veryone and every institution needs to examine itself from time to time to see what improvements can be made. Our College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources is no exception.
So about a year ago, Vice Chancellor and Dean Tom Payne created the “Improving CAFNR for the Family” committee, made up of faculty and staff members, to do just that.
“I feel like it’s important we constantly review ourselves and look for opportunities to grow and improve,” he said.
Three subcommittees ultimately evolved from the larger one – to examine what can be done to increase workplace satisfaction for faculty, staff and graduate students, respectively. Bill Lamberson, professor of animal sciences, and Amanda Swaim, administrative assistant in agricultural and applied economics, head the main committee.
“Simply, I think Tom is concerned that those of us who work in CAFNR are satisfied with our working conditions, and if there are things that can be done to improve the satisfaction, he will seek to make those changes,” Lamberson said.
Lamberson had previously served as co-chair on a campus committee charged with developing responses to a recent COACHE (Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education) Survey on Faculty Satisfaction. The CAFNR committee also used those survey results to help inform their decision making, along with focus groups. The focus groups were conducted with staff members based on work function, Swaim said, and with graduate students to allow for an open forum to discuss “thoughts, concerns, and opinions.”
From these groups and the survey, five actionable items were identified for immediate implementation:
First, Bryan Garton, associate dean of academic programs, and Shari Freyermuth, assistant dean of academic programs, have taken the lead on developing a series of CAFNR-wide graduate student mixers to help students meet others across the college and expand their network of personal and professional contacts.
Genevieve Howard, strategic communications associate, CAFNR Communications, has created a website to be a repository of information on funding opportunities for graduate student travel so opportunities are not missed.
Melissa Mitchum, associate professor of plant sciences, and Jim English, interim division director of plant sciences, have presented to CAFNR division directors on the Plant Sciences model for mentoring through promotion to professor with a recommendation for CAFNR to adopt the model, too.
“That is considered a best practice across universities with high satisfaction regarding tenure and promotion practices,” Lamberson said.
A recommendation for recognition of achievement or milestones, such as specific numbers of sections or student credit hours taught, Extension publications or presentations, and papers or grant dollars, has been made. Logistics are still under consideration, Lamberson said.
Finally, staff members may recall a recent survey that has gone out that focused on the work environment for the staff.
“We hope to begin to find out what changes/improvements to the work environment the staff thinks would make for an ideal work environment, thus increasing morale, satisfaction, and retention; essentially, what would make CAFNR an even better place to work,” Swaim said.
The survey closed Nov. 6, with a 37 percent response rate (the goal was 30-40 percent). The results of the survey are being analyzed with a final report to come within the next few weeks, Swaim said.
“From these results, the committee will be able to determine action items on Improving CAFNR for the Family,” she said.
Payne said he is appreciative of the time and efforts of the faculty and staff members who have served on the committee and is pleased with the outcome.
“I know this process has helped us all better understand our CAFNR family and how we can make continuous improvements to help make this workplace the best it can be,” he said. “I am excited that some of the improvements have already been implemented, and others are being reviewed to make certain they are as strong as they can be.”