions. We are still working on that schedule and we will announce it widely when it is finalized.

Strategic. Distinctive. Transformational.  I ended last year’s convocation with those three words as the direction I felt Northern was headed.  I am so pleased about all that was accomplished last year and about where we are in our strategic work today.

This is particularly noteworthy considering the challenges faced by so many of our fellow institutions. I don’t know if you’ve been following the news, but there are some tough situations on many campuses. 

For example: Layoffs – at Loyola New Orleans, Western Illinois, Lindenwood, Benedictine, St. Augustine, Rider and UMass Boston with big numbers of layoffs at some institutions --  62 at DePaul, 80 at Northwestern, 35 at Mizzou. And downstate, several public and private institutions are facing multi-million dollar budget deficits, job eliminations and layoffs. Additionally, our friends to the south, Wisconsin-Stevens Point eliminate 13 majors, mostly in the humanities. And there are many others.

All of these things have happened just within the past 8 months. These situations clearly demonstrate that many colleges and universities across the country are struggling with the declining demographics of traditional-aged college students, a statistic that is forecasted to continue to drop precipitately until 2029, as well as ever-increasing operational costs.

But here is the good news – actually the GREAT news –because of the great work of so many Northern faculty and staff, our story is very different today. Headlines about Northern just since January have been about:

  • our double-digit increases in new student enrollment
  • new facilities
  • the Educational Access Network and how this high-speed broadband network we’re building across the U.P. is changing the lives of U.P. students from preschoolers to 90-year-old lifelong learners
  • our affordability, safe campus, and new community and business partnerships
  • new initiatives such as the work the BEAR Center is doing to help families with autism, our sustainability efforts and what we’ve been doing to address food insecurity
  • People are talking about, reading about and hearing about our new, innovative academic programs.

Our story is about our strategic, distinctive transformation. It’s about deliberate forward progress. You will not be surprised that the areas of the university that have received quite a bit of recognition correspond directly to where we have been most innovative and transformational.

At last year’s convocation, I formally recognized the Psychology Department for its complete transformation of curricula and the immense success of the BEAR Center. They certainly deserved the kudos then and now. Today, I would like to give a shouthout to the Chemistry Department for its creativity in developing and implementing the medicinal plant chemistry program, which has garnered attention around the globe.

Being bold, being different, and putting yourself out there in some new way is, at times, risky and nerve-wracking. Consider for a moment the guts it took for Brandon Canfield, Lesley Putman and the other chemistry professors to take their medicinal plant chemistry program idea to Mark Paulson, department head, and for Mark and the group to bring it to Rob Winn, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. The department then had to propose this program to the provost and to me, and ultimately to the Northern Board of Trustees. Never in my wildest imagination did I ever think I would be proposing this area of study to our university’s governing board. And, consider the backbone it took for the Board of Trustees to say yes to starting this degree.

It was an idea that definitely took some tenacity to move forward, but what a great proposal. The graduates of this program will enter the job market where salaries range from $75,000 to $110,000 and the average becomes $125,000 or more when they advance in their careers. Congratulations to the Chemistry Department.

Strategic. Distinctive. Transformational. 
We are experiencing a cultural shift at Northern. People tell me they can actually feel the heightened energy on campus. Visitors – especially prospective students and parents – tell me this all the time.

Our recent successes have led me into some great conversations of late. When I meet with fellow university presidents downstate and around the country, they say, “How are you doing these things?” One year, they hear about Northern building one of the largest regional educational broadband networks in the country. Another they are hearing about us creating the only cold-weather outdoor forensic lab to study human decomposition that exists in the world – which, by the way, is now up and operational – hats off to the Sociology and Anthropology Department and the FROST implementation team for that. The next time we are discussing INVENT@NMU or our new research effort in exercise science oncology.

