At the start of the month, Cache Valley residents Scott Theurer and Glen Rivera attended a meeting that was both reflective of the times and history-making, in a sense, for Utah post-secondary education.
That meeting, hosted on July 1 via video conference to prevent the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, was the first for the newly formed Board of Higher Education. The board was formed thanks to a legislation that merged two governing bodies, one for Utah’s colleges and universities, and another for its technical colleges. The new 18-member board, which includes two student representatives, has authority over most everything related to Utah higher education, from approving new degrees to hiring and supervising school presidents.
The new board members were nominated and approved by the governor. Theurer is a local dentist who is husband to Teresa Theurer, who served on the former Utah Board of Regents. Rivera is a military veteran and student at Bridgerland Technical College and has earned three certificates. He is currently enrolled in business management and serves as an instructor.
The two of them joined The Herald Journal for an interview via video conference this past week. The conversation has been edited for length.
Herald Journal: Combining the technology college and university boards together, is it now easier to make decisions on higher education?
Scott Theurer: I think that’s the goal of what the Legislature wants to have happen. Having two separate systems was a challenge for some students … In a way, we were competing for the same students and, in a way, we were also competing for the same resources from our industry partners in the state that we actually need to train the workforce for. So I see this as really positive to carry on with and expand agreements between the two systems and make it much easier for students to go back and forth.
I look at it as kind of a chutes and ladders situation where moving between the two systems, which sometimes, for students, required them to move laterally, and many times, down — they had to redo things, they had to retrace some steps. So I look at this new system as being just ladders; just that as citizens of our state continue lifelong learning, there’s always just ladders. There’s always a pathway up to greater skills, greater knowledge.
HJ: So Glen, what is it like being a student right now in the midst of a pandemic?
Glen Rivera: At the beginning it was hard. BTECH is a hands-on college, so whenever we took a break to go to an online class, me, personally, I kind of struggle to make timelines, assignments and stuff like that. Part of it is because of my mental disability. I suffer from short-term memory loss. If I’m not mistaken, there are many students like me in technical college that are trying to progress into the course by doing hands-on (learning). … Once we are transitioning back to full-time, I think that’s going to be a lot better because students can get hands-on, they have an instructor there and help them out with any struggles. With the help of … the board, we can help facilitate the learning process that every school needs to do.
HJ: All these schools, they have to look at local, state and federal guidelines and they’ve got to come up with a plan to operate next fall during the pandemic. How can this new board be helpful in navigating the schools through these unprecedented times?
ST: It’s flexibility.
HJ: You mean in terms of how to take classes?
ST: Right, and there are some parts of education, and some parts of classes, that do require hands-on — and I know the technology colleges started allowing students back on their campuses about June 1. I have personally visited Bridgerland Tech and I’ve seen what they’re doing as far as social distancing and being able to get students back into their particular building.
I just really appreciate the challenge that administrative teams at all 16 institutions are going to have. I’ve dealt with that in health care; it’s a continual thing in health care to have that flexibility as a new disease or new entity comes by. This is really new for the delivery of education and not being able to do it in person, even though over the last two years, so many courses have become hybrid courses, both at the technology colleges and degree-granting institutions. I think students have perceived that that combination of in-person and virtual has value, and it has value for the learning process and it has value for what they pay in tuition. So that’s also going to be one of the challenges, is to create value for the students.
I think the best thing that we can do is just to support the decisions that these presidents make. This is a huge process for them. This is something that’s kind of new to them, that’s just kind of thrown at them in the middle of March. They’ve done very, very well to finish out the academic year, and now to navigate bringing students back on campus will be a big challenge.
HJ: Glen, as a student, how do you hope Bridgerland Technical College will benefit from this new board?
GR: As a board member my goal is to help my community and my fellow students. As a BTECH student, I strive to help other students with their struggles by being a voice for their concerns. I believe that every student needs a clear focus, motivation and good mentor in order to succeed in their future career.
Having a good experience with school can lead students to motivate their friends and family to seek better jobs through education. I believe communities can be improved through their own people, pushing others to better themselves
HJ: How did the first board meeting go?
GR: It was pretty good. I think they highlighted the new people coming in, our budget and how everything’s going to be working for this year’s term.