State of the University Address 2016

OCT. 13, 2016 



Opening Video: 2015-2016 Highlights (00:01:35)

  1.  Welcome and Highlights 

Thank you, Terri (Kent), for those kind words. You truly are the master of magical moments.  Our students in the College of the Arts see it every day, and our community sees it through the wonderful productions on campus at the Roe Green Center and at the Porthouse Theater. Thank you for serving as a model for what truly is undeniably Kent State.

And what is also undeniably Kent State is the sense of community we feel across each of our eight campuses and within a gathering like this to explore our collective future. 

Let me begin by offering my thanks to those who have made this event possible. And I also offer my gratitude to every member of this remarkable university.

A university excels when its people excel, and I am deeply grateful for your contributions to a landmark year when we defined our vision, clearly expressed our mission and crafted a roadmap to a distinctive future.

Today, I am honored to share our community accomplishments and aspirations with everyone here at the Kiva, those joining us from our regional campuses and locations, and with distinguished guests who have taken time to be here today. Please join me in welcoming:

Member of our Board of Trustees, Steve Colecchi and Ohio State Senator John Eklund.

In the midst of the everyday miracles that are being worked even as we speak, I am pleased to offer a selection of the many individual and group achievements on a national level that occurred over the past year. While I know you will want to applaud your friends and colleagues, I ask that we hold our applause for one grand celebration at the conclusion of these accolades.  

So, let the celebration begin:

  • Associate professor of biological sciences Gemma Casadesus-Smith was awarded nearly $500,000 in a research grant from the National Institute on Aging to study Alzheimer’s disease.
  • English professor Susanna Fein was awarded a grant of more than $100,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities to support a Chaucer seminar for college and university teachers.
  • Kent State Stark professor of biological sciences Kim Finer was one of 20 grant participants in an NSF-funded "Flipped Classroom" initiative sponsored by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science.
  • Psychological sciences professor John Gunstad received the International Neuropsychological Society Early Career Research Award.
  • Physics professors Declan Keane and Spyridon Margetis received a $467,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to study heavy ion collision and continue their work in uncovering some of the fundamental puzzles of physics.
  • Professor of health education and promotion Dianne Kerr is the recipient of the 2016 Society for Public Health Education’s Dorothy B. Nyswander Open Society Award.
  • Professor of rehabilitation counseling Phil Rumrill received the 2016 Best Paper Award from the American Counseling Association. He also received a $475,000 grant from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research to support his work in the area of traumatic brain injuries.
  • Geography professor Scott Sheridan received a $565,000 NASA grant to study climate change through models of water clarity in the Great Lakes.
  • Assistant professor of geography Xinyue Ye professor of geography Jay Lee, and associate professor of computer science Ruoming Jin, along with partners at San Diego State University and the University of Arkansas, received a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation to analyze social networks. 
  • In Sponsored Programs, assistant director Becky Hayes and eRA support analyst Amanda Lindsay were invited to serve on the executive committee and as sub-committee co-chairs of the Federal Demonstration Partnership.  The Partnership is an association of federal agencies, academic research institutions and research policy organizations working to streamline the administration of federally-sponsored research.

And our students are also contributing to a distinctive Kent State through national accolades such as the following:

  • Former Golden Flashes safety and pre-med/biochemistry major Jordan Italiano was selected by the National Football Foundation as a 2015 National Scholar-Athlete and finalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy, the Heisman Trophy for excellence in academics.
  • Journalism major Vivian Feke is the recipient of the 2016 Student Edward R. Murrow Overall Excellence Award. Our advertising students finished second nationally in the Collegiate Effies competition. And TV-2 won the Television Station of the Year Pinnacle Award from the College Media Association.
  • Fashion design major Kara Kroeger was named a Kenneth Cole Footwear and Accessory Innovation Award winner at the Council of Fashion Designers of America 2016 Fashion Awards.
  • A team of four Kent State graduate students in Psychological Sciences –Karly Cochran, Haylee DeLuca, Liz Baker and Logan Stigall– won the Sloboda and Bukoski Cup at the annual conference of the Society for Prevention Research.