Folks keep asking me, “So, what’s next?”  Students, parents, alumni, donors, legislators in Lansing and Washington D.C., media – they all want to know, “What’s the next big idea?”  And I say, I don’t know but I can’t wait to find out.  So that’s what I’m here to ask you, “What IS the next big idea?” How do we keep our progressive momentum? We have proven a willingness to entertain just about any idea if it has integrity and you can show how it moves Northern forward to an even higher level of excellence. The administration – deans, the provost, VPs – have all demonstrated their willingness to take a chance on new programs, new ways of doing things. The board has proven it will reward success and innovation.

Being the university that keeps working and developing the next big idea is working for us. It is putting us in a place where others are afraid or too slow to go, but where students and other stakeholders want to be. Building on an amazingly strong foundation, we are now putting ourselves on the national and global map. We are working hard to be a leader in higher education’s transformation rather than one of the many institutions playing catchup. We are focusing on solutions and opportunities more than challenges, and this cultural shift is making a strategic, impactful difference.

I have been spending quite a bit of time in the last couple of weeks reading the Strategic Resource Allocation reports and the message I am getting from those is that Northern is in prime position for continued transformation. As Provost Schuiling said earlier, the task force reports, along with the program templates, will be posted Friday. I am not going to go into the specific SRA task force recommendations today since the campus community has not had a chance to review them yet, other than to make these three points:

  1. Thank you to the task force members for your time and dedication in the template review and recommendation process. We all recognize this was not an easy assignment. Thank you, also, deans, department heads, directors and program managers. The template writing phase was time-consuming and, for some programs, challenging.
  2. As Kerri said, the review of the recommendations is underway and we’re set to begin with the feedback period. This project is one that takes time and consideration. That said, the goal is to have a full proposal before the Board of Trustees at the December meeting. So please, if you have feedback, get that in sooner rather than later so it receives full consideration as part of the review process.
  3. Finally, the very fact that our campus is doing the Strategic Resource Allocation project shows our resolve to be the best university we can be. It represents our willingness to be introspective and, dare I say, opportunistic.

I am enthusiastic about the opportunity for continued transformation using the SRA recommendations to help keep us driving forward. I am committed to finding ways to invest in the programs identified as poised for greater success with the help of innovation support.

I am intrigued by those in the “consider for transformation” quintile. These are the programs your peers across campus have identified as being ripe for innovation and strategic rebirth. These potential transformation areas are where we might find that next big idea. It’s also in reading the SRA reports that it became clear that Northern has the ingredients that define a pre-eminent university.

For instance, we know pre-eminent universities have extraordinary faculty doing next-generation thinking, teaching, researching and scholarly work.  Pre-eminent universities have highly sought-after staff, the kind who can choose to work just about anywhere. The key for pre-eminent universities is that they recruit, retain and reward their outstanding faculty and staff.

Pre-eminent universities excel at attracting really great and motivated students, in part because of the excellent faculty and staff, but also because of the unique experience, facilities, equipment and resources available. Our current new student enrollment growth, especially in the face of declining student demographics, demonstrates our ability to attract wonderful students, both from near and far. While we will never lessen our focus on educating every qualified student from the Upper Peninsula and State of Michigan that comes to our campus, the fact that we are attracting students from so many places outside the area supports the idea that we have the kind of high quality education that so many seek.

I could go on and I probably will at upcoming university forums. I believe Northern has the key ingredients needed to become a truly pre-eminent rural comprehensive university. Let’s go through the SRA process and our other strategic decision-making efforts with that idea in mind. 

Through the SRA project and other initiatives, we are setting the example for our students on how to develop their own futures.  They are watching us and learning from seeing how we collaboratively are moving Northern to a new level of excellence. One day, our example may be what helps them individually succeed and achieve. That, of course, is and always has been our primary mission.

But as I said earlier, it is not just students who are watching our progress. Because we have stepped up to the plate, so have our donors. I was excited last year to be able to announce that our private giving increased more than 60% from 2015-16. I am thrilled to announce today that private giving increased another 30% last year.

