MSU-N Back to School 2016: Kegel looks back, looks ahead at Northern
August 25, 2016
As Greg Kegel begins his second year at the helm of Montana State University-Northern as chancellor, the campus is seeing a frenzy of activity.
Perhaps the most notable is the construction work being done.
"We are across campus doing a lot of upgrades and renovation-type projects," Kegel said.
He said that on the southeast corner of the campus, walls are being taken out in the Metals Technology Building and breakout rooms constructed for the welding faculty. In the Farm Mechanics Building, a tool room is being added.
Bathrooms in the dormitory Morgan Hall are also being overhauled.
"So, what we are doing is completely gutting those bathrooms on those floors and putting in new showers, lavatories and ventilation systems," Kegel said.
The area in and near Kegel's office in Cowan Hall is also undergoing renovations.
Kegel's office has been temporarily relocated to the conference room in Cowan Hall, as his office is getting new carpeting.
The conference room will also be enlarged.
Kegel said the wall that separates the conference room from the room that houses the office of his secretary, Rachel Dean,, will soon be removed, making for a more spacious conference room.
A room next to Kegel's office is also being remodeled to serve as Dean's new office.
He said the additional space will provide him with a space for meetings and to work with teams and will serve as a location for large meetings.
Kegel said removing the wall will enlarge the existing conference room from about 12-by-20 to 24-by-20.
"It still won't be big enough," he said. "I mean, I would love it to be bigger than it is, but that is all there is that we could come up with."
But beyond the bricks and mortar and sounds of electric saws, there are are other efforts afoot and promising trends, Kegel said.
Kegel said numbers show the population of full-time equivalent students has jumped by 50. Retention is also up 7 percent.
"But even better news is we got a number of students who are on waiting lists that could push that number close to 100," he said.
He said that while there is no guarantee that they will attract those students, it does give the administrators reason for optimism.
Kegel said he attributes the jump in enrollment to success with a retention and recruitment initiative he started when he first assumed the office of chancellor. He reached out to all employees and faculty members to help keep students enrolled, and help out in any way they could attract new students to the university, he said.
He said he talked to each of the more-than 200 campus employees, asking them individually if they could ramp up efforts at recruitment. It was a request they readily granted, Kegel said.
"In fact, the thing that was most consoling to me was the fact that when I did that, nobody complained," he said. "They said, 'Tell me what I can do, tell me how I can help, and we will help' and they did."
Those employees took a variety of actions, he added.
For example, Kegel said, one faculty member brought in different types of healthy food for students.
"And I had one student tell me if it wasn't for the hardboiled eggs, she might not have made it through the semester because she literally didn't have money to buy food," he said.
He said those small acts made the difference.
Faculty did more school visits for prospective students and made materials promoting the campus more widely available, he said.
Others worked on beautification efforts throughout the campus.
The Diesel Center
The new Diesel Technology Center has long been a centerpiece of Kegel's efforts to boost enrollment at Northern.
He said the university now has more than 94 percent of the $9.9 million of the funds needed to construct the new facility, which will house Northern's world-class diesel technology program and ag mechanics along with some other classes that are common between the diesel and automotive programs.
Most of the automotive technology program classes will move into what is now the Farm Mechanics Building. All of the classes now in the Farm Mechanics Building will move to the Diesel Technology Center.
That building will stand in the place of the old automotive technology center and incorporate a portion of the existing building into the new design.
Contracts have already gone out for bid, Kegel said. Bids should be coming back and opened up later this month, and he said he hopes the contract is awarded by Sept 1.
Throughout the summer, Kegel said instructors and faculty have been busy evacuating the automotive center, which is slated for partial demolition. Equipment has been relocated to extra spaces throughout the campus.
He said the big challenge is that the programs that were housed in that building are the fastest-growing and most popular ones on the campus,
"So the diesel program, our numbers are skyrocketing in that program, while we are moving out of the facility, " Kegel said.
He said to enable instructors to continue teaching courses they have refashioned a former muffler shop along U.S. Highway 2 East which will serve as a temporary facility for classrooms.
Kegel said that because of the high growth in those programs, the university will likely need to find a second downtown location.
The relocation process has gone smoother than anticipated, he said, adding that moving large pieces of equipment to a new location can be cumbersome.
He said that from the beginning whatever facilities they used would student-ready.
The shop had to be cleaned, remodeled and outfitted for the students.
He said they should be wrapping up with that process in the final weeks before the new semester.
"There will be a little bit of hardship because the students are going to have to travel off the campus, but we figured if that is the only hardship then we are OK."
Two new degree programs in psychology and American Indian Studies
The Montana State University System Board of Regents recently approved Northern's request for two new degree programs: a minor in psychology and a four-year degree in American Indian Studies.
Kegel said that while the psychology minor is not a degree program, it could draw the interest of students in other areas.
"I was very interested in that one, because it became apparent to me that that one could be used in the technical fields," he said.
Northern is not just trying to equip people with the skills to be workers in the technical sciences, but also to be managers in those fields, Kegel said.
He said that with the psychology program's emphasis on interpersonal skills, it would be ideal for those looking to become managers.
Kegels said expanding the American Indian Studies minor degree program into a major has long been an aim of the university, but past efforts were unsuccessful.
He said a number of activities Northern has been engaged in and opportunities it has taken advantage of have made such a program possible.
For example, Northern was the recipient of the Little Rivers grant, which serves to help retain American Indian students.
The degree, Kegel said, will cater to all students.
Kegel said the American Indian Studies four-year degree will have a political science bend to it.
He said many who take part in the program will be able to go on to a graduate program at another university or eventually use it to go to law school.
Kegel has made headlines with one of his plans for Northern.
Earlier this year it was reported Kegel was looking at nine proposals that could raise Northern's profile and help bolster its student population, including the construction of an on-campus stadium for the Northern Lights football team.
Last year, he presented the proposal ideas to a Strategic Advance Team. Each initiative was later taken by different groups consisting of both on- and off-campus members, headed up by members of the Strategic Advance Team, to look at each project's feasibility,
Kegel said he wants to push for a new stadium but said it will take a great deal of work and explanation to sell the idea to the Northern community and other area stakeholders.
He said that in order to gain the support of those on and off the Northern campus, he will have to emphasize the long-term benefits that a stadium could bring not only for Northern's athletic department or even the campus but the region as a whole.
He said that a stadium on campus could mean more students applying to attend Northern and be a big gain for businesses and economic activity in north-central Montana.
"That is what they need to hear," he said. "They need to understand the economic impact of Northern and how that is derived through students."
Reviving Liberal Arts
Another one of Kegel's charge groups was told to look at the feasibility of reviving liberal arts programs at Northern.
Northern once had such programs, but most were cut by the Board of Regents in 2000.
Kegel said he hears from students and faculty alike who have said they want a more diversified course offering.
Montana Actors' Theatre's use of the campus's Little Theatre generates interest both on campus and in Havre, Kegel said.
He said a theater program or degree program that could include courses not only in acting but other elements such as production design.
Kegel said he would like to revive other liberal arts programs as well such as those in communications.
Despite his knack for raising money for projects, Kegel said moving forward his and Northern's most daunting challenge is one so many of his predecessors have grappled with: how to do more with the resources they have.
"Because of how big Northern is, we are always going to have as much grass to mow, the size of the facilities to heat," Kegel said.
"It's a big campus," he said, "and we never tend to have enough of the revenue that we need to make everything work right."