North Dakota State University
State of the University Address

President Dean L. Bresciani

Friday, October 11, 2019 • 10 A.M.

Good morning friends, faculty, staff, students and online participants at our Extension offices and experiment stations in every county around the state. And a special hello to my 85-year-old mother and 95-year-old father, who are undoubtedly watching online from their home in California. Thank you for being here today, and thank you for your commitment to not just NDSU but to all North Dakotans.

This past summer I spent a considerable amount of time out and about in every corner of our state. What resonated for me in virtually every conversation was the visibility and “boots on the ground” reputation of our faculty and staff. Our state residents appreciate your work, and your very direct service to North Dakotans wherever they live.

I love this time of year. Homecoming is a time to celebrate accomplishments and spark enthusiasm about next steps. This year is particularly significant for many reasons.

After more than  20,000 graduation handshakes, not only is this the 10th time I’ve had the opportunity to bring you the state of this great university, but it’s also a celebration of the most ambitious and meaningful capital campaign in our history.

We have much to look back on. Looking back is a means to learn lessons and to remind ourselves how very much we can accomplish when we set our sights high and work together. 

I can’t help but take note of how many things we have achieved, often in spite of odds against that being the case.

To catalyze our enthusiasm for the future, let’s start with a quick review of the past 10 years and what we dared to imagine, and where we have been able to thrive … despite a number of financial, political and other hurdles that would have crushed the trajectory of most universities.

10 years ago…

Our per-student state appropriated funding was the lowest of any four-year college in the state and the second lowest of all 11 campuses.

  • We now enjoy what all 11 campuses agree is an equitable performance-based funding formula. As a result, NDSU is now funded similarly and equitably with its state peers.


10 years ago…

We didn’t have a single endowed faculty or dean position on our campus.

  • We now have a steadily growing number of endowed professorships and chairs, an endowed dean, several endowed program leaders and a burgeoning number of endowed faculty fellowships.

Particularly noteworthy today is the evolution of the Neil C. Gudmestad Endowed Chair of Potato Pathology. I am very pleased that we are able to recognize University Distinguished Professor Neil Gudmestad as he hands his endowed chair to Dr. Julie Pasche. Dr. Gudmestad and Dr. Pasche, would you please stand and be recognized.


10 years ago…

We had what was quite likely the smallest student scholarship endowment of any major research university in the nation.

  • Over the past 10 years we have grown our university endowment by more than 170 percent, and I anticipate that within the next year it will well exceed $250 million.
    • That means we’ll be able to assure access to far more students interested in attending NDSU, but unable to afford doing so, and as a result having the life-changing educational experience we all so very much value.


10 years ago…

We had graduation rates at national averages. I’ll with remorse point out that meeting national averages is hardly a bragging point for a university of NDSU’s stature.

  • However, over the past 10 years we’ve seen those numbers trend upward at an unprecedented pace, and they now well exceed national averages and lead our state’s public higher education system. In fact, we just got new numbers, and I’m pleased to report that in the last 6 years we’ve increased our four-year graduation rate by 15 percent.


10 years ago…

There were few women in full professor and senior administrative positions.

  • We’re in a very different place now, with women well represented in virtually every area of our campus’ scholarly and administrative leadership, and that’s the case in still-increasing numbers. In collaboration with the National Science Foundation’s sponsorship of the Advance/Forward program at NDSU, we have become a national model for improvement on that front.


10 years ago…

NDSU was in a financial position so bad that our accreditation was at risk, and our non-existent reserves were damaging our credit.

  • Today, our Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s bond ratings remain strong. That’s not by accident or luck. We have established and standardized strategic planning, business practices and reserve levels commanding that position.
    • Proof of those practices came in our capacity to weather the unprecedented financial storm our state experienced over the past four years. Don’t hear me wrong … we suffered, and suffered mightily. Nevertheless, we emerged in a far better position than most state agencies. In fact, we emerged so well that some critics actually suggested to me that we must have somehow “cheated” that challenge. Let me assure you that we didn’t sidestep anything. We simply met those challenges head on in a prepared and judicious manner, that also left us ready to rebound as quickly as possible.
    • As a specific illustration of that point, throughout the state financial downturn, NDSU was able to protect, through purposeful advance strategic planning, the number of tenure track faculty that form the core of our academic and scholarly success. Although many such colleagues have left us, they have been replaced, so that we have the same number of tenure track faculty now as we did before the state’s financial crisis.
    • I’ll grant you that with some 160 fewer non-tenured faculty and staff than we had just a few years ago, we’ve had to ask more of those remaining than is reasonable, but they have responded in a manner we can all be proud of.


10 years ago…

NDSU was in the unenviable position of having, by outside evaluation, the most run down and depleted campus infrastructure in the state of North Dakota. 

