'Focus on the individual student': New chancellor sets high expectations for MSUB

2014-08-21T18:00:00Z 2014-08-22T07:32:05Z 'Focus on the individual student': New chancellor sets high expectations for MSUBBy ZACH BENOIT zbenoit@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Mark Nook, Montana State University Billings’ newly hired chancellor, laid out on Thursday morning his vision and goals for the upcoming school year, citing a desire to focus on student issues, strategic planning and fundraising for a massive renovation of the science building.

During his first convocation in front of hundreds of MSUB faculty and staff on campus in Petro Theatre, Nook said that the university plays an important role in Billings’ economy and workforce and has strong community support, but that he wants to improve MSUB’s successes.

“It’s clear that (we) make a huge difference in the lives of our students, the community of Billings and the state of Montana,” he said.

In the first of four goals for the 2014-15 academic year outlined on Thursday, Nook said that raising the money necessary for a $15 million renovation of MSUB’s decades-old sciences building is vital to the university’s future.

The Montana Legislature has promised $10 million to renovate and update the building, to be renamed Yellowstone Hall, but MSUB must first raise $5 million on its own for the project.

With an ever-increasing focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and health care education, it’s important for MSUB to give its graduates the best education possible while meeting their needs while in school, Nook said.

“We can’t do that without this building,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to get the money raised this year and start that very soon.”

Second, Nook said he plans to reassemble the MSUB Advantage team to review the university’s progress in implementing its strategic plan.

Several years ago, the team designed the plan for the university, intended to help guide it as it grows and changes. Nook said that MSUB has achieved or is close to achieving about 20 percent of the 118 different goals but that he’d like the team to take a look at and evaluate that progress while recommending any possible changes.

“It’s so we don’t just leave (implementing the plan) in the hands of the administration,” he said.

Nook’s third goal is improving student success at the university. While it’s a goal he said can’t be accomplished right away, he wants to start on it immediately.

Among other things, he said working on freshman retention rates can help educate more people while aiding in efforts to address enrollment issues.

Of the 418 students in last year’s freshman class, about 60 percent are returning this fall. Of the students who didn’t, 147 were eligible to do so but opted not to return.

Nook said he wants a 70 percent retention rate and that, using the 2013-14 numbers, it would require convincing an extra 40 students to stay.

He said that, and other student success measures, can be accomplished by focusing on each student and finding out what they need to succeed.

“All of a sudden, our insoluble problem becomes an enormous opportunity,” Nook said.

He said there are plans to form a committee this year to examine and focus on those issues.

“It has to be all of us,” he said. “We have to all be committed to each of our students.”

Nook’s fourth goal is to create an achievable enrollment growth plan. Combined with its City College campus, MSUB can accommodate as many as 6,000 students, he said, although last year’s enrollment was just shy of 5,000.

“We don’t need to focus on the numbers,” Nook said. “We need to focus on the individual student. If we do that, the numbers will take care of themselves.”

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