The Past, Present, and Future of UNT, part 1
The Past, Present, and Future of UNT, part 1
UNT began by embracing diversity and stepping up to challenges other universities weren’t tackling. That beginning established a culture for UNT that continues to this day.
In this episode, we chat with President Neil Smatresk and Dean Wesley Randall about the history, future, and overall vision for UNT.
SHOW NOTES:[00:53] The history of UNT
[05:41] Dean Wesley Randall on the vision for the Frisco Campus
[09:17] Introducing the UNT Cohort Program
[14:00] The future of education, and where UNT is leading the way
LINKS & RESOURCES:
Connect with Lifestyle Frisco on:
Welcome to U N T Unplugged. And on this first episode, we’re going to sit down and have a conversation with UNTS own president, Neil Smatresk and the Dean of the Frisco campus, Wesley Randall. We’re going to get into a very interesting conversation about the history of UNT, about their vision for the Frisco campus on the new UNT cohort program they just launched and the future of education and how UNT is leading the way. This is a very interesting, very fun conversation. We got into so much good stuff. We’ve got to break it up into two parts. So here’s part one. I hope you enjoy.
All right, President Smatresk and Dean Wesley Randall, thank you both for joining us on the podcast today. Good to have you here. It’s great to be here. One of the things I wanted to do is since we’re expanding into Frisco now and [inaudible] get a little bit of a history of UNT, I think that’s something that a lot of people don’t necessarily know as much about. So, uh, would you like to maybe kick it off and just give us a little bit of background of the university?
Sure. You know, a lot of people don’t realize that we’re 129 years old about to be 130 years old. I almost had trouble with that map there. That’s never do pilot. No, it’s horrible. Um, we have founded in 1890 and we were founded, uh, initially as a kind of a normal school to help educate teachers. Our first class had 70 students and it was a mix of women and Indians, uh, native Americans. It was phenomenal because the start of us from the very beginning was very much diverse and very much inclusive. That went on for a while. We began developing real degrees around 1914 moved into the 1920s. We started offering bachelors. We were in normal school. Then as time went on, we added degree programs and all kinds of different activities. We began sports back in the, I think it was the 20s, we decided we would be Eagles and that our colors would be green and white.
And this is really cool. The green and white colors were because the colors of mother earth were green. And we decided way back then that sustainability and honoring the earth would be part of our heritage. And it has been, we’re considered the greenest campus in Texas, not just because of mean Joe Green in our colors, but because we actually are very sustainable and have a lot of LEED certified buildings, uh, windmills and so forth. So that has carried forward to the point where we began offering, um, advanced degrees in the forties and fifties. And then docs in the late sixties, seventies, uh, our graduate programs have been growing explosively along with our population. And now you look at 20, 19, we stand at 39,000, 330 students. We offer an incredible array of the most comprehensive array of graduate and programs in North Texas. Uh, we’re a Carnegie tier one institution.
We went from being tier two to tier one in a 15 year period. And that’s really remarkable. So we have really accelerated our growth and our national and international reputation. And so in a nutshell, we went from a school that was focused on serving the region around them to a school that is now focused on helping North Texas to achieve the great goals of economic prosperity and to transform our population so that they can continue to contribute for years to come. So in the Carnegie, uh, ranking that you talked about, what does that mean? Well, of the schools in the United States, all of them are ranked as specific categories from community colleges through the greatest research institutions, the very top tier of Carnegie rankings known as research. One includes about 131 universities. We’re one of them. Of course, when you enter, we entered in 2015.
Uh, which was a great surprise to us and really quite gratifying. Of course, once you’re there, you want to stay in. Not everybody stays in. So we’ve made a number of really strong moves that in graduate programs adding graduate students, building their research funding capacity. We’re now moving our way up and we’re kind of broaching the middle of tier one now. And it’s our plan to continue to move into really strong areas and become a nationally prominent institution as opposed to what people used to call it directional institution, you know, with the North Texas moniker. Okay. So as UNT has, has grown and expanded, how many campuses are there now? Well, there’s really only two campuses. We have a little bit of a satellite activity, uh, on occasion around the Alliance airport, but that’s not really a campus. There’s the Frisco campus in the main campus.
