University holds public interview for provost and vice president for academic affairs finalist
May 20, 2018
Sue Westbrook, the finalist for the position of provost and vice president for academic affairs for Nicholls State University, addressed topics such as diversity and retention at a public interview in the Ridley Gros Auditorium on May 10.
Westbrook has worked at Nicholls for the past 30 years, serving as dean of the college of nursing and allied health for the past 14. She currently holds the role of acting provost and vice president for academic affairs.
Westbrook began by identifying five problems that the university faces: financial constraints, retention and completion, diversity and inclusion, assessment of learning outcomes and communicating the value of a liberal arts education.
“This place that we love so much, Nicholls State University, has faced these adversities in the past, but we will boldly conquer them in the future,” Westbrook said.
She said that as a faculty member and a dean, she has encountered such challenges and is ready to overcome them as provost and vice president for academic affairs.
To meet the issue of financial constraints, Westbrook said that competitive salaries and merit raises are important for bringing in the best faculty.
“We compete with other universities for the best students and the best faculty. Competitive faculty salaries and merit raises are key to attracting the best faculty, which it turn attracts the best students,” Westbrook said.
When speaking about retention, Westbrook said that 67 percent of students at the university are first- generation college students. She said that first-generation college students need support in going through the “maze” of registering for and attending college.
“Admissions does a great job of attracting…our first time freshmen,” Westbrook said. “Admissions gives them a map and a compass, and we’re the guides through the woods. We need to be better guides, but we also need tools to be better guides.”
Westbrook said that innovative teaching methods like internships, service learning and blended classes are critical to student success, but retention must go beyond the classroom. She said that mentorship is key to retention.
She said that in her first 100 days in the role of provost and vice president for academic affairs, she would like to see the implementation of initiatives to grow enrollment and to work on retention.
The preliminary numbers for first-time freshman from the fall 2017 semester that are set to return in the fall of 2018 show that retention is on track to reach 72.3 percent, an all-time high for the university, she said. Westbrook said that the university must keep up that momentum.
“The bottom line of all this is it is important to increase first-time freshman,” Westbrook said. “However, increasing enrollment of first-time freshman without increasing retention of all students will not afford us physical growth opportunities. It merely keeps us marching in place.”
Westbrook said that the university must do a better job of increasing faculty diversity on campus in order to address the diversity of the student body. She said that she is committed to the recruitment and retention of a diverse faculty.
“Research in healthcare reveals that patients often prefer to be cared for by someone who looks like them, someone who can model for them. It stands to reason that this can also be translated to education,” Westbrook said.
She said that it is important for students to feel welcomed at the university.
“At every level, we must create an environment that makes all students feel like they belong at Nicholls,” Westbrook said.
When speaking of assessment of learning outcomes, she said that there should be a predetermined set of knowledge and skills that a student should have mastered for a course when they complete it. When students leave the university, they should be equipped with skills that make them more marketable to employers.
“We need to work hand-in-hand with private industries to make sure that our graduates are fulfilling industry needs. Our learning outcomes must be in harmony with the needs of the companies we’re sending our graduates to,” Westbrook said.
Westbrook said that is important that students have the opportunity to learn through high-impact practices that enrich the learning experience, such as internships and job shadowing. She said that the true value of a liberal arts education is seen in students being able to apply their learning to solve real- world problems.
When students leave the university, Westbrook said that she wants them to be critical thinkers, problem-solvers, leaders and ethical decision-makers.
“Measuring the number of college degrees we produce is not enough. More important are the experiences that shape who our students become,” Westbrook said.
Westbrook said that the person who fills the role of provost and vice president for academic affairs should understand, trust and empower the faculty and care for the university.
“We need someone who can get the job done and who’s not afraid to do so. We need someone who views the position of provost and vice president for academic affairs as the job to build a better university and not the job to build a better résumé,” Westbrook said.