President Mark Becker's 2011 State of the University Address

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

By Mark P. Becker

As I stand here today I can say without reservation that the past year has been one of significant achievement for Georgia State University.

There have been many important accomplishments in the 98-year history of this fine institution, but I submit to you that this year, by many metrics or standards, we have raised the bar for ourselves, and for future generations, more than ever before.

We have worked hard – all of us, across campus – to advance GSU in quality and substance. And, we have worked just as hard to position GSU for an even better future.

The signature achievement for the year was the crafting and adoption of GSU's strategic plan for the next decade.

Shortly after the university senate approved the plan in January, we gathered in this building to go over the specifics of the plan.

Now we move to implementation. Since our presentation unveiling the plan, Provost Risa Palm has convened five retreats to discuss how the plan will help guide and transform what we do at Georgia State University, and to elicit views on priorities among the initiatives in the plan.

The various initiatives are not equal in the amount of funding or effort that will be required to achieve full implementation, nor are they equal in potential impact.

We must therefore be strategic in charting the course for the implementation of the various initiatives.

The reports from the retreats are providing us with invaluable information as we shape the budget for next year, and prepare longer range plans for accomplishing the goals we have collectively set for the university.

I'd like to recognize Provost Palm for her leadership during our strategic planning process, as well as the members of the strategic planning committee. We thank you for your dedication and extremely important work.

Today I will not go into great detail about the plan, but i think it important that I provide a few examples of how we are already moving to action on key initiatives within each of the five goals.

The hard work that our university community put into the plan will not have been in vain so long as we actually use the plan to shape the future of Georgia State, and that indeed is what we are doing.

All of these efforts are focused on recognized excellence, as we strive to become of the country's premier research universities:

Goal One:

Become a national model for undergraduate education by demonstrating that students from all backgrounds can achieve academic and career success at high rates.

We are using evidence-based policy to improve our services in advising, supplemental instruction and other incentives for student academic achievement.

As we experiment with new and ground-breaking interventions, we are becoming known nationally for our innovation and success in undergraduate education.

We are also in the process of recruiting the founding dean of an honors college that will result in even more opportunities for our most accomplished students.

As we move towards launching the university's next capital campaign, one of our very highest priorities will be funding for both need-based and merit-based scholarships.

All of these efforts will be key to achieving nationally leading rates of retention and graduation, and ever-improving levels of academic and pre-career experience.

Goal Two:

Significantly strengthen and grow the base of distinctive graduate and professional programs that assure development of the next generation of researchers and societal leaders.

This goal is aimed both at changing the nature of graduate and professional programs and also at increasing our competitiveness for outstanding graduate students.

By increasing our emphasis on problem-based work, we can significantly increase the distinctiveness and quality of some of our graduate and professional programs.

One example of this is our newly approved Ph.D. in public health, which has taken urban health as its emphasis.

This Ph.D. program will become the nexus for interdisciplinary work in an area of natural interest to Georgia State and where we will make a distinctive contribution within the discipline.

Another part of this goal is the increasing of funding for doctoral students.

Here, we have launched a new doctoral fellowships program that is paired with our second century initiative for faculty hiring.

By the end of this program, we will be able to provide significant new support for some of our most innovative doctoral programs.

Goal Three:

Become a leading public research university addressing the most challenging issues of the 21st century.

Our faculty already have achieved recognition for their scholarly and creative works.

Federally funded research is at a new record level, and the university recently recognized the one hundred books that our faculty had published in the year 2010 alone.

These are impressive accomplishments and the basis on which we can achieve even more.

We have already begun to invest in additional new faculty.

The retreats revealed that there is overwhelming support for the initiative focused on “increased resources for selected existing and potential areas of strength”.

Importantly, this is precisely the goal of the Second Century Initiative that is now underway.

The Second Century Initiative provides central funding to hire high-impact scholars and clusters of faculty in key scholarly areas where Georgia State will build its future accomplishment.

The faculty clusters bring added strength and scope to areas in which we already have prominence, and to areas where we are poised to rise to prominence.

Furthermore, these recruitments focused on building strength in specific areas will increase the impact that the research performed at Georgia State will have on addressing major issues confronting society today, and in the future.

We expect that the scholarly output of our faculty, including competitive federally funded research projects, will be greatly enhanced by this program.

Another important initiative is the creation of university-level research centers.

