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Fall 2014 Convocation Speech

“The Drive for Research Excellence"
Fall Convocation Speech
President Denise M. Trauth
Strahan Coliseum
August 22, 2014
9 a.m.

Thank you, Gene, and good morning to all of you. I hope you had a wonderful summer, and that you have recharged your internal batteries for the upcoming academic year. 

We finished 2013-2014 on a strong note and we hope to build on that momentum for another productive year. Our massive building program is winding down, and while there is plenty of ongoing construction that is clearly visible, it isn’t quite as intense as it has been.

Our inventory of academic programs continues to grow and I will have more to say about that later. We are coming off a highly successful capital campaign in which we reached extraordinary milestones in gifts and participation.

And we now have a solid plan for our future as together we take this university to the next level. But we’ll get to all of that in a moment.

It is fitting that we begin our convocation each year by recognizing our many outstanding faculty and staff, for it is their dedication and skill that set the environment for excellence at Texas State. Your efforts make this an amazing university.


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We honor our colleagues for their outstanding teaching, research, service, mentoring, and dedication to diversity. Each year we present presidential awards for outstanding teaching, research and creative activities, and service. 

This year’s Presidential Awards for Excellence in Teaching go to two individuals who are passionate about their fields and convey that excitement to their students. 

Please join me in honoring: Shirley Ogletree, professor of psychology, and 
Paige Haber-Curran, assistant professor of student affairs in higher education. 

We also are honoring two faculty members this morning for their scholarly activities. Both have made significant contributions to their disciplines and to the intellectual life of the university. They are examples of Texas State’s commitment to research, scholarship, and creative activity as part of the teaching and learning experience. 

We are pleased to present the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Scholarly and Creative Activities to: Melinda Villagran, professor and chair of Communication Studies; and Ting Liu, assistant professor of health and human performance. 

We ask our faculty to serve, as well as to teach and conduct research. 

The Presidential Award for Excellence in Service is given to faculty who exemplify our commitment to public service as a responsibility to our university, our professional fields, and our community. Please join me as we honor: Roselyn Morris, professor of accounting, and Janet Hale, senior lecturer in business law.

Each year, we recognize one faculty member with the Presidential Seminar Award. Recipients then share their research or creative activity with their peers. 
The 2014-15 honoree is being recognized for his superlative research, scholarship, and contributions to his discipline. 

The next Presidential Seminar will be presented by Jesús “Frank” de la Teja, Regents’ Professor of History, Supple Professor of Southwestern Studies, and director of the Center of the Study of the Southwest. 

Pat Pohl, past president and current board member of the Alumni Association, will help make our next presentation. Each year the Alumni Association recognizes an outstanding teacher with its Teaching Award of Honor. 

Today’s honoree holds the honor of University Distinguished Professor in the Department of Health and Human Performance and is one of our Piper Professors. He’s known for using his life experiences as a teaching model and for incorporating lively discussions in the classroom, as well as being responsible for the Community Health/Fitness Internship Program and being the graduate coordinator. 

On behalf of our alumni, we present this Teaching Award of Honor to Steve Furney.

Our Faculty Senate chooses from among its colleagues a recipient or recipients of the Everette Swinney Faculty Senate Teaching Awards. I would like Michel Conroy, chair of the Faculty Senate and professor of Art, to come forward to present this year’s award.

Everette Swinney Award recipients are chosen on the basis of their dedication to the teaching profession, their influence on the lives of students, and their contributions to the university as a whole. 

They have combined their commitment to teaching with strong records of creative achievement, service, and mentoring peers and students. These awards are named for a beloved retired faculty member and longtime chair of the Faculty Senate. 

With great pleasure, we present the Everette Swinney Teaching Award to: 
Dennis Dunn, professor of history, Vedaraman Sriramen, University Distinguished professor of Engineering Technology, and Steve Wilson, professor of English.

Last fall, another one of our professors was named Regents’ Professor by The Texas State University System Board of Regents. Each year, the Board honors professors whose performance and contributions to the educational community have been exemplary.

