Board of Trustees meets; President Erickson's remarks

March 16, 2012

President Rodney Erickson's Remarks to the Board of Trustees
1:15 p.m.., March 16, 2012
University Fitness and Conference Center, Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center

Welcome. To begin I wish to thank Dr. Hal Paz and our other hosts for their hospitality over the last two days. This has been a great opportunity to explore how this campus contributes to Penn State’s mission of teaching, research and service, as it fulfills a critical need for health care in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Dr. Paz will update you on the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and College of Medicine, so I’ll focus on other news.

One of the most pressing orders of business is the discussion surrounding the state appropriation to Penn State. This is indeed a very tough budget year for Pennsylvania, and I don’t envy the task of Gov. Tom Corbett and the General Assembly in producing a final budget, but I’ll continue to make the case that public higher education is at the core of the state’s economic future. Last month I testified before the Pennsylvania House and Senate appropriation committees, and I was encouraged by the level of support for Penn State and the needs of Pennsylvania families.

Beyond the perennial question of when we will revive the Penn State-Pitt football rivalry, much of the discussion revolved around what I’ll call the 3 Es: education, the economy and ethics. Today, I’ll touch upon these three areas.

First, let’s look at the demand for a Penn State education.

Applications for admissions continue to come in at record numbers. To date, we’ve received about 106,000 applications. Graduate applications are up 4 percent, and there’s strong growth in international applications; with international undergraduate applications up 23 percent and international graduate applications up 10 percent.

There’s also continuing interest in our award-winning World Campus, with applications for first-time and advanced placement admission up 15 percent for a summer or fall start.

Overall, undergraduate applications and acceptances are tracking historical patterns and trends. Paid accepts for University Park are running very close to last year, and while there is some early softness in Commonwealth Campus deposits, there is still a long way to go in the campus recruitment cycle; most of the year-to-year difference is accounted for by three of our largest Commonwealth Campuses where enrollments have been most robust during the past decade or more.

A frequently asked question from our legislators is what Penn State is doing to help our students complete their degrees in a timely fashion. The Chronicle of Higher Education just released a comprehensive, easily searchable database of graduation rates for 1,251 colleges and universities. I’m pleased to note that Penn State University Park ranks No. 1 among Pennsylvania public schools and 5th among national flagship public universities for the 6-year graduation rate. Nationwide, University Park is in the top 5 percent of public colleges for our 4-year graduation rate and in the top 2 percent for our 6-year graduation rate.

What’s more, we’re always trying to improve “completion,” and this year we launched a new initiative called Maymester. This month-long, intensive session is designed to help students catch up on coursework or accelerate toward degree completion, while still allowing ample time during the summer to look for jobs and internship opportunities.

Of course, one of the most important ways we’re contributing to the education of our students is through our outstanding faculty. Each year our faculty is tapped for membership in leading professional organizations. This year was no exception, with many named to the American Association for the Advancement of Science. This is the world’s largest general scientific society, and this honor is bestowed based on the scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications.

In addition, three assistant professors -- Scott Phillips, Nathan Gemelke and Karl Schwede -- were honored with the 2012 Sloan Research Fellowship. This is one of the most prestigious awards for young faculty, and it predicts a bright future for these scholars. As Paul Joskow, president of Sloan Foundation, said, “Today’s Sloan Research Fellows are tomorrow’s Nobel Prize winners. These outstanding men and women are responsible for some of the most exciting science being done today.”

Our faculty also are responsible for cultivating the talents of our students. I had the pleasure of hosting the President’s Concert at Heinz Hall in February. This was a wonderful showcase of some of Penn State’s most talented musicians under the direction of world-renowned faculty. I hope you’ll be able to join us next year.

Now I’d like to show you a video about another research project that demonstrates how far Penn State faculty will go to engage students. This video is part of a new series on the Big Ten Network that began this winter and is the result of a Big Ten initiative chaired by Bill Mahon, our vice president for University Relations, to promote University research expertise.

Penn State also has researchers working at the microscopic level to discover the knowledge that will improve lives for future generations. Here’s another short video to describe a very promising collaboration.

Experiences with outstanding faculty, ambitious research projects and real-world applications enhance the career opportunities for our students, and despite difficult economic times, we’ve had excellent news from the job market. Consider that nearly 350 employers attended our 2012 Spring Career Days; that’s a 6 percent increase over last year. Penn State’s People-to-People Career Fair, focusing on service, wellness and recreation opportunities, had more than twice as many registered employers as last year. And with 48 school districts registered to attend our Education Career Day next week, the employment prospects for our students continue to be strong for the future.

Penn State’s commitment to research and education in Pennsylvania is also contributing to the larger economy. In the recent Senate appropriation hearing, our Philadelphia senators brought up the impact of Penn State’s leadership in the Energy Innovation Hub at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. Launched 18 months ago with a $129 million federal grant and an additional $30 million from Pennsylvania, this project is pioneering new technologies and tools to make buildings more energy efficient, and creating new jobs in the Philadelphia area. We expect this economic engine to continue for many years to come.

