Episode 95 - Innovation in Higher Education: Lessons Learned - The Best Friends Partnership

President Scott L Wyatt and Steve Meredith sit down with Tawny Hammond, National Director of Learning Advancement for Best Friends Animal Society and SUU's Melynda Thorpe, Executive Director of Community and Professional Development. They discuss the SUU & Best Friends Executive Leadership Certification, the nation’s first university-endorsed animal services leadership program for working professionals as well as the importance of obtaining higher education in animal welfare.

Full Transcript

Steve Meredith: Hi again everyone, and welcome to Solutions for Higher Education, a podcast featuring Scott L Wyatt, the president of Southern Utah University in Cedar City, Utah. I'm your host, Steve Meredith, and I'm joined today in-studio, as I always am, by President Wyatt. Scott, it's good to see you again.

Scott Wyatt: It's good to see you, Steve. Thank you.

Meredith: So, this particular run of podcasts that we've been working on, we decided that our thesis statement, our topic, would be Innovation in Higher Education: Lessons Learned, right? And so, this is another in that series where we have invited people to come and join us on the podcast to talk about something that SUU has been involved in that we consider to be innovative, but to talk about it from every aspect. So, we've had a little bit of time to develop whatever this program is, and what have been the ups—both unexpected and expected—and what have been the downs, if there have been any? We know that innovation has challenges and we want to look at and discuss those challenges openly so that we know that…we know that we can just get better at what we are doing and this is part of that betterment process. Anyway, this is one of our most unique partnerships that we're going to be talking about today, why don't you introduce our guests?

Wyatt: Thank you, Steve. We're delighted to have, from Traverse City Michigan, Tawny Hammond. Tawny is the National Director of Learning Advancement for Best Friends Animal Society. How's life in Traverse City today?

Tawny Hammond: Thanks for welcoming me, thanks for having me. You know, today is a perfect fall day. It's beautiful. It's about 70 degrees, it's sunny, and I hope to get a good walk in after work today, but it's gorgeous up here. The leaves are just starting to turn.

Wyatt: Wow, that's perfect. In addition to Tawny, we have Melynda Thorpe. Melynda is our Executive Director of Community and Professional Development here at Southern Utah University. So, welcome Melynda.

Melynda Thorpe: Good morning, thank you for having us.

Wyatt: Community and Professional Development, Melynda, since you've been here have really taken off.

Thorpe: [Laughs] Well, thank you.

Wyatt: You've done a spectacular job and, as we think about professional development and community education, probably the best, most robust program that we have with any industry partner is this SUU/Best Friends Animal Society partnership.

Thorpe: I think you nailed it. This absolutely is our most robust, our most demanding, and our most exciting. [Both laugh] Is that fair to say, Tawny?

Hammond: That's fair to say, I like that. I hope we're demanding in the most positive way possible.

Thorpe: Oh, absolutely. It's been a delight to work with Best Friends Animal Society and I'm really excited to be here today to be able to share more about it.

Wyatt: Best Friends Animal Society…Tawny, why don't you give us just a little bit of an introduction? Some of our listeners know Best Friends well and some of them don't as well.

Hammond: Yeah, I'd love to. So, Best Friends Animal Society is a national organization, we've been around for over 30 years and we're the only national organization or non-profit that's focused specifically on ending the killing of pets in our nation's shelters by 2025. We set a goal for 2025 and in general, our mission at Best Friends is to bring about a time where there are no more homeless pets and our vision is a better world through kindness to animals. And we have been at it for a while, really focused on it, but here recently, we've become extremely strategic and focused, our CEO Julie Castle, who is an alumna, of course, of Southern Utah University, in 2016 sort of put a flag in the fan and said, "We will eliminate the killing of pets in shelters by 2025." And so, we…that's what we're focused on and that's the primary focus of all we do.

Wyatt: Well, and you're based out of Traverse City, the headquarters for Best Friends Animal Society is right around the corner from us in Kanab.

Hammond: It is, and it's a beautiful sanctuary. The founders—the collection of friends and the artists and business folks—for many years became concerned about what they saw happening to homeless pets on the west coast where a lot of them lived and decided to do something about it. They first started in Arizona and then they found this beautiful canyon, they called it Angel Canyon there in Kanab, and it's a pretty big operation. It's a sanctuary and they started saving pets—of course the goal is to get pets adopted, either back to their family if they're safe or new homes—but the sanctuary is a place for horses and pigs and reptiles and birds and dogs and cats and…no elephants. We have rabbits and…

Thorpe: [Laughs]

Hammond: That'd be exotic. [All laugh] I thought I was going to start singing the song, "Cats and rats and elephants." [All laugh] But the sanctuary is beautiful. It's the centerpiece of our organization and a very spiritual, important place to many people.

Thorpe: I'm glad you mentioned the location comparison, President, because really, I believe and I mentioned this to others, that in Southern Utah, you look at, "Who are the vibrant organizations that are active and engaged and innovating," and certainly SUU and Best Friends are among those active organizations, and so it's not a surprise that we came together, to me, in a partnership like this. I think we have values, core values that really unite us as organizations.

Wyatt: Well, and if any of our listeners have never been to Best Friends in Kanab, it is an amazing facility. Every time I'm out there, I'm just blown away with the dedication and the seriousness with which Best Friends takes their mission and how beautiful everything looks. It's about an hour and a half drive from Cedar City. Well, Tawny and Melynda, why don't you tell us the origin story? [All laugh]

Thorpe: How this partnership began.

