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Trustees Hear Upbeat Reports on New Research Facility, Capital Campaign, Student Learning

Williams Hall in snow
Photo: Sally McCay

At its February meeting, UVM’s Board of Trustees gave the green light to campus leaders to continue planning and design for an ambitious Larner College of Medicine-Department of Psychological Sciences joint building project, got an upbeat report on UVM’s $500 million capital campaign and received a positive update on a recent initiative to assess student learning.

The Larner College of Medicine-Psychological Sciences proposal, which the board first learned of at its October 2017 meeting, includes a complete renovation of the Given Building and the construction of an integrated new research facility. Under the plan, the Psychological Sciences Department would move from its current location in Dewey Hall, which is in significant need of renovation.

Since the October meeting, much progress has been made, said Rick Morin, dean of the medical college, who led the presentation. Arts and Sciences dean Bill Falls, Bob Vaughan, director of capital planning, and Tom Gustafson, vice president for university relations and administration, also provided board members with information and answered questions.

In November, more than 40 design professional visited campus, Morin said. The university received 11 proposals in December. In January, architectural firms were interviewed and a winner was selected, Payette-Black River Design.

Schematic design for the project has begun. The work will be far enough long that the team expects to be able to present a budget to the board at its October 2018 meeting.

In addition to upgrading the university’s research capabilities, Morin said,the project will eliminate $41 million in deferred maintenance on Dewey and Given, increase the facilities reimbursement in our federal research grants and reduce Given’s cooling and heating loads by 50 percent.

UVM Foundation CEO Shane Jacobson shared the positive news with trustees that UVM’s capital campaign is a year ahead of schedule and should surpass its goal of $500 million midyear. The Foundation will then go into “stretch” mode, Jacobson said, in an attempt to surpass its initial goal by focusing on donor investments in yet-unfunded campaign initiatives. The campaign will conclude on June 30, 2019.

Jacobson laid out the four categories of the campaign with the funds they had attracted as of late January: $73 million for student scholarships and financial aid; $59 million for endowed chairs and professorships; $59 million for facilities support; and $277 million of investment in academic program support.

Trustees also heard good news from Brian Reed, associate provost for teaching and learning, on the progress of the university’s efforts to assess student learning outcomes in UVM’s four general education focus areas:  Foundational Writing and Information Literacy, Diversity, Sustainability and Quantitative Reasoning.

Reed explained the four Gen Ed requirements are in different stages of implementing direct and indirect assessments of student learning outcomes.  Indirect assessments include methods such as student focus groups and interviews of faculty, while direct assessments directly measure student performance. 

Reed spent much of his presentation describing the assessment of Foundational Writing and Information Literacy (FWIL) because it is the first general education requirement to have completed a large scale direct assessment of student learning outcomes.  This work has been conducted under the leadership of Libby Miles, director of the FWIL program, with support from Jennifer Dickinson, Provost’s Faculty Fellow for Assessment and Alex Yin, director of institutional research. 

In 2016-17, FWIL's assessment focus was on its information literacy outcome. The methods included student focus groups, faculty interviews and measures of student performance as rated by faculty using a scoring rubric. Twenty-two faculty rated 241 student writing samples from FWIL courses. Overall, the results indicated that students were achieving the desired outcomes.

The results also indicated some specific areas for change and improvement. For example, students who scored less than 2.5 were found to have difficulty with transitions in their writing and with developing their ideas. These are teachable skills, Reed said, and show how a well designed direct assessment can inform pedagogical and curricular revision.         

The other Gen Ed  requirements are making good progress in assessing their learning outcomes, Reed said. All of them are implementing indirect assessments, and the Diversity requirement is about to launch a direct assessment modeled after the FWIL program’s.  Sustainability and Quantitative Reasoning will be following close behind.           

In other board news:

Education Policy and Institutional Resources Committee

  • New degrees in the following areas were approved by the EPIR committee: a new Master of Science in Biomedical Engineering in the College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences in conjunction with the Graduate College; a new Master of Science in Engineering Management in the College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences in conjunction with the Graduate College; a new Ph.D. in Complex Systems and Data Science in the College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences in conjunction with the Graduate College; a new major and minor in Health and Society in the College of Arts and Sciences; a new Master of Professional Studies (MPS) degree; a request by the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources in conjunction with the Graduate College to change the existing Leadership for Sustainability Concentration in the Master of Science in Natural Resources to a separate Master of Professional Studies in Leadership for Sustainability; a new undergraduate certificate in Integrative Healthcare and a new Continuing and Distance Education certificate in Integrative Healthcare in the College of Nursing and Health Sciences and Continuing and Distance Education.

Business, Finance and Investment Committee

  • UVM Foundation CEO Shane Jacobson updated committee members on the fundraising progress related to capital projects. More than $8 million of the $11 million-non-debt goal and total project cost of Ifshin Hall has been committed as of December 31, 2017.  Jacobson shared that the pipeline continues to show promise to reach the goal. In regard to the STEM facility, which will be funded by a mix of private gifts and non-debt funding, Jacobson said that the Foundation had commitments and receipts totaling $10.5 million, and that the donor pipeline has a stretch capacity remaining in the $7-8 million range.
  • $1.5 million in cash receipts and pledges that have been received by the UVM Foundation to support the project will be used by project managers to complete the design development phase and initial permit applications. In addition, the university will seek an additional $2 million from the Board in May, contingent on the Foundation being able to raise the equivalent amount, to complete the construction documents.
  • Committee members also authorized funding for the $3 million Billings Building Envelope Restoration Project and the $2.9 million Torrey Building Envelope Restoration Project. Funds for both project will be drawn from unrestricted deferred maintenance funds that currently exist in the Physical Plant budget.
  • Committee members were updated on the status of the UVM endowment, which had a stronger than expected finish to the year thanks to a surging FY 2017 stock market. As of December 31, the endowment stood at $528 million, excluding the value of donated real estate.
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