- Associated Press - Saturday, November 19, 2016

SIOUX CITY, Iowa (AP) - Hamid Shirvani came to Briar Cliff University with a plan to take the school to unseen heights.

The new president recently unveiled the “Briar Cliff 5-year plan,” a series of changes and additions he plans to implement, or at least explore over the next five years.

“The real agenda is to lift the institution to higher academic elevations and be a university of choice,” he said. “We are going back to our roots, which is founded in quality. This will move that quality several notches higher.”

Plans range from a possible new athletic complex, to dormitory renovations, to new academic programs, to changes in standards for students and staff.

The Sioux City Journal (https://bit.ly/2eHngTx ) reports Shirvani said his plan centers around 10 principles - tradition, branding, re-engineering, disruptive innovation, focus on learning, outcome, competition, standards, growth and context.

Keeping those 10 values in mind, Shirvani said the university will grow from a physical, educational and spiritual standpoint.

A focal point of the college’s five-year plan is to improve, and possibly add, facilities. Next calendar year, work will begin to renovate the Noonan and Toller residence halls.

The new construction, approved by the board of trustees in late October, will begin next summer. Shirvani said the improvements would cost “several million” dollars.

Shirvani said the dorms, built in the 1960s, are due for a face-lift. They’ll be equipped with new furniture, refinished wood features, new floors with a glazed concrete finish, as well as new toilets and bathroom fixtures.

State-of-the-art wireless internet, LED lighting and key card entry will add a technological twist.

Corridors in the dorms will be painted blue and yellow, to represent the school’s colors.

“It gives a simple kind of warmth, but in a modern space,” he said. “It helps the kids relate.”

Casey McEvoy, a junior from Fort Dodge, Iowa, has been a resident of Toller Hall and said he’s thrilled to see the dormitory get needed attention.

“I think the dorms are fine as they are, but they could always use a little update,” he said. “They’re kind of old-fashioned.”

He joked that his parents, who both lived in Toller Hall in the 1990s, would always make a humorous observance when they visited.

“When they came to visit my dorm room, they said it’s about the same as it was back then,” he said. “I think that’s an indication of how needed the renovations are.”

Shirvani said these changes are not only a way to reward current students, but to show prospective students what they can expect if they come to the school.

“Next time this year, there will be more and more students coming to campus and they’re going to love the place,” he said. “It’s not just substance, it’s form. They see a fabulous faculty, staff, nurturing, quality teachers and quality space.”

Additionally, the two roads leading up to campus will be redone, with new landscape features added.

Shirvani said discussions with engineering firms have begun to explore soil testing for a possible new athletic facility.

The president stressed those discussions are in their infancy. The first step is to choose a firm with expertise in campus planning. The next, he said, is to find ground suitable for a new building. Without first testing grounds, he added, a formalized plan cannot be completed.

He said the hopes are to bring a new athletic facility to Briar Cliff eventually, as athletics and academics go hand-in-hand.

“We’re not going to emphasize one without the other,” he said. “Athletics are a priority and we want to have successful athletic programs.”

He said while steps are being taken to form a master facility plan, athletic programs will be assessed as to which programs are in need of a facility upgrade.

Shirvani did not specify which sports are envisioned for a new facility. The Chargers football team plays home games at the DakotaDome on the University of South Dakota campus in Vermillion, and practices on fields on the riverfront in South Sioux City. The university also owns the Charger Dome in South Sioux City, where the baseball, softball, track and golf teams hold indoor practices.

Shirvani said Briar Cliff will continue to add to its mission to bring programs to campus that address needs in the community. Nearly two years ago, Briar Cliff welcomed a doctorate in physical therapy program to address the lack of practitioners in the area.

Next fall, Briar Cliff will welcome back its bachelor in special education teaching degree. Information provided by the Iowa Department of Education said special education has been a national shortage area since 1990.

“There are a lot of kids in schools that are special needs and there is a desperate need in our community for teachers with special education experience,” he said.

Steps have been taken statewide to address the shortage. The Iowa Department of Education offers a teacher loan forgiveness program to Iowa educators teaching in a shortage subject area. But Theresa Engle, chair of the education department at Briar Cliff, said the lack of programs in the area to instruct future special education teachers is also an inhibitor.

By offering its own program, Briar Cliff can help add candidates into the job pool.

Shirvani said plans are also in place to bring a master’s of health care administration program to campus.

The major would allow students to learn the ins and outs of health care administration, such as billing, how pharmacies function and the standards of the Affordable Care Act.

Shirvani said more new programs will continue to follow.

“We have a very extensive plan,” he said. “We are doing a market analysis of about half a dozen majors we are looking at to make sure there is a need.”

A top-flight education extends beyond the programs and facilities an institution offers. Shirvani said in order to vault Briar Cliff into a “different league,” the academic and hiring standards must be higher as well.

Currently, Shirvani said, new faculty hires in almost every position at Briar Cliff must carry doctorate degrees. He said six new faculty members meeting those standards are already on board for next year. Current teachers and instructors are not required to obtain doctorates.

“We are very fortunate to have an excellent faculty. This is very important,” he said. “We are supporting the existing faculty by hiring the type of faculty much like themselves.”

Starting next year, he said, admission standards will be increased as well. He said grade-point average requirements will increase by half a percentage point in the first year and ACT score standards will increase by one or two points.

The GPA requirement will incrementally increase by year until it’s eventually capped.

Shirvani acknowledged that the plan is aggressive, but he knows it will help boost the image of the institution as a highly selective, top-flight Franciscan-based learning environment.

The programs and facilities planned will give Briar Cliff the tools to continue to provide local students with a quality education, but will also help recruit students from across the nation.

Shirvani said the new direction of Briar Cliff will also help highlight Sioux City as a community.

“Sioux City is a great place,” he said. “That notion of a nurturing family on campus increases and I think it’s a wonderful place to recruit national students.”


Information from: Sioux City Journal, https://www.siouxcityjournal.com

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