Strategic planning group proposes increase in research

File photo of Cherry Hall.

Emma Collins

The possibility of expanding students’ access to research opportunities was suggested during the Strategic Planning Committee meeting on Wednesday.

The Strategic Planning Working Group on Research, Scholarship and Creative Endeavors listed one of its goals as increasing WKU’s “scholarly profile” by improving student and faculty research and creative activities, said Kelly Madole, the group’s co-chair.

Madole said a second and similar goal is to provide students with more opportunities to participate in research activities.

“WKU is, in our opinion, very well-placed to become a university that is distinctive in that way, where we work engaging students in the kind of research and scholarly activities that we as faculty do,” Madole said.

Madole said she thinks WKU is “well-positioned” to expand WKU’s mission of research because of WKU’s research capacity and enrollment of undergraduate and graduate students. The group’s student representative said many students aren’t aware of the possible research opportunities, according to Madole.

“We need to expand the kinds of students who are reaching these kind of activities,” Madole said.

Increasing WKU’s profile will also attract better faculty, students and funding and possibly provide donors another reason to give to WKU, Madole said, adding that student research has also been proven to benefit universities overall.

“Student research, and I say students again meaning both undergraduate and graduate students, working with faculty members on research, scholarship, creative activities has been shown to be really effective for student learning, for student retention, for student graduation, for the outcomes of students after they leave the university,” Madole said.

Dave Tatman, Madole’s co-chair, said WKU can also use this research and focus on using faculty and students’ “scholarly expertise” to advance the surrounding communities. This can include applied research, Tatman said, but it can also include strengthening collaboration between local industries and students and expanding internship opportunities.

He said WKU is working on research that has the potential to help industries, but those steps to connect the research and community haven’t always been taken.

“There’s a lot of grant funding available where university and industry collaborations are encouraged,” Tatman said.

The objective to increase research opportunities aligns with President Timothy Caboni’s new mission for WKU: guiding WKU toward becoming a “student centered, applied research university.”

Madole said increasing the opportunities for students means compensation for faculty who participate in the research opportunities also needs to increase.

“This is time-consuming when faculty spend time mentoring students in these kinds of scholarly activities,” Madole said. “Faculty need support for that, and they need reward for that.”

Madole said the group is still considering specific strategies to make the objective of raising the university’s scholarly profile happen.

The meeting focused primarily on updating those involved in the Strategic Planning Process. The different working groups, also called committees, briefly presented their progress, with a special emphasis on the vision and mission for each group. The information presented during the meeting was a work-in-progress rather than any concrete decisions.

The following ideas were mentioned during the meeting:

  • Making WKU a “student’s academic first choice” and strengthening the Colonnade Program, from the Academic Innovation and Excellence Committee.
  • Developing seven programs of national distinction, also from the Academic Innovation and Excellence Committee.
  • Providing a “one-stop shop” where students can access the resources they need, from the Budgeting, Efficiency and Infrastructure Committee.
  • Implementing retroactive scholarships, or scholarships awarded to students after the end of the semester and not before the semester starts, from the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee.
  • Facilitating better communication between the different foundations such as the College Heights Foundation and the Hilltopper Athletic Foundation, from the External Relations and Alumni Engagement Committee.
  • Adjusting the academic calendar to help students with employment and allow them to work during the holidays, from the Student Success and Experience Committee.
  • Implementing a flexible-hours schedule for WKU employees so they can choose what time they start work and what time they end in an attempt to create more flexible office hours, also from the Student Success and Experience Committee.

The Strategic Planning Committee will host an open forum on Thursday, Dec. 7. The forum will be held at 2:45 p.m. in the Faculty House. Updates on the Strategic Planning Committee and the progress of the working groups can be found here.

Reporter Emma Collins can be reached at 270-745-6011 or [email protected].