North Dakota State University
State of the University Address

President Dean L. Bresciani

Friday, September 30, 2016 • 9 a.m.


Good morning and welcome. Thank you for joining us this morning, and a special welcome to our colleagues from the seven outstate Research Extension Centers, the Oakes Irrigation Research Site, the Agronomy Seed Farm in Casselton, and the Extension Service Offices in every county of North Dakota, joining us by video stream.

I also would like to recognize a special guest with us in the auditorium, the Chair of the North Dakota State Board of Higher Education, Kathleen Neset. Thank you for joining us this morning.

As I’ve said every year for the last six years, we’ve had an exceptional year, and I am happy to provide the following report of NDSU’s contributions to the progress and prosperity of our great state.

The role of higher education — especially for a land grant research university like North Dakota State University — is to improve quality of life by providing education, service and research to benefit all the citizens we serve.

We are part of a long history of this powerful construct, which began in 1862. And I believe the land grant ideal is considered successful because it is constantly evolving to meet the needs of our citizens.

We at North Dakota State University hold that responsibility very dear, and, as I’ll talk more about in a bit, we hold that responsibility in sharp focus. We continue to be the incubator for future leaders who are changing the world for the better.

NDSU is student-focused and committed to its land grant mission, an economic engine of the state and a growing national research power. We find solutions to ever changing real-world problems.

Faculty, staff and students conduct research in critical areas such as cancer treatment, drug delivery and testing, crop productivity and disease resistance, cyber security, bullying, eating disorders, disease diagnosis, the use of organic materials in paints and products, the use of sensors to monitor floods and droughts, and many, many other issues that face our society. Faculty, staff and students enhance our lives by helping us to communicate more effectively, understand our history as a state and nation, comprehend the emotion behind a piece of music, and make ethical decisions. As a land grant institution, we bring together science, technology, engineering, mathematics, the arts and humanities, social sciences, health professions and human development in ways that enrich us as a people.

We create and transfer knowledge, and in fact the number of inventions developed annually by NDSU faculty scientists and students, as reported by the NDSU Technology Transfer Office, continues to increase each year.

The intellectual property generated by our faculty creates new business opportunities and jobs. Our Research and Technology Park accounts for more than 1,000 jobs in the Park today, an increase of 15 percent over 2010. And the annual salaries in the park are $69 million, which is an increase of 35 percent since 2010. Do the math on that, those are obviously high paying jobs!

Incubator graduates — not — in the Park represent an additional 152 jobs and $12 million in salaries. 

And nearly 80 percent of our North Dakota students take their first jobs in North Dakota, and about 40 percent of out of state graduates stay in North Dakota for their first jobs, and those numbers have been on the rise.

Our mission is to serve every North Dakotan-- via education, research, service, Extension and Experiment Station work. And economically, every North Dakotan benefits from the enhanced tax base that comes from a more diverse economy of the high paying jobs our graduates go into after leaving NDSU.

Much of our funding comes from outside the state; businesses are drawn here from outside the state; young people so vital to our future are drawn here from outside the state — you see where I’m going with this. We are a magnet for economic activity and workforce enhancement that benefits the entire state.

We’re also, of course, supporting the health and future of agriculture, which is the largest of the primary industries that constitute North Dakota’s economic base. North Dakota ranks either first or second in the production of 12 different crop commodities.  NDSU researchers develop and release new crop varieties to bolster profits through higher yields and building disease resistance. Since just 2000, 66 new varieties covering 13 crops have been released by NDSU.

Our economists conduct research and provide education on farm management, economic impacts, marketing and agricultural policy.

The NDSU Extension Service is the arm of NDSU that extends unbiased, research-based information to enhance the economic prosperity of producers, create healthy families, and improve the quality of life in communities. 

Agricultural engineers have been pioneers in areas such as crop storage, bioenergy development, precision agriculture and production systems, and most recently, Unmanned Aerial systems as a component of precision agriculture. In fact, NDSU is conducting research with the largest UAV in the United States.

