President Markwood's 2016 Welcome Address

President MarkwoodCSU President Chris Markwood addressed faculty and staff Monday, August 8 as part of the official 2016 kickoff event to welcome employees to the 2016 semester. During an event that included a murder mystery problem-solving event for all participants, he gave the following remarks:

Good morning and welcome to the 2016-17 academic year and to the beginning of Welcome Week.

For many of us in this room today, we are not only here kicking off the beginning of Columbus State University’s academic year, many also sent children off to school this morning.

For those who have done this before, there may have been sighs of relief as they are now “out of the house.”

Our daughter will be in third grade this year, and I was remembering how I felt that first time we sent her off to school.

Those thoughts led me to some of the top hopes many of us as parents have the first day of school.

- I hope she really did learn everything she would ever need to learn in kindergarten;
- I hope that she makes some really nice friends, but maybe not the one who eats paste;
- I hope she is not the one who eats paste;
- I really hope that she puts on a clean pair of socks. They don’t even have to match these days, but just be clean;
- I hope she doesn’t sell the healthy lunch that was made for her so that she can buy the stuff they sell in the cafeteria;
- But if she does sell her lunch, I hope she gets a really good price;
- I hope her parents won’t be known as “Blackhawk Helicopter” parents . . . oops; and
- I hope she has an amazing first day at school.


When CSU’s students make their way to campus next week, we will again have more than 8,000 students entrusted to us — in our care. What an awesome responsibility we have with this generation of leaders.

Born in 1998, the Class of 2020 is an interesting group. As a group, they have been called millennials. Their lives, experiences, and view of the world are very different then the World War II generation, the Baby Boomers or Generation X.

Later this month, Beloit College will release its “Mindset List,” giving their look at the cultural touchstones and experiences that have shaped the worldview of our students as they enter college this fall.

They make the point that the mindset of today’s college student is very different from that of the faculty and staff about to prepare them to become the next generation of leaders.

As you know, I like to take a look at who we are about to serve. Though I do not have advanced access to what the Beloit list will say, I do know that for traditional students entering college for the first time this year:

- They have always heard dinner table discussions about presidents, interns, and what the definition of “is” is;
- They have always been able to use e-commerce as companies expanded their presence to the Internet;
- They have always been able to go to a movie where Matt Damon needs to be rescued;
- They have always known Elton John as Sir Elton John;
- First-born daughters of monarchs in Britain have always had the same claim to the throne as first-born sons;
- They never knew Barry Switzer as the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys;
- They were never able to smoke in California bars, clubs, or card rooms;
- They have grown up talking about Mathew Sheppard and hate crimes; and
- They never knew Chris Farley, Frank Sinatra, Tammy Wynette, Sony Bono, Eesther Rolle, Barry Goldwater, or Eldridge Cleaver.


1998 was the year that:

- Apple unveiled the iMac;
- The United States had its first budget surplus in over 30 years;
- It was the year of “Armageddon,” “Titanic,” and publishing of “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” and the first episode of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire;”
- It was the year that President Clinton was impeached for perjury and obstruction of justice; and
- Osama bin Laden published his fatwa declaring jihad.


Although a Clinton is again running for president, a new Harry Potter has just been released, and we are still struggling internationally, all of these events have shaped who our students are.

Kansas State University Anthropologist Michael Wesch would say, we are now in a world where it is technologically ridiculously easy to connect, organize, share, collect, collaborate, and publish information and to access virtually the entirety of human knowledge from multiple devices anywhere, all the time.

- These students are team-oriented;
- They work and socialize in groups;
- They are very engaged in the community and in service;
- They are extremely close with their parents;
- They are savvy with technology for commerce, communication, and entertainment;
- They are extreme multi-taskers, able to carry on numerous technology-assisted conversations simultaneously; and
- They are easily bored if there is nothing to do.


Though we must always be cautious about over generalizing and stereotyping, research suggests that as a group, millennials approach living, working, and learning differently than the generations before them.

This has profound implications for what we do and how we do it.

But in addition to what many have called “traditional” students, a significant number of our students are returning and/or graduate students.

In fact, our oldest student matriculating this year at CSU was born in 1941.

So, as a reminder, the very nature of our student population requires us to be sensitive not just to our developing understanding of this new generation of students but to those returning or starting their university education later in life.

By way of comparison, the songs that were playing as you were seated this morning were songs from the hits charts in 1998.

But in 1941 Glenn Miller’s “Chattanooga Choo Choo” and Billie Holiday’s “God Bless the Child” were among those songs at the top of the charts.

I am thankful that Columbus State University is a campus that focuses on student success.

