A Message From the President

Isiaah Crawford, for Arches, spring 2021

Q: I want to ask you about what we in the business world would call our “customers.” How are the expectations of students and their parents changing with respect to the university’s role in helping them explore work and careers?
A: I think it’s ever more important for us right now to make sure our prospective students and their parents can really appreciate the unique and distinctive benefits of coming to the University of Puget Sound. To speak in your business language a little bit, what is the return on investment of a University of Puget Sound education? Certainly it’s the ability to become thoughtful and engaged young people who are good critical thinkers and who recognize the importance of an interdisciplinary mindset—that no one line of reasoning or thinking can truly provide truth, that you have to look at things from myriad perspectives and see where those connections are. And that’s what we do really well here. That’s at the heart of our liberal arts education. In addition to being in the intellectual development business, we’re also in the social development business, helping people come to better understand themselves, and to have interpersonal skills to be able to work well and effectively with others, and to respect others for their inherent humanity.

We also want them to be prepared to make a contribution in the world—to recognize their purpose and to harness that and to have direction. So, starting this summer, Career and Employment Services will move under academic affairs. We’re looking to have more synergy with regard to the academic and the co-curricular, as well as the career prep, career readiness. We also will see a change in our degree requirements, starting with the class of 2026, that students will have to complete an experiential learning component for the baccalaureate degree—mentored research, internships, study abroad, or a community-based learning project—to help them better recognize how they can apply what they’re learning in real-world settings.

Q: One of the great avenues for experiential learning is through mentorships. Can you tell me about the role that alumni can play in that journey?
Really, really important work that we’re looking to do is to make sure that our students have a sense of affinity and community, that they develop a sense of belonging and feel welcome. So we’re working hard to make sure that every student has multiple areas of engagement with specific individuals, be it professional advisors, faculty advisors, peer advisors. And certainly we hope that our alumni will be an important component of that. We’re piloting a program in which we pair up alumni with students in a mentorship, and it’s our goal to expand that program such that every student who wants to have an alumni mentor can do that. It’s good for a variety of reasons: for the interpersonal support, for the professional development, and to try to help ease them across the four years and into their alumni experience. We’re also looking to expand our career services, and to take advantage of our network of 40,000 alumni and the connections that are available to help Loggers find their next great opportunities. So our alumni will play an ever more enhanced role in the work we’re doing and the traditions we’re trying to establish here.

Q: One of the things we’re talking about in the Alumni Council is that the alumni experience is something that starts not at graduation, but rather on Day One, when you become a student. How can faculty and staff help create a lifelong “Logger culture” for students from the start?
Actually, our vice president for enrollment, Matt Boyce, would say we begin working on that from the earliest moment of the recruitment process. From that first engagement, we’re trying to make sure they begin to conceptualize the possibility of becoming a Logger. And as they matriculate, we have been speaking to some of the academic and co-curricular traditions we have, the ways in which students can feel part of this community through their participation in athletics, or our School of Music, or performing arts programming, or our 125 different student clubs. It’s also our burgeoning alumni network, and having students hear about the contributions and the extraordinary lives that Logger alumni live—having more of our alumni come back to campus to serve as guest lecturers, telling their stories to our current students, so they can see the different types of paths that our graduates have taken.

Q: What can we learn from larger institutions that have very robust alumni relations programs and have hundreds of thousands of alums, as we continue to try to increase the alumni experience?
I think we need to find more ways to tell our distinctive stories and be proud of who we are, what we do, and what our graduates do. I want us to become more fulsome in how we extol our virtues. We’re too modest, Ted. We just are. I think we need to be comfortable with laying claim to wonderful graduates of this institution like yourself, and speaking about that in ways that other institutions seem a little bit more comfortable in doing.

Q: In addition to pride and evangelizing stories, how can we have alumni re-engage with the student experience and ensure that our students are supported more than ever?
Well, we certainly want people to come back for Homecoming weekend and come back for our reunion program. We can have great benefit from having people back on campus, engaging our students directly. Also continuing to follow us on social media platforms—on Instagram and Facebook and Twitter. And particularly now that we’re looking to create more connections with our students through Career and Employment Services and connections out into the professional communities that all of our graduates reach into, I think there are just wonderful opportunities to continue to grow that.

Q: One of the other pieces of feedback I get from Loggers, especially those who are maybe a little more distant from the university, or perhaps it’s been a couple of decades since they were students, is essentially, “What’s in it for me? What do we as Loggers get out of maintaining an ongoing connection with the university?”
Well, I would hope that our veteran Loggers would continue to be connected to an institution that is so very proud of them, an institution they helped develop and played a role in what it has become. Also to be able to see the opportunities they’ve made available to the young people of today, who are carrying forward the same traditions and have the same hopes and aspirations that they had. There’s this inherent nature within us to be generative—to see that the work we’ve done and the experiences we’ve had can have a positive impact on those who come after us. So helping your fellow Loggers step into this brave new world and benefit from the wisdom and the experience that you’ve had, I think, would be good. I also think that we’re a fun bunch of folks. Having now attended a number of homecomings and reunion weekends, I know that Loggers also know how to have a good time. They enjoy one another.