The 2013 recipient becomes Texas State’s ninth professor to be recognized with this award, and only the 20th in the entire system to be so honored.
Our newest Regents’ Professor is Michael Forstner, professor of biology.

This morning, we are recognizing as University Distinguished Professors two tenured professors whose careers in teaching, research, and service have been exemplary and recognized at the state, national, and international levels. 

Please help me congratulate our new University Distinguished Professors: 
Ian Davidson, professor of music; and Joycelyn Pollock professor of criminal justice.

For their years of outstanding teaching, creative work, and service at Texas State, four retired faculty members have been named Distinguished Professors Emeriti, and we recognize them today. 

Our honoree with us today is: Jo Webber, Distinguished Professor Emerita of Curriculum and Instruction.

Two other honorees, Glenn Joy, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Philosophy; and David Pino, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Music, could not be with us today. Additionally, we are honoring posthumously Robert Olney, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Management, who died earlier this year.

Today we also honor one faculty member and one staff member for their dedication to the pursuit and celebration of diversity.

Recipients of the Excellence in Diversity Award are: Stella Silva, associate director in the Office of Student Diversity and Inclusion; and Octavio Pimentel, associate professor of English. 

We want to include in our introductions this morning the 2014 Employee of the Year. He was chosen from among the 12 Employees of the Month. Please help us congratulate Joe Meyer, director of institutional research.

And we want to introduce this year’s winners of the Mariel Muir Mentoring Award. Each year we honor a faculty member and a staff member for mentoring our students and employees. 

We are proud to recognize this morning: Iliana Melendez-Burciaga, student development specialist for the dean of students; and Diann McCabe, senior lecturer in the Honors College. 

Let’s give all of these outstanding faculty and staff members one more round of applause.


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In many of my past convocation speeches, I have enjoyed sharing with you new words or phrases that have entered our lexicon. Two of my personal favorites are both related to the phenomenon of adding the word “up” to a noun, thus turning it into a verb. 

“Churched-up” means to alter one’s word choice in retelling a story so as to make it suitable to share with one’s parents. “Woman-up,” which is my husband’s creation, is a call to macho men to just drop the façade and embrace the equality of the sexes.

This year I thought I would share with you some new expressions that I learned while John and I were on a family vacation in Alaska. There were nine of us including our daughters, their husbands, grandchildren aged 11 and 13, and one other mother-in-law.

In the waters of Alaska’s inside passage we went on a whale-watching trip. 
There, we actually saw two separate pods of whales engaged in the act of what is called “bubble-net feeding.” 

Bubble-net feeding is a unique cooperative feeding technique employed by Humpback Whales, in which a group of whales swim in a shrinking circle blowing bubbles below a school of fish. 

This shrinking column of bubbles surrounds the school of fish, forcing them upward. The whales spontaneously swim upward through the bubble net, mouths wide open, catching thousands of fish in one gulp. 

For observers it presents a great lesson in what intelligent beings can accomplish when they act in concert -- or collaborate -- rather than spouting off indiscriminately. 

Farther north as our cruise ship paused in Glacier Bay, we saw glaciers giving birth to what are called “calves” of ice -- large chunks of ice cracking off from the glacier to form floating icebergs and smaller “growlers.” 

While glacier calving is a unique and entertaining spectacle, it is also a graphic reminder of the retreat and impending disappearance of the glaciers in a warming world.

But we heard my favorite expression in the old frontier town of Ketchikan. 
Although tourism is the main industry now, its 20th-century hardscrabble economy, built on fishing, logging, and gold mining, lured to Ketchikan all kinds of characters, including one enterprising lady named Dolly.  
Dolly immediately saw the potential of a town full of lonely, thirsty men interested in misbehaving. 

She opened one of those establishments that seeks to satisfy lonely, thirsty men interested in misbehaving. 

Our tour guide -- a well-spoken gentleman -- was describing Dolly’s establishment. 

In apparent deference to our 11- and 13-year-old grandchildren listening intently in the tour group, he said the following:

“Dolly was a true entrepreneur.”

“She saw great potential in opening ‘a house of negotiable pleasure.’ ” 

What a wonderful euphemism! 