Donors grasp the culture change that is taking place on campus. They see us striving for distinction and relevant transformation. They are hearing our story and want to be a part of it.  They are excited about our successes and they want to help.  For example, alumnus Mark Lovell and his wife, Eileen, created Northern’s first endowed professorship in 40 years.

I will be doing a lot of work this upcoming year to meet with alumni and donors and to make sure that they know today’s Northern and understand how they can help us with our goals and ideas for tomorrow’s Northern.  This will mean that I will be off campus more than I have in my previous four years, but please know that the Executive Council members stand ready to step in and assist with any situations that might normally come to me. We have a plan, as they say.

This fall we are creating an internal campaign committee made up of students, faculty and staff, which will help facilitate the discussion about campus needs, wishes and opportunities as we head into our future strategic fundraising campaign.

How do we become a pre-eminent rural comprehensive university? We need to be ready to transcend everything, and we cannot be timid about it. We must be bold in our thinking. We must believe that we can invest in innovative ways that will continue to garner us recognition of the high quality institution that we are and want to be. In my mind, a preeminent university includes a focus on accessibility, service to the rural communities of our region, and a wide range of academic degree programs that includes certifications, associate degrees and other non-baccalaureate credentials.

Of course, there is no denying that the university budget remains our everyday reality and challenge. Our new student increase is only now beginning to address the simple fact that too many of our programs are supported with one-time funding. One-time funding is for initial startup and we need to find more long-term support for our innovations. The key point, though, is that in what is keeping our budget afloat is our recovering and increasing incoming student enrollment from new areas such as the Global Campus and new programs. What is driving our enrollment is our growing reputation. What is driving the growth of awareness of Northern is our elevated level of energy and our transformation. What is driving our transformation is investment in innovation and the next big thing, and the willingness to push beyond the status quo. Our current success all starts right there.

What change in your area could help make Northern a preeminent university?  What is Northern’s next big thing?  I am ready to hear about it and work to make it happen. Let’s keep our story one about forward and upward progress and success.

Thank you and have a great start to a wonderful new academic year.

2016 Fall Convocation - Video


Northern Michigan University
President David S. Haynes
August 21, 2013

Good Afternoon.

Before I go any further, I want to thank all members of the campus community for your hard work over the past year. You have set the bar high and are continually pushing it higher.

Nelson Mandela once said that education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world. I truly believe this. And I can tell by your efforts, innovation and vision that all of you believe it as well.

And change has been the byword over the past months. The new Jamrich building is transforming the face of the campus. We are re-organizing our schools and departments to better and more logically represent the centers of excellence we provide.

For example, the School of Education has been renamed the School of Education, Leadership and Public Service. We have created the School of Clinical Sciences and the School of Health and Human Performance. Also, the Sociology, Social Work and Anthropology department has been divided so that Sociology and Anthropology remain together and report to the College of Arts and Sciences. Social Work is now a separate department reporting to the College of Professional Studies.

The coming year will see changes in how we position ourselves in the competitive higher education marketplace as we continue to work with our recruitment consultants and plan the roll out of new branding concepts.

Last year at this time, I talked about four areas where I felt we needed to enable change.

Enrollment, Excellence, Experience and Endowment.

This afternoon, I would like to briefly revisit these areas. I would also like to share with you an example of one way in which the 4 “E”s have come together to have an important impact on NMU and its students.

First, enrollment.

I cannot emphasize this enough:  enrollment and retention are the lifeblood of this university. As you may know, we have been working with the consultant, Noel-Levitz, to fine-tune recruitment.

I want to thank Gerri Daniels, Mike Rotundo and their staffs for the incredible work they have done. As they continue to hone recruitment, admissions and financial aid processes and strategies we’ll be able to introduce more and more potential students to the opportunities offered at NMU.

In order to do this, we continue to reach out to regions near and far.

We have expanded our partnerships overseas by signing memoranda of understanding with two South Korean universities. We are in discussions with United Arab Emirate institutions to offer courses and programs in Abu Dhabi and other UAE locations. We continue our efforts in China, Kenya and Brazil.

