Utah Valley University (UVU), Utah’s largest public university, offers a unique dual-mission model that “combines the rigor and richness of a first-rate teaching university with the openness and vocational programs of a community college,” and has been called an example of “the future of higher education.” It’s one of many institutions that make the state a workforce development leader, evidenced by its No. 1 finish in the Mountain Region in Site Selection’s 2020 Workforce Development Rankings in January.
Appointed in 2018, Dr. Astrid S. Tuminez is the first woman to serve full-time as UVU president. Raised in the slums of the Philippines, she rose to become vice dean of research and assistant dean of executive education at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore, and most recently served as a Microsoft executive overseeing corporate, external and legal affairs in Southeast Asia.
In April, she took time to speak by email with Site Selection Managing Editor Adam Bruns.
Site Selection: Your studies and professional career have encompassed some of the most prestigious universities in the world. What attracted you to come to Orem and take this post?
Dr. Astrid S. Tuminez: Having attended BYU for my undergraduate degree in Russian studies and international relations, I remembered Utah Valley University from the ’80s as Utah Valley Community College and later Utah Valley State College. When I first learned of the job, I didn’t immediately think that it was a match for me.
But, after doing some research online, I learned that UVU was doing truly innovative things in higher education. It was open admission — hence open to all types of human potential. It had a dual mission, combining a community college and university under one roof. And, as the largest public university in Utah, it had scale. It was also focused on inclusion and diversity in a serious way.
My education was not a foregone conclusion as a child — it was anything but. I was raised in the slums of the city of Iloilo in the Philippines, immersed in poverty and too poor to afford a good school. Nuns from the Catholic order of the Daughters of Charity ran a school in my city, and every so often they would do what they called “slumming” to bring catechism and donated goods to the people in the slums. On one of these trips, they met my mother and my siblings, and offered us children the chance to study at their school for free. In a very real sense, I was the beneficiary of open enrollment, the idea that regardless of your circumstances, you have a place at the institution.
Further, I was struck by its commitment to inclusion and diversity. I have lived and worked in five countries, engaging with and leading people from so many different backgrounds in difficult and challenging situations and circumstances. I value that diversity of thought and experience immensely.
The presidency position was a culmination of everything I’d experienced and learned in my personal education and professional experience. With our dual mission, with the incredible makeup of the student body, UVU does not present an elitist approach to education or to life. It was an approach that said, “Come as you are. UVU has a place for you.” I wanted to be a part of that.
What do employers tell you about the level of talent and “grit” they’re getting from UVU graduates?
President Tuminez: Our engaged-learning model helps students to experience before graduation aspects of the work they will be doing after graduation, and that prepares them in ways that classroom study alone can’t accomplish. Top-rated companies from Silicon Slopes employ hundreds of UVU alumni in various positions in their companies. Their continuing efforts to recruit and hire our students say a lot about how much they value the “grit” they find here.
Recently, Onset Financial, Inc., reached out to note the following: “We have had incredible success hiring some standout graduates from UVU, so much so that we’re actually looking to hire another one! We are so grateful to have such a strong pipeline of talent from which we can draw as we build up the Onset Financial team.”
I also serve on the Advisory Board of Zions Bank. At a recent meeting, one of the senior executives praised the quality of the UVU hires because these students had previously worked as financial advisors in our Money Management Resource Center at the Woodbury School of Business. When I visited the Vivint Home Arena, I was introduced to several outstanding young employees who were all UVU graduates. And, anecdotally, in Utah County, you often hear that the most prepared nurses and teachers are all UVU graduates.
Diversity — in background, age, ethnicity, and academic/professional interests — seems to be a UVU calling card. Does this fit right in with employers seeking more well-rounded, collaborative hires?
President Tuminez: Diversity is UVU’s calling card! And it’s that diversity that makes us such a gold mine for employers in Utah. We bring so many unique individuals to the table, often individuals that don’t fit the traditional model of newly trained, newly educated graduates. These individuals come with rich life experiences and skills that cannot be taught in the classroom or through engaged, experiential opportunities. They have perspectives that are valuable to employers as they seek to create products and services that serve the needs of their consumers and fill gaps in the economy. Most companies, even those that seem to be local main street companies, are working with or sourcing supplies from various countries and cultures around the world. Understanding different cultures, languages, and business processes is crucial for good sourcing and marketing strategies.
Employers are waking up to the value of customized workforce training. How does UVU provide such company-specific options within the larger state economic development framework?
President Tuminez: The Business Resource Center works closely with the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development and local economic development directors to create business trainings that support entrepreneurs and business owners and become a foundation for the economic vitality of our region. Training can include anything from legal clinics to digital marketing for your business. One area of emphasis in this program is entrepreneurship and innovation, including a business incubator and a Smart Cities initiative.
Company-specific programs include our custom Executive Education offerings, which can be very flexible and responsive to a company’s training needs. We can deliver these programs in various modalities, from in-person, online, or hybrid programs. These programs can scale to any size company and are responsive to corporate timelines ranging from short engagements to annual contacts.
