State of the University Address
Nov. 19, 2015
Celebrating Today ... Imagining Tomorrow
Thank you, Jordan. You are a shining example of Kent State’s talented and inspiring student body. For those who don’t know, Jordan Italiano remains in the national spotlight for another reason: He is one of 12 finalists for the William V. Campbell Trophy — the academic equivalent of the Heisman Trophy. The final selection will be announced Dec. 8 in New York City. But we all know that you are a true winner in every respect of the word and we are delighted that you chose Kent State to pursue your education.
To everyone here in the Kiva and everyone viewing from a Kent State Regional Campus, thank you for joining me for the first State of the University Address I am attending from this side of a stage! It is an exceptional moment because it affords me the opportunity to speak about my favorite subject: this truly unique university we call “home”!
However, as you may be able to note, while the state of the university is better than good, the state of my voice is not good at all. I hope you will bear with me as I offer my great admiration for our university but with some trepidation and more than a little hope that my voice will sustain to the end.
Today, I am proud to share highlights from the last year, our first year together. They will leave you with no doubt that our community of thinkers, learners and leaders has more than earned the right to celebrate!
I will also touch on some larger ideas related to higher education in general. And I will challenge us to envision where we can take Kent State’s impressive momentum.
I am honored to share these community accomplishments with you and with a number of distinguished guests who have taken time to be here. The presence of these special guests speaks volumes about their support for public higher education and Kent State in particular. It’s also an indication that the work underway on our campuses is attracting growing interest for its excellence, innovation and impact.
Allow me to begin my remarks by thanking everyone who has made this event possible. Most of all, I want to thank every Kent State faculty member, staff member and student for your dedicated efforts — efforts that are fueled by a passion for making a difference and that continue to foster a truly distinctive — almost tangible — sense of community across our campuses.
These are trying times in higher education. Students are feeling the stress of the rising cost of a college degree and the challenge to have their voices heard while respecting and valuing those with whom they may disagree. Faculty members are facing increasing challenges to excel in the distinctive blend of teaching, research and service and often feel that in the noise, their value is overlooked or under-appreciated. And staff members toil daily to make a difference but often feel they have little voice in the governance and direction of their university.
I want to acknowledge that those challenges are real and that feelings and perceptions matter. Most of all, I want everyone in this community to know that you do matter. I understand on a very deep level that the journey to a distinctive and distinguished Kent State is led by the students, faculty and staff members who bring life and meaning to our university.
And so in my mind, this State of the University Address is spelled State of the “Y-O-U”-niversity! I wish I could know and tell the world about each of you. What I can do is shine a light on a sample of your remarkably wide-ranging accomplishments and contributions during the last academic year.
Here are some examples we can all celebrate. Although I wish we could loudly cheer for each accomplishment, we will be here through the evening if we do. So please smile with pride at each accomplishment and hold your applause until the end.
- Professor of Physics Declan Keane and Professor of Chemical Physics Jonathan Selinger were named fellows of the American Physical Society for their exceptional contributions to physics. How exceptional? Fellowship in the society is limited to no more than one-half of 1 percent of its members.
- Associate Professor of Economics Lockwood Reynolds was ranked among the top 100 economists worldwide whose first publication was five or fewer years ago.
- Last year, the National Endowment for the Humanities funded three projects in Ohio. Our Institute for Applied Linguistics was the only university recipient. The grant brought college teachers here from across the nation to learn how literature in translation can build cross-cultural understanding. The program was led by Institute Director Françoise Massardier-Kenney and Professor of Modern and Classical Language Studies Brian Baer.
- Dean of the College of the Arts John Crawford-Spinelli was elected president of the International Council of Fine Arts Deans.
- A panel of fashion-world icons chose fashion major Jay Lewis to display his modern, fairy tale design at JCPenney’s flagship store in Manhattan.
- The Public Relations Society of America inducted Associate Professor of Public Relations Michele Ewing into its elite College of Fellows. She advises Kent State’s chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America, which was named America’s most Outstanding Chapter.
- Professors of psychology Joel Hughes and David Fresco received a $3.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health. They will explore stress management through meditation and other strategies that could reduce the reliance on medication to treat high blood pressure.
