North Dakota State University
State of the University Address

President Dean L. Bresciani

Thursday, October 9, 2014 • 11 a.m.


Day after day we wake to find another national news story extolling the virtues of life in North Dakota. This is not news to us, of course. We are well aware of the strengths of our diverse economy powered in no small way by the work we do at North Dakota State University. It is fun, though, to observe the surprise and what seems to be a little good natured envy on the part of these national writers.

Sure, they write, North Dakota’s got a great economy and a top 100 research university located in one of the hottest college towns in the nation, but isn’t it a little remote up there?

I get it. I mean, who would want the kind of rosy future, quality people, reasonable cost of living, low crime, energetic young entrepreneurial base we enjoy, …

and of course there are the beautiful and distinct four seasons!

I have the answer for that – including the weather. We do! We have invested our hearts and minds to ensure and expand the quality of life of all North Dakotans. We do what our state needs from us – we attract new young people better than any other aspect of our state and give them the educational base they need to be the next generation of leaders. We conduct research that improves North Dakota’s growing technology base, the business environment, the historic agricultural sector, and more, which, as our civic and business leaders tell us, leads to economic growth and diversification.

Bottom line: We serve our citizens.

Go to any business group and ask what their number one need has been and continues to be: it’s finding more potential employees who are highly educated. At literally every statewide meeting I attend, I hear business leaders desperate for more graduates – there are an estimated 22,000 vacant jobs in North Dakota today, and estimated to be 76,000 open positions by 2020. By 2020 – that’s six short years from now.

Nothing is a better magnet than higher education, and NDSU is our state’s best magnet. We attract more full time students than any other college or university in our state, who, after graduation, in growing numbers, stay in our state to work.  What is more effective than a successful top-ranked research university in attracting talented young people and widespread positive national media attention!

Let’s talk about that top ranking and national attention. From continuing academic and research success to student achievement and a nationally visible athletic program, we’ve had the sort of year that makes the case pretty convincingly. 

•  Research expenditures as audited by the National Science Foundation have topped an impressive $150 million a year—by far the largest total for any college or university in our 5 state region. 

•  One of our student leaders won the prestigious Truman scholarship.

•  A May graduate received a highly-competitive Fulbright teaching assistantship.

•  Another graduate student earned a prestigious National Science Foundation fellowship to develop a method to improve science education for undergraduates.

•  Our student athletes capped off a record-breaking year in which nine of 14 teams won their leagues, but more importantly, with a chart topping display in the classroom. Student athletes earned the highest grade point average in our Division I era, and outperformed our students at large. In addition, 61 student athletes earned perfect 4.0 GPAs. 

•  On another front, our Innovation Challenge winner is a graduate student in pharmaceutical sciences whose research on a cancer-fighting agent is quite promising. 

•  With a Helmsley Foundation grant, our master of public health program has begun the only American Indian specialization in the country. 

•  We had a chemistry faculty member win the highly-prestigious Sloan Fellowship—since first awarded in 1955, 42 Sloan fellows have gone on to win a Nobel Prize and 63 have received the National Medal of Science.

•  The chair of our visual arts department is a Bush Fellow.  

•  We were thrilled to have one of the largest classes of National Merit Scholars in NDSU history join us this fall.

•  And the first-time pass rates on pre-exams licenses in our students across disciplines is with only a few exceptions the highest in the state – and generally by a substantial margin.

I could go on – I would love to go on – but I can’t keep you here for six or seven hours. Suffice it to say, those are just a few of the very impressive stories from the past few months.

Oh heck, I’m going to go on.

I can’t resist listing some of the ways we’re being recognized, such as #7 on a ranking from Great Value Colleges dot Net, which says of North Dakota: Quote: 

“it is worth it to note that North Dakota has been rated #1 for well-being, #1 for the best run state, #1 for the best state to find a job, and #1 as the most affordable state to live. How can you say no to all that?” 

And there are more:

• USA Today ran a story about towns attractive to recent college graduates, putting Fargo on the list of what they called "millennial magnets."

•  NDSU pops up as the most desirable college in North Dakota, in a survey by eCollegeFinder, based on the number of applications received. North Dakota State University received more than 5,800 applications and accepted 84 percent.

• Business Insider listed Fargo as No. 1 on its list of the best cities for brand-new college graduates, citing the low unemployment, and a high percentage of young adults in the population.

