Board of Trustees meets; President Erickson's remarks

September 20, 2013

President Rodney Erickson’s report to the Board of Trustees
1:30 p.m. Sept. 20
The Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel

Good afternoon and welcome. For those of you who have visited Old Main during the restoration of the Land-Grant Frescoes, you are well aware that it has been less than picture-perfect. But last week, they began to unveil the restored frescos, and the change is transformative. Although we have a good deal of business to cover today, I wanted to begin by sharing a few fun facts about the frescoes.

In the spring of 1949, Stuart Frost was a Penn State undergraduate studying fine arts. At the time, renowned muralist Henry Varnum Poor was continuing the work he began in 1940 to complete the extensive Land-Grant Frescoes in the lobby of Old Main. Stuart was helping him with plastering and trips to the hardware store.

Stuart had applied plaster one evening and arrived early the next morning to check if the dampness was right for the artist to begin painting. Henry was already there, and what Stuart saw looking down at him was his own portrait captured in the face of a man holding the rein on an Angus bull.

Henry used other familiar faces as well. In the Lincoln fresco, the yellow lab under the table is Henry’s dog, and the artist himself can be seen leaning on a stick in the group to the left of Lincoln.

I encourage you to stop by and see these Penn State treasures, which began with a significant financial contribution from the Class of 1932. Subsequent classes added to the funds, and this careful restoration will allow the entire mural to be enjoyed for generations to come.

Now on to the business of the day. First, I’m pleased to announce that we named Max Fredric Volkmann the interim vice president of Strategic Communications, effective Oct. 1.

Fred had a storied career at Washington University in St. Louis, where he served as vice chancellor for Public Affairs for 31 years. During his career, he advanced the entire field of public affairs through his adoption of cutting-edge communications, innovative media strategies, and talent for great content. He retired in 2011, but we were able to persuade him to share his expertise, while we conduct a national search to permanently fill the position.

Fred, can you please stand a moment so you can be recognized?

Thank you.

And please join me in thanking Cindy Hall for her outstanding leadership over the last year. She has done an excellent job, and will be working closely with Fred in her role as associate vice president of University Relations.

I also want to take a moment to recognize Julie Del Giorno, who serves as our athletics integrity officer. Earlier this week Julie was inducted into the U.S. Military Athletic Academy Hall of Fame in recognition of her outstanding record as a basketball player, and her ability to embody the academy’s “mission of leadership.” This is a great honor for Julie, and one that she attributes to “teamwork, having goals and pushing through limits.”

 Julie, can you please stand to be recognized?

 Congratulations, we’re pleased you’re on our team!

As Keith mentioned, Penn State has seen a dramatic and unprecedented rise in the rankings in U.S. News & World Report’s “2014 Best Colleges Rankings.”

Penn State now ranks No. 8 among all public universities – up five places from last year. In the overall “National Universities” category, Penn State has risen to No. 37 overall, up nine places from last year. Penn State ranks No. 2 in the Big Ten.

Although it is reasonable to have some skepticism about rankings, it was refreshing to see that this year the rankings relied more heavily on measures of faculty research and academic excellence in a full range of undergraduate majors, plus master's and Ph.D. programs – all areas where Penn State excels. In addition, student outcome measures, such as retention and graduation rates, were weighted more heavily than inputs, and that contributed significantly to Penn State’s rise in the rankings.

That is something we can all be proud of and a credit to Penn State’s dedicated faculty and staff members. Their commitment to excellence in everything they do makes this possible. I’d like to ask all of the faculty and staff members in the audience to stand to be recognized.

Thank you for representing your many colleagues across the university.

The high rankings are also a reflection of our outstanding student body – and they are outstanding. We won’t have the final numbers for the incoming class until later this fall, but we’re fairly confident that our final new baccalaureate enrollment across Penn State will show about a 700-student increase compared to last year, close to equally split between University Park and the Commonwealth Campuses.

Total on-campus enrollment — undergraduate, graduate, and professional — should be very similar to last year’s total when we take the official fall headcount at the end of the sixth week of the fall semester. I should add that World Campus enrollments continue to rise year-over-year.

This is also the time of year when we start to hear from ambitious students aspiring to be in next year’s freshman class. When our application window opened on Sept. 1, about 1,000 students immediately pushed the send button so they could be among the first applicants.

To date, we have nearly 4,000 baccalaureate applications. Although it’s obviously very early in the new admissions cycle, our applications are running ahead of last year at this time, and it looks like it will be a very typical year. I will keep you updated as the admissions season progresses.

Now I would like to turn your attention to some of the exceptional students who are currently attending Penn State, and are with us at this meeting. The students are the inaugural group in the Millennium Scholars program.

This highly selective program is modeled after one at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, that has been in existence for 25 years and has a 93 percent success rate in sending students on to graduate school.

This year, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Penn State University Park are piloting similar programs.

There are 20 students in Penn State’s inaugural group, and all are freshman science and engineering majors.

-- The cohort is 62 percent under-represented minorities; half men, half women;

-- The students were selected based on their aspirations to obtain a Ph.D. in science or engineering, interviews, high school GPA, math SAT scores, and a commitment to increasing the diversity of researchers in STEM fields.

-- The majority of the students are from Pennsylvania, but they hail from as far away as Fort Lauderdale and Dallas. 

-- After completing a six-week summer academic boot camp, which included theoretical calculus, the lowest overall GPA earned was 3.81. 

Will the Millennium scholars now stand as a group so we can recognize you?

Thank you!

The research under way at Penn State is visionary, and this was affirmed this week with the receipt of a $10 million award -- focused on computer vision.

The project, led by Professor Vijay Narayanan, received an Expeditions in Computing award from the National Science Foundation. This award will provide $10 million in total funding over five years and represents the largest individual investments in computer science research that NSF makes.

