Board of Trustees meets; President Erickson delivers remarks

Penn State President Rodney Erickson addressed the Board of Trustees today (March 7) at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

Before I begin my regular update, let's take a moment to recognize the passing of Dr. Joab Thomas, Penn State's 15th president. He passed away peacefully on Monday at Hospice of West Alabama in Tuscaloosa. He was 81.

It was a privilege and honor to work with Joab. He cared deeply about the people at Penn State -- particularly our students -- and he was single-minded in his pursuit of educational excellence.

During his tenure as president, Joab led efforts to strengthen undergraduate education; he initiated the largest building program in the University's history; and his focus on fiscal responsibility resulted in more efficient resource allocation, as well as enhanced philanthropy and corporate partnerships.

In addition, Joab oversaw Penn State's entry into the Big Ten athletic conference and the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, the academic consortium of the conference.

Beyond these achievements, Joab will always be remembered for his kindness, his personal notes to faculty, students and staff, and the great care with which he undertook his responsibilities as president.

Let's share a moment of silence to honor Dr. Joab Thomas.

Now I'd like to acknowledge Hal Paz and the many faculty members, staff and students, who have worked so hard to make our meetings here productive and informative. Penn State Hershey is a wonderful asset for this region, and is critical in advancing Penn State's mission of teaching, research and service. Please join me in thanking everyone at Penn State Hershey for a job well done.

Thank you!

As Keith noted, I recently participated in the House and Senate Appropriation Budget Hearings in Harrisburg. Although the legislators were supportive of Penn State and the other state-related institutions, if the governor's budget proposal stands as recommended, it will require Penn State to make difficult choices. But we are aiming to keep to a minimum any tuition increase we bring to you for approval in July. We're sensitive to the fact that working families are struggling to meet the higher education needs of their children, and we're committed to keeping Penn State affordable and accessible.

Led by Mike DiRaimo and his staff in Governmental Affairs, we are working diligently every day to make a compelling case for more funding with members of the General Assembly and the Administration.

As I do at each meeting, I'll provide a brief admissions update. Our applications for admission continue to outpace last year's numbers. Baccalaureate applications are up by almost 9,000 compared to last year at this time, an increase of 19 percent at University Park and 8 percent at the Commonwealth campuses. Out-of-state applications are up 26 percent, Pennsylvania applications are up 8 percent, and international applications rose again this year by 18 percent. Minority applications exceed those received last year to date by 16 percent.

The quality of the applicant pool is noticeably higher, too, with average SAT scores about 20 points higher. With nearly 6,700 acceptances so far, the 2014 undergraduate class is taking shape.

The Graduate School is also showing strong growth. Graduate applications are up 5 percent compared to this time last year, and Law and Medical School applications are higher by 13 and 18 percent, respectively. Notably, applications to the College of Medicine topped 8,800 earlier this week; these prospective students will be competing for 145 spaces in this fall's entering class.

Penn State's reputation continues to climb in national and international rankings. This week we learned that Penn State now ranks 39th among universities worldwide in the fourth annual Times Higher Education World Reputation Rankings. This ranking is based on the world's largest survey of its kind, and engages more than 300,000 academics and researchers, who are asked to identify institutions they consider to be the best in terms of research and teaching.

Although students choose colleges for many reasons -- rankings, cost, location, or majors -- the No. 1 reason students choose a college is academic reputation. In fact, 64 percent of the students surveyed in a study of American Freshman Norms by UCLA researchers cited academic reputation as very important in influencing their final college selection.

The faculty is the main driver of academic reputation, and Penn State is fortunate to have faculty members who rank among the top tier in their disciplines.

Take Dr. Susan Russell for example. Susan was just named the Penn State Laureate for 2014-15. An associate professor of theater, Susan has a distinguished background as an actor, musician, playwright, stage director, teacher, speaker, author and community advocate.

In 2007, she created Cultural Conversations, which is a new visual, theater and dance festival devoted to promoting and fostering new works that circle themes of global and local diversity. She has worked with the State College Area School District to explore issues that affect middle- and high-school students. She has also pioneered cross-disciplinary creativity in the recent Penn State MOOC (massive open online course) titled Creativity, Innovation and Change. With over 120,000 registered students, this was one of the most popular courses ever offered through Coursera.

Speaking of MOOC's, Penn State's five MOOC's have yielded total registrations of 373,000, of which 232,000 students accessed the course materials. Over 8 percent of those starting the courses completed them; that's a relatively high percentage among our peers.

Although there is still no identifiable business model for the MOOC experiment, the learning, the research, the reach and connections, and the impact on the participating MOOC faculty's resident instruction has exceeded our expectations. And we believe our participation in these MOOC's will positively benefit Penn State's visibility in the online marketplace that is served by our award-winning World Campus.

In other research news, this year three Penn State Liberal Arts faculty members were awarded National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowships to continue their writing projects. The recipients are Hester Blum, associate professor of English; Debra Hawhee, professor of English and communication arts and sciences; and Janina Safran, associate professor of history.

Although I've heard scientists say, "It's not magic, it's science," sometimes it really does seem like magic. For example, a Penn State team of chemists and engineers have successfully placed tiny synthetic motors inside live human cells, and then propelled them with ultrasonic waves and steered them magnetically. While it's not quite the "Fantastic Voyage" or "The Magic School Bus," this research could lead to new treatments for cancer and other diseases, as well as intercellular surgery and drug delivery.