I’ve pledged to lead this University with openness and better communication. To that end, we recently launched an openness website with links to updates, budget information, frequently asked questions, contracts, and other resources. The site has had nearly 10,000 visitors and seems to be facilitating a greater flow of information to our constituents. We’re also moving forward on the implementation of Judge Freeh’s preliminary recommendations, which fall into five categories. They include:

1. Strengthening Policies and Programs Involving Minors
We will provide more clear and specific guidance to staff and others who interact with children, including enhanced background checks and abuse awareness training. A thorough review of Policy AD39, which deals with minors involved in university-sponsored programs or programs held at the University is already well under way.

2. Prompt Reporting of Abuse and Sexual Misconduct
At regular intervals we will send the university community reminders, updates and notices to underscore the importance of reporting misconduct and identifying ways to report. This includes enhancing the visibility of the Office of Internal Audit’s Ethics Hotline.

3. Compliance with Clery Act’s Training and Reporting Requirements
A new full-time Clery Compliance Coordinator will soon join the Office of University Police and Public Safety. We will also use outside experts to provide Clery Act training.

4. Administrative Reforms
We’re finalizing the job description and search committee for a Director of University Compliance, who will coordinate and oversee the vast array of compliance issues throughout the University.

The Board is also working to define functions on the Subcommittee on Audit and reexamining the Board’s oversight responsibilities.

And 5. Athletic Department Security Arrangements

As Judge Freeh recommended, the Compliance Office in Intercollegiate Athletics will add an additional staff person. We’re also developing a procedure to ensure that the University immediately retrieves keys, access cards and all other University property from individuals who are not formally associated with the university.
We’re pursuing several additional initiatives to address Judge Freeh’s recommendations, and we’ll keep you and the University community informed as details emerge.

Moving on…we’re currently in what many sports fans believe to be the sweet spot of the spectator season – with winter teams competing in their respective championships while spring teams are beginning to hit their stride. A few highlights include:

The Lady Lions won the first Big 10 Championship since 2004, and players Alex Bentley and Maggie Lucas were named First Team All-Big Ten. The fourth-seeded women head to the NCAA tournament to face 13th-seeded Texas-El Paso in Baton Rouge, La. on Sunday.

Coquese Washington was honored for her leadership, being named Big Ten Coach of the Year and is one of 10 finalists for the national Coach of the Year honor.

The wrestling team defended their Big Ten title and is currently ranked No. 2 in the country. As the 2011 NCAA Champions, the Nittany Lions will be competing to defend their title this weekend in the 2012 NCAA national championship.

The men’s gymnastics team is also ranked No. 2 in the country, and last week, men’s gymnast Miguel Pineda was named a recipient of the 2012 Wayne Duke Postgraduate Award for achievement in academics, athletes, extracurricular activities and leadership. The award is an annual scholarship recognizing one male and one female Big Ten senior student-athlete pursuing a postgraduate degree.

Now from Development comes a gift story that is both remarkable and inspiring. Hiroshi Hamasaki graduated in December 2011, and just weeks after receiving his master's degree in geosciences, he wanted to thank his adviser and professor of geochemistry, Hiroshi Ohmoto. Rather than just sending an email or text like so many others, Hamasaki gave a $100,000 gift to establish the Geosciences Research Fund in Honor of Hiroshi Ohmoto, in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences.

Hamasaki, a native of Japan, said the gift reflects his appreciation for the support and mentoring he experienced during his three years of study with Ohmoto. It also speaks to what Hamasaki described as the strengths of Penn State -- the sense of community among students, dedication of faculty, and world-class research. He said, "Penn State changed my life -- I learned not just academics but also gained a broader perspective. I’m proud to be a Penn State alumnus, and the easiest way to show my appreciation was with this donation.”

I also wish to recognize the remarkable achievements of the dedicated Penn State Hershey development team. There has been a strategic expansion of the staff, and through their efforts, this division has just reached $200 million in commitments for For the Future: The Campaign for Penn State Students. This achievement, over five years, represents $41 million more than was raised during the seven-year Grand Destiny campaign for the Medical Center and College of Medicine. This wonderful success to date has been made possible through a focus on securing major gifts, including 17 gifts of $1M and above; the engagement of physician and scientist partners; and the implementation of a strategic prospect management process.

In addition, we're very grateful to the Rocco and Nancy Ortenzio Foundation for the $3 million commitment to establish The Rocco Ortenzio Chair of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. The endowed position will enable the institution to recruit a nationally recognized leader for its newest department as it addresses the growing need throughout Pennsylvania for physical medicine and rehabilitation.

Hershey's Development team also was instrumental in realizing the dream of the new, freestanding Children's Hospital building, which will open later this year. This ambitious and important project was made possible by more than $68 million in private philanthropy.

Finally, a few words on what is unquestionably the largest and most incredible student run philanthropy in the world. In February, the 46-hour Penn State Dance Marathon set a new record, raising $10.7 million for the Four Diamonds Fund at Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital. That brings the total THON has raised since 1977 to more than $89 million for the kids. This continued growth is a testament to the organization, creativity and leadership of everyone who unites in the fight against pediatric cancer in the Commonwealth and around the world. We’ll invite the overall chair to our May meeting so we can recognize her in person.


  • Penn State President Rodney Erickson

    IMAGE: Penn State

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated May 04, 2012