Delivered by UNT President Neal Smatresk
Sept. 24, 2021
Well, hello everyone, and welcome to the 2021 State of the University. We didn't expect a giant crowd today, but I'm glad that you're here, and I hope I can tell you about a few things that you haven't heard of yet or haven't heard of before, so that you can be excited about what's going on in the university.
Before we get to the year in review and the video, I want to just tell you that at the end of the video, we're going to be honoring Nada Shabout, one of our faculty members here with the presentation of a Presidential Citation on stage. She was the recipient of the Kuwait Prize in Arts and Literature, otherwise known as the Arab Nobel Prize. So please stay with us. When the video's over, it's not like you grab your popcorn cup and you run to the back of the entrance. This will be livestreamed right now, so hello everybody who's watching, and the video will be available throughout the year. So, let's get going.
To set the stage a little bit for you, last year was a really challenging year. I think y'all knew that. Everybody worked extra hard, COVID was amongst us. We had some real significant issues. We had remote classes, we had a severe winter storm, and we had the difficulties of trying to work remotely. This was made even more difficult because we couldn't network and enjoy the support of our Mean Green Family. We saw financially distressed students struggling with remote education and isolation, but thanks to you, our faculty and staff, they received incredible support. So I'm gonna call out for a big round of applause to everybody who made it happen. I'm especially thankful to those who were here face-to-face with our students. I know it was daunting for some of you, but you know what? We came through it. We came through it in good health, and you really helped to make their academic progress by teaching them critically needed classes and experiential classes that were incredibly important for their graduation, their progression. I'd also like to thank those who worked hard to keep our buildings open, our classrooms and residence halls clean. And for those who had to be here for business continuity purposes, you all made a huge difference. There aren't enough thank yous to go around, but these are really important activities. And by pulling together as a team, you made it happen. Finally, I want to thank the leadership teams that worked overtime, weighing each decision we had to make to keep our campus safe and to support our students' success. There were many, many hours spent conferring and trying to find exactly the right path that kept us safe, but kept us making progress. And boy, did we ever make some progress?
Building off the 4% growth of enrollment that we saw way back before COVID in the fall of 2019, and the 4% increase we saw in enrollment in 2020, we thought we were going to have an enrollment failure with COVID. We didn't know what was going to happen, but we got a 4% increase. This caused our Enrollment Management team to go, "What do we do next? We've had two years of 4% growth. Boy, we've got remote education a little bit, and we know there's some face-to-face classes. Are we going to be able to make it through?" And so through the year, our Enrollment Management team worked really hard and they continued to work hard through this summer and up to the beginning of this semester.
This year, we continued the trend in enrollment, growing another 4.2% and topping 42,300 students. I’ve got to tell you, it wasn't easy, but when you look at the stats around the state and around the country where enrollments crashed in many places, y'all did great. And it's because of our Mean Green Family, that we can be so proud of our accomplishments, because you all made this happen by showing your fighting spirit and your desire to meet our mission for our students. So this fall, as a result, we admitted our largest ever freshmen class. And while transfers were flat, and I'm a little worried about that because transfer community college enrollment around the state has fallen pretty dramatically, we saw an increase in continuing students and that bodes well for the future. And maybe retention is going to start to return with in-person instruction.
Finally, we had an eye-popping 23% in graduate students with 40% increases in our master's students, fueled by surging international enrollment and increased domestic enrollment. This is an amazing feat because across the country, international enrollment fell for the most part dramatically last year. So what's that mean? Our graduate population is now over 9,700 students, and that's about 22% of our total student population. So when you're walking through our campus, about one out of four students is now a graduate student. This exceeds our strategic plan target of 2025. So remember, we set that in 2020, it's now 2021. Our target for five years from now is 8,639 graduate students. Don't ask me how they got such a fine grain number, Jason. But anyhow, we blew that number away this year. And that's part of the maturation of our Tier One institution. It represents a major move forward for us. It's- I love the clapping. I want you to know that it's not a plant, OK?
