This is the second straight year UM-Dearborn has hosted a State of the University (SOTU) event, and the 2023 edition broke with some typical traditions of the “state-of-the-X” format. Chancellor Grasso did deliver an executive address full of recent accomplishments and future challenges, but he also passed the mic. Thursday’s hour-long gathering of the campus community featured several short conversations with students and staff, video presentations from faculty in all four colleges, a personal look at the impact of the Go Blue Guarantee, and a warm welcome for the university’s new therapy dog, Moses. In case you weren’t able to make it, we’ve summed up some of the key takeaways from the State of the University below.
Chancellor Grasso says the university is “ready to take off”
Grasso is finishing his fifth year as UM-Dearborn chancellor, and as you’ve likely heard, he’s being officially recommended for reappointment by President Ono at this month’s Regents meeting. In his SOTU remarks, Grasso recapped much of the recent hard work that’s put the university in a strong position for a bright future. For starters, UM-Dearborn is in good financial shape. Despite challenges posed by the pandemic, our financial reserves have grown, philanthropic giving remains a top priority, and we’ve doubled our external research funding. In addition, many core aspects of the GO BLUEprint for Success strategic plan are now in the implementation phase, and several more are set to launch soon. Most recently, the university released and is seeking feedback on a draft strategic enrollment plan. Other metrics, like a 3% boost in the four-year graduation rate, also demonstrate things are heading in the right direction. “Over the past five years, we’ve invested significant efforts in crafting our collective vision for the future,” Grasso said. “We’ve built the runway. We have a flight plan. And now we’re ready to take off.”
The Go Blue Guarantee is having an impact
Thursday’s SOTU was one of the first times campus has had an opportunity to hear personal stories about the impact of the Go Blue Guarantee, UM-Dearborn’s free tuition program for high achieving, in-state students from lower-income backgrounds. In a short video, Business Administration student Valeria Garcia-Lopez and Computer Engineering student Puwadon Sapprasent shared that the program has not only made their college experiences possible, it’s made them more well-rounded students, because it’s given them more time to focus on their studies and explore extracurricular opportunities. This year, 839 students are attending UM-Dearborn on the Go Blue Guarantee.
The Wolverine Mentor Collective is connecting students
The campus community also heard some firsthand experiences from students in a relatively new student-to-student mentoring program. The Wolverine Mentor Collective has three different tracks depending on where a student is in their college journey. For a new program, participation certainly hasn’t been a problem. This year, 693 students are matched with 253 mentors across the three programs, and it’s been a useful experience for both the mentors and mentees. Mentor Nicole Johnson, who is a nontraditional student, says it’s been a nice way to take her life experiences and “pay those lessons forward.” Mentee Victoria Maes credits the program with helping her make the transition from high school, noting the convenience of being able to call or text her mentor with questions she had about academics or campus life.
A new marketing and branding strategy is ready for launch
The university has been working on a new core messaging strategy for the past year-plus, and it’s now ready to roll out. The new marketing plan, which was facilitated by marketing firm Carnegie Darlett, takes into account feedback from faculty, students and staff, information about our competitor institutions, and how we’re viewed in the core communities we serve. Vice Chancellor for External Relations Ken Kettenbeil says the real strength of the plan is “looking at the university as a person” and defining some core “personality traits.” The three core personas — the Empowering Nurturer, the Industrious Creator and the Analytical Explorer — are fleshed out in a new brand toolkit, which includes practical ideas for how to use these personas effectively and blend them with key university differentiators, like practiced-based learning and the Michigan experience. Look for the new brand toolkit in the next few days. Now through the end of August, look for the new messaging to appear in updated multimedia assets, photography, light pole banners, digital ads, billboards and the university website. In addition, expect a mini-campaign to highlight perks of attending UM-Dearborn — the latest being free U-M football season tickets for incoming full-time first-year students this fall.
No surprise, but our faculty are doing lots of cool things
The SOTU also showcased some of the work that our faculty are doing in all four colleges. In a video presentation, Associate Professor of Human Centered Engineering Design Georges Ayoub explained how he and his students are working to solve a fundamental problem in plastics recycling. Assistant Professor of Physics Suvranta Tripathy highlighted a multidisciplinary practice-based learning course he and Biology Associate Professor Kalyan Kondapalli, Assistant Professor of Neurobiology Dr. Zhi (Elena) Zhang, and Chemistry Professor Krisanu Bandyopadhyay have developed to give students learning opportunities in the groundbreaking discipline of nanomedicine. Finance Lecturer Nick Vlisides gave a tour of some of the cool things happening in the Bloomberg Finance Lab, including the inner workings of a student-managed fund with real money that outperformed the S&P 500 last year. And Associate Professor of Public Health Natalie Sampson showcased Environmental Health Research-to-Action, a project that’s helping neighborhoods impacted by heavy industry use data and research to advocate for environmentally just outcomes.
Expanded services for mental health and student support
The university continues to expand its slate of non-academic support services for students. To meet the growing demand for mental health services, Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) Director Sara Byczek says they’ve not only added more staff, but more options, like peer mentoring and Zoom appointments, which make care more accessible. A new partnership with University Health Services is enabling the university to provide psychiatric services for the first time, and CAPS is also offering students psychological and cognitive assessments for things like learning disabilities or ADHD. In addition, the university recently launched Dearborn Support, which oversees the Student Food Pantry and helps students navigate difficult life circumstances, like a hospitalization or financial emergency. The newest face on the university’s growing wellness team is Moses, the university’s new therapy dog, who made his debut at the tail end of the event. Byczek says group or individual sessions with the 15-month-old mini goldendoodle are “available by request.”
Still want more details from Thursday’s State of the University event? You can watch the full SOTU event on the university’s YouTube channel. Story by Lou Blouin