CEDAR FALLS — University of Northern Iowa President Mark Nook may have just gotten to campus, but he understands the role — and reach — a college has in its community.
While Nook knows he has plenty to learn about the Cedar Valley, he explained his views on the role of the university in the region during an editorial board meeting with The Courier.
Nook’s appreciation for the impact a college has dates back to his days leading the St. Cloud State University Planetarium.
“I think I learned pretty early on ... how important it is to engage the community into the university and take the university out into the community, because our impact is too big, or too important,” Nook said.
Nook, who previously served as chancellor at Montana State University-Billings, officially came on board Feb. 1. He spent the first week at UNI reaching out to faculty, students and city leaders.
Though new to UNI, Nook showed a clear understanding about the Cedar Valley’s — and the state’s — relationship with the campus.
He pointed to the importance entertainment options like UNI athletics and Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center have in interacting with the public and raising awareness about the university.
Nook noted UNI’s College of Education has an impact in every county in Iowa by educating teachers who serve throughout the state.
“If you think of us as a regional comprehensive university, you’ve got to say the region is at least as big as the borders of our state, and probably stretches beyond that significantly, so we have an impact,” Nook said. “I need to be engaged with those leaders outside the university to keep that going and to help understand how we can be a positive influence on the state and our region.”
Nook pointed to the “huge economic footprint” the university has, stressing the importance of its relationship with the community and how he will work with lawmakers to increase UNI’s budget.
On Feb. 1, Nook’s first day, Gov. Terry Branstad signed budget cuts that included $2 million in reductions to UNI.
Nook said the university is working to manage the reduction. It may find savings from currently open positions, but he stressed the university is not halting any searches.
Nook is working with lawmakers to see if that $2 million can be restored in fiscal year 2018. He praised the support of area lawmakers.
While he’s watching K-12 education issues and proposed changes to collective bargaining laws, Nook tries not to get too anxious about what the Legislature does.
“As one person pointed out, ‘You’re not a glass half-full kind of guy. You always see it as at least three-quarters.’ So, what I like to do is take this and use an open mind; what are the things that are out there that are going to be challenges, and we’ve just got to find the solutions,” Nook said.