It's also important to note that our Frisco enrollment is really now contributing significantly to our overall growth, part of our long range strategy to be in one of the booming areas. And I thank our friends from Frisco who are here with us today.
As we grow and become increasingly diverse, and as one of 16 Tier One Hispanic-Serving Institutions in the country, we're increasingly focused on being more inclusive and equitable. In fact, our office of diversity is now called, IDEA - Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access. So I guess that that's a bright idea, they had? Oh, that was bad, that was like a dad joke, wasn't it? And we look forward to them to continue to help us move forward with several exciting initiatives. So we're in the planning stages for building a new freestanding Multicultural Center. It's going to be a cultural watering hole that allows people to come and share common experiences and feel bonded to their institution so that they feel great about their experience here at the university. This year, we're also going to begin embedding a better understanding of diversity and equity into our curriculum. And it's critical that we do this because our students need to understand how to get along in a multicultural marketplace. We've also focused on implicit bias training to do better when we hire. And of course, we continue to be concerned with building a better culture through multiple training opportunities in all of our vice presidential areas.
Now, while we had a great year last year and the numbers show it, we had some real challenges. Freshmen retention fell significantly last year, as we saw the impacts of COVID. We hope to see retention rebound this year, as we returned to face-to-face instruction and events. But the combination of financial stress and remote education hit hard across the country, and some of our freshmen decided they weren't going to persist this year. We hope that this year we reverse that trend and see a return to what we really want, which is strong and robust retention. I'll just say in about a four-year period, we went from somewhere around 75% first time in college retention to 82%, remarkable numbers. And now we're back to about 78%. So we're going to flip those numbers and keep moving retention. But of course, during this incredibly unique time, we have to expect the unexpected, and then work hard to make sure that we're counteracting it.
It's clear to me that there are a lot of factors that are at play that have never before or actually impacted higher education, and I guess I'll say welcome to the real world. We're now solving problems in real time. So we're seeing large drops in enrollment across the state in community colleges. We know that that could impact us. We hoped that returning to face-to-face instruction will reverse the pandemic, but we can't sit back and go, "So this ought to fix us." We have to redouble our efforts to engage our students and to keep them involved and to make sure that they stick with us and that they continue to make progress and graduate. Two years of remote education in high school hasn't exactly helped us either. A large number of students who are in our entering class don't come in with the same kind of college qualifications that they used to have. They've kind of missed out on a couple of years, and this is pretty tough. That's going to mean, we're going to have to give them significant support.
We're concerned that the trend in declining college readiness is going to continue into the future. And in order to combat that we've added staff to our Math Lab and Writing Center, and we'll continue to do so and offer sections that will support their progress so that they could be leveled and ready to persist and be successful in a college environment.
We also have to continue to expand resources so that our students can be successful, and we can support workforce growth and economic development for the state. We've got an incredibly hot job market. Everybody here has heard, we're not hiring fast enough. We can't get enough people in the door. It's important for us to make sure that we're giving people the education they need, the career training they need, that they're graduating and that they're are able to engage the market and make sure that the North Texas economy and beyond stay strong.
Now, not only has enrollment been strong, but our graduation numbers continue to soar to all-time highs. This year, over 10,500 students graduated from the University of North Texas to go out onto the market. That's an incredible statistic. The average time to graduation held steady at about 4.8 years. And about 42% of our students graduated in four years and 58% of our students graduated in six years.
So while retention of freshmen fell as we struggled with remote education, a key factor to helping our students stay in school has been the federal funds that we gave out. I think most of you are familiar with the Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds. We call them HEERF. There is HEERF I, II and III. And those HEERF funds provided direct aid to students in the form of grants and aid. No obligations, no strings. "Here you go, please stay in college." If you were enrolled, you got money. We made over... and this number has grown since I prepared this talk, but I don't know the exact number, so I'll tell you what we had about a month ago. We made over 60,000 awards for a total of $70 million of grants and aid to date. We also took some money out of the institutional pot and gave 8 million more dollars of HEERF institutional funds to help students who had large unpaid balances stay in college. So this year, we're providing an additional $35 million in grants and aid to continue our support of students to keep them moving forward. And that program will officially end this, sometime this spring, unless there's another federal government tranche of funds. So one of the things is, that's great news that we've been able to give out this much money to help our students. Sometimes I worry what happens when you pull the plug.
