Message from Dr. Suzanne Shipley

7 min read

In early March we were just putting the finishing touches on this issue of Sunwatcher Magazine when we quickly halted our production to tend to the rapidly emerging concerns of COVID-19. Since that time our faculty and staff have spent countless hours to ensure that our students continue to receive the best educational experience we have to offer.

The abrupt transition to remote learning in the spring could be described as miraculous, but that would downplay the tremendous efforts our campus community has willingly poured out to support one another. As we began planning for our return to campus for the fall, our community again came together in true fashion armed in knowledge to provide a blueprint for tackling the ever-changing pandemic landscape.

Located at the corner of Taft Boulevard and Midwestern Parkway standing tall amidst the often harsh and unpredictable Texas weather is our Believers statue representing strength, courage, and wisdom. These values have been beautifully, though sometimes painstakingly, upheld by our students, our faculty, and our staff as we’ve adjusted to changes in our personal lives, professional careers, and local and state communities.

As well, our alumni and friends have given unselfishly to help our students in need. From monetary contributions to donations to our Mustangs Pantry, the outpouring of support and concern demonstrates once again the characteristics of what make this University so special.

Even now as we near the completion of the fall semester, we are still learning as we find our way back to some form of regular routines – routines that may forever be altered by the effects of this pandemic. But our mission remains firmly rooted in preparing our students for careers or advanced study with a broader understanding of themselves and others so that they may contribute constructively to society through their work and private lives.

Well-known and regarded for the quality of our degrees, we continue to focus on keeping costs steady and increasing our value in a number of ways. We understand the importance of cost for our prospective and current students and their families, especially in this time of uncertainty. Throughout this issue you will learn more about the initiatives we are undertaking to keep this commitment.

The much-anticipated opening of Centennial Hall, home to programs in our Gunn College of Health Sciences and Human Services was instrumental in forging new alliances with Shimadzu Medical Systems USA and B-Line Medical LLC, as well as renewing our longstanding local partnership with United Regional.

Through these alliances, our students and faculty will work and train with state-of-the-art equipment and software that will set them apart in their fields. The building now stands as confirmation of the trust and support our state has placed in us to provide an educated workforce and stimulate economic development across our region and beyond. Now more than ever, the demand for health professionals, educated within these walls or across these airwaves will be significant.

Affordability is imperative for our MSU families and no program does more to make a degree available to first-generation students than our Priddy Scholars Program. Middle-income families across the region have benefited from this freedom from the cost of higher education given to our students. In this issue you will read about Electra native Tre Jones, a 2019 December graduate, and the impact the scholarship had in helping him pursue his dream.

Our University reached another historic milestone in September when the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) granted approval for our request to offer a doctoral degree in educational leadership, marking the first doctoral program at MSU Texas. This is a momentous accomplishment for our dedicated faculty in the West College of Education. This program allows us to provide our community of educators with a significant level of academic attainment. Our first cohort of students in the doctoral program is scheduled to begin in January. Additionally, the West College added a unique pathway to teacher certification in the area of early education through grade 3, introduced an undergraduate degree in substance abuse counseling, and earned accreditation for its Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health program among several changes to degree programs.

One of the strengths of MSU Texas is our diverse student body – a population made up of students from regional and metropolitan communities, along with our international students. Even within the beauty of our diversity, we must continue to seek ways for equity to take root here, meaning that we push ourselves to identify and purposefully step away from inequities in our attitudes and our actions. This summer, in response to our Black students’ concerns, we formed the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Task Force to address and support actions for a more racially inclusive learning environment. As a result, we realigned our existing campus resources and programs to support underrepresented students on our campus and expanded and enhanced our MOSAIC Cross Cultural Center. Cammie Dean, who helped to launch our Priddy Scholars Program, has enthusiastically led the efforts to reimagine these programs for the benefit of all our students.

When MSU Texas launched our strategic plan three years ago with a bold vision to build bridges for a vibrant future we could see our centennial celebration in 2022 on a distant horizon. Our work toward promoting a strong university community, pursuing new student populations, creating a destination residential campus, and stimulating a culture of engagement has been enthusiastically supported by generous donors. Key leadership gifts made through our Boundless Opportunities comprehensive campaign have already had an extraordinary impact in reaching these goals, all for the benefit of our students.

As a public university we understand that while we serve students first, we also serve our communities, particularly when it comes to providing a trained workforce in critical areas. Our Flower Mound student learning center was designed to address the needs in workforce education as outlined in the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s 60X30 goal. Emphasizing select online programs to attract adult learners who are seeking career advancement, the center is steadily making progress of meeting this need in a larger market.

In our almost 100-year history, MSU has answered to many names, and has been known as an independent institution with our own local governing board. At this time, that places us alongside three other Texas independent public universities while all other public universities in Texas are members of one of the systems of higher education within our state.

About a year ago deliberation concerning joining a system began to emerge as information was shared with our Board of Regents regarding various expressions of interest that had been made for MSU Texas to become part of a system in previous years. Then in February the Board directed me to launch a series of discussions first with the campus community and then with area community members, donors and alumni in order to gather opinions about the potential alliance with the Texas Tech University System. Prior to these conversations, we distributed an extensive question-and-answer document along with a position statement addressing the pros and cons of joining a university system.

Although many of our planned luncheons and community group meetings were cut short by the pandemic, we did continue to receive good feedback through our donor and alumni groups and survey instruments. The wide variety of opinions shared with us through the spring were very helpful in determining the next steps and shaping what would be non-negotiable and what had leeway in our discussions with the TTU System. Based on this information, the Board of Regents approved moving forward with a memorandum of understanding at its quarterly meeting in May. The summer was spent in further deliberation for the purpose of outlining the parameters of a possible agreement. Then, in August the MOU was approved by both boards at their separate board meetings.

We have completed the initial negotiation stage that places us working in tandem with the TTU System to complete at least two additional steps over the course of 2020-2021. Those are securing two changes, one in the state legislation regarding our status as an independent university, and the second is the change in our national accreditation from being overseen by the MSU Board of Regents to oversight by the Board of Regents of the Texas Tech University System.

If these final two steps are successfully completed and legislation is signed by Gov. Gregg Abbott at the completion of the 87th legislative session, we will become the fifth member institution in the Texas Tech University System in September, just as we begin our centennial celebration.

I hope that you find these details of initiatives throughout these pages meaningful, whether you are a proud graduate of MSU, a family member of a graduate, or considering attendance at our university.