TitleBase Funding for Freshman Convocation Request Date2012-12-02
DepartmentOffice of Academic Affairs
RequestorDavid J Singel Phone406 994 4371
Campuses Bozeman Billings Havre Great Falls FSTS Extension MAES
Cross Depts All Departments and Colleges
Proposed Dates Start: July 1, 2013 End: June 30, 2016
Since its inception in in 2007, Freshman Convocation has blossomed into a signature event at Montana State University that spotlights accomplished individuals, who inspire us with the great importance of education in enabling purposeful lives. Convocation broadly aims to engage new students and consolidate their transition into academic life, with the underlying strategic objective of increasing student retention and graduation rates. It also provides a far-reaching means for community engagement.

This proposal is a request for base funding to provide sustained, stable support of Freshman Convocation.
Increase Graduation Rates via increased Retention Rates (Objective L.2, metrics L.2.1 and L.2.4)

In addition to the Fieldhouse event, Freshman Convocation typically includes a student-centered “master class” given by the speaker, and features a recommended book that is “shared read” of the entire incoming class. Customarily, the book is integrated into freshman seminar courses. These features of Convocation tap into established strategies for increasing student engagement – social and academic integration. There is an abundance of educational literature, and consultant studies that provide a theoretical foundation and empirical support for the idea that engaged students, well-rooted in academic life, enjoy better retention and graduate rates.

Convocation has also grown to provide a rich opportunity for community engagement, and, in turn, for the broader community – students, faculty, staff, and citizens – to show their support for our new class. Convocation has enjoyed a close collaboration with the One Book One Bozeman program of the Bozeman Public Library. The Fieldhouse event has also been simulcast to the campuses of the MSU system. In the past year, the event grew to Fieldhouse-filling proportions and attracted esteemed audience members from throughout the state. News of the event was picked up by the Associated Press and reached the nation.
Funding Type: One-Time Only Funding Base (3-yr Recurring) Funding
  FY13 FY14 FY15 Base ($) OTO Startup ($)   FTE;
Salaries       10000       
Benefits       1666       
Materials & Supplies       13500       
Travel       3000       
Contracted Services       50800       
Other Operations              
TOTAL 78966     
Please comment, if necessary, regarding cost and requirements.

The Budget is patterned after Fall2012 expenses. Since 2007, Freshman Convocation has grown from a small operation, staffed mainly by volunteers, to a major, Fieldhouse-filling that garners national attention.   This growth has led to increased expenses over the years, mainly for speaker honoraria, and for obtaining professional assistance in the production and execution of the Fieldhouse event.

Since costs will vary from year-to-year depending on the speaker and the full scope of the program, we will identify an account in the Provost's Office in which unused funds can be maintained as a buffer against yearly variations.

Salaries defray the compensation at $5000/each,  of:

1) Graduate Assistant (Catherine Johnson in 2012).  The GA serves as project coordinator, developing specific task sheets and schedules for all participants leading up to Convocation day; developing, administering, and summarizing post-convocation assessment surveys and meetings of students and staff; monitoring and summarizing all internal and external communications throughout the year.  This work entailed 260 hours in 2012.

2) Artistic Director (Tom Watson, Associate Professor Film and Photography, in 2012). The Artistic Director works with all parties to ensure an artful and coherent production in the Fieldhouse. 

The graduate assistant allows for a single point of contact for all involved with the project and develops a synoptic view of the entire event that is then shared with all participants.   The artistic director position was added this year, at the request of the President, to ensure a professional production as the event was growing to Fieldhouse magnitude and to national prominence.

The Convocation committee co-chair  (Carmen McSpadden, Director MSU Leadership Institute and Leadership Fellows Program) brings treasured experience in the programming of the event and in negotiating with high luminosity external speakers. Her work to develop and negotiate the program, logistics, and financial details of the engagement with the speaker, is not part of this proposal, but is to be part of her overall contract within the Office of Academic Affairs.

Benefits on the above persons are calculated according to the schedule provided on the proposal web page.

Materials and Supplies defray the costs of printed marketing materials - posters, invitations, and postage.

Travel defrays the normal costs of travel for the speaker and guests.  

Contracted Services include:

Speaker honorarium of up to $25k, Catering, Design and Decor for the Field House (stage and green rooms), Audio/Visual and webcast technical support from Montana PBS and sub-contractors, ASL interpreters, Fieldhouse Operations, Advertising in local media, etc.