Another story that made news in Forbes, Time Magazine, Science World Report and other publications involves a new technique developed by Penn State scientists that can detect water vapor on distant planets. As you may know from "Star Trek," evidence of water provides important clues to the atmosphere as well as how planets form and evolve. Whether life exists on other planets is still science fiction, but this new research is helping discover new worlds.

When discussing the transformative research under way on our campuses, it's important to note how critical it is that we have modern, top-notch facilities. We are working toward that goal, and although we often focus on our large-scale building projects, I want to recognize the care and detail that goes into the smaller projects as well.

One such building is the Pell Laboratory for Advanced Biological Studies at Penn State. This state-of-the-art lab recently received an Honor Award from the New England Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. This is the highest award given to a project designed by New England architects. The Pell Lab was recognized for its innovative plan, well organized research spaces, and design as a Select-Agent facility, which allows it to take on advanced research projects.

A hallmark of a Penn State education is the ability of our students to work with faculty on original research as undergraduates. Recently, Business Insider featured the accomplishments of 18 incredibly impressive Penn State students. While this group only scratches the surface of the many wonderful students working on our campuses, it does offer a nice range of the work under way.

For example, Megan Draper, a Penn State Brandywine student, traveled to Borneo to work with the Orangutan Tropical Peatland Project. This organization is striving to safeguard several of the most significant areas of tropical rain forest, using research and conservation solutions to achieve their goals. 

Noor Nahavandi, a business student, is a serial entrepreneur. He started a Web design and online marketing company when he was a freshman, and has added Nittany Consulting Group to his business portfolio. Noor won the 2013 Smeal Case Competition, and his goal is to build companies that have a positive impact on the world.

Then there's Marcy Herr, an education major, who has been focused on children's rights and education. Marcy will receive the 2014 Penn State Undergraduate Student Leadership and Service Award, which is given to only one undergraduate student a year. Upon graduation, Marcy will join the Teach for America program.

Penn State students are not only in the news, they report it too in award-winning fashion. For the second year in a row, "Centre County Report," a weekly TV newscast produced by College of Communications students, earned the top awards in the Broadcast Education Association Festival of Media Arts. Johanna Rojas was named best anchor.

Turning to Intercollegiate Athletics. The Penn State Lady Lions claimed their third consecutive Big Ten regular-season championship with a win over Michigan last Saturday. It was the first time that the Lady Lions have won three consecutive regular-season conference championships. The Lady Lions also earned the top seed in the 2014 Big Ten Tournament. 

The Penn State Women's Track & Field team captured the Big Ten Indoor Championship, beating Michigan in the last event of the day -- the 4x400 relay. The women will head to the NCAA Indoor Championships next weekend.

Our wrestling team is the 2014 Big Ten regular season co-champion, and this weekend our wrestlers are making a run at the fourth–straight Big Ten title. They're also in contention for another national title in two weeks, so stay tuned. Several other spring sports teams are also ranked among the top teams nationally.

While I often recount the team accomplishments of our student-athletes, I wish to share a compelling story of a different kind.

When the mother of a Penn State lacrosse player needed a bone marrow transplant, the men's hockey team volunteered to get tested in the national "Be a Match" program to see if a match could be found.

Assistant captain David Glen wasn't a match for his friend's mother, but he was a match for a stranger undergoing cancer treatments. Although the procedure and recovery take 7-10 days and can result in deep bone pain, fatigue and headaches, David readily volunteered for the blood stem cell donation. Although he missed part of the hockey season, he's back on the ice with his team. He commented that it was well worth the sacrifice to give someone a second chance. He said, "I'm just excited to have had the opportunity and be able to help someone out."

We're counting down to the official closing celebration of For the Future: The Campaign for Penn State Students, a weekend-long event that will begin on Friday, April 11, and continue through the Blue-White game and a spectacular Saturday evening at Eisenhower Auditorium.

Our development team has planned an exciting range of activities for our most generous donors and volunteers, from a photo safari highlighting the importance of philanthropy across the University to tours of the Children's Garden of the Arboretum at Penn State, the Steve Jones Student Broadcasting Complex and other facilities made possible through private gifts.

The Eisenhower Auditorium event will showcase the campaign's impact and offer stories, songs and a few surprises, and it will culminate in an announcement you won't want to miss. I hope that you will be able to join us for this historic celebration so that our students and our campaign leaders can express their thanks in person for all of your support.

Finally, a few words about THON 2014 and a new record -- $13.3 million for the Four Diamonds Fund at Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital. Although much of the attention is focused on THON weekend, the effort is year-round, and it goes well beyond University Park.

More than 100 schools and 20,000 students participate in the Mini-THON program, and to date they have raised more than $10 million For the Kids. Penn State's Commonwealth campuses and the World Campus also contribute generously and fully participate. This is a wonderful example of how Penn State is one university, geographically dispersed, and all working together for the kids. 

THON has always received excellent press coverage throughout the region, and this year, Penn State broke onto the national television news scene. Penn State students appeared on "Good Morning America" and "ABC World News." I'll end with a short clip.

That concludes my remarks. Now I'll be happy to take your questions.

Last Updated March 07, 2014