We have sister institutions in Fort worth and in South Dallas. But this is our big expansion because the Frisco area is so incredibly dynamic, the growth of industry tech industry in what we believe to be the future jobs of the world are really happening here in Frisco. So we wanted to implant ourselves, uh, embrace the corporate community, bring close that gap between business and education so that our students could prosper. Uh, and really thrive in what is arguably the most rapidly evolving marketplace in history. Very good old Frisco is very excited to have you guys here as well. I can tell you that there’s been a lot of, uh, a lot of buzz since the announcement was made. Was that almost a year ago or a little more, yeah, a little more. And I’ll tell you what, we’re excited because Frisco’s been the best partner we could ever have.
So speaking of risk, Oh, Dean Randall, you are the Dean of the Frisco campus, is that correct? Yes. Okay. So what does that mean? What is your responsibility as Dean of the Frisco campus look like? So my responsibility is to, to bring together our corporate partners that the president has talked about and for us to bring them to the table and to begin to talk about where is the direction of North Texas and what do we, what can we bring to the table for you in terms of new academic programs on the other side? Um, I go back to the main campus and try to marshal my peers, the deans of the other colleges, student affairs and the VP of enrollment to bring out the main, the main campus programs that we know are focused on career ready. And so everything we’re doing here is around career ready, internships, industry engagements.
Uh, and so the goal going forward is probably 30% of the, that of the sch his semester credit hours that we start to generate will be around brand new programs that we, we build in collaboration with Frisco and Collin. Uh, the other will be programs that we bring from the main campus town. Okay. Can you give us a hint or do you know at this point, what are some of the things that the Frisco campus specifically will become known for? We’ll be focusing on, yeah, I can. So if we go back to what the president said about in the start of UNT, if you dig into that a little deeper, what you realize is the folks who got together, started UNT over a hardware store in downtown Denton. And what they decided was there’s this coming revolution, right? The first industrial revolution, this is 1890 and they realize there’s new literacies that people needed to learn to be successful when they moved from an agrarian society to an industrial society.
So they began to focus on how do we teach kids and teach teachers to teach reading, writing and arithmetic. And then we were also from the beginning focused on co-curricular stuff. So if you’ve got an agrarian society, this, the, the young people don’t necessarily know how to get up every day at seven 30 they get up when the sun comes up, right? Sometimes earlier, sometimes later. And so from the very beginning we had this focus on career ready and this focus on outside of the classroom, making sure our students, the students who came from the farms and came from other places were ready for the industrial revolution. Now we jumped forward 120 930 years and we’ve started again in hall park. I mean, wow, that’s kind of amazing, right? So the whole story is being recreated and in this time it’s for this forthcoming industrial revolution, which is now the answer to your question, we know what’s coming.
We know we need wearables and pedals. We know there’s stuff with additive manufacturing, we know re robotics and artificial intelligence, but at the same time we know that students are not going to be replaced by robots, is long as we focus on these enduring competencies that involve teaching students to make decisions, teaching students to integrate. And so that’s why this, this, as the president keeps saying, we’re going to match the pace of industry. That’s why this is so important for us, is to have industry come up, work with us. So when our student walks up to them, they’re ready to go to work. They’ve been in their company as an intern. They’ve seen these students as part of projects and they’re ready to go. Very good. So one of the things that you talked about was that those programs that are getting the students into working with these companies, and I know one of those programs is the cohort program.
Do you guys want to talk just a little bit about that? We’re going to talk more with Roxanne Borrelia about that later, but can you give us a little bit of a, well, I’ll set it up and can knock it down. Um, so I, this is my story and I’m sticking to it. Uh, I have been in three other universities and high level leadership positions where I tried to get this to happen. I was so determined to try to build something that was contextually relevant, that really spoke to the kids. That wasn’t, you’d take a bunch of courses and you check them off the list and now in core complete. And I don’t know why the heck I ever took that class. Instead, we’re trying to surround them with the skills they need in a context that is relevant. And so what could be better than a whole cohort taking classes together, blending all of their core classes and then working on projects that have real significance to a region.
