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UK’s Smart Campus Initiative: Using technology to leverage student success

Eli Capilouto, left, Eric N. Monday, center, and Kirsten Turner

The following is an op-ed by UK President Eli Capilouto, UK Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration Eric N. Monday and UK Associate Provost for Academic and Student Affairs Kirsten Turner

Several weeks ago, we welcomed a record number of first-year students — some 5,400 — to the University of Kentucky.

Over the next four years, they will become part of a community that will challenge them to think, debate, create and discover what is possible for themselves, their community and the world beyond our campus.

At UK, our students will have the opportunity to interact with people from Kentucky’s 120 counties, all 50 states and more than 100 countries.

Together, they will stretch their minds, learn from experts, probe new and seemingly intractable issues and join a University that is dedicated to their success and belonging. In doing so, they will connect not only with our community and the commonwealth, but with this important time and moment in history.

As the University for Kentucky, our success is defined by that of our students. Our community — one of scholars, educators, creators and researchers — is preparing students not only for their first job, but for their 10th job.

In fact, we are preparing them for jobs and careers that are not yet imagined: opportunities they will create with their fertile minds and with the adaptable skills they will gain during their time here.

And a critical part of that effort is technology. In many ways, it is essential.

Technology informs and influences how students learn, how faculty teach and how scholars conduct their research. Harnessed appropriately, it can provide hope and healing throughout our state and nation.

If we are going to be the university that our state and world needs us to be, we must leverage technology to maximize the success of our students and expand our reach through the service and care rendered by our faculty and staff.

Indeed, we must lead the country in this effort. After all, we know that local solutions can have global impacts.

How do we start?

This fall, under what we are calling our Smart Campus Initiative, the University of Kentucky launched a new and dynamic strategy — the iPad Initiative. All first-year students received an iPad Air, Apple Keyboard and Apple Pencil. With this technology, our first-year students will be encouraged and empowered to think differently.

At UK, we are asking a profoundly important set of questions: How can we change the way stories are told? How can we consider today’s tough and complex questions in new ways? How can we create something distinctive and work together to solve tomorrow’s problems?

The iPad Initiative enables our students to connect to one another, create something new and collaborate in ways not previously possible.

And because every first-year student who joined us this fall received an iPad Air, we are making an important commitment and statement about the power of access to technology for all students.

Our goal is to create a level playing field where every student can use the same tools, learn together and collaborate with faculty and each other.

Think about what that could mean: In its simplest form, students can easily download a textbook or take class notes digitally, which can then be shared and used as a platform for more collaborative learning.

From there, they can design a video for a class project, or work in a group to develop an app for a non-profit organization or business. And with the help of our Stuckert Career Center, students can create a digital resume or career portfolio.

These experiences and skills will be fundamental as our students enter the workforce or create the next high-tech company, health care provider or non-profit in Kentucky and beyond.

In short, every first-year student has received a powerful tool to help ignite their passions and aid their future success in tangible, creative ways.

In essence, they will all be able to ask: “What is Wildly Possible?”

And they will all be able to think about how they might change the world.

Eli Capilouto is the 12th president of the University of Kentucky; Kirsten Turner is associate provost for academic and student affairs; Eric Monday is executive vice president for finance and administration.