By David Laude
After about a decade as a chemistry professor focusing on my mass spectrometry research at The University of Texas at Austin, I came across the opportunity to be student dean in the College Natural Sciences. For the next 17 years, I came to work each day with the goal of helping students be as successful as possible in my college.
I soon came to realize that helping a student be successful meant building a full-service college — one that not only helped a student thrive academically, but also helped them adjust to college life, mentoring them through bad times and providing enrichment opportunities to help them realize their potential. My intention was to be able to call student names at graduation and be confident that each one of them had grown to adore their college and their university as they left.
Over time, Natural Sciences must have done something right — I was calling the names of twice as many students at graduation compared to when I started. A colleague once asked me how Natural Sciences had grown to be the largest college on campus. I thought for a second and said, "I guess they like us."
So when Provost Steven Leslie approached me about the opportunity to become senior vice provost for enrollment and graduation management, I was really enthusiastic. This was an opportunity to see what worked in Natural Sciences propagate across the university.
When asked how I intend to reach the lofty graduation rate goals, I often first say that I think of myself as the champion, not of graduation rates, but of student success. Simply put, if every decision I make is focused on their success, then improved graduation rates will follow organically.
I also emphasize the importance of addressing student success one student at a time. Too often large institutions feed numbers into equations and hope to see an output, like 70 percent graduation rates, and feel the goal was accomplished. That form of calculus doesn't suit me — making students believe they are more than a number is vital to the job I do. So despite my science training, you are far more likely to hear me talk about a student’s personal development or building community when asked about the changes I want to see happen.
I was recently reminded of a video I was in two years ago titled "Thirteen Rules for School." In it, I'm giving advice to students on why the first day at college is so important, how they get to know their classmates, among other things.
I look at that video, and it gets to the heart of why I do what I do for students. How a five-minute meeting with an 18-year-old undergraduate can be the reason why they chose the career they’re in 30 years later.
A student approached me recently and said: "You're the Thirteen Rules guy. You have no idea how important it was for me to watch that video. It got me through UT."
It’s moments like these that motivate and inspire me to try and be my very best in this role and to get every student through UT successfully and on time so they can go on and change the world.