Building the university of the future

UMass Dartmouth has new momentum to take it into the future.

Rendering - planned residential and dining facilities project, from Ring Road.
Rendering of planned residential and dining facilities project, viewed from Ring Road

Chancellor Robert E. Johnson believes it is time to change higher education. In fact, he wants to fundamentally rethink the academy to align with the restless, dynamic economy that students will enter when they graduate.

"Higher ed is at a very interesting inflection point," he said. "The world is changing from a knowledge economy to a new economy where people must constantly learn and adapt so they can can create and add value in any organization. To move society forward, they must promote a sense of humanity in this rapidly changing, hyperconnected world. So the academy has to fundamentally reinvent itself to help our students develop a skillset and mindset to be prepared for the future of work."

To create the university of the future,  UMass Dartmouth faculty, staff, and students will work collaboratively as a community of learners to enhance the student experience, which builds on the success of the past and embraces the possibilities of the future.

Preparing students for the future

Johnson wants UMassD students to graduate prepared for "the future of work" because the skillset and mindset they learn in and out of the classroom will be the drivers of their careers. A 2017 PricewaterhouseCoopers report projects that 38 percent of American jobs will be automated by 2030. In Japan today, robots, rather than nurses or CNAs, are turning patients in hospital beds. In this type of environment, graduates must be nimble enough to manage an average of 12 to 15 job changes during their careers.

The first step in this transformation is to capitalize on the fifth component of UMassD's faculty-developed University Studies curriculum. Titled "The Educated and Engaged Citizen," the curriculum requires students to apply the knowledge and skills they gained from their studies to their own professional and personal development. It is part of a comprehensive curriculum that the UMassD faculty implemented in 2012 based on a liberal arts core.

"'The Educated and Engaged Citizen'—that's what I call the agile mind," Johnson said. "UMassD faculty recognized the importance of this years ago when they were planning the curriculum."

Students must develop uniquely human skills that cannot be replicated by robots. "They have to be constantly thinking about how they add and create new value," Johnson said.

Chief of Staff Donna Lisker said the University must model this new dynamism so that students can learn to thrive in it. That means, in part, valuing students' own life experiences and teaching them to incorporate classroom knowledge into that experience. More than 80 percent of UMass Dartmouth students engage in service learning or volunteer activities through the colleges and the Leduc Center for Civic Engagement, something that is not just a nice co-curricular activity, but a vital part of education.

"Service learning helps students learn to question, to think for themselves, and to apply knowledge to real-world problems," Lisker said.

Rendering - quad - new residential area
Rendering of quad in the new residential and dining facilities area

Connecting learning and life

Johnson and his leadership team want faculty to have vibrant options to complement traditional academic pedagogy. One initiative, tentatively titled the Corsair Compact, includes an Academy for traditional undergraduate students and a Bootcamp option for online and returning adult students.

The Corsair Compact will help students develop competencies and mindsets that employers indicate are required for success, and serve as a differentiator for UMass Dartmouth in preparing all students for the future of work.

"Competencies and mindsets will be introduced, developed, and mastered through both curricular and co-curricular experiences," said Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Shannon Finning. "The Corsair Compact will include a four-year career development plan that guides student success from day one on campus through graduation and beyond."

Finning also places great emphasis on a building a more vibrant campus culture. With that in mind, she worked quickly when she arrived in July to build a sense of community and personal connection by kicking off the academic year with a carnival, barbecue, and late-night activities. She looks ahead to piloting a variety of activities that she hopes will add to the campus' vibrancy and student wellbeing.

The physical campus also must support a more integrated approach to learning. The Claire T. Carney Library, with its open spaces and ample areas for "spontaneous collisions," as Finning puts it, is a model for what she and Johnson would like to see everywhere. The Campus Master Plan, completed in December 2017, emphasizes 21st century flexible, collaborative, technology-rich, and engaging, learning environments.

"We have to have physical spaces that allow people to come together, enjoy themselves, and work together everywhere on campus," Johnson said.

Major renovations and updates were completed over the summer, including two engineering labs, eight classroom and studio spaces in the College of Visual & Performing Arts, and a STEM Tutoring Center. In addition, a $54 million renovation of the College of Engineering is being planned to address structural needs of the facility.

The university broke ground on November 30 for a new first-year residence and dining complex that is being developed through a public-private partnership. The facilities will open in fall 2020. The residence halls will have 1,210 beds and feature learning spaces and special programming. The adjacent dining commons will have seating for 800.

Shari Flanders, a student resident assistant who earned her undergraduate business degree in May and is now pursuing an MBA spoke at the groundbreaking. "For students like me – who will graduate before these buildings open – this project means learning that takes place outside the classroom matters. It means student success matters. It means the whole student matters. It means getting first-year students off to a good start matters."

At a total cost of $188 million, the renovations and new construction represent an important campus renewal. "There has been only one major state-funded construction project on this 710-acre campus since Ronald Reagan was president," Johnson said. "And that was the $47 million Carney Library."

Renovated engineering classroom - 2018 - College of Engineering
Renovated engineering classroom that opened in fall 2018

Organizing for effectiveness

In July, Senior Associate Vice Chancellor for Talent and Diversity Angela Callahan came to UMass Dartmouth to oversee the traditional human resources functions and ensure that training and hiring practices emphasize a culture of inclusion, respect, and diversity. She also is conducting a top-to-bottom assessment to ensure that resources are appropriately distributed to support the
work that needs to be done.

"Our focus is on providing excellent service to our students and others so we have to make sure we have the right people in the right roles to do that work," she said.

Spending and investing wisely are important at a time when higher education is no longer seen as a public good from the standpoint of funding, Johnson said. State funding today provides approximately 25 percent of UMass Dartmouth's budget, but as he looks a decade ahead, Johnson said he has to assume that proportion will drop to 10 to 12 percent.

"If that is true, what does the financial model at UMass Dartmouth need to look like?" he said. "We need to look at other sources of income, like online education growth and private philanthropic support. We recognize that there are some things we will invest in and there are some things that we are doing that we will have to stop so we can reinvest our resources."

UMass Dartmouth will look to expand its student body by expanding its reach to attract more traditional and non-traditional students. It will increase its online course offerings and consider developing new majors that will be demanded by the new economy.

But no matter how the course catalog changes and public resources shift, Johnson is committed to the idea that every student will graduate with the skillset and mindset needed to help ensure success in any field.

"Any institution of higher education that allows today's students to graduate without the uniquely human skills that cannot be replicated by robots is committing educational malpractice," Johnson said.

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