North Dakota State University
State of the University Address

President Dean L. Bresciani

Thursday, October 8, 2015 • 11 a.m.

Good morning, and thank you for being here! And a special welcome to our colleagues around the state joining us via video stream. It’s a privilege to have this opportunity to review the past year and preview the next year. Working alongside so many talented and dedicated students, faculty, staff, alumni, friends and citizens who succeed and contribute at record levels to the citizens we serve, means I have a dizzying array of things to report today.

At NDSU, it is not a stretch to be enthusiastic and optimistic. As you hear my report of the past year and future plans, I’m sure you’ll agree. If anything, you’ll question my restraint.

On every level of measurement, ranging from campus facility improvements to thriving full time student enrollment, historic academic achievement, a growing record endowment, positive and record research numbers, and one of the winningest overall athletic programs in the nation, we serve our citizens at the highest levels ever known by our state and continue to improve.

Anyone who doesn’t see our efforts as extraordinary contributions to a transformative future just hasn’t had a chance to visit with one of us yet or purposefully does not want to see what we’re contributing to the state and nation.

What I’d tell a not-yet-supporter is, first and foremost, all of our efforts are to serve our citizens, and our citizens set our agenda. The faculty and staff of NDSU don’t decide. The administration doesn’t decide. And, in fact, even our legislators don’t decide; our citizens decide our priorities.

At NDSU, we respond in multiple ways to meet the expressed needs of our citizens. Workforce study after workforce study tell us our business leaders need more graduates, so we work diligently to attract, educate and graduate more full-time students. In fact, we attract more full-time students from both in and outside of our state than any other college or university in North Dakota, the majority of whom, after graduation, in growing numbers, stay in our state to work.

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.

Many of you are likely familiar with a regional workforce study and strategy group that was recently formed. A unique coalition of our local Economic Development Corporation, Convention and Visitors Bureau, United Way, Chamber of Commerce and FM Area Foundation came together to spearhead the creation of a comprehensive plan to improve workforce development. Their research lead them to five strategies, including strengthening the pipeline of local talent, enhancing efforts to bring new talent to the region, upward mobility for workers and employing innovative technology solutions. All of the plans involve partnering with higher education. As I’ve often said in the past, there is no better magnet to North Dakota, for talent and opportunity, than North Dakota’s two-year, four-year and research universities; and North Dakota State University does it better than anyone in our state and, in fact, the five-state region.

Our private sector partners are speaking out more often and more loudly to policymakers, asking for more support for higher education so, as a magnet, we can draw even more talent. At a policy summit this summer in Bismarck, a major North Dakota business leader told a roomful of legislators that the state needs to up its game. Let’s go 10x, he said, because we need the people and if the jobs don’t get filled here, they’ll move and be filled somewhere else. That’s a pretty strong statement, but it does indicate the urgency we’re hearing from all over the state.

Our private sector partners are also indicating the need for our graduates by providing scholarship dollars. Doosan and Bobcat Company provided an exceptional gift of $3 million to fund a STEM-related scholarship program. The State of North Dakota matched the donation with $1.5 million — making the combined gift of $4.5 million the single largest gift to establish a scholarship endowment in NDSU, and quite possibly state, history. The first 10 recipients started classes in August, with some of the best and the brightest students in engineering and computer science from North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Our emphasis on engineering education is a direct response to marketplace need. As the largest educator of engineers in the state, by a wide margin, we work proactively on many fronts to attract youth to the field, ranging from hosting national robotics competitions to a STEM alliance with area businesses to work with K-12 students. The College of Engineering also offers an impressive roster of programming for female students, such as TechGYRLS, a 10-week after-school program that introduces girls in grades 3-7 to science and engineering concepts, and Preparing Outstanding Women for Engineering Roles, called POWER, which is a weekly program allowing girls in high school to interact with female engineering students and complete fun, hands-on projects. This program is presented by NDSU's Society of Women Engineers and supported by the College of Engineering.

We hear everywhere we turn that North Dakota communities need more health care practitioners, so we’ve continued to invest in programs like our Masters of Public Health, which has quickly and exponentially grown to be the largest in the state.

This fall, we enrolled our first cohort of Doctor of Nursing Practice students in Bismarck to better serve the health care needs of Western North Dakota. Ours is the only fully accredited DNP program in the state. The presence in Bismarck is made possible by our recent acquisition of the former Sanford nursing school in Bismarck, which also continues at full capacity to educate nursing students at the four-year level. That contribution to improved health care in western North Dakota would not have been possible without NDSU.

