University of Wyoming Looks to New Academic Year

Institutional priorities designed to strengthen UW in all areas

Tyler Wolfgang (left) and Bri White talk to first-year students about the University of Wyoming’s Multicultural Affairs office at the Resources Fair for Saddle Up, a college preparation course for incoming students. (Wyoming Truth photo by Kaycee Clark)

By Kaycee Clark-Mellott

Special to the Wyoming Truth

LARAMIE, Wyo.—With the start of the fall semester Monday, University of Wyoming administrators began focusing on four institution-wide priorities and launching several construction projects.  

“Not in any order, but these [priorities] would be institutional excellence, student success, service to the state and financial sustainability,” President Ed Seidel told the Wyoming Truth.

Institutional excellence, Seidel said, is about making sure UW has enough faculty to “cover the bases we have,” and provide adequate tools to support their classroom teaching and research. He noted that this priority will be more challenging to address because of budget cuts over the past decade, including the $31.3 million cut to the block grant for the 2022 fiscal year.

What’s more, Seidel and Provost Kevin Carman have made no secret of their intention to transform UW into a nationally recognized research institution. Plans are underway for UW to apply to be classified as a Carnegie R1 University, an upgrade from its current R2 designation. 

Student success will focus on improving graduation and retention rates. One component is Saddle Up, a new weeklong college preparation camp to ease first-year students’ transition to college academics and campus life.

Service to the state provides reasoning for why the state legislature assists with funding the university, “so that we can help advance the state,” Seidel explained, noting the Wyoming Innovation Partnership, created by  Gov. Mark Gordon in 2021 to help align the university with Wyoming’s economic development.

First-year students walk to the College of Arts and Sciences through Prexy’s Pasture at UW on Aug. 19, 2022. This was the conclusion of the first Saddle Up program for the first-year students.

And financial sustainability prioritizes decreasing UW’s dependence on its $394 million in state funding. 

“The state’s been very generous, historically, to the university and that’s created a reliance that the university has on the state,” the 28th president of UW said.

A change in college structures

Some of UW’s projects are more concrete. 

UW and its Board of Trustees began developing the School of Computing last fall and secured Board approval in January to launch it in the 2022-23 academic year. Initially, it will be housed in the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences to conserve startup costs and allow time to establish courses and certificate programs, according to written statements from UW. By the 2024-25 academic year, an undergraduate degree program will be offered. 

“New programs are aimed at filling out what I think are areas that are going to be very important for the future of the state,” Seidel said. “Around entrepreneurship and corporate partnerships, digital literacy, grants and computing and how they impact everything and the market sector of hospitality and tourism.”

Meanwhile, some planned college reorganization has been postponed until July 2023 following pushback from administrators and staff.

The main change will come at the College of Arts and Sciences, with science-related programs moving into the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences and the College of Agriculture, Life Sciences and Natural Resources. The liberal arts programs in the College of Arts and Sciences will remain, and the college will be renamed later. 

“I know it was hard for a lot of people. . . ,” Seidel said. “In some cases, some felt it as traumatic change, but I would call it dramatic change that’s helping set us up for the future.”

New residence halls approved and on the way

In May 2021, the Board of Trustees approved designs for two dormitories housing 900 students and a parking facility for 375 vehicles. Carman said that groundbreaking will take place after the demolition of the Wyoming Union parking lot in December, with a move-in date targeted for 2024. The estimated price tag for both projects is $250 million.

The new dorms and dining center will be located by Half Acre Recreation and Wellness Center on 15th Street and Willett Drive. Wyoming Hall was demolished to make room for these facilities.

“We’re not just thinking about nicer quarters for people to live in,” Seidel said, “but how can we take advantage of them to enhance student success to create things like living, learning communities.”

He added, “We have an interest in growing the size of the student body, not overly so because we don’t [want to] lose the small, intimate, land grant community we have here, but we have some room to grow.”

Building an inclusive and equitable campus

Seidel and Carman have brought a diversity, equity and inclusion focus to UW, instilling its values throughout campus and in hiring practices.  Saddle Up has “a disproportionately positive impact on traditionally underserved students, students of color, first-generation students, socioeconomically disadvantaged students,” Carman said. “It really helps them get off to a good start and ultimately to be more successful.”

Equity advisors will assist faculty recruiting by watching for implicit bias as applications are reviewed. Now that six deans have been hired in the past two years, UW will focus on “building the faculty, not only back [from layoffs], but aiming for the stars where we can . . . ,” Seidel said.

Student parking challenges

For their part, students remain concerned about the lack of on-campus parking.

“I definitely do think parking is like the number one issue on campus right now,” said Allison Brown, president of the Associated Students of the University of Wyoming.

Brown and the student group plan to form an ad hoc committee to address the issue for students, faculty and staff, along with new parking facilities and street parking in Laramie.

The new parking facility, which is scheduled to open in 2024, is mainly intended for faculty and staff who used the 265-spot Wyoming Union lot. However, after hours, the lot will be open for all, including students attending events on campus and at the Half Acre Recreation and Wellness Center.

“Parking is always a challenge on university campuses,” Carman acknowledged. “There’s never enough—and there’s never enough in the right place.”

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