- Professor of Nursing Mary Lou Ferranto is director of the B.S.N. Program at Kent State Salem. During spring break, she and two of her students — Sheila Daniels and Mathew Duck — traveled to Haiti’s most remote villages. They provided medical care to more than 1,000 individuals.
- Associate Dean Isaac Richmond Nettey, in the College of Applied Engineering, Sustainability and Technology, received the University Aviation Association’s William A. Wheatley Award. The award recognizes his outstanding contributions to aerospace education.
- WKSU reporters M.L. Schultze and Amanda Rabinowitz — and student intern Lyndsey Schley — received first-place awards from the National Federation of Press Women for feature stories and special programming.
- Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Alfreda Brown was elected to the Board of Directors of the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education.
- Robin Bonatesta, a double major in fashion and computer science, was one of 58 students nationwide to be named a University Innovation Fellow by the National Center for Engineering Pathways to Innovation. The honor allowed her to explore ways to spark campus change.
- Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences Min-Ho Kim received more than $1.8 million from the National Institutes of Health. The grant supports his development of a nanotechnology-based means of treating chronic wounds.
- And the Kent Clarks, a student a capella group, filled us with pride when they were invited to perform at the White House for President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama.
Please join me in thanking these individuals and acknowledging their outstanding accomplishments.
Then there are the points of pride that truly take a village. For example:
- We continued to shatter enrollment and retention records. Most importantly, we attracted the most academically qualified freshman class in university history. Of course, the students we enroll are excited by the caliber of our faculty. But I can’t stress enough that enrollment and retention are areas in which Kent State staff members truly shine — from our superb admissions team; to the academic advisers and many others who make the Destination Kent State program so successful; to the members of our grounds crew, who make our campuses showplaces that knock the socks off most first-time visitors.
- We continued to show our commitment to helping student-athletes succeed academically. The cumulative grade-point average of our 425 student-athletes reached a record high of 3.189, with 12 teams recording both term and cumulative GPAs over 3.0. And four Golden Flashes were named Academic All-Americans.
- We continued to transform our campuses to provide students, faculty and staff with world-class facilities. We opened our Wick Poetry Center and Park; the Center for Undergraduate Excellence; the David and Peggy Edmonds Baseball and Softball Training Facility; and our Aeronautics and Technology Building. We completed renovations to the Main Hall at Kent State Ashtabula, and to classrooms at Kent State Trumbull. And we began work on a new home for our College of Architecture and Environmental Design; a Center for the Visual Arts; and our new Institutional Advancement headquarters.
- We celebrated Kent State at East Liverpool’s 50th year of superb community service; the Wick Poetry Center’s 30th year of enriching lives through poetry; the 30th anniversary of the highly successful radiologic technology program at Kent State Salem; and our Jewish Studies Program’s 40th year of providing outstanding educational and cultural programming. And we garnered national respect for the way we came together to mark the 45th anniversary of the events of May 4, 1970.
- The unprecedented partnership behind downtown Kent’s renaissance earned a prestigious, new award. The city of Kent and Kent State received the Greater Ohio Policy Center’s Catalytic Partnership Award for communities that collaborate on sustainable development.
- Kent State’s viewbook earned the top honor in the Collegiate Advertising Awards. The project brought together the talented staffs of University Communications and Marketing and our undergraduate Admissions Office.
- Kent State was the only Ohio university named one of the nation’s “Great Colleges to Work For” by the Chronicle of Higher Education.
- We received our second Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award from INSIGHT Into Diversity. INSIGHT is the foremost diversity-focused publication in higher education.
- Kent State again earned a spot on U.S. News & World Report’s list of Best National Universities. We were the only public university in Northeast Ohio in the first tier.
- We played the major role in our region’s victory in the “Talent Dividend” competition, which recognized and highlighted the importance of college attainment. Over a four-year period, Kent State had the largest increase of new graduates in the Akron Metropolitan Area. As a result, our area produced more graduates than 56 other metro areas nationwide.
- As we closed the fiscal year, Kent State had 155 active patents and 78 patents in the approval pipeline. Of these issued and pending patents, 139 — 60 percent — named students as co-inventors.
