North Dakota State University
State of the University Address

President Dean L. Bresciani

Thursday, October 4, 2012 • 11 a.m.

Thank you all here for joining us this morning.

The annual state of the university address is a time to review the past year, renew commitment to our core values and embrace the challenges of the coming year. Today we will do all those things and more.

The past year provided us with a long and growing list of accomplishments and contributions to savor. I'm a very typical university president in that I love to highlight what we have been able to do for our students, state and nation. After all, we are the people who do nothing short of figuring out how to feed the world and cure cancer - and we educate and empower the people who will tackle the next set of challenges facing the world. When people ask me "... yeah, but what have you done for me today?" ... I obviously have one heck of an answer. 

But this year is the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Land Grant Act. That act established institutions like NDSU and served as the foundation of American public higher education. As a result, it changed the course of our country. Though we live and breathe the land-grant heritage in all we do, it's valuable to commemorate the powerful way it has formalized our commitment to the greater good.

I'll bet that many of us in the room can recite the basic essence, if not word for word, the Morrill Act's key premise:

 "... in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life." 

Of course, today that phrase sounds rather tame, but 150 years ago only the very elite had the opportunity to pursue higher education, through the study of philosophy, at a handful of private institutions. The Morrill Act was truly revolutionary. It opened higher education to what at the time were referred to as "the industrial classes," and wisely envisioned a well-rounded higher education in a way that had never taken place in our country, and for that matter, anywhere in the world.

At the time, Morrill himself was quoted as saying something that added important breadth to what is often today perceived more narrowly:

"It would be a mistake to suppose it was intended that every student should become either a farmer or a mechanic ... when the design [of the land-grant college] comprehended not only instruction for those who may hold a plow or follow a trade, but such instruction as any person might need ..."

President Lincoln, who signed the act into law amid the chaos of the Civil War, and its author - Senator Justin Morrill, both wisely understood how their own desire for education could scale to all Americans, to enrich and empower what at the time was a battered nation on the precipice of collapse - but with potentials that were unimaginable to the people of that day.

They appreciated education as both the key to individual enrichment, and also as a powerful mechanism to fuel innovation and progress across the country. It does not escape me that their vision some 150 years ago, and what was realized as a result, has very real implications for the opportunity we face in North Dakota.

It's important to remember the unprecedented strength that came from broadening access to and the resulting contributions of higher education. The power of post-secondary education to improve the quality of life for all citizens, and the financial benefits that accrue to both the individual and society, are as important today as they were when first made available. In fact, I'd argue even more so - and by a growing margin.

Nationally, as you know, many voices today nonetheless debate the value of a university degree. We North Dakotans are largely out of that fray, for a number of good reasons with which few of us disagree.

Anyone who's been to our commencement ceremonies will attest: higher education in North Dakota is valued. Our parents and students, and legislative and civic leaders, appreciate that college graduates enjoy a substantially improved quality of life, and help raise the quality of life for everyone around them. Our graduates earn more money - and thus pay more taxes. They are healthier - and thus less dependent on social services. They are more active in their communities, and less likely to be unemployed.

In fact, concerns such as unemployment have become pressing, if not stifling, in other parts of the nation, while North Dakota is increasingly one of the most vibrant, healthy and exciting economies in the nation. The state's demand for an educated workforce continues to grow. Today, 60 percent of the 16,000 jobs available in the state are not in the oil-producing counties, and many, in increasing numbers, are high-paying, high-tech positions. In just a few years, as I reminded us a year ago, 70 percent of the jobs in North Dakota will require a college degree.

However, national studies are showing that unless the rest of the country changes their trajectory, the well-educated population that is approaching retirement will not be replaced by people with similar levels of education. North Dakotans are not allowing that to happen here - our educational attainment level is one of the best in the nation. In fact, Lumina Foundation data just released show that North Dakota is within a razor's edge of being the number one state in terms of the education of its residents. If NDSU graduated just 100 more students a year, our state would achieve that stunning position.

North Dakotans have always understood their role in feeding the world and have valued the research and Extension that contributes to our record-breaking success in agriculture. But we also understand that agriculture continues to meet new challenges. We will need to use advances in all aspects of agriculture, engineering and science to meet the basic human demands for food, water, health and safety.

