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Fall Convocation Address to Faculty & Staff

Howard Cohen
Purdue University Calumet Convocation
August 24, 2005

We have arrived at a launching pad not a resting point

Over the past four years Purdue Calumet has focused on our transition to a full-service regional university. We have worked from a blueprint - a strategic plan that committed us to:

  • Improving student retention and graduation rates,
  • Becoming preferred for the quality of our programs, and
  • Putting the university at the service of economic development in Northwest Indiana.

Our commitments have been embraced by our campus and our community; they have established the foundation for significant gains in student success and recognition of our leadership role in Northwest Indiana.

2004-05 was a year in which we were able to implement many of our plans - we are now in a position to build on these efforts to move our campus to another level of quality. I would like to take some time today to review our significant accomplishments during 2004-05 and outline some directions for the year ahead.

Student success is reflected in our enrollment patterns, and for the first time in the last four years we have not spent the summer chasing enrollments. We have been steadily on track to exceed our budgeted goal of 195,000 credit hours and 9,400 students.

Student Success:

Over the past year, we:

  • Fully implemented our New Student Orientation and Freshman Seminar programs,
  • Created an Academic Renewal program for students on probation,
  • Developed an early estimate of financial aid to help streamline student registration decisions, and,
  • Recruited high-quality students from Indiana and Illinois through our new "Best and Brightest" scholarship program.

These efforts, along with our Supplemental Instruction program, are helping us steadily improve our retention rates.


The most tangible, physical signs of our development are now completed.

Student Housing - Move-in day (was) August 26. Although we have not yet filled all the rooms, we have started to address a change in our campus "mind set." We no longer are just a place to get an education while saving money by living at home. We are also a place where students can enjoy all the benefits of campus life - including an expanded learning environment. As we have learned, residential life is a powerful tool for student learning that is now available to us.

Also, you are all invited to the "ribbon cutting" on September 16.

Parking garage - I am grateful to be starting a semester without an impending parking crunch. I'm sure the same can be said for our students. We owe our commuter students a campus environment in which precious time can be spent studying, in a computer lab, or meeting with other students, rather than circling the north lot in search of parking.

Purdue Technology Center of Northwest Indiana - It has become a symbol of the potential that exists for a diversified economy in northwest Indiana. It also has become a source of opportunity for our students and faculty. Over the past year, we have had nine students working as interns in Tech Center businesses and a dozen faculty consulting with a number of these companies.

Academic Learning Center - Response to this facility in Merrillville has been remarkable. More than 1,200 students have registered for Purdue Cal classes this fall, and more than 20 percent of those students are new to us. The Academic Learning Center is a beautiful facility. I encourage you to join us for its ribbon cutting dedication on September 19.

Centers and Institutes:

Over the past year we have identified several areas of special focus related to faculty expertise, student experiential learning opportunities and regional economic development. To develop these areas, we have created centers and institutes to harness and coordinate our intellectual capacities.

Water Institute:

  • Lead gift from BP to support research and a public lecture series
  • Francis and Elsie Meyer Professorship established for the Purdue University Calumet Water Institute
  • $500,000 from Dept. of Energy, thanks to Congressman Visclosky, for research, staffing and public education
  • Partnership with Argonne National Labs to conduct joint research projects
  • Appointment of Ron Fabish of Argonne to direct in the start-up phase

Center for Energy Efficiency and Reliability:

  • Under the leadership of Bob Kramer
  • NiSource Charitable Foundation Endowed Professorship of Energy and the Environment established
  • Energy System Optimization project, funded through the Department of Energy via Congressman Visclosky at $900,000, to install energy control and monitoring equipment at Purdue Calumet and to study controlled energy use reduction.
  • Installation of a Combined Heat and Power system at Purdue Calumet both to save energy and provide opportunities for faculty and student research projects
  • Contract for research to increase the use of Indiana coal

Center for Science and Technology Education:

  • Thomas Ray Crowel Endowed Professorship established to promote science and mathematics learning among at-risk students
  • Partnership with the Challenger Learning Center for science education

Center for Minorities and Women in Construction:

  • Under the leadership of Roy Evans and Dennis Korchek
  • Initial meetings with representatives of the construction industry to discuss scholarships, mentorships and internships for students in construction management
  • Development of an entrepreneurship component of the curriculum to encourage women and minorities to create construction businesses
  • Comprehensive Campaign:

    2005-06 was our best year yet for raising private support for Purdue Calumet. We raised almost $6.5 million and surpassed our overall campaign goal of $10.8 million. With two years remaining, our campaign total stands at $13.3 million.

    I want to acknowledge 2 major software and hardware gifts - one from IBM for $4 million, secured by Assistant Professor of Computer Science Ruijian (Jerry) Zhang, and one from UGS Corporation, for $1.1 million secured by Professor of Mechanical Engineering Technology Sham Tickoo.