•  Payscale dot com also credits NDSU with one of the highest student return on investment ratios for public research universities in the nation.

•, a new site for explanatory journalism, ran a story about North Dakota's enviable education rate. The lead paragraph?  "If you want to find the best-educated young adults, head to Massachusetts - or North Dakota."

Another way to view success is through the employment of our graduates. I’m not talking about some of our graduates, I’m talking about all of our graduates. I’m sure you know that our graduates in programs like engineering and agriculture are highly sought after, but you should also know, to call out just one of our humanities areas, that 100 percent of our philosophy majors were employed within weeks of graduation last spring.

We serve our citizens.

Yet another way to measure success is to note how frequently external partners seek us out, because we have a reputation as being unusually nimble and effective. We are known for the speed at which we establish research relationships, develop matriculation agreements with other universities, and respond to business requests. Our private sector partners consistently say that our responsiveness exceeds the other universities in our multi-state region. That is why, in large part, our list of national and international corporate partners is continuing to grow by leaps and bounds. 

Locally and as a great example, Sanford Health shares NDSU’s passion for serving the state, and sees us as a critical partner in meeting North Dakota’s public health care needs. Sanford sought us out to assume their nursing education program in Bismarck because our enrollments in that field are growing, our graduation numbers and board passage rates are the highest in the state, we offer the only accredited doctor of nursing practice program in North Dakota, and our externally funded research in the field is nationally recognized and quickly growing.

Not only does that tell you we’re known for our quality, but it also fits naturally with our land grant tradition to serve the state. It’s the philosophy we were founded on, and it is a deeply held value.

We serve our citizens.

As we all well know, since our founding in 1890, our research has advanced production practices for farmers and ranchers, and helped feed the world.  Today our research continues to enhance agriculture with efforts like growing wheat that is impervious to pathogens not yet even in our country, developing other disease resistant crops, and becoming a worldwide leader in improving food safety, which many experts predict will become the biggest challenge facing humankind. 

And as you may remember from my first state of the university address, one of our earliest faculty members began a project  that involved systematic application and testing of paint on fence planks, which evolved into the current Department of Coatings and Polymeric Materials, an internationally respected program doing projects for agencies ranging from NASA to the Department of Defense, and in our own state, from new and exciting agriculture to energy extraction technologies.

Our architecture department is celebrating the milestone of 100 years of design education and excellence. Since its humble beginnings in 1914, when the Department of Civil Engineering and Mechanic Arts first offered courses in architecture at North Dakota Agricultural College, the Department has established a reputation of educating design leaders. Many of our graduates are principals and designers in award winning regional, local, national, and international firms.

And we’ve just learned this past summer that we will be home to the National Agricultural Genotyping Center. That North Dakota and NDSU were named for this major federal laboratory facility over existing national labs and AAU research universities, speaks volumes about our national visibility and reputation. The Genotyping Center will be the kind of tremendous asset never before possible for North Dakota to secure, with immeasurable potentials for partnerships with NDSU scientists on the priority food science challenges facing the world!

And in other areas, our researchers are focused on everything from cancer prevention and treatment, and understanding asthma, to preparing teachers for 21st century classrooms.  We’ve established a very strong program in public health, with specializations in American Indian public health, community health sciences, health promotion, and management of infectious disease. Our statewide leadership role in public health will be a key element in solving future state health care needs, particularly in rural areas of North Dakota.  I’ll speak more about that in just a minute.

More recently, given the demands in North Dakota’s oil patch, we’re conducting research on everything from population projections and school enrollments to law enforcement needs, soil conservation and transportation logistics.

After a trip to that part of the state this past summer, I was so moved by the day to day battle with dust that I set aside more than a third of a million dollars for NDSU researchers to study road dust issues stemming from oil and gas development in the Bakken region of western North Dakota.

Our Dickinson Research Extension Center and faculty researchers there have formed a group called “A Commitment to Continue,” with a goal to cooperatively produce significant scientific research and education to assist the agricultural and energy industries unique to western North Dakota. 

And it is safe to say that none of us can imagine our state without the contributions of all 11 campuses of the North Dakota University System, spanning from excellent two-year technical and four-year schools to research universities.

