Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Spring Break

While it’s raining (again!) here in Rhode Island, I hope that our students are enjoying spring break. Although we generally think of spring break as a time of rest and relaxation, there is a lot going on for many members of our community. This is a particularly busy time for our student-athletes: our men’s basketball team is still competing in the NIT; baseball softball, tennis, golf, track and field (both men’s and women’s) and rowing all have competitions during the week. We wish all of our teams success and appreciate the fact that our student athletes are great ambassadors for URI. Go Rhody!

But there’s much more. URI students are participating in at least three substantial and important service projects this spring break. Hillel led a group to New Orleans to support the continuing efforts to rebuild housing in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The URI Saves Volunteer club is in Richmond, Virginia working in soup kitchens and with Habitat for Humanity. The URI Women’s Center and the Honors Program team up to sponsor a Habitat for Humanity trip to Birmingham, Alabama. Undoubtedly, there are even more service projects going on than this; we are just beginning to set up a database to keep track of everything our students, staff, and faculty do via the Clearinghouse for Volunteers. But I think these projects illustrate extremely well the determination of members of the URI community to make a difference.

Work also continues apace on two major projects for the spring – working with the General Assembly on our budgets and capital projects, and planning for the inauguration events April 7 and 8. A frequent topic of discussion has been the recommendation by the Governor to place two major building projects on the November ballot to be funded by general obligation bonds: a new on-campus chemistry building and a nursing education building to be located in the “Knowledge District” of Providence (which will be shared with Rhode Island College). I believe that both of these projects are vitally important to URI’s future and to the future of the state. Our current chemistry facilities located in the Pastore Chemical Laboratory are obsolete, and many years past the expected useful lifetime for such facilities. Further, there is insufficient space for critical instructional and research needs. Some students have difficulty scheduling their chemistry laboratory classes for lack of capacity. Modernizing and expanding our instructional and research capacity in chemistry will be important in building a new knowledge-based economy in Rhode Island. Biotechnology, engineering, marine sciences, pharmacy, nursing, and allied health sciences are all important to Rhode Island’s future and all require a foundation in chemistry.

The nursing building has certainly been in the news – and for good reason. A new state-of-the-art shared facility in Providence will dramatically enhance nursing education at both URI and RIC. Further, it will help us significantly expand and strengthen our partnerships with other programs and health care providers. And it has the potential to serve as a catalyst for development of health care-related enterprises in Providence and Rhode Island. If we are successful, this would represent a new and productive approach to collaboration and cooperation by higher education in Rhode Island. It is also one that would provide a great return on the investment by the citizens of our state.

With regard to the inauguration, I’ll have more to say about that in my next post. For now, I want to note that a major purpose of the inauguration is to showcase the strengths and achievements of URI. The symposia, poster sessions, lectures and colloquia on April 7 will highlight the amazing achievements and contributions of our faculty and students. They truly are transforming the world.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

URI Student Town Hall Meeting

A little over a week ago, I met with a group of students in an open meeting organized by David Bedard, the President of the student government at URI. I very much appreciate David's efforts in pulling this event together, and also the coverage provided by The Good 5¢ Cigar. From my perspective it was very useful and informative, with many excellent questions ranging from parking to the curriculum. I would like to briefly comment on a couple of topics that were covered that I think warrant particular mention.

There were multiple questions that related to the quality of student life on campus, and what we might collectively do to improve student life on campus and student engagement. This is an issue that is central to URI's efforts to facilitate student success. It may be timely to bring students, faculty, staff, and university leadership together to examine this issue and to develop specific recommendations to improve student life and engagement both on the Kingston campus and in and Providence. Enhancing student life and creating more opportunities for service and leadership can significantly improve learning, the acquisition of critical skills, and our relationships with one another -- all of which can contribute to the lifelong success of our students. Many alumni have emphasized to me the importance of their participation in activities outside of the classroom to their achievements. Strengthening our community will help all of us. I expect that our students will have many thoughtful and creative ideas about this; Vice President for Student Affairs Tom Dougan and Provost Don DeHayes will be taking the lead in exploring with students, faculty, and staff how URI can achieve its goal of a diverse, welcoming, and thriving community. I certainly would personally welcome your thoughts and suggestions as well.

On another note, URI is moving ahead with the implementation of the new academic plan, which will create exciting new opportunities for students to be involved in research, scholarship, and creative work across all disciplines, and will emphasize experiential learning in internships and service. As an initial step, we started an undergraduate research fund and a graduate student enhancement fund this past fall. We will be examining general education at URI and the possibility of moving to a curriculum where four-credit courses compose a more substantial part. There are, and will be more, opportunities for students to be directly involved in this important effort, and I hope that many of you will participate.

I am looking forward to many more occasions to talk informally with students and hope that you will find such occasions as enjoyable and informative as I do.