Q & A with Joe Steinmetz
What is your proudest accomplishment as leader of your university?
We have had a number of major accomplishments over the last few years, but I think I am proudest of the progress we have made on our student success efforts. As a campus we have identified advancing student success as our top priority and undertaken a number of new initiatives to bolster our retention and graduation rates. Some features include a new need-based scholarship program focused on Arkansans, Advance Arkansas; a new program for students facing academic suspension to keep them on campus and working toward their degree, Bounce Back; and the establishment of an interim student success center. The center is home to four full-time 360 advisors, who provide holistic advising for first generation students and student who may be less academically prepared. Staff at the success center are designing programs for every phase of the collegiate journey, from pre-enrollment, transitioning to college, semester-to-semester retention, on-time graduation, and post-graduation careers. Our ultimate goal is to create a permanent, standalone student success center in the heart of campus that will host all of our student success programs, and we have plans to break ground on a $45 million facility in the summer of 2019. Last year we saw an increase of 1.6% in our freshmen retention rate. This has given us confidence that we are asking the right questions, finding the right answers, and heading in the right direction. Due to the programs we have been putting in place, we fully expect to keep making gains in our graduation and retention rates.
How do you stay engaged with students on campus?
There is really no one way to stay engaged with students. We always strive to find new opportunities to engage and meet them where they are. One way I can hear what’s on their minds is through informal, monthly coffee meetings that anyone can sign up for. I also periodically teach classes through our Honors College, which is a great way to get to know students. I always walk away impressed with them and revitalized in my work. We also regularly hosts events at the chancellor’s residence and attend campus events where they are likely to be. And of course I meet monthly with our undergraduate and graduate student body presidents. Every fall we hold a state of the university address, but staff and faculty are more likely to attend than students, so we’re now developing a similar student-centered event we can do in the spring to ensure their participation and input.
What’s your favorite university tradition?
The University of Arkansas has some wonderful and truly unique traditions. Certainly nowhere else can lay claim to the Hog Call. But probably my favorite tradition is Senior Walk: roughly four miles of walkway where the names of more than 170,000 graduates are etched. Nothing represents the permanence of your degree like your name carved in concrete with those of your classmates. One of the great pleasures of alumni is bringing family and friends to campus and proudly showing them their name. And, Senior Walk serves as an inspiration for students currently studying at the U of A—they want to see their names etched there someday when they complete degrees.
What experience best prepared you to lead a public research university?
I believe there were several experiences that prepared me to lead a publich research university. I was a student at two public universities and I served for many years as a faculty member teaching and conducting research at three outstanding public institutions—Indiana University, the University of Kansas, and Ohio State Universities. The faculty experience was valuable; it framed who I am as an academic. But, I learned the most about being a leader and a administrators by serving at virtually every level of higher education administration. At one time or another I served as a department chair, as a college associate dean, as an Arts and Science dean at two universities, as an executive vice president and provost, and finally as a chancellor in my current position. At each level of administration, as my responsibilities changed and broadened, I learned valuable lessons that prepared me for my current position.
What is your favorite way to spend your free time?
I do try to carve our free time and when I do I read for pleasure, I work out daily in a gym, and I own a set of golf clubs that occasionally get used. I enjoy traveling as well, when not related to my job as chancellor.
What is the best book you've read recently?
This is a tough question. I read a lot including books related to my professional career as well as for pleasure. In the latter category I recently enjoyed Dan Brown’s Origin. In the former category I recently read Gavazzi and Gee’s Land-grant Universities for the Future.