Update from Provost Harbor - Communities of excellence and UM affiliation collaboration (12/09/19)

Dear colleagues,

This is an exciting time of the semester, with students completing their courses and many of us thinking about projects for the period between semesters, as well as some-well deserved vacation time. This update will focus on two key priorities for UM: furthering the development of UM’s Communities of Excellence and increasing collaboration among the UM affiliates, including expanded transfer programs between 2- and 4-year institutions.

Communities of Excellence (CoEx)

I appreciated the Faculty Senate’s request for an update on UM’s CoEx at last week’s meeting. I am very excited about the many possibilities the CoEx represent. Some of you may recall that the CoEx originated in President Bodnar’s charge to the University Planning Committee in early 2018 – to identify areas of excellence UM is known for and articulate their relevance, using the principle of strength applied to the greatest opportunity. The CoEx concept fits with major efforts at other universities to complement traditional disciplinary strength with transdisciplinary initiatives. Advancing knowledge and addressing grand challenges on a global-to-local scale increasingly demands novel approaches that arise when ways of knowing drawn from different traditions and areas of study are combined in new ways. Students can be inspired by learning that brings together insights and knowledge from multiple disciplines around an organizing theme, and this can help build skills and experience in critical thinking, knowledge transfer, and problem solving.

UM’s six CoEx all have held at least one public event to bring interested stakeholders together and start exploring the directions they will take. There is no one-size-fits-all for CoEx – they are both bottom-up and top-down efforts to be driven by stakeholders’ interests and shared goals.

Communities of Excellence are many things to many people:

  • They are a new way of showing the world how we excel.
  • They are a powerful recruiting tool for prospective students and their families, and can help retain students who are inspired by new learning opportunities.
  • They highlight our strengths in ways that attract external and internal collaborators, enhancing our impact and increasing opportunities for external support.
  • They traverse silos and connect us around shared interests and new prospects for exciting partnerships.
  • They are a means of framing UM’s contributions to our community, state, and beyond.

At CoEx gatherings this fall, stakeholders have identified both exciting opportunities and barriers to achieving some of their goals. In response, I invite and encourage you to join me at the CoEx Day of Action, an unconference co-sponsored by the Office of the Provost and the Office of the Vice President for Research and Creative Scholarship, taking place Friday, Jan. 10, 2020 in the Ali Auditorium in the PJW Education Building:

  • Participants will connect around shared interests and brainstorm solutions to real and perceived barriers to transdisciplinarity at UM.
  • The unconference format means the agenda and specific topics of discussion are participant-driven, in keeping with the spirit of the CoEx, which are stakeholder-driven.
  • R.S.V.P. now to make sure your voice is heard.

Collaboration within the UM Affiliation

The UM affiliation includes the University of Montana, Missoula, and its programs in Missoula College and Bitterroot College in Hamilton, as well as Montana Tech in Butte, Montana Western in Dillon, and Helena College. Stronger collaboration within our UM affiliation will enable each institution to better serve their students and communities. One component of this important work involves improved pathways for 2-year degree holders to transfer to baccalaureate degree-granting institutions within the affiliation. UM has a growing number of articulation agreements with our affiliates that establish the requirements for students completing 2-year degrees to pursue 4-year degrees at UM. Interim Vice Provost Lacy’s focus on simplifying transfer requirements and identifying new transfer opportunities is helping to increase transfer student enrollment, and to increase transfer student success.

Vice Provost Lacy is also identifying opportunities to attract new student populations to serve Montana’s workforce and innovation needs. His approach involves:

  • Assessing Western Montana’s workforce needs and partnering with industry to identify the knowledge, skills, and abilities that our graduates will need to be highly competitive for the jobs of today and tomorrow;
  • Piloting experiential learning opportunities (apprenticeships, internships) for 2-year students with employer partners that will lead to established pathways for students to start jobs they’re skilled at performing;
  • Creating short-term training programs tailored to address priority skill gaps with stackable micro-credentials that are valuable on their own and can in some cases be integrated into undergraduate and graduate degrees and certificates.

There are great job and career opportunities in our state, and there is untapped potential in its population. Initiatives such as the successful partnership between UM and ATG-Cognizant and Tech Skills for Tomorrow show that UM is well positioned to provide Montanans with the skills and technical training that will help them find good jobs and help drive economic growth and sustainability in our state and region.

In closing

This will be the last update I share this semester. Please let me know whether these updates have helped you better understand my priorities and goals for the University. If you have suggestions about other ways to share these messages with the campus community, please email your suggestions to provost@umontana.edu or come see me during my office hours. Also, if you’re on campus, please join me for coffee from 9-10 a.m. Friday, Dec. 20 in the Branch Center.

I wish you all the best as you enjoy the well-deserved winter break.

Warm regards and season’s greetings,

Jon Harbor, Provost


This message was sent by the Office of the Provost to all University of Montana faculty, staff, administrators, and affiliates.