North Dakota State University
State of the University Address

President Dean L. Bresciani

Friday, September 29, 2017 • 10 A.M.

Good morning, and thank you for joining us today. And good morning to 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, who are joining us by video stream. 

It is once again my great privilege to bring you the State of the University. NDSU is a very special place, thanks to your hard work and commitment. Your resolve in the face of extreme difficulties this past year is a strong demonstration of how important it is to share the unity of purpose that sees us through good times and bad. 

In meeting last year’s biennial budget cut, many of our colleagues chose to retire, many positions were eliminated, and many other positions have been left unfilled. In other words, we have 100 fewer faculty than we did last year. Many of you participated in a budget study group that identified the principles by which we would address the reductions, and all of you have shown admirable resolve as we work through our new reality. 

It is important to recognize that few institutions could weather a 17 percent cut in state support – in one fell swoop – as thoughtfully and creatively as we have. I’ve said this many times before, and it bears repeating today. The people of NDSU are not just resilient, but are more adaptive than any I’ve ever known. If you’re like me, you’d have trouble imagining a university community of 18,000 people that is as nimble as we have been over the past few months. 

We’ve always challenged ourselves to continue to be better, educate our students more effectively, serve our citizens more meaningfully, and tackle the world’s problems more intelligently. That is built into the nature of people drawn to serve in higher education as their life’s work. Question, test, challenge, achieve, and start again, in a continuous cycle of positive improvement.  That trait is particularly prevalent in the people of NDSU. 

We also weather down times because we know who we are. We know what our strengths are. We know what our potentials are. We’re good at what we do. We know where we fit in the higher education ecosystem.  We have a strong niche as a challenging research university with PhD tenure-track faculty who work with full-time students who seek this environment. Our strong foundation as a student focused land grant research university allows us to more quickly rebuild. 

Before we go any further, I want to say to the faculty and staff who have remained focused on our vision during this time: Thank you. 

Thank you for your talent, dedication and commitment to NDSU.

And to the many faculty and staff who joined our collaborative process early last year: Thank you. You developed thoughtful and useful guidelines as we managed the necessary changes, with emphasis on continuing to seek and achieve excellence. 

You know how vital our work is. You see every day that NDSU is a place that gives students and the citizens we serve opportunity like no other. 

And you know that going forward, although we will have to make our way through some rough patches, we will continue to be the student-focused, land-grant, research university our students and our citizens rely upon. 

No budget cut eliminates our commitment to access, affordability and quality education. We continue to bring education and discovery to the people of North Dakota. Our researchers will be supported as they pursue solutions to problems in engineering, health, science, technology, agriculture, and the betterment of society. 

All of your voices are crucial in advocating for the contributions of NDSU. Let us not lose sight of the truly amazing work here, the talent and commitment, and the synergy created when scholars, researchers, and educators inspire the next generation of problem solvers.

One powerful example of our caliber is that among our faculty we have 7 Research Project Grants, known as RO 1 grants, one of the National Institutes of Health’s most competitive grants.

7 is an impressive number, especially for an institution that does not have a medical school. Scientists from the nation’s most renowned universities and programs apply for RO1 grants, and competition for funding related to oncology research is especially rigorous.

For example, Dr. Kristine Steffen in our College of Health Professions, received a $3.7 million award for a study that examines how biological and behavioral factors interact in determining the success of bariatric surgery. 

Her research team includes scientists from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Kent State University; Brown University; Case Western Reserve University; the Neuropsychiatric Research Institute, Fargo; and Sanford Eating Disorders and Weight Management Center. 

Dr. Jagdish Singh, chair and professor of pharmaceutical sciences, received a $1.9 million grant for an Alzheimer’s disease study. The goal of the research is to develop a new delivery system that uses neurotrophic growth factor to treat and prevent Alzheimer’s disease. 

Dr. Sanku Mallik and Dr. Bin Guo in  Pharmaceutical Sciences received a $1.2 million grant.  They are studying ways of using tiny polymer spheres to deliver anticancer drugs to prostate cancers.

Dr. Guo also has received a $1.4 million grant from the National Cancer Institute. He is developing a treatment system for attacking metastatic colorectal cancer cells, suppressing their growth and allowing conventional chemotherapy drugs to eliminate them.

Dr. Yagna Jarajapu has been named as principal investigator of a more than $1.3 million grant to study targeting Mas Receptors for Diabetic Vascular Disease in Older Adults. 

Aging has detrimental effects on the function of blood vessels, and aging-with-diabetes further worsens the function resulting in an increased risk for life-threatening complications such as heart attack, stroke, and peripheral vascular disease. Successful completion of this study will provide a promising pharmacological strategy for enhancing the reparative functions of stem cells in diabetic individuals and for accelerating the repair of blood vessels thus preventing end-organ damage.

These NIH awards are a testament to the caliber of the competitive health research – that is being recognized on a national level – conducted at NDSU. It’s one more example of how successful our scientists are in seeking solutions that make a difference in people’s lives.

