Board of Trustees meets; President Spanier's remarks

Graham B. Spanier
May 13, 2011

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the awarding of the first baccalaureate degrees at Penn State. In 1861, 11 students received a bachelor of scientific agriculture, and Penn State historian Wayland Dunaway noted "all 11 became useful citizens of the Commonwealth, 8 lived to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the class, two became [Penn State] Trustees, and one became an outstanding Penn State professor."

One person who seems like he has been with Penn State from those very early days is Norman Freed, associate dean in the Eberly College of Science. Norm just announced he is retiring in June. Let me give you an idea of how long Norm has served Penn State: When I was named an associate dean at Penn State 31 years ago, I remember considering Norm one of the senior members of the dean’s council. There are very few people in the history of Penn State who have contributed as much as Norm to the success of the day-to-day functioning of this University. Norm is turning 75 and his wife has been after him for years to retire. Only at Penn State do you find people in their mid-70s having to make excuses for why they’re retiring. Thank you, Norm.

I also would like to take a moment to recognize Rich DiEugenio for representing Penn State at the dedication of the Navy destroyer named in honor Penn State alumnus, Michael Murphy, the Navy Seal who received the medal of honor. Thank you, Rich.

This weekend will mark a special milestone in the history of Penn State, because we will be awarding the 700,000th Penn State degree. The recipient will be one of the almost 12,000 students who will graduate University-wide -- 629 with associate degrees; 9,946 with baccalaureate degrees; 1,091 with graduate degrees; 152 with medical degrees; and 178 with law degrees.

At lunch today we’ll have an opportunity to meet the impressive student marshals, their families and faculty advisers. We’re very proud of the students' accomplishments, ambition and desire to change the world for the better.

We’re also pleased with the outlook for our incoming class. Applications are ahead of last year by about 6,000, and we are on target to receive more than 120,000 applications for admission. Graduate applications are ahead of last year by 8 percent. Overall baccalaureate applications are up 9 percent for University Park and up 5 percent at the Commonwealth Campuses. Total international undergraduate applications are up by 53 percent.

This robust growth has led to some changes in the educational patterns of the typical Penn State student. Sixty percent of Penn State students begin their education at our Commonwealth Campuses, and many are staying on those campuses to complete their baccalaureate degrees.

Students also have embraced Penn State’s World Campus, which was named the No. 1 online institution in 2011 by the Best Colleges. Our World Campus course enrollments are growing by about 30 percent annually, reaching nearly 40,000 enrollments last year.

Another category of students that has grown dramatically is adult students. About 34,000 of Penn State’s students are now more than 24 years of age. Their path to graduation is often very different than that of the traditional student that you find at most colleges and universities. We enroll a large number of veterans, for example, and a large percentage of the students at many of our campuses are non-traditional students.

As you know, all of our students are worried about expenses, and we’re always looking for ways to reduce costs. For example, this year we piloted a textbook rental program in cooperation with our Barnes and Noble Penn State Bookstore. Students have reaped more than $2 million in textbook cost savings by renting instead of purchasing new this year. The program will be expanded for the next year.

I want to give you an update on our employee special assistance fund, which provides emergency financial support for faculty and staff facing a wide range of personal or family hardships. Established in 2003 through an initial private gift of $2 million, the fund’s endowment has grown to nearly $3.6 million with additional gifts and earnings. Last year alone, about $200,000 was distributed to employees to ease financial difficulties caused by emergencies such as catastrophic medical bills, funeral expenses, fires or the inability to make a critical payment when spouses lose a job. I’m very pleased we can provide this safety net for our most needy employees.

Now, I’d like to share some recent highlights from our outstanding faculty.

It’s hard to find a place where Evan Pugh Professor of Geosciences Richard Alley hasn't been -- be it Antarctica, New Zealand, Brazil, the local soccer field or church on Sundays. And now Richard can come into your living room as the host of "Earth: The Operators' Manual," a PBS show and companion book that dispenses with politics, polemics or punditry; instead it presents an objective, accessible assessment of the Earth's problems and possibilities that leaves viewers informed, energized and optimistic.

Here is a short clip from the show (see http://www.earththeoperatorsmanual.com/).

I hope you’ll have an opportunity to see the program on your local PBS station.

When you turn off the TV and pick up Time Magazine, you’ll find another Penn State professor of geosciences -- Terry Engelder. Among the energy community, Terry is something of a rock star, Marcellus rock formations, that is.

Time Magazine noted that Terry "played a key role in the discovery of the Marcellus Shale," and that his efforts estimated the recoverable amount of natural gas to be the energy equivalent to 86 billion barrels of oil. Terry and scores of other Penn State colleagues have been behind the research that is making this emerging industry viable in Pennsylvania.

Penn State has a long and distinguished track record of accomplishments in the many fields related to energy. The scope of these activities has increased markedly in recent years. We want to make certain that the University is well-positioned to respond to future opportunities by leveraging our strengths to grow the Commonwealth's economy and meet the nation's energy needs. Hank Foley, Rod Erickson and I, along with our key college deans and lead faculty, are considering changes to our research organization to better highlight our science and engineering capabilities within a more visible energy institute.

We foresee a University-wide institute comprised of a number of existing energy-focused units as well as a new Center for Natural Gas Engineering that will build upon and further strengthen our capabilities to support the development of the Marcellus Shale.

This center would include such disciplines as reservoir characterization and engineering, advanced drilling technologies, seismology and stratigraphy, new technologies for gas separation and methane conversion. Innovative approaches will be discovered for downstream production, distribution and utilization of natural gas, including critical applications in transportation and power generation. I should add that Penn State also has the knowledge base to help inform many of the ongoing discussions concerning the environmental impacts of Marcellus Shale resource use.

