View from the Board Chair: From Boardroom to Classroom

Three Ways to Enhance Board Engagement

By Robert L. Fealy    //    Volume 23,  Number 1   //    January/February 2015

Today’s college student faces an uphill battle, from the increasingly competitive job market to the rising cost of higher education.

As the newly elected chairman of the University of Cincinnati (UC) Foundation board of trustees, my biggest responsibility is to raise funds for the university in order to help students and faculty members succeed. Although I’ve served on the board since 2005, I find myself continuously learning new things about UC’s hard-working students. For instance, I recently discovered that nearly 80 percent of our students are working full- or part-time jobs in addition to going to class full-time.

Our foundation staff devotes much time and attention to ensuring our trustees understand the opportunities and challenges facing our faculty members and students, and what life is like inside and beyond our classrooms. To that end, we recently implemented programming that I hope will increase the engagement of our board members and will inspire other educational institutions.

Incorporate Experiential Learning Tactics

UC is the birthplace of cooperative education, having pioneered the hands-on learning approach back in 1906. Taking a page from the university’s playbook, we adopted an experiential-learning opportunity for our board, affectionately dubbed “From Boardroom to Classroom.”

The idea: Board members accompany students to their classes to gain a better understanding of current curriculum and student needs. In October 2014, 10 trustees and UC Foundation President Rodney Grabowski did just that, connecting with the academe of today and attending class with current students. Faculty members, and particularly students, were thrilled to see our board members take a real interest in what happens within the current learning environment.

Get New Board Members Involved Early

The experience also gave the board an opportunity to engage its newest members. Rae Mang, a 1989 graduate of UC’s College of Pharmacy and a new board member, joined a class of about 20 students to discuss human development. Rae told me she enjoyed spending time on campus, seeing the new classrooms, and interacting with students. “It was a nice reminder of how trustees can be great advocates and ambassadors for the university,” she said.

Another board member, Joffre Moine, a 1996 alumnus of UC’s Carl H. Lindner College of Business, was reminded about the importance of technology. He, like Rae and me, didn’t have email when in college and was impressed by how students are multitasking using tablets, laptops, and smartphones. “From a board member perspective, this experience confirms that we need to continue investing in technology,” Joffre told me.

I was encouraged by the inspiration and energy that just 1.5 hours in a classroom provided to our board members, and the degree to which their understanding of modern teaching techniques was enhanced.

Keep Up with Emerging Technology

Complementary to the classroom immersion, we incorporated a variety of events into the board’s time on the campus, ranging from a luncheon to raise money for student scholarships to our annual dinner to honor the university’s most committed donors. Something became clear as I observed the flawless execution of these events: how the use of cutting-edge technology could transform them into dazzling and engaging celebrations.

Over the next year, our board will look to expand its digital horizons and will conduct workshops on developing trends in social media. It is my hope that we can find innovative new uses for technology to further the mission of the foundation and university.

Ultimately, the hands-on experiences we offered our board members gave them a special insight into the lives of today’s students, changed their perspectives, and provided a glimpse into real-life issues facing students and faculty. My hope is that the result will be both enduring and transformative.

I’m proud of what our work means for UC students and look forward with great excitement to what’s next at the #HottestCollegeinAmerica.

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