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Opening of the Academic Year, 2013–2014

The following is the text of the speech President Michael Driscoll gave during the Opening of the Academic Year program on August 23, 2013, in Fisher Auditorium.

Good morning and welcome to the opening of Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s 138th academic year!

Over a year has passed since I walked into Sutton Hall as the new president of this wonderful university. To be precise, it has been 418 days, 19 hours, 4 minutes, and 45 seconds. At last year’s opening, I told you Becky and I felt we had made the right decision to join you after experiencing the warmth and hospitality of this community. After a year working with IUP’s incredible faculty, staff, students, and alumni, I say to you today with all humility and sincerity that I am happier than ever to be a part of the IUP team and that I (and we) feel so fortunate to be here.

As we look forward to a new academic year, I encourage you to take a moment to reflect on our successes. Each of you has the right to be proud of your work. Last year 3,016 students graduated from IUP and began the next stages of their lives. As we know from generations of alumni success, the Class of 2013 departed ready to be productive citizens—the leaders of tomorrow who will ensure commerce, government, and our communities will progress.

Our alumni tell us how they are better prepared for careers and life than those who work next to them, the graduates of the brand-name universities that, in fact, do not have one major advantage we do. Our students, so many of whom are first-generation college students, come to us with a proven work ethic. It’s ours to capitalize on, and it’s a fact from which our alumni draw a great sense of pride.

An abbreviated review of our 2013 Distinguished Alumni Award winners tells the story: a scientist who oversees the development of influenza and HIV vaccines, the president and CEO of the newly formed Allegheny Health Network, the federal government’s top IT officer, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist—and even a university president.

I am convinced we do such a great job of preparing tomorrow’s leaders because of three things.

  • First, we—you—educate the whole person. You do this through great classroom experiences and by involving students in community-informed research and service that puts theory into practice, through living-learning communities, and through a host of extracurricular experiences.
  • Second, we push students to go beyond the safe, comfortable norms of college education. With your encouragement, IUP students start using their growing knowledge and skills to make a difference well before they complete their degrees. One of my favorite examples is Becki Beadling, an undergraduate student who last year presented her research at Stanford University and earned the graduate-level Chung Soo-Yoo Award. And, there were the undergraduate students who worked under the tutelage of Luis Almeida and doctoral student Ahmed YousofThe group won the top prize for their video game proposal at the 2013 Education Without Borders conference in Dubai. These are perfect examples of pushing students to go far beyond the norm.
  • Third, IUP builds strong bonds that last a lifetime. That occurs because we know students learn from one another in the communities we help them build. Among my most memorable experiences of last academic year was attending a dedication ceremony of a mural created in memory of Greg Spinelli, a member of the Class of 1973 and an FBI agent who died in the line of duty. Agent Spinelli’s Theta Chi family—his IUP family—made sure this lasting memorial came to reality and established a scholarship in memory of all fallen Theta Chi members.

Alumni, our very product—a symbol of our brand—tell me regularly they benefited most from the sense of community. So many cite the relationships they forged with their professors, mentors, and peers as a key strength of their time here. The value they place on their investment in IUP is as much about the interpersonal skills and relationships they garnered as the knowledge in class.

Something else IUP alumni remember with fondness is intercollegiate athletics, an undeniably visible activity that also shapes the impressions of our prospective students.

I would like to take credit for some of the great seasons we had last year—the football, men’s and women’s basketball, tennis, women’s cross-country, and field hockey teams’ foray into NCAA playoffs, our golf team’s consistent and superior performance on a national level, and the success of Stephanie Beaudette, who represented us in the NCAA cross-country national championship. I can’t take credit, but Becky and I, and many of you, had great fun at every event we attended.

Two of our student athletes, Chelsea O’Hanlon and Matt Rutt of our Track and Field team, swept the PSAC Champion Scholar Athlete Awards, which are modeled after the NCAA's Elite 89 award and honor student-athletes with the top grade point average. Even better, 157 of our athletes were honored by the PSAC as scholar athletes. Essentially, that means they made and stayed on the dean’s list, which is no easy feat when juggling a full class load with practice and game schedules.

IUP’s student athletes set a high standard for all of us, in major part because of the example set by generations of world-class coaches, coaches like Frank Cignetti, who will be enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame next week. It's a well-deserved honor.

Recently, a community leader told me how impressed he is that student athletes are so busy with all their classes and practices and competition and still show up in the community to raise funds for various causes. I find that to be true about many IUP students—not just our athletes. With the resurgence of Greek life as a positive force on campus, we are seeing an upswing of various community service projects from lettered organizations and from many other student clubs and groups.

It’s no wonder that so many students come to IUP to find their success. We have great academic programs with high standards, engaging and supportive faculty and staff, a strong community of scholars, a nurturing environment made through a dedicated Student Affairs staff, many opportunities to create a network of friends and associates, beautiful facilities, and a warm host community.

Our students aren’t the only ones who choose us. Foundations and agencies of various kinds chose to fund the research and service work of our faculty and staff. Last year, we saw an overall increase of more than $1 million in grant awards compared with the previous year, including an increase of more than $393,000 from federal agencies.

I prefer to think of this as investing, rather than funding. We can feel great about the fact that agencies like the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Commission, the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, the IBM Center for the Business of Government, and the International Peace Research Association invested their confidence and dollars in your efforts. Such outside affirmation speaks volumes.

We received similar affirmation in the form of philanthropic investment. Many of you may recall that we set an ambitious goal for ourselves, to bring in gifts from 9,488 people. We came so very close but were short by just 72. Fully one third of our faculty and staff—our own university family—made charitable gifts to our institution, supporting 215 different funds within the Foundation for IUP. That’s an increase of 217 employees—people who have never given before—or a 79-percent increase over the previous year. This jump in donors definitely helps us to be competitive for PASSHE performance dollars. I want to thank all of the University Family Drive volunteers from last year for your hard work and all of you who gave. IUP is worthy of your investment.

