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Have a say Wednesday at ETSU town hall

Rex Barber • Feb 25, 2013 at 9:15 AM

If you want to speak to East Tennessee State University’s president about what programs the school should start, what you think about Buc athletics, what priorities the school should focus on in the coming decades or anything else, Wednesday is your chance.

ETSU will host a town hall meeting as part of President Brian Noland’s Committee for 125 effort from 4-6 p.m. at the Millennium Centre. Noland will be present, as will members of the committee’s various task forces, which includes athletics, health sciences, marketing and more.

“From my perspective, the hope and the intent of this town hall meeting is to gain the perspective, insights and observations of individuals from across the community about their dreams, visions, aspirations and opinions of ETSU,” Noland said in a recent interview.

The Committee for 125 was formed in 2012 to develop a plan to guide ETSU to where the school should be at its 125th anniversary in 2036. This “ETSU 125” process resulted in the work of six task forces that was presented in December. At this meeting it was recommended ETSU should pursue a football team, a school of dentistry, push the arts and establish some new programs on campus, among other initiatives.

The community, which includes everyone, will have the chance to voice their concerns about those initiatives and other things to Noland and other administrators.

“ETSU is the fabric that ties together East Tennessee, that ties together the region beyond East Tennessee; Southwest Virginia, Western North Carolina,” Noland said. “So from my perspective, everyone within that area has an interest and we welcome their feedback and input on where we are as an institution and where they’d like to see us go.”

This is the step before the Committee for 125’s work is complete later this spring.

Everything related to the Committee for 125 process can be accessed at etsu.edu/125/. Noland hopes Wednesday’s town hall discussion involves the breadth of the work the committee has done.

“It’s my hope that once people really have a chance to digest the diversity of things that are included within the work of the Committee for 125, I think we’re going to have a conversation on some of the academic initiatives, such as the things we’re looking at with arts, the things we’re looking at potentially with engineering,” he said. “I think there will be conversation around athletics, but more than just one sport. I think there will be conversations around the Olympic training facility and I really hope that within the conversation around athletics there will be discussion on how do we get the community engaged with us on campus and how do we do a better job of engaging with the community?”

Since December’s recommendations, administrators have been working with various consultants who have been busy on campus examining all facets of the university, including budgeting, marketing and branding, fundraising and alumni and peer institution selection.

The next step in this “visioning” process for ETSU is the town hall meeting. The Committee for 125 will meet again to digest the reports from the consultants and feedback from the town hall and other meetings that have been held with regional employers these past three months before producing a final ETSU 125 report.

Job creation and economic development is central to the Committee for 125, but it also touches on the size of ETSU both in student population and program offerings, Noland said. As part of the ETSU 125 process, administrators and consultants have held meetings with local employers to determine what they are seeking in 21st century graduates.

“We’ve held five separate roundtables, getting their inputs on what they see as emerging job and business and industry needs, what are we as a university doing well in preparing students for the work force, and what are the things they’d like to see us focus on as we prepare students for the work force?” Noland said.

While technology savvy students are strongly desired, it became clear that employers wanted students to get that well-rounded traditional liberal arts education, as well.

“The nuts and bolts of it is people who can work well together in teams, who can write, who have critical thinking skills and who are reliable,” Noland said. “There’s just not enough individuals, from what we’ve heard, who have all of those things moving into the marketplace.”

Noland would welcome input Wednesday from the community regarding potential new programs at ETSU. In fact, there have been suggestions left via the ETSU 125 website established just for that process.

Some of the ideas people have suggested include dentistry, nurse anesthesia, physician assistant, engineering and a law school.

“If there are things people would like to see provided at ETSU, next week’s an opportunity to lift your voice and be heard,” Noland said, adding that the ETSU 125 process is at the halfway point and community feedback is critical to ensure everyone has had a chance for input regarding the future of ETSU.

“We could have done this in a month and a half but it wouldn’t have had community support both internal and external and that’s what we’re hoping to achieve — broad-based support for the institution,” he said.

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