Our education and research in agriculture will even further expand to the studies of nutrition, genetics, genomics, plant pathology, soil science and chemistry. We will need to balance those with careful and proportional attention to the social dynamics and trends which history has shown are intertwined therein.

Reflecting that breadth of demands, I believe the next iteration of the land-grant ideal will be about interdisciplinary problem solving. It is a deeply held part of our mission to reach out to our citizens, to learn their needs, and to work side by side to improve their lives. The power of an educational experience at a university committed to service and research is immeasurable, as often are its impacts.

Reciprocally, I encourage you - as I do every year - to pause and think: what would be the impact on our state, our nation, and increasingly the world, if NDSU did not exist?

When America took the history-making step of expanding access to higher education, it was a door opening event leading to huge, untapped and unimaginable economic prosperity, that took us from being a small fragile country to - in just more than a century - a world power. We are today at a similar crossroad; this time, both as a state and as a nation. 

Will NDSU be at the forefront of unlocking the next door? Is there any aspect of our state, and I mean very specifically any single aspect of our state, better poised to do so? 

After our country's expansion of access from the Morrill Act, and more recently the G.I. Bill, what can we do to take another giant step to enhance access and increase the productivity of land-grant institutions and in particular NDSU?

I would argue we need to reinvent the Land-Grant ideal in a purposeful way, and reinvigorate our commitment to research, education, outreach and the improved quality of life that results from it.  

Despite some of the day-to-day debate here and elsewhere, we are a state that values higher education and we need to do more to enrich the future for our sons and daughters and their daughters and sons. As I mentioned in my first State of the University address just two years ago, we have a window of opportunity to do so; a window, without precedent, to reposition our state's future as was never possible before - and too soon in the future may not be possible again.

The people of NDSU are educating ever-growing numbers of the brightest minds in not just our state, but drawing them from across the nation. Our university's graduates, whether from North Dakota or beyond, are increasingly staying in the state to be the foundation of the future, enriching North Dakota in ways people could have never have imagined. 

Those young people, whether native North Dakotans or those new to the state, are a critical and irreplaceable part of our future. Without them, we would be squandering an opportunity never before available to North Dakota.

The bottom line, any way you look at it, results in more economic options and higher quality of life, not just for graduates but for every single citizen of North Dakota. It is increasingly hard to argue otherwise as we become better at both contributing to, and documenting, what we do for our state and nation.

To paraphrase the words of North Dakota House Speaker Al Carlson at an Interim Higher Education Committee meeting this past summer, "... show me what you do with our support, and we'll show you more support." Well our legislative and civic leaders, and the citizens of our state, are increasingly being shown what we do and I believe they will follow through on their promise and opportunity.

Speaking of a better life, here's a more personal illustration, the story of just one of our faculty members, but as I tell her story, keep in mind that many here have a similar narrative:

Jane Schuh grew up in a small town in North Dakota, the second youngest of 10 children. Her father was a farmer until he hurt his back at age 50, so he came to NDSU to earn a teaching degree. He returned to Sheldon to teach biology, where Jane was one of his most eager students. When he asked a question of the class, Jane always raised her hand, to which he'd say "yes Jane, we know you know the answer" ... and call on another student.  

Enthralled by science, Jane came to NDSU to study zoology as an undergraduate, and stayed here for a doctorate in cellular and molecular biology, then went to the University of Michigan Medical School to do postdoctoral work in a lab led by Steven Kunkel, who is originally from North Dakota. 

Today, Jane is an associate professor in the Department of Veterinary and Microbiological Sciences. She is also the Assistant Dean for Academic Programs in the College of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Natural Resources, and one of a dramatically increasing number of women in senior academic leadership positions at NDSU. Her specialty is immunology, with research interests in asthma and allergens.

Among other collaborations, Jane is also part of a research group led by Dr. Mukund Sibi, a University Distinguished Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, who has brought millions in federal research grants to NDSU, to study a variety of diseases including cancer and asthma. Jane incorporates in her work the biomedical research under way with colleagues here in chemistry, microbiology and other fields. Such interaction is crucial, as she learned in her days as a postdoctoral fellow.