At NDSU, we are educating the future leaders and entrepreneurs of our state. We are serving the state and improving the lives of all through research solutions at levels never before imagined much less achieved—which are now bringing a new level of positive national attention to our state in a way North Dakota has never before experienced.

We serve our citizens.

When I first arrived in North Dakota in 2010, I heard quite a bit of concern about the rate of our enrollment growth. Now I regularly hear concern that we are not growing fast enough. Let’s be very clear about enrollment growth. It’s not about some warped bigger is better competition. It is about our obligation to help respond to our state’s need for highly educated engineers, nurses, public health practitioners, business professionals, sociologists, teachers, agriculturalists and so on.  At NDSU we are doing that through a purposeful focus on traditional full-time students looking for a rigorous research university environment, taking courses in person, and focused on timely degree completion.

Our student profile proves we are doing just that. More North Dakota high school students choose NDSU than any other college or university in the state, and 93 percent of our students are full time students, more than any other campus in North Dakota.  And given the number of open jobs in our state, our ability to recruit out of state students to study and work in North Dakota is an increasing state priority. I am happy to report that we are succeeding there as well, and more than half of our out-of-state students stay in our region to start their careers and families. We appear to be the only institution in our region to have shown full time student enrollment growth this fall, and we in fact did so through a new record overall enrollment.

The message to NDSU’s prospective undergraduate students is clear. This is not the place to come for an easy degree, or to be a part time or online student. This is a rigorous 4-year scholarly environment for students planning graduation, and starting careers our state needs them in. And that’s understood by our students: Well more than half of our students are in STEM related fields.

Balancing that, however, we are home to the largest fine and performing arts programs in the state.  That balance of disciplines is common to the nation’s best university learning environments.

In an effort to further broaden opportunities for our students, we have joined a national challenge to more than double our study abroad participation by 2019. To reach that goal, we will employ a combination of additional scholarships and loans, peer involvement, expand participation of underrepresented students and improve support across campus.

We serve our citizens.

But we also have more work to do. In the future, we will be placing a new emphasis on graduate student enrollment growth both to bolster the scholarly environment at our university and in response to needs expressed by state business leaders, who also need more people with masters and doctoral preparation. Graduate student enrollments also increase the productivity of the faculty, which in turn makes NDSU and our state more successful.  Graduate enrollment at our peer institutions are a quarter to a third of their student bodies, while we remain at about 14 percent. As a first step toward needed performance improvements in that area, we have restructured the graduate school’s responsibilities and anticipate new resources to assist them in addressing this state need.

At the same time, there is no higher priority than bolstering the meager undergraduate and graduate scholarship support we are currently able to offer.  I am aware of no top 100 research university with a lower level of scholarship support than NDSU, and that severely hampers our capacity to keep the best and the brightest North Dakotans in our state, and attract the best and brightest students from out of state. We have substantial work to do on that front.

For our current students, many initiatives are under way to ensure student success.  You’ve probably all heard me describe my observation of other research institutions —you have to dig pretty deep at some of those places to find mention of students. Here we say it early and often, and we follow up. We are a student focused, land grant, research university. 

Along these lines, we are in the process of creating a specialized space for what will be a new program to enhance student success, called the Math Emporium.  The Emporium will be a dedicated instruction and study space where students can focus on math homework and request one-on-one assistance. This model has proven successful at other major STEM-oriented universities in helping students progress more readily through majors that require extensive math courses.

In response to the growing need in North Dakota for engineers, we are expanding an already robust program to expose K-12 students to engineering. Among our many successful programs is a national robotics competition, which works to inspire middle through high school students to pursue STEM careers. NDSU’s college of engineering has grown this program to five active hubs in North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota.  And that’s not all.

NDSU now also hosts 1 of 4 national championships. Our competition draws students from not only the tri-state area, but also Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, and Connecticut.

However, it goes without saying that our engineering facilities bear a striking resemblance to how they looked 40-60 years ago when they were built….but with wear and tear from 55 or more years of constant use added for effect. In the upcoming legislative session, one of our highest priorities will be the first building, of a comprehensive renovation and replacement plan for the entire engineering complex.

Perhaps the biggest news I have to share today is that over the next several years, we will be hiring more faculty. I’m not talking about just a few hires. This will be one of the most significant additions to our faculty ranks in NDSU history.

