UW-Green Bay Provost Kate Burns stresses empathy, appreciates ‘herculean effort’

Provost Kate Burns address the University Community during 2020 Faculty and Staff Virtual Convocation. Video transcript follows:

Hi everyone.

I was so impressed by this weekend’s drive through graduation. Megan DuFrane-Groose, Gail Sims-Aubert, and the entire Office of Student Life should be commended for all of their hard work and creativity in making this event a success. It was really touching to hear the graduates share their stories, see students’ families crammed together in a vehicle (and sometimes several vehicles) to celebrate this important milestone, and feel the pride exuded by our faculty and staff who cheered them on.

It made me think a lot about how we get students to this goal. I know we oftentimes think of graduation as simply a classroom accomplishment. At drive through graduation, it was clear that students were excited to see the familiar faces of people who had supported them both inside *and* outside the classroom. Faculty. Academic and University Staff. We are *all* making an impact on students during their time here.

Last spring we all worked together to somehow accomplish the impossible. We reached out to students. We called them when they hadn’t registered. We checked in on them when they weren’t turning in their work or missing class. We were focused on caring for the whole student inside AND outside the classroom. Academic Affairs and Student Affairs partnering together. These efforts paid off. Our enrollment is up, especially at a time when others across the country are seeing enrollment declines. Our enrollment is up, partly because of recruitment, but largely because of retention.

Retention is everyone’s job. Let me say that again. Retention is EVERYONE’s job. I want all of us (regardless of our roles) to be thinking about how we can better support and better retain our students. This may take a variety of forms:

  • Creating an inclusive campus climate. When students come to our campuses, we want them to feel welcome and that they belong. I am so glad that we will be engaged in inclusivity and equity training this year. Our times call for this emphasis on social justice, but it is also the right thing to do. Cultural competence is a journey, not a destination. As an institution of higher education, we need to model this dedication to learning, reflection, and growth.
  • We have proudly announced ourselves to be an access institution. This means we need to support the students we have. I know many of you attended the SpeakOut Institute this summer. One quote that really stuck with me is “Access without support is not opportunity.” We should all consider in our own areas what that support may look like. We are rolling out Navigate this fall semester. This is a great time to take a look at the Canvas training and learn more about this tool if you haven’t already. Our early alert system with grades and feedback is only as effective as we make it. Research has shown that early alert systems are especially important for students of color and first generation students who may not know how they are performing in their classes. We need to build early feedback into our courses so that students can better understand how they are doing and take steps accordingly.

It’s a new academic year. I appreciate the herculean effort it took to get us here. Countless staff and faculty working together to get us ready. I know many of you are feeling excited, optimistic. But also nervous. Overwhelmed. Worried about work/life balance/childcare and school arrangements. This is not business as usual—we are very much outside our comfort zone. This is how our students are feeling too. Here’s the thing though. Our students have always felt this way, excited about the promise of higher education while simultaneously navigating the headwinds in their lives. I want us to harness these new positive and negative emotions we’re feeling as we go into the fall to better understand and support our students. This is a massive empathy boost. If last spring taught us anything, we can accomplish so much when we were all working together toward a singular purpose: student success.