But, if you get a chance, you really want to talk to her about her students! You will find, as you will by talking to any of our faculty, a passion and commitment to teaching, that is every bit as strong as the research and service components of their roles.

Dr. Schuh is the epitome of the positive impact of higher education and the Land-Grant ideal. She received the opportunity to develop her own potential, and in turn gives back in multiple ways, from the classroom to research, that contribute to advances in medicine and health.

It is a story that plays out here thousands of times over. Every year students come to us full of energy and ideas. They listen and learn and study and discuss, and become equipped to graduate and go into the world to reach for their own dreams, and in the process, create a brighter future for us all.

They design better buildings and bridges, they discover new technologies, they create cutting edge businesses, and they teach future leaders to master critical thinking and communication; they have families, they put down roots, and they give back to their communities.

Land grants were conceived specifically to empower the aspirations of individuals so they could advance the greater good of the state and the nation. That's what we do; it's what we live and breathe. Think about that for a minute. Empowering aspirations for the greater good.

That is why I am dedicated to finding the resources, tools and support that NDSU needs to help enrich this great state for generations to come.  As respected former Lt. Governor, former faculty member at the University of North Dakota, and now syndicated columnist Lloyd Omdahl recently posited "At last, it's true. North Dakota is the land of opportunity. Let's not miss it now that it is here."

As you know, we contribute to North Dakota by being what the National Science Foundation has ranked as the most productive research institution in the state. But what we have already achieved and contributed to our state and nation, at record levels, is just the beginning of what we can do in the future.     

I hope you will join me in four future commitments:

1) We will not just solidify our standing in the top 100 research universities in the nation, but advance our position well in to those ranks, which will allow us to tap in to the opportunities and advantages reserved for only the best universities in the nation. To date, we've surpassed Utah State University, New Mexico State University, Kansas State University, Oklahoma State University, Clemson University, and I could go on - but you get the picture.

We are already seeing the benefits of being in the top tier.

We have realized increased opportunities to partner on funding and research opportunities with some of the best universities in the nation.  We have increased our access to and eligibility for selective funding opportunities through federal and private sector agencies. 

And we are now receiving invitations to be a part of the select group of leading universities that are asked to set the agenda nationally not just for higher education but our state and nation's economy.  

Along those lines, just days ago I took part in a White House staff briefing limited to presidents of top tier institutions. No North Dakota university has ever before sat at those tables, and we want to take the fullest possible advantage of our state being represented there now.

2) We will in the future better retain, graduate on time and place in jobs the best student class profiles in NDSU history. We'll do that not just at the undergraduate, but also increasingly at the graduate level. 

While NDSU was the first in the state to put in place measures toward that end, I'm pleased to report that our doing so is very much "on the same page" as the new leadership of our statewide public higher education system. We are enthusiastic about the vision of the new Chancellor's Pathways to Student Success, and will be a leader in reaching those goals.

3) We will increasingly draw new talent to North Dakota. People who will not just come here for a year or two to make fast money, but who will be a positive part of shaping North Dakota's future on a long-term basis. We will be ready to continue their education at graduate levels, and respond to the need to educate their children.

4) We will continue to be, and will demonstrate clearly, objectively, and inarguably, that there is no greater single economic engine in the state than NDSU. In the next month, I will be able to share with you and the rest of our state, stunning evidence, from an external economic impact firm, which will illuminate that:

  • First: For every dollar that our students invest in NDSU, they receive an exponential return on that investment; by most measure, that return is well in excess of national averages;
  • Second: the annual economic impact of NDSU students on our service region reaches almost one-quarter of a billion dollars a year;
  • Third: in terms of credits and degrees earned, the economic results of NDSU graduates, are pegged at well over a half billion dollars a year, and;
  • And fourth: the overall economic impact of NDSU on its service region is well over three quarters of a billion dollars a year.

As a result, I anticipate that questions like "what have you accomplished" will in the future change to "can you do more and how can we support it?"

