Memo Header "Message from Provost Storrs"

May 2, 2022

To:  UNCG Faculty

From:  Debbie Storrs, Provost & Executive Vice Chancellor

RE:  2021-22 Gratitude and Reflections

As the 2021-22 academic year and my first year at UNC Greensboro comes to a close, I wanted to take a moment to thank you for your commitment and contributions. This year has presented all of us with many challenges and uncertainties — on both a professional and personal level — and stands as an example of the extraordinary work you make possible at UNCG. Emerging from a pandemic, in the face of global uncertainty, and through challenging budget reductions you have remained dedicated to excellence in your support of our students, taking the extra step to help students who are struggling, and in pursuit of your research and creative endeavors. I am grateful and heartened to have joined a university community so devoted to its mission of access and excellence. The year was full of accomplishments, and I reflect upon some of them below.

Supporting Student Success
I am grateful for your engagement and support of student success, including your increased use of Starfish. Many of you have embraced QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer), a suicide prevention training designed to help us recognize students who are experiencing mental health challenges and be aware of steps to take to refer the at-risk student to professionals. You have also worked to reduce the cost of books through the Textbook Affordability Grant (TAP) program to replace an expensive textbook or redesign a course using open education resources.  A special thank you to faculty who submitted fall book orders by April 15th to ensure reduced book costs for all undergraduate students through our First Day Complete initiative – you are assisting students directly by helping to make their college education more affordable and putting money back into their pockets.

Continued Accreditation
This year we began our work on SACSCOC 10-year reaffirmation. With leadership guidance from Associate Vice Provost Jodi Pettazzoni, many of you are serving as standard chairs and working to ensure we have evidence and documentation needed to demonstrate compliance with each standard. Co-led by Andrea Hunter and Ken White, we have started the development of a Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP), a vital component of UNCG’s SACSCOC Reaffirmation. Thank you to everyone who participated in the brainstorming sessions to identify potential themes of interest and, more recently, with the Topic Proposal Development Workgroups.  I look forward to reading the proposals and learning how you have ranked them so we can get started on the next step of the journey, the development of the Plan itself.

Celebrating Faculty Achievements
UNCG faculty continue to excel in research, scholarship, and creativity. Congratulations to all 49 faculty members who successfully earned promotion and tenure this year. We also celebrated and congratulated faculty award recipients for their work in teaching excellence, student mentoring and advising, service leadership, and research excellence.  You can find a complete list of honorees here.

In terms of external awards, we are tracking close to last year’s record-breaking amount of $48.4 million and expenditures are also up.  The dollar amount is impressive and so is the impact of this work. These varied research projects are impacting so many areas such as:

    • improving community health and well-being,
    • converting fundamental science into real-world applications—such as through translational research embedding nanotechnology into virus and bacteria-resistant textiles
    • studying how engaging in the arts promotes health and well-being across the lifespan
    • exploring how K-12 social studies curriculum should transform now that the pandemic has exposed deficiencies in much of the traditional narrative found in textbooks and state curriculum standards
    • creating a university spin-out company, Minerva Lithium, that develops clean energy technology by trapping valuable minerals and other harmful pathogens from water
    • bringing the highest quality theatre, music, dance and writing program to literally thousands of youth in the wider community
    • responding to the war in Ukraine by using an established international network to support young people in or from Ukraine provide opportunities for kids worldwide to learn more about Ukraine to support their peers in distress, make new friends, and practice English
    • providing evidence-based education for Moldovan nurses as they care for refugees of the Russian invasion into Ukraine.

This work would not be possible without you, our dedicated and passionate faculty.

Conflict Resolution
This year we have also created a University Ombuds position, a priority for both faculty and staff senates. The Ombuds will bring value to the campus community by providing faculty and staff with objective and impartial dispute resolution using evidence-based conflict resolution skills and techniques as well as provide individual guidance and training on how to productively manage conflict. The search committee is actively interviewing candidates, and we hope to have the position filled for the 2022-23 Academic Year.

Professional Track Faculty
This year we worked to rename Professional Track Faculty. This title change better reflects what faculty under this umbrella are, rather than what they are not, and is central to the equitable treatment of all UNCG faculty. The Faculty Senate’s Professional Track Faculty Committee, Deans, and I are now working to finalize a promotional pathway process for Professional Track Faculty, and the Provost’s office has committed to funding promotional increases for our Professional Track Faculty, just as we do for our Tenure Track faculty.

