Chapter 2 - Building Momentum

The 2002 Self-Study Report identified a number of significant transformations as Valley City State University responded to the changes in the North Dakota University System and North Dakota's economic and political environment. The story of that decade is presented in former President Dr. Chaffee's publication, A Decade of Transformation: Changes in Teaching and Learning at VCSU (available in the Resource Room, and excerpted in Chapter 1 of the 2002 Self-Study Report). The most notable transformation in the 1990s was the laptop initiative, which made every student and faculty member a participant in the State Board-mandated mission of developing instructional technology applications. The 1990s also saw the development of a campus-wide assessment plan, based on ability assessment, and the implementation of a required, digital portfolio for all graduating seniors.

The first decade of the new millennium positioned VCSU in an implementation phase, as faculty, staff, and students adapted, re-invented, and sought new innovations that built on the transformative culture established in the 1990s. The events of this period fall into a series of narratives that point to a developing momentum throughout the decade, a momentum that has generated optimism, program expansion, increased enrollment and funding, facility renovation, and increased energy for the opportunities that lie ahead.

The 2009 Flood: The Laptop Initiative Matures

The story of the 2009 flood offers the best illustration of a maturing initiative that in turn provides energy for new efforts. During the Spring 2009 term, VCSU cancelled classes for snow-related issues more frequently than any other year this past decade. And before the snow had completely melted, the University again cancelled classes for several whole and part days to assist the city with sandbagging, as the Sheyenne River, which threads its way through town and provides one boundary for the campus, rose to flood stage early -- and then began to rise again. When students left campus for Easter Break, they had already missed five days of classes due to weather and sandbagging.

By Easter Monday, the river level reached record flood height, and several levee breaches brought the mayor to call for a voluntary, city-wide evacuation and VCSU's President to cancel classes for the week. The information technology center began moving VCSU's data center to the Regional Technology Center, located in the highest area of the city. During this uncertain period, it was clear the river would not fall very quickly, and until it did, the University buildings were vulnerable to levee breach. The collapse of a significant portion of the city's sanitary sewer system prompted further concern, and, since the campus was surrounded by ring dikes, with only one, single-lane entrance/exit to campus, hurried, emergency evacuation would be difficult.

At this point there were four weeks left in a semester already interrupted repeatedly by weather and sandbagging. Ending the semester early seemed like a betrayal of campus values, and so the decision was made by mid-week to move all classes online for the remainder of the semester. Of course, not all classes and activities could be smoothly moved to the online environment, and a few faculty had to end classes early. Figure 2.1 illustrates the ways in which courses were handled over these last four weeks:

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Only 12% of the courses were unable to continue, along with theatre productions, concerts, and athletics. Other coursework continued, using Blackboard, other web-based tools, and email, allowing VCSU faculty to provide some academic value and program continuity in the midst of disruptive circumstances.

VCSU was able to make this decision and succeed in implementing it because of the campus culture developed through the laptop initiative a decade earlier: email is the official mode of communication, so everyone is accustomed to checking there for information; all courses are required to have a Blackboard presence, so faculty already had laid the groundwork for online courses; and, since every student and faculty member had a laptop, above-average computer literacy could be expected. In addition, all student services, including the Business Office, Financial Aid, the Registrar, even the Bookstore, are accustomed to working online with students; though occasionally challenged, student services were not disrupted. Documents from this period, including communications to students, news articles, and VCSU's "Flood of 2009" booklet are available in the Resource Room for further review.

By mid-May the river had receded and the faltering sewer system was stabilized, allowing VCSU to hold commencement on campus and welcome back graduating seniors who had missed the last month of their college experience. Looking forward, however, the campus faced a significant concern: the impact of this event on Fall 2009 enrollment, as other universities have noted significant enrollment drop after a forced, spring closure. For example, when the University of North Dakota closed campus as a result of the 1997 flood, its enrollment in Fall 1997 decreased by 8%. In fact, VCSU experienced no enrollment decline, perhaps because the University was able to use its online presence to keep students and the public engaged. Enrollment grew by 6% in Fall 2009. Faculty clearly felt energized by the validation of the laptop initiative and by a new respect for technology tools in the classroom. In Fall 2009 VCSU prepared for a potential H1N1 influenza outbreak by training all faculty in a new tool--Panopto--that would allow faculty to record lectures and post them in Blackboard for students who might have to miss class. While this measure proved unnecessary, some faculty continue to use this and similar tools to increase access and improve student learning. In addition, newly aware of the reach of technology, more faculty began teaching online sections and the climate for program delivery to place-bound students (called "customized learning" in the 2002 Self-Study) finally began to see significant development through an increase in articulations with two-year schools and a growth in the number of majors available for distance delivery.

