New State College President Visits Lyndon Campus
Story posted October 7, 2022 by Amy Ash Nixon, Staff Writer for the Caledonia Record.
Dr. Parwinder Grewal, the new president of Vermont State University (formerly NVU, Castleton and Vermont Technical College) has been visiting the campuses of all of the institutions since arriving in July.
He was recently on campus at NVU-Lyndon, meeting with students, parents, alumni, community members and faculty and staff as part of the Homecoming and Family Weekend. The previous Saturday he was at the Johnson campus of NVU visiting with people connected to the campus there.
According to a press release from NVU, Dr. Grewal has 25 years of experience in higher education and a decade of biotechnology research and development experience in industry and government spanning six states and five countries.
He most recently served at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, a new university created through the merger of three long-standing legacy institutions spanning multiple campuses and communities where he played key leadership roles.
Dr. Grewal previously served as the Department Head of Entomology and Plant Pathology at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville and as a Distinguished Professor of Entomology at The Ohio State University.
He earned a BS in Agriculture and a MS in Plant Pathology from Punjab Agricultural University, and a Ph.D. in Zoology from Imperial College London. In addition to his many entomology, nematology, and distinguished faculty awards, Dr. Grewal received a Fulbright Scholar Award from the U.S. Department of State and Stockholm University in Sweden in 2013. He is an internationally recognized nematologist and is ranked among the top two percent of the world’s most-cited scientists, the university said. He is also a Fellow of the Society of Nematologists and has served as its President. His most recent research has focused on community resilience through local self-reliance in food, energy, and water.
Dr. Grewal answered a series of questions about his visit to the Lyndon campus, plans for the NVU location in the Northeast Kingdom, and the college system transformation.
Q: Please tell us about your experience bringing together a state university system in Texas and how that background is aiding you in the work of transforming the VSCS into Vermont State University.
President Grewal: Thank you! I am excited to be here. We have a critical resource for Vermont with our colleges. I hear over and over that they are gems—and they are. These small colleges provide access to an excellent education to so many, from first-generation students in Vermont to students who are interested in our unique degrees. What we are building with Vermont State University is going to increase that affordability and access in so many ways.
My experience at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, which brought together the University of Texas Pan American at Edinburg and the University of Texas at Brownsville, has given me the foundation to help build the new Vermont State University. In Texas, I served as the Founding Dean of the College of Sciences for three years and then as Executive Vice President for Research, Graduate Studies, and New Program Development for four years. I also provided leadership in increasing enrollment, building community partnerships, creating workforce development initiatives, and strengthening global engagements. These four areas are of the utmost importance for our vision for Vermont State University.
Q: What is similar to the needs in Vermont, and what is different than what the system in Texas you come from went through?
President Grewal: In many ways, the challenges in Vermont for bringing together Northern Vermont University, Castleton University, and Vermont Technical College are very similar to those we faced in Texas, except that the motivations were different. Those four goals — increasing enrollment, building community partnerships, creating workforce development initiatives, and strengthening global engagements — will be a major focus of my work with Vermont State. While in Texas we worked to build a vibrant research university, our efforts in Vermont are to build a more efficient, statewide hybrid university that enhances affordability and access to higher education to traditional and non-traditional students in rural communities across the state and beyond. At the same time, we will focus on building those community relationships and partnerships that are so important to the vitality of our campuses.
Q: You have been on a tour of the campuses that will be unifying – VTC, Castleton and the campuses of NVU. Please tell me a few highlights from each of the visits.
President Grewal: On day one, I started my presidency with a listening tour of all campuses. During my first week, I went to each of the five main campuses of the university and held open listening sessions with faculty and staff. These sessions were held in large rooms in which employees could join either in-person or via Zoom. We followed those up with forums at each campus where we sat down with faculty and staff to talk about what makes each campus unique—what the strengths are. Many common themes emerged and unique strengths as well. At Lyndon, we know the campus is an incredibly important focus of the Northeast Kingdom and that our professionally-oriented programs are attractive and bring a sense of pride.
Q: What are common themes across the campuses – concerns, too?
President Grewal: Common themes that emerged from these listening sessions across all campuses included strong commitment to student success, pride that faculty and staff have for their campuses and communities, the desire for greater communication, enhanced marketing of the university’s programs, need for professional development for faculty and staff, and concerns about burnout, job stability, and lack of resources.
Q: What are concerns or issues that are campus-identity specific?
President Grewal: Each campus community expressed a strong desire to maintain their academic programs, student services, community culture, and traditions. Some campuses expressed concerns about losing their identity or name as they become part of the Vermont State University. We are committed to our campuses as we build Vermont State University. Vermont State University is our campuses—and it is something more. We are building a new hybrid university where students will have access to the wealth of programs taught university-wide—at an affordable price.
Q: Our newspaper’s circulation/coverage area is specifically the Northeast Kingdom and the impact the unification will have on Northern Vermont University-Lyndon is of the most importance to our readership. How is the transformation going at Lyndon in particular?
President Grewal: The transformation at the NVU-Lyndon campus is going well. Being the cultural center of the Northeast Kingdom, the Lyndon campus is very important to the new university whose mission is to enhance access to affordable quality education to students and transform rural communities. The Lyndon campus has some highly impactful programs, including the renowned atmospheric science, climate change science, and music business and industry. The Learning and Working Community will become a signature program for the new university. Through the Lyndon campus we hope to build stronger mutually-beneficial partnerships in communities across the Northeast Kingdom to not only enhance access to higher education, but also enhance economic and business development in the region and build educational working opportunities for our students.
Q: What did you learn from the student meet-the-president tours?
President Grewal: The most important thing I learned from students is their tremendous excitement about the expanded opportunities the new university will bring for them. The students are really looking forward to access to new and exciting courses offered by faculty on other campuses and opportunities for new co-curricular and non-curricular programs. I also learned from students and alumni about why they selected a particular campus. It was either a unique program offered at that campus, or the strong tradition of special attention faculty and staff provide to individual students.
Q: What do you most want people in Vermont to know about the current state -and the vision/hopes for the Vermont State University system?
President Grewal: I want everyone to know that the transformation of the Vermont State Colleges is going well. Our faculty and staff are doing a tremendous amount of work needed to build new and efficient processes and procedures for all campuses to come together and function as a one unified university.
Faculty have developed a new academic structure and have identified a set of 100+ unique academic programs that the new university will deliver across all its campuses.
Vermont State University has already received its accreditation and last week the Board of Trustees approved our proposal to restructure and reduce tuition and fees—by 15% for in-state students. This reorganization is a tremendous project, and it is the passion and hard work of our employees that is making it possible. I want to thank them publicly for that. There is a lot more work that needs to be done, but we are on track to open the new university and welcome its inaugural class of students in Fall 2023.
I also want people to know that this presents an unprecedented opportunity for Vermont to lead the nation in transforming higher education and build the nation’s most-innovative and forward-thinking university. The vision for Vermont State University is to become the nation’s first statewide, hybrid, community-engaged, and career-ready university. Vermont State will substantially enhance access to quality higher education to both the traditional and non-traditional students through its signature In-Person Plus program, which will enable students from any campus, home, or remote area to access their classes. The university faculty, students, and staff will engage deeply with local community partners across the state to co-envision solutions to local problems and foster sustainable economic development in rural communities. Students will gain access to industry-relevant micro-credentials in all the degree programs to better prepare them for jobs and careers. With renewed interest and support from the State Legislature, it is an exciting time for higher education in Vermont.