Describe the Proposal

 Freshman Convocation

Freshman Convocation at MSU ( was conceived by Professor Allen Yarnell, then Vice President for Student Affairs, who worked with then President Geoff Gamble and Provost Dave Dooley to initiate this gathering aimed at rooting students in their academic experience. A key, motivating goal of Convocation is to enhance student retention and graduation rates.  (Retention principally refers to the number of freshmen who continue on to their sophomore year.)  Professor Yarnell persuasively advocated for this event at MSU, with data the National Survey of Student Engagement that supported theoretical ideas - tracing back to the seminal work of Tinto (Tinto,V. (1975) "Dropout from Higher Education: A Theoretical Synthesis of Recent Research" Review of Educational Research vol.45, pp.89-125) on how building bonds with freshmen through events like Convocation can increase student retention. 

The mission and goals statement of the MSU’s Freshman Convocation are attached as an Addendum to this proposal description.  At MSU, freshman convocation brings accomplished individuals who underscore the great importance of education, and who recommend a book that is a “shared read” of the incoming class.  Customarily,  the book is integrated into freshman seminar courses.  Each of these salient features of Convocation tap into established strategies for increasing student social and academic integration, and thus student retention and graduation rates. Recent regular surveys by Higher Education Consultants Noel-Levitz show that first-year programs - including seminar, common reading and Convocation - have become common tools used in Universities to enhance student retention.

Beyond this particular objective, Freshman Convocation has grown to become a marquee event at MSU of some national notoriety.  Moreover Convocation provides a rich opportunity for community engagement. Convocation savors a close collaboration with the One Book One Bozeman program of the Bozeman Public Library (  The Fieldhouse event has been simulcast to the campuses of the MSU system.  In the past year, the event grew to Fieldhouse-filling proportions and attracted distinguished leaders from throughout the state.


In 2007, Freshman Convocation was a small operation, staffed mainly by volunteers; its expenditures were just shy of $20k.  By 2012, it has grown to a major event with expenditures in 2012 of just over $75k.  This growth reflects some small increments in all costs, the incorporation of a speaker honorarium ($25k), and the need, with growth, to turn to a professional production team similar to the practice used in MSU's Commencement.   These numbers represent a basal level of funding that, by astute stewardship of the Committee, is leveraged with personal contacts and private contributions to fully fund the event.

Until last year, funding of the program involved solicitation of commitments from each of the Executives and Deans at MSU.  This cumbersome approach was done away with, in favor of single-sourcing the support from the Office of Academic Affairs.  At the same time, the plan to attempt to take the program to unprecedented levels of size and impact - and expense, was emerging.  With the positive experience of last year, our aspiration is to continue to operate Convocation at the marquee level.  To support this aspiration, we seek base funding to provide a sustained, stable support of Freshman Convocation. 





The purpose of Convocation is to establish a strong academic connection between freshmen and Montana State University by celebrating their MSU beginning with classmates, students, staff, faculty and the Bozeman community.  Convocation supports the creation of lasting bonds, meaningful communal learning, and shared positive energy to support student success by highlighting the culture and mission of MSU, the value of scholarly pursuits, and the importance of campus and community involvement.  

Top Considerations:

  • Plan “A”:  Great Book + Great Speaker Author
  • Plan “B”:  Great Speaker –  who provides a keen insight into a great book (e.g. Tom Brokaw)
  • Plan “C”:  Great Speaker - who falls into our lap (e.g. Condoleezza Rice, who also is a Plan B)

General Considerations/Issues for Various Stakeholders - a list of common criteria and issues that that the committee should consider in addition to the text itself.


  • Speaks to various themes, high classroom discussion and activity level, first-years interests, community conversations.

      Book Criteria

  • Book must resonate with incoming first-years and community members
  • Challenging, but accessible (lengthwise under 400 pages)
  • Affordable – paperback or reduced hardcover rate
  • Selection (What makes a great common read?): literary merit; promotes critical thinking skills; addresses comprehensive global issues; addresses a broad range of topics; addresses important contemporary issues; local relevance (author with a Bozeman connection); Sense of Place; intellectually challenging; advocates social action and how to make a difference in society; multi-cultural perspective; relates to important themes (such as Knowledge, Identity, etc.); ALSO SEE “Common Themes”
  • Consider the 'accessibility' of a title in different formats, such as audio, digital, etc. to widen audience. Consider NPR for a call in show.

Speaker Criteria

  • Engaging speaker; inspiring; personal achievement

Other Considerations

  • Alternate themes yearly so as to rotate fiction, memoirs, and nonfiction about other cultures into the mix.
  • Explore themes relevant to youth as they emerge into positions of power in society.
  • Over the course of time, identify pertinent, current issues and events that 'erupt' in society, and find books that help define them. There may be such a book for a generation, if we 'catch the wave' quickly enough. 

Common Theme Statement – The book, speaker and supporting materials selected as the MSU Convocation / One Book One Bozeman title will be a literary work that will engage, expand and imbue the intellect, social conscience and character of the reader.

