Shirley Focuses on ‘Transformation’ at State of VCSU

Valley City State University President Steven Shirley had little trouble acknowledging the school’s recent success Monday, when he addressed students, faculty and community members during his annual State of the University address at Vangstad Auditorium. But that didn’t keep him from looking to the near future.

“To use the term ‘crossroads’ too often becomes cliche,” he told the crowd. “However, I sincerely believe we are at a crossroads at Valley City State University, and with this crossroad, we have a unique opportunity to transform our educational offerings.”

“This does not mean that we change who we are or walk away from our history and tradition, but rather, it means this is a critical juncture in our institution’s history and a point in time in which we have the ability to maximize our fullest potential of academic excellence.”

The upcoming “transformation” was a topic Shirley, the only speaker at the event, spent the majority of his speech addressing, tying it to the North Dakota University System’s Pathways To Student Success Plan, along with the organizational and academic transformations that the school can make to improve the university.

Among them will be a review of the school’s academic structure, which currently splits programs into five academic divisions, each of which has a division chair.

“This structure has worked fine and served our university, but we also know it has been mentioned in the past accreditation reports that we should review this structure and throughly analyze its effectiveness,” Shirley said. “We have not done so and now is the time for us to do this important analysis.”

Shirley announced that during the 2013-2014 school year, the University will review the structure and look at other models to use in its place. During the analysis, the school will have its 11 departmental chairs report directly to Margaret Dahlberg, the school’s vice president of academic affairs.

Also as a result of accreditation reports, the school will review its mission and vision statements.

“Those statements were written at a different time, when VCSU was a much different campus and we are now at a time when we must review the language in both the vision and mission,” Shirley said.

He told the audience he will soon appoint a task force to begin the process of reviewing the statements and making recommendations for revisions.

In addition to organizational changes, the university will work to improve its academic quality.

“Our students will demand more, and we must be prepared to successfully respond to those demands,” Shirley said, noting that initiatives including opportunities for undergraduate research and studies abroad, along with a common reading program, all will be expected from upcoming students.

In response, the school will work to establish an undergraduate research program for both students and faculty, a process Shirley said will start next year under the guidance of David DeMuth, who was named executive director of the Great Plains STEM Education Center earlier this year.

“This new program will create a mechanism for students to work with faculty mentors on projects in various academic disciplines,” Shirley said. “This new research program will help students gain a fundamental understanding of basic research principles and applications, and will serve to benefit not just the students participating in the research, but also each of the academic disciplines and faculty sponsors.”

In addition, the school will continue to increase its academic offerings. Shirley noted that three new programs started this fall and that the school is in the process of creating a software engineering major. Shirley said if the application is successful, the new program could launch next fall.

“A bachelors degree in software engineering would certainly take VCSU’s technology-based academic offering to a whole new level and it would fit well with our long-standing record of achievement in this area,” he said.

He closed out his address thanking the VCSU community and encouraged attendees to be involved going forward.

“The possibilities for transforming our beautiful campus here along the banks of the Sheyenne River are truly limitless,” he said.

“We have a world of opportunities ahead of us and I look forward to watching this fantastic campus continue to evolve.”