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Woodson installation speech: NC State University “Locally responsive. Globally engaged.”

Welcome, distinguished guests, students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends.  We are glad you are here.

Susan and I have been here for about six months.  The Wolfpack family has met us with open arms.  It’s been a great experience and we are humbled and inspired by it.  Thank you.

As you might imagine, I have met a lot of people so far.  I have already learned a lot about you and have learned a lot from you.  The first thing I learned is that everywhere I went, people had good things to say about NC State.  In Edenton and Kinston, Greensboro and Winston-Salem, in Charlotte, Asheville, and Wilmington.  I’ve heard from Governor Perdue and Mayor Meeker.  People across the state speak in glowing terms about the university and its impact.  So if there is any doubt in your mind that this university is seen as anything but relevant …if there’s any doubt about the strong reputation of NC State in North Carolina, let me reassure you.

At the Board of Governor’s meeting earlier this month, our own Michael Walden was honored as a recipient of the Award for Excellence in Public Service.   In introducing Michael, Charles Hayes, president and CEO of the RTP Regional Partnership, complimented him not just as an expert on the North Carolina economy, but as someone with an ability to communicate his knowledge and ideas to the general public and to students in the classroom.  Charles added, “That’s NC State.”

That statement speaks volumes.  If there’s any one thing that stands out from all I have learned about NC State, it’s that this university has a strong outward focus.   We are good at moving knowledge out to the people who need it, but equally good at listening to people about the knowledge they need.  Engagement is a two way street and NC State travels both directions.

That’s the core of our land-grant mission and the basis for the idea that brought this university into existence.  Land grants have a special place in American higher education.

We helped to create the world’s most productive agriculture industry, produced breakthrough research that cured some of humanity’s most deadly diseases, designed and built much of the infrastructure that fuels our nations economy and empowered our citizens through access to education.

Appropos of the times, we helped to move the nation past The Depression and World War II by taking in tens of thousands of returning soldiers who went to school with the help of the GI Bill.  In fact, if you’ve seen the photos of the makeshift housing on the Court of North Carolina, you know NC State was on the frontline when it came to helping returning GIs get an education.  It’s one of the many ways we could and should express our gratitude for the sacrifice our soldiers made then and still make today.

North Carolina State University has helped to nurture, grow and expand what we mean when we say “land-grant” as we have evolved from the plot of land that was the Pullen farm to a globally engaged university.  Our roots are local, our reach is the world.  We are locally responsive, and globally engaged.

As I have met people across this state, I’ve learned that NC State is different things to different people.  It’s a favorite faculty member, it’s nights at Mitch’s or Players Retreat, it’s Jim Valvano running around the court in Albuquerque looking for a hug.  It’s the ever-changing Free Expression Tunnel, the extension agent they know on a first-name basis,  the first time they ever saw the Bell Tower red or the last time they sat in traffic on Dan Allen.

For me, as we consider how we move NC State forward, there are three areas that need our focus and attention: the success of our students and faculty, engagement and economic development, and organizational effectiveness.

Student success is, of course, our reason for existence.  There are lots of centers and organizations and magazines that measure and rank universities.  Some change their methodology from one year to the next, while others use formulas that are just incomprehensible.  But in reality, it’s a simple equation: if the students who come to us are successful, we are successful.

I believe there are two criteria for measuring student success: graduation and inspiration.  Do students have access, do they get their degree and, somewhere along the way, did we inspire them to lead, to serve, to challenge, to take the initiative, to see past their perceived limitations.

These days, it seems as though we annually set a record for the number of applications received and diplomas awarded.  We know through our alumni satisfaction survey that our graduates believe in the value of an NC State diploma.  And we learned just last month that according to a Wall Street Journal survey, recruiters ranked our graduates among the top 20 in the nation.  We have a pretty thorough understanding of how we’re doing on the graduation front.

Even though measuring inspiration is less straightforward, there is ample evidence that students are inspired by an NC State experience.

Several of our biomedical engineering students developed a special lens for patients suffering from forms of paralysis that leave them unable to blink and hydrate their eyes.   They created the lens in what you might think of as the NC State way.  They observed a problem.  They worked to understand the specific needs of patients, then they delivered an inspired solution to address those needs.  They won a national award for undergraduate researchers in their field.