As important as international outreach is, we have not ignored opportunities below the bridge. For instance, we have entered into a one-year formal agreement with Macomb Community College to offer a four-year loss prevention program at MCC’s main campus in Warren, Michigan.

We continue to help our veterans to fulfill the promise of the G.I. Bill. This is especially important in our region where there is a very high rate of military service.

We have established the Veteran’s Scholarship, guaranteeing in-state tuition for any eligible veteran from anywhere in the country. We are one of five universities chosen as a host site for the Michigan VetSuccess pilot program. In fact, we have established a Resource Center to make it as easy as possible for veterans to access the services, information and support that they will need to take advantage of higher education opportunities and to address the special issues and needs of returning soldiers.

We continue to expand our offerings to K-12 students in the region. For example, this spring, NMU students took their show on the road, bringing Shakespeare and Michigan History to schools across the U.P. under the direction of Ansley Valentine. NMU students gained practical experience, from running a touring company to writing an original show geared toward a young audience. Ansley secured three grants to make this happen. One from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, one from the Target Foundation and one from the NMU Wildcat Innovation Fund.

The K-12 education program at The DeVos Art Museum has been forging vital connections between the University community and students and teachers in the Marquette area, for a number of years. This is not only a testament to the hard work of the Museum’s director, Melissa Matuscak, but also to the importance of public partnerships and private support.

Three years ago, Chris Kibit in Technology and Applied Sciences collaborated with the Marquette-Alger Regional Educational Service Agency to offer a high school culinary and hospitality program. This year, three participants in the program formed a team that went on to win the Michigan Junior Chef Competition.

A quick side note while we’re talking about winning:  in February, NMU swept the Winter Baja race held at Michigan Tech. The team advisor, Professor Marlor, noted that “NMU students know how to drive in snow!” Just one more benefit that a Northern education offers.

Enrollment is critical, but it is excellence and experience – the next two “E”s - that bring great value to an NMU education. It is excellence and experience that are driven and defined by our faculty and staff. It is you who are unleashing the strength of mind and character in our students by providing the knowledge, skills and vision that make Northern Michigan University unique.

It is you who continue to enhance and develop programs to meet the needs of our students, the economy and the community in many ways.

For example, classes will be available this fall for the new Wildland Firefighting minor and certificate program. In addition to the inherent value of this training, it can open doors to related careers in resource management and forestry. It also provides an essential service to communities like ours dedicated to stewarding and conserving the value and beauty of our natural resources.

NMU was one of nine colleges and universities named by University Business magazine in its “Models of Efficiency” recognition program for the new privately-funded scholarships application and selection process. The NMU Foundation, Administrative Information Technology, Financial Aid and Communications and Marketing are to be commended for this collaboration.  The new system reduced data entry, paper, time and labor costs, increased data accuracy and provides more information to selection committees.

Most important, it makes access to critical financial support easier and more efficient for the students.

And, I am happy to report, NMU faculty and staff continue to leverage private, public and university resources in many ways that expand and enhance the student experience, including:

Funding from the State of Michigan to provide student services, professional development, curriculum support and community involvement in STEM education under the direction of Seaborg Mathematics and Science Director, Chris Standerford.

Financial support from the Michigan Department of State Police and the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards to provide in-service training under Director of Public Safety and Police Services, Mike Bath.

International Programs Director, Kevin Timlin is working with Georgetown University to deliver an educational program for youth participants and leaders from Central America.

Shirley Brozzo is overseeing the use of Department of Education Funds and other non-profit support to increase the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in post-secondary education.

There are further examples:  Funding from the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Science Foundation, the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community and more. What they all have in common is a vision of and commitment to the role that this university can play in transforming individuals and communities.

They also demonstrate the understanding that we must be increasingly innovative and pro-active when it comes to funding services, programming and research.

As you may know, the appropriation situation has improved, but it is far from ideal. From the federal level on down, each legislative session brings new challenges and, in some cases, new opportunities.