Hammond: It's kind of like the…more than anything, it's like that old commercial of Reese's chocolate cups. [All laugh] The collision…who started what? But why don't you kick it off, Melynda?

Thorpe: OK. So, you dipped your chocolate in my peanut butter? Is that what you're saying?

Hammond: Yeah. That one.

Thorpe: No, so it really goes back to an alumni banquet that we had here on campus and SUU was recognizing Julie Castle, CEO of Best Friends who is an alumna. I happened to be there in the audience…I was at a table at the back of the room. I remember where I was sitting, I remember Julie standing up there and her saying the words articulating the goal of ending the killing of animals in shelters by the year 2025. And when you hear Julie speak, she's such a captivating speaker and person altogether, but that really resonated with me and I turned to the person next to me and said, "I think we can help with that. I think Professional Development"—I'm getting chills retelling the story—"I think Professional Development can play a part in helping them achieve this goal." And what we didn't know, what ended up being serendipitous…I left he banquet, about two days later I got a call from the Alumni Association saying that another one of our alumni, Aimee Charlton who was there attending the banquet with Julie Castle from Best Friends had called campus and was looking for someone to help create an academic partnership to work toward this goal of ending the killing of animals in shelters. And I was so excited, and in fact, Tawny, you're right, who dipped whose chocolate in whose peanut butter? Because it happened so quickly, I felt, "They beat me to the punch!" I was excited to reach out to them and say, "I think we can be helpful," and before I knew it, Amie was on the phone with me saying, "We want to build a partnership." So, in reality, that is where the partnership began, but I think it was just recognizing that we had tools here at the university and there was a mission, an important mission, that Best Friends was engaged in and there was a recognition that we could work together and be helpful. I don't know Tawny, what would you add to the story?

Hammond: Well, you and Aimee were there, and so to hear you tell it from your different perspectives gives me the chills and is always fun. And I remember when…we set a meeting up really quickly, didn't we?

Thorpe: Yeah, it was really within two weeks of the Alumni Banquet we were talking.

Hammond: And so, if we just back a little bit, when I got into animal welfare—if you'll indulge me just a minute of why this was so important—when I got into animal welfare, I had spent 25 years in parks and I travelled around the country and I presented at conferences for Parks and Recreation and aspired to professional excellence in that field. State playgrounds, state pools, trails, senior centers, preschools, ball fields, natatoriums fitness facilities, golf courses, historic sites, and by and large, success does not vary from one community to the next. A safe playground, because there's national standards for those now, was the same in one town as it is in another town. Or it should be, right? And so, I got into animal—and I use that as an example because it's a safety example, or you could say swimming pool or…so, when I got into animal welfare, I was shocked at the lack of agreement on what success looks like for professional excellence. And so, I called Aimee Charlton who Amy referenced is a graduate of Southern Utah University, we started working together at Best Friends, I said, "Before I'm pushing up daisies, before I leave this world…"

Wyatt: [Laughs]

Hammond: And I said that, I said these exact words, I said the whole daisies part, I said, "I want to have . . . I want people to be able to major, to get an entire level of higher learning education in animal services, because it is a noble profession." And so, fast forward, Aimee is sitting there and you're sitting there and Julie's giving her speech, two weeks later we meet, and I remember how serious the four of us were. I was doing my best to be as professional as possible.

Thorpe: [Laughs] In that first meeting?


Hammond: In the first meeting. After that, gloves were off. [All laugh] The first meeting, I was very well-behaved and I was trying not to smile because you could just feel the electricity and the magic. And I remember at the end, you said, "I think we can work together." And I just wanted to throw my headset off and dance around the room, because it was a really important time to me professionally and personally.

Thorpe: Yeah, I was delighted at that first conversation. It was really, truly like all of the electricity, as you mentioned, came together, the connections were made, and we knew we were on to something.

Wyatt: When was this happening?

Hammond: November? No, end of October?

Thorpe: So, Homecoming was in…let's see, it would have been the first part of October that we had this meeting.

Wyatt: One year ago.

Thorpe: One year ago, yeah. [All laugh]

Meredith: Wow.

Thorpe: Wow, isn't' that fascinating?

Wyatt: You know, I don't know about the animal welfare industry, but the higher education world does not…

Meredith: No.

Wyatt: Get listed amongst the most quickly moving innovative organizations.

Hammond: No.

Wyatt: We tend to go slow because we committee everything a lot.

Meredith: Yeah, we've told the joke about when our current governor was here talking about higher ed, he said that higher ed tends to move at the speed of peanut butter, and we said that, "Here at SUU, we like to think that we're innovative enough that we move at the speed of warm peanut butter." [Laugher] But it is peanut butter nevertheless.

Wyatt: Yeah, but if you can grease that peanut butter with a little bit of chocolate…

Meredith: That's right.

Hammond: There you go.

Meredith: This is our most peanut butter heavy podcast we've ever had. I think I can say that safely enough.

Thorpe: It might be the peanut butter episode.

Meredith: It might be.

Hammond: This one's going to be peanut butter for sure. And if I could also add something in that I think is important about culture, is not only did we make things happen fast…quickly, we did focus on quality, but something else happened and I remember that meeting where the staff all came out to Best Friends and we sat in that conference room with Julie…

Thorpe: Mhmm.