Under the new state higher education funding formula, we now are funded based on our performance, which means that as we perform better we are funded better. It means we will be better able to ensure that students benefit from not only excellent faculty and ever more course offerings, but also that faculty are better able to teach, do research and perform service.

New resources will be directed to academic priorities, primarily to increase the number of faculty and academic support personnel. We all need to offer a thank you to the governor and our legislators who supported the vision of an equitable statewide funding formula that rewards productivity and success.

Speaking of support from our state legislators, I want to acknowledge the state’s matching grant to stimulate the spirit of philanthropy for North Dakota’s colleges and universities. The 2013 Legislature approved $29 million for the fund. Every $2 in eligible, private donations will be matched with $1 in state funding. This generous program has accelerated a variety of major initiatives at all of our system’s colleges and universities. NDSU is perhaps unique in the size and scope of proposals successfully funded, including endowed academic programs in agriculture, public health and fine arts. Our hope is that NDSU’s success will exemplify reasons to continue the program in the upcoming legislative session.  

One of our first projects to benefit from this fund is a cutting edge food production lab for the College of Human Development and Education, which we’re celebrating tomorrow with a ribbon cutting ceremony. And of course we celebrated another last night at the inaugural concert of NDSU’s Robert and Sheila Challey School of Music.

You’ve no doubt been observing the progress of the STEM building construction, set to open in the spring of 2016. This building is the first of its kind in many ways for North Dakota, both in terms of shared use by the entire campus community but also in design of cutting edge learning environments, using best practices from around the nation, focused on STEM-related instruction. That design facilitates better instruction of more students for more hours each day. Every day, 4000-5000 students in the nearly 120,000 square foot facility, will have the opportunity to take advantage of its classrooms, interactive laboratories, study space and group meeting areas.

As part of the STEM project, we’ll also move a major bus stop from Administration Avenue to a new and much safer turnaround area behind Ceres Hall, relieving congestion and increasing safety.

We have, in the mean time, completed a great deal of work on existing facilities maintenance. Sweeping changes in our university business processes, which since implementation at NDSU have been adopted by all campuses in the system, have allowed us the resources to start better addressing our facilities maintenance. The breadth of facilities renovations, repairs and upgrades undertaken over the summer is literally pages long. 

That list includes extensive replacements or repairs of roofs, masonry, windows, elevators, fire alarm systems, restrooms, HVAC systems, including air conditioning to every general use classroom on our main campus, and miscellaneous items ranging from sidewalks to irrigation of campus grounds. 

Additionally, you probably have noticed our new mini parks, small areas around campus with seating to facilitate small group interaction and allow for enjoyment of our increasingly beautiful campus. 

Virtually every area of campus received at least some level of facilities upgrade.  Our department of Facilities Management deserves special recognition for successfully addressing the most aggressive agenda of facilities repairs perhaps in NDSU history.

In terms of capital projects, going into the legislative session, we have identified, and the State Board of Higher Education has approved, the much overdue replacement of Dunbar hall, a fire and life safety concern. Dunbar is our number one priority, followed by two serious accreditation issues, one in the engineering complex and the other at Sudro Hall. We also identified the critical need to replace Harris Hall, an agricultural research facility and one of the oldest and most rundown research facilities on our campus -- which also, ironically, is one of our most important in terms of our state’s economy.

Separate from university funding is the agriculture appropriation that NDSU administers. The number one project for the Agricultural Research budget is a new veterinary diagnostic lab, desperately needed to successfully support the livestock industry in our state.

And let’s talk about the bane of every campus—parking. I’m pleased to report that space has been substantially increased and improved. Doing so and focusing in perimeter locations, decreases traffic and increases safety in the core of our campus.

Unfortunately, there’s much more we need to do when it comes to the aging, embarrassingly rundown condition of many NDSU facilities. As noted over the summer in a national Bloomberg News story,  repairs to North Dakota University System campuses are lagging to the tune of an $808 million dollar maintenance backlog. And in a dubious recognition, NDSU was identified as having more facilities in critical condition than any in the system. With such an extensive backlog, it is beyond our capacity to address those issues within our operating budget. The overwhelming scope of the facilities improvements needed at NDSU can only be appropriately dealt with on a state based level.