Continuing with the energy theme, I have a few updates on the progress of the Energy Innovation Hub at the Navy Yard. As you may recall, Penn State received $129 million from several federal sources, including the Department of Energy, and an additional $30 million from Pennsylvania to develop ways to make buildings more efficient. That impact is already spreading throughout the state. For example, the project has partnered with SK Global, a Fortune 100 company based in South Korea, on a competitive proposal to the Korean government for an $80 million smart grid initiative, which would enhance energy security, reduce greenhouse gases and improve air quality. If successful, the SK proposal would bring $10 million of Korean government funding to the Navy Yard.

The Hub is assisting Pittsburgh Gateways in its efforts to develop the Connelly Center in downtown Pittsburgh as a clean energy technology center.

We are working with economic development leaders in Berks County to help develop the battery industry cluster in that region of the state as a national center of excellence in electric energy storage technology. Our researchers are also competing for a $2 million smart grid innovation award sponsored by Siemens, which is a partner in the Hub.

Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences has had a productive spring. Recently, three professors in the College of Agricultural Sciences were awarded a total of more than $2.8 million in Sustainable Bioenergy Grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture. And just last week, Penn State received a five-year, $5 million federal grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to study the availability of fresh and affordable food in places that are dubbed "food deserts" due to their limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

Much of our research enterprise is supported by the resources of the Penn State Libraries.

This past year, our libraries logged 6.4 million visitors. According to the latest Association of Research Libraries investment rankings, Penn State is now seventh out of all research libraries in North America.

Moving onto other news…

As the result of a five-year, $1 million grant from the Office of Chinese Languages Council International in China, we hosted academic leaders from the Dalian University of Technology to celebrate the opening of the Confucius Institute at Penn State and the Penn State - Dalian Joint Center for Energy Research.

The Confucius Institute at Penn State will promote the study of the Chinese language and culture, and research on China, not only at Penn State, but also in local K-12 schools.

The Joint Center for Energy Research will promote the development and application of clean energy technologies. Penn State’s EMS Energy Institute will coordinate the faculty and student collaborations in clean energy research.

This past academic year we enjoyed Professor Robin Becker’s tenure as the Penn State Laureate. She brought innovative ideas to the position, posting regular poetry readings on-line, and sharing her creativity with Penn Staters across the Commonwealth. Now I have the pleasure of announcing that the 2011-2012 Penn State Laureate will be Linda Patterson Miller, professor of English at Penn State Abington. Linda publishes in all areas of American studies, but her specialty is early 20th-century American literature and art and the development of Modernism. Much of her research has focused on American expatriates in France during the 1920s, and she is perhaps best known for her studies on the Lost Generation.

Linda earned a bachelor of arts degree from Hope College, a master of arts degree from Ohio State and a Ph.D. from the University of Delaware. You’ll have a chance to meet Linda over the next year.

In athletics, our coaches had a banner year.

Penn State Women’s Basketball Head Coach Coquese Washington was named the 2011 Female Coach of the Year by the Black Coaches & Administrators after leading her team to a second place finish in the Big Ten standings and a spot in the NCAA tournament for the first time since the 2004-05 season.

Penn State named Guy Gadowsky as the first head coach of the NCAA Division I men’s ice hockey program. Guy brings 15 years of head coaching experience to Penn State. For the last seven years he led the Princeton Tigers, securing NCAA Championship berths in 2008 and ’09 and the 2008 ECAC Hockey Championship. A native of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, Guy was head coach at Alaska-Fairbanks for five years and has earned league coach of the year honors at each of his three head coaching posts.

In his second year as head wrestling coach, Cael Sanderson guided his team to an NCAA Championship -- its first national title since 1953. In addition, sophomore Quentin Wright won the national crown at 184 pounds.

Penn State’s highly successful athletic year has put Penn State into the No. 3 position in the Learfield Sports Directors' Cup standings. The Nittany Lions are one of only 10 programs nationwide to finish in the Top 25 in every ranking.

Many of you have personal experience with the benefits of competitive sports, but I want to remind you of how sports touch the lives of fans as well. After the devastation that struck the South, students at Penn State and five southern universities came together to raise money for the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa.

Ben Jones, the Penn State student who championed the idea on his blog, said, "I came up with the idea and passed it around to some of the other Penn State blogs. We had been talking about a way to give back to Alabama fans for being so nice to us last year.…This was a chance to mobilize." Although the sites accepted donations via PayPal, they were mainly designed to channel interested donors to established charitable foundations working for Alabama.

On the international front, a Penn State ARL team provided software to visualize radiological plume coverage in support of the Navy's Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief operations in Japan. This visualization was used by the Navy to more effectively coordinate response efforts. Penn State ARL support for Operation TOMODACHI is ongoing.

As I do each year, I recently hosted the 16th annual Road Scholars bus tour. Trustees Riley and Hughes, the dean of the Libraries, Barbara Dewey, and 50 new and newly tenured faculty members from 12 different campuses boarded the buses for northwestern Pennsylvania.

We made stops that included Penn College, a Marcellus Shale site, Cooperative Extension sites, the Maritime Museum, Presque Isle, Port Erie Plastics, Penn State Erie, The Behrend College, the Drake Well Museum and Penn State DuBois. This road trip is always a wonderful opportunity for faculty to better understand that Penn State is one University, geographically dispersed, with deep roots throughout the state. I hope other Trustees will consider joining us next year.

Now I’ll be happy to take your questions.

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Last Updated July 14, 2011