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CUP Presidential Candidate Urban Discusses Student Interaction, Enrollment, Retention

Thursday, March 8, 2018 @ 11:03 AM

Posted by Aly Delp

dr-urbanCLARION, Pa. (EYT) – Dr. David Urban, Dean of Jennings A. Jones College of Business at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, spoke at an open forum on Wednesday afternoon sponsored by the Clarion University Presidential Search Committee.

Urban is one of three candidates vying for the open position of Clarion University President.

According to Urban’s curriculum vitae, his education includes a Ph.D. in Business Administration with a Marketing Concentration from the University of Michigan—Ann Arbor, and his experience ranges from Chair of the Department of Marketing in the School of Business at Virginia Commonwealth University (2008-2009) to his current position as Dean of Jennings A. Jones College of Business at Middle Tennessee State University, a position he has held for the last five years.

In Urban’s opening statement, he told the story of a visit to the Disney Institute, the training arm of Disney. He and his colleagues were hoping to gain insight that they could use to improve their administrative roles. What they found was that Disney is always looking for ways to create “the magic” and wondered how they could apply that to academia. Ask any Disney employee, their guide said, from the highest management down to the janitorial staff and they will all tell you the same thing: their job is to create entertainment experiences for their guests that will never be forgotten, one that can even be “transformational.” The guide proceeded to point out that their jobs were actually quite similar: they need to focus on creating an academic experience which students will never forget, an experience that will transform students.

In the advertisement for the president’s position at Clarion, Urban said it was the emphasis on the transformational impact on students that drew him to the position.

Using Clarion as a model, Urban highlighted the following focus areas:

– Communication: particularly improving communication processes
– Learning: using innovative approaches to teaching and learning
– Administration: bringing a range of administrative experience and skill at different levels
– Resources: bringing experience and success in bringing in grants and other resources
– Inspiration: generating specific positive change through inspiration
– Online and Other Modalities: making sure every experience is as good as a traditional campus experience
– Neighbors: bringing a record of community engagement and involvement

When asked what he would do to help Clarion University “get back on track” in terms of collaboration, Urban said, “What I have to do is make sure I get the word out to people and when it comes to what’s happening in the university, my experience is that most faculty and staff, even if they disagree with what I’m saying, appreciate being given the straight scoop about the type of situations we face.”

He continued, “If I were a faculty member, I would appreciate having a president who does not criticize, condemn, or complain because that creates a negative aura that repels people. People don’t want to be around people who are negative; they want to be around people who are positive. The president has to be able to demonstrate that to the university community at large. The president has to be able to make people feel important and to do it sincerely, and one of the ways to do that is by taking a genuine interest in the other people at the university and by showing them honest and sincere appreciation.”

Noting that Urban continues to teach in his current role as Dean, an audience member asked what he has learned from his students. Urban said he believes that in an administrative position, as Dean or as President, it is essential to continue to teach, at least periodically, to keep in touch with the students, and for some insight into their lives.

“One of the things I’ve learned from my students is how much stress they are under and how challenging it is for them to go to school in this day and age,” said Urban.

“And, I have a student profile that is very similar to Clarion; most of our students come from about a two hour radius, a lot of first-generation college students, a lot of students who are on Pell grants, a lot of students who are working one, two, sometimes three part-time jobs to support themselves while they’re in school.”

Urban continued, “They don’t get a lot of sleep, and they work really, really hard. And you know, for as much as they have to deal with, they complain very, very little. But that’s inspirational for me because when I go out and talk with people in business about why they should be recruiting my students, I can tell them: they’re not spoiled.”

As in previous candidate forums, the issues of arts and athletics came up in several questions.

Urban addressed the important role the arts have played in his personal life. He shared that his daughter is currently working toward a Ph.D. in English Literature, and also previously minored in Theater during her undergraduate work. His son is a musician who plays six instruments. Urban believes that his son’s success at the university is directly related to his experience in the university marching band.

He stressed the role of the arts in helping students build the “soft skills” that many employers want to see in employees.

“What we’re talking about in terms of soft skills, what [employers] really want are people who can write, and think, and speak. They want people who can work in teams. They want people who have the ability to build and maintain relationships with real people, one-on-one. And, they also want people who have the right attitude toward the world of work and who have those critical thinking skills,” Urban said.

He also talked about his role in the establishment of the da Vinci Center for Innovation in Virginia. He spoke of a collaborative effort involving Business, Engineering, and the Arts. In these classes, students worked on real product development for real companies, while the companies paid to support the center and the students. Collaborative ventures between business interests and the university, Urban noted, is a way to bring in new revenue while also expanding programs offered to students.

Bringing in resources was a topic hit upon again regarding athletics at the university. Although Urban said he would need to take time to look further into Clarion’s current circumstances, he also said he would commit to working on developing fundraising activities, campaigning for athletics on campus, and doing what he can to help bring in more resources.

Regarding his approach to helping nontraditional students — returning adults, veterans, and transfer students — Urban cited his experience working with programs that give these students a chance to use prior learning or experience credits to help them earn a degree in a timely manner, with less red tape and fewer strings attached.

As for strategies to increase enrollment and retention, Urban stated, “If we accept somebody into our university, then we have made a commitment to that student, to help that student to get through our program with a degree. And so, in some cases, that means that we have to provide additional services to those students.”

He cited programs in Youngstown that include increased academic advising, tutoring, better financial aid counseling, and improved professional development programs.

“I had a marketing research faculty member who did a bunch of surveys, focus groups, and exit interviews with students who were leaving even though they hadn’t finished their degree,” he said. “And you know the number one thing they said about why they were leaving? ‘Nobody here cares enough about whether I finish or not. Nobody cares.’ So we have to make sure that we communicate that we do care.”

Regarding enrollment, he also said he promotes an “inside-out” marketing philosophy.

“It’s not just me being a good ambassador or a good cheerleader. It’s not just hiring an ad agency to do some promotion for us. You know, I’ve always believed that marketing, when it comes to attracting people to what we do, is an inside-out philosophy. What I mean by that,” Urban explained, “is in my research leading up to my appearance here today, I came across the branding document for Clarion University, online.”

Urban continued, “It’s about a thirty-four-page document. If you have never read that document, you need to read it. If you’ve read it before, you need to read it again, and again, and again. Because at a lot of universities, the branding book, the branding document is a style book. These are the colors that we use, here are the numbers, here are the typefaces we use, here are the symbols and logos that we use…but this is much more than that.”

“I’m going to tell you, I know it costs a lot of money to pay the consultant to do this, but this is a research-driven, research-based examination of who we are and what we are all about here at Clarion University. It doesn’t just rehash the mission and the vision, although those are very important; it talks about the brand promise. It talks about the words, ‘courageous, confident, Clarion’, and it is unmistakable that those words aren’t just something that came out of nowhere, they’re not just a catchphrase. They really stand for what we do here.”

The two other candidates for the open position of Clarion University President – Dr. Robert (Bob) Glenn and Dr. Martin Abraham—each spoke at previous forums.

Dr. Glenn, president of Athens State University in Athens, Alabama, spoke at an open forum on Monday, February 26, focusing much of his opening statement and many of his answers on community and communication.

Dr. Abraham, Provost of Youngstown State University in Youngstown, Ohio, spoke at an open forum on Monday, March 5, and focused a good portion of his opening statement and several of his answers on enrollment and access education.

RELATED

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CUP Presidential Candidate Glenn Discusses Communication, Community, and the Future of Clarion University

CUP Presidential Candidate Sees Clarion as a Great Opportunity, Plans to Focus on Enrollment, Access Education


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