Our work in the area of Unmanned Aerial systems is one of the many collaborations we enjoy with institutions in our public higher education system. Others include a study group we have been asked to lead in coordination with the North Dakota Superintendent of Public Instruction. The initiative will bring system presidents together with K-12 superintendents to identify challenges and best practices in the preparation and matriculation of North Dakota high school graduates entering public colleges and universities in the state.

We’ve also been asked to take a leadership role in the High Performance Computing initiative for the university system. Both of these collaborations were created at the behest of Chancellor Hagerott, and we thank him for these opportunities.

In terms of collaborative academic offerings, we have entered an agreement with Dickinson State University to offer engineering in western North Dakota. And we are proposing several degree programs, including cyber security, with the University of North Dakota. The dual degree program in elementary education and human development and family science with Valley City State University also is very positive.

Every morning we get up and come together and continue to do this important work. We commit to a better future for the citizens we serve, and we work to do justice to the people who paved the way for us.

One such person of powerful but very quiet impact from our humble history is Professor A. Glenn Hill.

Professor Hill, a faculty member in the Department of Mathematics from 1927 to 1967, and chair of the department from 1943 to 1967, had a profound impact on generations of scientists and engineers who graduated from NDSU.

Hill was a dedicated teacher and a pioneer in pedagogy and advocacy for mathematics. Under his leadership, the department grew from six full-time faculty in 1943 to 20 faculty and eight graduate assistants in 1961, while the number of students tripled, and the number of higher-level courses was expanded.

He developed an accelerated program for the department, and was co-author of three books on mathematics, which were widely used at the time. He was the author of a number of other publications on mathematics and was instrumental in the adoption of new mathematical concepts and procedures.

Hill died in January of 1967, a few months before his scheduled retirement that June. One of the news reports after his death lamented his loss to the university, saying “He had been so much of the school since 1927 that many students can’t remember when he wasn’t a part of it.”

After he died, many on campus were eager to have a building named for him. The opportunity did not come to pass back then. But as you know, it has, just short of 50 years later. It is most fitting that our innovative new STEM building — a student-focused environment made up entirely of classrooms, labs and study areas, with an emphasis on science, technology, engineering and mathematics, designed for hands-on learning that is a differentiator in the educational environment at NDSU — is named for Professor Hill. It was worth the wait to have such a fitting name for a building this extraordinary.

I hope you’ll join us in formally honoring Professor Hill, and unveiling a statue of him, at a dedication event this morning at 10 a.m. in the courtyard between the Hill Center and the Memorial Union.

I am very pleased this morning to have a number of Professor Hill’s family and friends joining us, and I hope they will stand to be recognized. Please join me in offering them a special welcome.

We continue to honor the work of our predecessors like Professor Hill. As we strive to meet the potential our mission offers today, I thought this would be a good time to share with you some specific measures that indicate the strength of our collective efforts.

First, and this is a very important data point for me personally, is the number of faculty we’ve been able to add to our ranks over the past six years. When I arrived, we had 646 full time faculty and last year that had grown to 726. I remain committed to focusing resources on this key area and continuing to grow the number of full time faculty.

Our enrollment continues as planned, via careful and intentional retention efforts, graduate student recruitment and undergraduate recruitment. North Dakota needs more educated citizens, due to the growing number of vacant jobs in our state, and needs them as soon as possible. Thus our focus on full-time student enrollment.  

It’s important to note at this time that our student caliber remains steady. This year’s class of new students had the same impressive grade point average and ACT scores as the class of 2010.

Retention also continues to improve. The most recent cohort of students had a first-year retention rate of nearly 80 percent. Our four-year graduation rate continues to rise, and those students find well-paying jobs upon graduation.

And while the national default rate on school loans at public institutions is more than 11 percent, ours is 3.2 percent and has dropped steadily over the past three years.  

Our retention improvements are the result of careful internal study, the adoption of new best practices and intervention mechanisms, and input from external enrollment management experts. This isn’t a numbers game; if we wanted to win that we’d just lower our academic standards. Our goal is to provide access and education to the caliber of graduates needed by our state.