That when we admit a student, we acknowledge the responsibility to do everything that we can to help that student succeed. To take them where they are and to get them where they need to be.

I am proud that we have support structures for first-year traditional students, for veterans, for adult learners, and for other special populations.

So, regardless of when they were born, students are arriving on our campus this week, and we are here to take them where they are and get them where they need to be.

This past year was an amazing year for CSU. As we look back, we can see so many opportunities for celebration as we made numerous advancements.

We renovated Arnold Hall, thanks to a $4.95 million allocation from the legislature. As many of you know, Arnold is one of our original classroom buildings. Opened in 1966, not a whole lot changed in the building until last year.

Our local legislative delegation was instrumental in us garnering the money to upgrade the building’s technology and infrastructure, add an elevator and refurbish the offices and classrooms.

The building now complements the renovated Howard Hall, and will house the departments of English, psychology, as well as the offices for the QEP. Come by on Thursday at 11 for the grand re-opening and to tour the building.

Later in the month, we will have another grand opening, for Clearview Hall. This $25 million housing project adds 540 first-year student beds to our campus. The chancellor helped with groundbreaking, and we are expecting him to be here again for the grand opening on Aug. 25.

Clearview Hall was built through a partnership between the University System of Georgia and a company called Corvias. The views of campus from the top floor are spectacular.

Another major building project underway is our new downtown home for most of the programs in the College of Education and Health Professions. We are officially calling this building the CSU Center for Education and Nursing at RiverPark. Construction remains on schedule, and we should open for classes in January.

The final major project going on now is the new lab sciences building that will be constructed next to LeNoir Hall. This is an $11 million project with a private match, but still largely funded through the legislature.

Final construction and design plans are being developed now, and we expect to break ground in the spring. This building will go between the bridge and LeNoir Hall and provide much-needed lab space for science classes, and faculty and student research.

As many of you know, capital funding from the legislature did not go as well this past year as in previous years, but we will continue our efforts.

However, we did get better budget news from the Board of Regents this year. CSU was able to distribute more than $1 million for merit-based pay and employee recruitment and retention initiatives.

I understand it will not solve all our needs, but it is a much-needed start. To aid us in future distributions, we are developing a salary study to benchmark salaries against our peers.

Additionally, this year’s budget included an allocation to CSU of more than $865,000 in new funding for institutional priorities, including expanded opportunities for the Faculty Center for Enhancement of Teaching and Learning, our QEP program, Complete College initiatives, and additional police officers on campus.

A couple other items of note from this past year:

Two of our educational outreach centers celebrated milestone anniversaries.

- CSU’s Coca-Cola Space Science Center and Oxbow Meadows Environmental Learning Center serve important roles for the university, our students, and for this community. Big things are ahead for both, as the historic community of Westville will soon be moving near Oxbow, and the Space Center, which recently earned a grant in partnership with the Kennedy Space Center, is making plans to house its ¼-scale engineering prototype of the space shuttle.


- Cougar Athletics also had a year worth celebrating. They won just about every conference award you could win, while also maintaining an extremely high level of academic excellence. Cougar athletics won seven Peach Belt Conference Championships this past year, which helped us capture the Peach Belt Conference Commissioner's Cup for best overall program and our second straight Peach Belt Conference Presidents' Cup, which recognizes excellence in academics. Those successes were simply the icing on the cake for our student-athletes who really had an outstanding year of achievements on and off the field. We should look for more success in the future from these great young men and women.


- Athletics was not the only area where we saw some significant achievements. Academic news from last year included a record-breaking gift to the Turner College of Business and the TSYS School of Computer Science. Looks like cybersecurity in the financial realm might be the niche that develops from this initiative, which is yet another example of the public-private partnerships that define us. Our faculty’s work in cybersecurity is already being recognized with more than $400,000 in NSF grants for mobile security research. I expect we will hear more success stories like this soon.


- Speaking of Computer Science, they were one of two academic departments ranked No. 1 in the country last year by different organizations. Our online degree in communication was the other program singled out as the best in the USA.


- Other significant events include the opening of our WCUG radio station, the launching of the Georgia Repertory Theatre and growth in our Honors College.


- Word of our academic excellence continues to spread as evidenced by a 61 percent increase in graduate enrollment in the College of Education and Health Professions.


Rest assured, these are not the only programs being recognized.

Since the beginning of the 2015-2016 academic year, we have counted more than a dozen accolades from education experts and ranking firms across the nation, validating CSU’s claims of being a prestigious and affordable institution for students interested in earning a degree on campus or online.

These recognitions are happening, quite simply, because of you. Our faculty and staff. You make the magic happen. Your research, creative activities, teaching and service have improved our reputation, elevated our academic abilities and enhanced our community.