Dr. Narayanan will be working with collaborators from several universities on the project titled Visual Cortex on Silicon. It aims to improve the holistic design of machine vision systems that will approach or exceed the capabilities of human vision.

It could have a profound impact on society, leading to aids for visually impaired persons, driver assistance capabilities for reducing automotive accidents, and other augmented reality systems.

Yesterday, we learned that Penn State’s College of Medicine is one of 14 institutions nationwide named a Tobacco Center for Regulatory Science.

Funded by a $20 million, five-year grant from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and National Institutes of Health, the new center will provide the research foundation for the FDA to develop new and effective regulatory strategies for reducing the harm to health from tobacco products in the United States.

Joshua Muscat and Jonathan Foulds, both professors of public health sciences at the College of Medicine, are the directors of the new center. They will collaborate with colleagues from University Park and several other universities.

The research has the potential to make a real difference to public health in this country, while also training young scientists in the emerging field of tobacco regulatory science.

It was evident that employers value these types of research and training opportunities, during our Fall Career Days, held this week.

The turnout was excellent, with more than 500 employers attending the three-day long event that drew thousands of students.

Many resumes changed hands, bringing our students one step closer to future success. We’re very pleased so many students and employers take advantage of the opportunity to meet on our campus.

We’re also encouraged by the fact that many prominent employers are targeting Penn State as one of their top tier schools for recruitment.

For example, Penn State DuBois Information Science and Technology student Jessica Noland had an internship with Google this summer, at the Internet giant's Pittsburgh office.

What's more, Jessica didn’t apply for the internship in the conventional way, but was contacted by a Google recruiter. It was a one-of-a-kind opportunity for Jessica to intern with one of the most world-renowned companies in her field.

On Sept. 25, Penn State will host the second annual Conference on Child Maltreatment with the Pennsylvania Dept. of Public Welfare and the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency.

The conference will bring together district attorneys, children and youth service administrators, and law enforcement officials, as well as Penn State faculty, to learn about and expand the development of child advocacy centers, a core resource in efforts to combat child maltreatment.  

Although registration is limited to the aforementioned groups, the event will be live-streamed at the HUB Auditorium and online.

Penn State students are also continuing their efforts to fight child abuse. Tomorrow, the group, One Heart, will sponsor the third annual Blue-Out at Beaver Stadium with proceeds going to the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape’s Vision of Hope program.

During the last two years, the student group raised more than $126,000.

On Wednesday, a second student group will sponsor a Walk for Prevention to be held on campus with proceeds directed to the Darkness to Light training program educating our communities about the prevention of child abuse.

In addition to the Blue-Out, tomorrow will be the All “U” day, when we celebrate our Commonwealth Campuses with a special recognition at halftime.

Two students from each Penn State campus will carry their campus banner onto the field. It’s always a great day, and one that recognizes the 40,000 plus students who attend our Commonwealth Campuses each year.

Looking ahead, planning is under way for the Croke Park Classic, which will be held next year in Dublin, Ireland. I had the opportunity to spend time with the Irish delegation, along with the group from the University of Central Florida, when they were here last week.

I’m excited by our common desire to make this a fun and educational trip for our student-athletes, and to use it to leverage our study-abroad programs. We already have strong relationships with the outstanding colleges and universities in Ireland, and this event will only serve to highlight the value of study-abroad options.

I know many of you are looking forward to the opening of the Pegula Ice Arena, which will be held on Oct. 11.

In addition to providing the finest facility of its kind for our student-athletes and fans, I want to emphasize the economic impact it will have on the community. It will help Penn State draw additional revenue events, and provide a venue for statewide tournaments and sporting competitions.

In addition, it will be available for commencement ceremonies and other university events. All in all, it will be a busy, beautiful, and valuable addition to our campus physical plant.

Moving on to development.

Even as we approach the final months of For the Future: The Campaign for Penn State Students, we are taking a hard look at how we can be even more effective and efficient at raising support in the future.

We invited the leading firm, Grenzebach Glier and Associates, to perform an organizational analysis of our structure, philanthropic metrics, and “cost/yield” performance as benchmarked against our peer institutions.

From that assessment, we’re beginning to plan for new investments, strategies, and program initiatives.

What’s emerging is a roadmap that will position Penn State to continue to serve our constituencies far into future.

At lunch today I had the privilege of recognizing David and Ann Hawk as the 2013 Fundraising Volunteers of the Year.

This award recognizes those who have served as fundraising volunteers, teachers or mentors, while demonstrating exceptional commitment and leadership in developing voluntary support for Penn State. David and Ann have done all that and more.

David earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration from Penn State, and Ann earned her bachelor’s degree in individual and family studies. David is chairman of the board and director of research for Gertrude Hawk Chocolates, which is one of the most popular companies among my staff. Ann is a certified Rosen Method Bodywork practitioner.  

David and Ann met as students at Penn State Worthington Scranton and have been strong supporters of the campus, as well as active volunteers. We were very pleased to honor them in this way.

Since I began my remarks with the restoration of the land-grand frescos, one of the earliest class gifts, I’ll end with another class gift story.

Last Friday we dedicated the 2012 Senior Class Gift, which was the restoration of the Nittany Lion Shrine. The Shrine was originally the gift of the Class of 1940.

The restoration provides a majestic platform for the Nittany Lion, and careful landscaping and better lighting enhance the accessibility, safety and beauty of the area. I encourage you to stop by for a photo.

I’ve been told the Lion is the second most photographed site in Pennsylvania, only surpassed by the Liberty Bell. With your help, perhaps we can take No. 1.

Now I’ll be happy to take your questions.



Last Updated September 20, 2013