A Conversation with Kerri Schuiling, President of Northern Michigan University
In this episode of the Rural Insights Podcast, David Haynes sits down with Kerri Schuiling, President of Northern Michigan University.
Topics discussed include NMU’s new mental wellness program, the transition to incoming NMU president Dr. Brock Tessman, childcare for faculty and students, the university budget, and more.
Dr. Kerri Schuiling became interim president of NMU on October 1, 2021. The NMU Board of Trustees removed the “interim” portion of her title in April 2022 to recognized the extended timeline for the current presidential search. Schuiling previously served as the university’s provost and vice president for Academic Affairs. She is Northern’s 16th president.
Dr. Schuiling is a 1973 NMU graduate. She also holds a master’s degree from Wayne State University and a doctorate from the University of Michigan. She is certified as both a women’s health nurse practitioner and nurse-midwife. She was the third nurse practitioner to practice in western Michigan and was the first credentialed nurse-midwife at Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids.
When not on campus, she enjoys spending time with her grandchildren and family pets, and she is an avid downhill skier.
Hello everyone. Welcome to another edition of Rural Insights Podcast and video. And today we’re really honored to have the president of Northern Michigan University, Dr. Kerri Schuiling. Dr. Schuiling is in her last few months as a new president comes in February. Dr. Schuiling and I were students together at Northern at the same time and we are the only two alumni presidents to serve at Northern, which is always great. And so this is really fun for me to do because we go back a long time even though neither one of us have aged a bit.
That’s right. We look just the same.
So welcome Dr. Schuiling, President Schuiling, so one of the things I wanted to talk about was one of the really great things, and I’m sure there are a lot of people could name, but I really think this wellness program that you’ve been driving is really an important thing. I’ve been struck by the mental health problems of students and faculty and staff when I was president and now it’s grown since COVID. It just seems to just continue. Could you tell us a little bit about the wellness program?
Sure. Well we have, as you know, Abigail Weiss is the director. So what we did is we said if we’re going to go forward with these recommendations, which we had an assessment by Jim Haman who was on another one of your podcasts and talked about that. He did a very thorough assessment of campus, talked to many, many people across campus, students, staff, faculty, administrators. And he identified a lot of really good things that we were doing that people had not, they didn’t have the awareness so we knew that we weren’t getting the word out, but he also identified other things that we could be doing or be doing better. And I really felt if we were going to commit to wellness on campus and wellbeing on campus and pushing it forward, that it would be really important to have somebody on it full time. And as you know, Abigail Weiss, a sociologist, she’s head of the sociology program, she was very, very interested in doing this.
So she took the recommendations that Jim Haman put together and has really gone through each one and begun to work on each one. One is how are we doing as far as communicating? I think Abigail has talked to over 700 students in varying classes across campus. So yeah, it’s huge, it’s very significant. And about how to do your own self assessment on wellbeing, how to contact somebody if you feel like somebody’s in crisis or you feel like you’re in crisis. And then in addition, she’s done all of our new faculty that we hired this year went through a training on what to do if they feel that somebody’s in crisis and how to manage it and where to go from there. And that was also opened across campus and we’ll continue to do that. We had, I can’t remember what the number was.
Pretty significant number of current faculty and staff who also took advantage of that training. We’re also hiring a case manager that’s going to work out of student affairs that will work very closely with our counselors. And then as far as students who are in need of counseling, the type of counseling after hours, people weren’t aware that we do have a service for after hours that students a number that they can call. It was interesting, some of our students thought they had to be in severe crisis as opposed to just feeling really depressed. I feel like it would be good if I talked to somebody and really that’s where you want to be able to step in and help someone.
So there’s a lot of it moving forward. Abigail actually just laid out, I was looking at it this morning, went through all the recommendations, which ones have been met. So we have gotten those green lights, which ones are still in process and actually they’re all in process and well along the way. So I’m pretty excited about the whole thing. I mean this is one of those things that I really feel like we committed to and we’re doing what we said we would do.
Well that’s really great. And I’ve heard so many students and faculty and staff talk about how important this is and that it is on every campus in United States that crisis, the crisis may be a big word, but it is a need that you really needs to be focused on, and you’ve done that. So this present testament comes in February, you’ll be, I don’t even know if you’re staying on or you’re retiring, you’re sort of like me. It’s sort of never retire I guess.
And so you are wrapping up your term and having done that, I know you begin to have thoughts about what I got done and what I didn’t get done. It’ll be a time of big transition as you leave, besides you will leave the presidency, Northern will get three new, I’m assuming new members of the board of trustees. Two of them are Republicans that normally a Democrat would not appoint, but it could happen. And one has been elected to the house representatives in the last days, so there’ll be three. So what are your thoughts about this transition period you and what are the things that you think the new president needs to look at and as you reflect on the presidency?
Well, the first thing to me, Dr. Tesman Brock coming in is somewhat of what I would call non-traditional candidate. He’s coming from a system wide, which is different. He’s very familiar with Michigan. As a matter of fact, we had a kind of hellacious snowstorm when he came to visit last time. And so we were real worried about it and he was like non-pleased about the whole thing, got back to Montana and sent a picture and said, “Oh, we’ve got more snow and we’re sledding today.” So you’re not worried about the weather with him. The big picture kinds of things. Obviously everybody worries about enrollment. I think what we really need to focus on, definitely enrollment, but we need to focus on retention. Keeping the students we have. Paul Dubbey, when Paul Dubbey was our institutional researcher, he always used to say it’s just as important to get them in as it is to get them out.