Caldwell Scholar Saul Flores walked and hitch-hiked more than 5,000 miles across Latin America on his way back to campus this summer to draw attention to the plight of immigrants.

One of our alumni, Doc Henley, created the Wine to Water project providing clean water to emerging nations around the world.

And, under the heading of “inspiration takes lots of forms,” there’s the Krispy Kreme Challenge.  A student-led event that started with 12 participants now draws thousands to run a few miles and eat a box of Krispy Kremes to benefit North Carolina Children’s Hospital.  That’s some inspired thinking.

Speaking for myself, I had no idea that I would enjoy science or even have an aptitude for it until I got to college.  I was like so many of our students who come to us with a desire for an education and an inexact dream of their future.  They bring their enthusiasm.  They are open to inspiration.  That fact in itself should inspire us to come to work everyday with student success on our minds.

The faculty are the heart and soul of NC State.  Recruiting and retaining a world-class faculty is central to our continued success and must be the highest priority.  Just as a great institution of higher education is a potent engine for personal and societal transformation; innovative, creative and committed faculty are the engine of a great university.  NC State must be the university of choice for faculty seeking an environment to be world-class scholars and educators.

The second area that we will build on is engagement and economic development.

I quickly learned that this is a sweet spot for NC State and a differentiator for us among our national peers.  We have a clear understanding of our mission and a passion for connecting it to people.   Our partnerships and collaborations deliver mutual benefits.  That’s particularly true in the area of economic development.

Any number of business publications give North Carolina and the Triangle high marks for its business climate.  You probably know them as well as I do.  Best business climate, best place to start a new business, best city for women entrepreneurs, smartest workforce and many other strong national rankings.

Supporting the economic health of North Carolina is something NC State does very well.  It doesn’t always show up in the way we are measured.  But it is very vital and broadly beneficial, and I like to think our work is reflected in the high marks North Carolina and Raleigh receive nationally.

We worked hard as part of Governor Perdue’s team to win Race to the Top funding for North Carolina.

Our Nonwovens Cooperative in the College of Textiles is one of the largest industry-sponsored university research consortiums in the nation.

We have worked directly with the Department of Commerce to recruit and retain businesses in North Carolina.  The Golden LEAF Biomanufacturing Training and Educational Center, with an array of industrial and academic partners,  supports North Carolina’s biotech industry. We’re not recent arrivals to the party.

Just last month, we celebrated the state’s advanced manufacturing industry.  If you thought manufacturing was dead in North Carolina, talk to our industry partners, who we have supported for more than 50 years through Industrial Extension.

Centennial Campus has been on an upward trajectory for 25 years.  That’s not by accident.

We have created institutional policies, processes, templates, contracts …we have done the heavy lifting.  We have the foundational processes that enable our vision to be the most innovative public university in America.

As we consider NC State’s future, the third area that stands out is the organizational practices, processes and functionality that make this place run on a daily basis.

Academically and administratively, the strength of the university can best be captured and conveyed when we present ourselves as one university.

Administratively, our decentralized structure has delivered a strong sense of what we might think of as customer service.  It also has led to some redundancies and inefficiencies.  In particular, areas like business services, human resources, information technology, development and communications present opportunities to enhance our efficiency and effectiveness…making improvements without losing the customer focus.

Academically, it is becoming increasingly important to work across disciplines.  It’s important in many ways to be able to say we provide a comprehensive array of disciplines.  It speaks to our capacity for delivering relevant solutions.  It speaks to the degree programs we can offer our students.  It speaks to the quality of our faculty and the value of an NC State diploma. It’s not enough for us to say we are comprehensive, we must be comprehensive.  We live in a world where interdisciplinary study, research and problem solving are necessary.

The real opportunities for the future are at the intersection of our disciplines and our professional fields.  That means strengthening our interdisciplinary programs, lowering the barriers between disciplines and departments, being more nimble in our operations, developing academic programs of study across disciplines and bringing faculty together to promote interdisciplinary research and collaboration.

About half of our College of Management graduates have a technical background.  Our new Entrepreneurship Initiative works across virtually all majors.   The Technology Entrepreneurship and Commercialization program combines management and engineering students to evaluate new technologies and spin out new companies.