I wish there were time to recognize each of your achievements, but please know that you are making a difference and it is being noticed. Thank you.

As we look to the upcoming year, we are starting it with some great input from over 120 leaders from across campus who participated in a summer leadership retreat in the Cunningham Center about a month ago.

It was a great event that we will definitely do again in some form. Our last exercise was to ask participants to list what we could do if we fully and completely embraced each of our values. We then voted on the most important action items under each value.

I want to take some time to share with you some of the ideas that rose to the top under each value. I’m pleased to tell you we are working on – or already have underway – many of the ideas that came up.

For instance, when looking at the ideas generated related to engagement, child care was a concern because it could be a barrier to completion or engagement for students with children.

Well, Columbus State, Clayton State​, and Armstrong ​State were recently chosen to participate in a pilot program for the upcoming year that will use private dollars to help low income student parents pay for quality child care.

We are working on a formula for utilizing the funds and a marketing strategy to get the word out.

One of the ideas that rose to the top is one that is near and dear to my heart — that is professional development.  

As you may have noticed, Welcome Week provides new and increased opportunities for professional development for both faculty and staff.

In true CSU fashion, many departments have risen to the occasion for you this week. Many thanks to our Faculty Center, our QEP Initiative, our HR Office, University Police and more.

Whether you are interested in social media, high-impact practices, understanding your leadership style, academic freedom, or understanding cultural intelligences, we heard you, and there is a place for you.

There is even an opportunity to understand campus safety and security issues related to the new law that allows tasers on campus.

One of the highlights of this week will be on Thursday afternoon. We are pleased to host one of the country’s top experts in teaching and learning innovation. Dr. Michael Wesch is internationally recognized as a leader in educational innovation.

The New York Times listed him as one of 10 professors in the nation whose courses "mess with old models" and added that "they give students an experience that might change how they think, what they care about or even how they live their lives."

He is well-known for his digital work. His videos have been viewed over 20 million times, translated in over 20 languages, and are frequently featured at international film festivals and major academic conferences worldwide.

Wesch has won several major awards for his work, including the U.S. Professor of the Year Award from the Carnegie Foundation. His message is inspiring, and challenging, and I encourage all faculty and staff to participate. We are all part of the future of this campus, and his message relates to all of us.

We will be closing most offices at noon and providing lunch for all faculty and staff so grab a bite to eat and then join us at University Hall at 1 p.m. on Thursday for an exciting conversation.

Oh, and if all of this development stuff just seems too academic, join us at the Oxbow Meadows Open House for an ice cream social at 4 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon.

Inclusion is the next value. And I see opportunities for CSU to be a leader.

Today, across the U.S., tensions have run high on college campuses related to race, sexual assault, gender identity, and discrimination.

Our campus works hard to keep lines of communication open and to be proactive on issues of race, safety, and equality and to do the right thing.

I am thankful that we have strong Title IX education and compliance expectations. That we have an active Diversity and Inclusion Committee. That our campus police focus on relationship building.

That we are leaders on student programing, and that we have set high expectations for inclusion, civility, and respect for all of our employees.

Nonetheless, I believe we still have opportunities to improve. During the leadership retreat, undertaking a climate or inclusion survey was the most frequently cited initiative under the value of inclusion.

A climate, or inclusion, survey will seek to explore student, staff, and faculty opinions and perceptions about issues of inclusion and/or discrimination on our campus. We need to have what could be difficult conversations.   

I am pleased that the Executive Leadership Team has agreed that this is an idea that should move forward and plans are currently being developed regarding how and when this important project should take place this academic year.

Our Servant Leadership value is perhaps the most unique for us. We should capitalize on this value, in the right way, and see how it can spread across campus.

I was pleased to see so many people at the retreat prioritized Servant Leadership as a unifying model.

I have tasked Ed Helton to begin work building a coalition – to bring all of our leadership efforts under one vision and bridge those islands of innovation I mentioned to you last year.

We define our value of creativity as the pursuit of distinction through inquiry and innovation, challenging convention and focusing on solutions.

These notions fit well with our QEP, and I hope they will also be aligned with some of the advances we make this year with professional development opportunities to address different learning styles, new technology, and alternative ways to reach students.

To encourage this type of thinking, I would challenge departments and units to identify opportunities to take calculated and strategic risks, to try new approaches, new ways of reaching students, knowing that not all of them will work out.

I believe all faculty and staff members should have the right to a spectacular, pedagogical failure (assuming they were trying something intentionally and with the right motivation). Let’s find ways to reward creativity and innovation.

Our value of sustainability is a real priority for our incoming students.