- Working as part of a research team, students learn to think critically and creatively and to work cooperatively with people of different ages, backgrounds and perspectives. It was exciting to see that last year’s Undergraduate Research Symposium attracted more than 200 student participants and involved more than 140 faculty and graduate-student mentors.
- Bold thinking and meticulous investigation were evident at our annual Graduate Research Symposium. This impressive, multidisciplinary event showcases scholarship from empirical research to works of art. Nearly 300 graduate students from 10 colleges and one independent school shared their research and creative excellence this year.
- With faculty leading the way, Kent State offers students a broad range of opportunities to study abroad and away. In Fiscal Year 2015, 948 students traveled to 60 countries. While we want to see this number grow, it’s already more than double the national average.
- At Porthouse Theatre, faculty, staff, students and alumni co-star in the production of Broadway-caliber shows. Last summer, more than 30 of our undergraduate and graduate students made musical-theatre magic with 10 faculty members, six staff members and more than 20 alumni.
- And let me note one more extraordinary way that our community came together: Literally thousands of you expressed your views during the Listening Tour; One University Commission; Be Bold campaign; and the current Strategic Visioning initiative. As a result, our community will begin 2016 with a clear vision — a shared vision — of who we are, where we are headed and — most importantly — why.
From creating impressive art to inventing a brilliant future, I have just shared a small sample — a very small sample — of the remarkable success stories we are writing together at Kent State. As I see it, these types of highly collaborative, highly creative endeavors are the real work — the real experiences — that define a distinctive university.
More than any other kind of population, members of university communities come together to learn, to discover, to create and, yes, to question — but all focused on the desire to make our world a better place.
This work cannot occur in a vacuum. It can’t occur easily online. It must occur on campus. That’s because it’s all about people — people who, individually and collectively, breathe glorious life into an institutional mission. In the process, learning communities like ours make a profound, positive, real-world difference.
Yet the value of higher education continues to be dissected, debated and doubted. Many Americans see us as too expensive, overburdened with administrative overhead, out of touch and offering an irrelevant curriculum. They say we are failing in our responsibility — one they believe eclipses all others — to prepare students for high-wage jobs.
Preparing students for great careers is a fitting goal. But I stand with those who believe that the value of higher education extends far beyond job preparation. It is believing based on seeing. Every day, we see the profoundly positive domino effect that our work sets in motion.
How do we prove to our critics that higher education remains a sound investment for individuals? We must do more than tell the world about what we do. It is imperative that we communicate the why.
Why is the “why” so important? Author Simon Sinek gives a compelling answer in one of the most popular TED Talks of all time. He explains that people are only moved to care — and moved to act — when they understand and connect with the purpose that drives an individual, company or organization.
Most people and organizations — including universities — can tell you what they do and how they do it. But Mr. Sinek stresses that only a rare few are driven by a well-defined “why.”
Higher education has been trying to define its “why” for a very long time. We have yet to succeed. In the void left by our failure to clearly explain our purpose, many of our constituents have attempted to frame our “why” for us.
For example, proponents of a primary focus on workforce preparation were undoubtedly bolstered by Georgetown University’s Public Policy Institute 2013 report called “Hard Times.” It indicated that earning a college degree still offers a good return on investment — If it’s the “right” degree. This report concluded that majors in the arts and social sciences experience greater unemployment and lower salaries than majors in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
But an important element is often lost in a focus on first-career opportunities and earnings: the long-term impact of a college degree.
This big-picture issue was addressed in a recent survey by the Association of American Colleges and Universities. It compared graduates directly out of college with workers in the 56-60 age range — employees at their peak earning power. On average, “mature” workers with degrees in a humanities or social-science field were found to earn about $2,000 more per year than those who majored in professional or pre-professional fields! It appears that the link between majors and money actually weakens over time.
Another challenge emerges when the sole focus of higher education is preparing students for specific jobs. It’s an issue of growing concern among employers. When they see the rate at which knowledge is growing and technology is changing, they know that higher education must prepare students for jobs that don’t yet exist!
Ample research exists about the type of talent that today’s employers seek. They want employees with skills and talents related to the highly coveted skills of critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity and innovation. Most of all, they want employees who are prepared to be lifelong learners.
