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Two new faculty members talk to each other during an exercise at their orientation program; others are talking in the background.

New faculty members talked to each other during an exercise in a session by Center for Teaching and Learning director David Langley.

U expands orientation for new faculty

Three-day program debuts on the Twin Cities campus

By Gayla Marty

Brief, Aug. 30, 2006

Some have moved to the Twin Cities from across the country or around the world. Others have worked on campus already as researchers or graduate students. Some have new Ph.D.s and others are seasoned faculty members. But all of them are new to the faculty of the University of Minnesota, one of the biggest campuses in the nation--and an institution committed to becoming one of the top three public research universities in the world.

This year for the first time, the U rolled out the welcome mat to its new faculty members for three days. President Bob Bruininks, Provost Tom Sullivan, and a veritable Who's Who of campus leaders got up close and personal with more than 90 new colleagues in a program designed to help them be successful.

"The University has spent the past year positioning our campuses strategically and setting goals," says Arlene Carney, vice provost for faculty and academic affairs, a key architect of the new program. "We hired these new faculty members, and they're the ones who will help to take us to the top. Their success will mean the University's success."

"We hired these new faculty members, and they're the ones who will help to take us to the top. Their success will mean the University's success."

In one day at each of the three main Twin Cities campus locations, new faculty sat where new students will sit next week. They learned about U resources for teaching and applying for grants, tips for promotion and tenure, and U of M trivia. They made friends, discovered connections and quizzed the locals about the Minnesota State Fair.

The idea for the campuswide orientation program grew directly from the strategic positioning task force on faculty culture. Carney and a committee of faculty and staff drew on those recommendations and garnered the resources and staff to make it happen. Robin Wright, associate dean in the College of Biological Sciences, contributed valuable ideas and experiences from a similar program at the University of Washington. About 135 invitations were sent to those who've been hired as tenured, tenure-track and contract faculty members within the past few months.

New Faculty Orientation Schedule

Minneapolis, East Bank

* Organization
* Students
* Office of Human Resources
* Online resources
* Information fair

St. Paul

* Teaching and learning
* Public engagement
* Diversity
* Being mentored and mentoring

Minneapolis, West Bank

* Administration
* Governance
* Research, scholarship, and creative expression at the U
* Oversight
* Grants and fellowships
* Libraries
* Promotion and tenure

Evaluations of the program by new faculty members were enthusiastic. They especially enjoyed meeting other new faculty and networking across the University. Sessions on teaching and learning, research resources at the U, the libraries and promotion and tenure were mentioned frequently as being particularly helpful. Although many commented that three days was a significant time commitment, few suggested cutting parts of the program, and many wanted even more interactive sessions. The feedback will provide the basis for next year's program.

Many universities offer orientation for new faculty members, from a partial day at the University of Michigan to a five-day program at the University of Washington. Last year, the Twin Cities campus held a campusewide reception and two sessions, each two hours, one in September and one in October. The Crookston, Duluth and Morris campuses each have developed programs specific to their new faculty.

The Office of Human Resources holds regular orientation programs for all new Twin Cities campus employees, but its content focuses on issues that cut across all employment categories. Traditionally, orientation for faculty has been provided by departments and colleges, and that will continue, says Carney. But the faculty culture task force found that faculty members tend to bond at the departmental level. The sheer size of the Twin Cities campus can work against a wider identity. Carney set out to change that.

The new faculty orientation focuses on campuswide topics and resources such as technology-enhanced learning, public engagement, diversity and faculty governance. (See sidebar box.) It also exposes newcomers to the breathtaking scope of the University, from medicine to literature.

At the final session on Day 3, three newly tenured faculty members and one full professor talked to the group about their own experiences and offered some advice. They described the benefits of having a mentor and how to get the most out of the promotion process. Marla Spivak, entomology, recommended getting a life outside the University, too. Stephen Parente, Carlson School of Management, agreed--he learned to sail during his years of earning tenure.

"My brother said to me, 'You got a boat! You've gone native!'" Parente joked. "But sailing not only helped me deal with the stress. I also took colleagues and students along, and I really got to know them, which was great."

Information, inspiration, connections

At the closing reception, participants were hosted by Regents and McKnight professors and other distinguished faculty members. Over dessert, they talked about valuable and favorite sessions over the three days.

Two new faculty women talk and laugh at a reception, with others in the background.
Catherine St. Hill, College of Veterinary Medicine (left), and Kamisha Escoto, School of Public Health, talked at a reception at the end of Day 3.

Jeffrey Stackert came from Brandeis University to teach biblical Hebrew in the Department of Classical and Near Eastern Studies. His favorite presentation was on teaching and learning--he signed up for more resources.

"There was a lot of good information at a fast pace," he said. "It's a reminder of what students go through!"

Catherine St. Hill, originally from Barbados, earned her Ph.D. at the U. She's back now after working in the private sector, teaching in the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences. Most useful to her was the promotion and tenure presentation because of the anxiety the whole topic raises.

"Before, it was like being on the moon or something," she laughed. "It's a lot clearer to me now."

But her favorite was the diversity session given by Rusty BarcelÓ, vice president and vice provost for equity and diversity.

"It made me think about myself as a woman of color in the sciences," said St. Hill. "What [Vice President BarcelÓ] said about sacrificing your cultural identity to be successful made me reflect on what was involved to get me to the place I am now. I will be thinking about that a lot."

"This is a great university, and it's great to be here," said one new faculty member. "The intellectual environment is palpable."

Janet Thomas and Tracie Collins, both new to the Department of Medicine, discovered they both know Jasjit Singh Ahluwalia, hired in 2005 as the U's first director of clinical sciences in the Academic Health Center. Thomas, a tobacco researcher, was recruited from the University of Kansas, and Collins, a specialist in poor circulation (peripheral arterial disease, or PAD), came from Baylor University in Texas.

"The University of Minnesota is the mecca of tobacco research," said Thomas. "This is a great university, and it's great to be here--the intellectual environment is palpable. This program was an opportunity to meet potential friends from lots of fields. I feel like I've got connections now."

Faculty members new to the U are invited to e-mail their questions or comments to