  • Look around you today:
    • The new state-funded A. Glenn Hill Center has become the focal point of campus and is our second largest academic building on campus, after comprehensive renovation and expansion of Minard Hall -- completed in 2012.
      • The Hill Center has allowed us to make sweeping changes to how we educate students in STEM related disciplines. Gone are the old fixed-seat lecture halls many of us knew. Today’s learning environments at NDSU involve an ‘active learning’ approach where students are up and moving around their classroom, personally involved in the creation of their learning environment.
    • The new privately-funded Aldevron Tower addition to the College of Health Professions will open in January, allowing an increase in the college’s enrollments and research capacities while for the first time in a long time bringing together faculty who are currently dispersed to locations across the campus and in some situations relegated to off campus locations. This project would not be a reality without the many benefactors who have stepped forward to make it happen.
    • Revenue bond-funded Catherine Cater Hall, the largest residence hall on the campus, opened this fall to strong demand from the sophomores it was specifically designed to serve. Those were hundreds of students previously forced into off campus locations that were not complimentary to their academic success.
    • Cater Hall has been complemented by the first phase replacement of our adult student housing facilities that were old and past their useable lifetimes. Their replacements are contemporary in design and function at a level competitive with some of the best student housing in the FM area.
    • In addition, a future vision already becoming a reality will be the replacement of the aged and dysfunctional Dunbar Hall and Geosciences Buildings with a contemporary, marquee science facility creating the hub for our academic enterprise.
    • The Sanford Health Athletic Complex, featuring the Scheels Center and Nodak Insurance Basketball Performance Center, is the marquee facility among sweeping privately-funded athletics facilities therein and throughout campus--including the Shelly Ellig Indoor track, renovated Tharaldson Softball Complex and renovated Dacotah Field. At the same time, centralization and similar improvements to the Dr. Frank and Margie Meyers student-athlete academic advising center have led to dramatic improvements in our athletes’ academic performance and countless national academic recognitions by the NCAA. Other facility enhancements sponsored by many of you here with us today have further enhanced the academic and performance environments of our student athletes.
    • In addition, sweeping infrastructure improvements from our campus grounds through roadways to electrical and sewer systems may not be as exciting to talk about, but are critical to maintaining our overall functionality now and well in to the future. Thank you to Facilities Management staff for their contribution to our success. We will leave this university far better than we found it 10 years ago … and we’re sure not done yet!

At the State of the University 10 years ago, if I had suggested a list of achievements like that, you’d have been right to question my sanity. That would have been as ludicrous as suggesting we would win seven national championships in football at the Division I level. Yeah, truly laughable!

However, collectively, we have made all those things a reality.

That being the case informs our discussion of what we can see coming in the next 10 years. Things that weren’t even on a radar screen a few years ago are works in progress today. As we look forward to the next 10-year span, imagine if you will:

  • An Ag Products Utilization Center that will exponentially advance our commercialization of the state’s historic #1 resource, well beyond the embarrassingly limited 54-year old Harris Hall’s capacities. That project wasn’t previously proposed in a legislative setting but, on introduction last session, immediately received strong legislative support. We are optimistic that we can successfully encourage full support during the next legislative session.
  • A new engineering building would dramatically improve our enrollment capacities in that college. North Dakota desperately needs us to produce more engineers, and a building is critical to achieving that otherwise reachable capacity.
  • New student “maker spaces” are appearing all over campus as we encourage and incubate the entrepreneurial environment here and in our surrounding community. These hands-on centers of applied creative technologies will unlock the door of what our students have learned in the classroom and allow for active development of their ideas. Dean of Libraries Joe Mocnik, led the way on that front with a 3-D printing lab and an artificial intelligence lab. A much larger maker space is under development in the Research and Technology Park, and other such facilities are following. 
  • Also at the Research and Technology Park, we’re approaching full build out, including expansion of industry-leading Appareo Systems and other related high-tech research and commercialization facilities, as well as expansion of the consistently full business incubator facility.  A recent trip to Iowa State University’s similar and recently expanded Research and Technology Park confirmed what we are doing at NDSU. Build-out will catalyze consideration of expansion potentials on or proximal to our campus. Doing so will continue to unlock regional business growth that will benefit our entire state.
  • Full utilization of our R1 and R2 research buildings, for public/private commercialization activities, will further enhance our long-standing goal of NDSU being a springboard of statewide business diversification and expansion.
  • Complementing all that is and will be ongoing attention to deferred maintenance and campus infrastructure including enhanced entrances to campus, lighting, sidewalk and other safety enhancements as well as further beautification of our grounds.

Aside from imagining our future, I want to talk a little bit more about the importance and impact of increasing graduation rates. This is one of the topics often discussed on the national level, but it is too often misunderstood and deserves further explanation.

Nationally, data shows the types of challenges students face in pursuing degrees. 60 percent are working full time, 25 percent are parents and 40 percent are low-income students who receive Pell Grants. Those concerns affect and often slow a student’s time to degree completion. NDSU’s current student body is not as burdened as some across the country, but fully a third of our students are first generation, and as many as 90 percent receive aid. Student success in these times is about more than getting them in the door. That is why I am especially proud of the work done by our faculty and staff to dramatically improve our students’ timely degree completion.

Ironically, with our push for timely degree completion, it is important to remember that improved graduation rates have the effect of reducing our overall student enrollment. That said, enrollments do factor in to measuring our success. And NDSU remains responsible and perhaps uniquely positioned in our state, to attract, retain and graduate more students than we do today.  