Veterinary Medicine and Engineering are collaborating on breakthroughs in the field of prosthetics.  Our Office of Information Technology recently collaborated with their counterparts at UNC at Chapel Hill to help both institutions save money on software.

What I have found in my six months here is that our students, faculty and staff want to work across departmental and disciplinary lines.  Let’s establish the processes that facilitate, encourage and reward interdisciplinary collaboration.

Embedded in this discussion in a very large way is our research enterprise.  When it comes to the role of research in carrying out our mission, our faculty get it.

Our research covers a broad spectrum from cloud computing to rainforest preservation.  From sociology to apiculture.  Genomics to nuclear energy.

Just this year, we’ve seen the work of professors Christian Melander and John Cavanagh that could be the answer to antibiotic-resistant bacteria that lead to wide-spread staph infections that right now are virtually untreatable.  They just received a grant from the Department of Defense  for further tests.

Professor Afsaneh Rabiei led a team that developed a “metal foam” that could mean a new generation of  biomedical implants that would avoid bone rejection.

Professor Michael Steer received the U.S. Army Commander’s Award for Public Service for his research that will help soldiers detect roadside bombs.

And it was recently announced that NC State will lead the Department of Interior’s new Southeast Climate Science Center that will provide greater insight into the impact of climate change.

Research at NC State provides tangible results and has direct implications for student success and economic development.

Learning, discovery and engagement are our historical foundation.   The challenge for us is what we do to build on that heritage and legacy.  Here’s where we have to acknowledge the elephant in the room.

Our state and nation have not faced a budget crisis this severe since the depression.

Against that reality,  we ask ourselves “What are we going to do, NC State?”  Are we going to feel sorry for ourselves?  The temptation certainly is there to give ourselves a little group hug, isn’t it?  Are we going to wait until the storm passes?  That’s not our style.

If we are the resilient university we believe we are…if we are the people we believe ourselves to be, then there’s only one option.   We have to find a way to continue to produce at a high level.

To do anything less is to compromise our dreams for this university.  To do anything less is to compromise the dreams of the people who come to us for an education, for innovative research, for strong and mutually beneficial collaborations and partnerships.

We are not going to let budget challenges cripple us.  But, we do have to move forward knowing  that we have to think differently about our operation.   We have over the past several years responded to the budget crunch with a patchwork approach.  That approach has kept us going, but to paraphrase Nobel Physicist Ernest Rutherford, “(Ladies and) gentlemen, we have run out of money.  It is time to start thinking.”

We have about patchworked this thing as much as we can.  It’s time to start thinking “wholecloth.”  Looking broadly for the solutions that address a range of concerns will best serve this university and its stakeholders long term.  It’s the best approach for creating lasting efficiencies, not just one-off or one-time solutions.

I’d like to share just a few examples of places where I believe we could take some organizational action that will strengthen the university.

I’ve heard from alumni, from current students and from our faculty and staff that our practice of direct admission to colleges, limited capacity to transfer, and technical nature of many of our majors creates challenges for students.  We lose too many students that are academically eligible. Let’s get that fixed.

One thing we can do is elevate our commitment to student advising across colleges and disciplines to help our students navigate a large and technically complicated university.  We can also work hard to enhance transfer opportunities for students starting at other UNC campuses or North Carolina’s excellent community colleges.  We can enhance access and success.

And while we’re on that topic, we have an opportunity to re-imagine the role of distance education at NC State.  Measuring by the number of credit hours, distance ed is one of our fastest growing programs.  There has to be a way we can employ distance ed to not only help us with retention and progress to graduation, but also to improve facility utilization and course delivery.  We will figure it out.

While our research expenditures have increased in recent years, they have not kept pace with our peers.  For one, the growth of NIH funding in the last two decades largely bypassed NC State.  One of the ways we address this aspect of research funding is a more focused effort on the life sciences that takes advantage of our historic strengths in genetics and biological complexity.

The companion piece to increasing research expenditures is streamlining processes and procedures.  Too often, bureaucracy gets in the way of innovative research and education.  Let’s make sure we are supporting our faculty through critical investments in core research facilities,  and enabling processes that streamline discovery and technology commercialization.   Graduate enrollment also needs attention as we consider what our enrollment should be going forward.  Graduate students are vital to our research.

