Five candidates for the position of provost and vice president of academic affairs at Slippery Rock University will visit campus in November. As part of their visits, each candidate will deliver a public presentation and answer questions during an open session.
The third provost candidate, Dr. Susan Stapleton from Western Michigan University, visited SRU on Monday afternoon to discuss her experiences and the reasons why she wants to serve as the next provost at Slippery Rock University.
Stapleton opened her discussion by priding herself in being a Pennsylvania native. She said she is originally from Reading, Pennsylvania.
Stapleton began by asking the audience to reflect on their own college experiences and some of the ways higher education has changed their lives. She also questioned if people learned about a new culture, a new art, a scientific discovery or a technological innovation that inspired them during their college lives.
“Each of us has had opportunities to learn and grow as individuals,” she said. “At first, I had no idea what higher education would do for me.”
Stapleton said that this dialogue would not only give the university and its staff the opportunity to know her, but would also allow her the chance to get to know SRU as an institution.
One of her first main points was that education today is about affordability and access.
“We need education that is affordable and accessible in order to transform the lives of the future generations,” Stapleton said.
She mentioned that high school graduate numbers are declining and that many college students are non-traditional, adult learners.
“More than 40% of the learners will be adult or contemporary learners, 50% or more will be first generation students or come from households of low or moderate income levels, more than 60% will be women, and more than 40% will be from underrepresented populations,” Stapleton said. “We know that is part of the challenge we face in ensuring we continue to provide access to education in an environment that is inclusive.”
When asked the question later in the discussion about how to appeal both students and professors that are adult learners to online classes, Stapleton said that times have changed, and more people want to teach and take classes online.
“We need to do eight week semesters also for adult learners, because for them time is money,” Stapleton said.
A model that Stapleton said she wants to implement is similar to Bucknell University’s: they calculate success scores and use predictive analytics to better meet the needs of their students.
Course and community clustering are other ideas that Stapleton mentioned during her discussion.
“Clusters form communities, whether they be in residence halls or around a particular subject,” she said. “Clusters form a sense of belonging, interaction with other students and connections with faculty and staff.”
She said that an old-school method that has still been working at other universities is coupling these clusters with common courses. She said when you put a few people in the same common courses together, students know right off the bat that they will be surrounded by like-minded individuals.
“It’s about the community and the academics that go with it,” she said.
Stapleton also mentioned that giving students their schedules at orientation increases retention rates.
Another point that Stapleton touched on was how to validate student learning. She said that giving college credit and AP credit in high school helps them feel that their learning is validated. She said that retaining students and helping them take valuable courses while in college also does this.
During the question and answer session, Stapleton said that she has spent years trying to obtain grants so that she would continue to do that for Slippery Rock University.
“I live in the world of science, so for me it was critically important to obtain external dollars if I were to continue my scholarship, and I managed to do that successfully,” Stapleton said. “I continued to do that at Western Michigan University even after I was dependent on that scholarship money.”
She also said that she would do her best to handle the trend of declining enrollment numbers. When she was asked how she would represent SRU at the chancellor’s office, she said, “The administration folks have to be the best cheerleaders for this institution and we have to constantly look what is happening at the state level.”