Board of Trustees meets; President Erickson's remarks

Penn State President Rodney Erickson delivered the following remarks during the regular meeting of the Board of Trustees, held Jan. 18 on the University Park campus.

Thank you, Karen, for all you have done for Penn State in your role as chair over the last year. You have exhibited grace under pressure, and I have personally appreciated your leadership, openness, and support during what may well prove to be the most challenging period in Penn State history.

I also want to thank you and the board for putting your confidence in me over the last 14 months. It was recently brought to my attention that, in our original charter of 1855, one of the stipulations for choosing the president was that he "shall be a good practical farmer." Well, I'm a farmer alright, but you'll have to judge whether I'm a good or practical one. Although I'm quite certain the next president will not be a farmer, I can assure you I'll support your efforts to find the next president in any way possible, while staying appropriately distant from the process.

Karen, although you will not be continuing as chair, I'm delighted that you'll continue to serve on the board and on several key committees. Please join me in thanking Karen Peetz for her past and future leadership.

Penn State DuBois and Penn State York also are welcoming new leaders. Melanie Hatch, founding dean of the College of Engineering and Business at Gannon University in Erie has been named chancellor and chief academic officer at Penn State DuBois effective Jan. 28. Hatch has an extensive background in program development and applied research, and she has a strong record of building partnerships with local leaders in business and industry.

David Chown, chief academic officer and senior vice president for the residential university of Upper Iowa University, will join Penn State York Feb. 15. Chown has particular expertise in strategic planning, organizational leadership and collaborative and entrepreneurial approaches to program development.

I hope you will have an opportunity to meet both of them in coming months.

Now I wish to tell you about a video we recently sent to our students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends -- some 200,000 email addresses in all. It highlights a few of the accomplishments from last fall, and provides a very nice portrait of some of the teaching, research and service underway at the University. I hope to find more ways to recognize the outstanding efforts of Penn State people in coming months. You can view that video here:

Looking ahead, this is the time of year when we begin to get a clearer picture of how our incoming summer and fall class is shaping up. As I have reported recently, the aggregate number of applications for admissions is trailing the record numbers of recent years. However, international applications continue to see double digit increases, and applications are up for both Penn College and the Penn State College of Medicine.

Another bright spot is that our prospective students are accepting their offers for admission much more quickly and in greater numbers than in past years. To date, our yield for University Park -- that is students who have paid deposits after acceptance -- is up three percentage points compared to this date last year, and for the Commonwealth Campuses it's the same as last year at this time. Notably, the quality of the applicant pool is consistent with previous years.

Based on the latest numbers, we're projecting that the entering class at University Park will meet its target, which has been set at a level similar to last year. It's still a little too early to project for the Commonwealth Campuses, which typically follow a later acceptance pattern.

We're also encouraged that numerous publications, including SmartMoney and Kiplinger's, continue to affirm the value of a Penn State education. Most recently, Kiplinger's Personal Finance named Penn State as one of the 100 Best Values in Public Colleges, which recognizes the University among four-year schools that combine outstanding education with economic value.

Last week, for the 97th time, the Pennsylvania Farm Show brought together the agricultural community, educators, families, animal lovers and those who simply like to eat delicious specialties, like potato donuts, red beet and mustard eggs, apple dumplings and honey waffles ... all from Pennsylvania farms. More than 150 Penn State faculty and staff from the College of Agricultural Sciences make many of the show's activities possible -- from vegetable contests to competitive livestock events to news coverage. The Farm Show also directly benefits our students.

This year, 14 Penn State students, including 11 enrolled in the College of Agricultural Sciences, were among 25 who were awarded scholarships by the Pennsylvania Farm Show Scholarship Foundation. To be eligible for the scholarship, students must be registered in a post-secondary educational institution and have exhibited livestock at the Farm Show. The winners are selected based on leadership qualities and excellent academic performance. The scholarship is $3,500, and the college will contribute an additional $2,000 for its student winners.

Penn State and the College of Agricultural Sciences have been selected by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization to establish a UNESCO Chair in Rural Community, Leadership and Youth Development. Mark Brennan, associate professor of community and leadership development, will serve as UNESCO chair and lead the program.

The opportunity to establish a UNESCO Chair is a rare and prestigious honor that follows in the tradition of Milton Eisenhower, our former President and the first Chairman of the United States UNESCO Commission. Only 18 UNESCO Chairs are located in the United States, with just four housed at land grant institutions.

None of the other chairs are in a college of agriculture or at other Big Ten universities. In support of UNESCO's priorities for addressing the specific needs of rural youth and communities, Brennan will concentrate on issues of youth and community capacity building, equality and education, economic development, social justice, and sustainable development.

