Board of Trustees meets; President Erickson delivers remarks

Penn State President Rodney Erickson delivered the following remarks during the regular meeting of the Board of Trustees, held July 12 at Penn State Fayette, the Eberly Campus, in Lemont Furnace, Pa.

Good afternoon. I want to add my welcome to Nick Jones, Jeanie Andrews and the new trustees, and also to thank Chancellor Achampong and his staff for hosting us this week. We sincerely appreciate the opportunity to hold our meeting on this beautiful campus, and realize that it is a large undertaking, especially as Francis is preparing to return to Penn State Mont Alto to serve as chancellor.  Please join me in giving Francis and his hardworking staff a round of applause.

We’ll have the chance to hear from Dr. Achampong after my remarks. I also wish to note how much we’re looking forward to working with Dr. Arlene Hall, who will serve as Interim Chancellor of Penn State Fayette.

Summer is always a time of transition in academia, and this year is no exception. As Keith mentioned, Hank Foley will be moving to the Show Me state to serve as executive vice president for academic affairs at the University of Missouri System. During Hank’s 13-year tenure at Penn State, he has also held the positions of named chair, department head, associate vice president for research and director of strategic initiatives, and dean of the College of Information Sciences and Technology. Please join me in thanking Hank for his contributions to Penn State and in wishing him well in his new position.

Following a distinguished career as a researcher, professor and the Harold and Inge Marcus Dean of Engineering, David Wormley has announced his retirement effective later this summer. David has been a visionary leader, who has built one of the very best engineering programs in the world, while cultivating an exceptionally collegial community. He will be greatly missed. A search for his successor is currently underway.

Later this afternoon I will provide a detailed report on the operating budget, but for now, I wish to thank the Governor and members of the General Assembly who worked to provide level funding for Penn State, as well as the other state-related and state-owned institutions. Tax revenues in Pennsylvania have only recently returned to their 2008 levels, and we recognize that difficult choices had to be made.

We appreciate the consideration given to our students, faculty, staff and their families.

Now that our appropriation has been announced, we can move forward with budgeting faculty and staff raises. To allow for the time it takes to finalize the appropriation and University budgets, and to make the salary increase determinations, we are planning for salary increases to be effective on October 1st in this and succeeding years. This is a shift from the traditional July 1st date, but given the lengthy legislative appropriation process in recent years, a fall salary increase start date will allow our departmental administrators to more effectively manage their budgets. We realize the staff and faculty deserve our support for their exemplary performance again this year.

Although our campuses are relatively quiet right now, we’re gearing up for a robust and academically talented incoming class.

We continue to be on track for an incoming first-year class of about 17,000 University-wide, an increase of about 800 freshman compared to last year. Since I last reported in May, we have added about 550 paid accepts for the Commonwealth Campuses, so aggregate campus paid accepts now total 8,200 freshman. We stopped admitting students to University Park after the May 1st deadline. The yield for all campuses is excellent – with the yield rates for both University Park and the Commonwealth Campuses up significantly compared to last year.

Our faculty and students have also continued their record of excellence in teaching, research and service this summer.

For example, Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital earned top spots in five specialties in the U.S. News & World Report’s 2013-14 Best Children’s Hospitals rankings. The top rankings are for cancer, urology, orthopedics, neurology and neurosurgery, and cardiology and heart surgery -- two more specialties than last year.

In addition, the Penn State College of Medicine has recently been awarded a $1 million grant by the American Medical Association as part of a program aimed at transforming the way the physicians of tomorrow are trained.

Penn State’s College of Medicine is one of just 11 medical schools across the United States—and the only school in Pennsylvania—to receive a grant.

Congratulations to Hal Paz and his staff for their work, which has garnered these significant honors.

Other noteworthy awards include:

Dennis Scanlon, professor of health policy and administration in the Penn State College of Health and Human Development, has been awarded a $7.3 million renewal grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Dr. Scanlon and his colleagues will be researching ways to redesign communities' health systems to better serve patients.

Masatoshi Nei, Evan Pugh Professor of Biology, has been selected to receive the Kyoto Prize for his work in the biological sciences. The Kyoto prize is one of the most prestigious prizes in the world, and it’s awarded to researchers, scientists, philosophers and artists.

Dr. Nei has been a major contributor to population and evolutionary genetics theory throughout his career. By developing various statistical methods and applying them to molecular data, he pioneered new ways of studying the genetic diversity of populations, evolutionary relationships, the times of species divergence from common ancestors, and related areas. This fall, Dr. Nei will join a jazz pianist and an IBM researcher to fly to Kyoto to receive the 20-karat gold Kyoto Prize Medal, and a cash prize of 50 million yen, or about $500,000.

Penn State students recently bested 15 teams to take first place in the second year of the EcoCAR2 competition. The Advanced Vehicle Team used a blend of hard work, team spirit and the latest in computer and engineering technologies to convert a standard 2013 Chevrolet Malibu into a highly efficient hybrid.

Launched in 2011, the EcoCAR 2 is a three-year engineering competition sponsored by General Motors and the U.S. Department of Energy. The competition aims to explore solutions that will minimize energy consumption and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, all while maintaining performance, utility and safety.

For the second year in a row, Penn State Erie, The Behrend College, won the SAE International Supermileage competition. Twenty team members spent nearly a year designing, assembling and testing the car, which traveled 1,290 miles on a single gallon of gas.

Of course, there were some trade-offs. Student driver John Pearson described the driving experience this way, “It’s rough in there. It’s like being in an Easy-Bake Oven.”