Strong enrollment and $27 million more in formula funding due to enrollment growth has helped us stabilize our budget. We thank the legislature for that. They really decided to fund and expand the formula because of the growth around the state, so we didn't just have to fight over smaller pieces of the pie. Because of this, we're going to offer a 2% merit pool and an additional 1% equity pool to help us meet market demands for a total 3% merit and equity pool this year. I think that'll come as good news to many. Now, in addition, we continue to make market adjustments, and we've already done that earlier this year. We made a number of them to try to get people closer up to a living wage, but we're committed to providing our faculty and staff more competitive salaries, especially in this really red hot job market. As an added bonus, I'm giving vice president the flexibility to give more Star Performer days off this year, to reward hardworking staff members who have been burning the candle at both ends.
We're also going to prioritize spending to support enrollment growth and student success. You can't grow 40% of masters students in 23% year over year without having to invest significantly to make sure our students have a great experience. So we've stabilized the Academic Affairs budget, and with the return of students to our residence halls and dining, our Student Affairs budget is now on solid ground. Thank you.
We've invested in Student Affairs to build engagement, to bring back university events and to help retention. Major initiatives that I love include launching our First Generation Success Center, which is going to make a big difference for the populations that are coming into the institution, and our Center for Counseling of Diverse Populations. I mean, this just makes sense, right? As we become more first-gen and more diverse, and welcome more students to our campus, the need to support them, to ease their transitions into college and help them cope with the challenges they're facing is a top priority for us. These two new centers will support our students and demonstrate in a very material way, how UNT is a caring community. And I'm particularly excited about the prospect of supporting our students in augmenting best practices with research to better understand the mental health challenges of diverse populations. In fact, I think the Center for Counseling of Diverse Populations could become a nationally prominent model for other major schools to adopt.
In addition to supporting faculty/staff personnel pay raises with the revenues from enrollment growth, last year, we decided to take advantage of low construction costs, and we began a new academic building in Frisco. This building is going to be important to us in our continued presence there as we expand. It's going to be a great way to integrate the activities of the corporate, private and public sectors in educational sectors. And we did it while locking in very favorable rates on our new Multicultural Center. So we got a twofer, a Frisco building and Multicultural Center that are coming that will be on this campus. To support our educational enterprise, we're also in the building stage of a new College of Visual Arts and Design Annex to replace our Oak Street facilities. Now our new Frisco campus building is going to be complete in spring of 2023 and I look forward to seeing all of you at the opening. I think it's going to be super exciting. The new Multicultural Center should be ready for the fall of 2023, another exciting opening opportunity that we'll have. We're also going to update our campus master plan this year to make sure that we're taking into account the changes of remote work, of how we educate our students, and our growth, and plan for many years into the future.
Let's turn to research. Research funding was steady from the previous year with total research funding at about $85 million. That may be not be too hard to understand in a year when we had at times limited access to our laboratories so spending wasn't rolling at the same rate that it was now. Texas NRUF expenditures increased modestly to about $20 million. I'm just going to say, as we move into this year, we need to make research funding a point of emphasis so that we can ultimately gain NRUF status and continue to move up in Tier One. So we're going to be looking hard at how we fund research and the programs that we need to continue to move up, and to gain the kind of status that we believe a major research university should have. Now, what will that mean? We're going to have to have more research facilities. I hope that we can get a new science and technology building, renovation of existing spaces that no longer perform well. We need additional research faculty who are bringing in federal funding, and we need to continue to focus on Ph.D. student production, which is what really drove us up into the mid ranks of Tier One. As we became a Carnegie Tier One institution in 2015, we continue to move up based off that strong Ph.D. production. Way back when we offered 100 new Ph.D. lines, which was a real major move for us.