It’s worth noting that the four year graduation rate is only one measure of a campus. We know that many of our  students, including the very best and brightest, map out five year undergraduate careers, intentionally allowing extra time to gain leadership experiences and benefit from internships, to be more successful when they graduate. 

Here’s another very powerful data point, and when you hear it, give yourselves a hand, because every one here has help build this institution to the levels it is today. As a result, donor support has more than doubled over the last six years, and only halfway through this year, private gifts totaled more than all of last year.

As you may recall, last year we talked about a long range vision for NDSU to pursue — a stretch goal to lay groundwork that could lead to membership in the AAU. This aspiration requires, among other factors, growth in scholarship support and named faculty positions. Philanthropy clearly must play a role in advancing NDSU to higher levels of excellence. 

Since October 1, 2015, the NDSU Foundation and Alumni Association has received nearly $60 million in new fundraising production. Never before have we experienced such success in a 12-month period of time. This support has come from philanthropists, businesses, charitable foundations and the State of North Dakota through its Challenge Grant program. Many of these gifts are directly supporting the goals I stated just one year ago. 

For example, in the area of faculty support, two new endowed chairs have been created. The CHS Chair for Risk and Trade was established thanks to a $3.75 million investment from CHS and matching funds from the North Dakota Challenge Grant program. This chair, held by Dr. Bill Wilson in agribusiness and applied economics, galvanizes NDSU’s leadership in risk management and trade.

The second chair is the President Jim Ozbun Chair of Entrepreneurship in the College of Business. This $4.5 million investment will be used to recruit an outstanding new faculty member to build a center of excellence in entrepreneurial studies and education for students from all disciplines.

These two endowed chairs elevate the kind of investments needed to retain and attract the best faculty to NDSU, and do so without burdening the state for additional resources. The best faculty help us achieve our vision and mission in discovery, learning and service.

In the area of scholarship support for students, in the past year, 73 new scholarship funds have been created, which has an enormous impact on every corner of campus.

Among those generous gifts, I would highlight two game-changing investments in scholarships for students studying STEM fields. These investments will provide dozens of full tuition scholarships to students who want to study at NDSU. These are two of the largest gifts in our history, and I’m happy to report, we anticipate similar gifts in the very near future.

While investing in people is at the top of our list for moving NDSU forward, I must take a moment and thank donors who have made the Sanford Health Athletic Complex a reality. After years of planning, designing and constructing, the facility is nearly complete. This project was financed completely by private sources. Many benefactors have made gifts in the last year to help us close out the project, and I am grateful for your support. Thanks to your generosity, we are just $2 million from finalizing the campaign. This facility will be of extraordinary value to NDSU, the local community and the entire state.

Another important measure of a university is its financial health. In spite of an extraordinarily difficult situation in the state that has resulted in reductions this biennium and a projected 90 percent budget next biennium, our institutional financial health continues to be as positive as possible given those circumstances, thanks to careful and inclusive planning since 2010. Our faculty have been very engaged in considering our options and their work is critical to maintaining our success.  As a result, and illustratively, Moody’s, in July of this year, said:

“NDSU’s strategic positioning is good, reflecting excellent long-term planning, strong investment in core programs and facilities, and careful financial oversight.” 

This is a powerful, expert, and objective indicator of NDSU’s financial health.   

I am very proud of the work our research enterprise continues to do. NDSU’s research expenditures increased from $126 million in 2010 to more than $154 million in 2015. That’s an impressive 22 percent increase. Our researchers use the funding, much of which are grants from outside of North Dakota, to make life better for all of us. Their research advances technology, addresses social issues and takes on the world’s biggest challenges, such as curing diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s and making sure we have safe, adequate food supplies.

