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State of the University Address 2017

State of the university address
kent state university
president Beverly warren
OCT. 17, 2017


opening video

Opening Video: Year in Review 2017 (00:01:39)

full Speech

As we launch another academic year, we again come together to celebrate individual and collective achievements. And perhaps even more importantly, to consider our future -- to frame a shared vision for the university we aspire to become. Today we try to answer the important questions:

Why are we here, together, at this point in history?

Why do we persist?

How can we best contribute to the greater good?

We are one of the largest university systems in the nation and one of the closest families in the world. But in these challenging times, it is not enough merely for a university to be big.

Kent State is called to be different -- unique -- inspiring.

That requires us to take a journey together -- a journey of purpose.

I am here today to share some ideas about that journey. There are roads before us that can take Kent State to new levels of innovation and excellence. I am here to ask you to join me and to lock arms in the journey, together, toward what Kent State University can be. For us, and for the world.

We face an exciting future -- and we lay the foundation today.

Let us start by celebrating the present -- the qualities and achievements that define Kent State right now. I want to thank every Kent State faculty member, staff member, and student for your contributions to this great university. You demonstrate, every day, the genuine sense of caring I have come to know as “Kent State nice.”

But we are more than nice. We are exceptional. It is inspiring to reflect upon the many individual and collective achievements highlighted on the national stage this past year. While I know you will want to applaud your distinguished colleagues, I ask that we hold our applause for a resounding celebration at the conclusion of these accolades.

We will start with our faculty.

  • Distinguished Professor of Human Evolutionary Studies Owen Lovejoy was awarded the Kent State University President’s Medal -- the highest honor conferred by this university.
  • Human Development and Family Studies Professor Greg Smith received a nearly $3 million, five-year, NIH award for his research on social intelligence training of custodial grandmothers and their adolescent grandchildren.
  • Associate Professor of Biological Sciences Gemma Casadesus Smith received $1.8 million NIH, R-01 award from the National Institute on Aging for her research on the effect of hormonal changes in aging women and the increased risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Professor of Social and Behavioral Sciences Eric Jefferis received a $460,000 project grant from the U.S. Department of Justice for his Safer Communities Initiative.
  • Associate Professor of History Elizabeth Smith-Pryor was one of only two scholars to receive the Senior Fellow Award funded by the Ford Foundation.
  • Kent State Stark Associate Professor of Biological Sciences Matthew Lehnert’s research will be featured in an upcoming episode of the PBS series “Nature” and has been published in one of the world’s top science journals, Proceedings of the Royal Society.
  • Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Mietek Jaroniec was awarded the Marie Sklodowska Curie Medal by the Polish Chemical Society for his scientific achievements in the development of nanomaterials.
  • Professor and Knight Chair in Scholastic Journalism Mark Goodman was named Journalism Educator of the Year by the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication.
  • Assistant Professor of Art Mahwish Chishty and Professor Emeritus Paul O’Keeffe were both awarded prestigious Guggenheim Fellowships this year.

And our students are also contributing to a distinctive Kent State through national recognition.

  • The Society of Professional Journalists recognized the staff of The Burr Magazine, Kent State’s first student-produced magazine, with a National Mark of Excellence Award in the category of Best Student Magazine.
  • Student-athlete Danniel Thomas-Dodd captured the 2017 NCAA Division I Women's Shot Put National Championship. Danniel is the first female national champion in the history of Kent State Athletics, a nine-time All-American, and the eighth Golden Flash to compete in the Olympics.
  • Natalie Moses, a student from our School of Communications Studies, earned the National Award of Excellence from the Broadcast Education Association for her full-length movie script, 69/70, on the May 4 shootings at Kent State.
  • Points of pride for our Kent State Athletics program include 14 All-Americans and seven Academic All-America Selections. These honors recognize the nation’s most outstanding student-athletes.

The collective achievements of the Kent State community fuel our momentum and national distinction.

