NMU invests in faculty-driven ideas

Von Lanier

During the fall semester of 2015, NMU President Fritz Erickson set aside $1 million to pursue innovative ideas, driven by faculty, to address the continuing enrollment decline at NMU.

re-kaplaThe Program Investment Fund (PIF) has evolved from what was previously deemed Wildcat Innovation Funds (WIF). The money came from a combination of remaining WIF funds, set aside years ago, as well as university reserves.

“It’s important for a university to be always looking forward, and part of the problem that we can have is that we’ll have faculty that have great ideas but no place to go for the financial resources to support the exploration and development of those ideas, so the [PIF] was designed to directly address that issue,” Erickson said.

The PIF is meant to provide opportunities for faculty and staff to rethink existing programs, think of new programs and to make modifications to programs, Erickson said.

In a campus-wide effort, faculty-generated proposals are submitted to the 5-member Program Investment Fund Committee, which sorts through them, approves the funding or gives feedback for refining a proposal if necessary. Erickson said universities have an obligation to provide support for faculty-driven innovative ideas.

“The future of the university is only limited by our creativity and willingness to support and explore those creative ideas,” he added. “My hope is that if we believe this is successful then we should identify a new set of funds to continue to support this type of innovation.”

The PIF was a one-time set of funding that has been mostly expended. A total of $913,000 of the overall funding has been committed so far, said Associate Provost for Undergraduate Programming and Academic Affairs, Dale Kapla.

“I don’t know if we’ve actually spent it because some things are pending,” he added.

Some of the investments include $22,581 given to the Sustainability Committee this fall to kickstart its efforts. Another is $57,000 that was given to the music department as traveling expenses for recruitment tours, and an estimated $200,000 that was invested in the coming applied behavior analysis center for contract staffing and renovation of the old Human Resources department, where the center will be located.

Once the PIF committee reviews a recommendation and gives it a “yes,” it then goes to the provost [Kerri Schuiling], who makes the final decision on them, Kapla said.

Other investments include the NMU department of chemistry rolling out a medicinal plant chemistry major and the purchase of comprehensive retention program software to help academic advisors connect to advisees through online access, as well as a 1-day Women in Construction fair that will be held on campus next semester.

“While we have a bit of dipping enrollment here, we still need to invest in programs that will continue to move the university forward,” Kapla said.

Since a lot of the new investments have not yet been brought to fruition, the NMU community will not see any tangible evidence of innovations until they are finalized, save for the autism clinic projected to open in February.

“There are faculty and employees all over campus that have ideas, and in the face of budget reductions you think, ‘Well I’ll never get this idea off the ground because we’re cutting budgets.’ That’s not necessarily true,” Kapla said.

He shared his thoughts on the overall scope of NMU’s PIF approach saying, “We started this last fall and we’re just about out of money here with it, which is a good thing, and I think we have a collection of innovative ideas that over the next couple of years it’s really going to just make NMU better. In the next couple of years you’re going to see all of this stuff start to play out and you’re going to see the results of it all. It’s just going to take some time.”