Our first such center, the center for inflammation, immunity and infection, was established in January, and is being lead by professor J.D. Li, who has joined the university as a Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar.

We expect other university-level research centers to soon follow.

These centers are absolutely essential in order for our faculty to successfully compete for the large research grants that will permit them to make major breakthroughs that will significantly benefit society.

Yesterday afternoon it was announced that Dr. James Weyhenmeyer will join us this summer as our new vice president for research and economic development.

He will lead the initiative on the expansion of central research support to provide help and training for an enhanced research staff.

As we provide more trained staffing to support research, our faculty will be able to better focus their attention on the subject-matter of their work rather than on the administrative detail, in turn increasing our productivity and competitiveness.

Goal Four:

Be a leader in understanding the complex challenges of cities and developing effective solutions.

In the process of developing the strategic plan, it was often repeated that Atlanta is part of the DNA of Georgia State University.

With the large number of faculty throughout the university who have expertise in applied urban research, we have the unique opportunity to become recognized as a university whose research and teaching are meaningfully addressing the issues that confront large and growing metropolitan areas: issues such as, governance, sustainability, transportation, housing, health and quality of life.

In the coming weeks we will convene the faculty with interests in these areas to organize some large-scale interdisciplinary research groups.

Goal Five:

Achieve distinction in globalizing the university.

Atlanta is an international city, and Georgia is ever more dependent on international commerce.

It is not surprising; therefore, that Georgia State has a rich array of international programs and collaborations.

However, as substantial as those efforts are, we must do more.

We must do more to prepare our students to be leaders in a fast-paced, dynamic world.

We must do more to produce the scholarship that informs business, civic, and government leaders as they serve their respective communities and organizations.

We must do more to convene the important conversations that will facilitate scholarly exchange and progress.

Two recent successes in these directions are the launching of our Confucius Institute in partnership with Beijing Language and Culture University, and the founding of the World Affairs Council of Atlanta at Georgia State University.

These are steps in the right direction, and we will do more.

Note that the emphasis in goal five on preparing our students to be leaders in today's global society links back to the first goal of the strategic plan: Becoming a national model for high quality undergraduate education.

In fact, I want to stress that although we can speak of the strategic plan as a series of five goals, the goals are overlapping.

They create an integrated whole that is much greater than the sum of the individual parts.

This is a plan that will make Georgia State University an even more exciting and stimulating place to work, and it is a plan that will increase the value of a Georgia State diploma.

Above and beyond the strategic plan, there is much else to note and celebrate from the year past.

For example, Georgia State continues to rise as a destination of choice for students seeking a quality university experience.

Right now we have set an all-time record for fall freshmen applications with more than 12,100 applications for the coming fall.

Last year, we did not hit 12,000 applications until the beginning of June.

Georgia State continues to set records, not only for the number of students we enroll but also for their academic preparation as they enter, and their success once they matriculate.

This past year, we enrolled more than 31,000 students, our one-year retention rate topped 84 percent for the first time ever, and the freshmen class set records for highest average GPA and SAT scores in university history.

Increasingly, we not only compete for, but we enroll, high ability students who are among the very best in the Southeast.

This past fall, the more than 150 freshmen admitted into our nascent Honors College had an average high school GPA of 3.84 and an average SAT of 1314.

Georgia State students are not only the most qualified ever, they represent the most racially and economically diverse class that the university has ever enrolled.

This coming fall, we are on pace to set new records for enrollments, GPA's, SAT scores, and diversity once again.

As our university continues to grow in size and scope, we are necessarily updating and adding to our physical footprint in downtown Atlanta.

This past fall, we opened our on-campus Greek Housing Community, right next door to our Freshman Resident and Dining Hall, which opened the previous year.

That means we now have approximately 3,000 students living on campus.

That is amazing when you consider that a not decade ago, we had zero students living on our immediate campus.

And we're still growing. As you may know, last summer GSU acquired two hotels on Piedmont Avenue, just north of University Commons.

Those hotels are being repurposed into residence halls, and contiguous to the hotels site preparation has begun for the construction of our 2nd full service dining facility.

This coming fall, the Piedmont North Housing complex will open and be at full capacity with 900 additional beds, plus the ability to service over 2,000 meal plans and provide our first-ever weekend dining facility.

In December, the university purchased a parking lot at the corner of Park Place and John Wesley Dobbs, for the purpose of locating new facilities for the GSU Law School and the Robinson College of Business.

