Board of Visitors holds first meetings of academic year
A recap of recent successes, budgetary and planning actions, a discussion of affordability and tours of emerging facilities were among the highlights as the Board of Visitors held its quarterly meetings Sept. 7-8 in Kyle Hall.
The recent reveal of preliminary student census and retention data and the snapshot of a freshman class that entered with the highest high school GPA in university history were among the new developments shared by President Bret Danilowicz to open Friday’s full board meeting.
“We’re continuing to shape the university to have a group of students that is more successful when they’re here,” he said.
Danilowicz cited the growth of the Honors College, a living-learning community for high-achieving students, and the expansion of Radford’s undergraduate research opportunities as factors that are attracting students to the university. The president shared news with the board about continuing efforts to stabilize enrollment, detailing a series of university-wide forums held during August that focused on enrollment growth strategies.
“The great part [about the forums] is that it brings the entire community up to speed,” Danilowicz said. “The goal is to best serve the commonwealth and the region and create a distinctive fit for our students.”
Friday’s budgetary actions included the approval of the Capital Project Update and 2024-30 Six-Year Capital Plan, the amendment to the 401(a) Supplemental Retirement Plan for employees, Appointment and Trustee of Retirement and Benefit Trust, approval of the 2024-26 Six-Year Plan and approval of Radford University’s 2023-24 Operating Budget.
Plans for the university’s future include the decommissioning of Muse Hall. Danilowicz offered a preliminary outlook that includes taking the facility offline as a residence hall in fall 2024 while utilizing the building as a main campus dining hall during renovations to the primary dining facility, Dalton Hall.
Board members heard from student representative Troy Stallard about his initiative to improve mental health for all university students through a peer mentoring program. Stallard, an Air Force veteran and biomedical sciences major at Radford University Carilion (RUC), shared his desire to help improve the quality of life and retention rates for all students.
“Education saved my life,” Stallard said. “Transitioning out of the military is difficult … I used to plug bullet holes; now I’m sitting in a classroom.”
Stallard is active in the Military Resource Center (MRC) at RUC and the main campus and pointed to the peer support model of the MRC as an example for other support organizations.
Following a closed session, the board voted to approve the university’s current practices on admissions.
The full board meeting concluded with a conversation between members and administrators about higher education affordability. Topics for consideration included what affordability means to board members, how price reflects quality and how changing tuition costs could impact Radford University. Rector Deb McMahon recommended that affordability is worthy of continued discussion and strategy and should be a topic in future board meetings.
Thursday’s committee meetings were highlighted by a closer look at Radford’s emergence as a destination for undergraduate research. The Academic Excellence and Student Success Committee meeting included a presentation from Joe Wirgau, director of the Office of Undergraduate Research (OURS), and junior Leah Ellis, who spoke about the strength of Radford’s undergraduate research opportunities.
Wirgau’s presentation shared a study about Radford’s growth in undergraduate research and the success of students who participate. Since OURS began tracking student research in 2014, the number of students supported by the office has grown from less than 5% of all undergraduates to 20%, or more than 1,200 students, in 2023. In addition, Wirgau showed that new students who engage with research are retained at higher rates than the overall freshman population.
“As a Highlander, you are no longer just a student – you are an expert, a researcher, a professional and a presenter,” he said. “We invest in our students, and they go from being a Highlander to a trusted colleague.”
Ellis, whom Wirgau called an “expert,” spoke about choosing Radford for its Advanced Research Opportunity (ARO) living-learning community. A nutrition and dietetics major from Fredericksburg, Virginia, Ellis has progressed from the Highlander Research Rookies to a student research position at Virginia Tech, studying the short and long-term effects of artificial sweeteners on the glycemic index of pre-diabetic, middle-aged Americans.
“I could not have anticipated any of this,” Ellis said to the board. “That’s the wonderful thing about research.”
The board awarded emeritus faculty status to eight distinguished individuals: Professor Brad Bizzell, School of Teacher Education and Leadership; Professor Leslie Daniel, School of Teacher Education and Leadership; Professor Alan Forrest, Department of Counselor Education; Professor Glenna Gustafson, School of Teacher Education and Leadership; Professor Don Langrehr, School of Teacher Education and Leadership; Professor Ann Mary Roberts, School of Teacher Education and Leadership; Assistant Professor William Scott, Department of Counselor Education; Associate Professor Julie Temple, Department of Design.
During its time in Radford, the board was given the opportunity to preview two facilities on the main campus. On Wednesday, Sept. 6, board members and Danilowicz toured the Artis Center for Adaptive Innovation and Creativity. The Artis Center, which remains under construction, will serve as the home of the College of Visual and Performing Arts and house clinical and classroom space for the Waldron College of Health and Human Services. The $127 million, 178,000-square-foot facility is projected to open in time for the 2024-25 academic year.
Following Thursday’s committee meetings, board members were given tours of The HUB at Radford, which opened in August. Located at 1000 Main St. in downtown Radford, The HUB is the university’s connection to the city of Radford and the region. The HUB will house the Vinod Chachra IMPACT Lab and establish Radford University as a key partner in the economic development of the New River Valley and Southwest Virginia by connecting businesses and local governments with the expertise of Radford’s students and faculty.
Meetings on both days included tributes to the life and achievements of Radford University Registrar Matthew Brunner, who passed away on Aug. 31. Brunner served the university for 19 years.
“He made notable contributions and influenced tens of thousands of students,” Danilowicz said. “The work of his office was influenced by the great team that he built. It’s part of his legacy.”
The Board of Visitors will hold its next quarterly meetings on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1.