An unconventional path led Sheryl Van Gruensven, interim chancellor and vice chancellor for business and finance at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, to her leadership role. With aspirations of becoming a lawyer, she attended a technical college and earned a paralegal degree, later returning to school for a bachelor’s and then a master’s degree. Her experience attending a variety of schools — technical college, a public university and a private college — mirrors that of many UW-Green Bay students and helps her better understand their journeys, she says. Van Gruensven talked with Insight about the record enrollment the university saw this past fall and the many changes afoot on campus.
What have been some of your objectives in your role?
Van Gruensven: My message has been that it’s going to be business as usual. We have so many initiatives that we have been working on that we’re continuing to push forward with. We established the Richard J. Resch School of Engineering. We are rolling out an executive MBA. We had one of our largest freshman classes. We’re really proud of the fact that we’re continuing to diversify our student body. We’re really reaching out more locally, which is what we need to be doing. Any student who wants an education at Green Bay can come and get one.
We announced the new Weidner Philharmonic this fall and the Robert and Joanne Bauer Endowed Professorship in Strings, which is something new for us. We are working to roll out four-year programs at all the branch campuses, so we’ll have mechanical engineering in Sheboygan next fall. Marinette will have electrical engineering technology next fall. We’re rolling out a four-year nursing program on our campus next fall. We’re working to have a downtown presence.
We have a strong, aggressive capital plan we’re working on. We are working to get approval to renovate or replace some of our older buildings. We’re pushing forward with the UW System and Brown County to establish about 65 acres as a research park. We’re going to be moving forward to the Board of Regents in spring with electrical engineering, so not only mechanical but electrical, the full four-year program.
To what do you attribute UW-Green Bay’s record enrollment?
I think a big reason for that is our access mission. Our admissions requirements were a lot different years ago, but as a regional comprehensive university, our role is to serve our regions where we operate, and that means serving all students. We have a lot of economically disadvantaged students in our area, and our job is to give them an opportunity to get an education. The Green Bay schools are now majority minority, and we want to be the campus that they look to first.
We want to have students who live here, go to school here and then get jobs in our communities and stay here. That’s why we’re really excited to roll out those programs in the branch campuses, the additional locations in Manitowoc and Marinette and Sheboygan. We’re seeing a lot of good traction in those communities. We just rolled out something called Rising Phoenix in Manitowoc. That campus is going to be a gateway for students who maybe wouldn’t have had the opportunity to get a higher education to get an associate degree by the time they graduate high school. Higher ed is changing, and we continue to change with it. (We’re) providing more flexible learning environments, providing a lot more internships and high-impact practices.
You do a lot of work mentoring girls and young women. Why is that important to you?
I am on the board of the Girl Scouts of the Northwestern Great Lakes. It’s important because girls today need our support, and a lot of girls don’t have that confidence naturally. I think it oftentimes takes years for girls to gain that support and confidence level. Being in that environment really produces those qualities and characteristics and reinforces girls to develop into strong women as they grow up.
At work, Dean Susan Gallagher-Lepak and I, this past summer, created a women’s leadership network on campus. We really felt there was a need to have a place for women on campus to come together and support each other and look at programming and do some programming internally where we can talk about issues, talk about ways to support each other, to help advocate and provide leadership and professional development opportunities on campus. We need to find men who advocate for women and make sure there’s opportunities to provide for women to grow and develop into future leaders.
What do you see for the future at UW-Green Bay?
We are in the process to get a National Estuary Research Reserve System. There are less than 20 in the whole U.S. (The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) wants to put another one on the Great Lakes. We have officially been accepted into the process with NOAA. We’re in the process of hiring a new water science executive director to lead that reserve effort. That will bring thousands and thousands of research dollars to the region and university. We’ll have faculty who can be doing research on the Great Lakes.
We’ve invested in a new leader for graduate studies, so we have someone focused on growing our graduate program portfolio to expand our research. We recently hired a new director of grants and research. We are really doubling down on research on our campus to be a more research-focused campus in addition to teaching.
We’re going to be embarking on a master plan process now. We’re doing a lot of pre-designs on several buildings on campus, so we’re really going to be taking an aggressive approach on our capital plan on campus. We need more housing. We need better housing. If we’re going to grow and thrive, we need better facilities. That’s a focus in the next three to four years.
Of course, we’ll be naming a new chancellor probably in the next month or two. I’m confident we’re going to get a great new leader for the campus. We’re doing great things in our partnerships. I think we’re really fulfilling our role as a regional comprehensive university and getting out in the community and being visible and finding out what the community wants and needs.