Board of Trustees meets; President Erickson's remarks

President Rodney Erickson's Remarks to the Board of Trustees
1:30 p.m., Friday, May 4, 2012
Nittany Lion Inn

Welcome. I'm pleased you could all join us for what is certainly the highlight of the academic calendar -- commencement. In keeping with the celebratory nature of the weekend, I have a number of notable accomplishments to share this afternoon.

First, I'd like to congratulate Karen Peetz, who was honored with the Women's Leadership Council Founder's Award by the United Way of New York City. Karen has been a dedicated volunteer and leader for the United Way for many years. This is a well-deserved honor. Congratulations!

I also want to recognize Ken Frazier, who was elected to the 2012 Class of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Some of the world's most accomplished leaders from academia, business, public affairs, the humanities and the arts have been elected members of the academy, and this is fitting recognition for Ken's business, corporate and philanthropic leadership. Congratulations Ken.

Also, please note that Ken will provide an update a little later on the progress of the Louis Freeh investigation.

Turning to commencement, this weekend Penn State will award nearly 13,000 degrees University-wide: 601 associate degrees; 10,473 baccalaureate degrees; 1,176 master's degrees; 188 doctoral degrees; 131 medical degrees; and 215 law degrees. Graduation is a great achievement, and we're very proud of our students' accomplishments, ambition and desire to change the world for the better. I also would like to thank the trustees who will be authorizing the granting of degrees in each of the respective ceremonies.

As the great philosopher Anonymous once said, "If it wasn't for the last minute, nothing would ever get done." This year we've had a flurry of activity in the University Park admissions office as the May 1 deadline approached. Many students who have applied to the Commonwealth Campuses are still making their decisions, and we will continue to accept applications to the campuses throughout the spring and summer.

I can provide you with a snapshot of where we stand as of three days ago. Overall, applications for baccalaureate admission are ahead of last year by more than 2 percent, which will make this another record year for applications received. At this point, we're looking at the largest incoming class at University Park since the record cohort of 2006. Our paid acceptances are up 6 percent for summer/fall. We do expect the usual melt over the summer, but we're confident that we will more than meet our enrollment target of 7,200 freshmen at University Park. By all indications, the quality of our incoming class is right on par with recent years.

After years of significant aggregate growth in enrollments at our Commonwealth Campuses, we're seeing some declines this year in deposits. Paid accepts in aggregate at the campuses are down about 750 students from last year, and a majority of the difference is accounted for by three larger campuses where we expect to close the gap in the coming months.

We've had so much going on lately, I thought it might be nice to spend some time talking about the weather … especially when the forecast is this bright. A group of 15 Penn State meteorology students recently captured first place in the Weather Challenge, a North American collegiate weather forecasting competition.

During the 20-week forecasting contest, which spanned both fall and spring semesters, students predicted high and low temperatures, precipitation and wind speeds at 10 different cities including Juneau, Alaska; Hilo, Hawaii; New Orleans; and Erie. Penn State's forecasters bested teams from more than 50 other universities, and our Penn State winning forecasters will have their names engraved on the Weather Challenge trophy, which will reside at Penn State during the 2012-13 academic year.

Now, I wish to share a story about a simple device -- the Tippy Tap -- that is having a major impact on public health in rural African communities. This work has already won first place for the Johnson & Johnson Rural Healthcare Award and first place in the Undergraduate Research Exhibition, and the students who devised it were the first undergraduates to appear at the "Research Unplugged" lecture series in downtown State College. Ce Zhang and Adam Mosa -- who invented the Tippy Tap -- are here today, and I'll introduce them after we watch a short video.

Would Adam and Ce please stand? Adam earned his bachelor's degree in life science from Penn State in 2010. He's currently a research associate at the Cognitive Neurophysiology Laboratory at the New York University School of Medicine, where he's doing research on epilepsy. He was recently accepted to the Department of Physiology at the University of Toronto, where he'll pursue a master's in neuroscience, before attending medical school.

Ce is a Schreyer Honors Scholar who will graduate tomorrow with a degree in biology. He has been accepted to graduate school at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom to earn a master's degree in public health. Then he plans to go to medical school. Please join me in recognizing these two exceptional Penn Staters.

The Daily Collegian reached a milestone this year -- 125 years of publication! It has come a long way since its debut as The Free Lance, and it has been a steady source of award-winning reporting. Will all the Collegian staff members -- past and present -- please stand and wave so you can be recognized? Congratulations and thank you for your excellent work.

