Thursday, October 13, 2011

Thank you for inviting me to speak with you today. The joint service clubs luncheon is always one of the highlights of the year for me. Gathering with so many of you who generously give back to and provide leadership for our wonderful community is always inspiring and enjoyable. On behalf of the university, I thank you all for the part you play in making the Iowa City-Coralville-North Liberty community such a tremendous place to live and work.

At the end of my talk today, I am going to share with you a new outreach video that our talented team at University Communication and Marketing has produced called Out Front. This video features four of our remarkable UI students and highlights how they have taken advantage of the unique opportunities that our university offers them. But I would like to sketch out that theme for you in a little more detail by sharing some of the exciting things happening at the university, and how they show that we are indeed “out front.”

As a major world-class university, our role is not only to teach the best of what has already been thought and created, but also to discover new knowledge, as well as to anticipate and help shape our community, state, and society’s future. A university—especially a public university—that serves its greater society best is one that leads rather than just reacts, one that discovers rather than just disseminates, and one that pushes boundaries rather than just supports the status quo. I think the University of Iowa is that kind of leading institution, and I am honored to share with you today some ways that we are, indeed, “out front.”

Let me start on campus with those all-important students and how we are getting “out front” by meeting our own personal best. We have welcomed this year another record-size first-year class, and also our most diverse and most academically prepared. This demonstrates that we are offering the kind of education that people want. And when we have a greater diversity of academically prepared students, the quality of education that every student enjoys goes up.

I am proud to tell you that among this class is a large cohort of students who are returning military service members. We have nearly 500 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts attending Iowa as students, and we anticipate breaking 500 next semester. This is one of the largest veteran groups at any university in the country. In recent years, we have been increasing the veteran enrollment by 20 percent per year, and that trend is continuing. With this success, the UI has made the G.I. Jobs 2011 list of Military Friendly Schools, the third time in a row. The list honors the top 20 percent of colleges, universities, and trade schools that are doing the most to embrace America’s military service members and veterans as students. One of the reasons we are so attractive to veteran students is the availability of resources for disabled veterans. Forty percent of UI veterans have a disability of some sort.

And speaking of students with disabilities, we recently received another national accolade from, which recognized us as one of its “Incredible Colleges for Students with Special Needs.” The UI was cited for the College of Education’s REACH program, which stands for Realizing Educational and Career Hopes. This is a two-year certificate program that offers students with intellectual and learning disabilities a chance to build career skills, perform better academically, and live as independent adults. REACH has formed a tremendous collaboration with the university’s Arts Share program, which allows the students to explore new interests and express themselves through different art mediums. The first event was just last week, a dance workshop where REACH students explored different types of dance movement and styles, including hip-hop and line dancing.

Student success for all of our student body remains one of our top strategic priorities. For undergraduates, creating a small-college experience with the advantages of a large university is key. Our living-learning communities in the residence halls remain a central initiative in this area. And we are out front on this kind of initiative on a national scale. Our sustainability living-learning community in Mayflower Residence Hall has been a big hit, and it has gained national prominence. Craig Just from our College of Engineering has received an $873,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education program to bring this experience to the rest of the nation. The project, in collaboration with Columbia University and the National Geographic Society, will design, implement, evaluate, and disseminate a blueprint for dozens of campus living-learning communities at large public universities around the country.

Among the other opportunities and services that help attract and retain students on our campus is the new Campus Recreation and Wellness Center, which has also enjoyed great success as a town-gown collaboration with a lot of community participation. The success of the facility has been just astounding. In its first year of operation, fully 95% of all UI students—that is nearly 28,000 students—checked into the center. On top of that, over 40% of all faculty and staff also have used the center’s facilities. We are not only out front on our students’ needs and wishes on campus with the recreation and wellness center, but we have also received national recognition for the building’s excellence. We recently learned that the center has received one of ten national Facility of Merit awards from Athletic Business. Of particular note was the center’s connectivity and what one judge called “an unparalleled amount of interior and exterior transparency.”

Staying with the focus on youth and facilities, we are also very excited about the future of the UI Children’s Hospital. Our Children’s Hospital is the first and only hospital in Iowa ranked as one of America's Best Children’s Hospitals by U.S. News & World Report, with ten ranked specialties, led by orthopaedics, nephrology, pulmonology, and neonatology. We are thrilled that the Board of Regents has approved our plans to build a new $270 million Children’s Hospital, which will comprise an eleven-story tower and renovated space in the John Pappajohn Pavilion. The new hospital will further develop a statewide children’s system of care with state-of-the-art equipment and sophisticated health information technology. We were very, very proud to announce recently that the incredible students of Dance Marathon are out front on this project and have made a $5 million lead gift commitment to the new hospital. This is an unprecedented gift commitment from a student group at the University of Iowa—and in fact from any student group in the state of Iowa.

Our College of Public Health will also be making history this year with the opening of its new building. A state-of-the-art facility, it will also be one of our most environmentally sustainable, built according to LEED principles and further advancing the university’s commitment to sustainability. Recently, the College demonstrated once again how it is out front in its public impact, including in workforce development, by winning a $650,000 award from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration. This grant, given to the College’s Upper Midwest Public Health Training Center, will develop and expand workforce development in the field of public health in our region with a special emphasis on medically underserved areas. The award provides funds for needs assessments, competency-based training programs, and electronic resources, including distance learning.