Why am I telling you all of this when I am sure many of you in the room know these facts already? I want to assure everyone who is choosing or will choose a major that it still makes the most sense to find your unique “why” and follow your passion! Again, it is fine to think about a career in terms of earning potential. But it is a lost opportunity to make that the sole basis for choosing a major.
And what does all this mean for higher education? We must be the academic equivalent of match.com, doing everything we can to help our students find their purpose and marry it to a professional passion!
We must help students see the range of opportunities that exist within each major. So it is not good enough to help students settle on a major. We should help them pinpoint what aspect of the field ignites their passion to make a difference and how they can achieve that difference.
You have probably figured out that my passion is helping students find their passions! I believe that higher education should help students become what sociologist Tim Clydesdale calls the “purposeful graduate.” His book of the same name shows the powerful benefits that result when we provide a college experience that is based more on a calling than a career path.
I am very proud of Kent State University’s many, ongoing efforts to provide the fertile academic ground and nurturing campus climate that produce purposeful graduates. I’d like to tell you about two of these inspiring students:
- Rachael McClain is a first-generation college student majoring in nursing. She will tell you that her college dreams might have been dashed without support from two Kent State scholarships. That support allowed her to have the experience of a lifetime. Rachael traveled abroad for the first time to attend Kent State programs in Geneva and Florence. The experience included attendance at the World Health Assembly. As she learned more about the lack of basic health care that leads to suffering the world over, her goals for the future crystallized. Today, Rachael is continuing her studies with plans to join the Peace Corps after graduation. Driven by a passion to give back, her ultimate goal is to work with geriatric patients.
- Andrew Konya is another Kent State student who personifies the purposeful graduate. Andrew is pursuing a doctorate in chemical physics. He had that “Ah-ha!” moment when he saw a way to harness technology, computing, math and social theory in a way that would empower groups of individuals to speak with one voice. He wanted to use this idea to give any group — an organization or even a country — the ability to express its collective thinking. Andrew’s new business does just that. The launch of reMesh was made possible in part by guidance and support from Kent State’s Blackstone LaunchPad. He created reMesh because — to paraphrase his words — he dreams of a world where conflicts are resolved by conversations, not wars, and where passionate people for social causes can collectively share their message. You can find reMesh available for free on the Apple App store or Google Play.
Examples like these affirm the results of Tim Clydesdale’s work, which shows what can happen when the traditional work of career preparation is inspired with a sense of working toward a higher purpose — a purpose beyond salaries and status. Yet the results often do include the former and the latter. But that’s just the beginning. Purposeful graduates find lifelong joy in the meaningful and productive lives they lead after graduation. What could be better than that? Our community has invested significant time and effort in imagining Kent State’s best, most distinctive and most meaningful future.
I think our vision statement does an outstanding job of expressing our institutional “why”: the desire to be a community that comes together to create new knowledge, meaningful change and purposeful graduates that “better our society.”
With that in mind, I would like to switch gears for a few minutes. Let’s dream for a moment about how we might create the bold, brilliant and illuminating future we have envisioned together.
You have heard me promise to dance on Risman Plaza when we reach the goals of an 85-percent, first-year retention rate and a 65-percent, six-year graduation rate. And you have heard me challenge our community to double our research funding and quadruple our endowment. These are all laudable goals. But I want you to know that I am ready, willing and eager to consider and work with you toward even bigger dreams — dreams that are as bold as they come!
To start, I ask you to imagine that, nationwide and worldwide, Kent State immediately comes to mind in national conversations about academic excellence, innovation and leadership. That we are known for modeling an optimum balance of excellence in teaching, research and creativity and as home to an outstanding faculty — scholars who are as likely to teach an introductory first-year course as they are to direct a doctoral seminar.
Imagine that the world knows more about our fashion program, which is ranked number four in the nation. That it’s widely known that our Florence campus is home to students in fashion, architecture and business, among others, and that we share that campus with the University of Hanoi, Dankook University, Webster University and many others.
Imagine that the cat is out of the bag about our top interior design program.
Imagine that everyone knows that our School of Visual Communication Design is ranked number four in the nation.
Imagine that more of the world knows that our program in Children’s and Youth Literature is ranked in the top 10 nationally.
And that we fly with the best as one of America’s top aviation programs.
