Board of Trustees meets; President Erickson's remarks

May 03, 2013

Penn State President Rodney Erickson delivered the following remarks during the regular meeting of the Board of Trustees, held May 3 at The Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel. 

Thank you, Keith. I, too, want to begin by thanking Paula Ammerman for her 35 years of service to Penn State. Her vast knowledge, strong work ethic and organizational skills have helped guide this board through thick and thin. Penn State is better for her efforts, and we wish her the best in retirement. Thank you, Paula.

On July 1, we’ll be welcoming a new provost and executive vice president, pending Board approval later today. Nicholas Jones, the Benjamin T. Rome dean of the Whiting School of Engineering at Johns Hopkins University, was selected in a nationwide search led by a 17-member search advisory committee, with assistance by executive search firm Isaacson, Miller. Nick has won several teaching awards, has an outstanding record of research and is a gifted administrator. He will be great addition to Penn State.

With Nick’s arrival, Rob Pangborn will be able to return to doing just one job — vice president and dean for undergraduate education. Over the past year-and-a-half, Rob has juggled responsibilities as provost and continued to work closely with Admissions to ensure that Penn State brings in the best possible class. He has launched innovative initiatives, such as the Provost Awards program, and stepped up efforts to convert accepted students to paid accepts. Rob is a great colleague and dedicated Penn Stater, and through his efforts we expect an exceptional incoming class. Please join me in thanking Rob for his service.

Today I have the most accurate snapshot of our incoming class to date. Wednesday, May 1, was the deadline for accepting admissions offers at University Park; although the Commonwealth Campuses will continue to accept applications throughout the summer.

You have heard that applications for admissions have been down compared to past record years — about 8 percent overall and 9 percent for baccalaureate applicants. Given the smaller applicant pool, and the fact that we didn’t want to lower the standards for admission, we made about 9 percent fewer offers University-wide this year — about 4,200 less than last year.

As it turned out, “Less is more.”

Despite making fewer offers, baccalaureate paid accepts are up University-wide by 667 students, or 4 percent compared to last year.

University Park paid accepts are up by 523 students, or 6 percent compared to last year. Paid accepts for the campuses are up by 144 from last year, or a 2 percent increase. 

As is the case every year, the Commonwealth campuses are continuing to accept students so this number will grow. 

So despite the smaller applicant pool, the yield rates on offers of admission to both University Park and the campuses are up by 5 percentage points, which equates to a 15 percent increase in yield. 

After unusually robust years, applications for graduate school are down modestly, while medical school applications are up 5 percent. In addition, baccalaureate minority paid accepts are up by 1 percent at both University Park, and the Commonwealth campuses, excluding international students. In each case, African-American paid accepts are down and Hispanic and Latino paid accepts are up. Schreyer Honors College paid accepts are identical to last year.

I want to emphasize that the quality of the entering class — as measured by high school GPA and SAT scores — is comparable to the entering cohort in previous years. Also noteworthy is the fact that we have just over 2,000 paid accepts for the summer at University Park. This will be an all-time high for summer starts by first-year students.

We have added additional capacity to LEAP, our very successful summer Learning Edge Academic Program, featuring paired entry-level courses. This will take some of the pressure off the colleges that are responsible for delivering foundation courses in the fall — a big help given the very robust first-year class we are expecting.

Penn State’s successful effort to attract a strong entering cohort this year reflects the special efforts in recruiting, including increased institutional scholarship support, marketing campaigns in the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh regions, and additional student receptions, open houses and high school visits. Rob Pangborn and the entire admissions staff should be commended for going above and beyond to recruit this special class. Let’s give them all a round of applause.

This weekend, we will be saying goodbye to nearly 13,000 graduating students University-wide. During our spring commencement ceremonies, Penn State will award 590 associate degrees, 10,251 baccalaureate degrees, 1,237 master’s degrees, 191 doctoral degrees, 142 medical degrees and 241 law degrees.

Commencement is one of the most joyous occasions on our campuses, and one of the most memorable experiences for our graduates and their families. On behalf of our graduates, I wish to thank our Trustees who will be authorizing the granting of degrees in each of the respective ceremonies.