Hammond: And some other Best Friends folks, the thing that I remember the most, and I said this and I say it again, it still holds true, we found our tribe. People, we're tribal, it's a primitive notion that I think we have as humans that we look for "our people." The people that we're comfortable with, and that can mean lots of different things to different people, but when it came to the culture, the warmth, the hope, the innovation, it's like we had known you for a long, long time and finally became connected to each other. And I've felt that way about every person with SUU that I've met so far. And that's why I'm a student there, and that's why I'd love to teach there. I mean, that's how serious I feel about the culture at SUU.

Thorpe: So well stated and articulated, and we certainly, here at SUU, feel the same way with the relationships that we have with you at Best Friends and the organization as well.

Wyatt: Well, and I'm glad that the first contacts were with Melynda, because Melynda, you really embody that.

Thorpe: [Laughs] Thank you, President.

Hammond: She's just amazing, President.

Wyatt: Now, let's look at the last one year. What are the deliverables?

Thorpe: Oh, yeah.

Wyatt: What is…for our listeners, what are we talking about?

Thorpe: Tawny, do you want to rattle off our deliverables?

Hammond: Yeah, I'll start and then you can fill in…

Thorpe: Sure.

Hammond: What I maybe leave out or could do a better job than I. But, when we first thing that we listed up is the Executive Leadership Certification Program. This is a certification program for top level directors and decision makers, deputies, you know, the highest level in animal services organizations. And that could be municipalities or non-profits. Non-profits often hold a contract for animal services in a city or a county and sometimes their regional centers, counties and cities combined. And the Executive Leadership Certification Program is something that I worked on closely with Aimee Charlton and Tina Overgaard were my teammates on that project and we already had the modules built out, we'd been working hard on it, and we presented that to SUU, those modules and a syllabus, and that's what you reviewed and approved and that's how we got started.

Thorpe: Mhmm.

Hammond: And the other thing…well, let's pause a minute because you were instrumental in helping us figure out how we were going to make that of value to students and make that accessible via SUU. Could you talk a little bit about the credits and the certificate piece?

Thorpe: Yeah. So, what we eluded to earlier in the podcast is our Professional Development Program is unique here at Southern Utah University in that we see this as a place where you enter. If you're engaged in professional development, we agree to open doors of opportunity for you. And what that translates to, is we create programs that allow for matriculation. So, if a student participates in a Best Friends Certificate Program, we make sure that with our Provost's Office it meets the requirements of rigor and attendance and work that would represent and equivocate to an academic credit. And so, when a participant chooses to go this route, they can earn academic credits that can matriculate into bachelor and master's degree programs. So, as we were building out the executive leadership certification program with Best Friends, and Tawny, as you said, you had that curriculum all in place, what we did is we just brought the curriculum into the university and said, "OK, here's how we can package this and create the greatest opportunity for the student or the participant, that professional learner, and we were able to run that curriculum through the Provost's Office and they vetted it to equivocate to six academic credits if completed successfully. And so, we were really excited with this first cohort to be able to share, "If you complete the program successfully, not only do you earn your Best Friends Certificate, but you have academic credits that you can leverage to complete your bachelor degree or to begin a master degree program. And so, that was really groundbreaking and I don't find that a lot in my contemporaries in higher education. Whereas we see this as really a door that opens up the opportunity for anyone who wants to advance in their education goals. And so, I know Tawny, when we presented that idea to you, you just lit up and it was exciting to see that I think you already had this in mind. Because now that I know that you had mentioned to Aimee that you want to see a degree in higher education, this is really where we started to chisel out some of those pieces.

Hammond: Yep. And going back to that meeting in Kanab, Melynda…

Thorpe: Mhmm.

Hammond: When you…James Sage was there, Mindy Benson…

Thorpe: Mhmm.

Hammond: Cynthia Davis…I don't want to leave anybody out. There was somebody else there…but when we were sitting around the room when you started talking about what could be…

Thorpe: Yeah.

Hammond: I did. I almost came out of my chair and I almost came out of my chair for professional reasons, but personally, I knew right then and there where I was going to school, and I acted on it and I think I'll hopefully graduate in 2021…and that's of course bragging rights. To have your master's degree makes anyone feel good, right? But I want to lead by example. If I'm going to be the National Director of Learning Advancement, I want to lead by example. If I can do it, anybody can. And we are in the business of opening doors for people and helping them achieve their goals. It's also going to be creating a profession that's recognized, because one thing I want to point out here—pets, for years, have been treated like a utilitarian need.

Thorpe: Mhmm.

Hammond: It's like leaves, snow, and trash. Make them go away. The shelters were built out by the town dump or by recycling centers years and years ago. When you think about your shelter, it's not…and I'm talking about the old school ones that aren't very pretty, and now that's it's evolved from a pound to a shelter to a resource center, it should be the hub of the community, it's about community wellness, it's about so many things that are important to people and their lives and their families. And it's really a barometer or indicator of our humanity and our compassion. And so, it just makes so much sense that it would be a profession that people can study, and a discipline. In fact, it fits really well in MIS and the Interdisciplinary Studies Program, which is another piece of what we listed out.