It’s no secret that when our own university community makes that kind of commitment, it validates our belief in the importance of our work and makes it easier for us to ask our alumni to give. I hope you will consider investing this coming year, because we saw better results in alumni giving, as well—from a total of 6,947 people. This was the first time in six years we saw an increase in alumni participation, and we bucked a national trend with that increase. Over $6 million in private support in 2012–2013 is the kind of momentum that makes a powerful statement to corporations and foundations and others who have an interest in what we do.

While I enjoy speaking of our success of the last year and have no doubt we will continue to do great things, we do need to focus on the road ahead.

It's raining, so let's first talk about the budget. This year, the system received the same appropriation from the commonwealth as last year, but because of your overall strong performance, IUP received an increased allocation. The tuition and fee increase has helped with our bottom line, but because enrollment is about 200 below our estimate of 15,000, we have a bigger deficit than we projected. You can find details on our website, if you'd like to dig into those.

The short story is that while revenue has increased, expenses have increased more, creating a shortfall of just over $1 million. We’re covering that this year with reserves, but this situation reinforces our need to plan for the long term. Members of our finance and budget staffs will spend this year working with the Budget Advisory Committee to develop a three-year budget planning model.

As has been reported in the news, many of our PASSHE sister institutions face greater challenges than we do. Thanks to your hard, thoughtful work to get our budget in balance, we are in better stead.

There is no doubt we always will have challenges, but we have a great deal of positive counter balance.

For example, 122 members of our new freshman class have been awarded the Sutton Scholarship, made possible last year by the Foundation for IUP. Their average GPA is 3.81. The foundation has again committed to funding this renewable scholarship for the students who earn it, and our development team will continue to raise funds for it. This is one example of how our enrollment management teams are capitalizing on new ways to attract even more high quality students, when the demographics of western Pennsylvania are working against us.

Last week, we celebrated the groundbreaking of our new Crimson Café, the first of three steps in a long-range campus dining plan. Funded by student dining fees, this new café is as important to an improved dining experience as it is to facilitating an enhanced—or value-added—education.

Today’s students spend more time than ever engaged with electronics. I worry about what they lose, in terms of face-to-face communications skills, the ability to interact personally, the understanding of give and take that only personal communication can provide. We know that students learn as much about themselves from social interaction as they do about academic subject matter in the classroom or lab. I hope to see academic discussion spill over to the café from the library next door. Providing students a warm and inviting atmosphere—one that is less like a cafeteria and more like a bistro or café—will go a long way in facilitating personal interaction and growth.

In October, the state Department of General Services will begin construction on the new building to house several departments of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

The new structure will sit along Grant Street, next to Sutton Hall. While both construction projects will temporarily or permanently change traffic patterns on campus, the benefits wll outweigh any inconvenience. Check the university’s website often to stay abreast of changes as construction proceeds. And, I think you need to remember this year's mantra from Mark Geletka [associate vice president for Facilities Management], which is, "Mud is good. Learn to love it."

You’ve heard volumes about the Strategic Visioning Project, and I’m glad to report that our student-charged group, supervised by Dr. Michele Papakie, has spent the summer interviewing various constituents on their thoughts and expectations of our university. They are wrapping up data collection and, in the coming months, Dr. Papakie will lead efforts to organize, analyze, and formalize the study and will provide a draft vision to president’s cabinet by October.

While the strategic vision is a work in progress, I expect it will reflect traditions that make IUP distinctive and provide the foundation for our students’ success—things like setting high standards for our students and ourselves, educating the whole person, pushing our students to reach higher, building strong communities, and conducting research and service that will improve life in western Pennsylvania and beyond.

Meanwhile, another group has begun a self-study, which is a key component of the 2015 reaffirmation of our accreditation by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. Working closely with Provost Tim Moerland, Dr. Laura Delbrugge and Dr. Hilliary Creely have taken the lead in addressing 14 standards. You will soon receive information about serving on subcommittees. The team hopes to have diverse groups and perspectives, and I encourage you to step up when the time comes.

The Strategic Visioning Project must work in harness with the Middle States Self-Study. At the end of October, we have planned an all-campus workshop, at which working groups will review and comment on the draft vision and begin mapping out what issues need to be addressed to build strategic plans that will achieve the vision. Dr. Richard Morrill, chancellor of the University of Richmond and past president of the Teagle Foundation Board of Directors, will provide a keynote address and help facilitate the workshop. Dr. Morrill wrote the book Strategic Leadership: Integrated Strategy and Leadership in Colleges and Universities and is an advocate of participatory, shared planning.

Based on input from that workshop, cabinet will further refine the draft strategic vision and submit it to University Senate and then to the Council of Trustees at their December meetings.

Assuming we garner their endorsement, I expect we’ll see a clear destination. What will follow is creating the path to reach it, which will include budget considerations, fundraising plans, and much more.

We have a long way to go, but we will see progress—soon and for a long time to come. I think the most important thing to remember is that we are in this together, all of us.

The question I’ve answered most often in my first year has been, “What has surprised you?”

The answer is simple. It is the incredible strength and resiliency of IUP’s people. Together we will create a vision and accomplish the world’s most important work, which is providing the next generation with the aspirations, knowledge, and passion to care for future generations. I am honored to be one of you.

We are many people, but we are one community committed to providing the most complete education possible through face-to-face experience, through meaningful engagement that improves our society, by providing hands-on learning opportunities, and by facilitating lifelong ties, so that the students who leave us will always consider IUP as a place to return home.

Thank you for your work and dedication. Let's have a great year together.

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