Continuing with this spirit of recognition, this spring we named three new Evan Pugh professors. The title of Evan Pugh Professor is the highest honor that can be bestowed upon a faculty member of our University and is given to faculty whose research, publications and creative work are of the highest quality; who are acknowledged national and international leaders in their fields; who are involved in pioneering research or creative accomplishments; and who demonstrate excellent teaching skills. This year's honorees are: James Kasting, distinguished professor of geosciences; Jainendra Jain, Ervin Mueller Professor of physics; and Bruce Logan, Kappe Professor of environmental engineering. Drs. Jain and Logan are out of town, but I'm very pleased that Dr. Kasting could join us today. Jim, could you please join me at the podium? I'd also like to ask Provost Pangborn to join us as well.

Jim joined the Penn State faculty in 1988. He specializes in the evolution of Earth's climate and atmosphere. He also researches habitable zones around other star systems, a field that is critical to the search for extraterrestrial life. In addition to being a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, he is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the International Society for the Study of the Origin of Life, the American Geophysical Union and the Geochemical Society. Congratulations.

In addition to honoring Ken Frazier this spring, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences recognized Sharon Hammes-Schiffer, a professor of chemistry and the Eberly Professor of biochemistry, by naming her a fellow of the academy. Hammes-Schiffer is a world leader in theoretical chemistry whose research spans the fields of chemistry, physics, biology and computer science. Her research has important implications for the development of alternative energy sources such as solar cells, as well as for protein engineering and drug design.

Susan Brantley, distinguished professor of geosciences and director of the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute, was elected to the National Academy of Sciences as one of 84 new members and 21 foreign associates from 15 countries. Brantley is an inspiring teacher, researcher and mentor, and her work focuses on the measurement and prediction of the rates of natural processes, in particular, the effect of microbial life on mineral reactivity.

We also were pleased to learn that three professors from the College of the Liberal Arts were awarded Guggenheim fellowships for 2012: Lori Ginzberg, professor of history and women's studies; Nina Jablonski, distinguished professor of anthropology; and David Rosenbaum, distinguished professor of psychology. The three are among a diverse group of 181 artists, scientists and scholars selected this year from nearly 3,000 applicants across the United States and Canada.

Linda Patterson Miller, professor of English at Penn State Abington, is just finishing her year as the Penn State laureate. Linda's area of expertise is early 20th-century American literature and art, and she has spent the year entertaining and enlightening our community with tales of writers and artists such as Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein and the Lost Generation. Linda, could you please stand so we can recognize you for your many contributions to Penn State as a teacher, researcher and most recently, the Penn State laureate?

Christopher Staley, distinguished professor of art, was named the 2012-13 Penn State laureate. Over the next year, he plans to develop a series of talks and presentations on "Art and Life: Where They Intersect," drawing from his 30 years of experience as a ceramic artist and educator. Chris is currently out of town, but you'll have a chance to meet him another time.

Penn State's outstanding faculty coupled with a supportive research enterprise led by Hank Foley has made for an impressive record of research awards. To date, funded research at Penn State is up 16.7 percent, which translates into $634 million in new research awards. Agricultural sciences, engineering, health and human development, medicine and science have all seen robust funding, which is especially laudable given the flat federal spending.

I'm happy to report that we're moving forward on several fronts related to abuse prevention efforts, and I want to take this opportunity to highlight some significant progress. This past Wednesday, we announced that Penn State has infused more than $1.1 million into the newly established Center for the Protection of Children, based at Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital. This is more than twice the original start-up funds commitment, as a result of higher-than-expected Big Ten bowl revenues. The University also donated $1.5 million to the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape. This is just the beginning: our goal is to leverage the resources and experience available through Penn State to bring a new level of leadership in clinical care, research, education and direction of policy related to child abuse and neglect. I will continue to keep you informed of our work in the months ahead.

Penn State is also continuing our work to enhance the educational opportunities and school environment for all children. One recent $3.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education is designed to help Penn State researchers improve the well-being of teachers so they can better support their students, while reducing the stresses that lead to high teacher drop-out rates. The study, led by Patricia Jennings and Mark Greenberg from Penn State's Prevention Research Center, will test a professional development program called CARE for Teachers.

Moving on to athletics and some very big wins for Penn State. Our wrestling team made us proud -- again -- when it captured its second straight NCAA Championship in a decisive victory. In addition to the team championship, there were three individual champions as well -- senior Frank Molinaro, sophomore David Taylor and sophomore Ed Ruth. As you may have guessed by the polite and muscle-bound group here today, several of the wrestlers and coaches have joined us. I'd like our wrestlers and coaches to introduce themselves, but before I do, I want to note that our wrestlers are academic stars. The average GPA of the students here today is 3.56, which is remarkable given their rigorous and time-consuming practice schedule.