Thorpe: Yeah. So, moving on to our list of deliverables, we started with the Executive Learning Certificate Program and then we started working on building at "at-large" certificate program because we were surprised by the demand that we had for that Executive Leadership certificate which is…really, Tawny, you hand-select those individuals that get to participate in that program…

Hammond: Yes.

Thorpe:…Nationally. And we recognize that there were perhaps more individuals interested than we expected. So, we went to work really quickly on creating this Principles of Contemporary Animal Services Certificate that is more of an at-large program that anyone from anywhere can participate in online and has…it does not have those in-person pieces and so it's more accessible. We like to say you can enroll in the course and participate from your home or your office or your favorite hiking trail, as long as you have internet access.

Hammond: Yes.

Wyatt: This one is completely online, right?

Thorpe: Yes.

Wyatt: Anywhere in the world, students can take it?

Thorpe: That's correct.

Hammond: It is. And I had…what's really exciting to me is that anybody at any other university can take any of these online programs if they recognize each other. If the credits and the classes are recognized by the other university as transferable, because that's an important piece of the equation here, but SUU has made history. Because there's veterinarians—a lot of what we teach is not taught in vet school. They deal with other important things to become a veterinarian, but the whole piece about animal services and animal shelters and pets in our society, and the connectivity to social justice would really benefit them. And I think that because it is online, I'm hoping that we can figure out how to make this open to people that are at other learning institutions. They don't have to recreate the wheel, we've got it, we did it. And the focus class that you referenced a second ago, we're starting our second one in October and I was an instructor for that course and I had 20 students in the first course…

Thorpe: Mhmm.

Hammond: And the feedback I got was so positive they were saying things like, "You've opened a door for me with this profession." And they're hungry and they want to sign up for other classes and they want to learn more and some of them came to the symposium.

Thorpe: OK, so that touches on our third deliverable. Our Best Friends Reaching New Heights Professional Development Symposium, which we just carried out last week.

Hammond: We did and it was pretty exciting. The message for…it was our first time ever, and this was really born in the middle of COVID. About the middle of March, I was on an Executive Leadership Certification cohort call, Aimee Charlton and I were talking to them and we called an emergency meeting on a Saturday and it was clear that travel was out of the question, and we let the cohort of the ELC decide whether they were going to go forward or cancel or postpone. And they all voted unanimously that they wanted to continue because they needed that learning community. They knew it was going to be really rough and, to their credit, they met every week, 90 minutes, they stayed in the ELC course. Some of them, it helped save their jobs when they were dealing with change, change can be difficult and not everybody embraces it. So, some of them, the course and the community and the connectivity and the learning saved their jobs and kept…helped them keep their sanity when they were going through some very emotional times. And one of our directors is in Minneapolis where George Floyd had been murdered and killed and her city was burning around her. She had to move her shelter twice. And she said that she had set up a foster program immediately and got all of the animals out of the shelter, something that she resisted prior to the ELC, and she said because of that course, it changed her life, it changed her professionally. And that's just one example of others. And it was a pretty powerful time period, and my point was, in the middle of all of it, I said, "We should do a symposium. The conference is cancelled," Best Friends decided early on, very rightly, safely so, to cancel it, and I said, "The learning is not going to stop." I mean, it reminds me, President, of your story of Sorrell and going up in the snow in the mountains. [All laugh] We're in the middle of a pandemic…

Thorpe: Yeah.

Hammond: And we're like, "We're not stopping! There is no stopping in baseball."

Thorpe: I love that.

Wyatt: Well, it's these really difficult times that force us to think of new ways of doing things, and if we do it well, we have discovered something far better than what we were doing before. And you look at an online symposium: less expensive for the participants, more convenient. We have found in our other things like this that we have far higher participation, which means that you actually reach out and help more people which results in a bigger impact.

Hammond: Absolutely. And for this, we made it like no other. We made it very dynamic and fast-paced. We had about 380 folks sign up, we had 290 participate, but here's the kicker: we found out that people were watching their symposium with their teams and their colleagues in the animal shelters. So, we have a survey now, we'll know by next week what our attendance is, but I actually queried some people I know that attended and they're telling me sometimes they had 10-15 people in the room. [All laugh]

Meredith: Wow.

Thorpe: That's great.

Hammond: So, you do the math. I'm not trying to over…I don't want to inflate our numbers, we simply want to have an accurate understanding of who benefited from the symposium, and that's super important for return on investment and impact. I think we're going to see well over 1,000, but we'll report the number when we get it. I know that the people that benefited and participated was far higher than who was actually logged in, and so that's important to know. Now, the symposium, we did that from March when we first started talking to you Melynda…

Thorpe: Mhmm.

Hammond: The university totally put their arms around it and…how many months of that? End of March?

Thorpe: It's been about six.

Hammond: That's April, May, June, July…

Thorpe: Close to six months.

Hammond: Yeah, about six.

Meredith: Yeah.

Hammond: And it was big. So…and the other initiative that I think we missed in not saying something about is the Foundations of Contemporary Animal Services Leadership—it's a mouthful, we call it CASL—and it is an emphasis of study in the Interdisciplinary Studies Program, the MIS program ranked 3rd in the nation, who I am a candidate for my master's degree in that program, and that just kicked off…let's see, last week, I believe. No, two weeks ago Aimee Charlton was the professor—graduated at SUU, again, mention that, that's noteworthy—and that class is another history maker and another initiative that we've partnered together on.