It presents such establishments in a whole new light.

Now it’s time to get serious.

I can’t refer to this summer without noting the violence and political turmoil in the Ukraine, the Middle East, and Iraq, combined with the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. 

As sad as all of this is, it provides an opportunity to recognize that political instability and region-wide disease are often by-products of an undereducated citizenry, poverty, economic turmoil, intolerance, and unrealized dreams.

Higher education is the great forger of the middle class, and it is the middle class with all of our hopes and plans and also our accomplishments that makes the U.S. democracy and the U.S. infrastructure that supports democracy so stable over so long a period of time.

And in a roundabout way, this brings me to one of the highlights of my summer.

On June 19th, John and I saw the Broadway play All the Way, the Tony Award-winning chronicle of President Lyndon Johnson’s successful 1964 effort to pass the Civil Rights Act. And June 19th was the 50th anniversary of LBJ’s signing of the Act into law. There’s a story attached to this effort that bears repeating. 

President Kennedy had rolled out the goal of the Civil Rights Act and his untimely death appeared to some to signal the demise of this goal.
Indeed, President Johnson’s advisors told him that such an act would not pass Congress and that during his first year in office he should focus on sure successes.

LBJ’s response when told he shouldn’t attempt such ambitious legislation was, and I sort of quote, “Then what the ______ is a presidency for?”

And you know what?

That’s a great question that each of us should ask ourselves: how can we use our jobs to achieve important goals?

I am so indebted to all of you for your daily work of building this great university. 

We begin this fall on the heels of an extraordinary academic year, one that can be measured by accomplishments in scholarly pursuits, fundraising, athletics, and physical growth, among other areas. 

Let me begin with the incredibly successful "Pride in Action" campaign, which raised 151 million dollars and exceeded our goal by 41 million. 

We had an astonishing 46 thousand individuals or organizations contribute to the campaign, which is a staggering figure in the world of fundraising.

Another revealing statistic is that about 85 percent of the funds raised were in cash, which is already at work for the university. About 70 percent of donors were our alumni, and we had about 50 percent of our faculty and staff give to the campaign.

It is a ringing endorsement to have such a strong participation rate within our own university family, as it demonstrates that those who know us best have a high level of confidence in what we do. 

So, where did the money go, you might ask?

Directly into enhancing the university in a number of ways:
57 million dollars went to faculty positions and program endowments;
39 million dollars went to student scholarships;
31 million dollars went to academic and athletic facilities;
And 24 million dollars went to research.
In addition to fund raising, we achieved several other remarkable things during the past year. 

In May, our Ingram School of Engineering sealed a partnership with NASA contractor Jacobs Engineering to work on a series of research and development projects that will support the International Space Station and a planned mission to Mars. 

It’s a 5 million dollar contract with an option to extend it to 9 million dollars. 

Our Enactus student team in the McCoy College of Business Administration, which competes with hundreds of other schools in a free enterprise competition, won its third national championship in April, beating teams such as Carnegie Mellon University and Syracuse University.

The Texas State team will be competing at the international level in Beijing in October. 

We were pleased that our Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (or ALERRT) program in the College of Applied Arts, which has trained more than 50 thousand officers across the country on how to handle active-shooter situations, was awarded a 7 million dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Justice. 

Within the past month, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board approved two new master’s programs for us: one is a Master of Science degree in Dementia and Aging Studies in the College of Liberal Arts and the other is a Master of Science degree in Engineering.

These will launch in fall 2014 and fall 2015, respectively.

Also, we will be asking for preliminary authority from our Board of Regents next week to add a Doctor of Nursing Practice.

I also want to point out that the College of Fine Arts and Communication is in the process of establishing a research center that will support the research goals of all five units within that college and foster cross-unit collaboration.

In other words, it will engage in bubble-net feeding!

It will be known as the Center for Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity -- or C3.

Now let’s turn to athletics.

Late last spring, the NCAA released its annual report on the Academic Progress 
Rates, or APR, of athletic teams for all Division 1 schools. The APR is a report card that helps us view the academic standing of our student-athletes sport-by-sport in comparison to those at other schools.