We'll share more information about this program as it gets under way.

I often mention the success of Penn State's research enterprise, which topped $807 million last year. This chart shows the depth and breadth of Penn State's organized research. There is excellent representation in a wide range of areas, and the research is supported by multiple sources including federal agencies, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania agencies, private and industry partners, and the state appropriation, all of which continue to be important parts of the mix.

New awards for research during the current year are tracking closely with last year's previous record pace. That said, we remain watchful and concerned about the impacts of future federal cuts as Congress wrestles with spending and debt cap issues.

Recent research grants include the following:

-- The College of Agricultural Sciences is part of a $6.2 million grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development aimed at improving food security in the developing world. Penn State will be working with Virginia Tech, Tuskegee University and the University of Florida.

-- Penn State Hershey was awarded a $3.9 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to find biomarkers for Parkinson's disease, which affects more than one million Americans.

-- And the College of the Liberal Arts was awarded a grant of $2.3 million from the National Institutes of Health to study how diseases and abnormalities of the head affect the growth and shape of the face. Joan Richtsmeier, professor of anthropology, is leading the team of researchers.

As these grants demonstrate, Penn State's research enterprise has a powerful impact on the Commonwealth. But beyond bringing in dollars, Penn Staters are working to ensure a more secure economic future by revitalizing American manufacturing.

One promising technology is called additive manufacturing, also known as 3-D printing. Many argue that additive manufacturing will revolutionize whole industries, because it creates objects based on a layer-by-layer construction that has low material waste and energy use.

Penn State recently hosted a two-day showcase of this technology, which can now be used to create models, microelectronics and other rapid prototypes. In the future it may be scaled up for use in aerospace, power generation, automotive and metals manufacturing.

The potential for this manufacturing innovation is so vast that the Federal government has invested $30 million to create a new partnership, the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute. This public-private partnership is comprised of non-profit organizations, trade associations, community colleges, and 9 research universities including Penn State, Carnegie Mellon University, Lehigh University and the University of Pittsburgh.

The Commonwealth has also provided support for this consortium, which will help bridge the gap between basic research and product development, aid manufacturers, and train workers in advanced manufacturing skills. I'm proud that Penn State is at the forefront of this dynamic new field.

In other research news, six Penn State faculty members have been named Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which is the world's largest general scientific society. Election as a Fellow is an honor bestowed upon members by their peers and selection is based on scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications.

The new Fellows from Penn State are: Peter Hudson, director of the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences and Willaman Professor of Biology; Soundar Kumara, the Allen E. & M. Pearce Professor of industrial and manufacturing engineering; Andrew Read, professor of biology and entomology and Eberly College of Science distinguished senior scholar; Nitin Samarth, the George A. and Margaret M. Downsbrough department head and professor of physics; Matthew Thomas, professor of entomology and Huck Scholar in ecological entomology, and Karl Zimmerer, department head and professor of geography.

Sometimes it seems that the work of our scientists is the best kept secret around. But we're trying to change that. To help a wider audience better understand what our research faculty do in their labs and classrooms, Penn State Public Broadcasting is collaborating with Hank Foley, our vice president of research, to show portraits of Penn State researchers, their work and impact.

These videos are designed to communicate the value of science and to dovetail with the new focus on STEM education in grades K-12. Eventually we hope to develop a library of genuine, accessible, short stories of scientists.

Thanks to Ford Stryker and his team of campus planning, design and construction professionals, Penn State has received some national attention for bringing outstanding buildings to our campuses.

A highly respected architecture blog named the Lewis Katz building as one of the Top 10 University Buildings that "Actually Make You Want to Go to Class." It also has collected accolades and awards from a number of other professional organizations.

At Penn State Berks, the Gaige Technology and Business Innovation Building recently won two awards for its unique design and construction. The awards from the Construction Owners Association of America and the Construction Management Association of America recognized the steady leadership and detailed scheduling that led to this building's completion three months ahead of schedule and under budget. The building was also awarded LEED gold-level certification back in May.

This fall was one for the record books, with Penn State recording one of our most successful athletics seasons ever. Penn State won five Big Ten Championships and five Penn State head coaches were selected Big Ten Coach of the Year. As a result, Penn State finished No. 8 in the Learfield Sports Directors' Cup final fall standings and is among only four universities to have teams score points in five NCAA Championships.

