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UW President visits Wyoming’s Community Colleges

UW President visits Wyoming’s Community Colleges

university of wyoming president speaking at podium

In just her seventh week as the new president of the University of Wyoming, Laurie Nichols has set out to visit Wyoming’s communities, starting with those that have community colleges, to strengthen the relationship of the colleges with the university.  Nichols mission is to learn about Wyoming’s people and its economy. Central Wyoming College has been the fifth college Nichols has visited since her tenure; visiting Fremont County and the Wind River Reservation which includes both the Arapaho and Shoshone tribes July 5-7.

“I wanted to start with the communities with colleges,” Nichols said. “They are a rich and valuable resource for the communities and have become the economic engine for their communities.”

UW has worked closely with the community colleges to develop clear articulation agreements that ensure credits transfer for students; a process that is continuously developing for programs as learning processes and careers change throughout time.

Students should have a path to UW to finish their degrees in a smooth and timely fashion. ”

Nichols began her career in higher education as faculty at the University of Idaho, and moved to a dean position and to an executive vice president for academic affairs at South Dakota State before taking her current position at UW. The South Dakota native grew up on a farm and has always worked at land-grant universities.  Farming and agriculture are rich in my family and in my life, she said.

“I knew Wyoming would be a good fit for me,” Nichols said. “I look forward to the year ahead to move the university forward.”

Nichols entered her position amidst Wyoming’s economic downturn and quickly had to address budgets cuts for UW. Concerns for Wyoming’s economy has been mentioned during all of her visits with the communities and the colleges.

“We will work through the cuts and we are a team and we’ll make it work,” Nichols said.

Nichols said she is focusing on the next five years and where opportunities lie for the future of the college and the Wyoming economy. Currently they are working through a strategic plan, as well as program reviews at UW. Unfortunately UW also had to undergo some cuts to staff or eliminate vacant positions, a reality most of Wyoming’s colleges had to face.

With the uncertainty of the economy Nichols said we need to watch what happens with workforce, ensuring colleges are providing the degrees communities need. There are some majors that UW hasn’t offered and that haven’t materialized on campus that are needed in Wyoming, she said.

One main focus has moved towards research and research labs for natural resources within the colleges. Part of the future of natural resources is going to be extraction and finding new ways to do that, Nichols said. Focusing on high caliber programs through UW to help develop the future of natural resources, energy and extraction will be instrumental in the economic growth of Wyoming.

“Working together now and for the future is critical,” Nichols said. “STEM fields are going to be important for the future of Wyoming and the economy; we need to build those programs.”

Central Wyoming College and the University of Wyoming has had a close connection through its undergraduate research; a focus that both colleges want to continue to grow.

“Wyoming has the highest rate for students starting at a community college in the nation,” Nichols said. “We need to focus on how we might improve together.”

Along with building those partnerships in the communities and with the colleges, Nichols is also turning her focus to enrollment and the way students are learning. The restructure of student learning has been a focus as lecture halls become a thing of the past

“I love working with students and I can’t wait for the fall semester.”