All 16 of our teams well exceeded the minimum score of 930 that the NCAA requires to remain eligible for post-season play. In fact, five of our teams scored a perfect one thousand on their APRs. And our tennis team and women’s golf team received the NCAA’s Public Recognition Award for their multi-year perfect APR scores. 

In our inaugural year in the Sun Belt Conference, our volleyball and women’s golf teams both made it to their respective NCAA tournaments.

Now let’s look at construction.

You may have noticed the final stages of two projects in San Marcos over the summer: 

The 578-bed Falls Sayers Housing Complex on the western edge of the university; and Renovations to the Comal Building, formerly Psychology, on the Quad.

Both are already in use. 

Right before the summer, we began work on Bobcat Trail, which you really can’t miss seeing since it is so centrally located. By December 2015, we will convert this “gray” space into green space, and repurpose it into a pedestrian mall that will run parallel to the Quad.
 
Because we believe in the benefits of being a residential campus for our freshmen -- last year 95 percent of our freshmen lived on campus -- we began construction in June on another housing complex, this one on Moore Street, which will have nearly 600 beds.

It will be ready by fall 2016.

And on that same schedule is another major project -- the remodeling of Jones Dining Hall, which was built in the 1970s and is in desperate need of an update.

We also have a new pavilion at Bobcat Stadium, which will be used for events by our Bobcat Club and "T" Association beginning this fall.

Now, let’s look at the year to come, and begin with our legislative agenda, since the next session of the Legislature is a little less than five months away. Our highest priorities remain the same as in the 2013 Session: an Engineering and Science Building for our San Marcos Campus and a Health Professions facility for our Round Rock Campus. 

I don’t need to tell you that our need for space has reached a critical level.
We are facing the prospect of capping enrollment in engineering because the demand has outpaced the space we have available to grow those programs.

Additionally, coming out of our last round of strategic planning, our highest priorities for new undergraduate programs are civil and environmental engineering, and civil and environmental engineering technology.

But we cannot start those programs until we have additional space.

The same is true in Health Professions, as our College of Health Professions has been recognized as a top producer of healthcare professionals in the Austin metropolitan area.

As evidence of this, last year, 98 percent of our College of Health Professions graduates had jobs in their chosen healthcare profession within six months of graduating.

One final legislative funding priority for us is support for a multifunctional materials innovation institute at STAR Park. This institute will support our research and commercialization efforts in nano-materials, which is a program that is helping position us as a magnet for innovative companies and startups from outside the region.

I can’t stress enough the importance of research-related efforts, which brings me to my next topic of discussion: our research profile, and our plan for pushing Texas State to the next level.

As I hope you know, this fall we are initiating the process of reviewing and revising the 2012 thru 2017 University Plan, which is this institution’s road map for the future. We develop a new plan every five years and midway through those five years, we update the plan. An update is what we will accomplish this year.

Many of you have heard me talk about our aspirations of becoming a National Research University, a goal we set for this institution several years ago and which began bearing fruit in 2012, when the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board classified us as one of eight Emerging Research Universities.

Both Emerging Research University and National Research University are terms Texas uses in its classification of four-year institutions. Becoming an Emerging Research University was recognition that we are on the path to National Research University status.

In 2012, after we were reclassified, we assembled a team of faculty, staff, and students to develop a framework for achieving the next goal: accessing the National Research University Fund. This led to a research strategic plan. 

In this year’s round of planning our research plan will be embedded within the University Plan.

As a component of the University Plan, the research plan lays out the path to achieving metrics established by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board for National Research University Fund, or NRUF, eligibility, and we estimate that we can reach NRUF eligibility in about 10 years.

Along this path, we will use the research plan to assess where we are and how much further along we need to be on our journey. There are two mandatory criteria that are necessary for NRUF eligibility. Additionally, we must meet at least four of six optional criteria to gain eligibility for the funding. 

To begin, let’s talk about the two mandatory requirements. First, an institution must be designated an Emerging Research University, which we have achieved.

Second, we must generate 45 million dollars in annual restricted research expenditures for two consecutive years. Restricted funds are those that come from external sources -- gifts, grants, and contracts -- that are limited in their use for research only.

