Board of Trustees meets; President Erickson's remarks

September 14, 2012

Penn State President Rodney Erickson delivered the following remarks during the regular meeting of the Board of Trustees, held Sept. 14 on the University Park campus.

Good afternoon and welcome. This is the first board meeting of the new academic year, and classes have been in session for about three weeks. I want to say how nice it is to be surrounded by the rhythms of academic life -- papers to be written, quizzes to be graded and department potlucks to be attended. I’ve often thought that one of the main symbols of our academic life -- especially for young faculty or grad students -- is a covered casserole dish.

Perhaps more than any other year, we have all welcomed this return to normalcy and the energy that the students bring to campus.

It seems that at least one administrator thought school looked like so much fun, he decided to return to the classroom as well. Bill Mahon will be stepping down from his position as vice president for University Relations later this year. He has accepted a faculty position in the College of Communications beginning in the upcoming spring semester. Much as we’ll miss him, I couldn’t be more pleased for our students and faculty. Bill will contribute a truly unique set of experiences in public relations and journalism, as well as leadership in internal and external communications and social media.

Notably, Penn State’s social media initiatives were recently ranked No. 1 in the country, according to an assessment of 1,600 schools.

In addition, U.S. News & World Report ranks Penn State among the Top 50 Best National Universities. Our reputational ranking is also outstanding. This year, Penn State moved ahead two places to 36th place. We’ll have a chance to thank Bill later, but let’s take a moment to recognize him now.

We won’t have the final numbers for the incoming class until later this fall, but I had the opportunity to welcome a very enthusiastic group of students at the President’s New Student Convocation, and they turned out in record numbers for Be a Part from the Start the next day.

At this point, we’re fairly confident that our final new student enrollment at University Park will be just over 7,700, which will be a 120-student increase over last year’s incoming class. The numbers for the Commonwealth Campuses are still changing, but we do expect to be down somewhat from last year.

It’s also not too early to think about next year’s class, and it’s clear that high school seniors are thinking about us. We opened the application window on September 1 and almost immediately about 1,000 students pushed the send button to submit their application. This is fairly typical behavior of ambitious, college-bound seniors, and we will certainly keep you updated throughout the year. 

This September also saw the launch of a new way to celebrate all that is right about Penn State.  "Faces of Penn State" showcases the personal accomplishments, public contributions and pioneering spirit resulting from the Penn State experience, education and community.  The students, faculty, staff, administrators, alumni and local community members featured in the campaign embody Penn State’s values of teaching, research and service, and have reached significant personal or professional achievements.

The campaign will select individuals on a rolling basis throughout the academic year and highlight their stories on Since its launch, the page has had more than 4,100 visitors. For a brief introduction to this campaign, visit:

With that theme in mind, I have few people I’d like to recognize today.

First, I’m very pleased that Evan Pugh Professor Bruce Logan could join us to receive his medal. 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. Bruce, can you please join me at the podium?

Dr. Logan joined the Penn State faculty in 1997. His research has focused on the sustainability of the water infrastructure and the production of electricity from biomass to help provide energy for the needs of water infrastructure. He specializes in microbial fuel cells, biological hydrogen production and new methods of renewable energy production. Dr. Logan received his doctorate from University of California, Berkeley. He is a Fellow of the Water Environmental Federation and International Water Association. Dr. Logan received the Athalie Richardson Irvine Clarke Prize for his research in water science and technologies in 2009.


Also with us today is Chris Staley, the Penn State Laureate for 2012-13. Chris is a ceramic artist and distinguished professor of art, and his work is included in collections around the world. He also is a gifted and visionary teacher, who has been reaching out to the community with a series of videos on YouTube.  So far, he has discussed whether you can teach creativity -- the answer is yes by the way. And recently he addressed "How do you Grade Art?," which attempts to explain why some paintings that look like your child did them are hanging on museum walls. I encourage you to go online to watch the video; you’ll see there are good reasons! During Chris’s laureate year, he plans to visit many of the Commonwealth Campuses, and he’ll be delivering a lecture at an upcoming Penn State Forum. Chris, can you please stand to be recognized? Please join me in thanking Chris Staley for sharing his talents with the Penn State community.

As a direct result of our outstanding faculty, Penn State’s research enterprise continues to show robust growth. Over the last decade, our research expenditures have doubled to reach more than $807 million last year. That is quite a feat and a credit to Hank Foley, our vice president for research, and our terrific faculty given the fiscal challenges that have faced our economy, the federal agencies and other funding sources. It also is a confirmation of the value of the research being conducted across our great University.