Our Lady Lions Head Basketball Coach Coquese Washington is more than a presence on the court; she has built strong bonds with the community through outreach and inventive communication tools like an online discussion board. I asked Coquese to join us so we can recognize her for an outstanding season. She led her team with integrity, heart and Lady Lion spirit. Coquese was named Big Ten Coach of the Year and the 2012 Russell Athletic/WBCA Region 6 Coach of the Year. Please join me in recognizing Coach Washington or Coach Quese if you prefer.

I also want to call your attention to a few athletes who may have slipped under your radar. For example, Penn State pitcher Steven Hill turned heads when he became the first Penn Stater to throw a no-hitter since 1995.

Freshman sensation Robby Creese became just the third athlete in Penn State history to break the four-minute barrier in the mile run.

And Nate Savoy became the first swimmer in the history of the program to be named Big Ten Freshman of the Year. He also earned his first collegiate All-America honors.

Last Saturday, the Penn State men's volleyball team took the EIVA Championship title, for the 14th straight season. The victory sent Penn State to the NCAA National Collegiate Men's Volleyball Championship as the No. 4 seed facing No. 1 seed US-Irvine last night.

And here's an achievement that has special significance to Penn State as we continue to strive for athletic and academic excellence. Sixty-three Penn State student-athletes, representing seven sports, earned Winter Academic All-Big Ten honors. Penn State's 63 honorees bring the Nittany Lions' all-time total to nearly 4,000 during the 18 years of the conference academic program. Congratulations go to our athletes, coaches, academic advisers and staff supporting the needs of our student-athletes.

Finally, I have a few items from Development to share.

The groundbreaking for the Pegula Ice Arena, Hockey Valley is officially here. It was a momentous occasion, made even more special by the Pegulas, who increased their total support to $102 million for the arena and scholarships. Terry and Kim Pegula's unprecedented generosity to Penn State is inspiring and transformative, and we look forward to the arena's opening in time for the 2013-14 season.

The class of 2012 also has demonstrated their commitment to Penn State's future. This year, the class continued the senior class gift tradition with a commitment to create a Nittany Lion Shrine Historical Display. It will depict the shrine's history, from the origins of the Nittany Lion as the University's mascot in 1907 to the statue's completion as the 1940 senior class gift and what was to become the enduring symbol of Penn State. The class of 2012's gift also will add improved lighting and ADA accessibility, making the shrine more visitor friendly all year round. In addition, because the campaign met Ed and Helen Hintz's challenge to obtain more than the 3,000 pledges, Ed and Helen have generously offered to endow a $50,000 Trustee Scholarship in the name of the class.

Thank you, Ed and Helen, for your support of this meaningful tradition.

One recent graduate who is already giving back is David Rusenko, the CEO and co-founder of Weebly, a tech start-up based in San Francisco. David is a 2007 graduate of Penn State's College of Information Sciences and Technology and the youngest recipient of the Penn State Alumni Achievement Award. He returned to campus to share his experience with our students and to donate a $400,000 gift to create the David Rusenko Scholarship for Entrepreneurship, which will help IST students to launch their own companies while they are still in school.

Last Friday, I had the pleasure of participating in a wonderful evening to honor Susan Welch's 20-year tenure as dean of the College of the Liberal Arts. Only a handful of academic deans have previously reached the 20-year mark, and none of them have been women. Susan is a role model, a pioneer and a visionary. To recognize Susan's unique contributions to Penn State, alumni, faculty, staff and friends came together to raise more than $3 million in honor of her legacy. More than 80 percent of the commitments are targeted to graduate education, one of the dean's top fundraising priorities in For the Future: The Campaign for Penn State Students.

Finally, in March, I promised we would invite THON's 2012 overall chair Elaine Tanella, to today's meeting. As you know, this year THON set another record -- $10.7 million for the Four Diamonds Fund at the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. I'm very pleased Elaine could attend this meeting, along with the 2013 overall chair, Will Martin, and Barry Bram, who serves as the official University adviser to THON, in addition to his full-time duties as senior associate director of unions and student activities in Student Affairs.

Elaine, Will and Barry, will you please rise? These three represent the past, present and future of THON, and the tens of thousands of hours that make THON the largest student philanthropy in the world. Please join me in thanking them.

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Last Updated May 11, 2012