And significant research occurs all across campus. The interdisciplinary Grand Challenge research projects are an exciting new approach first introduced just two years ago. The Engineered Cancer Test Beds initiative involves scientists from Engineering; Science and Mathematics; Business; and the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, working to develop ways to build the test beds used to manufacture drug delivery systems, market the innovations, and gauge reactions of patients and the medical community.

A second Grand Challenge project, the Population Health Research Initiative, will establish a Doctor of Public Health degree program at NDSU, and launch other collaborative programs that combine fields from six academic colleges. The goal is to increase NDSU’s ability to conduct more extensive and effective population health research while contributing to the health and well being of North Dakotans, particularly in rural areas in the western part of the state.

I’ve shared just a few examples of research projects but there are many more as we work to feed the world and cure cancer.

It’s important for us to recognize the caliber, breadth and impact of the research conducted here. And that here, unlike most of our peer institutions, our students are working alongside these world class researchers.

No wonder we continue to attract great students. Our strengths in engineering and health professions are more and more well known, as are our full slate of offerings in arts, humanities, agriculture, business, human development and education.

We’re a great example of something a coach recently said about the value of adversity. Sports figures are known for some kooky adages: Yogi Berra’s famous, Baseball is 90 percent mental and the other half physical. Or my favorite, when you come to a fork in the road, take it.

For us today, I’ll use the more serious quote Clemson football coach Dabo Swinny shared with our Coach Chris Kleiman: “Good teams handle adversity, great teams get better because of adversity.”

We have a history of achievement despite adversity. In the past we’ve faced objective and subjective challenges, and we have prevailed, and we will, again, eat adversity for lunch.

It is what strengthens us. If we can recover from the 1937 episode in which then Gov. Wild Bill Langer directly fired some faculty, leading to NDSU losing its accreditation, what can’t we recover from?

In fact, we’ve already started bouncing back from our most recent adversity. Specifically, I am happy to report several positive factors illustrating our rebound.

First, and very critically, we will soon begin hiring new faculty, and anticipate attracting some of the nation’s best and brightest.

Secondly, without any state funding, nearly $78 million in construction is underway or about to begin, including the new Catherine Cater residence hall, and replacing University Village. Those projects are being funded by bonds that we issue and pay back with revenue derived from the buildings.  In other words, no state dollars are used.

Let me tell you more about those bonds. As part of the process of issuing bonds, we were required to be reviewed by bond rating agencies, which assess the financial strength, organization and leadership of the institution. NDSU was rated by both S&P Global Ratings and Moody's Investors Service.  Both ratings agencies were very supportive of NDSU’s financial health.

To quote Moody’s:

NDSU's strategic positioning is good, reflecting excellent long-term planning, strong investment in core programs and facilities, combined with careful financial oversight enhancing financial flexibility. The university carefully calibrates its expenses to revenue volatility, which is essential given high competition for students, variable state funding, and pressure on federal research funding. Management continues to successfully capitalize on Fargo's economic growth, with industry partnerships for education, job placement and research.

In another quote from Moodys:  The rating is further supported by NDSU’s recognition as a top research institution within its 5 state region, with growing STEM programming and projections for continued solid student demand due to favorable demographics in the Fargo area.

In real world terms, the strength of their evaluation, combined with a favorable construction bidding climate, saved us $4 million in the bid process.

In addition, we anticipate the $28 million Sudro addition, funded entirely by private donations, to begin in March.

And, not included in that $78 million total, we will later this afternoon rededicate Churchill Hall, where we just completed an $11 million update of that historic residence hall.

Thirdly, we have welcomed the second largest freshman class in NDSU history while maintaining their high quality of academic preparation. And in fact, the grade point average of this year’s class rose again, to 3.47.  Given the realities of demographics and intensity of competition for students in the marketplace, this is a significant milestone that indicates the increasing appreciation of the level of education and affordability students experience here.  At the same time, our retention and graduation rates are improving at an excellent pace. In fact, our 4-year graduation rate has gone up 7 percent in just a few short years.

Fourth, I’m energized by the beginnings of a major philanthropic campaign, launched in partnership with the NDSU Foundation and Alumni Association, that will focus investments in our people – the students, faculty and staff. 

As NDSU strives to reach the next level, investments in endowed scholarships and named faculty positions such as chairs and professorships, will be at the heart of a multi-year, comprehensive campaign. When I think of the next iteration of what being a student-focused, land-grant, research university looks like … I envision a place of interdisciplinary learning and discovery … where students with transformative scholarships are working alongside faculty with endowed professors in state-of-the art facilities to solve the grand challenges of our time. 

The result is that the region’s workforce shortages are addressed, healthcare, agriculture and technology solutions are discovered and our potential in unlocking what the nation needs is given back to the people.

Energizing forces are behind this campaign, thanks to the leadership of Trustees and Alumni Directors of the Foundation, but all of us will need to be actively involved. We will need your help as this historic effort begins.

Another exciting Foundation-led project is well underway at the 1600 block of University Drive. That private apartment complex, across from the SHAC, will significantly add to the housing options for our students.

And fifth, we are sustaining so far… in very unfavorable federal and state fiscal environments, our research productivity. Given the budget realities around the state and nation, this is no small achievement. 

