Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Thank you for inviting me to speak with you this evening. And congratulations on organizing this All Student Assembly, as well as the Partnership of the Student Governments of Iowa.

Last week, I spoke with the joint service clubs of the Iowa City-Coralville area. One of my major themes at that talk was the importance of partnership. I see partnership with our students as a major priority in my presidency. But I am heartened to see that you are organizing partnerships amongst yourselves.

Winston Churchill once said, “If we are together, nothing is impossible. If we are divided, all will fail.” That’s a sentiment that has often been repeated in various ways. But it’s an idea worth remembering—and following. Whether we are students, faculty, staff, or friends of the University—working together in learning, discovery, and engagement should always be a common goal.

I would like to focus tonight on engagement in particular. But, first, please let me briefly share with you—as our student leaders—a summary of my general priorities as President of the UI.

First, we must constantly strive to provide both an accessible and a high-quality education to the citizens of this state and nation. I know that this is a subject of great importance to you. I will continue the great progress in this area achieved by my predecessors.

Second, diversity has been and will continue to be a top priority for me. By definition, a university integrates diverse intellectual perspectives. It’s not a big leap to say that, in order to do so, we must develop the social and cultural diversity of our student body, our faculty, and our staff. We need to ask ourselves every day what we are doing to improve diversity.

Third, universities, including ours, will continue to face funding challenges well into the future. An important part of my leadership is in maintaining our current strengths in public and private funding, as well as developing new revenue streams. The funding of our University should be of central concern to our students. It directly impacts what every student on campus pays in tuition. But our success in research dollars and private giving also can have big impacts on the student experience. As a research university, we can provide students at all levels with remarkable educational opportunities through our cutting-edge research programs. The more robust our research enterprise, the more opportunities you have as students.

Likewise, we highly value student participation in our private fundraising activities. Many of the activities our students enjoy—from the arts to athletics—are heavily funded by private giving. Our innovative facilities, our top-notch libraries, our named professorships—these are all academic areas that depend greatly on private giving. And perhaps hitting most close to home, private giving funds most of our scholarships. They are the key to opportunity for thousands of students on our campus. About 10 days ago, we broke ground on the new UI Campus Recreation and Wellness Center. Students have played—and continue to play—a major role in the conception, execution, and funding of this major new facility. We know that facilities like this are critical to the student experience—not only in recruiting students, but in serving your entire well-being while you are here with us. Students have supported the idea of fees for this project for a number of years. And, of course, you will continue to do so through paying those fees. We will also depend on private funding for the success of the Center. And bringing students into the process will help us greatly.

From another dollars-and-cents perspective, economic development is a major topic of conversation in the academic world. And it’s another major concern of mine as President. Our citizens and our state leaders expect us to take part, more and more, in the economic vibrancy of our society. It may seem this is an issue more remote for students. But that’s not true. In fact, you are the centerpiece of our economic development mission. Creating a highly educated work force is and will always remain our primary economic development contribution.

Economic development is one important form of public engagement. But, as I suggested earlier, I am committed to the full spectrum of engaging the University with the public. I am delighted that the UI is experiencing a renaissance in public engagement.

In my first months here as President of The University of Iowa, I have often remarked on how welcoming and generous Iowans are. Our campus, community, and state should be proud of our giving character. I know that generosity extends well beyond welcoming gestures. We give of our time and talent, as well as our resources. And students are among our best leaders.

In the past decade or so, there has been an explosion of interest in “engagement”—in how higher education can become more engaged with our local communities and the public good. Much of the impetus for increased engagement at colleges and universities comes from students wanting to give back to their communities. It is not just coming from a top-down curricular fad. University engagement is a “bottom-up” phenomenon.

A perfect example of this is the Dance Marathon. I know that Dance Marathon gets a lot of publicity. But I spoke at the Dance Marathon Development Brunch this past weekend, and I only grow more impressed by what this organization does. It truly is a model of organization and inspiration.

First, I love how the Dance Marathon—which supports patients and their families at the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital—brings our students, our university, and our community together. We often say that the three-part mission of a university is research, teaching, and service. We are at our best when all three work together, and when the whole University community works together. It’s clear that Dance Marathon provides some of the best opportunities for service experiences for our students—and for our community—imaginable. But the program touches on the other aspects of our mission as well. Dance Marathon supports medical research. And it teaches our students—in fact, all of us—what compassion and giving are all about. It also teaches our students a lot about organization and leadership.

