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Living the Vision

By Elaine Jacobs Smith
Photography by Keith Boyer
April 4, 2014
Appeared in the Spring 2014 issue of
IUP Magazine

In need of a shared vision to guide its future, the university turned to the Journalism Department for help.

Eleven students were part of the strategic visioning process through summer 2013:

Hailey Crowley
Kelly Dumrauf
Melissa Esing
Brittany Madera
Shawna McCutcheon
Caleb Murphy
Colleen O’Laughlin
Rachael Poplaski
Juliette Rapp
Katie Trenney
Emily Weber

Students who were part of the Strategic Visioning prpject, standing under the IUP arch on campus

The Vision for IUP’s Future

Indiana University of Pennsylvania is a community where teaching, research, and service empower students to become innovative leaders while enhancing communities throughout the world. Remaining true to its traditions, IUP assesses society’s needs and opportunities and meets them.

Students are hardworking, ready to learn, and come from diverse cultures, places, and backgrounds. Energetic, dedicated, and diverse staff and faculty members welcome them to a personal, vibrant college home. Students participate in many intentional and interconnected learning experiences in their studies, in their lives, and in the world.

Professors are active scholars and teachers in their disciplines who work together to expand their impact. They engage students in carefully designed open-ended, hands-on experiences to reinforce and enrich what students learn in the classroom. Professors use technology to enhance student learning and augment the face-to-face and peer-learning experiences that are the foundation of excellent education.

Alumni say their student experience was the best preparation for work and life. They continue to find joy in the bonds they built as students and the new connections they make with faculty and staff members, students, and other alumni. They are proud and they choose to invest in IUP’s future.

IUP and the communities it serves work together to build a strong society and robust economy. IUP uses partnerships and activities to connect community members, students, faculty and staff members, and alumni, building a commitment to their shared future.

IUP Values

  • Demonstrating an excellent return on educational investment
  • Knowing students as individuals who work closely with faculty and staff members
  • Responding to the needs of students and society with a range of innovative programs and scholarship
  • Employing evidence in decision making and in demonstrating results
  • Drawing on IUP’s tradition in Indiana and western Pennsylvania to serve students worldwide
  • Enjoying historic, inspirational, and functional campuses and facilities
  • Using technology to reach place-committed students and enhance learning for all
  • Celebrating engaged, successful alumni

Even as he interviewed for the presidency of IUP in November 2011, Michael Driscoll had an idea what his first major task would be. The university needed a vision: in his words, “a general representation of where we wish to go.”

Driscoll also knew in the interview that pinpointing that destination would be more than a one-man job.

“As I learned about the institution, it was clear to me that we needed more voices in the discussion and in the determination of who we wanted to become,” he said. “There were many things to work on, but above all, it’s building that shared understanding of who we are and where we want to go.”

While it sounded simple, finding that shared understanding would require talking to a number of people: alumni, students, faculty and staff members, and the greater Indiana community. And Driscoll is, after all, one man—and one busy man.

He could have described the challenge using the basics of news reporting. He knew the what and the why: IUP needed a vision to guide its future. He knew the when (right away) and knew he could figure out the where. What he really needed were the who and the how.

Funny he should find his solution in the IUP Journalism Department.

During his first semester as president, Driscoll accepted an invitation to talk to a public relations class taught by Michele Papakie. While telling the students what he was going to do on the job, he mentioned strategic visioning and planning, among other topics, and Papakie quickly offered to help.

It was no blind offer. Long before joining the journalism faculty, Papakie had worked at a strategic planning company, and she had since contributed to similar plans for her military unit, the 171st Air Refueling Wing of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard, and past employers including the Chartiers Valley School District, California University of Pennsylvania, and the Pittsburgh Police.

But Papakie wasn’t volunteering her services alone; she proposed that her students be the work force to drive the process.

President Driscoll speaking in the classroom

President Driscoll speaking in the classroom.