These four commitments are the ways a truly student-focused, land-grant research university enriches its state. We excel, we nurture and we ignite positive change. We empower, we equip and we enrich those we serve. We improve what's possible for North Dakota while providing a demonstrable and exceptional economic return on the state investment that has been made in us.

These also are the ways NDSU is unique. Where land-grant research universities in other states have more typically sacrificed teaching and service, we are, and remain uniquely committed, to our students and our citizens.

Some of the work in achieving these goals has already been accomplished. As you know, we are North Dakota's top ranked research university, the first and only North Dakota institution to be placed in the Carnegie Commission's elite category of "very high research." Although within our state we are too infrequently recognized for that incredible achievement, to put it another way, we are in the top 2 percent of all private and public universities in the nation. 

Trust me; our peer institutions throughout the nation have more than simply "recognized" that achievement ... they are increasingly trying to emulate us. And our potentials to continue increasing our success, and our future contributions, are imminently possible because NDSU is already so well positioned and on a trajectory to do so.

Now we get to a good part of this address, when we spend some time reflecting on how much we have accomplished in just the past year. It's probably a step too far to say we've become a lean, mean scholarship machine, but you get the idea. That said, we are doing a lot, and we are doing it well.

Our researchers and students are exploring the mysteries of diseases, and finding mechanisms to address them through biomedical and life science areas. A new NDSU institute, with a focus across the life sciences - from agriculture to animal and plant sciences to biomedicine - is the Center for Life Sciences Research and Applications. They also conduct research with private partners, including Sanford Research and the RJ Lee Group, Inc.  

In another setting, we are engineering synthetic bone that is identical to human bone in form and function. By joining engineering, mechanics, materials, biology and basic science, our researchers are making possible a response to human physical trauma and deformity that in the past could only be imagined.

In chemistry, we have a world-renowned research program in the area of new materials for optical sensing, photo limiting devices, photodynamic therapy for cancer and medical imaging.

In pharmacy, our scientists are working on a range of treatments, including understanding the biological mechanisms linked to the spreading of a highly malignant brain tumor. We are working to target the molecules responsible for it metastasizing and will then study effective treatment strategies. We also work with pancreatic cancer, and exploring the use of natural products in treating it.

Our Center for Computationally Assisted Science and Technology, also known as CCAST, is looking inside the sun. We're using CCAST's computing power to simulate the sun as a means to study plasma flows associated with sunspot cycles. The cycles play a role in solar storms, which can affect satellites and disrupt a host of modern communication technologies.

CCAST is the largest super-computing facility in the state and supports a great deal of research taking place here. In addition - industry, government and academic leaders are using the Center to aid in the development of clean energy technologies, smart-grid transmission systems, increased production in oil and gas fields, and methods to better predict wind farm production. Research computing capacity at NDSU will expand still more, due to a recent National Science Foundation grant, which will also provide computational research opportunities for high school and undergraduate students as well as students from underrepresented groups.

Our researchers are also able to do more thanks to high-end electron scanning microscope equipment in NDSU's Advanced Imaging and Microscopy facility. Because of that, we can both visualize structures of only a few nanometers, and measure microscopic reactions that happen at the cellular level. If you have a chance, stop by the second floor gallery of Old Main to look at a display of what our microscopy faculty and staff can do at that level of imaging.

We are developing new and better coatings and resins, increasingly from agricultural products - reducing dependence on petrochemical based materials and creating new markets for what's grown in North Dakota.

Scientists at NDSU's Center for Nanoscale Science and Engineering are analyzing materials that could play a role in North Dakota oil exploration. As part of a research agreement with the North Dakota Geological Survey, our scientists also are analyzing clay samples, to determine their composition and suitability for use as a component in hydraulic fracturing. Our research may also lead to down-hole imaging advances that would in the future literally change how exploration is done.

Our undergraduate students have the opportunity to showcase their innovative thinking through an exciting program called Innovation Week, which includes a student competition. Last year's winning team developed a novel dental implant with very real commercial potentials.

We help students in K-12 through a variety of studies and partnerships, such as the Early Risers program in which kindergarten and first grade students with underdeveloped social skills or behavioral issues are teamed with students who are strong in those areas.