This year, three more of our faculty have also won NSF CAREER Awards. Now, I don't know a lot of you, this is inside baseball. An NSF CAREER Award picks out a young investigator who is a hot shot, who's really going places fast and gives them a special award to enhance their careers. Having three of them is great, but you should know, we have a total of eight of them on our campus right now, and that's really good numbers for us. These are promising research faculty who we need to keep rolling. Of course, we also have three National Academy members on campus.
We're doing pretty well with personnel, but we can always do better. Because right now we have a critical shortage of research space. So, of course, our highest legislative priority in the special session that's happening right now, is for a new Science and Technology Building Tuition Revenue Bond. I don't know if it'll happen, but we've got our team lined up and we're pushing hard, and with a little luck, we'll be able to bring a new building to the campus. We'll also be putting up a new vivarium proceeding, a major renovation to our Science Research Building. We need the Science Research Building be fully functional to provide expanded space for the young investigators that we'll bringing in, and the people who are really well-funded who have expanding research needs. We've done a great job also with tech transfer. When I got here, do you know how many licenses we were generating on an average yearly basis? This many, zero. But over time and with the help of our VPR, and our commercialization group, this year, we had 45 patents and 35 licenses issued. That's really signaled progress. And by the way, there's a big takeaway here. That means licensing revenues are soaring for us, another additional revenue path that can help us if we can keep on this innovation path. Last year was also... OK, we're switching gears again.
It's time to talk about Mean Green Athletics. Now, after last week's football game, I was a little depressed, but then I just thought back over the year. And what did we do last year in Mean Green Athletics? We had record graduation rates, which is important. These are student athletes. We had three team conference championships. We had two individual conference champions, and we built a brand new donor supported golf center. I know several of you were there for the Bruzzy Golf Center opening, and it's an awesome facility that will help us continue the trend with our Indoor Practice Facility, our Track and Soccer Complex, and many of the other renovations that we've made to improve our facilities so that we can be competitive in the top ranks of universities. But what was the cherry on top of the sundae last year? I think you know. A win over Purdue in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The media attention we received out there was so incredible and it's helped to promote our UNT brand nationally. We call it earned media, and boy, it was worth millions, OK? So, we were really, really happy to get the win. I was there, Wren and I cheered so loud that we both lost our voices. OK, so it was a great time.
One of the things that we're trying to do as a university is not just stay in our ivory tower. We're trying to move out into the community. And we've worked really hard over the past few years to engage our corporate partners. This past year, we saw a flurry of new partners join the UNT Family and come into the fold via our online programs and their success with those programs. We've developed completion degrees, we're building custom programs for companies that need training. We brought in new business from national and international firms like American Airlines, Liberty Mutual, JPMorgan Chase, the PGA of America, Toyota, and we're even now working with the Choctaw Nation. And we'll continue to do this because it's important that we establish these kinds of vital links, because we want to be great partners, but we also want our students to get great jobs. One of our preferred partners is actually Google. They have certificate programs that lead to a variety of different training and career opportunities. They have joined with us through our Coursera BAAS degree, and we now will accept certificate programs into our BAAS degree and help these students graduate with the degree when they're trying to further themselves. Google loves this idea. It's the first at-scale partner of this type that they've had. And they're now giving us incredible free PR, because we're integrating their certificate and tech training programs into this degree program. I'm really excited about this partnership. Google's a nice name to attach to.
Now, while we're doing well and offering educational programming and certificates to these companies, we want to get more deeply involved in research with our partners, like we do with the Dallas Cowboys. The Dallas Cowboys are actually teaching actively in our programs and they're involved in our sport management and entertainment program. And as a result, we're seeing students come into internships, getting great firsthand experiences, even hearing from the Jones family. I mean, this is amazing. So we're now going to really work to get expanded partnerships, by gaining internships for our students and embedding corporate support for curriculum development, just like the model we have with our preferred partner, the Cowboys. This is a path of the future for us, especially out in Frisco. The programs we're developing in Frisco and beyond will help us to become preferred providers, not only for educational programs, but for student internships and employment opportunities for all of our corporate partners. I think this is going to be a real boon to us.
