Great Things to Come: President Michael Benson's Welcome Back to Faculty and Staff

Published: August 17, 2011 | Category: Academics

President Michael T. Benson welcomed back faculty and staff, including 103 new employees at the annual Welcome Back address, affirming why it is a great time to be a Thunderbird.

After opening with a discussion of recent happenings, accomplishments and developments across the University community, Benson got down to business with directives about each faculty and staff member’s individual role in student success.

According to Benson, “You judge an institution more by the students it graduates than by those it takes in,” setting forth graduation rates as “the gold standard of success.”

Since 2006 the retention rate has increased from 79.89% to 85.5%. This is great consistency and Benson hopes this percent continues to rise. His charge for the nearly 600 Thunderbird employees in attendance: “We are all retention agents.”

Benson explained, “We have an incredible opportunity and responsibility to encourage and support every single student that comes through our doors — to make their time here at SUU a life-altering, positive experience.”

Speaking specifically to projected enrollment numbers in comparison to the state’s other public institutions, the President said, “You will soon see schools beating their chests about how much their student body has grown in the past year, but we have made a concerted effort to focus our resources on student retention and success.”

He added, “Our greatest success is a student who comes through our doors, learns, grows, builds meaningful connections and succeeds through to graduation.”

Speaking to the University’s “human capital,” in its nearly 800 faculty and staff, Benson invited Dean O’Driscoll, vice president for University relations and chair of the institutional Wellness Committee, to introduce a new wellness program for Thunderbird employees and their spouses, administered through EMI Health.

O’Driscoll, who introduced himself as a straight shooter, explained the need for an employee wellness program from both an administrative and individual level.

“All of you — our faculty and staff — are tremendous assets to the University when you are healthy, your lives are balanced and you are able to come to work well-prepared to do your very best.”

Additionally, O’Driscoll explained that, as a self-insured institution, the University’s efforts to increase individual accountability for health care utilization and empower employees and their families with the information and resources to live healthier lifestyles is, in short, “the best thing we can do for our University and for all of you.”

O’Driscoll emphasizes that SUU is not discouraging employees from visiting doctors. In fact, he and his colleagues are certain that an increase in preventive care, through annual exams and healthy living, will “improve everyone’s bottom line.”

After months of research, including a detailed survey of faculty and staff’s wellness interests and challenges, O’Driscoll and his committee introduced a year-round wellness program, complete with activities, individual quarterly challenges and free, personal, professional health coaching focused on a broad approach to wellness that, in addition to nutrition and exercise, includes initiatives to target the emotional, financial, intellectual and social aspects of a balanced life.

The first challenge will begin Monday, August 22. To participate, faculty and staff must create an individual wellness account at More information as well as free pedometers are available in Human Resources.

Part of the wellness initiative — and an added value to faculty, staff and their spouses — is the opportunity for free biometric testing August 29-31. In addition to providing important health screening and a valuable baseline for individual wellness efforts, each employee who participates will receive a $10 cash incentive for their ten minutes of time. Additional information about scheduling an appointment for the one-on-one testing will follow in the SUU Bulletin emails.

Other news in employee benefits and satisfaction, pertaining to salary, came in a progress report from Benson on the improving CUPA average for salaries here at SUU, which is now at 95 percent. The University had set aside $72,192 for 2011-12 salary equity, bringing the CUPA average up from 92 percent in the 2010-11 academic year.

Benson also discussed plans for the Southern Utah Museum of Art (SUMA). He says the project is making great progress and a new design has been completed which, he says, “is incredibly functional and it is just what the community and campus needs.”

He says he is hoping the project will be able to break ground in the spring or early summer of 2012.

Whether moving forward or looking back on recent accomplishments, the President’s campus address touched on many great reasons to be proud to be an SUU Thunderbird. Recent accomplishments he noted include:

- Completion of the new Science Center, open for classes this fall.
- An eighth consecutive nod from The Princeton Review.
- Assistant Professor of Theatre Peter Sham’s hit musical Lend Me a Tenor, which debuted on London’s West End this summer.
- The musical dance tribute to Cedar City native Helen Foster Snow, an educational collaboration between SUU students and faculty and the renowned Hubei performance troupe.
- The 50th anniversary of the Utah Shakespeare Festival.
- The SUU Women’s Rodeo Team’s 10th place finish in the College National Finals Rodeo.
- SUU’s second consecutive appointment to the U.S. President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll.
- The outstanding performances of student-athletes Cameron Levins (track and field) and Jeff Evans (golf).
- The renewal of an Alliance for Education with Bryce Canyon National Park.

Additional information about the President's welcome meeting is available online.

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