We are, at the same time, in the process of doubling our overall nursing enrollment and have extended our School of Pharmacy’s reach to include nearly every county in the state through our telepharmacy program.

It’s worth highlighting that while engineering is our largest college and agriculture is a key discipline in our history and for our future, those areas are balanced by our state’s largest enrollments in both health professions and the performing arts. And, of course, we have the only and nationally ranked architecture program in the state, and a number of other areas of similar caliber across the disciplines, such as visual arts, which recently received a $3.6 million gift, one of the largest endowment gifts in NDSU history. This balance of disciplines is common at the nation’s best university learning environments, and we’ve joined their ranks.

With increasing technological advances, many of our state’s most important economic sectors, such as agriculture and healthcare, are seeing a great influx in the amount of data needed for research and decision making. We have listened to needs for help in this big data arena and have done all we can to maintain the high performance and advanced computing capabilities of our Center for Computationally-Assisted Science and Technology, known as CCAST – the first and still only such center in North Dakota approved by the State Board of Higher Education.

We know that state, regional, national and global challenges in all areas are continuing to demand more and better research. Researchers here are spanning societal needs from feeding the world to curing cancer … managing dust in the oil patch to improving literacy for new Americans … more effective teaching, helping save the bee population, preserving history in rural North Dakota, developing heart pacers that don’t need batteries, finding linings for landfills to prevent groundwater contamination, reducing corrosion on oil pipelines, engineering robotic wheelchairs that allow disabled veterans to salute the flag in a formal way.

Excuse me; I have to take a break. This list is getting long.

But here’s a stunning national statistic that further reinforces the need for higher education: in a Georgetown University study, 97 percent of what are defined as “good jobs” created from 2010 to 2014 went to workers with at least a bachelor’s degree. Good jobs were defined as earnings of more than $42,700. This tells us that the individuals who earn degrees have better earning, and that businesses need college-educated employees. In fact, this next statistic is particularly sobering, in this study, workers with high school diplomas or less actually lost positions.

Our enrollment plan continues to be shaped by the needs of the citizens we serve, and by realities such as this 97 percent statistic. This fall’s enrollment numbers show that we continue to lead the state by a wide margin in exactly the type of students who are most likely to graduate and take jobs here. We are focused on full-time, face-to-face students, rather than part-time online delivery to students who may not even live in our state, to meet the needs of our business community. Our first-year class is the third largest in NDSU’s history, and more than 3 percent larger than last year.

Similarly, graduate enrollment is intentionally focused on full-time, scholarly students, and the number of degree-seeking graduate students is at a record high, with doctoral student enrollment at a 4.5 percent increase from last year.

I view this as the modern take on the land-grant ideal – for more than 150 years, our state and nation have recognized that education is the most productive path to an improved quality of life for our citizens.

Think back to the early years of North Dakota Agricultural College. I’ve talked many times about Professor Bolley and his initial paint tests that formed the basis of our world-renowned polymers and coatings program. How pleased he would be to see what has flourished from the work he started. But I wonder if he could have imagined the achievements of so many highly accomplished faculty, who would propel NDSU into the Carnegie Commission’s highest ranking, and that NDSU is now starting to be invited into collaborations at a level that typically only includes Association of American Universities, or AAU, institutions, the most elite and only classification of universities which NDSU is not a part.

I would love to be the one to give Professor Bolley a tour of the STEM building when it opens next semester and see his reaction. The facility will have a profound impact on our students. We expect more than 4,000 students a day moving through the most contemporary and cutting-edge learning environments in the state.

The STEM building is a symbol for the creative and innovative teaching philosophy at play at NDSU. In fact, we’ve established an office of Teaching and Learning to foster student-centered, innovative educational programs and provide professional development to further strengthen teaching at NDSU. The new office also will support the Center for Science and Math Education programs, such as a K-12-based Science Olympiad and North Dakota Governor’s School.

Similarly, the Department of Mathematics has opened a Math Emporium Learning Center this fall. It is designed to give students structured practice and feedback in math courses. Students taking college algebra, trigonometry and pre-calculus will use state-of-the-art math software to study and practice course material. The software includes videos, animations and tutorials. Instructors provide immediate feedback on students’ work and offer optional live, on-site lectures. This learning center environment allows a higher level of personalized instruction than traditional lecture formats. It also helps students develop study skills that are transferrable to other courses.