To do this, we have to make sure our students are prepared to enter a really competitive job market. These are really top notch companies, they don't take just anybody. They want to see that people have been through programs that mean something to them, that they've learned corporate culture, maybe they've had an internship experience. And that they have the content skills, and maybe even more importantly, the soft skills that they need. So, we're going to have a Career Center and counseling that can leverage these relationships and help our students be professionally prepared. That leads us directly to this year's focused planning goals around career and professional development.
Let's now turn to the State of the University video, because this is going out everywhere guys, and I think it's going to be big. I hear Harrison Keller, the head of THECB, is talking about this a lot, and I think we're the leaders in the state around this. Let's see this video and see what's in store for us next year in our focused strategic planning effort. Roll the video!
Hello everyone. I hope you're doing well as this semester begins. And thanks for taking some time to hear about our latest strategic focus. We've talked a great deal about student success over the past five years, focusing on retention, engagement, and most recently, affordability. Collectively, these planning initiatives have created a more engaging campus experience, have significantly improved retention, shorten the time to graduation, and will help students stay in school who struggled financially while limiting their debt. We've been working hard to decrease student debt across the years, and I expect that the distribution of over $70 million in federal funds in the past two years will help students who lost their jobs stay enrolled and move ahead.
But we are truly in strange times. COVID and its impacts on our students and their families have created a clouded future. Changes in wages for service workers and labor shortages in nearly every sector have also created opportunities for many college-aged students to go back to work and earn a decent living.
Despite the fact that we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that college graduates will earn more and go further, there's a growing sentiment that a college education may not be the golden ticket it once was. And news stories of graduates saddled with crushing debt have raised a question about whether it's worth going to college. In brief, students and their parents are asking, “Is the career outcome I get when I graduate worth going into debt for?”
Quite simply, we have to do better than we have in the past, at educating our students on how they develop as professionals. We need to move from a passive system of career preparation to an active and engaging systemic approach. In addition to making our case to the public, several other overarching factors are driving the need to focus on how our students develop as professionals.
First, as the demographics of Texas change, we're going to be serving more first-generation students. Many incoming students won't have the strong understanding of the job market and career choices that they should have. And they may have had little exposure to professional development as they enter college. The launch of our First Generation Success Center is a notable effort to ease students' transitions into college. And early returns suggest it's working well already. We also know that work is being disrupted and jobs are changing rapidly due to robotics, AI, and other factors that drive increasing job turnover. The upshot of this is that our students will have varied professional experiences over their lifetime. Finally, Gen Z students increasingly see themselves having multiple careers. They want multiple pathways and maybe to be entrepreneurs.
Collectively, these trends call on us to do better at preparing our students, not only for the first job out of college, but we need to help them gain the critical skills they'll have to have to thrive in multiple careers and career transitions.
To improve our strategic career development at UNT, we propose a comprehensive series of initiatives, to help our students gain the skills they need for choosing and developing their career paths and to be able to market themselves effectively. It's our four-year goal to have every graduating student be exposed to the relevant skills they need. Every student should get a chance to explore career options, understand the marketplace, know how to write a good resume and a cover letter, how to interview, how to sell marketable skills and how to negotiate a salary. Students also need to understand how to network through formal and informal means, and how to use that network to help them choose a career path and gain connections in their field. Of course, practical experience and exposure to careers through externships, internships, research, volunteer work, student organizations, and other similar activities will greatly enhance our student's entry into the job market. When we talk to employers, they universally say, that in addition to job specific skills, they want their employees to have a suite of soft skills, including great communication, teamwork, cognitive skills, information literacy, and an understanding of professional ethics. As our graduate seek positions, they also need to know how to distinguish and differentiate their experiences and skills from others and sell that to an employer by developing their own personal brand. Finally, in an increasingly diverse society, we need our students to embrace and support diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Our students can experience the benefits of multicultural engagement through activities we provide as a Hispanic-Serving and Minority-Serving Tier One institution with a large international population.