And in the spirit of “It Takes a Village,” Kent State was named:

  • Among the top 100 national public universities by U.S. News and World Report;
  • A Fit-Friendly Worksite by the American Heart Association;
  • Among the Best Colleges to Work For (and the only Ohio university to make the list) by the Chronicle of Higher Education.
  • And, for the third consecutive year, we earned the Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award from INSIGHT Into Diversity Magazine.
  • The College of Public Health received accreditation for a five-year term from the Council on Education for Public Health just six years from its inception as a college in 2009.
  • Our University College received three national awards:  The Best First-Year Transition Programming award from the Center for the First-Year Experience; the University Business magazine Model of Excellence Award for best programming for undeclared majors; and the Frank L. Christ Outstanding Learning Center Award through the National College Learning Center Association.
  • In athletics, we were awarded the 2016 Cartwright Award for program excellence in academics, athletics and citizenship and the Jacoby Trophy for excellence in women’s competition.  Our wrestling program was recognized for the fifth-highest GPA in Division I behind Harvard, Sacred Heart, Duke, and Brown.  Now, I would say that is good company, indeed, for our university.
  • We celebrated grand openings for four new or significantly enhanced facilities:  The Science and Nursing Building at our Stark Campus; the health and sciences floor of the James and Coralie Centofanti Hall at our Salem Campus; and the Center for the Visual Arts and Center for Philanthropy and Alumni Engagement here on the Kent Campus.
  • We broke ground for the Integrated Sciences Building and completed construction on the new Center for Architecture and Environmental Design.
  • And, we launched the new Kent State brand to better tell the compelling story of our university – no longer the best-kept secret in Northeast Ohio.

Congratulations to all for an outstanding 2015-16 academic year!

II.  A Re-imagined Public Research University 

In planning for the current academic year, I have been considering, and actually re-considering, the essential roles and responsibilities of public research universities:  why we exist; what we stand for – or expressed in the words of our outstanding convocation speaker, Wes Moore, “Who are we going to fight for?” What is our legacy contribution to better society?  How will Kent State make a difference in a world that so desperately needs reasoned and inspiring voices, particularly in a wilderness of biased rhetoric that sets the bar so low for a nation that has such high aspirations for the ideals of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? 

Often, research universities commit a good portion of their resources to the advancement of research agendas and academic programs that have the greatest potential to deliver on external funding – like colleges of medicine and engineering.  While there is nothing implicitly wrong with a focus on boundary-breaking research and the quest for adequate research funding, that approach may not prioritize the need to provide a high-quality higher education to the greatest number of individuals possible.

With this backdrop of priorities for research universities, it is no wonder that the U.S. News and World Report ranking of universities has become the “Holy Grail” for some.  And again, it is not wrong or short-sighted to attend to important criteria such as retention and graduation rates, the quality of the student body, faculty compensation and student-to-faculty ratios.  While it is a laudable aspiration to increase the U.S. News ranking of our university, what if we measured ourselves by other criteria – criteria that would focus on our vision of “sparking epic thinking, meaningful voice and invaluable outcomes to better our society?”

This thinking led me to a book by Cornell University’s Robert Sternberg that centers on, “…producing students who want to change the world.” In his book, What Universities Can Be, Sternberg suggests a new model for preparing students, one he calls ACCEL: Active Concerned Citizenship and Ethical Leadership. Sternberg calls for a different methodology to define university greatness. He defines an ACCEL university’s greatness as central to the very core of how we define greatness in American society -- the opportunity to make a difference and the chance to make our world a better place.  Sternberg believes that in an ACCEL university, the focus should be, in his words, “…not just on how academically smart you are but on how much of your smartness you can give back to the world.”

In my last State of the University Address, I mentioned Tim Clydesdale’s work, The Purposeful Graduate, in which he proposed that a college education should be about more than finding a job after graduation. It should also be about finding one’s purpose in life. 

And from that inspiration, we are now exploring with students in our First-Year Experience course the notion of defining a life mission and outlining a purposeful life of meaning along with the declaration of a major or intended area of academic focus.

This year, I have been thinking about how we become a more distinctive university through the re-imagination of our university’s purpose and how we truly bring to life our vision of bettering society.

III. The Kent State Promise

In this concept of a re-imagined public research university, the priorities for academic excellence, access and affordability not only coexist but merge as critical elements of a high-quality, distinctive learning environment.  I have begun to call this commitment “The Kent State Promise”.

The Kent State Promise does not begin and end with financial support – or a financial pathway to higher education, as is the case of many traditional promise agendas. The challenges students in this country face are not solely financial challenges. I suggest that college costs and the very real problem of growing student debt are outcomes – or results – of an incomplete higher education agenda. The tragedy is not so much that college costs lead to some level of personal debt but that many students incur this debt and never graduate, creating a cycle of debt from which many simply cannot recover.