Another positive facet of the STEM building – the first fully state-funded facility in 40 years here – is that it will help solve a very troubling issue for us. Our classroom space is so tightly compressed and in constant use that we have no capacity to renovate buildings in STEM disciplines. The STEM classroom building will ease that concern. I’m also happy to report that we have been able to fully equip the STEM building labs and classrooms with state-of-the-art equipment. Let me reiterate, this will be the most exceptional undergraduate learning environment in our state!

And the state’s new higher education funding formula, which visionary state legislators put in to place, also means we have both the opportunity and resources to do something about many of our troubling deferred maintenance conditions. We have much yet to accomplish – don’t hear me declaring victory – but the extensive list of projects completed over the summer and the game-changers currently in the works are transformative. If you haven’t had a chance yet, I encourage you to walk through Ehly Hall, where we have completed substantial, if not stunning, upgrades for our engineering complex.

The largest major capital construction projects, in addition to the STEM building, are the Sanford Health Athletic Complex, funded by private dollars, and the aquatic center at the student wellness center, a project funded solely through student initiated fees.

Let’s talk about those funding sources for a minute. The State of North Dakota funds the STEM building, private sector funds the SHAC and students fund the aquatic center. My point is we don’t expect the state to fund all of our enterprise. We have a long history of stepping up to complement the gracious support they offer us. That’s somewhat unique in our state.

Ironically, I’m afraid, progress in some areas tends to further highlight the desperately overdue needs in other areas. We will continue to vigorously pursue replacement of Dunbar hall, which over the past few months has been closed several times due to water and electrical system failures. We already face formal accreditation criticisms at the engineering complex and at Sudro Hall and I’m concerned that those issues, if not addressed in the immediate future, will put the accreditation of those two programs at risk.

In addition, a variety of residence hall and student apartment developments are much needed. We know that students living on campus are more likely to be academically successful. To that end, three projects are on a fast track timeline, including a new residence hall near the existing high rises, a new housing development on the 1600 block of University Drive and the replacement of University Village. Campus dining service capacity is already being expanded to keep up to those future developments.

While we pursue these additions, we remain committed to balancing our student population needs with the surrounding community and maintaining a positive environment for the Roosevelt neighborhood.

Now let’s talk about the future.

Our strategic plan is very intentional about continuing the successful trajectory we now enjoy. We are committed to solving complex and evolving Grand Challenges in the interdisciplinary areas of:

  • Food Systems and Security,
  • Healthy Populations and Vital Communities and
  • Sustainable Energy, Environment and Societal Infrastructure.

This strategic plan is about not just continuing, but steepening our state-leading trajectory toward achievements never imagined for a North Dakota university. What would have been unimaginable just a few years ago has become possible.

I believe we are on the path to legitimately being able to pursue membership in the AAU. This is an association of top research universities that are leaders in innovation, scholarship and solutions that contribute to the nation's economy, security and well-being. I believe our scholarly performance already more than meets their standard, and with increased endowment of academic activities, AAU membership will become possible at some foreseeable point in the future. Just a few years ago I would have laughed at that assertion; today it has become quite real.

To that end, I have identified three targets we need to accomplish if we’re to reach AAU status. First, we need to pursue an enrollment of 18,000 students. That number gives us the size needed to be able to broaden our options, but is not so large that we lose our student focus. Second, we need to grow our student scholarship endowment by at least $100 million. And third, we will need to aggressively pursue a substantial increase in endowed chair and faculty positions.

Our Development Foundation leadership has recognized that private endowed support of NDSU is critical, and will allow us to draw more of the best and brightest students and faculty, from literally every corner of the nation, to North Dakota. They are committed to increasing this effort.

We have been and will continue to strategically invest in faculty and staff hires. I believe we are in the midst of more faculty hires than ever before in NDSU history and I am committed to continuing on that trajectory.

Given the extensive groundwork already done over the past five years, and the commitment from all of us to continue to reach new levels, I expect us to accomplish these goals in the next 3 to 5 years. No other university in our state or five-state region has the vision or capacity to achieve these goals—but we do!

Meanwhile, we are in the midst of a rigorous accreditation process.

Accreditors will be here in the next few weeks, and I encourage all of you to participate in their open meetings. This is a very important opportunity to demonstrate with clear and convincing evidence that we are who we say we are: a “student-focused, land-grant, research university.”

The accreditors have two major emphases. First, are we providing high quality student learning wherever we touch students’ lives at NDSU: in classes, in residence halls, and throughout the university community? Second, do we have a “culture of continuous improvement” where institutional innovation is driven by evidence-based judgments?