What pertinent themes do the stakeholders want to explore?

Do these themes support the mission of the summer read—do they (or even, should they) tie to the university mission? 

  • Personal and social responsibility and the role of education in one’s life
  • Finding meaning in one’s life
  • Encourage students to be active and engaged persons in the world
  • Other cultures and peoples to increase understanding of different perspectives
  • Facing Challenges
  • Intellectual Exploration/Critical Thinking
  • Diversity




Describe the broader impacts and benefits of this proposal

As noted above, Freshman Convocation has become a signature event at MSU; it has brought national attention and prominence to the University.  It also advances community engagement. A shared mission with the Bozeman Public Library, and its One Book One Bozeman program is a superb example of the broader impacts of Convocation .  Similarly, Convocation serves as an event to bring all of MSU's campuses together, as the Fieldhouse event has been webcast throughout MSU system.  It can also be fairly claimed to serve as a magnet that brings Montana leadership to the campus to join in, and to augment the event.


Implementation Plan

Organization and Implementation.

The manner of organization and implementation of Convocation in future years will follow practices developed since 2007.  While the Office of Academic Affairs (OAA) is responsible for Freshman Convocation, the organization and implementation of the event includes several groups. 

Convocation Committee

The Convocation Committee developed the statement of mission and goals attached as an Addendum to the proposal description. Chaired by the Associate Provost, it engages in a series of lively discussion  to create a list of speaker/book recommendations for the Provost and President.  The process followed in these meetings has been essentially the same since 2007: speakers, books, authors, messages, potential lesson, and broader impacts are discussed freely; decisions are arrived at through dialogue leading to consensus; and a mutual agreement is forged to move forward with efforts to recruit the selected speaker.  The Convocation Committee is also engaged in planning and implementation of publicity and student activities that lead up to the Fieldhouse Event - in particular the student assembly at the Oval and march to the Fieldhouse.  Finally, the committee meets after the event and to debrief and to develop a post-event action plan aimed at improving next year's event.  This debriefing includes observations and suggestions of the committee members as well as information gathered by them from others (including comments gathered at  At the debriefing in 2012, the committee adopted a proposal to employ a SurveyMonkey evaluation tool to gather feedback from freshman students and others interested in Convocation.  The Committee includes over 20 regular members.  Committee membership is fluid and varies from year-to-year, but it always includes faculty who lead the University Seminar (, representatives from the libraries at MSU and in Bozeman, representatives from ASMSU, the Leadership Institute, the Hellenic Societies, Athletics, and Residence Life.

Production Team

The Production Team, in 2012, included in its core leadership, Associate Provost Singel, Professor Tom Watson of the School of Film and Photography, as Artistic Director, Melanie Stocks, Director of Auxiliary Services at the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse, and Jen Iglinsky Event Coordinator at the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse.   A similar group of will plan organize the production in ensuing years. This core group meets throughout the summer and coordinates with over twenty other individuals on the team, together with their staff on the campus and in the community.  This group plans, coordinates, and executes every detail of the Fieldhouse event – ticketing, house design and décor, music, lighting, visuals, scripting, teleprompting, ASL interpretation, parking, ushering, security, catering, photography, media relations, etc.  This committee also meets after the event for a debriefing with the Provost and President.

Assessment Plan

A sound assessment of Freshman Convocation would consist, in principle, of two major components: 1) an assessment of the quality of the event; and 2) an assessment of the impact that the event has on student retention and graduation rates.  In reality, owing to the multi-faceted approach that MSU (like all universities) takes toward enhancing retention and graduation rates, the second component is arguably impossible to carry out.  In effect, we rely on reports of perceived best practices at other universities (Noel-Levitz), buttressed by theoretical rationales (Tinto and followers), as justification for the approach, and focus on diligent assessment of the quality of the program.  Given the important broader impacts of a quality program, this approach, while lacking the highest level of rigor, is a meritorious one.

The assessment of quality - program and performance -primarily involves, as noted above, independent post-event debriefings by the Production Team and the Convocation Committee.  In addition, for the first-time in 2012, we employed a SurveyMonkey event evaluation tool to gather feedback from freshman students and others interested in Convocation on various aspects of the event - publicity, content, staging, execution, etc.   Key action items from these meetings and from the findings obtained from the student survey are guiding preparations for the 2013 event.

If assessed objectives are not met in the timeframe outlined what is the plan to sunset this proposal?

Freshman Convocation depends on the support of top University officials; that support is unequivocally contingent on the positive assessments of quality and impact of the program.  The program will be continually refined in response to assessments and informal feedback that is shared with University leadership. 

Executive/VP: Martha Potvin (