Going from 21 million dollars, where we were at the end of fiscal 2013, to 45 million dollars will take a lot of hard work. But what is encouraging is that from fiscal year 2009 to fiscal year 2013, Texas State experienced a 7.6 million dollar increase in restricted research expenditures. 

Given our past significant growth in these expenditures, and our intensified efforts to enhance research, we have strong prospects for meeting this requirement.

For example, both the collaboration by the Ingram School with Jacobs Engineering and the Department of Justice grant to the ALERRT program that I talked about earlier will result in significant restricted research expenditures.

Now let’s turn to the other four of the six optional criteria we have chosen to meet for NRUF eligibility.

The good news is we have already achieved one of the optional criteria and we are relatively close to reaching another. 

By establishing a Texas State chapter of the national honor society, Phi Kappa Phi, we were able to satisfy the optional requirement that is termed “recognition of research capabilities and scholarly attainment.”

To establish a Phi Kappa Phi chapter, institutions must demonstrate a strong reputation for academic excellence, a robust offering of degree programs, and an exemplary commitment to scholarship.

But we aren’t stopping there, as we recognize the need to better establish ourselves within this criterion by having a modern research library. That’s why we are seeking designation as a member of the Association of Research Libraries, an organization of 125 libraries at research institutions that share similar missions, aspirations, and achievements.

A second optional criterion is one that we are close to meeting and has to do with the quality of our entering freshman class. That requirement calls for at least 50 percent of entering freshmen to be drawn from the top quartile of their high school graduating class.

For the past few years, Texas State’s entering freshman class has hovered close to the 50 percent threshold. In some recent years it’s been slightly above that mark, and other years slightly below. We need to move that percentage up to at least 55 percent in order to have the steady state of at least 50 percent over a period of years.

The third criterion requires us to have endowment funds totaling at least 400 million dollars. We are at almost 159 million dollars now, and while that metric of 400 million dollars appears a long way off, we have to think in terms of how we have been growing our endowment funds in the last few years.

In 2002, our endowment was 56 million dollars.

In 2006, when our "Pride in Action" campaign started, it was almost 70 million dollars.

In 2011, when we entered the public phase of the capital campaign, it was 112 million dollars.

And, as I said, today we are at almost 159 million dollars.

So given the history of our growth rate -- and the power of compound interest -- it is likely that we will reach the 400 million dollar threshold in about 10 years.

The fourth criterion requires us to demonstrate a high-quality faculty, reflected by the number of faculty members who have achieved national and international distinction.

Faculty of distinction are defined as Guggenheim, MacArthur, or National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship winners; National Science Foundation CAREER award winners; members of the National Academies; Nobel Prize winners; and Pulitzer Prize winners. The number of those nationally recognized faculty members needed to satisfy this requirement ranges from five to seven in a given year.

By the way, I should point out that we must meet all the requirements of each of the criteria in the year that we apply for a distribution from the National Research University Fund.

So you can see that we have a realistic path to satisfying both the mandatory and optional requirements for National Research University Fund eligibility during the next 10 years. 

We will continue to recruit a talented undergraduate population; 

We will continue our focus on research with relevance: the creation of new knowledge that applies to real-world issues; 

We will continue to recruit and support exceptional faculty; 

And we will continue to raise dollars for our endowment and our library.

We believe we can significantly enhance our research expenditures by targeting more external sources of funding and developing research-related programs that encourage student participation, among other strategies.

We believe we can continue to improve undergraduate education through stepped up retention efforts, added depth and variety to academic programs, and enhanced advising and mentoring.

But the most important thing we can do to significantly improve our undergraduate base is to add scholarships. 

In order to attract high-achieving students, we must leverage existing scholarships and add new ones. 

We plan to increase our marketing efforts and create new research opportunities that target freshmen.

We also plan to increase the proportion of our students who are in master’s programs.

Let me explain the impetus behind this goal.

If you compare Texas with two other highly populated states, you see that 10.3 percent of New Yorkers hold master’s degrees, as do 7.5 percent of California residents.

