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You can find them chipped and worn on a break room table or perched as collectibles on an office shelf. Central Missouri mugs have special meaning to alumni throughout the world who proudly use and display them. Sure to become nostalgic treasures, they represent a tiny piece of history. With the university's recently adopted new name, mugs -- like pennants, decals, sweatshirts and countless other items -- symbolize another era of transformation in the university's 135-year history.
Leading the charge for the new name was President Aaron Podolefsky, who will not soon forget the first time he officially used University of Central Missouri in a public setting.
The day was Sept. 20, several hours after the Board of Governors unanimously reached a historic decision to change the institution's 34-year-old moniker. The president addressed about 900 people who were in Hendricks Hall to hear a speech by famous paleoanthropologist Donald Johanson. As the president began his formal introduction, his words, "Welcome to the University of Central Missouri," were greeted with a thunderous roar of applause.
For Podolefsky, such positive response helped set the tone for what he believes is an exciting new era for the institution, which along with a new name, has adopted a new vision. These days, the president has many opportunities to articulate what these mean, whether he's visiting with campus constituents, legislators, alumni or others who have a strong interest in UCM. It's something he does with contagious enthusiasm.
"The name is like an anchor. It really symbolizes all the other things that are going on — the quality changes, the focus," he insists passionately. "All of these things are encapsulated in the name. And, now we are reminded everyday that we are the University of Central Missouri. That's a powerful, powerful symbol of what's going on."
So why was UCM selected? The university received legislative approval for the name change during the Missouri General Assembly's 2005 session. The legislature gave the institution's governing board until August 2007 to determine whether or not to adopt by majority vote the University of Central Missouri as its new name.
Podolefsky saw the name change as an opportunity for exploration. Not long after he became the university's 14th president in July 2005, he appointed a broad-based task force, which spent a year researching and gathering feedback from alumni, friends, students, faculty and staff.
"We had tremendous dialogue on campus. We had a great committee that drafted a white paper on the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. I asked them to do this not in terms of a popularity survey, but as a way to envision the future and consider how this moves the institution forward," Podolefsky said.
Support for the change included the Alumni Association Board of Directors and Foundation Board of Directors; governing groups for students, faculty, administrators and staff; and athletics.
Roger Wilson, president of the Alumni Association, said in a position statement that the name change is a "natural part of the university's evolution as it seeks to fulfill a new vision." He added that the name "‘University of Central Missouri' preserves the historical traditions of the school while strongly positioning the institution for the future."
Podolefsky said "State" was dropped because it tends to have a more local or regional connotation. By not having state in its name, Central Missouri hopes to extend its boundaries in terms of national perception.
The new name complements the new vision, officially adopted as: "The university aspires to become a nationally recognized, comprehensive university that delivers a world-class university education by providing a small-college learning environment coupled with large-university opportunities."
"The name change provides a crucial ingredient in fulfilling this new vision by symbolically representing our emergence as a national-level comprehensive university," Podolefsky remarked.
He expanded on the vision components, noting, "Being nationally recognized means that people know us as a quality institution that is fulfilling its mission. We want to retain our student focus, primarily serving as an undergraduate institution delivering a high-quality education."
He said that under the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education's classification system, which describes institutional diversity, UCM solidified its status as a "comprehensive" university many years ago. It will continue to offer a wide array of undergraduate and graduate programs in many different disciplines, plus achieve a balance between teaching and research.
Becoming "world-class" is a benchmark, Podolefsky said. He is convinced the university can provide as good an education as any school in the country. This is partially evidenced by the many outstanding alumni who have succeeded in their professional careers.
"It's a sense of pride and a sense of target. When a faculty member prepares a class or advises a student or when a department chair thinks about his or her job here, I want them to think about what they do to provide a world-class university education."
Offering a "small-college" environment, or more personal touch to learning, is one step toward achieving this target, he said.
What's important, Podolefsky added, is that students believe they are getting the attention they need from faculty and staff, and that the university cares about them.
Just because the institution offers a small-college atmosphere doesn't mean opportunities are limited. Similar to larger universities, UCM already offers a breadth of programs — about 150 of them — plus depth of faculty, who are actively engaged in their academic disciplines. They can also involve students in meaningful research and projects to a greater degree than faculty at much larger institutions, Podolefsky pointed out.
"Often, when one goes to a large research university, you might find that students who get that kind of attention are mostly the graduate students. So, we have the best of those worlds, where the undergraduates are the focus of our research and engagement," he noted.
Podolefsky emphasized that it is not the institution's name or vision that truly matters, but what the institution does. This sentiment was echoed by new provost and vice president for academic affairs, Y.T. Shah, who spoke to the Board of Governors in October about efforts to help make the new vision a reality.
He said six task forces are in place considering how to meet new institutional goals. They are looking at areas ranging from requiring higher ACT scores for admittance and streamlining curriculum, to determining whether or not the current five-college system is adequate.
"We have to increase quality, image and internal processes and make sure we take advantage of opportunities in the markets nationally and internationally," Shah noted.
Larry Fick, Columbia, president of the Board of Governors, guided the group through the voting process when the new name was adopted. The board also adopted the language of the new vision statement earlier this year.
"I am happy to be a member of the Board of Governors during these exciting times," Fick said. "I am looking forward to the Name Change Transition Team presenting their branding and marketing program to take advantage of everything that is new and exciting for UCM."