We don't anticipate that all these skills will be mastered by every student in year one, but we do expect that they'll develop the skills they need as they move through their degree with periodic checkpoints, with career advisors to give them feedback. Well, for example, we hope that every first-year student will participate in career exploration, learn how to write a resume, and understand how their curriculum gives them marketable skills. As they move closer to graduation, they may also do an internship, learn how to write their cover letter, how to network, develop their brand and do a job search.
So what's the first step for our students?
With a focus on meeting the needs of incoming freshmen, beginning in Fall '22, we're going to ask every student to participate in a First-Year Seminar that will expose them to a variety of skills and help them chart their career path. After we surveyed the colleges, we found that some had really well-developed embedded professional resources and thoughtful first-year professional development classes, while others had few offerings at the college level due to limited resources. For those colleges with highly developed programs, we simply want to encourage them to make sure that all their freshmen can participate in a First-Year Seminar that covers the basics. Recognizing that some colleges don't have the resources to offer every freshmen major such a class, we're developing a zero-credit online class that will be available Fall '22. This course will expose students to a variety of professional skills and they'll get feedback on career paths, resume writing, and understanding how their core classes give them marketable skills - the soft skills employers are looking for.
Career exploration will be done at Orientation using a resource called MyPlan. After completing MyPlan, students will have group discussions so that they'll better understand career opportunities and learn the skills and resources they need to develop their career path. Later in the year, students will attend a group session to reflect on the marketable skills they've learned in their core classes so that they can communicate those to future employers. They'll also get one-on-one feedback from their college career advisors to continuously improve their resumes. Each student will receive transcript credit for passing the First-Year Seminar by documenting basic proficiency in these three tasks; understanding career exploration resources, communicating marketable skills, and writing a resume.
While we don't expect this class to be a panacea, it's a start that we can build on year after year, as students move through their majors and checkpoints to hone their skills. In the past, we've had siloed career resources and experiences for our students offered independently from Student Affairs and Academic Affairs. A career survey sent to current students revealed that most of them were unaware of the career resources we offered and didn't access them.
To create a better experience for our students, we're combining our siloed resources into a single integrated unit, under new leadership to better engage our colleges. This new team will actively reach out to our students and assure that they will get the support and resources they need, when they need them. Now, to ensure that students get personal feedback to develop the skills they need to be successful, we're going to be adding career coaches in the colleges, for a total of 30 across our campus. We've seen embedded career coaches work really well, in the G. Britt Ryan College of Business, for example. These coaches will be able to deeply understand the various career paths in their units, provide one-on-one and group coaching for our students, help faculty add relevant career and professional development into the curricula, and help match students to internships or other professional experiences, and ultimately help them get placed into positions. Now, this is going to require a significant financial investment from Student Affairs, Academic Affairs, and the President's Office. This newly developed comprehensive approach should improve the service gaps we identified during our career town halls, and help nurture our students' professional development.
While students are selecting majors and trying to figure out career paths, it's important that they get to hear from professionals in the fields they're considering entering, and that they can network to expand their career horizons, ask questions, and of course get mentored when they find the right person to provide support. We'll be taking our current Mean Green Mentors program developed jointly by our Alumni Association and the Career Center, and expand it to develop a major mentoring and networking site using LinkedIn. It makes sense to use LinkedIn, because it's a commonly used networking, learning, and job search engine. Using it effectively is a skill we want our students to have. Now, while we love it when alumni and professionals from different sectors come to campus and talk with our students, well, not everyone can take the time to travel. LinkedIn gives alumni a chance to interact with our students, answer their questions, help them with career choices and maybe even land a job. Plus, we hope to see that this engages more of our 300,000-plus alumni to build stronger affiliations with UNT. I hope all of you will sign up as part of the Mean Green Mentors program, by following this link to help personally get involved with our students' success.