There are literally hundreds more examples of our students and faculty combining talents, but with apologies to the researchers whose work I've oversimplified, and to the many more whose meaningful work I didn't have time to cite, we'll move on.

I do need to highlight some other facts, such as our steady and growing full-time, face-to-face enrollment. While other institutions are growing their part-time enrollment, ours remains the largest full-time student body in the state and our unduplicated student head count is nearly 17,000 during the course of a full year. Our graduates go a long way toward replacing the highly-educated retirees coming in the next few years, and meeting the state's demand for even more graduates.

I'm also pleased to note that those same students are more active in student organizations, and deeply involved in the leadership of our institution, than is typical in not just our state, but also the nation. That includes more substantial roles in setting and overseeing student fees, participation in university policy matters, and representation on state higher education boards.  

Our students also have a tremendous impact in the community through their volunteer work. Last year, the total hours logged by students involved in Greek life, student organizations, residence halls and our athletics totaled more than 51 thousand hours, and they raised more than 117 thousand dollars for charities.

Our ROTC students continue to excel, with a 100 percent graduation rate, while being identified as some of the nation's most highly decorated future leaders. Cadet TJ Peterson won the Legion of Valor Bronze Cross for Achievement, one of only eight in the nation to win this award.

We have also achieved some exciting facility enhancements this past year. Those enhancements would not have been otherwise possible without a growing number of private organizations feeling a responsibility to improve the conditions of our university facilities.

A new and very "real life" laboratory space for students to learn about marketing, logistics, trading and risk management is the Commodities Trading Room in Richard H. Barry Hall.

The facility was developed in response to the importance of commodity trading to North Dakota, which includes trading in agricultural, energy and transportation products. Broad sponsorship from major agribusiness firms, the Richard Barry Foundation, and a number of state commodity organizations, has made the laboratory possible.

Similarly, a generous donation from Gate City Bank, to renovate and maintain the auditorium in Stevens Hall, greatly improved the student-learning environment. The auditorium is the largest and most used on the campus, so the renovation will affect the education of virtually every student at NDSU.

Education and research, and resulting economic stimulation, are the keys to North Dakota's future. And North Dakota State University is an economic engine that does a very good job of educating students, creating new knowledge, advancing technology and broadening the economic base of the state and the region.

That said, we are not a state where good is good enough. As I mentioned earlier, we know the importance of continuing to progress, which brings me to our list of new major activities and organizational initiatives. Some are almost complete, some are in the very initial stages, and some are just about to begin.  

These exciting measures are only possible thanks to the faculty, staff and students who contributed to our university-wide strategic planning processes during the past two years. That advance work has made possible a pace of development and improvement, on more fronts, than could be accomplished at most other universities.

As many of you know, we are in the first year of our new Student Success Tuition Model, which encourages students to take at least 15 credits leading to better retention and graduation in four years. The model will also eliminate the confusing array of student fees by blending them into a single "tuition" charge. We were the first institution in the state to introduce these exciting improvements. We will be the first to introduce a pan-university differential tuition format, which will allow us to more competitively fund high cost academic programs without overcharging less expensive ones. <s> </s>

I would also like to highlight several exciting organizational realignments.

First, the music department, with State Board of Higher Education approval just a week ago, has become the School of Music. It is now one of 49 schools of music in the United States accredited by the National Association of Schools of Music. Those schools feature a similar broad-based academic program including a doctorate in performance and conducting.

Serious discussions are well under way regarding the potential separation and establishment of, by July of 2013, a new school bringing together our various architecture and design programs. The School would potentially be affiliated with the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences while its future and development is under further consideration.

As perhaps the most provocative change, with the exciting potential to serve as a new national model, and targeted for completion next July, we will today begin the process leading to a new approach for the delivery of our university's overall information-based programs and services. Because of the increasing if not inseparable overlap of information technology, library programs, data base resources and extended education options at universities across the nation, we believe a new model is called for which purposefully rather than coincidentally comingles those functions.

