Austin Rotary Club Meeting Remarks

Austin Rotary Club Meeting
Remarks by President Denise Trauth
March 9, 2020

Thank you, Judge Holmes and thank you all for the opportunity to join you today and share some updates from Texas State University. I’m especially pleased to connect with the business and community leaders of the Rotary Club of Austin. What happens at Texas State, as a leading research university, is important to the city of Austin and our region.   

Texas State is inextricably linked with the people, economy, and workforce of the Austin-area. Our academic degree programs are preparing students to meet our region’s workforce demands. And our research centers are examining the challenges and opportunities for Texans’ quality of life.  Not to mention the brilliance and determination of our network of Austinite Bobcats. We have almost seventy thousand alumni living, working, and thriving in the Austin-area. Perhaps the best way to illustrate the university’s impact on this community is to share the top ten things you may not know about Texas State. I’ll share some of the ways our university contributes to Austin’s vitality and culture of innovation, and some of our Austin-based research initiatives.  

For number one in this top ten list, let me start with the basics. In terms of enrollment, Texas State is in the top five percent of universities in the nation, with nearly 38,000 students. We’ve grown significantly the past two decades. In my tenure as president, which began in 2002, total enrollment has grown by fifty one percent.

Number two. I’d like to paint a picture of our student body. At Texas State, we look like Texas. Our student demographics mirror the state of Texas more closely than any other public university in the state. Ninety six percent of our students are from Texas, and the majority of our 200,000 alumni have remained in Texas after graduation, building our state workforce and economy. Many of our faculty and staff are Austinites, as well. In a moment I’ll share some of the exciting projects our faculty are leading for the city of Austin.

Moving on to number three. Texas State has long enjoyed a strong reputation as a leader in educating and certifying teachers – in large part because the university was founded in 1899 as a teacher’s college. But we have transformed over the decades and added exceptional degree programs. 

Today, we enroll more students in the College of Science and Engineering than any other college. We offer more than 200 bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree programs.  Among our newest degree programs, during the last two years, we launched a master’s degree in quantitative finance and economics, and a master’s in data science.  We also launched our bachelor’s degree in civil engineering with an emphasis on sensors and smart technology -- a program that is incredibly popular, and the first of its kind in the state.

Number four: Texas State is driving research with relevance, creating new knowledge that helps solve real-world problems. Among our research specialties, faculty are leading the way in smart materials, water conservation, DNA sequencing, cybersecurity, human expression, and public safety, to name a few. 

Texas State is classified by the state as an Emerging Research University, or ERU. There are seven other Emerging Research Universities: Texas Tech, University of Houston, University of North Texas, UT Arlington, UT Dallas, UT El Paso, and UT San Antonio. We are now focused on achieving National Research University Funding status, another Texas classification. To fully appreciate the scope of our current research activities, it helps to know how much we have advanced. Over the last ten years, our externally funded research has increased by an average of 16 percent per year. Our research and development expenditures in fiscal year 2020 topped a record-breaking 70 million dollars. 

 That brings me to number five. A few miles from our San Marcos Campus, we operate an innovative research park called the Science, Technology, and Advanced Research -- or STAR -- Park, which houses a technology incubator for start-up companies. The eleven companies at STAR Park are working hand-in-hand with our faculty to create game-changing new technologies, including thermoelectric devices, point of care diagnostics, and nanomaterials for solar power. 

When you hear about research parks at other institutions, oftentimes it’s essentially a real estate deal where companies co-locate. But at STAR Park, our faculty and students are working directly with these start-up companies – prototyping, testing, and bringing new products to market. They also recruit and hire our students at STAR Park, contributing not only new tech, but also new jobs, on this our Innovation Corridor which stretches along I-35 from Austin to San Antonio.  The exciting work happening at STAR Park has gained international recognition. The international Association of University Research Parks has awarded two STAR Park companies  Innovation Company of the Year awards – those companies are Sempulse and Paratus Diagnostics.

Number six is something I’m especially proud of for its impact on the Austin area. In addition to our San Marcos Campus, we have a campus in Round Rock, which as you know, is a thriving healthcare district for our region. It’s home to most of our College of Health Professions programs, and critical health research initiatives. 

We have the nation’s largest respiratory care bachelor’s program, which in the age of COVID-19, means our students and faculty are in high demand. In fact, since the pandemic first began taking its toll on our strained healthcare systems, local hospitals and doctors tapped our College of Health Professions students and graduates to fill critical positions quickly.  Our graduates are highly sought after because of the quality of our health professions programs. We consistently have 100 percent passing rates for bachelor’s and master’s degree students in our St. David's School of Nursing. Many of our nursing graduates are employed as frontline workers in Austin hospitals. Our nursing students and faculty have helped our longtime partner St. David’s, as well as Baylor Scott and White, operate vaccination clinics for Austinites and other people eligible for the vaccine in Central Texas. 