Nationally, 7.7 percent of U.S. residents have a master’s degree.

In our state, only 6.6 percent of Texans hold this degree.

And as the master’s is increasingly a stepping stone to higher job categories and higher salaries, more Texans need to be educated at this level.

Another strategy en route to NRUF eligibility is to expand our doctoral offerings. 

Currently, we offer 12 doctorates: 10 Ph.D.s, an Ed.D., and a Doctor of Physical Therapy. We’ve been very deliberate in our approach to adding doctoral programs, which has kept them robust. 

Our plans are to submit proposals to the Coordinating Board by the end of 2016 for Ph.D.s in applied anthropology, computer science, and public administration. 

And as I said earlier, we are submitting a proposal for a Doctor of Nursing Practice to our Board next week.

By offering more doctoral degrees we not only increase our number of doctoral students, we also increase our opportunities for research activities for all of our students and faculty.

Some may ask why it is that we are making such a dramatic push toward becoming a National Research University. 

But the answer is really quite simple. 

Given the fact that we are a thriving university located in an economically burgeoning part of the state, it’s our destiny. Research not only leads to discovery and new knowledge, it offers opportunity and advancement for our faculty and students. 

Faculty who are actively engaged in research bring cutting-edge knowledge to the classroom. And we know having a robust research program attracts the brightest students and top-notch faculty. 

How do we know that a research university environment is best for our students?

We know because they have told us so.

Some of you will recall that when tuition was deregulated in Texas in 2003, we hired consultants from the Art and Science Group to study prospective freshmen at Texas State.

They followed high school seniors for a whole year, asking them questions at     four points:

When they requested information about Texas State.

When they applied.

When they were accepted.

And when they matriculated here or elsewhere.

These students overwhelmingly said they wanted to go to a big university and one that was a research university.

These young people intuitively understood the significance of obtaining an education at a large, complex school with a myriad of academic majors and a first-class faculty.

This is what they wanted.

And we have learned over the intervening years that if we accept a student who then does not enroll here, the school that student is most likely to attend is Texas A&M -- a big research university.

So, by seeking NRUF eligibility, we are creating the environment our undergraduates want.

But we’re also doing it for many other reasons. Research is an incredible driver of economic development. Our research park is less than two years old, and already we are pursuing an expansion of our first building. 

Texas and our nation are changing. 

With each passing year, the skills required in our workforce become more sophisticated. And the next generation of workers must be prepared to fill those jobs. To be certain, this is a very big -- and very critically important -- challenge.

But we’re good at facing challenges and making changes. We just completed a year during which we implemented a name change -- for the second time since 2003.

Two weeks ago I was at our dedication of the new Falls Sayers Residence Hall Complex and talking to the architects for the project. I was about to introduce them as SHW Group when they apologetically explained their name had just changed to Stantec.

I told them not to worry -- we were experts at understanding name changes.

Because a name change signals evolution, and evolution is good.

Dropping San Marcos from our name more powerfully positions us as the big, complex, national university we have become.

And now I want to share some very exciting news with you.

I am pleased to announce that earlier this week, we learned that Texas State has been awarded a 15 million dollar grant from NASA.

It is the largest grant ever for Texas State University.

We were awarded this grant after responding to a challenge to minority serving institutions to propose innovative ways to share NASA’s content as a means of developing future educators in the STEM fields.

The grant will fund our faculty in Education, and in Science and Engineering to develop ways of using NASA-related science, technology, engineering and math content in the education of teachers.

Clearly, a 15 million dollar grant is a big deal and it demonstrates the innovation and energy our people have in pursuing excellence. This grant will also significantly add to our research expenditures.

Let’s congratulate the Colleges of Education and Science and Engineering for this astounding achievement.

To those who say becoming eligible for the National Research University Fund is beyond our grasp, I say look at our faculty and staff, and see what they can do without the resources of a research university.

Becoming a research university is the best way we can serve our students while helping to keep Texas a vibrant and prosperous place to live.

A place where higher education is an engine.

A place where the middle class thrives.

A place where dreams are realized.

Thank you and best wishes for a happy and successful new year.