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Despite Cuts, University Of Wyoming Launches New Initiatives

The University of Wyoming's Old Main building
Bob Beck
Wyoming Public Radio
The Old Main building on the University of Wyoming campus

This week the University of Wyoming (UW) announced some big plans. After already reducing $42 million, the university had to cut another $13 million. Those cuts will involve the loss of roughly 75 jobs.

Along with that, UW announced it's consolidating a number of departments, and shifting science and math programs from the College of Arts and Sciences to the Colleges of Engineering and Agriculture.

This all comes at a time when UW lost a lot of revenue due to the pandemic. President Ed Seidel said the reductions are hard, but now they must find ways to make coming to UW attractive despite all of this.

"So we're going to have to be more competitive and brand ourselves effectively in order to attract the students that we want and we will need to grow our enrollment somewhat," said Seidel. "We, of course, want not to lose our superpower of being small and intimate, but we're gonna have to grow our enrollment a little bit to maintain and grow critical mass in certain areas," He noted.

So UW is using the savings from some of its budget reductions to launch three focused initiatives to make the university attractive to students and donors, and maybe even corporate sponsors. The first idea is a School of Computing. Seidel said it would more fully engage all students into the world of computing, while using the school to create more innovative ways to conduct research and even to create jobs in the state.

UW Math Professor Bryan Shader has been involved in developing the school. He said the biggest thing is what it will do for students.

"[It will] include a computer science for all components in the University Studies Program. It'll have a bachelor's degree with many tracks and minors that will allow students in all disciplines to get the needed 21st-century computing skills, as well as down the road masters and Ph.D. programs," said Shader.

Another program is focused on really stepping up what UW is already doing with the tourism and recreation industry. The Worth Initiative stands for Wyoming Outdoor Recreation, Tourism and Hospitality. UW Economist Rob Godby said the sector is the second largest in the state, but he said he could probably be generating more revenue.

"The state share of total GDP that is the total production in the economy is about 4.2 percent. If you were to compare that to energy, it's much smaller. Fossil fuels, for example, are almost 25 percent of GDP. But that is the second-largest sector and it can be much larger," said Godby.

He sees a scenario where UW and community colleges could help lead the industry in a number of ways and also do things for their main constituency.

"The real reason for it is to make a difference and to create opportunities for students. It is a focus in a particular area, in what we think is an underserved sector in Wyoming's economy both at UW and across higher ed in the state," said Godby.

The third initiative would be to build on Wyoming's efforts to build entrepreneurism. Godby told the UW trustees this week that they still need to do more to teach students how to take their education and create jobs. The plan is to introduce these concepts to all freshmen, so they are thinking about entrepreneurship during their time in college. Steve Farkus will oversee the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, and he said they want to expand their reach.

"Entrepreneurship and innovation activities have been somewhat fragmented across the state. There is a need for centralized and efficient coordination of existing resources that are easily understood and to engage," said Farkus. "We envision our Business Resource Network playing an active role in further developing and enabling statewide entrepreneurial ecosystem."

Farkus said the idea is to have a statewide network of hubs that will focus on emerging industries in their market. He added that the university and community colleges would be involved in finding ways to make those potential businesses successful in a variety of ways, including finding money.

UW President Seidel said these concepts along with some of the other on-campus changes they are making will hopefully better prepare students for the future job market, while also helping to improve the state. Gov. Mark Gordon told the UW trustees that he strongly approves of the efforts.

Bob Beck retired from Wyoming Public Media after serving as News Director of Wyoming Public Radio for 34 years. During his time as News Director WPR has won over 100 national, regional and state news awards.

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