  • This year, Kent State climbed an impressive 12 spots in the Best National Universities ranking by U.S. News & World Report.
  • And once again, we earned a place among the top 100 public universities in the U.S.
  • Our campus was ranked #11 in a list of the Safest Colleges in America, and we are #1 in Ohio.
  • Kent State continues to receive national recognition for inclusive excellence. For the fifth consecutive year, we earned the Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award from INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine. The university also received the Diversity Champion Award, and was recognized as a national model for workplace inclusion by the Society for Diversity.
  • Our Academic Success Center in University College received the Frank L. Christ Outstanding Learning Center Award from the National College Learning Center Association.
  • The Wick Poetry Center, led by Director David Hassler, received the nation’s largest grant for poetry in support of the Traveling Stanzas: Writing Across Borders initiative.
  • Our May 4 site achieved designation as a National Historic Landmark.
  • We made significant strides toward our goal of doubling research funding. Extramural funding rose 31 percent, with a 38 percent increase in research awards.
  • Philanthropic support increased by 31 percent, with a record-setting $38.9 million in gifts and new commitments. For the first time, we secured nine gifts of one million dollars or more, and nearly 20,000 alumni and friends stepped up to support our university.

These remarkable achievements are worthy of our celebration! Congratulations to all for an outstanding 2016-17 academic year

Accomplishments like these don’t just happen. They are products of hard work – of intention – of building on a long tradition of excellence.

So many in our community have been leaders in their disciplines, and have helped to transform higher education. Our faculty and staff are intensely focused on a unique blend of teaching and learning enhanced by cutting edge research and scholarship.

The result is a learning environment not seen in many major research universities. Here, each of us has the opportunity to find our individual purpose and passion, and engage in work that makes for a purposeful life.

Yet I challenge us today to think about purpose from a second perspective.

Higher education is facing increasing headwinds. The trends are evident. While research funding and donor support were both up 30 percent this year, funding from state appropriations continues to decline. Although the Kent State Class of 2021 is one of the largest and is the most academically qualified ever, for the first time in a decade, our Kent Campus enrollment has declined. A large portion of that decline can be attributed to fewer international students choosing to study at Kent State or at other universities in the U.S. This trend makes it imperative to hold firm in our belief that we must be that welcoming university for all students. Our enrollment challenges – the challenges we all face in higher education – have had a negative impact on our budget and have placed at risk our commitment to being a truly global university. So it seems that sometimes those headwinds really do rattle the windows.

What does all this have to do with a perspective on purpose?

First, at this remarkable university, when we are challenged to our core, we respond -- not only with resilience, but with an intensity of effort. Our intensity tells the world: “Kent State will rise above – we will overcome -- we will move on with purpose.” We are the architects of our fate. And purpose is essential.

Second, Kent State must make its case to the world more clearly and unmistakably than ever before. We must articulate our unique contributions to society in such a compelling way that the Kent State story sets us apart.

We must demonstrate our collective impact. Indeed -- our collective purpose.

We must move into the future with a shared passion that demonstrates the determination of a university with eight distinct campuses. We must be exemplars of that university whose collective vision is to innovate for the good of our communities and our society.

Indeed, I believe the key to demonstrating collective purpose is cultivating an innovation mindset. Across the length and breadth of this institution, all of us must embody and share a heightened commitment to innovation. And the world must see us doing it.

I announced at our recent Board of Trustees meeting that I view this academic year as the Year of Innovation. Those will not be empty words, and this will not be the one and only such year.

In fact, this is the start of an innovation era. This is where our future begins to define us. We are perfectly suited to be that unique university where everyone, in every facet of our communities, is an innovator – a designer – a boundary expander.

There is a name for such boundary-spanning innovators – they are termed “T-shaped” individuals. Picture the letter “T.” The vertical stroke represents a deep expertise in one area. But the horizontal stroke at the top means these individuals reach out beyond their primary knowledge areas and collaborate with others for the greater good. These are the qualities we must foster.

Our newly developed Design Innovation Initiative will propel a culture of innovation across every campus and throughout every community we serve. When we act with collective purpose, we naturally seek and embrace connections beyond our disciplines and departments. We must be that university that unleashes the power of multi-disciplinary action and collaboration. We must believe that our best discoveries occur when disciplines collide.