“I thought, ‘How valuable would it be for an undergraduate to go into a public relations position understanding strategic planning?’” she said. “It took me years throughout my career to get that experience, so I thought it would really make them marketable to be able to leave here and say they’ve done it already.”

Having gone through strategic visioning and planning as provost of the University of Alaska Anchorage, Driscoll knew the amount of work it would take and was concerned about Papakie’s other commitments (by summer, she would chair her department, in addition to serving as a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force and a Brush Valley Township supervisor). At the same time, he was confident in her ability to manage the task and excited about the learning opportunity it gave her students.
“This is the difference between, let’s have a lecture class and talk about the theory of doing some of these things, and, let’s get our hands dirty while we’re learning the theory,” Driscoll said. “That’s active learning at its best.”

After they sketched out the logistics, Driscoll went public with the plan in February 2013. To their knowledge, it would be the first time undergraduate students at any university have had a key role in a task as pivotal as coming up with a university vision statement.

One of the students, English and journalism major Emily Weber, laughed as she recalled Papakie running into her Presentation Making class, then holding the class syllabus above her head and ripping it in half. “She was talking a mile a minute about how excited she was,” said Weber, of Perkasie, a senior in the Robert E. Cook Honors College.

Papakie had decided to, as she put it, “hijack” the class to take on the strategic visioning project. “We could still accomplish the objectives of the course, but instead of standing up and giving speeches to their own peers every day, I would teach them how to conduct focus groups and interview and present themselves professionally,” she said. “It accomplished all of the same objectives; we just did it for real.”

The students were tasked with interviewing as many IUP stakeholders as possible to gather feedback on two points: what makes IUP distinctive and what they would like to see IUP celebrate in 2025, its 150th year. While they had an audience, Papakie and her team also decided to do a SWOT analysis, asking how IUP can capitalize on its strengths, diminish its weaknesses, maximize opportunities, and limit consequences of external threats.

The students started out a bit foggy on their mission, but researching other schools’ vision statements helped, said Katie Trenney, a senior from Indiana. “It gave me a better idea of what we were working toward,” she said. “When we were having these discussions with people, it helped me to mold the conversation.”

They also benefited from having a few group interviews under their belts. “It wasn’t until I heard what people were saying in response to the questions that it clicked—that what they say directly relates to what our [vision] should be,” Weber said.

The project was just taking off as the Spring semester waned, and Papakie hired 11 students to continue on for the summer, many of them working five- to eight-hour days, five days a week. “It became more like a full-time job,” Weber said.

Papaki and students

Journalism chair Michele Papakie, right, withEmily Weber. Junene Taylor ’13 is in back.

The team took over Davis Hall’s room 409 as its command center and began an all-out effort to interview more constituents. That meant getting the word out through Facebook, Twitter, and the team’s blog, as well as traditional media outlets, such as radio.

Brittany Madera, a May graduate from Grampian, Clearfield County, said that she volunteered, with some reservations, to do a weekly show about the project on WIUP-FM.

“The first time, it was terrible,” she said. “I had this stack of papers—all of these notes of what I wanted to say. At that point, I didn’t know how to put in music, I didn’t have any guests, so it was just me, alone with a microphone—for an hour.”

But Madera’s show got better, and she was later hired as a reporter by Renda Broadcasting.

Other team members spoke of leaving their comfort zones as well.

Caleb Murphy, a May graduate from Indiana, said he overcame extreme shyness and self-consciousness as a teenager, but even throughout college, he was nervous as a public speaker. “I think you just get out of that by practice, and the strategic visioning project was good practice for me.”

Now working in customer service at First Commonwealth Bank, he’s putting the listening skills he developed during the group interviews to use. “I don’t know if I would have gotten this job if I hadn’t worked on this project,” he said.