Administrative Changes Speed Strategic Initiatives

During the past decade, VCSU has experienced leadership changes in three of the four top administrative offices. While these changes could have deflected important initiatives or destabilized campus planning, VCSU has remained focused on steady implementation of program plans and has moved forward vigorously with strategic initiatives.

The President's Office

The shift from shared administration (with Mayville State University) to a single president on each campus was completed early in the decade and is described in detail in Chapter 3 (Concerns). VCSU was fortunate to retain the shared president, Dr. Chaffee, when that partnership was dissolved by the State Board of Higher Education.

Dr. Chaffee's immediate area of focus was development of the Foundation Office (new to VCSU in the 1990s) and some modest retrenchment efforts as enrollments and the economy both dipped. She also guided three major initiatives that have matured over the past five years to attract major enrollment:

* Based on an identified need in North Dakota for a four-year program in Fisheries and Wildlife Science, Dr. Chaffee encouraged the development of a new collaborative program with a two year school in the NDUS (Dakota College at Bottineau) that built on their program strength in this area to offer a 3 1 program. VCSU hired its first new faculty line in over a decade, initially using grant funding to support this program. The new major was approved in 2005, with Dr. Bob Anderson hired to develop the relationship with Dakota College, prepare the curriculum for VCSU, and recruit students. Today there are 65 students in this program and a second faculty member has been hired to support the necessary advising and instruction.

* In 2004, Dr. Chaffee worked with the Valley City Development Corporation to bring Eagle Creek, a company specializing in off-site support for Oracle software applications, to the Valley City area. As part of the agreement with this company, VCSU provided software-specific training for Eagle Creek's new employees, shortening the in-house training required to make them "billable" in approximately six months. In support of this training, Eagle Creek's CEO assisted Dr. Chaffee in securing state funding for a Center of Excellence, the Institute for Customized Business Solutions, later renamed Enterprise University (EU), which hired the instructors, furnished a computer lab, and provided some financial support for students.

Although the work of Enterprise University is done, the economic impact of Eagle Creek on the city continues to be significant, and Ken Behrendt, Eagle Creek's President, has indicated publicly that the training model was critical to the company's long-term success. In addition, the interactions with Eagle Creek helped VCSU develop two new certificates in enterprise applications, while the addition of a new faculty member (originally hired for the Eagle Creek program) brought contacts in the business world that resulted in VCSU's participation in the SAP University Alliance, curriculum upgrades, and improved programs in CRM, which are integrated throughout the business program.

* Given VCSU's strength in undergraduate teacher education, its faculty have long wished to develop graduate programs in education to better serve alumni in the K-12 teaching field who need continued professional education programs and who would find a master's degree beneficial. In early 2004, Dr. Chaffee and the Education faculty began an extended effort to establish such a program at VCSU. The State Board of Higher Education approved the addition of the new Master's of Education degree in 2005, and the Higher Learning Commission approved the change in 2005. In addition, the program has been reviewed and approved by NCATE during its last, regularly scheduled visit. As of August 2010, 80 students have graduated from the program; currently 156 graduate students are enrolled.

Dr. Chaffee's training and skill in strategic planning, apparent throughout her tenure, provided the basis for continued growth when she announced her plans to retire. During the year of the presidential search, Dr. Chaffee led the development of a campus growth plan in order to maintain momentum as the new president began his work, thus providing continuity for the first year of the new presidency. This plan targeted specific growth areas, provided funding for initiatives related to enrollment growth, and laid the groundwork for the addition of new athletic programs. The resulting enrollment increases over the past two years in music, elementary education (Wyoming program), health science, and athletics demonstrate the effectiveness of the plan.

Meanwhile, Dr. Steven W. Shirley was selected as the 12th VCSU President. A native North Dakotan, Dr. Shirley brought an understanding of North Dakota politics, economy, and culture that has made it possible for him to work effectively from his first days on campus. Dr. Shirley's experience at two other laptop campuses (University of Minnesota, Crookston and Dakota State University, Madison SD), gave him an immediate understanding of the academic culture at VCSU. He was soon immersed in the politics of the 2009 Legislative session; the initiatives and planning developed under Dr. Chaffee’s guidance meanwhile provided continuity, allowing Dr. Shirley to delay his own strategic planning initiatives until Fall 2009, when he was secure in his understanding of the campus and community issues. The new strategic plan, VCSU 2015, builds on the strategic initiatives of the former administration while also promoting much needed facility improvements and student academic services.