Thorpe: Yeah, we now have a master's degree option, emphasis of study here at SUU, in animal services.

Wyatt: So, you can get a Master's of Integrated Studies here, with an emphasis in a variety of things, but we have an emphasis in animal welfare.

Thorpe: Yep.

Hammond: Yes, contemporary animal services, and it's all…and I do want to point something out that's important for listeners: this isn't a "world according to Best Friends and our learning opportunities." We sample...if it's a study, if it's data, science-based, proven practice, we include it. So, we are including things from the Humane Society of the United States, the ASPCA, Maddie's Fund, National Animal Care and Control, Animal Farm Foundation, and there's other…Alley Cat Allies…there's other amazing organizations around the nation that are doing good work and helping save pets and eliminate the unnecessary deaths or killing, and so, our courses are chalk full of studies and data from wherever we can get them. This is not just a Best Friends philosophy; this is totally a professional excellence philosophy.

Wyatt: Tawny and Melynda, do you…I don't want to cut off this discussion about deliverables because we might not be done, but we've been talking about another deliverable which is the master's degree.

Thorpe: Right.

Wyatt: And I have a question for you: how many people in the United States are employed in one way or another in animal welfare?

Hammond: Oh, boy.

Wyatt: Do you have an idea of what that number is?

Hammond: No, I don't have an idea, but I can tell you…I don't have an exact number, but I know it's in the thousands. So, it'd be quite high.

Wyatt: It's interesting that most communities have some kind of a shelter.

Hammond: Mhmm.

Wyatt: And if you times the number of communities in this country out, you're in a lot of thousands.

Hammond: Oh, absolutely.

Wyatt: But this is…but it's not really part of higher education, we aren't training people for this particular industry very well. Have not.

Hammond: No. even if you look at…excuse me, I'm sorry, President. I was just going to mention that there's 3,000 counties, approximately, and let's say they each have five, ten employees depending on what number you want to use, and I know there's more, there's about…it's well over 4,000 organizations. Because a county may have a shelter, a city may have a shelter, and then there's non-profits that are quite large that, in the gap when counties and cities weren't doing very well, humane societies and S.P.C.A.'s started up all around the nation over the past 150 years.

Wyatt: Well, and Tawny, I have a brother-in-law that's head of this in San Antonio.

Thorpe: Interesting.

Wyatt: For the city of San Antonio, I think he's the director of their animal services, and there are hundreds of employees in his department.

Thorpe: Be sure to let him know we have a master's degree for him. [All laugh]

Hammond: That's Heber, right?

Wyatt: What's that? I'm sorry?

Hammond: I was just going to say what his name was. I know who he is, I think. I've met with him before. So, that's cool.

Wyatt: Yeah, I think he has hundreds.

Thorpe: Wow.

Wyatt: It's a big operation.

Meredith: Yeah.

Wyatt: And I might have the number completely wrong, but San Antonio, Texas…

Hammond: Oh, you're right.

Wyatt: And there's a lot of cities like that.

Thorpe: I think we did see, after the symposium which just ended on Thursday of last week, we had so many inquiries come into the university about our programming because they had been introduced to SUU in this symposium, and we did have about 390 registered for the academic piece of the conference, and as Tawny mentioned with the watch parties, those numbers we know are larger, but we did have 390 students from across the nation earning a CEU and an institutional certificate through this academic symposium that we were able to offer. And in that symposium, Tawny gave us the mic for a few minutes to be able to talk about these different programs that SUU is now housing that allow for learning and opportunity to grow and to progress toward educational goals. And we have been fielding registrations over the last three business days, I've seen students register from Kentucky, Hawaii, Texas, Massachusetts…and so, we're seeing—and I think it's representative of this national population of animal services workers—students signing up and becoming T-Birds to participate in these Best Friends partnership programs where they are earning credits and beginning to work toward degrees in this area. And I just get so excited about that. Every time I see a registration come through, I dig into the file to find out where it came from because we're seeing them come in from so many different parts of the country.

Hammond: Yes.

Wyatt: Well, and Tawny, I think my brother-in-law isn't the absolute head, he's in the leadership team in San Antonio.

Hammond: I'm sure I've met him. I was the director in Austin for two years and we like to work collaboratively, that's one of the keys to doing well in animal services is not being alone and not going it alone. Because not one organization can do this inside themselves. It's definitely [inaudible] and learning and collaboration. And so, super important piece. But I just looked at our life saving dashboard; we have 16,000 communities that we're tracking data-wise. 16K. So, yes, that's a lot of people that would be interested in pursuing learning opportunities. And we've talked about what we've put up, but something of the things that we're looking to the future for is a management and learning certificate for mid-level managers, supervisors, coordinators, we hope to have that out in 2021 early, and then for every one dog that's killed in a shelter, two cats are losing their lives unnecessarily. So, we're working on a cat lifesaving certification, and that'll be something we lean into with SUU as well.

Wyatt: Have we gotten through all the deliverables?

  Hammond: I think we have.

Thorpe: I think Tawny just mentioned those that we're beginning now to work on.

Wyatt: Mhmm.

Thorpe: I have some numbers.

Wyatt: Do you really?

Thorpe: I'd like to share, yeah.

Hammond: They're exciting numbers.