Witnessing that kind of growth, both in skills and self-discovery, is one of the most rewarding parts of teaching, Papakie said. “I like the idea of throwing them in and then helping them to swim. When you come out the other end, you can reflect on how you didn’t believe you could do that. So I think that they grow more that way.”

Madera and Juliette Rapp, a junior from Butler, both remembered how intimidated they were last spring giving a presentation to IUP Alumni Association board members at the Rivers Club in Pittsburgh.

“It was exhilarating and intimidating at the same time,” Rapp said. “Michele always says, ‘Fake it till you make it,’ and that’s what I did. I just remember how I felt leaving that day—I felt great.”

The students latched onto a number of sayings Papakie used to motivate them. Banners reading “Can’t died in a cornfield” and “Go big or go home” decorated the walls of their command center.

The information the students gathered also showed that their subjects were remarkably open with them. “People talked to the students in a different way than they would have talked to me or a vice president or a consultant,” Driscoll said. “There was some shared experience, and because of that, people were able to bond with the students, and we got information that I don’t think we would have heard through other ways.”

President Driscoll speaking at the summit

At the October summit, Michael Driscoll, IUP president, introduced a draft of the vision statement in the Kovalchick Complex’s Toretti Auditorium.

As they wrapped up interviews in August, the students had talked to more than 400 people and collected some 3,300 responses. Two team members, Weber and May graduate Shawna McCutcheon, now a graduate student in geography, categorized all of those responses and entered the data into NVivo research software to help them determine common themes in what people said.

Weber took the lead in detailing those themes in a 10-page executive summary for the president. On her last day of work that summer, she left the summary on top of a stack of data three to four inches tall on Papakie’s desk.

To Driscoll, it was mission accomplished. “I expected that I’d be reading hundreds of pages of individual comments, and I never had to do that,” he said.

Using the themes the students identified, Driscoll drafted a vision statement that he shared in October during a daylong, university-wide summit devoted to gathering feedback on the vision. Among the more than 400 people in attendance were several of Papakie’s students, who saw months of their work distilled into a near-final product.

“Having all of that information presented back to me by other people—it was crazy to see all the things that we’d been hearing and say, ‘I logged that information. I was a part of that,’” Rapp said.

Others were impressed with the students’ role as well. When Papakie presented the project at professional conferences in the fall—including one presentation with Weber—some people said they had student help with the visioning process, but only for crunching numbers and other smaller tasks. “I said, ‘Well, we put our students right out front—undergraduates,’ and they were blown away by that.”

During the October summit, Driscoll received 40 pages of feedback on the vision statement and incorporated many of those suggestions into the final version, The Vision for IUP’s Future, endorsed by the University Senate and the Council of Trustees in December.

Working on the vision during the summit

Graduate student Britany Gallagher, right, worked with her breakout group during the Strategic Visioning Summit.

That endorsement marked what Provost Timothy Moerland described as a handoff, much like a relay race, from strategic visioning to strategic planning. Moerland, who is leading strategic planning efforts in concert with the University Planning Council, likened it to a building, with the vision being the foundation and the plan, the structure.

Yet another component in the works is the self-study IUP must complete for its 2016 reaccreditation by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

“Everything drops together in a very tidy package,” Moerland said. “The strategic plan weaves into the Middle States self-study, and the self-study is the backbone of our reaccreditation process.”

That synergy and the close timing of the processes also appear to be driving up the interest in each. When the accreditation steering committee’s cochairs, Laura Delbrugge and Hilliary Creely, put out a call in September for volunteers to assist with the self-study, more than 300 students and employees responded—far more than the project could support.

“People want to be involved; they feel that they can be heard,” Delbrugge said. “It’s not just a self-study, it’s not just a vision or a strategic plan. People are engaged in moving this institution forward.”

It’s a theme prominent in the university’s new vision.

More from the Spring 2014 Issue of IUP Magazine

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Message from the President

IUP offers an excellent return on investment—for the students it serves and for the alumni who generously support the university.

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