As I hinted at earlier, research has continued to grow on an extraordinary trajectory, from more than $126 million in 2010 to more than $150 million as reported to the National Science Foundation for 2013.  Lead by steady and growing success in our traditional scholarly research based in agriculture, followed by science and engineering, a variety of specific areas such as biochemistry, polymers and coatings, nano-electronics, material sciences and health related initiatives have more recently emerged as major catalysts of research funding. 

Sources of that funding have also broadened from, primarily, the state of North Dakota and U.S. Department of Agriculture to include substantial and growing funding from the National Institutes for Health, the U.S. Department of Commerce, the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Department of Defense.  Partnerships and funding from private entities and organizations have also increased dramatically to now state-leading levels.

To accommodate this thriving research and creative activity enterprise, we have added an export control officer to develop, implement and manage an effective export compliance program for the university, as well as provide guidance and consultation to faculty, staff and administration on decisions regarding import or export impact.

Supporting the application of those research discoveries is the award winning NDSU Research and Technology Park. As has been the case since its inception, the park is an exceptional success story with few rivals anywhere in the nation.

In fact, across the nation, many such parks are struggling. But the NDSU Research and Technology Park is reaching full capacity. In fact, the park’s leadership is in the process of considering phase two locations for future expansion.

In a similar vein, the university and the development foundation are in the early planning stages for complementary housing on the east side of University Drive between 12th and 19th avenues. We anticipate development designed around graduate and family housing needs, which will nicely complement the highly-valued Roosevelt neighborhood.

As I promised earlier to talk more about, we are fast becoming a leader in solving health care problems in North Dakota. While North Dakota benefits from an outstanding school of medicine at our sister institution, UND, it is well understood that our state struggles to keep up to a growing demand for health care workers, particularly those coming from traditional MD preparation.

Along those lines, we’re excited about the exponential growth of NDSU’s MPH program. Complimenting that, over the summer I was extremely pleased to join a news conference announcing the funding for our American Indian Public Health Resource Center, which will be part of the Master of Public Health program. Dr. Don Warne who is a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe from Pine Ridge, South Dakota, is the director, and in fact is the only American Indian MPH program director in the country. As Dr. Warne explains the work of the program, most of the health disparities among the American Indian population of the Northern Plains are preventable, so the role of public health is essential.

In strengthening our infectious disease track, we are extremely pleased that Dr. Paul Carson, a nationally recognized expert in infectious disease, was willing to leave Sanford Health to join our faculty. Through a wonderful collaborative arrangement, Dr. Carson will nonetheless maintain privileges and some practices at Sanford-Fargo.

On a parallel path, I’m happy to note that the nursing program also has in just this past year excelled on multiple fronts, including doubling of our nursing student enrollment, and receiving a third of a million dollar grant for its Indigenous Wisdom in Nursing Program. Partnerships with Sanford Health and South Dakota State University, also add exciting promise for better addressing health care and nutrition needs in our state.  

We serve our citizens.

As I near closure here today, I want to mention that we are bringing completion to the past three years of strategic planning, which began with visioning exercises and creation of an academic roadmap. That process is being brought to closure via this past year’s external consultation on NDSU’s scholarly performance and potentials. A working draft strategic plan reflecting your input and involvement is in development by faculty and staff committees and will soon be shared with the university community for reactions and suggestions. I say working draft, because in my mind a strategic plan should be a dynamic and ongoing process, accommodating new factors and changes in the working environment.

In conclusion, and perhaps counter-intuitive to a formal State of the University address, I’d like to talk about our athletic program and the surprising return of ESPN’s Game Day. It strikes me as a metaphor worth noting, that we have so risen in national visibility that one of the most watched prime time shows in the nation chose, for the second year in a row, to come here. By way of context, the program has never been to the University of Minnesota or any college or university in the states bordering North Dakota. But when a university and its athletic programs reaches the national level of visibility and success never before achieved in our state, it repositions the nation’s perception of the entire state of North Dakota.

A few years ago, no one could have imagined ESPN coming here the first time, much less the second. That type of visibility casts a light on our scholarly success. That is how the nation knows who we are and what we do, not just at NDSU and not just at our 10 sister institutions, but who we are as a state. 

What’s most important is that our state, uniquely through NDSU, and perhaps as no other agency of the state has more successfully done on a national stage, is recognized in positive ways as never before, which allows us, as never before, to serve our citizens.  

Thank you.

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