Consider a few examples:

Penn State’s Applied Research Lab was just awarded a $48 million contract through the Defense Advanced Research Agency to lead an effort to streamline the design and manufacture of U.S. Department of Defense equipment, including weapons and other complex systems. This project has the potential to revolutionize the design and building process for complex defense systems and to significantly shorten the time from prototype to field use. ARL will lead a team comprised of commercial, military and academic partners.

Last week, Penn State was named as one of four universities who will collaborate on a national nanotechnology research effort to help develop self-monitoring health devices. This effort will be supported by a $18.5 million National Science Foundation grant, and it has the potential to transform health care by improving the way doctors, patients and researchers gather and interpret important health data.

The Penn State team includes faculty from the colleges of Engineering, Earth and Mineral Sciences, Education, and Health and Human Development, with Tom Jackson, Penn State professor of electrical engineering, serving as the center’s research director.

The National Science Foundation also has recognized Penn State with a $3 million IGERT grant to support innovative Big Data Social Science training for future researchers.

Political scientist Burt Monroe will lead a multi-disciplinary team from the colleges of the Liberal Arts, Information Sciences and Technology, Earth and Mineral Sciences, Health and Human Development, and Engineering to develop new curricula and training in advanced technologies of data science and analytics.

There also will be a challenge mechanism, under which interdisciplinary teams compete to innovate solutions to real social data analytics problems. IGERTs are scarce, and this is only the second in Penn State's history.

Another research area where Penn State continues to make new discoveries is in the deepest seas.

Iliana Baums, assistant professor of biology, recently validated a hypothesis developed by Darwin in 1880. Darwin believed that most species could not cross the Eastern Pacific marine barrier, and Dr. Baums's study is the first comprehensive test of that hypothesis using coral. Her work has important implications for climate change research, species-preservation efforts, and the economic stability of the eastern Pacific region.

Another seafaring researcher, professor of biology Charles Fisher, was recently honored with the Excellence in Partnership Award by the National Oceanographic Partnership Program for his work in the Gulf of Mexico.

And here’s one more noteworthy award. Suzanne Shontz, assistant professor of computer science and engineering, was among 96 researchers named by the White House as recipients of the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers. This is the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their research careers.

This fall, people everywhere will see “Why We Dance,” a 60-minute documentary on THON. Created by Penn State Public Broadcasting, this project chronicles the student-run philanthropy, and the children, families and students who are changed by the experience.

The premiere will take place this afternoon at the Hershey Theatre, and over the next several weeks, this video will be shown to a wide range of audiences.  It also will be broadcast throughout Pennsylvania on Sept. 27 and will be available online and through Comcast on Demand.

I wish to introduce some of the people responsible for the project. Would the following people please stand: Craig Weidemann, vice president for Outreach, Jeff Hughes, executive producer, Cole Cullen, producer and director, and Laura Miller, marketing strategist. Please join me in recognizing their dedication and excellent work.

This week also saw the first Career Days of this year. We had more than 500 employers attend the three-day long event and interview thousands of students. Our fall career days are just one of a vast number of career fair offerings over the course of a typical year. We also have been encouraged by the fact that prominent employers are targeting Penn State as one of their top tier schools for recruitment. What’s more, at Penn State the Career Days are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of career assistance for students.

Penn State Careers Services offers student resume databases and job postings, on-campus interviewing, employer partner programs, access to career programs for Commonwealth Campus students, and graduate follow-up surveys. All of this supports Penn State’s No. 1 ranking among career recruiters and the recent Princeton Review ranking that placed our Career Services at the No. 2 spot in the nation.

One upcoming event that has received national attention is “The Child Sexual Abuse Conference: Traumatic Impact, Prevention and Intervention.” Organized by the Penn State Justice Center for Research and Penn State Outreach, the conference will convene some of the nation’s top experts in child sexual abuse and child trauma research, prevention, and treatment for a public forum on this nationwide problem. Speakers will include Sugar Ray Leonard and Elizabeth Smart, both of whom suffered sexual abuse as children.

The response has been excellent and registration is now full. I would like to introduce the organizers of the conference, and ask that they please stand. From the Penn State Justice Center, we have Doris MacKenzie, who serves as director, and Kate Staley, who conducts research. Pam Driftmier is director of conferences at Penn State Outreach. Please join me in thanking them for planning this important conference.

Also, I’m pleased to announce that Benjamin Levi, professor of pediatrics and humanities, has assumed the directorship of the Center for the Protection of Children at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital Dr. Levi is a practicing pediatrician and highly published expert in the area of mandated reporting of suspected child abuse. He will focus on development of the Children’s Hospital clinical program for child protection, a program integral to the center’s mission to improve the detection, treatment and prevention of child abuse.

