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The Core of the Core

President Matthew S. Holland’s core themes -- serious, inclusive, engaged -- prepared UVU for a decade of excellence.

By Layton Shumway | Photography by

When Matthew and Paige Holland returned home from London in 2008 after a year of leading the study abroad program for Brigham Young University, they found a surprise waiting for them.

"We were driving home from the airport," Paige says, "and we noticed the sign on the UCCU Center had changed to 'Utah Valley University.' Matt and I both noticed it, and we said, 'Hey, when did that happen?' We were excited for the community, but we didn't really think any more about it at the time."

But the more the Hollands heard about the new UVU, the more excited they became. When friends and colleagues encouraged Holland to seek the position of UVU president, he began to see an educational opportunity unlike any in Utah.

"I started to look into it and thought, 'Wow — there's something really special going on here,'" Holland says.

Timpanogos Hike

In 2009, Holland became the sixth president in UVU's history. And because of his relative inexperience with UVU, he already knew what he needed to do first: listen.

"Before I came in with some sort of bold vision, I needed to do some listening and thinking," Holland says. "I talked to a lot of people during the search, after I was appointed, and after I assumed office — new faculty, veteran faculty, staff, students, legislators, trustees, and community observers. And as I did, I realized I was hearing some things repeated that seemed at once both descriptive and aspirational — describing what UVU already was, but also what people wanted it to become."

From these discussions, three key words arose: serious, inclusive, and engaged. Holland felt each had "a lot of richness" and would help direct UVU's efforts going forward.

For a new university with a background in vocational and technical training, making "serious" a core theme was important to Holland. "The word 'serious' had that idea of rigor and expectation and excellence — really pushing people to do and be their very best and take ideas seriously," he says.

The "engaged" theme fit into the groundwork laid by Holland's predecessors, including President William A. Sederburg, who touted a focus on engaged learning as a differentiating factor in making UVU a university.

But "inclusive" caught some by surprise. Holland quickly stressed that UVU's inclusion efforts would go far beyond simple diversity.

"What I meant by 'inclusive' was that UVU is a place for everybody, not just for the dominant population, and not just for underserved populations," Holland says. "It's for both and everybody and all. And it also meant being academically inclusive in terms of preparation — that UVU would challenge the best and brightest, as well as helping those that maybe need a second chance. So it really is inclusive, in the fullest and best sense of that word."

As Holland introduced these core themes early in his administration, he received positive feedback, along with a challenge.

"I remember being asked, 'Engaged, serious, and inclusive — about what? To what end?'" Holland says. "And that's when the breakthrough idea came: It's all for student success. That's the core of the core. And that's achieved by an education that's serious, engaged, and inclusive. If you bring those together, you'll create this really dynamic place of excellence for everybody."

Roots of Knowledge

Early in the planning process, an additional core theme, "large," was discussed. Holland says he foresaw the explosion in UVU's growth, and he wanted to be prepared for it and address it somehow. But he and others felt like the word just didn't fit.

"I knew we had to deal with 'large,'" Holland says, "but I thought maybe it's not in terms of mission and aspiration — it's more just a managerial reality. So 'large' turned into its own set of three things: securing resources effectively, managing growth, and operating effectively and ethically."

As luck would have it, soon after establishing the core themes, Holland was asked to present them before the Northwest Accreditation Commission, a non-governmental organization that evaluates educational institutions and grants them accredited status. Core themes were a requirement to achieve accreditation. Holland's preparation paid off — and nine years later, early in 2018, he reported to the commission again on UVU's progress.

"We got a lot of praise for how our core themes drive our planning and our budgeting," Holland says. "They're very integral. I think for a lot of universities, they sit off to the side, like window dressing — they're sort of aspirational. But for us, they're part of the warp and weave of how we do our planning and activities on campus. And it's all for student success. That's when all the pieces fit together."