Indiana University President Pamela Whitten made her fourth visit to the IU Southeast campus on October 10. IU Southeast took the opportunity to showcase campus efforts to increase student success on campus and drive community engagement through economic development opportunities. These two areas, along with expanding Indiana University research opportunities, are the three pillars of the 2030 IU Strategic Plan. Over the course of the visit, Whitten met with more than 100 campus and community members, including faculty, staff, students, administrators and business leaders.
Leading off the day was a breakfast with six business and economic development executives from southern Indiana and Louisville. Of topic, how IU Southeast could assist in the economic growth of the region by providing graduates with the degrees and credentialing that employers need as they locate in the region and scale up their businesses.
Whitten presided over a robust discussion with Wendy Dant Chesser of One Southern Indiana, Josh Staten of River Ridge, Don Lopp with the Floyd County Planning and NovaParke, Rita Shourds of Align Southern Indiana, Darrel Voelker from Harrison County Economic Development and Ben Pratt from Greater Louisville, Inc. (GLI). Each executive director explained their interconnected role in economic development for the region and the challenges employers face in recruiting work-ready employees from the two-state region.
“The challenge every university has in the Louisville area is the chamber is not defining the talent pipeline that businesses need,” said Ben Pratt of GLI. “Businesses want to partner with universities on research and development. We need to find ways to make it easier and find the funding to help them.”
All economic development executives agreed that quick response on specialized curriculum development for degrees and certifications was key in attracting new business to the region. Through the development of career pathways in high schools and piloting new degree programs through interdisciplinary studies, IU Southeast is poised to be a great partner in economic outreach to the region.
Following the meeting with the business leaders, Whitten then heard from faculty and staff on the front lines of student success.
This fall, IU Southeast has launched nine sections of learning communities, pairing two collaborative courses to help students acquire complimentary skills and build connections between themselves and their professors. Examples of current learning communities include the pairing of introductory business and introductory algebra, political theory with public speaking, writing with psychology or chemistry and writing with the history of modern Europe. All professors who spoke of their paired classes in enthusiastic terms. The common denominator between all the pairings; the bonding of the students in the classes and increased interactivity outside of the classroom.
While there will be more learning communities offered in coming semesters, beyond the enthusiasm and bonding of students and their professors, data will be collected on retention, academic performance and levels of satisfaction as compared to non-learning community sections. President Whitten commented how she loved hearing the buoyancy in voices as the professors spoke of their successes.
Another key component to student success, especially as the campus has emerged from the pandemic, is support services for students including counseling and psychological services and support for students with food insecurity issues. The need is great. Dr. Michael Day, director of counseling and psychological services, spoke how the services have grown since 2008 and a part-time position, to two full time positions and practicum students providing more than 3,200 hours of care. Additionally, in September, the Grenadier Grab N Go food pantry served 400 people and there is concern about supply keeping up with demand.
To assist our students, a mental health and wellness series was developed eight years ago and equipping faculty and staff with assessment and assistance resources through certifications such as Mental Health First Aid, Bring Change 2 Mind and partnerships with community resources has helped provide needed help to intervene and guide students to campus and community resources. Training has now expanded to include resident assistants and student organizations. “We’re more agile because of our smaller size,” said Robert Rennie, assistant professor of history. “We can provide instantaneous response.”
Whitten commended the group for the work done on behalf of our students. “I am grateful of what you’re doing to put students first,” said Whitten.
Remaining portions of the visit included lunch and a question-and-answer session with students, a meeting with campus administration and Deans and a trip to NovaParke to see the progress on the innovation and technology park that IU Southeast will play a large part. The park, located in Edwardsville, will include programs for both IU Southeast students and start-ups at NovaParke. Classes in entrepreneurship, pitch contests and assistance in developing business plans will be a part of the services provided by IU Southeast.
“Having President Whitten on campus was the perfect opportunity to share all of the great work IU Southeast faculty and staff are doing to reshape the university in the wake of the changing student body,” said Kelly Ryan, interim chancellor at IU Southeast. “Our meetings with enthusiastic and supportive community partners show we are turning the tide and building relationships that will support our region and IU Southeast.”