On the other end of the continuum, we need to increase the number of our tenure-track faculty.   You may be wondering how in a weak economy we can add tenure-track faculty, knowing they typically require significantly higher investments.   That’s the challenge, right?  The first part of the answer is that we can’t do it all at once.   The second part is that without sufficient numbers of tenure-track faculty to write grants and train graduate students, we are in effect limiting our research capacity, reducing graduate enrollment and increasing class size.  So while we may save money in the short-term by limiting faculty hiring, there are longer-term disadvantages.

We can significantly change the effects of a weak economy by growing our endowment.  I was with a group of Park Scholars a couple of weeks ago.  And let me tell you, they did not go easy on the new guy.  They asked some very tough questions.  One of those questions was “If I could do one thing for NC State, what would it be.”  I said to them that if it came down to one thing, I would want to significantly grow our endowment.  Growing our endowment to sufficient levels would have a lasting and significant impact on everything we do.  Our endowment is about $400 million right now.  Most of our peers have endowments that are twice that size or more.

The Humanities and Social Sciences have emerged as a prominent component of NC State’s educational and scholarly landscape.  We have to empower these disciplines to be world-class, particularly in areas that take advantage of NC State’s historic strength in engineering, science and technology.   Our relatively new elementary education program focused on the STEM disciplines serves as a strong example.

Finally, let’s take a more intentional approach to innovation.  By definition, innovative ideas and actions move ahead of the curve.  It is not always easy to be innovative in a world that moves so much faster than a university moves.  It’s fair to say we don’t carry out our mission the same way we did 120 years ago, or the way we did 50 years ago, or even 20.

How will we carry out the mission 20 years from now…and why should we wait 20 years to push those boundaries?  Let’s look for ways to better promote and reward innovation in all aspects of our organization.

I was born in 1957, in Fordyce, Arkansas, home of Bear Bryant and Johnny Cash.  That’s pretty much where our similarities end.  1957 was the year of the Russian space craft called Sputnik.  I recall growing up during the space race where many young men and women were inspired by the marvels of science and technology. We were fascinated by the idea of space exploration and gathered around the television to watch the countdown to liftoff of the next rocket.  There was an urgency and a grand union of capacity and public will.

Today, we face many similar “moon shot” challenges.  With a growing population projected to reach 9 billion by 2050, where will the food be grown and how can it be produced in a sustainable way?  How will we deliver potable and safe water to a growing population?  How will we ensure safety and security in a world compromised by terrorists?  What about climate change as we look at the fragility of the North Carolina Coasts?  Where will we get and how will we deliver new forms of sustainable energy?   These issues all represent technical challenges with social implications.  When you put our academic disciplines and research capacity side by side with humanity’s grand challenges, you see tremendous synergy and synchronicity that makes it clear, this is NC State’s time.

And when we look across the history of NC State, we see a willingness to think big about the possibilities and an energy to bring those possibilities to life.

It was there in the conversation of the Watauga Club members who believed North Carolina needed a land-grant university.  And extends all the way to Dean Kamphoefner imagining a world-class College of Design right here in Raleigh and Governor Hunt imagining what a new research and innovation campus could be.

It was there when we helped to create the Research Triangle Park.

It was there when we created a one-of-a-kind analytics degree program.

It was there when we re-imagined how you teach large-lecture physics classes and created a new paradigm.

It was in the conversation when we built the first university-operated nuclear reactor and the first electric guitar…and when we helped to launch SAS, Cree and Biolex.

It was there when Trudy Mackay became our most recent member of the National Academy of Sciences.

Former Chancellor John Harrelson once said of NC State, “The pulse and very heart of progress (is) making each era, each generation, each step forward a little better and more meaningful than the last.”

How do we move NC State forward? I have offered a few ideas, but just about everyone here today has some ideas on that topic.  I want to hear them.  We have a lot of exceptional people at NC State.  My goal is that we have a shared vision for this university that clearly defines our future goals and the strategies we will engage to achieve them.

We’ve begun a planning process and hope you will join us later today in Stewart Theatre to continue the conversation.    The process will work best if we have a rich and interactive campuswide participation.  Join us and be a part of the process of moving NC State forward.

This is the university of one-of-a kind national models, and once-in-a-lifetime experiences.  I could not be more proud to join you as NC State’s 14th chancellor.


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Passion Rules!


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