Thorpe: So, again, we started rolling out programming in January, so in our first nine months, we've had over 100 participants in four credit programs designed with Best Friends that offer credits that matriculate into either bachelor or master's degree programs. Seven of those students have declared a major and have matriculated their credits, so they're well into the path of earning their degree. And we have 30 who have applied for this upcoming October 5th Principles of Contemporary Animal Services cohort. And like I said, in the last three business days, I've fielded 23 contacts from different parts of the country asking how to become an SUU student and earn this type of programming. So, we're just…Tawny, aren't we just so excited about that? I mean, that's evidence that this is needed, it's working, it's wanted. And it's just so exciting.

Hammond: It is so exciting.

Meredith: You know, I had a…I'm sorry, Tawny, I didn't mean to interrupt you.

Hammond: No, I just was going to say that I think my smile muscles were going to have cramps I'm so happy. [All laugh]

Meredith: I had a hand in the creation of the MIS degree, and when we brought that forward, our 401, I had a number of people ask me, "Aren't master's degrees supposed to get narrower and narrower? Why are you creating this interdisciplinary degree? That seems counterintuitive to us." And I said, "You know, master's degree should be about helping you in your work, and what so many people find is that what they may have learned in their undergraduate degree may have prepared them for a certain element of what they do, but that they grow up to become business people or they grow up to become an owner of some kind of a thing where they end up working in HR and writing grants and all sorts of other things that they weren't prepared for.

Thorpe: They didn't expect.

Meredith: Right. And so, the MIS degree part of this is very exciting to me, because having these three 9 hour credit pods that you can sort of be involved with, having a Best Friends pod and then being able to choose business management or being to choose communication or being able to choose one of the others, hopefully this will be very, very attractive to people who are working in this industry and find that at the undergraduate level, they may have gotten certain elements of what they needed but they didn't get everything they needed. And so, I love the idea that…I mean, if you would have asked me if we would have had a partnership with Best Friends when we wrote this, I would have said, "No."

Thorpe: You wouldn't have seen that coming.

Meredith: I wouldn't have seen that coming, but i love the fact that this is so modular and so flexible.

Thorpe: And it's working.

Meredith: It is, it's working.

Wyatt: Well, some master's degrees are focusing a student into a particular area of research study.

Meredith: That's right, sure.

Wyatt: And so, they would become increasingly narrow. And other master's degrees, as you described, are preparing students for a wide range of things.

Meredith: Yep.

Wyatt: Which is the opposite of narrow.

Thorpe: And it was really neat, and I know Tawny feels the same because we've talked about this, but at the academic symposium last week, we featured abstracts from researchers in animal services, and we are beginning to now foster a community of research in animal services that hasn't necessarily existed before. And I know that we're just really excited to see these academic pieces building and beginning to gel and see people have interest and excited about advancing the field of animal services in an academic way.

Hammond: That's a really good point. I think that was a game changer when we decided to include research. And I think…you know we have to, we're going to have to sit back at some point and evaluate the symposium as a team—and when I say "team" I mean SUU and Best Friends, the folks that worked on it—we'll look at our metrics, we'll look at return on investment for impact and reduction of killing and look at the numbers for SUU and all the work that went into it, and if we do it again, and I hope we do, I think research is probably going to be a pretty big focus. And I think it's important because when I first got into the field from parks, the first thing I did was research, because I didn't want to go with anecdotes and people's opinions who were guessing on breeds and putting it on the kennel car—which is unethical, in my opinion, to tell somebody that's a border collie and we have no clue what that dog is—and we were making kind of just kind of "seat of our pants" decisions based decisions, nothing based on fact, and so the research…knowledge sets us free. Knowledge opens doors. And I think it's going to be the underpinning of the relationship with SUU and animal services as a profession. Factual, science-based decision making, and also tied to wellness and social justice. So, if we do it again, I think research, in my opinion, because I'm just one of a team, I think it should be big. People are hungry for it.

Wyatt: Ultimately, the outcome of this is better trained people working in the industry, better organizations because there's better trained people working in those organizations, and all of the goals, Tawny, that Best Friends has—and we could talk quite a bit about that—but I'd like to ask this question in terms of the innovation that's been happening, and that is…it's actually two questions, and the one is: what have you learned that other innovators of these kinds of programs, programs between industry and higher education, what have you learned that could help them if they're trying to do something similar? And I may have nothing to do with animal welfare, it might just be anything. What are the lessons learned for innovation?

Hammond: Umm, Melynda, is it alright if I offer a couple of thoughts?

Thorpe: Absolutely. Go ahead and then I'll add mine.

Hammond: I think that my advice to somebody is look at what can be better because you don't want to change just for the sake of change, so what is the problem we're trying to solve for? What is the need? What is the wicked problem, wicked solution? I love that notion. So, you find something that needs to be better, whatever it is. Public health, could be a social justice issue, could be around education, could be around equality, psychology…so, what is it we want to solve for? What do we want to know more about? But I think more importantly, then we need to look at…one thing I've thought about a lot in developing these programs is just how we've changed since 2006-2009. What's happened with internet, what's happened with cell phones, what's happened with our world and our lives and how we learn, how we're inundated with stimuli. That's going to inform how you interact with people. We've got to meet people where they're at.

Thorpe: Mhmm.

