Penn State Board of Trustees meets; President Spanier's remarks

July 10, 2009

Good morning. I want to begin by thanking Kevin Snider and his staff for hosting us this week. There are some wonderful things happening at Penn State New Kensington, and I’m delighted that the Board has an opportunity for a first-hand look at this vibrant campus. I’ll keep my report brief, so Kevin will have ample time for his presentation.

I’d like to begin by calling your attention to The Penn State Strategic Plan approved at the May Board of Trustees meeting.  Copies of the executive summary have been provided to members of the Board today, and the entire plan will soon be available online. The University’s strategic planning process was led by Provost Rod Erickson, and involved faculty, staff, students, alumni and many of our Trustees. The dominant theme of the plan is finding ways to enable the University to continue on its trajectory of excellence in an era of increasingly scarce resources. Thank you to everyone who contributed to this important roadmap for the future.

On June 25, Jim Broadhurst, Ted Junker and several other Trustees attended the dedication of the Penn State Hershey Cancer Institute building. This 178,000-square-foot facility brings together cancer-related clinical and research operations and creates a new main hospital entrance.

The state-of-the-art facility marks the latest example in a national trend toward caring for patients in an environment designed to speed diagnosis and treatment and enhance patient comfort and convenience. This is an important addition to the Penn State Hershey Medical Center and a tremendous advancement for patient care in the region.

June also was a period of notable progress for the H.O. Smith Botanic Gardens at The Arboretum at Penn State. The Gardens cover 33 acres and are already home to hundreds of plant species including annual and perennial flower beds, a Lotus Pool with lily pads, the “River and Valley” watershed sculpture, and the Overlook Pavilion. This September, we’re planning a special tour for the Trustees to showcase the Gardens.

This spring, Penn State was recognized as a world leader in research on alternative energy. Elsevier, the largest publisher of research journals, ranked 3,000 research institutions and universities worldwide for their expertise in green energy and environmental research. Penn State ranked fifth in the world of top enterprises of any kind in research papers on alternative energy, and was first among all universities in the world. This is much-deserved recognition for our faculty and students working in these vitally important areas.

One fuel cell expert who has brought much acclaim to Penn State is Bruce Logan. Logan is the Kappe Professor of Environmental Engineering, and yesterday was awarded the 2009 National Water Research Institute’s Athalie Richardson Irvine Clarke Prize for excellence in water research. Logan’s research has led to a microbial fuel cell that can be used to transform wastewater into safe, clean drinking water. Over 40 percent of the world’s population doesn’t have access to basic sanitation and clean drinking water, and Logan’s research offers a very promising solution.

Solar energy is another area of expertise at Penn State, and there are numerous research and service projects under way.

RenewCrew, Penn State’s student chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association, received an Outstanding Commitment Award in the area of Energy and Climate Change from the Clinton Global Initiative. The grant will help a team of Penn State undergraduates travel to Honduras in spring 2010 to install a solar electric system on a local nonprofit medical clinic. RenewCrew works through Penn State’s Center for Sustainability with faculty advisers David Riley from architectural engineering and Tim Wheeler from electrical engineering.

Energy-related research is just one facet of the research under way at the Penn State Materials Research Institute. This Institute provides a platform for research at the interface of education, science and innovation, and it has been a locus of research funding at Penn State. In 2008, more than 200 multidisciplinary awards totaling nearly $61 million were funded; projects included fuel cells, solar energy, nanotechnology, sensor networks and research for a variety of military and civilian applications. I encourage you to look through the 2008 Research Report to get a better idea of the activities in this important area. 

The largest and most ambitious tornado study in history began this summer, as Paul Markowski, associate professor of meteorology, Yvette Richardson, assistant professor of meteorology, and a team of 100 researchers and students set off to chase tornadoes through nine Midwestern states. The project, called Vortex2, received about $10 million in funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and National Science Foundation, and will continue through 2010.

An international team of scientists, led by Penn State professor of biology Charles Fisher, returned to port in June after completing a research expedition to collect data about the creatures that live under extreme conditions near deep-sea hydrothermal vents.  Not only did the researchers acquire valuable scientific information during their three-weeks in the South Pacific Ocean, but they also brought 1,200 middle-school students along for the ride – via the Web.

The cruise was the culmination of a project that is part of an international, Web-based science education program funded by NASA and the National Science Foundation.

There has been a lot of hype about iPhone applications that give you everything from wine selections to sports scores to games. While the Apps can be a lot of fun, Penn State doctoral student Samuel Sennott thought they could do much more. He is the co-developer of an application that allows communication-impaired children and adults to communicate. This convenient application lets the user touch icons that voice basic comments or questions and has been an enabling tool for those with Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism and stroke patients who have lost their ability to speak.

One notable early-career recognition went to Melissa M. Rolls, assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology and director of the Center for Cellular Dynamics. She was selected as a 2009 Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences. As a Pew Scholar, Rolls will receive a $240,000 award over four years to support her research and gain inclusion into a select community of scientists that encourages collaboration and the exchange of ideas.

To get the word out about the extraordinary research that is happening at Penn State, Bill Mahon has led the effort to form the Committee on Institutional Cooperation BigScience newswire. This heavily trafficked site is a convenient aggregation of breakthrough discoveries and research headlines from all Big Ten universities. Bill’s team is also in the process of creating a BIGScience site on YouTube.

Moving on to athletics … We have long known we have many of the best sports teams in the nation, but recently two of our athletic directors were recognized for excellence.

Tim Curley was recognized for the second time by his peers in the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics as the regional Athletic Director of the Year. Tim is in his 16th year leading our program.

Penn State Altoona Athletic Director Fredina Ingold is the Division III regional Athletic Director of the Year. There are 450 Division III schools in this region of the United States alone.

Penn State track and field coach Beth Alford-Sullivan was named Big Ten Women’s Track and Field Coach of the Year. This is the second consecutive year Beth has won this award and the 10th time in her career as a track and field and cross country coach that she has been recognized as conference coach of the year.

Penn State student-athletes continue to display excellence in the classroom, and during the 2008-09 academic year, 253 Nittany Lions earned Academic All-Big Ten honors. We set a school record of 11 Academic All-Americans in 2008-09, and Penn State leads Big Ten Conference with 3,312 Student-Athletes selected for Academic All-Big Ten Honors over the past 15 years.

Finally, two Penn State athletes were singled out for their outstanding performances. Men’s gymnast Casey Sandy and women’s volleyball player Nicole Fawcett were named as Penn State’s male and female athletes of the year.

With that good news I conclude my report. I’ll be happy to take your questions.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated July 10, 2009