Now, I’d like to take a few minutes to celebrate some of the recent achievements of our faculty, students and staff. It has been a productive semester, and we’ve prepared a video with a few of the highlights. You can watch these highlights here:

A few of the people in the video are here today, so I’d like to introduce them now. 

Will Stephen Pianovich please stand?

The College of Communications has repeated as the national champion in the intercollegiate writing competition of the William Randolph Hearst Foundation’s Journalism Awards Program. 

The competition, often called “the Pulitzers of college journalism,” is in its 53rd year, and is open to the nation’s 106 nationally accredited journalism-mass communication programs. Back-to-back national championships are a remarkable achievement, and Penn State’s top finishers are Steven Pianovich, Savannah Smith and Brittany Horn. Savannah and Brittany were unable to be here today, but please join me in congratulating Stephen for his first place finish in breaking news.

Will the two students from THON please stand?

Here today is the overall chairperson for THON 2013, Will Martin, as well as Ryan Patrick, the executive director for THON 2014. Congratulations, Will, on last year’s incredible success, and all the best to Ryan, as you lead THON 2014. Please join me in recognizing our THON captains.

The Nittany Lion Wrestling team captured their third straight national championship, and Quentin Wright and Ed Ruth were named individuals champions as well. I’m pleased that Quentin and Ed could be here today, as well as several others from the team. Would our wrestlers please stand?

In addition to their dominance on the wrestling arena, this group is renowned for their academic achievements. Fifteen members of the team were honored with Academic All-Big Ten awards for achievement in the classroom. They are here today.

I also want to note the accomplishment of freshman Trevor Howard, the gymnast who had such an impressive landing in the sequence during the national championships. The men’s team has a strong performance, but Trevor thrilled the audience with his floor routine when he became the first gymnast since 1963 to win a title on the floor exercise for Penn State.

One final athletics note. Both the men’s and women’s lacrosse teams won regular season conference titles for the first time, which allowed them to continue in post-season play. The men’s team was the No. 1 seed, and they play for the championship today at 3 p.m. This is a relatively young and growing sport at Penn State, and we expect much more excitement to come.

A familiar sight at athletic events, groundbreakings and around campus is the Nittany Lion. Rob Nellis, will you please stand?

Rob has served as the Nittany Lion mascot for the past two years, while managing to earn two degrees — in mechanical engineering and nuclear engineering. His GPA is 3.73. After graduation he’ll be heading to Philadelphia to be a systems integration analyst for Accenture. Please join me on congratulating Rob for his remarkable achievements in academics, athletics and Penn State spirit.

Penn Staters have a long and distinguished record of service to others, and this next student exemplifies that ideal. Will Michael Henry please stand? 

Mike is a Schreyer Honors Scholar graduating with a 3.87 GPA in immunology and infectious diseases. Mike is the co-founder of Penn State’s Global Water Brigades, which works to give communities in developing countries access to clean water. He also served as the coordinator for Penn State’s Business Brigades, Architectural Brigades and Human Rights Brigades. Mike was awarded a Fulbright to conduct research next year in Tanzania. Then he plans to attend Columbia University Medical School. Please join me in recognizing Mike Henry.

This was a notable year for the arts at Penn State when the College of Arts and Architecture celebrated its 50th anniversary.

One highlight of the celebration was the collaborative production of Leonard Bernstein’s MASS, a complex undertaking that involved a cast of more than 300 performers. It was a phenomenal undertaking, and one that will be remembered for years to come. 

This is also the time of year when the baton is passed in the Penn State Laureate Program. Kenneth Womack, associate dean for academic affairs and professor of English and integrative arts at Penn State Altoona, has been named 2013-14 Penn State Laureate.

A prolific writer of a variety of both scholarly and general-audience topics, Ken is highly regarded as an expert on popular culture, most notably on the Beatles. He has authored or edited several volumes about the legendary British band, along with a number of nonfiction works including "The Mammoth Book of Movies" and "Made to Order: The Story of Sheetz." He also is an award-winning novelist, and has been recognized many times for excellence in teaching. Ken, can you please stand so you can be recognized?