Two of the research specialties at our Round Rock Campus address first the safe delivery of aerosol medications to patients with pulmonary diseases who are vulnerable to COVID-19 and second interventions that help bilingual children who struggle with stuttering. We also operate state-of-the-art clinics on the Round Rock Campus in Willow Hall, a building that opened in 2018. The clinics serve local families and patients without health insurance – a physical therapy clinic, and a speech-language-hearing clinic. In these two clinics, our students gain hands-on, faculty-supervised experience while helping to improve the health and wellness of Austinites.

The next few things on my top ten list are projects Texas State is leading to serve and support the city of Austin. We have a team exploring ways to use the robust data collected by Austin Public Health to forecast health trends using machine learning. 

Texas State was recently awarded high-tech equipment and cloud computing tools from Advanced Micro Devices, or AMD. Through a competitive RFP process, we received AMD support, alongside other universities like MIT and Stanford. AMD is equipping research universities like Texas State to analyze how the pandemic is impacting communities. Our team of researchers and students will harness big data with the new cloud computing tools from AMD to mine social media and analyze how COVID information, and disinformation, spreads. Through machine learning and forecasting simulations, they’ll investigate how geography, health care and socioeconomics contribute to COVID death rates at the state and county levels.  A member of our computer science faculty serves as a Data Architect for the City of Austin. In this role, he connects city staff who want research expertise to researchers at Texas State and other top schools nationwide. Austin Public Health has important public health data from many sources in the community, but like our public health infrastructure nationwide, has sometimes struggled to gather every data set together in coherent wholes so that it can be analyzed and communicated to policy makers and the public. Our computer science faculty member is in the early stages of a project with the big data team that received the AMD grant to create a platform to map HIV and COVID related data to better understand the nature of those diseases in Central Texas.  

Number eight on my list is another exciting research project serving Austin. At the Texas State Meadows Center for Water and the Environment, we’ve worked for many years with city and state officials on water conservation in Austin. 

The Shoal Creek watershed stretches from North to Central Austin. It includes 8,300 acres and includes more than 30 miles of streams. Healthy watersheds can provide clean drinking water, productive fisheries, and outdoor recreation, which we know is good for the local environment as well as the economy. The highly urbanized Shoal Creek watershed drains into the Colorado River at Lady Bird Lake and is partially within the environmentally sensitive recharge zone of the Edwards Aquifer. The creek, which was once a popular swimming and fishing spot, now suffers from poor water quality, severe flooding and erosion, reduced flow, and loss of aquatic habitat. In 2016, The Meadows Center at Texas State partnered with the Shoal Creek Conservancy to lead the state’s environmental agency and a coalition in developing a watershed protection plan for Shoal Creek. Our Meadows Center conducted research, convened decisionmakers, and directed outreach campaigns to build local support for the plan. 

With substantial endorsements from the City of Austin, the University of Texas at Austin, and dozens of local organizations, our research team submitted a final plan to the state’s environmental agency last year. On January 21st, the state requested final approval of the Shoal Creek plan from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 

The last Austin-focused research project I’ll share today, number nine, addresses some of the hottest topics for Austinites – commuting and traffic.

Our Translational Health Research Center partnered with the region’s Transportation Management Authority, Moveability, to research how commuting patterns impact the health and productivity of Austin’s workforce. Their original study was presented at Mayor Adler’s Mobility Breakfast last year. We learned overall that people who had longer daily commutes prior to COVID-19 reported significantly positive changes while teleworking, including greater work productivity, better mental health, better physical health and more use of bicycles for exercising. A follow-up study analyzed the impact of COVID on changing commuting patterns, mostly to try to figure out why there was still so much traffic in Austin when many employees were working from home. The third phase of that study will launch later this month.

I’ll finish my Top Ten List with a fun fact! We are the only university in Texas to have graduated a U.S. President -- Lyndon Baines Johnson, class of 1930.

I hope these ten things have illustrated the breadth and depth  of Texas State’s footprint in the Austin-area. The last few years have revealed the true scope of the challenges we face in public health, the economy, and the environment. It has also shined a light on the impact research universities, including Texas State, can make in addressing those challenges. 

It’s our mission and our DUTY to evolve our academic programs, industry partnerships, and research initiatives to continue bringing solutions and new knowledge to the forefront.

It’s a privilege for us to partner with industry and community leaders, like yourselves, to bring many of the projects I’ve described to fruition. I know that together we can continue to achieve good things for Central Texas and the world.

Thank you for your time and attention.