When we succeed, we not only set ourselves apart, we will resolve our most pressing challenges. We realize also our highest hopes for using the creative potential that abounds here at Kent State to make this world a better place.

To deliver on a culture of innovation, we must first embrace our humanness. It starts with empathy. Whether designing a core curriculum, or a new product line in fashion, or a new inter-generational housing complex, it is vital to consider the needs of the end-user – the student who will learn from the curricular innovation, the person who will wear the new fashion or members of our communities who will live together across all stages of life.

In my readings about how others are framing a culture of innovation, I found this really interesting description offered by Tim Brown, CEO of the influential design firm IDEO. He said, “A prerequisite is an environment – social but also spatial – in which people know they can experiment, take risks, and explore the full range of their faculties.”

That environment is what we will expand and embrace at Kent State.

And what a head start we have. We have been innovators and creators for a very long time. I would like to share with you some examples of that creative potential.

An innovation that we announced last year is our new Brain Health Research Institute, which will now reside in our impressive Integrated Sciences Building. Some may question how we will be innovators in the crowded space of brain health research. As you are aware, there is a good deal of brain health research going on in Northeast Ohio, notably the Cleveland Brain Health Initiative, and many other such centers around the country.

But because of research professors like Gemma Casadesus Smith, our work in this field will stand apart.

Video: Discovering Purpose - Gemma Casadesus Smith, Ph.D. (00:02:01)

Change through teaching and discovery -- and without boundaries.

Medical schools will continue to fight and conquer diseases of the brain. Kent State will work to enhance healing action -- not only through medical sciences but also through the engagement of the whole brain. Through a unique blend of art and science, Kent State is developing psychological interventions that illuminate how we learn and how we confront stress. We are harnessing the power of poetry to heal the heart and the mind. We are embracing the beauty of the arts to touch the depths of our humanity and lift the human spirit. In this holistic approach to brain health, Kent State has the potential to help more people live lives that are enriched and filled with purpose.

Our Brain Health Research Institute joins faculty and staff from literally every facet of our university to advance collaborative inquiry and multi-disciplinary research. That is collective purpose. That is Kent State.

In addition, we will highlight the many initiatives that will advance our most promising academic programs.

  • Our School of Fashion is a shining example with its belief, and now an academic requirement, that every student must have a study abroad/study away experience to graduate from this stellar program – the third ranked fashion merchandising program in the country.
  • Our renamed College of Aeronautics and Engineering will highlight our work in advancing a comprehensive aeronautics program that is among the top five in the country.
  • Our Translation Studies Program, with support from a one million dollar gift, will now offer a master’s degree online so that more individuals may benefit from the talented faculty in this top-ranked program.
  • And let me be clear – innovation is not confined to the Kent Campus. Innovation is everywhere. Take, for example, our programs in enology and viticulture on our Ashtabula Campus – the state’s only wine degree programs. Our Ashtabula Campus students are extending science to serve communities and to be leaders in the billion-dollar grape and wine industry in Ohio. Stay tuned – we may see a new vineyard in Northeast Ohio with a vintage Kent State signature wine.

That is innovation in the public square. That, too, is collective purpose. That is Kent State.

What happens when we get this right? When we, the Kent State family, act with collective purpose -- and the world takes notice?

Kent State will prove its value to society -- making the world a better place not only through our work in classrooms, laboratories, and studios, but also through our deep collaborative engagement with the communities we serve. That is the type of environment CEO Tim Brown spoke of -- social and spatial -- where students, faculty, staff and our community partners join forces to explore, create and build a better future – together.

This is the future that one of our students, Emelia Sherin, imagined. Emelia, a sophomore student from Trumbull County, was troubled by the impact of the opioid epidemic on her community. Through collective action, Emelia found a way to enlighten understanding of this terrible addiction not only in her own community but in communities across the country.

Here is her story.