Our students also had an outstanding season in the classroom. The following student-athletes and their teams had noteworthy success:


The Nittany Lions Football Team is represented by Glenn Carson, a junior in advertising and public relations from Manahawkin, N.J., and John Urschel, a graduate student in mathematics from Williamsville, N.Y. John is one of our three student-athletes with a 4.0 GPA. He's also teaching a section of Math 041, which is trigonometry and geometry. My advice would be to see John if you need a refresher.

In addition, Coach Bill O’Brien earned three national coaching honors: the 2012 Bear Bryant Coach of the Year, conference Coach of the Year and the Maxwell Football Club's National Coach of the Year.


Representing field hockey, we have Kelsey Amy, a senior fine arts major from Sweet Valley, Pa.; Abby Furhman, a junior recreation, park and tourism management major from Bainbridge, Pa.; Whitney Reddig, a junior rehabilitation and human service major from Lititz, Pa., and Ayla Halus, a senior biology major from Hershey.

Also here is assistant coach Lisa Love, and I'd be remiss if I didn't note that head coach Char Morett was named Big Ten Coach of the Year for the fifth time in her career.


Our women's soccer team made its first ever appearance in the NCAA National Championship game, and we're very proud of their outstanding performance. Representing women's soccer is Maddy Evans, senior English major from Glenside, Pa., and Emily Hurd, a redshirt sophomore in advertising and public relations from Sammamish, Wash. I should also note that Erica Walsh was just named National Coach of the Year by Soccer America.


After last fall's thrilling season, Penn State is now 78-27 all-time in NCAA Tournament play, and Coach Russ Rose was named Big Ten Coach of the Year. From volleyball, we have Maddie Martin, a junior sports journalism major from Tampa, Fla.; Micha Hancock, a sophomore from Edmond, Okla.; Megan Courtney, a freshman in kinesiology from Dayton, Ohio; and Kendall Pierce, a freshman in health and human development from Eden, N.Y.


Penn State's Cross Country teams gave a strong showing in the NCAA Cross Country Championships, with the women's team having three top 15 finishes at the NCAA Championships in the last four years. Representing Cross Country are top finishers: Tori Perri, a junior advertising and public relations major from Philadelphia; Bekka Simko, a junior journalism major from Mentor, Ohio; Nick Scarpello, a junior in advertising and public relations from Jamison, Pa.; and Sam Masters, a graduate student in kinesiology from Columbia, Mo.

Coach Beth Alford-Sullivan was named the Mid-Atlantic Regional Coach of the Year, and is being elected president of the Coaching Association's Board of Directors.


Finally, we turn to men's soccer, which returned to the top of the Big Ten Standings this fall. I'd like to introduce goalkeeper Andrew Wolverton, a sophomore business major from Snellville, Ga.; and Owen Griffith, a sophomore in agricultural and environmental economics from Lewisburg, Pa. Assistant Coach Bo Oshoniyi is also with us.

Thank you all for being here. Let us offer our congratulations to Dave Joyner, and all of our coaches, staff and team members.

I should also note that our winter sports are well under way. Penn State's undefeated wrestling team is currently ranked No.1 in the nation, and our Lady Lion basketball team is ranked eighth with a 13-2 record.

In development news, we're entering the final stretch in For the Future: The Campaign for Penn State Students. We have passed the $1.7 billion mark, which puts us ahead of schedule to reach our $2 billion goal next year. Specifically, we have achieved 86 percent of our campaign objective with just 81 percent of time elapsed. In recent weeks, we've had some very significant gifts including ... the largest commitment in the 10-year history of the Trustee Matching Scholarship Program from Jeff and Kellie Hepper. They established a $5 million endowment for students with financial need. In recognition of their gift, the Fitness Center at Rec Hall will be named in honor of Jeff's parents, Clifford and Jean Hepper, who were Penn State graduates and longtime supporters.

In addition, a member of the Smeal College of Business Board of Visitors, who wishes to remain anonymous, announced a $5 million addition to an existing campaign commitment and has challenged other volunteer leaders, alumni and friends to consider new gifts to the campaign as well.

Before I close my remarks, I want to say a few words about the heartbreaking news we received on New Year's Day. Schreyer Honors College Dean Chris Brady, his wife, Elizabeth, and their daughter, Isabel, lost their precious little boy Mack, age 8. I'm at a loss to express the sadness and heartache with which the entire community received this tragic news, and we continue to grieve with the Brady family.

In honor of Mack's dream to play soccer as a Nittany Lion and then to become a goalkeeper for the U.S. National Team, the Brady family has established a scholarship in Mack's honor, which will benefit a player on our men's soccer team. Memorial donations may be made online at or by sending a check payable to Penn State with "In memory of Mack Brady" in the memo line.

I'll be happy to take your questions.

Last Updated May 24, 2019