Hammond: And also, that education is reciprocal. It's a learning process, it's not one-way. And the last thing I would offer is to be innovative. I mean, we could have crawled up into a little ball in the corner when COVID hit and been motivated from fear and not taking risks because what if we fell on our butt? But we had a CEO, because of her shaping, her formative years and shaping at SUU, that's bold and courageous.

Thorpe: Mhmm.

Hammond: And we have a culture in our organization where we are not…we run into the burning building, we do not run away from it. And I'm talking about service, not literally, I probably would run away from a burning building. [All laugh]

Thorpe: Thank you, good to know.

Wyatt: We got the metaphor, we got it.

Hammond: I'm sure that you did, but I don't want the listeners to go, "What?" [All laugh] "This woman is nuts." But we…so, be courageous and be bold and be positive risk takers, but in a strategic way, right? We were very thoughtful and careful. I didn't offer that very neatly, I apologize, but that's what my thoughts are, my advice for others.

Thorpe: No, that's great and it very well sets up what my thoughts in response to President's question is we have not been afraid to innovate in real-time. And you mentioned this earlier, President, in the culture of higher education, that is not necessarily a popular mindset.

Meredith: Right.

Thorpe: But we have, because of COVID-19, I think we have had opportunities and really a necessity to innovate in real-time and provide and create solutions. And it's taught me in my work with professional development that it's possible. That it is possible to innovate in real-time and campus partners are willing to step up and say, "Yes, we recognize a need. Let's think outside of the box." And I've really appreciated that support. The other piece is I run into a trend of fear, I guess I'm going to say, and I hate fear-based communication, but there is a fear that working adults are facing right now, and as the workforce ages, older workers and older professionals who earned their bachelor's degree even 10, 15, 20, 25 years ago are recognizing that we're having to work longer. We're having to work older in our lives than we maybe expected to. And so, how do we stay relevant? How do we stay competitive with younger talent, younger graduates? And as we have stood up professional development programs, and Best Friends has given us the opportunity to identify different types of certificates and an emphasis in a master's degree or a way to matriculate credits into a bachelor's degree, it's given us the opportunity to create a menu of solutions. And these working professionals who have been in their careers for a minute are able to say, "It's not too late for us. OK, I can see how this can help me earn a credential. I can earn a certificate now through SUU that I can frame and hang on my wall and it shows I'm staying active in my profession." And I think for other universities, as you asked, something I've learned is the workforce is wanting this, they're needing this, they're afraid they're going to become irrelevant or lose a competitive edge. But this ongoing professional learning is filling in a gap in our nation. We're providing a way for people to stay relevant and engaged and to keep learning and that it's not too late, ever too late, to come back to education and to open a door of opportunity for yourself.

Wyatt: Let me throw out a few thoughts that I think I've heard from the two of you…

Thorpe: Mhmm.

Wyatt: That are important. And some of our listeners are interested in innovation, and this really isn't strictly about innovation, but two organizations innovating together. And it seems what I've heard, one of the really important pieces of this is that the two organizations have to have relatively similar values. We've, Steve, we've tried innovating in the past at Southern Utah University with organizations that, when we found out that the values really are different, it hasn't worked so well. So, just a really simple explanation of that, a non-profit partnering with a profit organization. If the profit organization is overly interested in profit, then there might be values that don't work.

Meredith: That's right.

Wyatt: Because they're pulling, tugging, tugging and pulling. And so, that's one kind of an example. The values have got to be similar enough, the goals, the missions of the organizations. A second one is it's got to be people. The fact, Tawny, that you and Melynda connected so easily where the two of you wanted each other to be successful and were trying to promote each other and promoting each other's organizations, it feels like in order for organizations to be able to collaborate together, each one has to be able to say, "We want the other organization to be successful, and we're willing to give up something or do a little extra." This is no different than coming together as partners for life, you know?

Thorpe: Mm, yeah.

Hammond: Right.


Wyatt: If I'm going to be…if I get married to somebody and I think this is a purely 50/50 deal, then it's probably not going to work. Because it never feels like 50/50. And maybe a third one is that the organizations have to have…the people in the organizations have to have this culture that allows for trials and failure and support and encouragement, so that those that are working on the innovation aren't constantly stressed with, "What if this doesn't work? Then I'm in trouble."

Hammond: Yeah, that's such a good point. And while you were speaking, President, I remember Melynda doing those types of things. When we were trying to problem solve and everything from price to structure to timing to you name it, all of the little micro and even macro decisions, there was that give and take and just that…I call it grace. There's just…there was that mutual understanding and we wanted, each of us wanted us to be successful separately and together.

Thorpe: Mhmm.

Hammond: Don't you think?

Thorpe: Yeah.

Hammond: I can think of so many examples, particularly from you, Melynda...

Thorpe: Oh, we'll I'm thinking of all the examples from you. We really…there has been a give and take and I think with mutual respect and wanting this to be successful and giving each other some leverage to be able to…that comes with being able to be successful and innovation, but be able to make mistakes and to pick each other back up and to redirect and refocus. We are very lucky to have that collaboration. I remember, Tawny, you brought up that first meeting that we had in-person in Kanab, and I remember our Vice President Stuart Jones and Julie Castle, your CEO, and they're old friends. I think Julie worked for Stuart Jones when she was a student on campus. And I remember when we were sitting around that table in your board room, them saying to each other and then to us, "This partnership is bigger than those of us sitting at this table today. We need to sign the papers and get out of the way." And I remember that and I think about it often because in part of innovating, and in part of giving and taking and making some sacrifices, it comes down to that thinking of the animal services worker in some corner of some community in some state in the United States or any other part of the world needing help to be successful in the work that they are doing to try to be the best professional that they can be. That's what this work is about, and that's what I interpreted them saying that day is, "This is bigger than all of us. We're representing individuals in so many areas and parts of the world." It's easy to give and take and to make a sacrifice or to work an extra hour or two in an evening to make or achieve a goal or a deadline, is remember those people and working for them. And I think that's something that mutually we are both working to accomplish is representing your constituency with integrity.