In this case, autonomy and mobility are facts of our future. And these kids are in the ground floor of helping to think about how that’s gonna change the world around them. And in doing so, they’re gaining skills. They don’t even understand yet. They’re getting, um, tutored and mentored by corporate executives. They’re gaining access to some of the best and brightest from the university. This is nothing but fun. And if something like this had been around when I was in school, I would have gone to it like a moth to the flame. I mean, this would have been wonderful. And so we think that this type of project based education, cohorting embedding skills, design thinking, teamwork and all of these other attributes are really the things that are going to give these kids enduring, uh, marketability. And Wesley, why don’t you tell them this specifics about the class?
Cause it’s amazing. Yeah, sure. So ironically, right now, when we started this at 10 o’clock, our students who just started as freshmen, um, in August are over giving a presentation to the city of Frisco, uh, around mobility. So these are students who show up freshman right out of college and instead of going to Wooten hall for, for their psychology class and Matthews hall or the Ryan building for psych, for, um, writing or history, they do all of these together plus essentially a 3000 level course, right? Did junior cars. And so from day one they’re learning things like psychology and then how to apply that to autonomous vehicles or they’re learning things about history. And then there are assignments around understanding what happened in Texas history that led to us needing, um, autonomous vehicles. And then they’re doing that in a partnership with the city of Frisco and folks from the city of Frisco or from Hillwood corporation.
Why this is so, um, it, it’s so fantastic is as, as as we know, UNT is a minority majority first gen school. So what we, when we bring these students in, they are hungry. They’re off. Oftentimes they’re the very first ones to go to, to go to college and their family, as the president likes to say, and I’ll, I’ll blatantly steal his thunder on this one. We have the opportunity to not only change individuals but change entire family trees. That’s, that’s amazing. So in this program, we’re bringing those students here, they are getting together as a cohort. They’re working on projects from day one. They’re engaged, the faculty are engaged. And because we did this thing at Frisco and we’re highly involved with industry, um, there’s a, there’s a settled genius to it. It allows us to innovate and create here while at the main campus we need to do some innovation.
But I, that’s essentially a big production facility like Lockheed in Fort worth. I don’t want to innovate in, in the middle of a big production facility. I want to do some things, but I don’t want that wholesale to be overly disrupted. Right. They do what they do extremely well and they do it at incredibly high volume here. We can work stuff out. We can get faculty who want to try to innovate, give them a place to innovate. The president gives us some broad direction and then people flock to this and the people who want to try to innovate and it gives them a space to innovate. So it’s really very exciting. Well then we hope that what we can basically do is take the great ideas that we have from these types of pilot projects and smaller scale activities and then backward infuse them into our campus.
And we’re already seeing the effects. I mean the move towards embracing what companies want, how we’re building a custom curriculum for companies around the Frisco area and beyond how we’re partnering. For example, we’re partnering with the Dallas Cowboys right now. We’re doing great work with them and we’re going to be co launching a sports and entertainment management program that we are pretty certain we’ll be the best in the world, that we’ll take it global, uh, these types of ways of thinking. We’re new to our campus a few years back and everybody kind of wrinkled their head when I talked about them and wondered how that would match up with, well, I’m an anthropologist and here’s the degree path. And now we see people going, blending curricula, blending disciplines to create these higher level types of learning outcome are really going to be the path of the future.
And so I think this is going to have a salutary effect on all of us. This sounds like a very logical, um, I’ll be at maybe not completely intuitive, but a very logical path for UNT to take given the history that you gave us earlier of UNT being a very forward thinking institution. Um, this definitely sounds like it’s taking that to the next level and meeting the needs that we have in the 21st century. Well, you know, it’s funny, we do so many things now with so much more dynamic play than we used to. We’re really working on student success. So whether we’re talking internships for everyone or research experiences, whether we’re really changing the fundamentals of how we teach, uh, we’re starting to become one of the it schools, and I know this is sounds funny to you, but you know, you look around the country and it’s like little lights going off every once in a while, some schools suddenly settles and you find they have an innovative and an entrepreneurial spirit.
