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The Man With the Plan: Interview with Schaumburg Campus Provost Douglas Knerr

Posted: 10/17/2011

From the Summer 2011 issue of Roosevelt Review

In an interview with Roosevelt Review Editor Tom Karow, Schaumburg Campus Provost Douglas Knerr describes his plans for the Campus and explains how it must always be an integral part of the northwest suburban community.

Schaumburg Campus Provost Douglas Knerr believes that successful universities, like all other organizations, must constantly change. “You have to adapt,” he said. “Old models will not sustain themselves in the fast-changing landscape of higher education. If you stand still, you might as well declare yourself dead.”

An experienced Roosevelt professor and administrator, Knerr is leading the Schaumburg Campus during a period of great change and innovation. Two major new doctoral programs, pharmacy and I/O psychology, will operate exclusively at Schaumburg, while under his direction stronger relationships are being forged throughout the region with community colleges, local governments, businesses and civic organizations. “The goal,” he said, “is to establish Roosevelt Schaumburg as the intellectual and cultural leader in the Northwest suburbs.”

Knerr joined the Roosevelt faculty in 1998 as an assistant professor of social sciences where he taught at both the Schaumburg and Chicago Campuses and online. His first administrative assignment was director of Learning Technologies in 2001. He subsequently was promoted to interim dean of the Evelyn T. Stone College of Professional Studies, associate provost for Academic Programs and Distance Learning, vice provost of faculty and academic administration and interim Schaumburg Campus provost.

TK: What is your vision for the Schaumburg Campus?

DK: Actually, I think we need multiple visions for the Campus to sustain growth and promote academic innovation. Fundamentally, the Campus must embody the best of Roosevelt’s past, present and future. It extends Roosevelt’s fundamental mission and values into new markets and new frontiers. It must be recognizable to everyone as a place where learning — and the inspiration for learning — is ubiquitous and embedded into every aspect of the physical facility, every academic program and in the hearts and minds of all of us who serve our students. It must be a destination for innovative academic programming attuned to the needs of our communities and it must be a place where student success is our fundamental goal. If all our students see the Campus as a place that fuels their dreams and enables their success, we would be very, very happy.

TK: What type of students will be studying on the Campus?

DK: We’re a community campus for full-time students in undergraduate and graduate programs. We also want to be the transfer campus of choice for all of our community college partners. We’re looking to redefine the type of student we can serve successfully. We cannot serve everyone, because the idea is not to cast a wide net, but to focus on the highest quality academic programs and educational experiences. The idea is to understand what we can do for a specific student who is going to be successful, because we want all of our students to graduate with a toolkit for lifelong success.

TK: What does it mean to be a community campus?

DK: As the only full-service university in the Northwest suburbs, Roosevelt must meet the needs of the community and the employers in the area. I believe it’s absolutely essential that we position the Campus in an academic sense and in a community-service sense around the key issues in the region, including employment and investment. That’s why we are one of the founders of the new Schaumburg Business Association Center for Economic Development.

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TK: Can you describe another issue the Campus is involved in?

DK: I think the issue of domestic violence is going to be a big one for the Campus in terms of our mission. Domestic violence is often difficult to talk about and hard to address, but its prevalence demands action from an institution imbued with a social justice mission. A number of our students are already volunteering with the Northwest Suburban Alliance on Domestic Violence. We have created new opportunities for students to lead the Campus in supporting a variety of organizations working against domestic violence, and indeed our students have shown the way for the entire Campus community.

TK: Are you forming alliances with other academic institutions?

DK: Most certainly. We are connecting with our academic partners on multiple and unique levels. A lot of relationships between two-year and four-year schools use a layered cake model, where you lay a degree on top of a degree. What we really need is a marble cake model where you have a flow in between the layers, and those connections are not just at the top of the Campus hierarchy, but they’re infused throughout the Campus. This will include such things as shared advising and shared physical resources. Certainly one of the most important things is to focus on student learning outcomes, so it is important that faculty members are perpetually engaged in these relationships.

