President Interview Part 2
This is a two part interview between University of Alabama Huntsville President Robert Altenkirch and I.
Question #1: Can you explain to students who had not considered studying at UAH why they should give UAH a look?
I think you have to look at the UAH brand and determine if it is for you. This is a technology-focused university with strong professional programs. While the Arts and Liberal Arts are also strong here, you don’t usually see that at technology-focused institutions. Students are encouraged to participate in sponsored events and music ensembles. There is a good amount of connection between students and administrators. The proximity to Redstone Arsenal and Cummings Research Park, means there is potential for internships and job opportunities, and it is a good place to look for professional career opportunities. We do some things others wouldn’t think of doing. A student group that designs and shoots rockets for example is unusual, the Student Launch Initiative. And a space hardware club that is going to launch a satellite into space. They are going to demonstrate its use as a communication satellite.
Question #8: Enrollment at UAH is down in most of the colleges across campus and the College of Engineering is not projected to grow much more in the near future. How do you plan on increasing enrollment? [Note: the President informed me enrollment is in fact up in some colleges.]
It’s hard to grow engineering rapidly; it grows at a steady pace. For example, Nursing is going to grow rapidly. Nursing is going to grow rapidly because of the increasing demand for healthcare. By expanding the College of Nursing facility we expect to see a bump up as opposed to steady growth in other colleges. Programs sort of ebb and flow over time. Sometimes up, sometimes down.
Question #9: One of the most common complaints I hear from students at UAH concerns the poor quality of the Liberal Arts facilities (Roberts Hall, Morton Hall) and also the Salmon Library. Morton Hall has noticeable structural problems, externally and internally Roberts Hall is an eyesore, and Liberal Arts is currently split between three separate buildings on campus. In recent years the College of Business and Science have received new facilities in addition to the new police facilities and Student Life building currently under construction. Are there currently any discussions to revitalize Liberal Arts both in its psychical makeup as well as its current programs?
There is a repair and maintenance renovation list. We are going to get to them as funds are available. For example, the Shelby Center has someone’s name on it. It was supported with Congressional funds. The intermodal facility and the greenway are in part federal grants. Renovation of Morton Hall and Roberts Hall, and also the Von Braun Research Hall are all on the list. We budget very conservatively and then as the budget year is closed out, we generally operate with a small surplus. There is a list and we have to step through the list. Charger Union is being built by bonds that were floated and will be paid for with student fees. The Nursing expansion will be paid for with tuition revenues covering bond debt service, and in part by private gifts and state allocated funds. SWIRLL (Severe Weather Institute and Radar & Lightening Laboratory) is a grant through the state from the governor’s office to improve our research. Madison Hall is also in need on attention. As far as Roberts Hall goes that is an architectural issue. I used to be a Dean of architecture at Washington State University. I don’t think it’s an eyesore.
Question #10: Have you been inside Roberts Hall?
Oh yes, I attended a lecture and musical performance there. I did have to search for the restroom. Typically you can find it next to the water fountain in between the two restrooms, but in Roberts they are stacked on top of each other. Also, the plan for Wilson Hall is to move the simulated hospital to the Nursing expansion.
Question #11: What about combining Liberal Arts? Would it be more cost effective to build a new Arts and Social Sciences building than to renovate three different buildings?
We have to determine: is it more cost effective to renovate a building or simply rebuild. As far as rebuilding goes, it can be less expensive and you get a new selection of architecture. If it is more cost effective than renovating, we would certainly look at that.