We’re being recognized more and more when there’s big invitations by like the bill Gates foundation or the Lumina foundation and others. We’re now on the invite list and people are asking us, how are you doing that? How are you creating student success? Well, how are you building these new programs? How are you taking them out to the world? And so once you start to get that deep creative spirit in fuse through the faculty and staff of a university, then you just kind of stand back and watch good things happen. Yeah, it’s in what you find is, um, as we look at UNT, the way Frisco looks at UNT really starts to inspire you, right? I’ve been there for almost a decade and I see it different. When I look at it from the eyes of Frisco, I start to realize, sure, we’ve got an up and coming engineering school that is fantastic.
They are doing amazing things. The, the legislator is recognize them at the same time. Uh, UNT was one of the first schools in the state of Texas to voluntarily desegregate. We’ve now got the number one jazz program. Uh, the president talked about creativity. There’s 114 Grammy winners from U N D wow. I mean, you’ve got some great schools out there like Georgia tech or MIT. You have, I don’t know of another school that has our diversity, our creativity, our hardcore engineering, our business acumen. Um, the, our, you know, most of the state of Texas has been educated, uh, at a, at UNT when it comes to education in the college of education. I mean, it’s, it’s a, a, um, again, I’ll steal the, what the president has said before and our a D UNT is clearly a school on the rise, right? Yeah. And we love, love that about that.
Coming to Frisco and that sort of innovative spirit that you guys are bringing to the city. And Frisco brings an innovative spirit to us. I mean look at this city. So if you want to keep pace, you better be an innovator. Yeah. And there’s a lot of need and a lot of opportunity to come up with new ideas. Um, I’m excited to hear what the cohort program is working on right now because one of the biggest complaints that we see on a regular basis from citizens of Frisco is traffic congestion there. You know, there’s, there’s a lot more growth still coming. So, uh, I’d be very curious to hear what they come up with in terms of mobility and autonomous vehicles and all that kind of stuff. Yeah. And it’s interesting, we have this conversation around AI. The president is, is committed to making sure our students are robot proof.
I have a friend who thinks robots are gonna take over the world. And I keep looking at him and saying, when somebody figures out how to run a backhoe for less than $50 an hour, you can’t get a super computer to drive a backhoe for less than 50 bucks an hour. So it’s really about augmenting human capability, right? And that’s what we want to teach. We want to teach students who either know how to use technology to make better decisions or teach students how to create that digital infrastructure that allows other people to make better decisions. Very good. You know, and the creativity is a, an underlying piece of that. You know, we talk increasingly about our engagement in the creative economy. Uh, if you take the most expansive understandings of what the creative economy is, it includes a food and beverage. I mean, which is a thing, right?
I mean, we’re actually going to start a new food science program and you know, there’s food, right? Bloggers and journalists who want to write about food and there’s our hospitality kids who want to start pop up restaurants and we’re bringing restaurant tours in from around the country now to talk with them. Um, there’s the movie film media entertainment industry with that just booming. Look at what’s happening with streaming. There’s the digital music industry, which is phenomenal. In fact, one of our graduates, dusty Jenkins, is the global chief marketing officer for Spotify. She just helped take them public. Um, you know, we’ve got kids who are going out there and they’re on the cutting edge of all of these types of things. So we’re going to own the creative economy as one of the fastest growing sectors, whether it’s traveling, tourism, uh, whether it’s entertainment at home, all forms of that are things we are really, really good at.
And as we ask one critical question, when we develop new curriculum, and this is just fun, you have to say, what are we teaching now? And then you have to say, what does the profession need? And we’re devoted to aligning those two so that we’re not just producing the best jazz vocalists in the world, which we are, by the way. We’re not just producing incredible kids for opera who go to the met and the San Francisco opera. We’re not just producing incredible composers in orchestral music. We’re doing music for digital gaming. We’re doing scoring of movies and television. Our kids are actually doing this. Bruce Broughton, maybe the most awarded. Celebrating for sure. Closer. Yeah. In the country, maybe in the world is teaching our kids how to score musical compositions. I mean, this is the kind of stuff that’s happening now. It’s very dynamic and it’s expanding our ideas off the traditional and into the future. And I just love, I love the energy that we’re bringing right now.