Provost's Newsletter – October 2018

A Message from Jay

Provost Jay

Dear Colleagues,

Last December, Senior Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning Frank Dooley and I met with the leadership of our Teaching Academy so that I could get better acquainted with the group and learn more about some of their ideas for the coming year. It didn’t take long before the meeting grew into much more. We had a freewheeling, energizing and inspiring conversation about the future of undergraduate education at Purdue. Frank and I left the meeting with the same idea — we needed to engage the broader campus in a dialogue about undergraduate education to address such questions as: What should a Purdue education deliver to our students? How should we teach? How do we integrate co-curricular activities into the educational experience? How do we better support a culture of great teaching?

These are all big questions and, given the changes we’re seeing and will see in our undergraduate program, they’re important to address. Technology is already influencing how we teach and it has the potential to have an even greater impact. A new generation of students — Generation Z — is coming to campus with values and attitudes that differ from the millennials we’re familiar with. The world our students are entering is evolving quickly as automation, artificial intelligence, and digitization reshape entire industries. And all of this is happening as many are questioning the relevance and cost of a residential learning experience. So, the time for a bigger conversation about our undergraduate program is both right and  necessary.

To that end, Frank and I, along with Sheila Hurt, program director for the Boiler Success Team, led a series of 10 listening sessions last spring. During the same period, seven teams of volunteers interviewed undergraduates to gain their perspectives through a project called “Exploring Challenges and Opportunities.” Overall, nearly 200 faculty, staff, graduate teaching assistants, and students participated in conversations that were robust, rich with ideas, and candid about areas we need to work on. Based on these conversations, a framework for discussion was developed around four key areas — outcomes, the academic experience, co-curricular activities, and a supportive culture for teaching — and we set about exploring the four questions listed above.

This fall, the Teaching Academy, under the leadership of Lindsey Payne, director of service learning in the Office of Engagement, hosted a series of conversations featuring our ten 150th Anniversary Professors. I attended one of these conversations and again found it informative and insightful. 

What I have appreciated most in all of these discussions is the unmistakable passion, enthusiasm, and energy for Purdue’s undergraduate program. Faculty and staff are both excited about new undergraduate initiatives and frustrated because they know we can be better. A number of important undergraduate programs and initiatives have launched over the past few years: IMPACT; the study abroad initiative; Cornerstone, Degree in Three, Degree+ (all launched in Liberal Arts); reinstatement of the Instructional Equipment Grant program; the Integrative Data Science Initiative; the 150th Anniversary Professors; and others. More programs and initiatives are in the works: a new approach for teaching evaluations, more combined bachelor’s and master’s programs, a career path for our continuing term lecturers, and others. But we have more to do to fully capitalize on the opportunity ahead.

There is little doubt that higher education in general is facing headwinds. That said, we have an unusual opportunity as a land-grant university with the associated mandate to engage communities in our state, nation and world, and as a Research 1 institution where every day our faculty, staff and students push back the barriers of their disciplines to define a unique undergraduate experience that embraces our land-grant and Research 1 status. We have a terrific legacy to build on here, and many, many faculty and staff deeply committed to our teaching mission.

Today, we are in the process of creating a road map for undergraduate education from the insights we’ve gathered so far. We will need input from many more of you on where we go from here and how we get there. We will need your thoughts and ideas about what it means to be an undergraduate student at Purdue in the year 2030. You will see more about this in the coming months and I ask that you add your voice to this discussion. Ultimately, we want — we need — for Purdue to be known as well globally for our great educational programs as we are for our extraordinary research. To me, that is a goal worth pursuing.

All the best,


October 2018

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