At the end of the day, we all share a priority on transforming lives and contributing to a rich future for our state. We can settle for nothing less on that front. That takes a long-term commitment and endurance, despite challenges – political, financial, and environmental -- and we appreciate the encouragement of all those who have gone to extraordinary lengths to support NDSU. Our university community has collectively recognized and addressed threats to NDSU – and in doing so enhanced our position in the state and our ability to serve it better.

To that end, let’s talk about our future in terms of what we’ll need to do now if we’re to realize our future potentials.

First and foremost, as a community we have embarked on a strategic planning process, so that we all have a voice and investment in shaping the future of this university, and so that we collectively map a path to our goals. Many of you have already participated in the input stages of this work, but if you have not, please do make your voices heard. You can find input forms on the Provost’s website. Hear me…this is not make work, we need to reinvent our future if we intend to succeed, and we need all voices in the process!

Also very important, because we will need financial stability to achieve the goals we will set in our strategic plan, the Campaign for North Dakota State University – is “In Our Hands.” That is the very literal tag line for this ambitious – but reachable – goal. It goes without saying that the announced goal of the campaign and history-making lead gift announced yesterday, resets our potentials in a manner never before possible…or even imaginable.

A gift to the campaign will strengthen NDSU’s unwavering commitment to the student experience, so students have unparalleled opportunities to grow, succeed, and make a difference. The campaign’s four pillars -- scholarships, faculty, facilities and programs -- are exactly the areas where stability will make all the difference.

As we increase the level of our scholarship endowment, we can offer more opportunities to more students. Our land-grant mission is based on access, so tuition and fees should never limit student access to NDSU. It goes without saying that our employers and our citizens desperately need more NDSU graduates, in a breadth of disciplines, and the onus is on us more than ever before to find the means to meet those demands. Nothing less than our state’s future is at stake. 

As an example of what I was just talking about, when we improve the stipends and offer better health care for our graduate students, we can become far more competitive in terms of the numbers of graduate students attending NDSU. The research support graduate students contribute is the foundation for faculty research competitiveness, funding and ultimately their productivity.  So if we grow graduate student numbers we grow the research potentials of our faculty, and at the end of the day, their teaching effectiveness -- enthusiastic researchers who are creating new knowledge are the best imaginable faculty. 

Increases on those fronts lead to NDSU becoming increasingly competitive for both public and private support, and as an attractive place for students. Moreover, as our national reputation on those fronts increases, so does our capacity to grow enrollments and catalyze our research and development in to commercialization, business diversification, job growth and enhanced tax base that every North Dakotan will benefit from. Remember … all that started with more graduate student scholarship support.

When we dream big, we reaffirm that we are a nationally relevant and important location with a reputation that draws attention from around the country. As an example, the Sheila and Robert Challey Institute for Global Innovation and Growth, already a major coup for North Dakota, can grow from its start as the fifth-largest free enterprise research center in the nation to national prominence. That gift alone will allow us to hire more than a dozen new faculty, provide for faculty fellow positions, and provide operational support for the institute’s nationally important business research … on a relatively “overnight” timeline never before possible here or at most universities in the nation!

The bottom line is that through transformational philanthropic gifts, we are able to fulfill our land-grant missions of research, discovery, engagement and service … and through that process develop the next generation of leaders.

As we envision the future, let’s also realize how much progress we’ve made not just in the past 10 years but since 1890. Together we’re taking the steps needed to do nothing less than feed the world, cure cancer and everything in between.

As we envision the future, in particular, we must be aware that our very existence is going to hinge on doing something that is different and better than the competitive options students will have in front of them. Each and every one of us who responds to students quickly and respectfully, and treats every individual undergraduate and graduate student as an important member of our university community, sends a message to the student and the student’s family -- that we are here to do everything we can to help them succeed … and that anchors our future. Reciprocally, recognize that a failure to do so will very surely anchor quite the opposite. I don’t believe failure is an option.

While I’m excited about our future, don’t think I kid myself about there being an easy path in front of us. I recognize that there will be threats, and factors we don’t control. Some are as simple as demographics and the volatility of the North Dakota economy, and they will require careful planning, reality checks, imagination and energy to overcome. Some are much more complicated and hard to anticipate. As a collective result, I’d argue that our biggest challenge is to have identified and prepared for the expected challenges, and be as ready as possible for whatever else may be coming. Being nimble and responsive to unanticipated challenges will undoubtedly be the key to success.

In closing, when we do our work and do it well, all four corners of our state benefit. Every current citizen benefits when we retain the youth of our state, and every current citizen benefits when we unapologetically attract the best students, faculty and staff here from out of state, to help create the new businesses and new jobs and new work force that diversify our economy and better insulate it from North Dakota’s current economic fragility.

At the end of the day, though, let’s be clear -- what we do isn’t about NDSU. What we do is about improving the quality of life for every single citizen we serve. That is how we must define and measure the success of North Dakota State University.

The future really is … in our hands.



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