Dance Marathon is one of the very best examples of the leadership that students have played in making our university a more engaged institution. Iowa students took philanthropic leadership into their own hands over a decade ago and created this remarkable event. Since that first Marathon in 1994, the amount of money raised has increased nearly 30-fold from about $30,000 in the first year to nearly $900,000 this past year. That’s a spectacular achievement for any organization.

Over the years, Dance Marathon has supported and provided so many wonderful things to young patients and their families: the Dance Marathon Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplant Unit, all entertainment equipment in the newly renovated Pediatric Inpatient Units, seasonal all-expense paid family events, including an annual trip to Adventureland, laptops for patients and their families, as well as a paid technology support person to assist families with the laptops, comfort kits, including parking, meal, gas, and hotel vouchers, and other care items for all newly diagnosed pediatric oncology families at UIHC, scholarships for all hematology/oncology pediatric patients who have received treatment at the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital and who plan to attend or are attending The University of Iowa, contributions to medical research projects and treatments, and so much more.

Amidst all the fun and excitement, Dance Marathon is about making life better for kids. That’s a noble cause. But I think we can all admit that making kids happy makes us feel good. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “We find delight in the beauty and happiness of children that makes the heart too big for the body.” There’s nothing wrong with feeling good as we do good.

I mentioned the UI’s Civic Engagement Program earlier. I am delighted that the UI’s Civic Engagement Program continues to grow. I am very excited to see that, this year, the Program is embarking on a special theme: “Environmental Impact . . . Go Green Iowa.” As you may know, the Program has already launched a website to collect local environmental events and resources for UI students and the campus community. The first events focus on our own Iowa River. Nathan Lein, a water program legal analyst for the Iowa Environmental Council, spoke a week or so ago on why he nominated the Iowa River as one of "America's Most Endangered Rivers" by American Rivers. Also last week, a bus tour demonstrated just how and why that organization said our river was the third most endangered in the country. This past weekend, the Civic Engagement Program celebrated Make a Difference Day with water quality "snapshot" sampling from six bridges on campus and a riverbank litter cleanup.

Our Campus Master Plan calls for both increased sustainability and building the campus relationship with the Iowa River. Thanks to Civic Engagement Program coordinator Mary Mathew Wilson and many enthusiastic faculty, staff, and students, the entire campus can join together in partnership in these institutional priorities. I commend our students who are taking part in these engagement activities focusing on the environment. As with so many other initiatives, you are indeed at the forefront of the UI’s efforts in sustainability and environmental stewardship.

I thank all of you gathered here tonight for your commitment and leadership in making Iowa an engaged university. A lot of you win awards and special recognition for your efforts.

For example, Natalie Wicklund—a political science and international studies major—and Kristi Musser—a speech and hearing sciences senior—were chosen as members of the 2007 Senior Honor Circle with Iowa Campus Compact. Natalie’s achievements include working on a record-breaking $2 million fundraising campaign with the United Way of Johnson County and taking a leadership role with UISG during the 2006 tornado relief efforts. Kristi served as hospital director on the Executive Council for Dance Marathon 2007, volunteered at UI Hospitals and Clinics, and served on the Student Leader Board at UIHC and the board of the United Way Student Campaign.

Matt Menietti, an engineering junior, received an honorable mention for the 2007 Swearer Humanitarian Award with Iowa Campus Compact. Matt served as the executive director of outreach for the 2007 10,000 Hours Show, serves on the advisory board for the Civic Engagement Program, and was instrumental in instituting the UI's first-annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service.

Yolanda Villalvazo, MD/MPH student in the Carver College of Medicine and College of Public Health, is the 2007 student winner of the President’s Award for State Outreach and Public Engagement. Yolanda participated in the Medical Education Community Orientation (MECO) summer program, working with the Migrant Health Program run by Proteus. She did this after joining the UI’s Mobile Clinic and taking the Community Health Outreach elective course in her first year of medical school. Yolanda initiated a collaboration between Proteus and the Mobile Clinic that resulted in a joint clinic held at the Williamsburg Migrant Worker Camp. She also developed a Women’s Health educational workshop targeting breast and cervical cancer.

These are all inspiring students with inspiring stories and achievements. But, as I said at the beginning, partnership is the key to successful engagement just as much as individual drive and accomplishment. There are many talented individuals here tonight. But I know, also, that you are also committed partners. I thank you for all you have done—individually and in partnership—for The University of Iowa, for our local communities, for our state, and for all of society.

I often say that I want Iowa to be a university that inspires as well as educates. Our main job is to educate you. But I know that you, our students, are at the heart of our inspiration.