I thought you would be interested in a few examples of student achievement, and narrowed the focus to our track and field students, who don’t get as much attention as other sports, but are some of the best examples of student-athlete success.

Morgan Milbrath was named the Summit League Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year (across all sports) – the most prestigious individual honor presented by the league each year. She also earned Academic All-America honors with her 3.98 GPA.

Rose Jackson was honored as The Summit League’s candidate for NCAA Woman of the Year after winning nine conference titles and earning first-team All-America honors in the pentathlon her senior year.

Matti Mortimore was a three-time All-American in the javelin for NDSU and was named first-team Academic All-American in 2017. He is starting work toward a PhD in philosophy at Tulane this fall.

Alex Renner earned first-team All-America honors in the shot put in June and began his career as a full-time teacher this month at Carl Ben Eielson Middle School in Fargo.

Recent graduate Erin Teschuk represented Canada at the World Championships in 2015 and at the Rio Olympics in 2016.

Deborah John, a 2014 graduate of NDSU, qualified to represent her native Trinidad & Tobago in the 100m hurdles at the World Championships in August.

Riley Dolezal, an NDSU alumnus and current volunteer assistant coach for the Bison, won his second American title in the javelin this June. He has been a member of Team USA for the World Championships twice in the past four years.

This type of focus on performance extends to all of our students, and our Student Affairs professionals have done some important survey work to identify habits that help our students succeed. Here are a few facts from the survey:  

  • A vast majority of our students approach college like a full-time job.
  • Most students meet with their academic advisors at least once a semester.
  • Our students understand that it's important to register for and complete 15 credits a semester.
  • Most of our students meet with faculty at least once a semester to work on special projects, conduct research, or get help on coursework.
  • And the majority of NDSU students start preparing at least three days before an exam.

In another broad survey, NDSU students report that they experience high levels of satisfaction, seek out academic challenges, engage with peers and faculty in meaningful ways, and feel pride in their majors and NDSU. The survey revealed a number of positive results, including this, which I find very gratifying:

Sophomores reported they are taking challenging classes by choice, even at risk of a lower GPA, and spending more time studying than they did as freshmen, and this behavior increased for juniors and then again for seniors. 

Again, all of our students are impressive in their efforts to advance in the classroom, in their areas of interest on campus and in the community.

These surveys show the importance we place on collecting and applying data to assess ourselves and continuously work for improvements. I am very pleased that these recent surveys indicate clearly that we have successfully crafted and continue to nurture a culture of academic success within our student body.

Going forward, we plan to organize a task force to provide recommendations on the feasibility of expanding certain programs that meet the needs of North Dakota and the nation.

We will continue to focus on student retention and graduation.

We will continue to invest in early alert initiatives to identify at-risk students, a seamless advising system to better serve students and data analytics to help identify programs and courses that are critical to students pathways to graduation.

We are well versed in the impact of education on an individual, who then contributes to society – an upward spiral that leads to success.

I want to now talk about another enormously important component -- the transformative impact of a scholarship gift.

This year we welcomed our first class of McGovern scholars. As a great example of enormous and immediate impact, our alumnus Harry McGovern established this program providing full tuition scholarships in STEM fields. The students who were selected were literally speechless when they were notified. One student even hung up the phone, assuming news that good had to be a prank. She called back, just in case, to hear the good news again. Another family wept through the first call, so called back to ask for the news again, and then a third time to confirm.

I had the opportunity to meet the scholars and their families earlier this fall. What they have already accomplished academically was humbling. I’d like to read for you some of the comments the McGovern scholars made about their awards:

“My decision to pursue a career in engineering has been influenced by my life events, family, and the realization that engineering principles are used everywhere. When I was young, my grandpa suffered complete heart failure and received a pacemaker that my dad helped design. I have an appreciation and fascination for the technology and multiple areas of engineering required to develop something sophisticated enough to keep a human alive…This personal connection helped me understand, firsthand, the importance of engineering to society.”

Here’s another example: 

“I once had a mentor tell me that the best students in a class help make even the bottom students better simply by raising the level of academic competition, and I feel that I can help make that happen during my time at NDSU. While most students may view a scholarship as just a means to pay for college, I perceive that privately funded scholarships are rooted in the desire to cultivate young intellectual talent as an impactful way of giving back to both the country and the institution that so positively influenced their lives, and I would consider it an honor, as well as a personal motivation, to receive such a vote of confidence in my ability to fulfil my goal of bettering the future of America.”

And one more:

“My plans for the future include giving back to North Dakota, as it has provided so much for me. I hope to major in a science such as biology before continuing my education to medical school. After medical school, I plan on specializing in psychiatry, my lifelong dream. After finishing my boards in psychiatry, I plan on practicing in the great state of North Dakota…North Dakota is in need of health professionals, especially in rural areas such as the area that I am from. North Dakota, a major farming capitol of the nation needs the professionals to service the many farmers in the rural areas, as we are dependent on them to feed the world. I look forward to being that link in our state, the link that makes the difference in people’s lives.”

Throughout this address, my guess is you’ve come to appreciate why I’m so proud of our faculty, staff and students. As I said at the outset, it is truly a privilege to be part of North Dakota State University. Our work enriches everyone around us.

Thank you.

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