We have already received funding from the legislature to design the law school project, and we will continue to keep the campus community updated on future plans for that site as they mature and achieve funding.

Speaking of parking lots, those of you who park in G Deck, are witnessing our daily progress on the expansion of the Classroom South Building.

When completed this July, we will have an additional 700 classroom seats to accommodate our growing student body.

It is worth noting at this time, that barely one year after the dedication and opening of the Petit Science and Teaching Center, that facility is now full to capacity.

Initial stages of planning for an addition to that facility are getting underway, as the research growth embodied in the strategic plan necessitates continued investment in and development of our research infrastructure.

Finally, it is also noteworthy that we are only about one year away from moving into the Suntrust building at the corner of Edgewood and Park Place.

This 26-story building will provide much needed space for many of the departments in our College of Arts and Sciences, and we will relocate the university administration to the Suntrust building so that Dahlberg Hall can become an academic learning center.

This location of academic support for students directly across the street from the Student Center is part of a larger effort to organize our campus physically to best meet the needs of faculty, staff and students.

Our university has many facility needs, but as you can see, there is a tremendous amount of effort being expended by dedicated and talented individuals who are seeing to it that we meet those needs.

All of us are indebted to the faculty and staff who are doing a terrific job of helping our physical plant match the ambitions of our strategic plan.

We are making much progress, and we are doing so in a challenging fiscal environment.

With continuing reductions in our state appropriations, much reported changes to the hope scholarship program, and yet another year without pay raises for faculty and staff, not all of the news is rosy.

However, there are signs of improving economic circumstances for Georgia State.

On the public support side there are recent reports that state revenues are showing sustained positive growth, and on the private support side I am pleased to report in the last fiscal year private giving to the Georgia State University Foundation increased nearly 14 percent over the prior year to a near record $20,480,000.

I say near record because that total made for the second-best year of giving in the foundation's history, bested only by the top year of the university's last capital campaign.

This achievement during a severe recession is remarkable, and at this point our focus is on setting new records this year and in the years to come.

Private funding has become increasingly important as we continue to set our sights high in the face of dwindling public funding for higher education.

Philanthropy is helping us to improve our campus physically, as well as academically.

In an effort to help alleviate the financial pressures being felt by students, the Georgia State University Foundation has increased scholarship awards by 41 percent since 2009.

These dollars are making a difference in the lives of students, and yet we know that we must raise substantially more dollars in order for Georgia State to be the destination of choice for students across Georgia.

At the beginning of this address I touched briefly on the great work of our Alumni Association this past year. Under Brad Ferrer's leadership and the talented staff of our Alumni Association, I am proud to announce that as of today, the Georgia State University Alumni Association has more than 4,000 members.

That is the most in the history of our Alumni Association, and more than double our membership from this time last year.

That is truly remarkable.

I'm also delighted to mention that we now have many of our students getting involved in the Alumni Association.

In the past few months we've launched our Student Alumni Association.

Already, we have more than 70 students on the board, many of whom are here today, and they are actively recruiting new students.

Thank you.

There's no doubting that part of the excitement that is motivating more and more of our alumni to re-engage with Georgia State has to do with something that happened back on Sept.2, 2010 – the day that college football came to Georgia State!

That evening 32,000 people watched as Georgia State made history, in the Georgia Dome.

That's more people than were attending the Atlanta Braves game down the street, and I must note that at that time the Braves were in a pennant race.

Football brought Georgia State into the national spotlight, and it brought a greater sense of community to our campus, and to our alumni.

But just in case you missed it – here are a few highlights from our history-making – and winning – inaugural football season.

The launch of football was huge, and overall it was an excellent year for our student-athletes.

Placekicker Iain Vance became the football program's first All-American, earning third-team honors, while women's soccer standout Bri Cagle was selected as an academic All-American.

Seven student-athletes have been named all-conference so far this year, with many more expected in the spring sports still competing.

Most importantly, the GSU student-athlete population has a combined cumulative grade point average of 3.01.

A record 26 student-athletes earned president's list recognition for the fall semester, and another 59 reached dean's list status.

And panther student-athletes will complete nearly 5,000 hours of community service this year.

An impressive set of accomplishments and contributions.

In closing, as we look back on the year past it is clear that the Georgia State community is committed to excellence and advancing our university to higher levels of accomplishment and achievement.

We have the momentum.

We've picked up the pace.

Now, it's time for us to soar.

Thank you, God speed and go Panthers!

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