TK: Could you explain what you mean by student learning outcomes?

DK: For every course or program, we determine what we want students to learn, experience and be able to do. I think the last one is particularly important. In today’s world we need to guarantee employers that students with a Roosevelt degree can communicate well, write well and be able to analyze and use data effectively. All those skills are critical because we know students are going to have many jobs throughout their careers. So it’s building a portfolio of skills that are useful throughout their working and personal lives.

TK: Does that mean there will be curricular changes?

DK: We will implement changes in the curriculum that focus more on the modern view of learning. I think you’ll see throughout our programs, psychology being an excellent example, that students are not passively learning, they’re out in the community. Modern learning is learning beyond the walls of the classroom and being able to not only gain knowledge from the experience, but to reflect on it. Experiential learning and service learning are good examples of practices that engage students in a broader conversation about the value of what they know and how they can apply it in the community for positive social change.

TK: You mentioned psychology as a program which uses modern learning.

DK: Yes, it’s a perfect example. This fall, I/O (industrial/ organizational) psychology will be our first PhD program and it will be located exclusively at the Schaumburg Campus, as is our new doctorate in Pharmacy. Both programs offer highvalue degrees within a rigorous learning environment. The I/O psychology curriculum requires students to become involved in the community, which frequently leads to excellent job offers. We’re trying to reshape part of the Campus so it is a research center for the I/O program. That way grad students, undergraduates and the faculty can interact together every day.

TK: What does it mean to the community to have the College of Pharmacy located at Schaumburg?

DK: I think it demonstrates several things. First of all, it shows Roosevelt’s continuing expertise in the sciences. The Schaumburg Campus has always been strong in biology, chemistry and the physical sciences and we want to be a leader in that sector. The College of Pharmacy is a kind of flag in the turf that Roosevelt is playing in the field of health care and helping to develop new ways of delivering care to those who need it in the region. The role of the pharmacist is evolving into much more of a direct provider of health care.

TK: One of your goals seems to be enhancing the reputation of Roosevelt in the community.

DK: Absolutely. We face competition in the marketplace every day, so we must constantly assess our performance. Everything we do is matched to institutional effectiveness and how well we adapt when we find those measures are not successful. We must provide the type of education that employers want and our students need, which is much harder than it sounds.

TK: Will there be more full-time faculty members assigned to the Campus?

DK: I believe that students remember and value their university experiences through the faculty. We all remember professors who inspired us, challenged us and took pride in our accomplishments, and that means faculty must be engaged on Campus beyond the classroom. When faculty embrace a holistic view of teaching, it builds collegial relationships among all members of the University community. As we restructure the academic program more intently, Campus resident full-time faculty will take the lead in shaping the future of academic and social life on Campus. Part of my responsibility is to build Campus connections so that faculty members can reach beyond their particular areas of expertise. Pharmacy and I/O psychology professors already are doing this and they are having a strong influence on student activity and student leadership on Campus.

TK: Can you tell me about the plans to make the Schaumburg Campus more sustainable?

DK: The Campus will become a laboratory or demonstration site for the latest and best practices in sustainable energy usage and sustainable living. We’re currently developing a bold and dynamic plan that will revolutionize the entire exterior landscape of the Campus over the next five to 10 years. First we’re going to focus on ways to use less water on Campus. We’ll recycle more of the water that falls on Campus and reuse that through cisterns. Then we plan to replace the grass around the Campus with more native plantings that don’t require mowing and we plan to create community gardens that will enable students to grow a good bit of the food that’s served in the cafeteria.

TK: Finally can you tell me about your plans to keep alumni involved?

DK: We have created a new Northwest Suburban Alumni Chapter, which is a great way for alumni in the Schaumburg area to connect with one another. Thousands of Roosevelt alumni studied exclusively in the Northwest suburbs so they have much in common with one another and the Campus. There will be more academic events, recitals and lectures on Campus, so I hope that alumni return often to enjoy all that is going on at the Schaumburg Campus.