Making and Sustaining Change
Consideration of context
When reflecting upon the changing character of higher education in Wisconsin, especially in terms of the time span of this grant, one must also take into consideration the changing structure of the UW system institutions. First, in 2015, the UW colleges regionalized; that is, several colleges were in essence "lumped together" to share resources and administration. Unfortunately, what suffered most was recruitment for the smaller campuses such as Manitowoc and Marinette. Enrollments shrank by 50% or more at Manitowoc. Then in 2017, the UW system president announced the merger of the colleges with several four-year comprehensives in an effort to reduce costs and increase potential enrollment possibilities and in general make the entire system more in line with the desires and needs of the state. This is where we are at this point in time. Now enter two additional factors.
1. Lower reproductive rates within Wisconsin coupled with lower immigration rates, reduces the potential for current and future students--in other words the demographics have changed. Currently, Wisconsin is looking at a drop in traditionally aged students of 15+% for the foreseeable future.
2. Lower unemployment rates have reduced the potential for high school aged freshmen coming to school. As has been indicated in research associated with 2-year and community colleges, when unemployment rates are down so are the enrollments.
Efforts to address the issue of declining enrollments as well as re-establish positive relations with the communities and the northeast region in general are currently underway. Many of the communities associated with the individual campuses have become wary of the new "merging." For instance, in the area of individual campus foundation continued support of faculty and students through research funding and scholarships. At the Manitowoc campus, we have a scholarship that is awarded annually to a promising geography/geology/geoscience student. The campus foundation was reluctant to continue to award this scholarship until they were given adequate reassurance that they would remain a separate entity from UW Green Bay Foundation.
Things that worked well that we would do again
The fall workshops went well in general. The small gatherings were a time for reconnecting and also exploring what is going on at other institutions. Thus the possibility of providing opportunities for collaboration were encouraged and enhanced. For most faculty, whether in the geosciences or in other disciplines, the time needed to re-charge and re-connect is vital for maintaining the desired level of teaching. As most of the faculty at our campuses are "stand-alone"--that is there are no others in that discipline available for collaboration, the workshops provided that space and time for gathering. It is one thing to be connected online; it is another to connect face to face.
Supporting faculty change
1. Our first workshop, "Not Just Rocks! We Know Other Stuff, Too! Geosciences in the Modern World," was designed to connect the geographers and the geologists within the colleges to provide some methods for enhancing their teaching but also encourage that collaboration that would be necessary to really maintain connection throughout the year. We followed up on this at the spring meeting of the department within the colleges.
2. Our second workshop, "What does the geoscience landscape look like in the Badger State?" was designed to connect with geographers and geologists at the 4-year comprehensives. Again the design of the workshop was to give the attendees an opportunity to collaborate and communicate with each other. The workshop utilized some of the teaching methods we had learned to help faculty participants interact with each other. The workshop happened right after the merger of the 2-year and 4-year institutions was announced. Thus this workshop was also a time to explore all that might mean. The follow-up activity in the spring included sharing of the "SAGE Musings" blog posts and also one last interaction with the UW colleges department as an entity.
3. Our third workshop, "Re-imagining geoscience education in Wisconsin," was designed to connect with surviving geographers and geologists within the UW system. Some of the institutions were in the midst of significant change, such as eliminating the geoscience programs. Attendees did include administrative personnel from our new receiving institution, UW Green Bay. Considerable attention was paid to increasing enrollment (UWGB was the only UW system school to see any increase for the current year--2018-2019). Subjects such as inclusivity and diversity of student body were addressed.
Strategies for overcoming challenges
It is sometimes possible to anticipate challenges; sometimes that is much more difficult. Regardless of whether one can can see them coming or not, don't be afraid to ask for advice, guidance, or just plain old encouragement. Any change process involves by its very nature uncharted waters. The largest-scale challenges usually encompass the early planning stage -- determining what kind of change is desirable and possible, and then figuring out the resources and skills required to carry it out. Develop a network of change-friendly individuals (we've been given a "boost" by having a network grow out of our involvement with the Faculty as Change Agents project), but once a person starts pursuing change, one may start attracting the attention of like-minded individuals within her/his own institution.
It is indeed true that (t)here are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy, but get enough peoples' "philosophies" involved and someone is bound to have experience with a parallel challenge. I believe this works just as well with smaller-scale procedural challenges, when the toughest thing is finding a rational "next-step" to keep the project moving forward.
For example, I struggled mightily with the original posting of the Outcomes Assessment Data by becoming overly concerned about how the transition of the UW Colleges into branch campuses of 4-year institutions would skew the numbers we were collecting. I've always been a reluctant pioneer when I didn't comprehend how something could possibly work out. Fortunately, after discussing my issues with members of the project leadership team, as well as my colleagues from other states, I was able to eventually emerge from the fog of my own anxiety and realize that while not a perfect situation, moving forward with the reality of our situation would yield some interesting results that could be of some use.
Things to think about before you start this type of project / Sustained impacts
We've thought from the beginning that the SAGE 2YC: Faculty as Change Agents project was very wise to include high-level administrators as part of each "team." Not only are they often experienced educators and can frequently access resources more easily that others, but they also have to almost constantly refer to the perspective of the institution's goals and objectives. Witnessing this in practice over the past few years, it has become clear that one should involve a high-level administrator in at least an advisory role early in the planning process. It would be difficult to conceive of a project to improve the delivery and accessibility of the geosciences on a campus that does not align in some way with either the permanent mission of the institution or some short-term initiative's goals. The guidance offered by a high-level administrator can ensure that such an alignment is clearly articulated in the project's goals.
In doing so, the chances of institutionalizing changes that make a permanent impression on the academic affairs of a department or campus are greatly enhanced.