Along such lines, NDSU will pursue merging of our libraries, information technology and distance education divisions. As part of that merger, we will also recognize and reframe the broadening scope of our distance and continuing education division as the Distance, Executive and Virtual Education Division, to better meet the needs of those we serve throughout local and state communities.

This challenging and innovative undertaking will be discussed and developed in the coming months with faculty, staff and student constituencies. Assuming the model is adopted, we will move forward with the creation and process of filling a new Vice President role to oversee the combined division. That search would be led by Dr. Jim Council.

A transition, which I highlight with very mixed emotions, is the announcement by Vice President for Research, Dr. Phil Boudjouk, that he would like to step down from that role at the end of the calendar year. In collaboration with our exceptional scholars, Dr. Boudjouk is the senior academic leader most proximal to NDSU's stunning growth in research productivity during the past decade. Those contributions, as well as his work with our state's EPSCoR program and countless other university and statewide economic catalysts, is without parallel in North Dakota. 

The search process to recruit and fill his position will be under way in coming weeks, and Dr. Boudjouk has agreed to stay on in his role until the position is successfully filled. Dr. Kalpana Katti has agreed to chair that search, and Provost Bruce Rafert has identified potential committee members and will be contacting them in the near future.

Last but most definitely not least, we will soon be testing a new initiative modeled after our long-standing and proud tradition in Agricultural Extension Services. As the pilot for doing so, and based on a novel process inspired by the State Board of Higher Education, we will be offering a transportation logistics program in collaboration with Dickinson State University. If successful, NDSU will use that as the start of an Engineering Extension Service to better support the civil and mechanical engineering needs of communities throughout North Dakota. We believe this initiative may in time become one of the most important statewide community development efforts in North Dakota history.

Now we get to a point in not just this address, but the history of NDSU, that I have been particularly looking forward to. One of the most important recognitions at any major research university is identification of its leading scholars. NDSU had such a program in the past, but due to resource limitations it had to be put on hiatus. 

Today, I am particularly pleased to announce that as part of our ongoing commitment to not just maintaining but improving our scholarly caliber, and as made possible through a gracious gift from the Katherine Kilbourne Burgum Leadership Fund, we have had the opportunity to consider and have selected a new University Distinguished Professor, the highest honor awarded to a faculty member at North Dakota State University. 

University Distinguished Professor status recognizes an outstanding record of sustained, high-quality and appropriately balanced contributions to all three areas, equally, of research or creative activity, instruction and service. A University Distinguished Professor is also expected to demonstrate the highest standards of good character, academic integrity and university leadership, and to demonstrate a significant impact beyond his or her individual program. Please join me in recognizing the return of this very special honor through the naming of newest University Distinguished Professor, Dr. Elias Elias, Department of Plant Sciences.

As a fitting epilogue, let me share what University Distinguished Professor Tom Isern pointed out at our Great Plains Land Grant Summit here this past June. Dr. Isern identified four factors which contribute to North Dakota's potential as a state: long-term prosperity for agriculture and intensive development in the energy sector, an established and burgeoning knowledge industry, and as he put it "for the first time in a century, a positive brand." The question, Dr. Isern asked, is "will we capitalize?"

What if our grandparents, and even our parents, had believed their lives were "good enough?" It's the American ideal for each generation to work to bring a better life to the next. What if our grandparents and parents had not invested in our futures?

Justin Morrill envisioned higher education as the best path to individual fulfillment as much as he saw it as the means to advance the nation. I believe we hold the same vision and I believe North Dakota's leaders share that vision.

As educators, we are here because we've seen a student light up when a concept becomes clear. We've seen those same students become leaders and entrepreneurs who improve their communities. We are here because we believe strongly in contributing to the greater good of society by providing solutions and services to our citizens. We understand the immense power of research and we increasingly know, and are sharing, how we are contributing to the future of our state and nation. We are a Student-Focused, Land-Grant, Research University.

It's popular these days to talk of return on investment. I'd say transforming lives for the good of the state and nation is a pretty good payoff. The possibilities of the future, and the opportunity to realize that vision, are ours.

In closing, I invite the NDSU Concert Choir members - yet another convincing demonstration of the caliber of students at NDSU - to lead us in singing The Yellow and the Green.

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