It is much quieter in Stillwater with most students away for the summer, but the momentum and excitement continue at Oklahoma State University.
Some 3,000 students earned their degrees during our May commencement ceremonies. We also presented an honorary doctorate to Sir Ken Robinson, an internationally-recognized educational innovator, and to OSU alum Vaughn Vennerberg, known for his success in the oil industry and educational philanthropy. Both served as our commencement speakers and provided graduates valuable advice for the future.
Prospective students continue to visit campus in record numbers. Applications are 2,000 ahead of last year and enrollment this fall might surpass 4,000 in new freshmen for the first time in our history! Last fall, total enrollment on the combined Stillwater/Tulsa campuses exceeded 24,000 for the first time and we may set another record this year. This growth presents housing challenges, but we are able to manage those for now.
The Student Union renovation has drawn rave reviews. The plaza on the north side serves as a beautiful “town center” featuring expanded outdoor seating, pleasant landscaping and room for programming. We have started the next phase of this project, which includes a much-needed upgrade to the Ballroom, French Lounge and West Porch. There was some question whether we should remodel the Ballroom. I pointed out that it has the same décor as when I was in school in the 60s and you can see how bad I look! We do want to maintain the feel and history of those iconic areas.
If you visit campus this summer you will see we have started a major overhaul of Monroe Street. We plan to create a pedestrian friendly plaza and improve the street’s infrastructure and drainage. To improve parking, we are building a 300-space garage on the southwest side of campus. We continue to pursue funding for a new Spears School of Business Building, a new performing and visual arts center and an expansion to our College of Human Sciences building. Athletics is making good progress on its indoor practice facility north of Boone Pickens Stadium. We should break ground on a new indoor tennis facility shortly and a new track will be constructed in the athletic village, freeing the existing location on Hall of Fame Avenue for new housing.
Thanks to more than 75,000 donors, we have surpassed $880 million toward our $1 billion campaign goal. We expect to reach our goal ahead of schedule, but we won’t stop at $1 billion as we continue to raise important funds for student scholarships, faculty, facilities and programs. Thus far, the Branding Success campaign has created more than 830 scholarships and more than 130 endowed faculty positions. We were pleased state leaders made budget changes this legislative session that provide about $150 million to all higher education institutions to fund the backlog of endowed chairs awaiting a state match.
We are delighted to welcome three new college deans this summer. Pamela “Sissi” Carroll is the new dean of the College of Education, coming from Florida State University. Paul Tikalsky will lead the College of Engineering, Architecture and Technology. Paul joins OSU from the University of Utah. Bret Danilowicz is the new dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, having previously served at Georgia Southern University. We continue our search for a vice president and dean of the Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources to replace the retiring Bob Whitson. Bob has done a wonderful job and we wish him well. Mike Woods will serve as interim. We also appreciate the excellent service of outgoing Arts and Sciences dean Peter Sherwood, and the work of interim deans Khaled Gasem and Bob Davis.
Oklahoma State has a strong legacy of student excellence on the national level and this year was no different. Rosa Yorks, a triple zoology, microbiology and molecular genetics major, is a Goldwater Scholar. We have seven prestigious Fulbright winners. Marissa Rice, a graduate student in zoology, won a National Science Foundation fellowship and Victoria O’Keefe won a Ford Foundation award to conduct research on American Indian/Alaska Native suicide risk and resiliency. And faculty members Jeffery White from chemistry and David Meinke from botany earned significant research grants from the National Science Foundation.
As I have always stated, our mission requires graduating our students. That starts with retention of students from the freshman to sophomore year. With the new Learning and Student Success Opportunity Center, or LASSO, we have significantly increased individual and group tutoring and have introduced a success facilitator program to help students adjust to college life. We are offering a variety of support services and expect solid progress in this area.
We are gaining national attention in unmanned aerial systems, or drones as they are often called. UAVs have tremendous potential for society and our nation. We are a leader in their development through our University Multispectral Laboratories in Ponca City and through our academic offerings in aerospace engineering, which include the nation’s only graduate option. The UML is partnering at the federal level to put Oklahoma and OSU at the forefront of this area, while award-winning faculty are giving students an edge in a discipline that will advance defense, security, transportation, agriculture and countless other areas.
We were pleased to serve as the model for a new law signed by Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin that requires state agencies and higher education institutions to achieve 20 percent savings in energy by 2020. Partnering with alum Bill Spears’ company, Energy Education, our energy conservation program has saved OSU nearly $20 million across all our campuses since 2007, for a savings of more than 19 percent.
Thanks to the leadership of Governor Fallin and the Oklahoma Legislature, the Oklahoma Hospital Residency Training Program Act became law in June. It provides $3.08 million to establish residencies in rural and other underserved areas to address the alarming shortage of primary care physicians, which means more opportunities for OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine graduates and improved health for our state. We were delighted to learn that OSU Center for Health Sciences was named the most popular medical school in the country by U.S. News & World Report.
Just when you thought you had tried every cut of beef, researchers at OSU’s Robert M. Kerr Food and Agricultural Products Center collaborated with industry on the Vegas Strip Steak, which was introduced to strong reviews in Chicago. The steak has been compared to the New York Strip and is another example of OSU’s leadership in research.
Despite the need for a new performing arts center to increase space and update facilities, which we hope to achieve in the next few years, our music and theater departments continue to do impressive work. The 51-member OSU wind ensemble, under the direction of Joe Missal, has been invited to perform at the All Japan Band Clinic next May. We competed with bands from all over the world for the honor and are the only international band to be invited to Japan.
OStateTV & TEDxOStateU
We are excited about the launch this fall of our new online video network. OStateTV will keep you better informed about all the great things happening at OSU, showcasing students and faculty, athletics, live events, campus activities and the diverse knowledge of our many experts. Videos will be easily accessible from all devices. You will hear more about the debut later this summer.
One of the first major programs on OStateTV will be an independently organized TEDx event featuring OSU students, faculty, alumni and others on November 1. TEDxOStateU is centered on the theme “IGNITE” and will discuss important topics we face today as a society and what’s being done to address them. TED stands for technology, entertainment, design and is devoted to “ideas worth spreading.” TEDx events are local and self-organized. To see other such TED talks, visit TED.com or the free TED app on iTunes.
In closing, the entire Cowboy nation was extremely proud of our women’s basketball team, which overcame unthinkable tragedy and finished the year in triumph as Women’s NIT champions. We congratulate Coach Jim Littell, his staff and our young student-athletes on their tremendous heart and resiliency this past season. And, we deeply appreciate the support of the Budke, Serna and Branstetter families during this difficult time.
Ann and I hope you have a wonderful summer. We thank you for your support of Oklahoma State University and look forward to seeing you on campus. Go Pokes!
Stay up to date on all things OSU by visiting our newly updated website - okstate.edu.
President, Oklahoma State University