    We also were successful securing five named professorships - thanks to five generous donors who contributed $100,000 each and the Lilly Endowment that matched these contributions with an additional $400,000 each to establish five $500,000 endowments.

    The five include the three aforementioned (The Thomas Ray Crowel professorship, the NiSource professorship, and the Francis and Elsie Meyer professorship) and two others: The Thomas McDermott Sr. Professorship of Economic Development, funded by the City of Hammond in honor of the former mayor to provide leadership to the Hammond Business Incubator, and the White Lodging Services Endowed Professorship in Hospitality and Tourism Management to advance development in the hospitality industry.

    2004-05 also was a breakthrough year in cooperative fund-raising and friend-raising with the first-ever combined event for our region. In cooperation with the Northwest Indiana Symphony and WYIN-TV Channel 56, we sponsored "A Night for Northwest Indiana" - an evening that included a concert by Tony Bennett. Our share of the proceeds went to support the Chancellor's Scholars Endowment. Reception of this concept by the community was extremely positive, and we are working together again this year to present "Sandy Duncan Celebrates Broadway." The event will be held on September 16, and tickets remain available.

    Economic Development:

    Purdue Technology Center of Northwest Indiana: During the past year we opened this high tech business incubator in partnership with the Purdue Research Foundation, Purdue University and the Federal Government through Northwest Indiana Congressman Pete Visclosky. The Center opened with seven clients, each in the process of turning advanced technology into a business. Not only will these businesses grow good paying jobs for our region, they have, as I noted earlier, provided opportunities for our faculty as consultants and our students as interns. To date, three of our recent graduates have been hired by companies in the Tech Center at excellent starting salaries.

    Hammond Business Incubator: We also have entered into an agreement with the City of Hammond to operate its business services incubator. This Hammond incubator will focus on developing businesses that use technology to support business operations such as call centers and data management and financial services. Here, too, we hope to provide opportunities for our faculty and students to apply their knowledge in the development of our region.

    Purdue Calumet Entrepreneurship Center: This center continues to grow and diversify its programs. Over the past year, the E-Center has created new programs for entrepreneurs interested in starting new businesses and for "mature" entrepreneurs who desire to take their businesses in a new direction.

    RDA: On a personal note, I have been appointed as the Hammond representative to Northwest Indiana's recently established Regional Development Authority. This body, created during the last legislative session, will have the financial means and the authority to invest in major projects (primarily related to transportation) that will help our region grow. Examples include: extending commuter rail, the Gary/Chicago airport, regional busing and Lake Michigan lakeshore development. I believe my appointment is grounded in Purdue Calumet's commitment to economic development, and I am optimistic that we will be able to have a significant impact on our region's future.


    Since last year we have added two colleagues to our campus senior leadership team. Judith Kaufman joined us last November as Vice Chancellor for Advancement, and Ken Johnston joined us in June as Vice Chancellor for Administrative Services. They both bring extensive experience and tremendous energy to our campus. It is a pleasure to have them at Purdue Calumet.

    We are in the midst of other leadership transitions as well. Shomir Sil, formerly dean of the School of Management, has joined the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs to help focus our efforts in economic development. Dean of the School of Education Bob Rivers also is serving as Interim Dean of the School of Management while a search for a new dean is underway.

    At the department level, Biological Sciences Department Head Terry Doherty is retiring, and Kathy Murphy, head of the Department of Mathematics, Computer Science and Statistics, also will be interim head of Biological Sciences during the transition. Professor of Mechanical Engineering Chenn Zhou has agreed to serve as Head of Mechanical Engineering and Interim Head of Electrical and Computer Engineering, pending the appointment of a permanent head in that department.

    We also will be in transition in the Office of Student Services as Vice Chancellor Leo Bryant has informed me of his intention to retire at the end of the 2005-06 academic year. Later this fall, I will appoint a search committee to help identify his replacement. I want to take this opportunity to personally thank Leo for his leadership and his many contributions to our campus over the past 15 years.

    Building our reputation for quality

    Clearly we have made substantial progress on major projects during 2004-05. But we have arrived at the launching pad, not a resting point. We now are well positioned to look ahead to what we need to do to build our reputation for quality.

    Our challenge is captured in the title of Jim Collins' recent and widely read book, Good to Great. How do we move Purdue Calumet forward to develop and sustain recognition for the quality of our university?

    Collins' book points the way. Of course, the translation from business to higher education is more metaphorical than literal. Collins looked for companies that made a remarkable transition - 15 years of stock returns below the market average punctuated by a transition to 15 years of returns at three times the market. He found 11 companies that met this criterion and studied them carefully.