Changes in the Vice President Offices

Since 2002, VCSU has experienced several changes in the Vice President for Academic Affairs Office. After Dr. Wong left VCSU for the presidency at Northern Michigan in 2003, Dr. Chaffee chose to fill the vacant VPAA position with an interim for two years, a retired professor of education (Dr. James Wigtil) who was able to oversee the successful implementation of the new Graduate program. This change in VPAAs occurred at approximately the same time as Dr. Chaffee's transition to full-time presidency at VCSU, thus offering continuity through the additional administrative attention she was able to bring to campus. The two-year interim allowed VCSU to complete a full, national search for the next VPAA, hiring Dr. Joseph Bessie in 2006.

Dr. Bessie was influential in establishing the Growth Plan strategic initiatives and providing continuity as VCSU transitioned between presidents in 2008. When he decided to move to a similar position in Washington in 2009, Dr. Shirley filled the position with an internal interim, Dr. Margaret Dahlberg, whom he later named to the permanent position after conducting a national search. As a long-time professor and department chair, Dr. Dahlberg brought her knowledge of policy, campus culture, faculty and students to the position, allowing for seamless transition in the move forward to support a new STEM initiative and a number of new program articulations and collaborative ventures (described below).

The Vice President for Business Affairs position also experienced transition in 2006, when long-time comptroller and VPBA Bill Ament retired. The new VPBA, Trudy Collins, CPA, brought expertise in budget development and grant funding management, a new and growing funding area at VCSU; her care and attention to detail have brought VCSU praise from NDUS auditors.

Continuity during this period was also provided by the Vice President for Student Affairs, Glen Schmalz, who has held this position for 20 years, the Assistant Vice President for Academic Affairs, Dr. Terry Corwin, who has served the Academic Affairs Office in a variety of support positions over the past decade, and the CIO, Joseph Tykwinski, who has also held this position since the early 1990s. Their knowledge of campus culture and practice, and North Dakota University System expectations, has smoothed transitions and helped VCSU maintain the momentum for continued growth.

Program Development Builds Enrollment Growth

The Success II consultant report in 2002 identified enrollment growth as VCSU's key concern during the first decade of the 21st century, and virtually every major action and the fundamental principles of the 2007 strategic plan (the Growth Plan) respond to this issue. Growth has come to VCSU, generated by efforts to nurture relationships with other campuses and to develop or improve viable programs that meet regional needs, and by much needed facility upgrades.

Relationships with Others

Museum of Science Boston. In February 2008, VCSU signed an agreement with the Museum of Science Boston, National Center for Technological Literacy. This partnership provides access and input on curriculum development and revision to the most comprehensive STEM specific curriculum currently available. The curriculum was developed over the past six years with millions of support dollars and includes elementary, middle and secondary levels. This partnership has allowed VCSU to move forward quickly in developing curriculum for its STEM Education Center workshops and offered a solid basis for several successful grant applications. During its first year of operation, the STEM Education Center has offered 53 workshops for K-12 teachers and enrolled over 800 students in workshops and coursework.

Elementary Education in Wyoming. Valley City State University and Northwest Community College in Powell, Wyoming signed an articulation agreement in May 2008 that allowed the School of Education and Graduate Studies at VCSU to deliver the elementary education program to students at Northwest College in Powell, Wyoming. Contact with faculty from NWC helped the School of Education faculty identify the need for this articulation and interest in the program was evident from the start. Eight students expressed interest in the program and registered for classes in fall semester 2008. Three other Wyoming community colleges expressed interest in the elementary education program by fall semester 2008. Articulations were signed with Casper College in Casper, Wyoming in December, 2008, Eastern Wyoming College in March 2009 and Central Wyoming College in Riverton, Wyoming in April 2009. This past year two other Wyoming community colleges signed articulation agreements with VCSU: Western Wyoming Community College in December, 2010 and Laramie County Community College in February 2011.

This relationship was identified in the 2007 Growth Plan as an area of enrollment focus (Objective 1.3), although the impact was not estimated. Currently about 60 students from Wyoming are enrolled in the VCSU elementary education program.

