Fall Convocation Address

"Begin With the End in Mind"

Fall Convocation Address
September 22, 2010

Recently, the National Football League inducted the 2010 class into the NFL Hall of Fame.  During that ceremony, as part of his induction speech, Emmitt Smith declared that at age 21, as he was about to begin his NFL career, he knew that he wanted to be the NFL's all-time leading rusher.  Today, the record book shows that Emmitt is the all-time leading rusher in the history of the NFL.  He began with the end in mind; and so that is my message for all you today.  Begin with the end in mind!

This is an idea adopted from Stephen Covey's book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  He tells his readers to imagine themselves at their own funerals.  You take a seat and review the program seeing that there are to be four speakers: a member of your family, one of your friends, someone from your work (job or profession), and someone from your church or community organization through which you had been involved in community service.  Covey then asks the reader to think deeply, pondering what he would like for each speaker to say about him.  What kind of husband or wife, father or mother, friend, work associate have you been?  This exercise gets people thinking about what is really important to them.  It helps them to focus.

This is the exercise that I am asking you to engage in this morning.  I want each one of you to think about what you would want said about you at your funeral, and then ask what you need to do to live the kind of life that would cause people to say those things.

Freshmen:  Begin with the end in mind

Would you want them to say that you lived a productive, comfortable, and gratifying life?  That you lived a life of dedicated service through teaching, or nursing, or as a NASA astronaut, or an army officer?  Would you want them to say that you lived in a nice house on the corner, drove a comfortable car, and gave generously to several charities every year? 

How do you maximize the chance of getting there?  By earning a college degree ( where you have learned a lot and made good grades)

  • Graduation with a degree in your chosen field in 4 years. Why? You're making an investment in your future. The sooner the investment is made, the longer you will have to reap the benefits. "Over the course of a 40-year career, the average college graduate earns about 66 percent more than the typical high-school graduate, and those with advanced degrees earn two to three times as much as a high-school graduate, according to the report."[1]
  • But it is not just about money. A well educated person is better equipped to get along in the world, to understand it, and to help make it better!

Acquire life-long learning skills.  Do not think that you will be set for life once you graduate.  The vast majority of you will have several jobs, and perhaps even several careers over the course of your lives.  I have been a computer programmer, a teacher in a university, a researcher in a federal agency, a university system level administrator, a provost, a chancellor, and now a college president.  My first job out of college was as a systems analyst.  I wrote computer programs in the COBOL language for processing important data for an oil company.  I now carry more computing power on my belt in the form of my Blackberry Storm or my Droid2 than was available in the whole data processing unit where I worked then.  Since then, I have had to learn about word processors, spreadsheets, electronic file management, and the internet.  The internet has come into widespread use in your lifetimes!  My point is that the world is changing rapidly and you will need to be able to change and adapt to it, so learn how to grow and learn for you will need to do that for the rest of your lives!

Are you a new Assistant Professor?  What would you want them to say about you? 

She had a productive and satisfying career of 30 years in higher education?  How do you maximize the chance of getting there?

  • Earn tenure as an Associate Professor in 5 or 6 years
  • Earn promotion to Professor in 10 to 12 years
  • Continue to grow intellectually and in effectiveness as a teacher and scholar.

Are you a staff member here at BSU?  What would you like for your end to be?  Sitting on the porch of your mortgage free home teaching and playing with your grandchildren who are visiting?  How do you get there? 

  • By excelling at your job (and earning promotions and salary increases)
    • By always doing excellent work
    • By striving to make yourselves indispensable
    • By adding to and enhancing your job skills
  • By being a careful manager of your personal finances
  • By providing for the education of your children (so that they, in turn, can take care of your grandchildren)
  • It pays to begin with the end in mind.

I believe that this approach is right for organizations too!  They also should begin with the end in mind.  My dream is for us at Bowie State University to become the university of choice for students of color in this region, and a very attractive option for students who have not traditionally considered BSU.  They will clamor to attend BSU because we will have a reputation for providing them excellent preparation in certain disciplines and outstanding graduation rates across the board.

If that's the end that we have in mind, what must we do to achieve it?

  • Establish and develop programs of distinction
  • Improve our graduation rates
  • Market our intent and our progress

Provost Jones will be working on identifying, establishing, and developing programs of distinction with our academic leaders and faculty this year. 

We have already begun our work on improving graduation rates and will intensify it this year.