While it is vitally important to keep college costs at an affordable level for the most students, it is also important that college graduates are prepared to meet the challenges and career expectations for a future that cannot possibly be clearly defined in the present.

The Kent State Promise should be a comprehensive approach to student success and fulfillment.  We aspire to bring the totality of the resources and reach of one of the nation’s largest research universities to higher education’s most important outcome: more college graduates who have the skills, talent and desire to change the world –who understand that a life of meaning is just as important as a life of financial comfort. 

IV.  Living the Kent State Promise

As we embark upon year two of our vision for a distinctive Kent State, we must continue to refine and build upon those components of the Kent State Promise that are unique and that truly enable us to better society through our collective action.
In describing the essence of our Roadmap, we expressed the unique contribution of Kent State through the value proposition: “Illumination Above All.” This unique aspiration is not intended to be a tagline or a campaign theme; rather it is meant to be a guidepost for why we do what we do.

I stated when I joined this wonderful community in 2014 that I knew of few institutions of higher education that provided the best solution to the often-competing objectives of academic quality, access and affordability.

We can be that research university community whose front door is open wide to students who just want a chance to succeed – regardless of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic background or ACT score – and that supports students to the finish line of a college degree.

In fact, over the last two years, we have captured this university spirit through the many personal stories that describe Kent State as a place that welcomes students for who they are and pushes them to become more than they ever imagined possible.  Please watch.

video: Living the Kent State Promise (00:04:45)

These stories are, indeed, ones of transformation, innovation and elevation.
And that is the distinctive Kent State I am pleased to lead, where illumination above all is translated through transformative learning, innovative discoveries and elevation to new spheres of contribution and access that make a real difference in real lives.

In this unique value proposition, we are embracing the full magnitude of the power and resources of our eight-campus system. Our regional campuses play important roles in their communities and they are life-changing catalysts for the students we serve.  Not only is the cost to attend a regional campus 40 percent less than the Kent Campus, the environment at our seven regional campuses is especially mindful of assisting all students to realize the dream of a college degree. This fall,  just as we realized an increase in retention on the Kent Campus, we saw an overall increase in retention on the regional campuses as well. 

Even so, we must bridge the gaps that have historically existed between the retention, persistence and completion of first-generation and underrepresented students and the general student population. If we are to achieve our goal of 85% retention and a 65% graduation rate – we must address this disparity in achievement. More importantly, if we are to be true to our institutional “why” of illumination above all, we must commit to the success of ALL students.

Beginning with this academic year, we are doing this through a program called DEEDS, which stands for Dynamic Engagement and Education of Diverse Students and is one of our top University-Level Initiatives defined in our Roadmap.

DEEDS calls on the entire university community to collectively commit to the success of all students. To accomplish this goal, we must pay as much attention to campus climate as we do to academic quality and student success.  DEEDS is doing just that.

We are not immune from the troubling climate and culture struggles occurring across our nation and around the world. In the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who reminded us that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, at Kent State – of all places – we must maintain a high standard of working through discord and adhering to an expectation of mutual respect and acknowledgment. Ours is a caring community, where we treat one another with dignity and where we will not condone senseless acts of disrespect simply on the basis of color, ethnicity, religion or gender identity. Every member of this community must be the change we expect to see in our world. In this academic year, we will launch seminars and work sessions targeted at enhancing cultural competency and sending a very strong message that racism, sexism, and other forms of baseless bias have no place in a community whose highest core values are those of respect, kindness and purpose in all that we do.

And just as we are transforming lives through an engaged commitment to our students-first priority and a promise to be part of a culturally competent and respectful community of learners, we are also experiencing transformation through our dedication to enhancing a culture of research and innovation.

Over the past year, as we framed our strategic vision, we accepted the challenge of doubling our efforts and results in research and scholarship.

Our proposed Research Centers of Distinction are merging our academic strengths into interdisciplinary teams to generate collective impact through translational research – that is, research that contributes to the life and vitality of real people and real communities.

This is exactly the kind of research that is highlighted by the Carnegie Community Engagement Classification – a designation that we aim to achieve as a University-Level Initiative by the year 2020.

We are launching our research initiative in Brain Health this year – bringing together tremendous teams of researchers in a multi-disciplinary environment from the neurosciences, psychological sciences and exercise sciences, to health, education and disciplines in the humanities, such as the healing stanzas initiative of our Wick Poetry Center.

This vision is made possible in great part by the investments we have made in academic facilities and infrastructure and by our commitment to take stock of our research strengths.