Collaboration with Dakota College at Bottineau. In addition to these collaborations outside the state of North Dakota, VCSU has nurtured its relationship with colleges and universities within the state. The most notable relationship has been the various program agreements developed with Dakota College at Bottineau (DCB), a small two year campus in north central North Dakota. The success of the 3 1 Fisheries and Wildlife Science agreement, discussed above, has led to several more agreements, including participation in the Dakota Nursing Project, which allows local residents the opportunity to seek a Practical Nursing or Associate Degree Nursing qualification while staying in the Valley City community, and a college preparation program for students who do not meet VCSU entrance requirements, located on the VCSU campus, called "Bridges". Most recently, DCB and VCSU have reached an agreement allowing DCB to offer several two-year AAS degree programs on the VCSU campus, providing additional access to college programs for place-bound adults in the region, and articulations to move those students into baccalaureate programs upon completion of the two-year degree.

Campus Program Development

The Graduate Program, the Fisheries and Wildlife Science major, and STEM Education programs, all described above, are examples of new programs developed during the past decade that respond to regional needs and result in strong enrollment growth. In addition, the following programs are new to VCSU in the past decade and have brought with them enrollment growth and valuable program depth:

  • Health Science
  • Enterprise Applications (and the infusion of SAP software into the existing Business programs)
  • Psychology
  • Professional Communication
  • New Intercollegiate Athletic Programs (Golf, Track & Field, and Cross Country)
  • Prairie Waters Education and Research Center

Masterplanning and Facility Upgrades

The most recent Masterplanning update was completed in 2010, in preparation for the request to the North Dakota Legislature for the Rhoades Science Center renovation and addition. This $10.3 million renovation and expansion project, approved by the Legislature in April 2011, marks the first major building project on campus in over thirty years (since the Rhoades Science Center was completed in 1973). A number of maintenance projects during the last decade have kept the campus facilities safe, attractive, and accessible, including a boiler upgrade (2002), underground steamwork upgrades (2007-2009), Graichen Gym entry (2003), repairs to the W. E. Osmon Fieldhouse roof (2009) and Vangstad Auditorium balcony (2010), remodel of the data center (2009), north parking lots resurfacing (2009), Vangstad Auditorium lighting upgrade (2010), Vangstad Fire Escape replacement (2010), and a variety of necessary office, classroom, and IT upgrades.

Two renovations, however, have focused directly on student enrollment: the remodeling of two residence halls, Kolstoe Hall (2004) and Snoeyenbos Hall (2010) to provide a more appealing residential experience for on campus students. Both halls, built in 1967 and 1971, respectively, were upgraded to suites with private bathrooms and common areas. The two remaining residence halls, also built in the 1960s, have been maintained and refreshed with paint, carpet, and window improvements over the years; students choosing to live in one of these halls may forfeit a private bath but gain the comfort and privacy of a spacious single room.

The 2010 Masterplan identified several program needs which likely will receive attention in the coming biennium: the Department of Business, currently located in the basement of McFarland Hall, needs more visibility and a more modern setting, and the Learning Center, currently located in the basement of the Library, is growing past its temporary quarters, both in terms of usage and potential for program growth. A renovation predesign of Vangstad Hall offers potential solutions to both, and the Vangstad renovation project will be VCSU's number one priority budget request for the 2013-15 biennium. In addition, members of Student Senate along with a team of University officials, spent time evaluating Student Center space usage and needs this past year, and have employed architectural services to develop pre-design concepts for better use of Student Center space. Included in the discussions are remodeling of current space, consideration of adding space to the current structure, and repurposing areas within the current building.

The existing W.E. Osmon Fieldhouse and adjacent Lokken stadium and football and softball fields make up the athletic facilities on campus. In order to accommodate growth in both the number of sports programs and the number of student athletes, the 2010 master plan included a predesign for expanded and renovated athletic space. The resulting design focused on four components: a fitness and wellness addition to be accessible by all students, staff and faculty; renovated academic and administrative office and classroom space in the existing fieldhouse; an addition to house locker rooms and an athlete-specific weight training room; and construction of a multi purpose addition to the fieldhouse to be used by all sports programs and intramurals.

In the summer of 2010, a decision was made to install artificial turf on the football field. The concept of artificial turf was introduced in the 2008 Masterplan as part of a comprehensive plan for athletics facilities. The grass surface at the football field dated back to the 1960s and was in poor condition due to the unevenness of the surface and lack of a crown for proper drainage. The VCSU Foundation successfully raised $815,000 to fund the majority of the project to correct the crown and install artificial turf. The installation of the turf in Summer 2011 significantly modernizes this facility and will provide a better experience for VCSU students. Artificial turf will also provide opportunities for use by other sports programs in the spring when grass fields are still covered in snow.