Engstrom Stresses Improved Security, New Opportunities at University of Montana

By Beacon Staff

Following a tumultuous 18 months, the University of Montana is moving forward with several changes to improve safety, research and learning opportunities, as well as developing a new residency program that should improve rural health care.

The university’s president, Royce Engstrom, explained the changes at last week’s Glacier Country Pachyderm Club meeting at the Red Lion Hotel.

Investigations and allegations surrounding sexual assault have cast a harsh light on one of the state’s flagship centers of higher education in recent months. Engstrom addressed new security measures on campus in response to at least 11 reports of sexual assault dating back to 2010. The NCAA and the U.S. Justice and Education departments are looking at allegations the school and police mishandled these responses.

“In regards to the campus climate right now, we have a pretty serious challenge,” he said.

The university has improved security by adding an additional police officer who lives on campus and remains on duty during the weekends. The school has also tightened and clarified its policies for students and athletes, making specific changes that explain rules to follow and the repercussions of not following them, Engstrom said.

Engstrom acknowledged that the recent series of events could have affected enrollment numbers this fall. Enrollment at the University of Montana declined almost 400 students compared to last year, hitting 12,476 total students. Meanwhile Montana State University reported record numbers, with 500 students more than last year, at 14,660. Missoula College, the former College of Technology, also saw a decline of 336 students, dropping enrollment to 2,467 students.

Engstrom believes several factors affected UM’s enrollment numbers, including last year’s record graduating class.

“I certainly acknowledge that the situation we had over the last year played a role as well,” he said. “We’re working hard at continuing to address that.”

Other new developments at the university include a new residency program for medical school graduates on their way to becoming family physicians.

Beginning in the summer of 2013, the Family Medicine Residency of Western Montana program will provide doctors-in-training a three-year residency in hospitals across Western Montana. The program, which will be affiliated with the University of Washington Family Medicine Residency Network, will enroll 10 graduate physicians every year.

The students will spend their first year studying at the university before being placed at hospitals. Three of those residents will spend their second and third years at Kalispell Regional Medical Center. They will also practice at Flathead Community Health Center, meaning they would spend time working in towns like Libby and Eureka, too.

The program will be the only residency program in Western Montana. Its goal is to provide improved health care opportunities for the region’s rural and underserved communities, Engstrom said. More students than ever are going to medical schools across the nation, he said, and 60 to 70 percent of physicians stay in the region where they conducted their residency.

Engstrom also emphasized steps being taken to provide more resources and opportunities for students to succeed through the university. This includes partnering with high schools and emphasizing college preparatory classes like Flathead’s International Baccalaureate program, which Engstrom called a model program in the state.

Earning university credits in high school better prepares students for college and expedites their development and graduation, Engstrom said. In 2011, 44 percent of incoming freshman had taken college prep classes, he said. This fall the percentage rose to 52 percent.

The university’s Global Leadership Initiative is gaining in popularity and becoming a powerful tool for students to gain practical learning in the 21st century economy, Engstrom said. Student fellows in the program undergo leadership training, seminars, projects and internships every year in connection with their field of study. Students are given learning opportunities beyond the classroom, Engstrom said, and it hopes to prepare them for the modern workplace.

The university is also trying to increase its quality of research by focusing on issues of national distinction and relevance. This will help enhance the reputation of UM and also provide more opportunities for students, Engstrom said.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.