The environment has consistently been among the top three concerns for teens, according to the website dosomething.org, which bills itself as one of the largest global organizations for young people and social change.

While I’m pleased we have this as a value, I think our students will really force us to think about sustainability more and more.

When they visit campus, they are noticing things such as our electric vehicles, environmentally friendly cleaning supplies, recycling efforts and water bottle refilling stations around campus. We will need to expand these efforts.

All of these ideas and inputs will play an important role going forward as we start to develop a new strategic plan for Columbus State University.

I have asked Interim Provost Tina Butcher and Vice President Gina Sheeks to lead this effort. A steering committee is being formed now, and I expect there will be many focus groups and listening sessions scheduled this fall.

We want input from all corners of the campus and community. Ideally, I would like to have a plan ready to roll out by the end of the spring semester.

As we develop our next strategic plan, we need to do so within the context of being a student-centered university. With that in mind, we must prioritize strategic growth. That means increasing our enrollment in a strategic way with more and better students.

This is a responsibility we all need to own. Each of us. There is a great deal of concern on the state and national levels about college costs. While CSU is incredible value, we are not immune to concerns about the price of tuition, fees, and textbooks.

If we are to expand our operating budget and our capabilities, it will be because of enrollment growth. As we saw by the reduction in force recently in Albany, a lack of enrollment growth can have severe consequences on a campus.

We will strategically grow enrollment by seeking more and better students, and retaining more of our students.

We recruit and retain more and better students by having relevant programs, by engaging our students, by recruiting and retaining nationally recognized faculty, by having streamlined and on-line processes, and by nurturing a relational reputation.

As we develop our plan, let us keep in mind the progress we have made to be nationally recognized for our teaching and learning.

- Envied for our community partnerships;
- Respected for our dedication to excellence in research and creative activity;
- And lauded for our commitment to students.


I am eager to hear your ideas about articulating our goals and priorities as we map out our future plans for the next five years.

As for our enrollment this semester, everything is still fluid, but it looks like we will have about the same number of students this fall as last fall.

Maybe a few less bodies on campus, but the good news is that they are registered for more credit hours this year than last year.

As you can imagine, many of those students will be complaining about parking again.

Once again, it’s my job to promise you it will not be this bad. There really are parking spaces for everyone – just not always next to your building. Please be patient, especially as we start the semester.

We look at this issue constantly and continue to believe if we utilize all our parking lots, we have enough room for everyone. And for those who do walk and enjoy taking part in the latest craze, there are over a dozen pokestops around campus where players can power up.

Today, we are honored to have with us the chair of the CSU Foundation Board of Trustees. Our Board of Trustees is arguably the most influential group of volunteers in the Chattahoochee Valley.

Their time, their expertise and their support has been crucial for many of the university’s successes in our short history. This year, the board’s chair is Wade M. Burford, President and CEO of CB&T of East Alabama.

Wade began his career with Synovus in 1977 as a part-time teller. Since that time, Burford served in various leadership positions.

He was named Senior Vice President of the Card Services division in 2000. He is an extremely active community volunteer, and most importantly, he is a graduate of Columbus State University.

Please join me in welcoming Mr. Wade Burford to the podium to say a few words.

Thank you Wade. I also want to take a minute to thank our other trustees, members of the Muscogee County School district, and President Lorette Hoover, from Columbus Technical College and a number of her staff for joining us today. We are honored to have you participate.

What an amazing time to be on this campus and part of the Columbus State University community.    Columbus State University is what it is today because of you.

We have a unique opportunity here in Columbus, Georgia.

We are part of a community that embraces this university.

We have big goals as a university and together we are working to provide a positive impact to this campus, community, region, and state.

I am among those who believe we can be a leader of innovation, leadership, and collaboration.

So, enough of me.  It is now my pleasure to introduce our Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, Dr. Tina Butcher. We are in for a real treat this morning so I ask that you stay open minded, focused, and fully engaged.

I am so proud of the faculty and staff team that worked with Dr. Butcher to put this kick-off of our QEP together.

Join me in thanking all of our faculty, staff, and students who worked this summer and this morning to make this available for you. Would you all please stand and be recognized.

I actually did check with the Guinness Book of World Records to see if we would qualify for the largest murder mystery. Unfortunately, I think there was one done on a cruise ship that topped our participation.

While there will always be the new trends in education, science is now proving how the brain learns best. It is, in fact, through active participation with the learning materials.

Whether exploring new information, using trial and error, or participating in a murder mystery to learn problem-solving, active learning engages the brain and actually sets up a road map so we can more easily and quickly get back to the information we’ve learned.