    Collins identified seven key qualities that these 11 companies shared. For our purposes, the critical quality is what he calls the "hedgehog concept." The term is derived from an essay by Sir Isaiah Berlin, who, quoting an ancient Greek parable, noted that foxes know many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing. The "one big thing" good to great organizations know is how to find the intersection of:

    1. what you can be best at,
    2. what you are passionate about, and
    3. what drives your economic engine.

    Having found your own special "one big thing," it is also necessary to have:

    • good leadership,
    • people in the organization who are willing, able and highly motivated to go after success,
    • a sense of brutal realism about one's circumstances that is, nevertheless, laced with optimism,
    • a culture of discipline that keeps you on track,
    • a realistic attitude about the value, but also the limits, of technology to promote change, and finally,
    • the persistence to build momentum.

    These organizational virtues are not limited to the world of business - they are alive at Purdue Calumet, and they are the virtues that have helped us move our strategic plan forward. To keep moving, I believe, we need to consolidate the gains we are making in student success and build on them to find our distinctive academic quality.

    A particularly graphic measure of our gains is our standing in the U.S. News and World Report survey of American Colleges and Universities. This is not to say that US News sets the standard for academic quality, but, rather, as Collins might say: "to confront the brutal facts," it is important to see ourselves through a lens that our students and parents use to evaluate us.

    We are, by US News' lights, one of 143 Midwest Masters Universities. Our overall rank, in their system is 131, making us a Tier 4 university. Brutal news, perhaps, but laced with optimism. We are on a clear path to move into Tier 3.

    First, the best news: Our academic reputation rank (25 percent of our score) is 58, putting us squarely in the middle of Tier 2 on that criterion. We also score well on faculty resources and pretty well on financial resources.

    Our lowest scores, not surprisingly, are in graduation and retention rates (140th) and student selectivity (139th). These are precisely the issues we have been working on in our strategic plan.

    Our Student Success Network and our Best and Brightest Scholarships are designed to help us improve retention (and thereby graduation) rates. Our scholarship program, along with a more robust student recruitment strategy, is designed to make us somewhat more selective.

    There is little danger that these efforts will undermine our commitment to access. Our aspirations are to be accessible to students who are likely to benefit from a Purdue Calumet education. We want to become a university that more effectively supports the hopes and dreams of qualified students to become college graduates. Our students need their diplomas to pursue their life options, and our community needs more college graduates to prosper.

    We will continue to nurture our capable students and provide an extensive support network as we work to move from 131st to 106th or better. As we raise our expectations, we also will increase the probability that our students will graduate.

    Our standing with US News is a barometer of our success, but it does not address our academic core - it is not our "hedgehog concept." What is it about Purdue Calumet that can stand at the intersection of our capacities for quality, our motivation to excel, and our economic drivers?

    Experiential learning

    Based on exploratory conversations I have had within the university and with interested members of our community, I would venture to say that experiential learning is an excellent candidate. By experiential learning I mean putting academic learning to work in a setting outside the classroom through mechanisms such as: guided internships, clinicals, practica, capstone projects and the like.

    Of course we already do a great deal of this. All students in the School of Education must have a student teaching experience, and all students in the School of Nursing have a clinical practice requirement. Other programs such as Criminal Justice require internships of all students. All Hospitality and Tourism Management students are required to participate in Advanced Food Service Management. There are many other examples across our curriculum. For example, students in the School of Technology and the Engineering Programs all are required to do senior projects - many of which include an industrial partner or mentor. On an annual basis, approximately 1,400 Purdue Calumet students are involved in internships.

    If experiential learning is to be our hedgehog concept, however, it must be a requirement for all students. Only then will it be a distinctive feature of the Purdue Calumet learning experience.

    Is experiential learning something we can be great at? I believe so; we have much experience to draw upon. Our programs are predominantly career oriented and our students want us to help them manage the transition from education to career.

    Does it motivate us? That is a question we will need to answer over the coming year. I have picked up a great deal of enthusiasm for this idea, but it is, of course, for our faculty to decide through its governance process.

    Is it an economic driver? Here too, I think we are on target. Enrollment is our academic and economic currency. We accumulate it when students select us as their preferred university. I am confident that students and their families are inspired by the idea that we will help them navigate the transition from classroom learning to application in workplace settings.

    A Purdue Calumet education that assures that every student will have an experiential learning experience would put us at the forefront of higher education in northwest Indiana and beyond.

    We have ambitious goals - and they are within our reach. Our campus enjoys tremendous support from the Purdue University system and from our community. We have an extremely high quality faculty and staff - and a reputation to be proud of. How far we take these assets is up to us. I hope you are as enthusiastic about our prospects as I am.

    Thank you.

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