There isn’t much mystery about what attracted Bryan Albrecht to apply for the job of the seventh chancellor of University of Wisconsin-Stout.
It was like old home week for Albrecht who greeted many familiar folks in the audience that filled Harvey Hall last Thursday. Having earned three of his four degrees at Stout, he pretty much knows his way around campus.
There have been changes, though, since Albrecht earned his education specialist certification in 2008. But one thing hasn’t: “The mission and vision of [founder] James Huff Stout is still alive. ... The applied nature of what is happening at this university — and what has happened for over 100 years — I think is what is critical and unique and special and different ... and has made a difference in the lives of the students who have graduated from this university, including myself.”
Albrecht embraced the presentation theme “Building bridges, creating connections” by noting that all bridges create both challenges and opportunities.
The Fond du Lac native is a first generation college graduation. “That was a big bridge for me — leaving home for the first time ... staying with somebody I didn’t know, using technology for the first time,” he said. “There are so many hurdles that students stand on and so many bridges that they must cross to be successful.”
The support and encouragement he received as a Stout student made all the difference: “It’s much more than an investment in a tuition payment. You receive an entire team of people that are going to help you to become successful. ... People that were my teachers at one time ... have now become my lifelong friends and what a tremendously powerful bridge that has built.”
Pointing out that research shows students who are engaged, whether academically or outside the classroom are the ones who graduate, Scott Griesbach, director of Student Life Services, asked Albrecht his views on how to retain students.
“Service learning is a very important component,” Albrecht responded. “That will not only help us engage not only our students in the academic learning environment, but in the community in general and engage students and empower the community.”
Retention leads naturally to recruitment, and Albrecht noted that today’s students are different and strategies to attract students also need to change. “They want laptops, iPads, cell phones — they want it all,” he said. “They want to learn in their virtual world. ... What we call our campus in the future will probably change. And how do we become more flexible and more nimble in order to do that?”
What helps, of course, is the strong focus on quality that has always been a hallmark at UW-Stout. Albrecht noted that not only is the Stout Technology Park the first of its kind in the state, the university was also the first educational institution to receive the Malcolm Baldrige Award.
Albrecht said he thinks it’s critical that the chancellor is an active member of the community. “Stout is only as strong as the communities that it serves. If you don’t understand what’s going on in the community, the values of the community, it’s hard to lead an institution the size of Stout,” he said. “I think it’s important for the chancellor to be strong advocate within the community.”
Albrecht current serves on more than 60 boards in Wisconsin, including United Way, Boys & Girls Club, Chambers of Commerce, and economic development corporation. “From those different viewpoints, you can be a more positive leader for the university because you know the economic side of it, the workforce side of it, the social impact side of it,” he explained. “Without all of those elements, it’s difficult to make informed decisions about where you want to make your investments as a university — and where you can find and expose students to being a part of real world solutions, whether it’s industry or in the community.”
There’s a path and pattern of what happens in the technical colleges and what’s happened at Stout for more than 100 years. Both share similar value structures and similar types of experiences, Albrecht said when asked why he wants to be the university’s next chancellor.
“I’ve been a classroom teacher, state administrator, president of a two-year college, so the next bigger umbrella for me would be how do you widen your sphere of influence?” he said. “The university sphere is even greater because your population goes all over the world — and they take your message with them and then carry that with them for the rest of their lives.”
Albrecht said he would like to inspire young people like the ones he knew and has since met at Stout to be bigger thinkers. “How do you provide opportunities to widen your sphere of influence? The university system allows that to happen,” Albrecht concluded, adding that the UW System is one of the best in the country. And as the state’s only polytechnic, “Stout itself has an even more powerful brand.”
The last two finalists — Robert M. Meyer on Tuesday and D.C. Coston on Thursday — will visit UW-Stout. All five finalists will be interviewed by a UW Regents committee on May 21 and will recommend a candidate to the Board of Regents who will vote for the one who will succeed Chancellor Charles W. Sorensen who is retiring as of Aug. 1.