  • We will aggressively pursue the BSU Plan to Close the Achievement Gap.
  • BSU adjusted its definition to measure the difference between African-Americans students at Bowie State and all students in the University System of Maryland.
  • Our commitment, as detailed in the BSU Plan submitted in 2008, is to close the gap in 4, 5, and 6 year graduation rates by 25% by 2015. (The 2001 cohort serves as the baseline.) For the 2001 freshmen cohort, the gap in 6 year graduation rates was 25 percentage points (36% v. 61%). For the 2002 and 2003 freshmen cohorts, the 6-year gap has fallen to 22 percentage points (62% v 40%).

I submit to you-students, faculty, and staff alike-that this is how we at Bowie State University can differentiate and distinguish ourselves from the other 3,000 or so institutions of higher education out there!  If we want to be recognized for being more than just another HBCU that has been around doing essentially the same thing for more than a hundred years, we can do it by excelling at teaching our students, particularly in carefully selected relevant and high demand disciplines, and graduating 55 to 60 percent of them in six or fewer years!

Bowie State University can become known as "the best comprehensive university in America, particularly as it relates to teaching and graduating students from economically and educationally challenged backgrounds who want to study certain disciplines-perhaps STEM disciplines, or teacher education, or business entrepreneurship, or technologically sophisticated graphic artists."  (Note: these are just examples.  We need to follow an appropriate process to identify the specific areas on which we might focus.)

If we want to do this, and I, for one, do, then there is a role for each of us to play.

Students:  set your goals and put the time in!

  • Make good grades
  • Be a good self-advisor
  • Graduate in 4 years
  • Work on building your professional network

Faculty:  view your roles more broadly than just teaching your subject matter; teach them with the same dedication and commitment but also with a focus on moving them along to graduation.  I have learned first-hand about some of the excellent work being done by faculty in some of our departments.  E.g. Department of History and Government faculty meeting involved students talking about their experiences with the department.  It sounded to me like they were listening to student suggestions about how they can to a better job of serving them.

Staff:  view your roles more broadly than just providing excellent service in your respective units.  Rather see yourselves as craftspersons helping to mold and shape leaders for our communities and the world.  Ask yourselves, "What can I do to help this particular graduate in four years?

In his book, Good to Great, Jim Collins observed "that all the good-to-great companies attained a very simple concept that they used as a frame of reference for all their decisions, and this understanding coincided with breakthrough results."  These he called their "hedgehog" concepts.  A Hedgehog concept is a simple crystalline concept that guides every decision or activity.  I am proposing that we establish our BSU Hedgehog concept and that it be something like the following:  "Be the best comprehensive university in America at teaching students from economically and educationally challenged backgrounds, and graduating the full range of our students."

Adoption of this simple concept would do several things for us.

  1. It would link us to our historic mission in a very positive and strong way.
  2. It would give us an audacious aspirational goal.
  3. It would align us with President Obama's higher education goal-60% of Americans with a college degree by 2020.
  4. It would align us with the USM's A Matter of Degrees initiative which aims to increase the percentage of Marylanders who hold college degrees from 41% to 55% by 2020.[2]
  5. It would sharpen our focus on the BSU plan to close the achievement gap. (The Board of Regents and the Chancellor have established a system-wide goal of reducing the achievement gaps by half by 2015.)

I believe that adopting this commitment as our hedgehog concept--"Be the best comprehensive university in America at teaching students from economically and educationally challenged backgrounds, and graduating the full range of our students"-- is the right thing for Bowie State University to do, and that this is the right time!  Will you join me in moving the university in that direction?

  • Students: will you be intentional about graduating in four years?
  • Faculty: will you view all of your duties and activities through the four-year graduation lens? (This is not to say that every student will graduate in four years, but that our teaching, advising, scheduling, and encouraging will be with a view toward that end.)
  • Staff: will you continue to work for the ideal of perfect service and show patience and kindness towards students who don't always do all that they should, at the right time, or in the right way, with the intent of helping move them along toward graduation in 4 years-even sometimes in spite of themselves?

Working together, as part of this dynamic learning community, we can become one of the best public comprehensive universities in America!  Let us begin with that end in mind!

Thank you!

Mickey L. Burnim
September 22, 2010


[1] Beckie Supiano, "Education Pays, But How Much?" Chronicle of Higher Education, 9/21/2010

[2] University System of Maryland website.