One of the things that we’ve learned through this pandemic is that sometimes our dearest, truest friends are those that we made so very long ago, often during college. So if there are opportunities to reconnect with the institution and our classmates, and the memories that that brings forward, that’s another way of being able to look after oneself and to nurture oneself and our most important relationships.

Q: Switching gears, you were recently elected to the chairman role of The National Association for Independent Colleges and Universities. Congratulations on that.From that perspective, and now that we’re one year into a global pandemic, can you tell us what the future of higher education looks like in America?
I think the future remains bright. We’re all going to be reacting to and recovering from the pandemic, perhaps for a number of years. But we have all been able to give some thought to what it means for us going forward, particularly with the use of technology. Some of us have embraced this virtual video format and have come to recognize that you can do it well, and you can promote good learning—effective, deep learning—and you can have efficiency of process. Of course, it doesn’t replace in-person learning, which is what we do best, and why we believe so strongly in a residential college experience.

I think it’s going to become ever more important for colleges and universities to be able to speak with clarity about how they’re distinct from other very good schools, to make sure that you’re able to draw those students to you who will best be able to benefit from the type of educational experience that you can offer. And, of course, we need to do a good job of making sure that students are not only career ready, but also have that “life of the mind”—to be agile and adaptive and be lifelong learners. If there’s one thing that we learned this year, it’s the importance of being creative, adaptive, and flexible.

Q: Closer to home, what would you like to see the University of Puget continue to innovate on?
Historically we had not really explored an online environment and virtual learning, and during the pandemic we had to do that and learn how to do it well, which I believe we were able to do. I think we’ve provided a very good experience for our students. We’ve recognized that certain types of online tools actually promote learning for students—some students have indicated that they’ve actually felt more invigorated in this environment than an in-person environment.

I think it will be important for us to determine what we learned from that, and how it might become part of what we do on an ongoing basis—perhaps at the graduate level, or in offering summer programming. And do we think we might want to step into the world of continuing education? Perhaps we might offer professional education opportunities through the lens of the great faculty that we have here. And how can we use these tools to promote community? Some of these virtual meetings can run long or seem incessant, but they have a way of bringing people together to create a sense of community that we want going forward. Those are the types of things I would hope we could explore.

Q: The university is also going through a comprehensive program review. What’s the overall intent of that process?
We’re in the very early stages of a comprehensive academic, administrative, and auxiliary program review. We’re going to look at the university in its totality. The goal with that endeavor is to step back and look at how we are operating, to make sure we’re maximizing all that we can do and identify ways in which we can be better or more efficient at what we do. To see if there might be some things that we want to discontinue, because they’re not meeting their intended outcomes, and perhaps redirect resources to areas that provide opportunities for growth and expansion—either because we’re doing really, really well in those areas, or we have opportunities within our marketplace that we might be able to step into. This is going to take roughly 18 months or so. And we’re going to look at every nook and cranny of the institution to help move us forward in the best ways possible.

Q: Do you have any indications yet as far as potential areas where we’d want to divest or redirect resources and further other programs instead?
No, that’s to come. I don’t want to get out in front of the process. We’re going into this with a level of clarity and egality across the framework. I mean, there are some things that I know we do very, very well, and we’ll be interested in determining if are there other future opportunities there. Particularly how we established the University of Puget Sound as a liberal arts college, as a place to come to study the sciences, and that we do particularly well in helping to develop women in science. Our atmosphere here is one that really nurtures young women, and we rank nationally in terms of undergraduate institutions who prepare women who go on to earn doctoral degrees. I mean, that’s pretty cool, right? We also have an 80% medical school placement rate for our students, which is dramatically above the national average. So it might that we can expand upon and take further advantage of that. But, again, we’re going into this with everything on the table and to take a consistent lens through it all and make some determinations based on what the data suggest to us, while also remaining committed to our mission and our values. We are a liberal arts college, right? So there are elements here that will continue to undergird all that we do and the way in which we go about this self-examination.

Q: What is your opinion on the role graduate programs play at Puget Sound? Are they needed for us to be viable in the long run?
I think the board of trustees and the presidential leadership that was in place at the time that made the decision to hold on to our select graduate programs chose very, very well. I don’t mean to speak in hyperbole, but it was a stroke of genius. I’m so glad that they did it. One, our graduate programs enrich the university; they create a wonderful mix to our educational programming and allow us to be a unique liberal arts college. Our graduate programs in education, occupational therapy and physical therapy have established strong national reputations and bring great distinction to the university, and I think they have opportunities for expansion and growth. And, as you know, we are very pleased to launch our new master’s in public health program this fall. There may be some other opportunities there, particularly ways we might recruit students who might come to us as undergraduates, knowing that they may have seats available for them in these graduate programs. You see those often described as “four plus one” programs—you could get a baccalaureate and master’s degree in five years.

Our graduate programs do help with the financial bottom line in some important ways. They also provide us with fantastic faculty who enrich our university community, and our undergraduate students benefit by the opportunities to work with our graduate students. Grad programs also create opportunities for clinical work, internships, research opportunities for undergraduate students, and provide our graduate students the opportunity to mentor undergraduate students, and that adds to a sense of community.