Video: Discovering Purpose - Emelia Sherin (00:02:14)

As Emelia’s play debuts across the country, her request is that the proceeds and donations from the performance go to local rehabilitation centers.

Emelia is a shining example of the power of individual purpose to drive collective action. We can all do this.

It can begin right here in our Kent State community. Imagine the future for a moment. Imagine Kent State as the centerpiece of a far-ranging and boundary spanning Center of Design Innovation – a center that embraces a curriculum for all and students who are owned by none.

A Center of Design Innovation curriculum would spark epic thinking across multiple disciplines and areas of expertise. It would be a gathering space for current and future entrepreneurs and innovators -- people collaborating not only to design new products but also to advance social change and spark enhanced creative expression.

Imagine a Grand Challenge Studio -- an interdisciplinary Mecca. Imagine a place where students, faculty, staff and community members come together to explore multiple resolutions to the world’s greatest challenges.

Challenges like climate change; healthcare enhancement; educational transformation; and civil discourse that drives mutual understanding and social change. We can be at the center of prototypes and novel ideas that can make a real difference in real lives and real communities.

This is the type of innovation that will position us as a top university for purposeful learning -- a place where every day, we engage in multi-disciplinary work that betters our society -- starting, first right here in our home communities.

We can get there. The journey has already begun. Now, we must quicken our pace.

But we cannot get there without each of us locking arms -- and embarking on a journey to unharness the innovative spirit within.

So, what steps must we take to frame our distinctive and unique Kent State?

The first call to action is to unlock our creative potential – our transformative potential. Our Kent State potential to make a meaningful difference in the communities we serve. Consider new programs and initiatives – new research and scholarship – new service and engagement that reach beyond the boundaries of our expertise and the corners of our campuses.

As Tim Brown of IDEO says in his book Change By Design: “The tools of the design thinker... creating stories to share our ideas, joining forces with people from other disciplines -- are ways of deepening what we know and widening the impact of what we do.”

Joining together across boundaries and with collective purpose is the key to making a difference. This frames our path to a more meaningful life of purpose for everyone – for ourselves and those we serve.

The second request is to expand our consideration of the concept of a Center of Design Innovation. Launching such a transformative center will require us to think differently about academic credit and how it is applied to earning a degree.

We will need your best thinking to develop core courses in design innovation and capstone courses around grand challenges.

The dynamic environment of the Center of Design Innovation will aim to elevate the T-shaped individuals that I mentioned earlier -- individuals who are anchored in one discipline, and have the capacity and openness to span across multiple disciplines and departments.

Accomplishing the goal of developing more T-shaped individuals will require each of us to consider how we, ourselves, will embrace the T. We must join together to collectively create this distinctive culture and unique environment.

Embracing the T is our quickest path to achieving this new culture of innovation so critical to our future. The T is, in fact, -- the DNA of collective purpose. I encourage each of us to consider how we can embrace a collective purpose that reaches beyond our comfort zone and moves us into a zone that acknowledges a new type of education and service – a commitment to collaborate and share our humanity without the confines of imposed boundaries.

This is the call to action. In this year and beyond, may we all unlock our potential, reach across boundaries and break down the barriers that often divide us.

As I conclude, let me express again my abiding faith and confidence in this wonderful university that we describe as home.

I congratulate each and every member of the Kent State family for your deep and abiding commitment to our caring university. May we move forward with a renewed sense of the opportunities we have to enhance, highlight and activate our collective purpose. May the headwinds of change inspire us to innovate and collaborate like designers, create connections that shape the future, and give the world new solutions to its most intractable problems.

When we talk about our university and our family to the world, we use the term “undeniably Kent State.” What makes us different, we always say, is our people. Our wonderful, glorious, quirky, and always supportive people -- who make it possible to stake our claim on a brighter future.

That statement of belief in ourselves has never been truer, or more important, than at this moment. May we all live purposeful and fulfilling lives. May each and every one of us step boldly toward our individual and collective purpose.

And may we move on with purpose – together.

Thank you all very much.

Watch the 2017 State of the University Address (00:43:49)