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Thursday, April 28th, 2011 - 3:10 pm

Ascending to the next level

Ascending to the Next Level

Cohen has nurtured a strategic vision of Purdue Calumet as NW Indiana’s high quality, full service regional university

By WES LUKOSHUS
Wes Lukoshus is Assistant Vice Chancellor for Advancement/University Relations and Editor of Purdue Calumet INSIGHT magazine

He came here with a vision. Some 10 years later, vision has given way to reality.

When Howard Cohen leaves his third floor, Lawshe Hall office June 30 for the last time as Purdue University Calumet’s Chancellor, presumably, his mind will reflect on a decade of unparalleled advancements in the history of an institution that has transitioned and transformed under his leadership.

When he arrived in July of 2001, Purdue Calumet was a commuter campus trying to shed a “Purdue extension” label that continued to define the university in the minds of many Northwest Indiana residents. He aspired that Purdue Calumet would achieve to the next level of excellence—that of a high quality, full service, regional university.

Purdue Calumet’s fifth campus leader earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in philosophy at the University of Minnesota and Harvard, respectively. He cut his higher educational administrative teeth at places such as the University of Massachusetts-Boston, the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. He impressed a search committee, as well as then-Purdue President Martin Jischke as a capable leader and foresighted strategic planner.

Plotting a plan of progress

He and his wife, Patti, were still in the process of moving into their university residence when the new Chancellor joined the campus’ Strategic Planning Committee in the crucial and arduous task of plotting a multi-year plan of progress and direction for Purdue Calumet.

With skills of persistence, diplomacy, collaboration, patience, persuasion and prudence, it didn’t take long for him to assert himself. When that five-year, 2001-06 Strategic Plan rolled out with the following goals – Improve Student Success, Promote and Support Faculty/Staff Excellence, Develop a High Performance Learning Environment, and Expand Our Partnership Role for Advancing Positive Chance & Economic Growth in Northwest Indiana – it quickly became apparent that attention to those goals would drive the manner in which Purdue Calumet and its people conducted business.

Chancellor Cohen with students
His approach to advancing Northwest Indiana has involved young and old alike.

His steadfast vision, consistent efforts and limitless energy would blaze new and distinguished trails for Purdue Calumet. Construction of an off-campus learning center in south Lake County; development of campus-based student housing; introduction of experiential learning; a commitment to student success; and decisions to ramp up admission standards, expand the athletics program, enhance campus community and encourage greater outreach engagement paint a revealing picture of Purdue Calumet during the Cohen years.

Emphasis on student success

Among several, key objectives of his administration, student success—persisting to graduation—has been at the top of the list.

National data that supports a relationship between residential student status and degree completion fueled the decision to develop campus-based student housing that offers accommodations for nearly 750 students. That action has been the cornerstone of efforts to build a vibrant campus community.

Additionally, with a track record of more rigorous admission standards going hand in hand with college students intent on graduating, the Cohen years have seen Purdue Calumet introduce a process of increasing minimum admission standards incrementally over a multi-year period. The action has contributed to a 9.5 percent rate increase that has raised freshman-to-sophomore year retention to 69 percent, and a 17 percent gain in the university’s six-year graduation rate. What’s more, the average SAT verbal-math combined score of entering Purdue Calumet freshmen has jumped from 980 to 1,037.

Even the decision to expand the university’s athletics program from two to 12 sports teams has a student success focus to it. A larger, more robust sports program better positions Purdue Calumet to attract desirable students who also want to continue participating in athletics.

Plenty else on his plate

Less impactful, but hardly insignificant footprints he has left include those of championing construction of a campus parking garage, advancing emergency preparedness, improving campus signage and drawing from Northwest Indiana’s proud, rich ethnicity to introduce a cultural program series that builds community through the arts.

In an effort to attract
prepared students who
go on to graduate, the
Cohen years have
embraced academic
quality.

Chancellor Cohen engaging with student
Engaging with students and seeing them persist to graduation has been especially rewarding.

He also backed various student amenities—notably, development of the Calumet Falls student lounge in the Student Union & Library and the Gyte learning commons. He also recognized the importance of effective branding and advocated transparent and consistent communication with university constituents.

Dealing with the tough stuff head on

His style has been one of prompt and decisive, yet thoughtful decision-making, and that includes the difficult calls.

