VP of Academic Affairs

» SPSU Home / Vice President Academic Affairs / The Weekly Blab / The Weekly Blab 5.14

The Weekly Blab 5.14

The Weekly Blab

Volume 5, Issue 14—November 29, 2010


Time Moves Quickly…

I can’t believe how quickly the semester has gone, that Thanksgiving is over, and the holiday season is almost on us.  Chanukah comes pretty early this year—December 1.  Soon thereafter is Al-Hijra (also called Muharram, the Islamic New Year), on December 7, and Bodhi Day (the day that the Buddha gained enlightenment) is on December 8.  And of course, there is Christmas on the 25th, unless you belong to one of the Orthodox Churches, in which case it comes on January 7.  So, a happy season to all, and may all of your holidays be bright.


The times haven’t been happy for Chelsea lately—they’ve lost three out of their last five games and only tied 1-1- with Newcastle United on Sunday, dropping into second place (by two points) behind the hated Manchester United, tied with Arsenal.  The next few weeks will tell the tale, with some big games coming up. 


Jill, Mark and I had a nice Thanksgiving, doing very little except hanging out and getting some rest.  Getting rid of the jet lag coming back from China was a little more difficult for me than normal—I thought I was rid of it, but then couldn’t get to sleep easily until Friday.  So, the break came at just the right time.


Around Campus

I hope everyone has had a chance to see the new buildings and construction.  Our Electrical, Mechanical, and Mechatronics colleagues have moved (or are about to) into the Engineering Technology Center, and a beautiful building it is.  Jeff Ray (Dean, ETM), who helped oversee the ETM project, gave me a grand tour on Monday, and I got to see the (nearly) completed offices and labs and all the funky new furniture.  Especially snazzy are the chairs in the collaboration labs and project labs.  I understand that the punch list is still mighty long at this point, so there’s still stuff to do.  The Studio Building (I-2) also looks great, with its combination of indoor and outdoor studios, rooftop meeting spaces, auditorium, piazza, and interesting elevator connection to I-1.  We’ll see how long the students’ backs hold out in the auditorium seating.  The Savannah Walk (the walkway between I-2 and K, connecting J with the new residence halls, dining hall, and the ETC) also looks great, and will be even nicer when the trees come into bloom in a few months.  The façade of Building I-2 is especially interesting, with the “rotating” brick design.  Also new, the seating in H-200 has finally been replaced—the attached swing seats that were so uncomfortable (and often damaged) have been replaced with rolling chairs like in H-203.  The room should be much more usable now.


Something else that was mighty cool was the successful testing of the well cap that was designed and built by student Jim Baltimore, tech Kevin Starks, and Prof. Kenton Fleming (both MET).  The project was overseen by Russ Hunt (Dean of EU).  On the 24th, at the parking lot by the new parking deck, they opened a fire hydrant and a 50-foot plume of water gushed up at a higher differential pressure than present during the gulf oil leak.  The well cap was lowered from a crane, and quickly stopped the flow.  You can see a WSB-TV video of this here, or read the MDJ account of the test here.


More Photos from China

I downloaded the pictures from China this past week, and thought I’d share a few of them here.

Rich Bennett (SIS), Mark Nunes (ETCMA), and Zvi at Tibetan Lama Temple, Beijing.

Rich Bennett (SIS), Mark Nunes (ETCMA), and me at Tibetan Lama Temple, Beijing.


A snowy day at the formal garden, Palace of the Puppet-Emperor, Changchun

A snowy day at the formal garden, Palace of the Puppet-Emperor, Changchun.



Another dinner extravaganza with the folks from the NENU School of Humanities and Sciences.

Another dinner extravaganza with the folks from the NENU School of Humanities and Sciences.


Entrance gate to old campus, Guanxi Normal University, Gualin.

Entrance gate to old campus, Guanxi Normal University, Gualin.  I’m told that the new entranceway to SPSU will look something like this.


Graduation Rates

I know I’ve talked about graduation rates in several previous issues of the Blab, but it’s an important topic, so here I go again.  As everyone should know by now, the Board of Regents are focusing on graduation rates of first-time full-time freshmen, even to the point of possibly changing the university system’s funding formula to focus more on graduation and less on enrollment.  This could really harm SPSU, because our graduation rates are at the lower end of the USG’s comprehensive universities.


I know all the explanations—in fact, I’ve made them myself.  First-time freshmen make up only a small fraction of our enrollment.   Our degree programs are much harder than the USG average.  Many of our students get jobs and don’t graduate.  Some of our best students transfer to Georgia Tech.  There’s not enough financial aid.  Our students tend to be the first in their families to go to college.  All of these are true and none of them matter, because we’re still going to be judged on our graduation rates for this cohort of students.


We’ve already done a lot of good things that should improve our graduation rates.  Our new degree programs, new facilities, new professional advisors, a greater emphasis on advising by all faculty, and our QEP project to form learning communities with our students and have them prepare 2-year graduation plans will all help.  I would guess that the cumulative effect of these will improve our rates from the current 30% or so to 35-40%, but that won’t be good enough.  While this is going to take some very heavy lifting, we’re going to need to raise the graduation rates to 60%, without compromising our rigor and quality


Over the course of the next semester, I’ll be meeting individually with the departments to discuss how we can accomplish this graduate rate improvement and what the roadblocks are.  Fair warning--I’ll be looking for pragmatic ideas (and we will fund those ideas), and each department will be expected to develop its own graduation rate improvement plan with specific goals.  While we have some challenges that the flagship universities don’t face, our students and faculty are as talented (or more talented) than theirs.  If UGA and Georgia Tech can graduate 70+% of their students, we can certainly do 60%.  Lots more on this in the future.


This Week’s Trivia Challenge

The usual rules apply, and the usual prize results!  This week’s topic is presidents.


1.  What president also won a Pulitzer prize?

2.  Who was the first president to not be reelected?

3.  More presidents were born in Virginia than any other state.  What state is second?

4.  What president served two terms, but not consecutively?

5.  Which president fits the following facts:

  • He had the largest feet of any president (size 14!)
  • He lost all the white house china, gambling at cards
  • He was the first president to hire a speech-writer
  • At a time when the Ku Klux Klan had its highest ever membership, he supported anti-lynching bills and wanted to appoint African-Americans to federal positions.
  • He maintained a room near the Oval Office for “quick liaisons”
  • When he died, his wife would not allow an autopsy.


Last Week’s Trivia Challenge—There wasn’t one!