Shawnee State University (SSU) has been under the direction of recently appointed President Rick Kurtz for a month now and the new leader has spent it, getting to know the campus, staff, students and locals since he hit the ground running on July 1.
Kurtz said people within the community have been very friendly in his period of adjustment to the area. He even said he has visited some of the orientations for new students, being eager to meet some of the faces of the SSU student body.
“My month here has been much like my previous visits,” Kurtz said. “People are very welcoming and friendly.”
While he still has a lot to learn about the campus and surrounding areas, he claims to have begun the learning curve of figuring out the layout of everything so he, and the Shawnee State University Board of Trustees, can start organizing a new plan of action.
“When I was being interviewed for the position, the board was very open about the need for a new strategic plan,” Kurtz said. “It has been a number of years since one was made and it is about time.”
Kurtz explained that a new strategic plan is needed, because SSU is nearing its 30th anniversary, which stands as a generation. He says that it is time that the institution begins looking at where it is headed for a new generation of students.
Kurtz went on to explain how generations play into a strategic plan.
“Shawnee was founded in 1986, when it was changed from community college status to university status,” Kurtz explained. “Much as we talk about human demographics and generational changes in people, the same goes for generational changes for an institution. For one, it is a chance to celebrate, but it is also a way to reflect on where we are going for the next 30 years.”
According to Kurtz, Shawnee has changed a lot in its first generation and a change in direction now might be necessary.
“So much of Shawnee’s first generation was in growth,” Kurtz explained. “We had the baby boom echo that came up through the ranks, which was a huge population of college-age students coming through the pipeline. Shawnee spent the time looking for a way to accommodate these students. Now, we are seeing a dip in population and we certainly have a dip in economics as well.”
Kurtz said that he and the trustees will be looking at these changes and will also be considering the values and the mission of the university so the institution can thrive through a new plan.
“A strategic plans needs to be driven towards your mission and your values. Any good strategic plan needs to be based on outcomes. Budgets change and unplanned issues arise,” Kurtz said. “If you think of your strategic plan being output driven, you can be flexible with it. Our strategic plan needs to focus much more on the benchmarks of the programs.”
Kurtz said a new strategic plan will be released within a year. He said the plan will be flexible in the direction and the steps taken to reach goals, due to the many unknown factors within budgeting and resources.
A major aspect in deciding the fate of Shawnee starts by looking where the university currently is, which, according to Kurtz, can easily be done by looking at three aspects.
Kurtz explained there are three pillars that solidify the foundation of any university. He said that he is pleased that Shawnee has strong assets through each pillar.
“I’d say every school needs three pillars. Number one is the academic focus that attracts and keeps students. Number two is the offered services aspect, because the services provided for students are very important. We seem to be very good on those two aspects. The third part is the infrastructure and the physical points of the university.”
To determine the future mission and goals of the university, Kurtz will be meeting with university officials to form the strategic plan within the next year. He also said that there will be public forums in which anyone will be allowed to participate in and submit opinions.
While Kurtz said that he believes there is a need for Shawnee State to be more focused on the community and spread out into it, he said there are currently no plans of action to make it happen.
When asked about the university acquiring new property in the downtown Portsmouth in recent years, Kurtz gave no definite answer as to what the space will be used for, or even when. He explained that growth in that ward is entirely dependent on funding and what money the school has to invest in particular fields of growth.
“The downtown area certainly needs to be in the mix, but I don’t currently have any answer as to how we are going to be doing any of that,” Kurtz said. “The university certainly sees a need for a strong relationship with the community and those facilities in the downtown area are a part of that.”
Kurtz said he recently toured the properties in downtown Portsmouth. He explained that there are many factors involved in working in them, from the level of infrastructure needs, flexibility of the buildings for the desired programming, and more.
After 31 days in office, Kurtz said he continues to learn more aspects of the city and looks forward to a new generation of Shawnee State University.
“An institution needs a road map. Having a strong mission statement, and a strong understanding of that statement, is paramount. Everyone needs a comfort level and a feel for what the institution is all about. We need this to convey who we are and what we are,” Kurtz said. “The strategic plan will simply be a tool to work towards all of that. We will never reach a day when we say mission fulfilled, we are done. We will only grow.”
Reach Joseph Pratt at 740-353-3101, ext. 1932, or by Twitter @JosephPratt03.
Rick Kurtz speaking to a group at SSU