University of Wyoming President Laurie Nichols visited Kemmerer on Tuesday, May 16, as part of her efforts to travel around the state.
Nichols presented at an alumni event, visited Kemmerer High School, met with the Kemmerer Gazette and met with the UW Lincoln County extension during her visit.
“I have made it a priority to get out across Wyoming and do as many of these community visits as possible,” Nichols said. “It gives me feedback on how we’re doing, what’s important to the citizens of Wyoming, and how we can take that back and really implement that so we become the university that the state wants us to be.
At the alumni event, Nichols spoke about the University of Wyoming’s widely-publicized budget crisis.
“As we look to start the new fiscal year, which begins July 1, we are implementing the last piece of our $42 million budget reduction,” Nichols said. “We got quite a bit done last year, but we needed two years to get the full reductions.”
Nichols said UW has dealt with the budget crisis mostly with retirements and not filling vacancies.
“We’ve looked at the overall structure and operation of the university,” Nichols said. “We’ll have a leaner operation, and we’ve tried to realize efficiencies everywhere we can.”
The UW President emphasized that students’ well-being was at the forefront of all budget decisions.
“We tried to protect the academic mission. Everything we do I’ve tried to look at it from the viewpoint of how it will impact students,” Nichols said. “I think we’re going to be fine. We’ll be a smaller organization, but we’ll still be able to run a very fine university.”
Nichols outlined three tenets of the University of Wyoming’s five-year plan.
“Our number one goal has got to be to bring as many Wyoming citizens to the university for an education as we can,” Nichols said. “Will we do out-of-state recruitment? Sure we will. But we won’t do it at the expense of in-state enrollment. We’re going to work harder at recruitment in Wyoming.”
Nichols discussed the importance of UW reaching out to communities like Kemmerer and others in southwestern Wyoming.
“Kemmerer is an excellent example of a community that sits awfully close to a couple of other states. In fact you’re closer to some universities in Utah and Idaho than you are to us in Laramie,” Nichols said. “But that just means we need to do a better job of recruiting kids in this area to come to the University of Wyoming. I don’t think students here want to walk away from that.”
“Our halls are old, and everybody knows that because most of you lived in those halls, and you know what they look like,” Nichols said to the alumni at the event.
Nichols said UW is developing a 10-year housing plan for the university.
“It’s a comprehensive plan, looking at Greek life housing, dorms and family housing,” Nichols said. “We need to look at the whole mix of what we provide students when they come.”
“We’re looking at those majors that aren’t very popular anymore, and don’t have high enrollment, and eliminating those,” Nichols said.“While we’re doing that, we’re also looking at what majors we’re missing that the economy of Wyoming needs.”
Nichols mentioned two degree programs that the university is creating to help support Wyoming’s economy and create more student interest.
“One is a degree in tourism and hospitality. The hospitality industry in Wyoming is just crying for this,” Nichols said. “Another one is in construction management. We had engineering, but our engineering college is working on creating this new major. I have a third one on my list that we haven’t really gotten after yet: I would love to create a major in entrepreneurship.”
Nichols discussed the university’s efforts to boost Wyoming’s economy, especially in the energy industry.
“We’re going to better connect our research efforts to the economy so that as soon as we can spin out a business from what’s created in our labs that has commercial opportunities, we need to do a better job of getting that out as a startup,” Nichols said. “We have some success there, but I think we can do more.”
Nichols also spoke with the Gazette as part of her visit to Kemmerer.
Nichols is the first female president of UW, a university that was founded in 1886.
“People in the state and the university seem like they were ready for a female leader,” Nichols said. “It’s great to see little girls, and young women in high school and college, come up to me and say how great it’s been for them to have a female role model.”
Nichols, a South Dakota native, has been the UW President for about a year.
“The most rewarding (part of my job) is what I do on days like today,” Nichols said. “Traveling across the state, and spending a whole day in the community, I feel like I’m really meeting Wyoming. I feel much better connected than if I were to just stay in the office in Laramie.”
Nichols is a first-generation college student. She spoke about why she thinks education is so important.
“It’s critical for me to share the message of higher education, because it really has changed my life,” Nichols said. “That’s not just personal testimony; I’ve seen it impact other people as well. It’s good for Wyoming to have an educated citizenship.”
Nichols visited Kemmerer High School for a “signing day” event for four Kemmerer students attending University of Wyoming in the fall.
“We do events like this to bring attention to the students and let the community know the great things they’re doing by going to college,” Nichols said. “Face-to-face interaction is important. We need more of a presence in our communities and our schools to get kids to our university.”
Nichols said her favorite experience so far at UW was Commencement on May 13.
“It was a beautiful day in Laramie,” Nichols said. “It was amazing to see all the families flock to the city and all the students in their caps and gowns. It really encapsulated why we’re here.”