Educational adventurer: Garrett Bryant found an ideal place for graduate school and kayaking at UM.
When Garrett Bryant was fresh out of college, he had a bucket list that included this item: “live in the back of my car and pretty much do nothing but kayak.”
Well, he had a job at the time at North Carolina’s Nantahala Outdoor Center, which outfits kayakers, but he did live out of his car for a while and spent a lot of time kayaking.
Three years of that quenched his appetite, and he moved on downstream to Charlotte, N.C., to another river and two more jobs before the road – or river, rather – led him to Missoula and UM.
Now his ambitions are set higher – on higher education administration, that is. The 31-year-old Bryant is working on a master’s degree in educational leadership with a vested interest in the field. He also serves as a graduate assistant to faculty in the Department of Educational Leadership and as a graduate assistant for the Office of Planning, Budget and Analysis, assisting with UM’s Planning-Assessment Continuum. In fact, he was instrumental in designing the website for the continuum.
With the information age, Bryant says, transparency is important. “One of the key ingredients of this process is transparency. With the Planning-Assessment Continuum, it’s there for any stakeholder to see.”
The Office of Planning, Budget and Analysis is a long way from North Carolina rivers and kayaking, though Missoula and nearby areas are well-known hotspots for the sport – even right downtown with Brennan’s Wave. At UM he found a place where he could attend graduate school and still nourish his kayaker’s soul.
He says his background of employment in a sluggish economy gives him some context for working with UM’s new Planning-Assessment Continuum.
In 2006, Bryant scored another kayak-related job in Charlotte at the U.S. National Whitewater Center, an outdoor adventure and environmental education center, where he headed up retail and photography just as the organization was opening its headquarters.
“I got in early because I knew it was something I wanted to be involved with,” Bryant says.
At the center he built a business plan and hired and trained staff. Unfortunately, when the recession hit in 2008, the center wasn’t doing as well as projected, and Bryant was laid off.
That was a catalyst, he says, to get a job teaching physical science at a Charlotte high school, drawing on the geology he studied as a liberal arts major at Middle Tennessee State University. But the next year nontenured teachers received layoff notices, so he decided to take the Graduate Record Examination and apply to universities.
Bryant was accepted to the University of North Carolina, Queens University in Charlotte and UM.
“I got laid off twice in one city (Charlotte), and I thought, ‘this place is bad luck,’ and I should just go west,” he says. “So I did.”
That was August 2009, and the same thing has happened to him here that happens to so many UM students. He doesn’t want to leave and has decided to pursue a doctorate at UM. He now is a master’s candidate in educational leadership who studies curriculum relevance when he isn’t working with UM administrators.
Of the former, he says he’s made strong connections with the faculty, and he’s very happy with the program. “It’s kept me interested and still yearning for more.”
Of the latter, he says, “I love the high performance expectations that are palpable in Main Hall.”
Bill Muse, associate vice president and director of the Office of Planning, Budget and Analysis, says he brought Bryant in to help with logistics for the committees involved with the Planning-Assessment Continuum.
“In order to implement the planning cycle,” Muse says, “President Royce Engstrom appointed four new standing committees: the University Planning Committee, the University Budget Committee, the Council of Vice Presidents and the University Assessment Committee. Each plays a critical role in helping to shape the future of The University of Montana.”
Muse agrees with Bryant about the importance of transparency for all stakeholders.
The University continually works to clarify its vision and mission and demonstrate to internal and external stakeholders that the best use is made of resources – that campus does the right things for the right reasons.
To ensure transparency, campus will evaluate committee representation so all groups have a voice. It will gauge the degree of public access to strategic plans, operating plans and other budget materials. In addition, UM will update its strategic plan and subsequent budget allocations annually.
The Planning-Assessment Continuum is both top-down and bottom-up. Executive leadership provides overarching mission-driven goals, equitable parameters and accountability, while UM employees and students provide new ideas, improve processes and contribute to innovation.
Participation by everyone on campus in the planning process is a main component, Muse says.
“Shared governance is essential to make sure students, staff and faculty have a say,” Muse says. “If they do, they own it from the beginning. You don’t need to worry about selling it to them. All will be pulling in the right direction so that we can all achieve our goals.”
This structure will ensure transparency, meaningful input and participation, including advisory committees, implementation teams and other groups. To track success of the continuum, UM will provide annual reporting of budget allocations by goals and track funding of new initiatives.
In an optimal structure, there is a continuum of planning. Rather than occurring in periodic fits and starts, the process is continuous, transparent and highly visible. Campus will complete yearly updates of sector and program plans, adjusting budgets as needed in response to enrollment, revenue and expense variation. UM will document all outcomes with an annual assessment report available online.
The whole process, as Bryant has found, offers ample opportunities to learn – especially for a student who may direct his own campus budget planning process someday.
Bryant (left) helped establish UM’s Planning-Assessment Continuum with Bill Muse, director of the Office of Planning, Budget and Analysis.
Bryant pursues his passion at the U.S. National Whitewater Center in North Carolina. (Photo by Lindsey Armstrong)