The Woodbury School of Business provides an executive part-time MBA program in collaboration with area businesses as well as opportunities for companies to participate in consultancy projects with both undergraduate and graduate students nearing completion. The projects are designed to help identify and present solutions that meet the needs of individual companies, locally and internationally.
Describe how the collaborations with other schools are enhancing UVU’s capabilities while also enhancing the state’s talent base.
President Tuminez: UVU is leading the way in partnerships that focus on student success over institutional turf! With the help of Pres. Clay Christensen of Mountainland Technical College (MTECH), UVU and MTECH recently established a closer partnership to create common-sense, articulated education pathways that foster seamless transfers for students between institutions. The curriculum alignment enables students to progress more easily through degree programs such as information technology, nursing, digital media, and others. Similar agreements have been signed and are being explored with other technical colleges across the state, as well as Salt Lake Community College, Snow College, and Utah State University.
With Utah State University, we are working on getting funding for a program called the Utah Intelligence and Security Consortium. The defense, intelligence and security agencies employ between 6% and 8% of the workforce in Utah. If funded, this collaboration will help prepare a pipeline of talent for jobs in the defense and security sector in Utah; enhance research, networking and analysis; and host an open-source intelligence collection program that will give students practical experience and prepare them to work in the field.
You noted in your State of the University address in January a high participation level of concurrent enrollment from high school students. Describe the value of growing this program for the state of Utah.
President Tuminez: Concurrent Enrollment is a Utah Valley University – Utah high school partnership program where qualified students can earn college credit. It is surging in popularity — over 12,000 students are currently participating. It provides access to, preparation for, and the experience of higher education and is intertwined with the university’s dual mission to provide the open access of a community college. College classes are taught at over 200 high schools by UVU-approved high school instructors using college curriculum and assessment, or broadcast from the main campus to high school sites through video conferencing.
As Utah’s population continues to grow, Concurrent Enrollment will play a vital role in making higher education relevant, accessible, and affordable to students from all backgrounds. One of the most amazing benefits of Concurrent Enrollment is that students get to take UVU classes for only $5 per credit hour!
How is the engaged, project-based learning model at UVU manifesting itself in the university’s physical plant and growth plan?
President Tuminez: The engaged, project-based learning model at UVU is rooted in the understanding that it is imperative that the “book-learning” education we provide our students is complemented and enhanced by a practical application of this knowledge in a way that benefits the community and has real, impactful consequence. The university’s physical plant and strategic growth plan are intended to not only benefit the students who come to UVU but also the communities of which we are a part. The business school expansion, our satellite campuses at Silicon Slopes in Lehi, Utah, and in Heber, Utah, and our future site in Payson, Utah, all allow us to leverage the resources that already exist and enhance them with our human capital — UVU’s students, faculty, and staff. Our campuses and plans for growth place our students in close proximity to jobs and internships that will connect them to industry leaders and professional opportunities. Our business building in particular will bring new opportunities for research and creative collaborations as we construct the space with new technologies and learning laboratories in mind.
We are committed to being good stewards of place in addition to being good stewards of our resources. As such, we look at how we can be a true partner in the region. The I-15 pedestrian bridge, the UVX bus route, and our advocacy for our Utah Transit Authority (UTA) FrontRunner commuter train-line expansion are all intended to create a more walkable, ecologically friendly campus community that also benefits the economic vitality of the city of Orem, the Orem-Provo-Vineyard region, and Utah County and Salt Lake County.
You have spoken of technology as an equalizer between the privileged and the underserved. How is UVU bridging that divide?
President Tuminez: One of the wonderful things about being an open-admissions dual-mission institution is that we inherently act as an equalizer between what one might call privileged and underserved students. We don’t look like a majority of higher education institutions in the country. Thirty-seven percent of our students are first-generation college students. Nineteen percent are students of color. Forty-three percent are Pell Grant-eligible, meaning they come from a lower socio-economic stratum. What’s more, 52% are part-time students, and 81% are employed. It is the latter statistic on the work-school balance that our students have to strike where we are really making great strides.
Prior to the COVID-19 forced migration to all online classes, UVU placed significant emphasis on developing online courses, either fully online or mixed modality. We went from 25% of our students in these classes in fall 2019 to 37% of our students in spring 2020. We constantly hear from our students that these online courses allow them to get their degrees more quickly and with fewer hindrances. They love face-to-face delivery but, because many of them are non-traditional and have jobs, the online offerings really give them the flexibility to take their courses in a way that fits the structure of their lives.
We are making it easier for our students to interact with our admissions, enrollment, and financial aid offices through the use of chatbots. We are in the process of making our course registration and scheduling platforms more robust, allowing our students a greater opportunity to find course sections they need for graduation that are conducive to their work/family schedules. We are transforming classrooms with technology that allows students and professors to walk in with their device and connect seamlessly to the in-room features. We have also recently hired a new vice president of digital transformation who has been tasked with determining how our university can make strides into the digital technology space in ways that will meaningfully improve our processes, facilitate teaching and learning, and help us truly transform more lives for the better.