Last year, three faculty members from the College of the Liberal Arts were honored with Guggenheim Foundation Fellowships, and this year, Judith Kroll, distinguished professor of psychology, linguistics and women’s studies, joins this distinguished group.

This is a highly competitive award, with about 3,000 very accomplished applicants, and only 173 United States and Canadian Fellowships were granted.

The few individuals I’m able to recognize during my president’s report only begins to scratch the surface of our many award-winning faculty. This academic year alone nearly 100 faculty members were tapped for young career, mid-career and lifetime achievement awards, international research and teaching prizes, or were named fellows in elite professional societies. A round-up of all winners and recipients can be found in the report published annually by the Office of Research. These awards bring great honor to Penn State, and enhance our academic reputation.

Equally important is the fact that they help us attract other top faculty. For example, we’re currently conducting a cluster hire for our Institute for CyberScience that will advance the science of discovery through computational modeling and simulation and multi-modal data integration analysis. 

The institute is filling eight new faculty positions to strengthen key areas of research and teaching, and we have received more than 900 applications. The applicants are from the world’s top universities, and new hires to date will be joining us from Harvard, UC-Berkeley, the University of Florida, University of Maryland and the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Canada. 

Under the leadership of Padma Raghavan, director of the institute, the team will work to transform vast stores of data into new knowledge.

Elsewhere across the University, our deans and chancellors say they are attracting very strong candidates for their faculty searches, and we are able to close the deals with our top choices in the vast majority of instances. Penn State has developed a particularly strong reputation as an institution where interdisciplinary research and teaching are encouraged and supported.

An excellent example of this interdisciplinary research can be found in the Network on Child Protection and Well-Being, where another cluster hire is under way. According to the Network Chair Susan McHale, the response to their targeted search has been excellent. Candidates range from neuroscientists to clinicians, and they hail from around the world. Twelve new faculty members will be hired over the next 3 years, with the goal of advancing knowledge, practice, education and outreach to combat child abuse.

These new faculty members will work in concert with the Penn State Hershey Center for the Protection of Children at the Hershey Medical Center. The center’s current initiatives include clinical programs, research projects, and educational initiatives, many of which are characterized by a high degree of collaboration with other organizations and by a strong outreach component.

From a Child Protection Team to The Look Out for Child Abuse website to a number of other educational initiatives, the center has made measurable progress in establishing programs and initiatives to address the problem of child abuse, neglect, and maltreatment. We are committed to fulfilling our promise to fighting child sexual abuse.

In other news, it wasn’t until last weekend that many of us needed to pull out the lawn mower — or golf clubs. So it’s a fitting time to recognize the program that makes turfgrass and golf possible at the highest levels.

Nine out of 10 golf courses worldwide use turfgrass varieties developed at Penn State, and for the first time, Penn State has produced all three superintendents for this year’s U.S.-based major golf tournaments — the Masters, the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship.

I don’t think there’s a weed on those courses, although as we like to say around my yard, “Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them.” 

Penn State is fortunate that many of our top turfgrass alumni remain involved with our students and program.

Finally, I few words about Development. As you know we’re making the final push to meet the ambitious $2 billion goal in For the Future: The Campaign for Penn State Students. We continue to outpace schedule thanks to the leadership of campaign chair, Peter Tombros, senior vice president of development Rod Kirsch, and his outstanding team.

As we enter this final year of the campaign, the Office of University Development is looking to ensure that they also are prepared for the future. The office will be undertaking a formal, strategic review of its programs that will focus upon organization structures, staffing levels, deployment of resources, program strategies, fundraising history and progress, and cost ratios within and across campus programs.

This review will include benchmarking the University’s programs against selected peers, as part of the effort to define best practices. The University has engaged Grezenbach, Glier and Associates, longtime philanthropic counsel to Penn State, to conduct this review over a six-month timeframe. The primary purpose of this study is to build a roadmap for future growth, and it’s the first comprehensive review of the advancement program in 20 years. We look forward to the results.

That concludes my remarks. I can take a few questions.

Last Updated April 21, 2017