As many of you know, and as part of our strategic plan goals, we have begun a Grand Challenge Initiative to foster an enriched approach to research and discovery on campus, one that recognizes the university’s position as the state’s land-grant research university. To date, two proposals have been selected for funding and initiated as part of the Grand Challenges:

The first is a Population Health Initiative, led by Dr. Don Warne and Dr. Kalidas Shetty, who argue that “helping the world become food secure is a monumental challenge and the work of public universities will be critical in meeting that challenge, particularly in indigenous and underserved populations.”

Through a trans disciplinary research collaboration, they will address questions such as how to ensure that all people have access to safe and affordable food that supports life-long health, and how can diet prevent food-related illness before it happens? This effort involves faculty from six different colleges.

The second is a Center for Engineered Cancer Test Beds, led by Dr. Kalpana Katti. The success of the Center will result in a paradigm shift in cancer studies and reduce time and costs of new drugs and new drug delivery systems. The large cost of the cancer burden on society (estimated to be about $125 Billion by 2020) can be reduced.

Specifically, this center proposes to develop novel, life-like biomimetic environments through use of 3D scaffolds that will enable humanoid testing of novel anti-cancer drugs and drug delivery systems, as a transformational improvement towards reduction in time and cost of laboratory to clinical studies and transformative study of cancer biology, specifically the metastasis to bone. 

As another measure of NDSU’s success, R & D licensing income increased 42 percent from 2010 to 2016. Licensing income comes from private companies that invest in further development and commercialization of NDSU research discoveries.

Similarly, patent filings at NDSU have increased from 40 per year in 2010 to 50 in 2016. This 25 percent gain means NDSU researchers have increased production of intellectual property that leads to new business opportunities and jobs.

Higher education — the creation and transfer of knowledge, instilling the ability to think and learn and question — at a public university … is complicated. We need to be a place of shared governance, of more questions than answers, of fierce commitment to our students and of openness to ideas. Bring it on, it’s what we are here to wrestle.

Our goals, I agree, are bold, and that is how it should be. North Dakota needs us to foster progress, as has been our land grant heritage for more than 125 years. North Dakota benefits by all 11 campuses in the North Dakota University System being catalysts for a positive future, and progress for all citizens. We owe it to our current students, and their children and their grandchildren.

We need to continue telling our story, sharing our fire, igniting ideas and inviting everyone to the party. This is, once again, the beauty of public higher education. We know we are here to make life better for our citizens.

… Let’s remember that NDSU has never been stronger than it is today. Remember that research and scholarly productivity have never been stronger. Enrollments have never been stronger, and the academic profile of our entering classes has never been stronger. Retention and graduation rates of our students have never been stronger. 

Remember that the financial health of our institution has never been stronger. Private sector and philanthropic financial support has never been stronger. Remember that civic and business leader support — from across the entire state and region — has never been stronger. Remember that the pride and passion of our faculty, staff, students and alumni has never been stronger.   

Let me share one last story to illustrate the very special culture of NDSU. A couple of weeks ago I received a note from a staff member at NDSU, telling about tremendous support from his department when his daughter suffered severe injuries in a car accident. Not only did the department support this staff person’s need to be away to help care for his daughter and grandchildren, they set up a plan to bring meals three times a week to her home about 50 miles from Fargo, and continued to do so for several weeks.

Here’s the last paragraph of the note: “I just wanted you to know what a great family the Department has been to me and my family, with all the meals, money, prayers and acts of kindness. I will never be able to repay the NDSU family for everything they have done  for us. But I wanted you to hear some of the good and great things that happen here at NDSU because we are a family.”

Together we succeed in service. How else do we bring future leaders to the world. How else might we educate the engineers and nurses and architects and business people. How else will we find better treatments for diseases and safer ways to build bridges and hold science days for children, and help our communities address social issues and nurture a future poet laureate, and more. Much, much more.

North Dakota State University is a place of discovery, excitement, transformation. It is a place where we collaborate, and challenge, and struggle and succeed. It is a place where dedicated people learn and teach and study and invent.

All of that in motion at one time in one place can appear chaotic.

It is. And it’s wonderful.  

Thank you all.


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