We’ve also received more good news recently on the links between sustainability and state workforce development. We were very excited to learn just last month that the National Science Foundation has awarded a $20 million, five-year grant to build Iowa’s research capacity in renewable energy and energy efficiency. The Iowa Power Fund will also contribute $2 million to this project. We are partners with our colleagues at Iowa State and the University of Northern Iowa, as well as other colleges, school districts, government agencies, and industries throughout the state. The research program’s vision is to establish Iowa as a leader in the worldwide transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. We will be pursuing four major platforms: bioenergy, wind energy, energy utilization, and energy policy. The project will also create a statewide Future Leaders in Advancing Renewable Energy (FLARE) Institute, designed to develop the careers of junior faculty in renewable energy fields and broaden the participation of women, under-represented minorities, and first-generation college students in science, technology, engineering, and math fields. The ultimate goal of the Institute is to help the state create a workforce that can meet the needs of Iowa’s emerging green economy.

I’ve mentioned how we are out front with a number of our new facilities, and I can’t let the day go by without mentioning the renewal of our arts campus. We continue to be thrilled about our partnership with the world-renowned Pelli Clarke Pelli firm, our Hancher Auditorium architect, who is helping us create an iconic, 21st-century performing arts center that will serve Iowans and the nation for generations to come. As always, I do want to remind you that Hancher continues to organize an incredible slate of programming each and every year even as we wait for a new building, and I encourage everyone to support those events to the greatest possible extent.

Elsewhere on the arts campus, we are also very excited that the renowned LMN architectural firm of Seattle is on board to design our new downtown music building complex, which will reenergize not only our music programs, but our city center. And we are delighted that famed architect Steven Holl, who designed Art Building West, is back on board with us for the new studio arts building. And speaking of Art Building West, that award-winning facility is on track to reopen this academic year—a major flood recovery milestone. Bringing the conversation back around to workforce development, I’d also like to note that our flood rebuilding efforts will generate over a billion dollars’ worth of work in the next two to five years. Using studies by the Associated General Contractors of America and the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties, that translates to between 1,700 and 2,300 jobs per year.

If I’m talking about being “out front,” I also cannot leave you today without mentioning the literary arts. The university’s creative writing programs continue to be lauded as the best in the nation, once again being ranked number one by Poets & Writers magazine. And as North America’s only UNESCO City of Literature, we know that the influence of the word spreads throughout our community. A collaboration between the UNESCO City of Literature and the public libraries of Johnson County, the Book Marks project has been a resounding success—and I do encourage as many of you as possible to participate in the auction of these delightful statues in November.

Just the other night, we celebrated another tremendous UNESCO City of Literature collaboration at the Englert Theater with the awarding of the first-ever Paul Engle Award, which went to our own Writers’ Workshop legend James Alan McPherson. We celebrated young writers, too, in recognizing the participants and winners of the first Paul Engle Essay Contest for high school students, which is meant to continue longtime Workshop and International Writing Program director Paul Engle’s tradition of inspiring writers and celebrating the rich culture of Iowa. Leeann Oelrich from Mt. Vernon High school read her winning essay, “Serendipity on the Wapsi,” the prior evening at Prairie Lights Books and was awarded a $500 scholarship check by the City of Literature. LeeAnn was joined in the reading by three students from Solon and Iowa City West High Schools, who penned essays that won Honorable Mention. With the wealth of literary activity in our community, it’s no wonder that has recently rated Iowa City one of the top ten cities for book lovers in the country.

From very young students to very experienced professors, I have shared with you today examples of how our entire university community aspires to the cutting edge, to be “out front” both locally and nationally, whether it is in teaching and learning, in the creative realm, in health care, in environmental sustainability, or in workforce development for our community and state. But we aspire to be “out front” “out there,” as well—and by this I mean literally the far reaches of space.

The Department of Physics and Astronomy in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is a regular source of pride and good news, and this fall was no exception. Professor Gregory Howes was named by President Barack Obama as one of 94 scientists and engineers to receive a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on scientists and engineers in the early stages of their careers. Professor Howes studies the near-Earth solar wind that influences such phenomena as the northern lights and the Van Allen radiation belts.

And I can’t help but finish with one other piece of news from Physics and Astronomy—news that could very likely shake the foundations of our notions of existence. That may sound overly dramatic, but you’ll probably remember the recent news that scientists at the CERN research institute near Geneva, Switzerland claimed to have accelerated subatomic neutrino particles faster than the speed of light. Many scientists say this could possibly challenge Einstein’s theory of relativity. Well, just within the last week, a UI researcher and his colleagues have published a paper in the journal Science about a discovery that may make it possible to test whether the speed of light really is constant under all conditions. Professor Philip Kaaret and colleagues have discovered very high-energy pulsed gamma rays emanating from the Crab pulsar in the Crab Nebula. Professor Kaaret suggested an experiment back in 1999 to test if the speed of light really is constant at very high energies, and this recent discovery makes possible a clock to test fundamental physics.

From our entering first-year class to the structure of the universe, the University of Iowa always strives to be out front—from the best education we can provide our students, to the discovery of groundbreaking knowledge, to making life better for our community, state, nation, and world. Let me finish up today back with our students, as I mentioned earlier, and share our new Out Front video.

As always, it has been a joy and an honor to spend a little time with you, the generous and talented members of our community’s service clubs.