EDI & Faculty Development
The Provost’s Faculty Fellows have worked extensively this year on a number of equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) initiatives and faculty development. Tracy Nichols, Provost Fellow for Faculty Development, has continued her work promoting EDI through faculty development initiatives. This spring Fellow Nichols worked in close collaboration with other initiatives that involve faculty development across the university. She is a member of the Faculty Senate Steering Committee on the inclusion of EDI in P&T. The committee received its charge this semester, and the work will continue through the 2022-23 academic year.  Fellow Nichols also coordinated calls for faculty development opportunities and has been examining ways to structure and communicate these calls more effectively in the future. The call for the Faculty Success Program, sponsored by the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity (NCFDD), received 17 nominations and 14 completed applications. The provost’s office was able to support 11 faculty taking the program this summer. Faculty of color and faculty from other historically marginalized groups were prioritized in the selection process, and we were also able to support several faculty members disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Fellow Nichols also coordinated calls for the BRIDGES application as well as applications to attend the NC ACE’s Women in Higher Education Conference. You can find more information about these opportunities here.  She also supported the faculty award nominations and celebrations that occur at the end of the academic year and continues her assistance with One UNCG social events.  These multiple collaborations across separate but connected aspects of faculty development have assisted with the enhancement of EDI-related practices across the university.

Student Well-Being
In her first year as Provost Fellow for Student Success, Fellow Regina McCoy has framed her efforts around the UNC System Strategic Plan holistic definition of student success: “a combination intellectual, personal, and social development” that extends beyond the degree completion metrics. This is a whole person approach to student success which means in our efforts we must fully support the students’ college experience to best meet the needs of what she sees as the ‘new post-pandemic college student’ shaped by the COVID-19 crisis. Through student focus groups and meetings with faculty and staff, together they have identified multiple factors that contribute to the current drop in student engagement and academic achievement: disconnection and stress linked to the pandemic, mental health concerns, financial challenges, a sense of hopelessness, and disillusionment about the future. A 2021 UNCG Housing & Residence Life student survey revealed 71.3% of our students reported their anxiety and stress as higher now than before the pandemic.

This semester she has been able to create intentional opportunities to re-engage our students, connect them to the support they need for their mental health and wellbeing, as well as to help students with academic citizenship or simply stated- the ‘nuts and bolts’ of being a college student. Working with the Mental Health Advisory Team, Student Success Center, Academic Achievement Center, and the iBelong Committee, they are developing a program to cross-train our front-line student workers in student affairs who interface with 1st and 2nd year students to facilitate a coordinated campus-wide peer student wellness effort grounded in what we know works from research and practice. This will create a sustainable culture of care that includes students in the planning process to develop a holistic campus-wide peer support model of students helping students with our faculty, staff, administrators and professional services ready to support students’ mental health and well-being. Imagine, whether the student is peer mentor working a resident assistant, peer academic leader in a FYE course, or a peer wellness coach from Student Health, all student workers in student affairs will be trained leaders who not only personally get connected to their services through the training, but will also help us tailor our services to meet the unique needs of our ‘new post-pandemic students’ from what they learn through these meaningful student engagements. We expect an increase of belongingness through social connections and support, a reduction of students in distress not reaching out for help, and better student support metrics and improved student academic achievement measures.

To help students in the classroom, Fellow McCoy is working with Student Success and the UTLC to implement a Summer Course Reboot which is meant to redesign courses that typically have low performance from first-year students. They have identified 30+ courses where faculty will be invited to develop a course redesign plan that will integrate a student peer mentor who will be embedded in the course and serve as a trained mentor and resource to other students. These peer mentors will help communicate that college faculty expectations are very different from high school teacher expectations and will serve as accountability partners for students enrolled in the target courses. They will provide timely nudges when their mentees do not complete work on time and support students with campus resources to help them adjust and excel academically and navigate personal challenges when life’s obstacles get in the way.

She Can, We Can
Steve Haines is wrapping up his three-year service as Provost Fellow for Special Projects. This year he supported the remaining events of the massive collaborative effort built around our university theme, She Can, We Can. There were more than 80 events across campus involving people in many disciplines. Fellow Haines also represented the provost’s office on the Jackson Library Addition and Renovation Design Selection Committee and served on the Provost Website Design Committee and QEP Topic Selection Committee. His latest efforts include advocacy for the new Jeanne Tannenbaum Center for Creative Practice and a campus-wide effort to promote inclusive seating for students, faculty, and staff.

Faculty Health & Wellness
As Fellow Haines completes his work in this role, Connie Jones, Assistant Professor in the Department of Counseling and Educational Development, is looking forward to joining the provost’s office as the Provost Fellow for Special Projects next academic year. She is excited to work with faculty and staff related to the theme of health and wellness, as health and wellness are a key focus of our campus. She believes there will be ample opportunities for collaboration across campus.  Be on the lookout for outreach, updates, and opportunities from her in fall of 2022.

Thank you again for your tireless efforts this year. I wish you all a well-deserved break surrounded by family and friends. I encourage you to unplug and unwind so you can return in August refreshed and ready to embark on a new academic year. No doubt there will be challenges related to enrollment and the new funding formula ahead, but I’m confident that, in working together through shared governance and leadership, we can draw on our accomplishments, transform thoughtfully, embrace our mission and values, and continue to position UNCG well for the future.