Imagine that more people know Kent State is home to pioneering scholarship in cognition, learning and memory recall — and judged to have faculty publications with the number-one impact in these fields. And that it’s common knowledge that our scholarship in traumatic stress disorders is ranked number three in the nation, trailing only Columbia and Yale.
Imagine that the rest of the world knows that Kent State’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication can point to 15 Pulitzer Prize winners among its faculty and alumni.
Imagine that Kent State sets the goal of leading its peer institutions in the percentage of tenure-track faculty or, for that matter, the percentage of tenure-track faculty members at institutions with far fewer bragging rights but more faculty with tenure.
In short: Imagine that the world knows what we know — that Kent State is among the best of American research universities that focus on the distinctive blend of teaching, research and creative excellence, and that we are home to outstanding faculty who are as committed to teaching and learning as they are to discovery.
So now let’s imagine that our faculty members come together in their own learning communities devoted to exploring the best ideas for meaningful courses and classroom experiences — work that makes learning a more powerful experience for teacher and student alike; and that makes Kent State known as a university where you can open the door to virtually any classroom, lab or lecture hall and find a thought-provoking discussion underway.
Imagine that our students enter their freshman year declaring a mission as well as a major! As part of choosing a major, we would ask them to articulate the impact they were most interested in working toward. Instead of saying, “I am a geology major,” they would say, “My mission is to ensure that all people have access to clean water, so I am studying geology to prepare myself to make a positive impact on the environment.”
Imagine that our First-Year Experience course probes meaning as much as it fosters campus connections. With support and guidance, students would explore the question, “What do I want to do with my life?” And they would understand that it’s OK for a freshman to write that mission in pencil.
Imagine that we offer an “essential curriculum” that’s organized around essential learning outcomes that could be used in many contexts over a lifetime.
Imagine that a philosophy professor and a biology professor would team teach an essential learning class on “evolution and the meaning of life.”
And imagine that we focus on our creative energies and applications rather than on “requirements” that must be checked off as fulfilling a core requirement.
In short: Imagine a re-imagined undergraduate education at Kent State University, led by the outstanding faculty on every Kent State campus — scholars who are devoted to teaching and learning, as well as research.
As we might re-imagine undergraduate education, what if we also imagined being America’s healthiest university?
Imagine a community focused on the health and well-being of every community member.
Imagine multiple venues across our campuses where access to healthy, nonprocessed foods was the norm — options that were easy to eat on the run and readily available on those precious breaks between classes, meetings and other work.
Imagine free access to fitness facilities — not only at our beautiful Kent Campus Recreation and Wellness Center, but in residence halls and other easily accessible points on every campus.
Imagine receiving discounts on health insurance by engaging in programs that promote healthy behaviors and outcomes.
Imagine a university dedicated to the principles of health and wellness — principles that foster mental and emotional health, as well as physical health.
We have a superb College of Public Health, College of Nursing and College of Podiatric Medicine — not to mention nationally respected research and outreach in areas from psychology to exercise physiology to health education. With resources like these, I hope you agree that it’s easy to imagine Kent State as the healthiest university in America.
Having looked to the future, I want to stress the great news about the state of our university here and now. In so many ways, Kent State is already a shining exemplar of the best in higher education.
We have achieved so much together that we could stay the way we are and be a very good university. But, as I see it — and as I know so many of you agree — taking that stance would mean turning away from the daring, caring and sharing spirit that brought us to this celebration.
And so I leave you with what I hope is a preview of next year’s State of the University address. I hope to report that:
We are living and breathing the common vision and priorities we worked so hard to develop and we are articulating our commitment on a national scale.
We have created greater trust and transparency in the course of developing and advocating for an even better environment for learning, living and working.
We have shared our “what, how and why” so effectively that a lot more people know what we know about Kent State!
And I hope that 12 months from now, you are joining me to celebrate the many new ways we have built on our momentum and strengthened our sense of community, knowing that Kent State is closer to becoming the distinctive and purposeful university that I believe with all my heart we are destined to be. It is indeed up to us!
And right now, it’s up to us to celebrate our membership in such a wonderful learning community! So I hope you will linger a while at your campus watch party. And for those of you here in the Kiva, I invite you to join me for an informal reception directly upstairs in Room 206 of the Kent Student Center.
Thank you, everyone.