2016 Michigan Tech Magazine: Issue 2

Q&A

By Scott Balyo

Provost Jackie Huntoon talks challenges, trends, and what excites her most about being at Michigan Tech.

Q. You've been provost and vice president for academic affairs for a year and a half. What's surprised you most about the role?
Initially, the most surprising thing was the number of documents that come through the Provost's Office needing signatures. I spent most of my first week in the position decoding the language on forms and determining what my signature was really intended to signify. Some of the other provosts I know say that provosts' jobs involve solving a myriad of problems, both big and small. This is an accurate characterization. Whereas, I used to attend meetings from time to time, I now "meet for a living." Having a day filled with 12 or more back-to-back meetings is sometimes a challenge, but it is always interesting. As I look back on my first year, I am most surprised by how much I have learned about and from the people who work and study here at Michigan Tech.

Q. What are the biggest academic challenges facing Michigan Tech?
Right now I'd say that our biggest challenge is bringing our University-wide assessment program to full-scale implementation. Assessment is required by accreditation organizations and faculty involved with externally accredited degree programs have been assessing student learning outcomes for decades. Our challenge is figuring out how to accurately assess the learning that occurs at Michigan Tech across all the disciplines as a result of our general education programs. We are not alone in tackling this challenge, universities around Michigan and across the nation are also working on this same issue. We're fortunate here to have some great people working on this challenge and helping us to do the things that will allow us to collect and use data to continually improve our academic programs.

Q. As you look at other universities across the country, what are some of the trends you're seeing?
Throughout the past decade, public universities have experienced fairly dramatic reductions in funding from their state governments. At the same time the public's perception of higher education has changed. Higher education was once viewed as something worthy of public investment because an educated populace was understood to be the driver of innovation and economic development. Today, many people seem to think that higher education only benefits those who receive the education. This is unfortunate because a quality education, such as the one available to students at Michigan Tech, can make dreams into reality for young people. In addition to being concerned about funding, higher education leaders are also thinking about ways to attract more students and different types of students. The demographics of the US population are changing and college and university leaders want to make sure that higher education is available to everyone. Leaders at four-year colleges and universities are also trying to collaborate more with community colleges. We are also grappling with questions related to assessment of learning, giving credit for life experiences, and tracking students' non-academic, co-curricular, and skill-based achievements.

Q. What excites you the most about the work you do here?
I have always liked challenges. I also like people. The most exciting part of this job is that I get to work with very interesting people and collaboratively figure out how to improve the quality of education for our students. Michigan Tech is a very special place. Our small-town location means that we see each other at the gas stations, in the grocery stores, and on ski trails, etc. That means that everyone has the opportunity to talk to everyone else. I've had people come up to me in the freezer section at the market and talk to me about something that they are excited about or interested in. I think it's great that people feel comfortable sharing information about their goals and passions with me.

Q. When you're not in the office, what's your favorite thing to do in the Copper Country?
My favorite thing to do in the Copper Country is to hike through the woods near my house with my two black labs. We live in one of the most beautiful places in the world. We have clean air, clean water, healthy forests, and abundant wildlife. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to live here.

Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 60 countries around the world. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. Our beautiful campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.