When extensive academic deficiencies decimated the men’s basketball squad in December of 2006, many institutions would have opted to play out the schedule with intramural players. To Cohen, however, that would have sent the wrong message. So he directed the team to shut down for the rest of the season. Transparently, mistakes were acknowledged, scrutinized and assessed. A plan was implemented to fix what was broken, and Purdue Calumet used the occasion to reiterate its commitment to academics and a renewed athletic program comprised of student-athletes.

Academic positives & milestones

Over the past 10 years, Purdue Calumet positives have far outweighed the negatives. The Cohen administration has overseen the implementation of 13 new degree programs and 29 program options in response to the needs and desires of Northwest Indiana. The new programs include several of an online nature with others in the offing, movements that will help define 21st century higher education, he has said.

To help Purdue Calumet keep current academically, Cohen has placed high value on advisory committees comprised of alumni and other respected, professional insiders. Since 2001, the number of academic advisory committees has more than doubled (17 to 39), while membership has nearly tripled (184 to 527).

Another milestone of his administration has come in the form of the largest monetary gift awarded to Purdue Calumet: $5 million from the Dean & Barbara White and Bruce & Beth White Family Foundations. The gift is being used to enhance the hospitality and tourism management undergraduate program, renamed the Purdue University Calumet White Lodging Center for Hospitality and Tourism Management.

Campus-community engagement

The Cohen years have encouraged engagement between campus and community. Applied faculty research activities have increased.

When local, high tech and business incubators such as the Purdue Technology Center of Northwest Indiana and the Hammond INnovation Center surfaced, Cohen encouraged faculty and students to lend their expertise and hands-on assistance to start-up businesses.

Student Housing
Constructing student housing was embraced as a strategy for enhancing student success and building campus community.

Opportunities for talented faculty and ambitious students eager to apply their learning in response to community needs have inspired development of nine university outreach Centers and Institutes. These units are engaging in applied research and making significant contributions relating to water, energy, 3-D visualization and virtual reality technologies, evidenced-based nursing, high-speed packaging, science and technology education, global issues, social and policy research, and mathematics teaching and learning.

Signature achievement: experiential learning

The dynamics of such applied research and real world learning, involving faculty, students and community partners also have evolved, arguably, into the signature achievement of the Cohen years: an innovative, experiential learning program. Success of the program has required patient leadership, committed faculty, collaborative community partners, and devoted adherence to standards set by the National Society of Experiential Education.

Faculty members have incorporated experiential learning into 119 courses across all academic programs. More than 1,500 students have learned experientially through internships, undergraduate research, senior projects and study abroad, to name a few.

International influence

Among other fruit-bearing partnerships of the Cohen years are those that have been cultivated half way across the world, notably in China. Influenced by the worldwide, Purdue reputation, those partnerships have generated a groundswell of international students. Aside from helping raise the bar of academic excellence, international students at Purdue Calumet have contributed to priceless cultural experiences that enrich the lives of local and global learners alike.

The growing number of international students—600+ currently—contributed to record-setting enrollment of 10,133 in 2009. But, ultimately, it’s the number of students who persist to graduation that is most meaningful to Cohen. So by denying admission last fall to more than 750 under-prepared applicants, Purdue Calumet sent an important message that the Purdue education it offers requires preparation, persistence and motivation.

Embracing academic quality

To attract prepared students destined to graduate, the Cohen years have embraced academic quality by ushering in an honors program, undergraduate research opportunities, a dual credit partnership with Crown Point High School, Best & Brightest Scholarships and investing in efforts to draw high school valedictorian and salutatorian graduates to Purdue Calumet with full tuition, Chancellor’s Scholar Awards.

To help those 70 percent of Purdue Calumet learners who enroll as first generation students— the first in their family attempting to complete a baccalaureate degree—the university introduced supplemental instruction. That and other academic support services help enable easier transition past those academic challenges that have discouraged previous students from persisting.

As an investment in strategic and purposeful education, the Cohen years also have adopted a new approach to accreditation. In implementing the Academic Quality Improvement Program (AQIP), Purdue Calumet sets goals, measures achievement progress and self-corrects as need be. The new accreditation methodology keeps the university accountable and committed to academic quality and student success.

For a newly-emerged, high quality, full service, regional university, the Cohen years have produced an ascent to the next level.