So, today, we are called to dream about the next big thing for Kent State that will establish this university as the place where the promise of a transformational education and research environment is kept.

Last week, we celebrated the grand opening of our new Center for Architecture and Environmental Design on the heels of it being highlighted in The New York Times as one of 11 iconic cultural structures in the world. This academic facility is a study in how creativity emerges when a building is designed for the kind of collaborative, organic learning and research that is not bound by conventional laboratories, classroom walls or immovable classroom seats.

What would it be like to make a distinctive Kent State contribution by building a bridge between our diverse capacity in design and our strengths in the sciences? Clearly, design is playing the role today that the field of engineering played in the last century. 

In fact, just as we have envisioned a science corridor on our campus that is being enhanced with our new Integrated Sciences Building – we also have the makings of a “design corridor”. 

Close your eyes and take a walk in your mind with me. Cross our new threshold at the Center for Architecture and Environmental Design; pass by the inspirational Wick Poetry Center on the left; straight ahead is the Fashion School; to the right is the multi-media studio in Franklin Hall; follow the esplanade and you’ll come upon our Center for the Visual Arts and – before you know it, the design corridor intersects with the science corridor.

What we are building and cultivating here is an innovation ecosystem where design and science not only intersect but work together.

Because faculty members are naturally curious, they have paved the way for this intersection already. We’ve seen it in the diabetic sock – designed by colleagues in the Fashion School, College of Podiatric Medicine and the Liquid Crystal Institute.

We’ve seen it in our College of Applied Engineering, Science and Technology where student Joshua Ishihara designed a technologically enhanced glove that permits those who speak through sign language to communicate with those who do not.

We see it each year in our Fashion Hackathon, a partnership between the Fashion School’s TechStyleLAB and Kent State’s LaunchNET that aims to create wearable technology that can only be imagined by those with a futuristic mindset.

So, today, we are called to dream about the Kent State Innovation Ecosystem that will establish this university as the place where design and science converge to invent the future.

Imagine the ways that our graduates, our translational research, and our community engagement will change the world when we approach every challenge and opportunity with a design thinking frame of mind. We believe this will elevate our region as a new birthplace of ideas that make a difference because they were designed that way.

We have the capacity to dream like this because we are a community that understands the importance of being good stewards of our collective resources.

Our fifth university priority calls for us to ensure a culture of continuous improvement and the efficient stewardship of our resources and infrastructure. 

We are revising our Responsibility Center Management Budget model and, over the next two years, we will reallocate approximately $9.3M from  administrative budgets to the academic centers of the university.

Additionally, we received recommendations offered by the Ad Hoc Committee on Effectiveness and Efficiency, and will reap as much as $30 million in efficiency savings over a five-year period, including nearly $6.3 million in savings estimated for the current fiscal year.

And, in a third major funding transformation, we are initiating the planning and execution of the largest comprehensive campaign in our university’s history. In the coming months, we will complete our case statement, which calls for an “all-in” engagement around the reasons why contributions to Kent State will advance our unique brand of transformation, innovation and elevation. All ideas are welcomed. You will be hearing much more about this in the weeks to come.

V.  Conclusion

Kent State University stands in an enviable position, having shattered enrollment records, elevated its academic profile and achieved major diversity goals in an environment that suggests such achievements are not likely or sustainable.  The people of this university community have made this success possible, and you will continue to be the keys to our future ability to out-perform the most challenging of higher education trends.

You are truly living The Kent State Promise – a glorious symphony that celebrates academic excellence, access and affordability as critical assets that merge to differentiate our re-imagined community-engaged university.  Your work transforms lives and communities.  Your creativity drives our greatest innovations.  Your passion and commitment elevate our highest aspirations and make them a reality. I remain tremendously honored to be a part of this community that is driven to change the world for the better.

Each and every day, I am reminded of how, personally, I have been changed for the better.  And as I reflected on this impact and the influence of great faculty like my colleague, Terri Kent, it brought to mind the lyrics from the musical, Wicked, that express the feeling of being changed for good. And I would like to share them with you now:

I've heard it said that people come into our lives -- for a reason

Bringing something we must learn

And we are led to those who help us most to grow --

If we let them

And we help them in return

Well, I don't know if I believe that's true

But I know I'm who I am today

Because I knew you...

Who can say if I've been changed for the better?

But because I knew you

I have been changed for good

Thank you all.  Thank you, Kent State University.

Watch the 2016 State of the University Address (00:39:56)