You will be seeing development opportunities throughout the year, if you are interested (and I hope you are) in learning more about how to make this happen for your classes or in your departments with your employees.

I know today’s activity was a little different, but I hope it has been a time of laughing, bonding, and learning.

I am now in a dangerous time for any speaker, and particularly for a university president.  I am the only thing standing between you and lunch.

But if you stick with me for a few more minutes, I have a few special recognitions.

First, I would like to take a moment to introduce our new faculty and staff members.

We are so pleased to have all of these new members of the CSU family.

You bring to us new experiences, new ideas, and new perspectives and we look forward to learning from you and to share with you what we believe to be special about Columbus State University.

Would all of the new faculty and staff members hired since January 2016 please stand and be recognized. Welcome to Columbus State University!

Today, I would like to unveil a new award and recognition. As you know, it was the values of CSU that really got our attention when we started looking at the presidency.   

During the investiture week, we celebrated those values, and I reiterated the importance of these values to an organization and to me.

Today, we will begin a special recognition for a group of individuals on campus who embody those values on a daily basis. Often going beyond what is expected but expecting nothing in return.

These groups of people are often unsung heroes who do what they do because they care – not because it’s their job or for any accolades or attention that may come their way.

Today, I would like recognize one special group of individuals who do their jobs, who live their lives, and build relationships with our CSU values in mind.

That group is our CSU Police Department.

The CSU police department is a fully authorized state police agency that provides services to both RiverPark and main campuses.

The department collaborates with the city of Columbus and other regional law enforcement agencies, practicing a philosophy of community policing that integrates crime prevention, problem resolution, and community involvement to provide support and service to our students, employees, and guests.

We should be proud that it is our University Police that are frequently called upon in Atlanta for service and expertise. They are very visible on campus, stressing accessibility, excellence and servant leadership.

They are great partners with state and local and agencies, as evidenced by their participation in Columbus' recent National Night Out.

It is in part because of their experience and philosophy that CSU was recently ranked as one of the 50 safest colleges in America.

They are very visible on campus and participate in orientations, resident assistance training and many other student group sessions to stress crime prevention and personal safety.

With a focus on our community, the CSU University Police Department has led the annual Cougars for Causes donation drive that donated items such as stuffed animals, toys, coloring books and crayons, or non-perishable food items for a variety of local non-profit agencies.

It is my privilege and honor to recognize our University Policy as the inaugural recipients of the Living our Values award.  Chief Drew, and any of our officers, safety personnel, and staff please come forward and be recognized.

There is a final recognition I would like make. This, to a person who over this past year has come to be one of my closest friends, confidents, and advisers.

Dr. Tom Hackett served in the provost role from 2010-2016, and like any provost, he helped navigate budget cuts, personnel uncertainty, governance issues, policy changes, as well as system and SACSCOC compliance.

Tom stepped out of the role to return to the classroom but agreed to take up the challenge of an expanded partnership initiative with our local school district and CSU.

From what I know of Tom, he is not one for much pomp and circumstance or one that seeks out personal accolades or honors.

But after knowing him for just over a year, I believe he is due just a bit in that regard.

Tom is a leader of unquestioned integrity, intelligence, and ingenuity. Three qualities that are important to a successful provost.

So Tom, please come forward and accept a small token as a thank you from me and from this campus for your service as provost and vice president for academic affairs.

And while he said he would prefer not to have a big reception honoring him for his very successful service as our chief academic officer, he did not say I couldn’t throw him a small lunch.

So today, as we fellowship together over lunch, do so in recognition of Dr. Hackett.

As we begin this academic year, I want to remind you of my challenge last year. I want to encourage you in the individual role that you play, every day, when you interact with students and each other.

There is a reason that we all came together today to participate in this problem-solving exercise.  Whether you are working with a student in class, in a lab, or in a studio, or you are supervising a student worker. Providing counseling, advising, coaching, or mentoring. Or providing services tailored to their specific needs.

Keeping our facilities pristine, or our technology functioning.

You are the model of a professional and of a creative, real-world problem-solver. You are a part of the broader Columbus State University student-centered success initiative.

We build on each other’s strengths.

Whether you teach our students or feed them. Keep our financials straight or our landscaping.

If you provide services to students or help faculty and staff perform their roles, you bring something unique, important, and irreplaceable to the experience that we are here to create for our students.

You matter!

We have big goals that can and will impact this community, our state, our country and our world.  And we should always keep those goals in the forefront our minds.

But as big as those goals may seem for the university, please take a moment every day and seize an opportunity to be a life-changer to the student sitting or standing right in front of you.

We have a great story to tell, so let’s get loud.

Thank you for all that you do for our students, this community, and each other.

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