What has not changed is the progressively important role that alternative revenues, private support and our endowment will play as we go forward.

This year, the NMU Foundation will be conducting the public phase of their Campaign for the Students of Northern Michigan University. They will reveal the campaign goal and progress on Homecoming Weekend, so I can’t tell you that.  What I can tell you is that the last fiscal year alone the university received over five million dollars in gifts and pledges from faculty, staff, friends and alumni.  These commitments represent resources, not only for today, but also bequests and investments that will provide funding for years to come.

And we must always be thinking ahead to how we can bring enrollment, excellence, experience and endowment together in ways that build on our strengths and differentiate us from our peer institutions.

I’ll give you an example.

NMU’s Clinical Laboratory Science program has a long tradition of producing exceptional graduates. We are the only university in the nation that offers five programs accredited by the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Lab Sciences. We are one of only three universities in the nation to offer baccalaureate degrees in both Molecular Diagnostics and Cytogenetics.

The CLS program offers a “laddering” curriculum allowing students, displaced workers and returning servicemen to continue their education in clinical sciences seamlessly, from certificate to associate degree to bachelor’s degree.

Clinical Sciences has established partnerships with forty-five agencies, allowing them to place students in internships, develop new laboratories, design new tests and explore research opportunities.

Over the past three years, CLS graduates have a ninety-five percent pass rate for national certification exams, compared to the national average of seventy-seven and a half.  Employment and/or continuing education placement rates are over ninety-eight percent.

On the recruitment and retention front, from 2004 to 2012, enrollment in Clinical Laboratory Sciences programs increased by nearly seventy percent. In that same timeframe, the number of degrees awarded increased over 128 percent.

In addition, CLS has seen significant investment from alumni and friends of NMU such as the vital career-building, hands-on opportunities made possible by the Drake Family Pediatric Care and Benda-Drake Critical Care Simulation labs.

Regardless of our department, college or school, to move forward, there are several things we must always keep in mind. And these are messages that I will be relentlessly driving home to our public officials, stakeholders and donors. 

NMU is providing higher education that is both affordable and a great value.

Our faculty are advancing research and discovery in many disciplines.

Our students are globally competitive and our alumni are spurring economic growth and entrepreneurism.

We are committed to service, leadership and the betterment of the world around us.

NMU is an economic driver that is preparing the workforce of tomorrow.

All in all, Northern Michigan University is a smart investment – for our students and their families, for our donors, for our public and private partners and for our governments and communities.

It is a smart investment because, inside and outside the classroom, we are providing our students with the skills to master problem-solving, critical thinking and communication. We are dedicated to ensuring that our students better understand what it means to belong to the diverse, challenging and ever-changing world of human experience.

We equip our students with the confidence and self-knowledge necessary to effectively manage issues and transitions in their careers and lives while providing leadership and compassion at home, at work and in their community.

A Northern education is a smart investment because it provides a unique foundation upon which our graduates are building fulfilling careers and rich cultural lives guided by an understanding of their responsibilities as citizens of the world.

Most of all, an NMU education is a smart investment because of you.

I want to thank you all joining me in rethinking, renewing and reconnecting. There is more we can do, but we’ve made an impressive start.

I greatly appreciate your patience, flexibility, support and wisdom. I know I have set an aggressive agenda and I appreciate the fact that everyone cares deeply enough about this university and its students to help me speed change where appropriate and tap the brakes when necessary.

Finally, in closing, I would like to leave you with a question.

Just as the students who come to us are in the process of “becoming”, our university is undergoing a transformation. We are also “becoming”.

I’d like you to picture our university in five, ten or even twenty years. What do you see? What is your vision of NMU’s future?

Please take some time to ponder that question. It is your vision that will be instrumental in shaping the future of NMU and its students. I am anxious to hear your ideas.

Remember:  In the end we create our own destiny. What we become as a university will be determined by each and every one of us, working together.

Thank you.