After conducting a career listening tour of all the colleges, one of the most frequently addressed items was how many unpaid internships students had or we're going to have to take to meet the needs of their chosen profession. Student teaching, healthcare internships, non-profit internships, media internships, and many internships with public and governmental entities are examples of unpaid internships our students participate in to further their career goals. The challenge of this, is that in many cases, students who are paying their way through college by working have to give up their jobs to meet program or degree requirements, which increases their debt. We currently have a pilot internship scholarship program through the Career Center that we'd like to expand. While we don't have the resources to support all the students who are enrolled in unpaid internships, we would like to address those with the most financial need, by providing them with modest support. We want to raise $300,000 this year, so we can offer 300 students $1,000 scholarships each for unpaid internships. Now, while this doesn't meet the full need they have, it's a start that can help get our students to persist and improve their professional success. To do this, I'm asking our alumni and donors to make $1,000 or greater gifts to support internships this year. Now, we're going to mount a major campaign to help raise these funds from alumni and the private sector. But if you'd like to donate now, and I really encourage you to donate now, please go to the following link.
Our final initiative is a challenging long-term career initiative. Now, let me set the stage. By 2030, we estimate that over 75 million workers will face career transitions every year. And the mix of remote and in-person work is already changing. We need to acknowledge the way that work is changing, and it's changing rapidly. Many in the workforce are going to be able to work virtually from anywhere and get jobs in any part of the country. COVID has accelerated this dramatic shift, and we're going to be able to see workplaces changing because of business automation, e-commerce, and other technological disruptions. If our students' skills don't keep pace with the changing market, they're going to be left behind.
In addition to these changes, many of our Gen Z students no longer think of themselves as working only one career in a lifetime. And increasingly, they seek positions where they can wear many hats. The disrupted future of work and preferences of Gen Z are at odds with how universities educate students in our degree bound model that emphasizes learning in single content areas. Instead, our students need to understand how to navigate a changing job market and position themselves to be successful in multiple careers.
The skills they need are an extended set of the basic competencies and understandings that I mentioned at the beginning of this presentation. Certainly, our students need to have strong soft skills. They're going to need to re-skill and up-skill multiple times in their life. And they'll have to have a high level of digital fluency. They're also going to have to understand how to re-market themselves using their personal brands. To embed these understandings in our students' college experience and help them move across departmental silos to gain the skills they need, we have to better understand the future of work, and what that future requires of us as we prepare students for their careers.
We have some good examples already that can help us envision a higher education model that meets our students multifaceted career trajectories. Our integrative studies degree is growing in popularity, and it's a great example of how students want to create degree plans from several areas. More importantly, it shows our students' desire to gain skills from several different areas as chosen by them instead of a unitary focus degree choice. Our cohort program at Frisco integrates market-driven skills and experiences such as creative design and data analytics into a project-based program that utilizes the application of just-in-time knowledge instead of the traditional just-in-case education model. The responses of students' employers to this program have been terrific. We hope to roll out some of these project-based learning courses as electives on the Denton campus for our students to experience the future of work and create their own unique path while they're at UNT. But this is just a start.
Over the next year, we're going to investigate and apply best practice models for educational paradigms that better meet the career futures of Gen Z. This is a long range, but important project as we acknowledge the changes, our current students will see in a volatile job market in the years to come.
We started developing these initiatives through a listening tour of advisors, the colleges and relevant staff units. We also scanned the higher education landscape to see what best practices look like across the country. While we found elements of these ideas in different schools, we couldn't find a holistic integrated approach anywhere in the nation.
As we implement these initiatives and evolve them over the next four years, we will become a national model for how we support our students' career aspirations and professional development. Of course, we feel that this will show the value of a UNT education and help us realize our mission: At the University of North Texas, our caring and creative community empowers our students to thrive in a rapidly changing world.
This is an exciting time to be at UNT. And I ask all of you to please help make this vision a reality and continue our growth as an innovative next generation institution.