The Penn State Meteorology team won their second straight title in the Weather Challenge, a North American collegiate weather forecasting competition. Penn State senior Ryan Kramer was the individual Weather Challenge national champion, finishing with the top cumulative score among all forecasters.

Penn State graduate student Kyle Imhoff finished second overall and first among all graduate students nationwide. More than 50 universities competed in the 20-week competition.

The Penn State Army ROTC Nittany Lion Battalion team was honored after finishing first among U.S. teams and second overall in the annual Sandhurst Military Stakes Competition, which tests the strength, smarts, and mettle of members of teams from all over the world. Fifty-eight teams competed in this internationally recognized contest that physically and mentally challenges cadets over a grueling two-day period. This is the highest level of military competition involving: marksmanship, land navigation, leadership, tactical problem solving, cross country movement, grenade throwing, physical fitness, patrolling, military knowledge, and more.

Congratulations are in order for Khanjan Mehta, the director of the Humanitarian Engineering Social Entrepreneurship program in the College of Engineering, for the national recognition he recently received for his outreach efforts. Professor Mehta and his students are working with farmers in Kenya to develop low-cost greenhouses that can provide a more stable food supply for that region, as well as a self-sustaining business for farmers. The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities has recognized Professor Mehta as the Northeast regional winner of the 2013 Outreach Scholarship W.K. Kellogg Foundation Engagement Award, which also secures a place as a national finalist for the C. Peter Magrath University Community Engagement Award.

This is just one example of the high-impact, student-centered, engaged scholarship experiences that distinguish Penn State for its education excellence. It’s also why Undergraduate Education, Student Affairs, Outreach, the Council on Engaged Scholarship and the Faculty Senate are working to make engaged scholarship experiences—including service learning, internships, study-abroad, undergraduate research and capstone seminars—available to every Penn State undergraduate student. Congratulations again to Khanjan and his students, and to all engaged scholars who are contributing to Penn State’s national and international leadership in undergraduate education.

Moving on to athletics, where Penn State student-athletes have gained national attention for their success in the classroom and on the field.

First and foremost, Penn State student-athletes continue to achieve excellence in graduation rates in comparison with the nation's Division I institutions, according to data released in June by the NCAA.

Six Penn State squads earned perfect multi-year Academic Progress Rate scores: field hockey, men's cross country, women's cross country, women's golf, men's tennis and women's tennis. The average multi-year score for Penn State's 29 varsity teams was well above the Division I average, according to the NCAA.

This ranking is a great achievement and a wonderful credit to our talented student-athletes, coaches, faculty and staff. Their commitment to academics and athletics brings honor to Penn State, while ensuring the success of student-athletes after graduation.

In addition, this year the Nittany Lions racked up a record number of points through top finishes in NCAA championships.

Boosted by four top 15 finishes in NCAA spring championships, Penn State placed No. 6 in the Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup standings, earning a school-record point total. The Nittany Lions remain one of only nine programs nationwide to finish in the Top 25 in all 20 years of the comprehensive survey.

In late May, the Penn State Alumni Association sponsored the annual Traditional Reunion Weekend, and more than 600 alumni from the class of 1963 and earlier classes, converged on campus to renew old acquaintances and to make new ones.

The weekend was packed with a number of events, and one of the highlights was the naming of Distinguished Alumni, Honorary Alumni and the Philanthropists of the Year. You may see some familiar faces on the screen, including Tracy and Ted McCourtney who were honored as philanthropists of the year. Roger Williams, executive director of the Alumni Association will be giving an update on the Alumni Association later this afternoon.

This summer, loyal alumni contributed to the success of two important projects at The Arboretum at Penn State.

Thanks to generous support of Ed and Helen Hintz and Charles “Skip” Smith, we held the ceremonial groundbreaking for the Children’s Garden on May 30.

Then in June, we dedicated the Marsh Meadow Boardwalk and Overlook, which was the gift from the Class of 2010. It’s a beautifully crafted and exceedingly functional boardwalk. I encourage you to visit the Arboretum next time you’re in State College so you can enjoy the new boardwalk.

Later on our schedule is Peter Tombros, chair of For the Future: The Campaign for Penn State Students. He will give you a full report of our development activities, so I’ll simply express our gratitude to those who have helped us reach such a strong place as we move into the last year of the campaign. We are ending 2012-2013 with record-high numbers of gifts and donors, and our receipts and commitments figures reflect the new standards set by this campaign.

Please join me in recognizing the outstanding efforts of Peter Tombros, Rod Kirsch, and the development staff for their tireless work on behalf of Penn State.

Before I conclude my remarks, I want share some information about a life-changing program that will be starting its 12th year this fall on our University Park campus.

LifeLink PSU is a unique program that provides college-aged students with disabilities from the local school district with a transition from high school to adult life. It’s a collaborative project that involves the College of Education, the State College Area School District, Penn State faculty and hundreds of Penn State student volunteers.

The program offers LifeLink students the opportunity to attend college-level courses, such as criminal justice, ballroom dancing, and Web design. Each LifeLink student attends their chosen classes with a Penn State student mentor who helps with the classwork and socializes with the LifeLink student.

The benefits to all the participants are vast, and according to the program organizer, our professors frequently go above and beyond to offer the LifeLink students experiences that parallel those of other students on campus.

During the past academic year, more than 330 Penn State students volunteered as mentors in the program, resulting in more 5,400 volunteer hours. The student mentors come from a wide range of majors and educational backgrounds and are the true backbone of the program.

We often recognize the students involved in THON, and I wanted to acknowledge some of the other caring and dedicated students and faculty who are committed to making a difference in our community.

That concludes my remarks. I can now take a few questions.

Last Updated July 12, 2013