And that still holds true today. And if we can increase our retention rates and persistence rates, we’ll be doing really well. And as far as budgetary kinds of things that you look at when you have a tuition driven, we’re state assisted now and who knows with all the impacts on budgets and everything where we’ll be with state funding for programs, I know that Lansing’s doing the best they can. I think we’re all doing the best they can, but if we can hang on to the students that we have. So I think it’s really important to promote programs and provide support for students that enables them to stay. Students today seem to need more support than when you and I were in school. I don’t recall worrying about students as much as we do now with things like hunger and places to live and family problems.
And I’m sure some of it was there, but I don’t recall having a sense of that as much when you and I were in school. So we’re much more aware of that and trying to create programs for that. Like our graduate students, we have a special meal plan for them now so that they can get a couple of meals every day and not go hungry. Our food pantry and really pushing to have people donate to the food pantry and it’s used widely by our students. So I think really making sure that not only wellbeing has to do with getting rest and not being hungry and being able to attend class.
And I think you see some of the important aspects of that when the students have a sense of, I feel okay, I’m not hungry, I have some place to go. So I think Northern works really hard on that. But I have to say, I think our whole community works really hard on that. That’s one thing that I continuously hear and I know David, you’ve said it too, we’re very lucky to be in a community where it’s all hands on deck. Everybody’s willing to help our students in myriad ways. I’ve had students that have told me about different jobs they work in town and how that particular boss or whatever has helped in some way that’s made a big difference. And sometimes it’s just sitting down and talking with a student, so.
I think you’re absolutely correct. One thing I’ve been written about, and I know you’ve focus somewhat on is the whole problem of childcare and the cost of it for faculty, young faculty with young staff, their salaries are tighter. Young administrative staff, support staff, students, single parent students. If you see in the future something happening with childcare, I keep thinking in the back of my head, “Gee, I hope Northern in the hospital could come together.” Now I know that’s a big issue and there’s regulatory problems and funding and all that, but childcare, is that another part of sort wellness and helping people deal with it?
Absolutely is. And we’ve been working with Invest UP on that and have had several meetings of various organizations around town, various companies around town looking at childcare. We do have some childcare providers, I think it’s called Country Day House. They have childcare and they have purchased land here in Marquette. And actually our provost, Dale was just in conversation with them to see if they would be willing to reserve a certain number of spots for childcare. And then we’re also talking with, I think it’s the Lutheran church up the road, that they would have some room also. I think they would have room for the building that the Country Day house is going to put. I think they’ll have room for 40 maybe. And this other spot would be, I think I’ve got exactly right on the numbers, but maybe 15 or 20.
But it’s very close to campus. We’ve already had somebody from the state come and assess the building. The rules are very, very tight around childcare as they should be. But making sure that there’s a safe place for the kids to play and all that. We’re hopeful that we might be able to do something at least with the church by this coming year. And then by fall, hopefully Country Day House will have something that we’ll be able to utilize too. We’re looking at other opportunities and certainly supporting the program where somebody wants to open a childcare facility in our community and we help support that, but we don’t have as many people who want to jump into that because the pay is not great and responsibility is huge.
Yes. Yeah, I think that’s right. My last, I would give you a minute to wrap up, but I just wanted to say today’s, you are the founder in the start of the Center for Rural Health and Elise Bur is the director doing great championship. They had a great post today about the number of veterans in the UP 30,000 and all of the problems. And it’s a particular issue as a veteran of mine that as you know, I write and pay a lot of attention to. And issues with hunger and homelessness and mental health issues. I just wanted to say a comment that the work that you’ve enabled, Mike Rutledge at the Office of Veterans Affairs on campus and helping students in more than just with enroll issues, a huge boost for veterans. And I know you expanded that, so congratulations. I think veterans on campus have a head start with helping get there and get directed to right services because there’s someone on campus just for them.
As a university, as a community, we really appreciate their service and our freedoms are important and we all recognize that. And so yeah, I think that’s a critical component of what we do. And honestly, it’s the right thing to do. I mean, absolutely.
Well, and I think you’re right about the students today face very different problems. It’s hard for, even when I was president and just continuing to forward with you is that sometimes it’s just seems overwhelming to you. I mean it seemed my biggest worry when I was a student at Northern, was the weather that I could walk to Andy’s bar or the Tiptop. That was my biggest concern. But it just seems that the problems that we haven’t even, and we won’t go into it, but cost of tuition, even though Northerners second lowest and does a great job, it just seems to pile higher and higher for young people that you go, “Gee whiz, how much more can they take”? But anyway, I wanted to say congratulations. You’ve been just one hell of a president and you’ve done a magnificent job. And as an alumnus and as a community member. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you for what you’ve done.
Very kind of you to say. But I’ve had big mentors, David, you being one. So I very much appreciate it and I appreciate being asked to be on your program. Very flattered. Thank you.
Well, thank you. Thank you. By the way, your background is beautiful there of the Northern Center. I love it. Thanks Dr. Schuiling, President Schuling, and we’ll see you on campus.
Thank you ma’am.
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