For faculty, peer review by fellow professionals is the gold standard. That’s what they expect in their research and creative activity, in their grant applications, in their proposals for new courses and programs, in their regular program reviews from their campus colleagues, and in the periodic evaluations by specialized accreditors. The upcoming comprehensive visit from a faculty team from the Higher Learning Commission is peer review of the entire institution, top to bottom.

The accreditors will be evaluating us through the lens of the Higher Learning Commission’s Criteria for Accreditation, but focusing in particular on evidence that our mission is embodied throughout the campus. Do we deliver on the promise of our mission in terms of student learning?

I want to thank everyone for providing evidence the Accreditation Report Writing Team requested in advance of the visit. This is the work of the entire campus community. However, our work is not done. Let me repeat, when the visiting team comes to NDSU on Monday, Oct. 19, and Tuesday, Oct. 20, we need to attend the appropriate meetings and to speak openly and honestly about both our triumphs and our challenges.

I’d also like to take a moment to acknowledge the death of the legendary Catherine Cater this past summer. Many of you knew Catherine better than I did, but I particularly enjoyed a recent visit with her, as she recalled her experiences over her 50-plus years with NDSU students. She exuded an inner strength and displayed an incredible sense of humor and joy of life, and had a wonderful way of making you feel like a better person for being around her. I look forward to in the future announcing a permanent recognition of her impact on our campus community.

And I should also acknowledge the new chancellor of the North Dakota University System, Dr. Mark Haggerott. He brings a breath of fresh air with a collaborative tone and supportive approach to higher education in North Dakota, and in particular its research universities.

More locally, I’m pleased to note that the Downtown Community Partnership has invited our student body president to join their board. This is a wonderful example of how the community support for our students is broad and inclusive, and it also gives us a chance to showcase the talent of our student body. I’ve said it before, but I am more than happy to repeat, the student leadership at NDSU is the best in the state. They are informed, articulate, collaborative leaders who set a standard for student leaders anywhere in the nation.

Our students contribute to quality of life in Fargo and North Dakota, and are in the thick of the exciting and growing entrepreneurial culture in the region. In fact, as an example of how well respected our students are nationally, I’ll point out that three NDSU students involved with our innovation week as a result were invited to the first-ever White House Demo Day in August. Andy Dalman, Jordan Brummond and Drew Spooner were asked to talk about their innovation successes at a national event featuring the president of the United States that recognized and encouraged young innovators.

As I said at the beginning of this address, life is indeed good here at North Dakota State University. These have been just a selected few highlights. We truly would be here for hours if I were to report on all the measurable successes that serve our citizens.

It goes without saying that every university wants to be better. And it’s easy to set lofty goals to do so. But here at NDSU we have done the hard work, we’ve laid the groundwork for the next level, and we are steadily progressing toward every goal we’ve aspired to.

In fact, as a university, we’re increasingly present in conversations where the rest of the schools are already in the AAU. And we are represented on leading boards of the NCAA, a first-ever achievement for a North Dakota college or university.

As educators, we have a culture of innovation in our pedagogy that others aren’t offering because the faculty of NDSU are so sincerely committed to this important value.

In our research, we’ve had the fortitude to invest wisely and strategically and our productivity, in contrast to the best universities in the nation, continues to go up.

We’ve laid the groundwork, and sown the seeds. It’s now time to see the rewards that come from that careful preparation and hard work, and to demonstrate to the citizens we serve the impressive opportunities that will emerge as a result.

I want to thank you for being here, for being part of the NDSU community, and celebrating Homecoming with us. On one of our social media sites where we promoted Homecoming events, one of our students said it best: “It’s my favorite holiday!”

We are about to dive into the full agenda of celebratory events and important meetings, starting with tonight’s coronation of the Homecoming king and queen and a dinner celebrating our generous donors, followed by the parade in downtown Fargo on Friday. Saturday starts early with a chance to watch one of ESPN’s marquee telecasts, "Sports Center on the Road," from the Fargodome, and, of course, the football game in the afternoon will be a good one. I would be remiss if I didn’t pause a moment here to acknowledge those and other unique aspects that lead to our sense of community. I’ve been a part of many campuses—and I can honestly say that NDSU is an exemplar of what a university community should be. In fact, let’s give all of you a hand—you are what makes NDSU special.

By now I hope most of you have seen our social media hash tag, #NDSUtrue, our way of capturing the sense of pride, loyalty and achievement we experience as part of the NDSU community. One of our students who used the hash tag summed it up by saying: “I love my school!” Thank you for being NDSU true.

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