Hammond: Well said, my friend.

Wyatt:  Trust is important and it was hugely helpful in this partnership that your CEO, Tawny, Julie Castle, had been a student here, and not just a student, student body president. [Laughs] And when you talked about Steward and Julie together, I had this fun little image pop up in my head, because you know, Stuart comes from a long, long line of sheep ranchers.

Thorpe: I didn't know that about Stuart.

Wyatt: His family has a sheep ranch, and Stuart said that he ran away from that as fast as he could go. [Laughter]

Thorpe: But he must still have a soft spot.

Wyatt: But anyways, that's kind of an interesting…

Thorpe: That's fun, yeah.

Wyatt: Well, here's my last question, unless there's something I've forgotten Steve or Tawny…

Meredith: No, I think we're ready: let's hear it.

Wyatt: My last question is: how is Best Friends better and how is Southern Utah University better because of this partnership.

Hammond: Oh, wow. You want to go first Melynda? Or do you want me to go?

Thorpe: Well, yeah, something that pops into my mind right away is that we're recognizing a need that maybe we were not so much aware of before. And I touched on this already, but people in the workforce recognizing they're going to need to stay relevant longer in their careers than maybe they had originally expected, and they need education after they come for that first initial bachelor's degree in their 20s, keeping them engaged and feeling proud about their effort to learn and to continue in their careers and to stay competitive. I think this partnership has opened our eyes to that, because academic options have not been so much available in animal services previously. These are not young participants that we're talking about and that we're providing opportunities for, and the gratitude that we're seeing them come with for the opportunity to hang an SUU certificate with an embossed foil seal on their wall for accomplishing a program with an accredited higher education…that has been eye opening. And I think SUU will be better for this opportunity with Best Friends because we've learned this about not only our community, not only our region, but our country. And that's important to know.

Hammond: Those are really good thoughts, Melynda. I think how is Best Friends better because of this? I think that our work with SUU has allowed and how that's made us better as an organization is we're able to fulfill that goal of being a learning and leading organization in ending the killing of pets in our nation. It's given us a prestigious partner, an academic partner, a very logical partner when you look at geography and you look at your alumna, the two alumni that are involved in the story that we told today, there's a lot of reasons that this made sense and was a perfect partnership. But just because the alumni were involved, if the culture didn't work and the magic and electricity weren't there, it wouldn't have happened. A lot of things…it's like opening a combination lock; turning the tumblers and the dial. Everything lined up to make sense, and it improved us I think in our credibility, and seriousness. We put our money where our mouth was and we are walking our talk. We're not just challenging communities to stop the killing of pets, we're not just encouraging them to, we're not just suggested, we are providing the learning, the change of behaviors, the information, habits, skills, knowledge necessary to do so.

Thorpe: Well said.

Wyatt: There's…one way of teaching something is to develop the interest, and another one is to tell you how to do it. And sometimes we spend, in the world, we spend too much time providing motivation and not enough time with the actual teaching of how. And too much emphasis on the motivation and the reason and the "why" without an adequate amount of specific instruction on how to do it leads to discouragement. Because we know what we want to do even more than we did before, but we still don't know how to do it. [All laugh] And, you know, animal welfare is a really broad topic. Anyway, this has been a fun conversation.

Meredith: It has.

Wyatt: I've thoroughly enjoyed it. And Tawny, I can't wait until the next time I'm in Michigan.

Thorpe: Get out on the lake.

Wyatt: Yeah.

Hammond: I can't wait either, I'm going to get you in a kayak. We have a family business here; we have an outfitter that my brother runs for the family and we do tours and trips and kayaks…it's beautiful. I'll get you in a kayak or on a bike just out on the trail because I know how active you are. You'll probably go run a hundred miles somewhere.

Wyatt: Yeah, but if I can do that in a kayak, it would be more enjoyable. [All laugh]

Hammond: Well, you're always welcome here. Always.

Wyatt: Thank you so very much to both of you.

Thorpe: You bet. Thanks for having us. Thanks for giving us an opportunity to sit down for an hour. [Laughter] Like I said, we are innovating in real-time, so we're busy. We appreciate this opportunity.

Meredith: You've been listening to Solutions for Higher Education, a podcast featuring Scott L Wyatt, the president of Southern Utah University in Cedar City, Utah. We've had as our guests Tawny Hammond, who joined us from her home in Traverse City, Michigan on the phone, and Melynda Thorpe. Both Melynda and Tawny have been the key participants, among many others, of our Best Friends partnership and we appreciate them for being such passionate advocates on behalf of our students and on behalf of our animal friends. And we appreciate you for listening, our devoted listeners. We will be back again with another podcast soon, and we'll see you then. Bye bye.