Moving on to community news, I want to say how much I enjoyed participating in the fifth annual LION WALK this year. This is a joint initiative between Penn State and State College Borough. Over the course of the evening more than 150 volunteers reached out to residents in more than 700 homes. Our message of  “We are…one community,” was well received by all -- especially when it was delivered by the Nittany Lion, who had gifts for the students! Joining us were State College Borough Chief of Police Tom King, State College Mayor Elizabeth Goreham, Tom Poole, Damon Sims, along with many other Penn Staters.

Another annual tradition is Ag Progress Days, which were held in August at the Russell E. Larson Agricultural Research Center at Rock Springs. Although I was not nearly as popular as the rabbits or the go-cart races, it was a great pleasure to speak to a capacity crowd at the annual Government and Industries Luncheon and to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act, which paved the way for land-grant education.

Last week, I had the pleasure of visiting Penn State Beaver for the dedication of their new Wellness Center.  This beautiful project was a true community collaboration made possible through the use of the Beaver campus Student Facility Fee, generous philanthropy and the commitment of the faculty and staff. Centers such as this further our goal of enhancing the student experience, both in an out of the classroom.

Later this afternoon, we’ll dedicate the 2011 Senior Class Gift, which is a Veterans Plaza in honor of Lt. Michael P. Murphy, Penn State distinguished alumnus and Medal of Honor winner. This dedication comes just days after heavily armed militants attacked the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya, killing four Americans.  One of the fallen was Sean Smith, a Foreign Service information specialist, Air Force veteran and active World Campus student.

Sean was unexpectedly deployed to Libya last week for what was to be one month. His concern, beyond leaving his wife and two children in the Netherlands, was keeping up with his World Campus coursework due to “power outages and meeting deadlines.”

Words cannot adequately convey the magnitude of this loss. Sean and his family are in our thoughts and prayers. This tragedy is a solemn reminder of the importance of honoring our veterans and those who risk their lives in service of our country. I hope you will join me at 5:30 in Schwab Auditorium as we recognize the many veterans and military families who have served our nation with courage and fortitude.

Moving on to Athletics. This season, our athletes continue to show their commitment, pride and unity through their actions and support for one another. Penn State has 800 student-athletes and 31 varsity sports, but just one team. This is evidenced by the camaraderie among the coaches, the athletes and the community. As Bill O’Brien said, “We’re one team. We should be able to support our coaches and student-athletes in every sport, no matter where they play.”

That was certainly the case for the women’s soccer home opener against No. 1 ranked Stanford. The match attracted an overcapacity crowd of 5,117 spectators, which smashed the previous mark of 3,912. The game was a heartbreaker for the Nittany Lions, but the fans were treated to a thrilling competition.  There will be more action to come this season with star players like juniors Maya Hayes and Taylor Schram. Last weekend, Maya and Taylor were in Japan, playing in the U20 World Cup with the USA Team. They helped their team win an upset victory over Germany to claim the World Cup. Both of these women are phenomenal players, and they’re currently back at Penn State…just in time to host Wisconsin on Sunday.

Penn Staters also made their mark in the ultimate international competition -- the Olympics. A total of five Penn State alums earned medals at this year’s games, and a school record 17 Penn Staters represented their school and countries. Medal winners include: Megan Hodge and Christa Harmotto, who won silver for Women’s Volleyball; Erin McLeod and Carmelina Moscato, who earned bronze for Team Canada’s soccer, or rather, football team; and Natalie Dell, a 2007 graduate and member of the club-level Penn State rowing squad, who earned a bronze medal for Team U.S.A.

Finally, I wish to turn your attention to Penn State employees, who loyally support our community members in need through the United Way.

In the face of difficult economic times and very challenging University times, Penn State employees continue to help others. Centre County United Way is Penn State’s “charity of choice,” and you will find our employees working year-round on ways to raise funds that approach $1 million dollars for local United Way agencies.

Trash to Treasure is one of the biggest fund-raisers, but our employees pitch in for Day of Caring, and they come up with other creative ideas as well -- like a Dunk-the Dean contest and the Big Burger Challenge, where teams strive to be the first to finish a 15-pound burger. I’ve heard that the Physical Plant team usually wins, but then again, they go up against the Penn State Student United Way group, which usually has a vegetarian or two.  If any of the trustees want to form a team, contact this year’s Penn State United Way chair, Damon Sims.

Now, please join me in recognizing Damon for his leadership, Chris Brady, who served as last year’s chair, along with all faculty and staff who contribute to this worthy charity.

Now I’ll be happy to take your questions.

Last Updated November 15, 2012