It's funny. 30, 40, or more years ago, when I began my college professional career as an assistant professor, the buzzword was, well, we don't train people for jobs. We train them for life by giving them an education. And you know what? We still do that, we do it really well. But how many parents, or how many of those same faculty members who might've told me that, way back when, hoped their kids would go to college and not get a job? Anybody? It's like, "Get off my payroll. Get on their payroll. Let's see where we can go with this."
This effort that we're mounting right now, I think is fundamentally important. And I think it's a bit of a paradigm shift. And while I know there's increased pressure across the country, I don't know anyone who's trying to look at it systematically to see how far we can go and how much we can help, and how much better our students will do if they get this type of training. It doesn't have to... We don't have to throw the baby out with the bath water here. We're still going to provide an incredible education. We're still going to give them all those major competencies that they're looking for, but just a little tweak here and there, and I think the students at UNT are going to come out incredibly well-prepared.
By the way, I was watching the audience when the QR codes went up. Either you were really polite and you didn't want to get your phone out, or you just don't know how to use QR codes. So we're going to have to start first with a, you push the camera button, you scan the code, you go to the website, and then you make a giant donation. I mean, how hard is that? Come on. All right, well, I won't harangue you on that anymore.
We've got a special ending for today, and I'd like to invite Nada and anybody from her entourage who might want come up on the stage.
- Thank you very much.
- My pleasure. And who is this?
- This is my nephew.
- My pleasure.
- Nada and her nephew. It's too bad he's so short. Anyhow-
- He's a soccer player.
- A soccer player, OK, all right. Well, look, why don't you relax here, while Nada and I...? Come over and stand by this lovely draped picture, and let me get my cheat sheet because Nada has done so much, that's actually hard for me to remember all of it.
I first met Nada a few years back when we awarded her the Wings of Eagle Award, because we knew she was going places. Now, what most of you don't know is that Nada's specialty is in Arab art. Not just art from one area or one era, but particularly interested in modernism and Arab art. And a lot of people think modernism happened because of maybe the impressionist movement, which led to the Neo-Impressionist, which led to... I'm not an art historian, so just let me butcher this for a while. We've got the Picasso's and as Nada points out, well, Picasso was Spanish and the Spanish culture was heavily influenced by the Arab culture, and this was happening all around the world. So while people often have, I think, very uninformed and parochial views of art, what Nada's done is she's opened the oyster up, and she's allowed us to look in much more detail at what's really happened in the Middle East, and especially in terms of the culture, and creativity, and the vitality of cultures that help us to understand that Middle Eastern culture is not one-dimensional, but it's poly-dimensional, and it's really, really interesting. Now, there's my...
I could read all this about the Modern Art Iraq Archive, and the Middle East Islamic Art and Global Contemporary, and American Academy Research Institute, and Fulbright fellowships and award after award after award. And they're phenomenal, but I think what really matters is, she can begin through art and art history to change the hearts of people, and to change the understanding of cultures, and to make us understand that there's deeper expressions and there's deeper ways we can communicate, and that is really incredible. So Nada, I know I didn't get it all technically right, but I’ve got to say, I'm just so impressed. And for her work, she received the Kuwait Prize for Arts and Literature from the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences, which has been considered the pinnacle of Arab research and it's called the Arab Nobel Prize. And so we gave you the Wings of Eagle first. I know that launched your flight to the Arab Nobel Prize, but now let me recognize this achievement with a Presidential Citation. Nada, I won't make you carry this. You can set it back here and enjoy.
I just wish we were a little more comfortable with face-to-face and receptions with everybody eating and drinking. We were going to have one, and we'll have to give you a make-up call on that one, okay? But everybody, please, once again, join me in a giant round of applause for an incredible achievement. Thank you so much, Nada. And a little extra something for you, OK? So thank you so much. And with that, we conclude our ceremonies on a real high note. And I hope to get feedback from you on our new plans. And, of course, your support, help, and engagement on our campus to make our mission more possible, and to build and lift the lives of our students. Thank you all, and Go Mean Green! Thank you. A pleasure.