Friday, September 2, 2011

Thank you for inviting me to speak with you today. It’s a great pleasure to visit the wonderful, vibrant Quad Cities.

This is an exciting time at the University of Iowa as a new academic year begins. Not only have our students returned to campus, but our mission of learning, discovery, and engagement has kicked back in with full force. The strategic priorities that guide our efforts not only include student success and advancing knowledge and practice in our academic pursuits, but also our commitment to making life better for our society at large. That last priority emphasizes how we strive not only for excellence and service on our campus and in our home community of Iowa City, but also in communities across Iowa, in our Midwestern region, and even across the nation and around the world. I’d like to frame my remarks today by sharing with you today a few examples of what we’re doing to make life better for people right here our region.

Let me start with where our primary obligations always lie—student success. In the past two weeks, we welcomed one of our largest incoming classes ever—approximately 4,500 first-year students. It’s notable that we are increasing quality as well as quantity—this entering class, like last year’s, is one of our most diverse, most international, and best-prepared academically ever And even as we welcome students from across the country and around the world, our largest number of students remains those from our home state of Iowa, and our next-largest cohort is from our neighbors here in Illinois.

I am also proud to tell you that among this class is a large cohort of students who are returning military service members. Last year, we had over 500 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts attending Iowa as students. This is one of the largest veteran groups at any university in the country, and, although our numbers are not final yet for this year, we have anticipated an additional 250 to 500 returning troops to be enrolled.

Accessibility to our high-quality education remains a paramount concern. People with jobs and families who seek a college education cannot necessarily devote several years of their lives to living in Iowa City. So we are doing all we can to increase access to our programs directly in our area’s home communities. Over the past several years, we have signed a number of agreements with community colleges throughout Iowa to expand the promise of education, including Scott Community College right here in the Quad Cities. In addition to making it easier for students to transfer from local community colleges to the University, these agreements are creating collaborative on-site and distance-learning degree and certificate programs that allow students to get a UI education right at home. These programs include associate’s-to-bachelor’s degree completion programs, RN-to-BSN completion programs for nurses, bachelor of applied and liberal studies degrees, and certificates in entrepreneurial management, nonprofit management, and public health. These partnership agreements with community college districts put our institutions at the forefront of educational innovation, and they open up an affordable, accessible education for many more people than we can serve directly on our campus.

The UI offers many graduate and professional degree programs in the Quad Cities as well. Our highly successful MBA-PM courses are offered in your community, held mostly at the Palmer College of Chiropractic. Since 1988, the UI School of Social Work has offered a part-time program in the Quad Cities. Courses are taught by tenure-track, clinical, adjunct faculty, and visiting scholars on site and via distance learning technology. We also cooperate with other Iowa and Illinois institutions at The GradCenter, a consortium whose mission is to facilitate and support graduate-level courses and programs and continuing professional education in the Quad Cities. The program is quite robust—it now offers over 80 complete degree and certificate programs and numerous continuing education opportunities. Evening, weekend hours, and online courses in over 30 locations throughout the Quad Cities conveniently accommodate the schedules of working adults.

The UI also provides short-term and one-time educational and training programs that benefit businesses and organizations in the Quad Cities. A great example from earlier this year was a workshop entitled “Crossing Cultures: Tips for Communicating in the 21st Century,” which was offered at the Quad City Botanical Center in Rock Island. This cross-cultural workshop sponsored by our International Programs is designed for employees with businesses and nonprofit organizations as well as students. It helps participants develop knowledge and skills necessary to communicate with an increasingly global workforce, exploring communication styles and providing techniques proven to enhance workplace relations and customer service.

The University of Iowa is also committed to the education of students before they reach college or adulthood. We are therefore proud of such programs as Project Lead the Way, which partners the University of Iowa and Iowa State University’s engineering colleges with high schools across the state, including the Quad Cities. The project inspires young people to pursue higher education in science, technology, engineering, and math, and they can earn UI college credit through success in specified courses. Project Lead the Way offers curricular materials and educational resources to schools, as well as conferences, symposia, and institutes. Students can also engage in a number of fun competitions that give great hands-on experience in STEM innovation. Last year, Project Lead the Way conducted a Virtual Student Symposium, where students showcased their projects and competed in a virtual arena. I’m pleased to report that West High School in Davenport did very well: Second place in the Innovative Design Award category went to student Ben Reis’s “Engineering Rooms Renovation” project. And first place in the Universal Design Award went to student Logan Williams’ “Garden Watering Device” project. Congratulations to these talented students, to their teacher Jason Franzenburg, and to Davenport West for providing such great educational opportunities.

These talented students—from school age through working adult—will, and do, contribute to the economic vitality of the Quad Cities area. And the UI’s relationship goes beyond just the education we provide many people here in your communities. We enjoy close relationships with many of the region’s business and industry partners. Many of these partners—many of you in this room—rely heavily on the academic excellence, research talents, and service commitment of our students, faculty, and staff. University of Iowa resources are relevant and readily available to support the important industry sectors in the Quad Cities, such as advanced manufacturing, finance, information technology, agriculture, and food processing. The list of firms with whom we already have had ties through alumni employees, research activities, and other partnerships is long: Deere & Company, Alcoa, MidAmerican Energy, Nestle-Purina, Sears Manufacturing, KJWW Engineering, and Carleton Life Support, to name several.

Our partnership goes both ways. Key management people from the Quad Cities mentor the University through advisory boards across our campus. Examples include Tim Wilkinson of Alcoa, who serves on the UI College of Engineering Advisory Board, and Marie Ziegler of Deere & Company, who serves on the Tippie College of Business Board of Visitors.

I do want to mention one more important way that the UI contributes to the economic development of Iowa and the region, which I’m sure many of you are familiar with. The John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center, for example, provides innovative programs in entrepreneurship for students all across our campus. We have excellent programs at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. But the Center’s reach extends downward in age to K-12 students with summer camps and specialized curricula. And it reaches outward to the public, to people interested in business education and ownership. The University’s undergraduate entrepreneurial program has been recognized as a National Model Program by the United States Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship. Additionally, thanks to the Pappajohn Center and other programs across campus, the UI is regularly rated as having one of the top 25 entrepreneurship programs in the United States by Entrepreneur Magazine and The Princeton Review.

Let me shift gears here and talk a bit about other ways in which we interact with our region’s communities in our research, teaching, and service missions. In recent years, flooding has become a major focus of the University’s goal to gain new knowledge and directly improve lives at the same time. And, unfortunately, our area was once again victim to flooding this year, from the Missouri River at the western edge of Iowa, to more Mississippi River flooding, to the devastating flash flooding in Dubuque this summer.

In the wake of the 2008 floods, the Iowa Flood Center, housed in the UI College of Engineering and under the direction of Professor Witek Krajewski, was formed not only to increase our understanding of floods, but also to develop ways for our communities to prepare for and handle flood events. For example, with participation by UI engineering students, the Flood Center is developing both underwater and stream-level sensors. The latter can be attached to the underside of Iowa’s many bridges to provide an online database for monitoring rivers.

The Iowa Flood Center at the UI is currently the only state flood center in the nation. While our intentions have always been to make sure our flood research has widespread value, we are now involved with more proactive efforts to establish a national center on our campus. The Iowa Flood Center recently applied for a federal grant from the National Science Foundation to establish a Science and Technology Center to research what it would take to start a national flood center. And we are enthusiastically supporting the newly introduced National Flood Research and Education Act, which would establish a National Flood Research and Education Consortium to allow for more comprehensive flood research and, ultimately, the National Flood Center we hope to become. Our expertise and experience at the University of Iowa, we think, make us the ideal leader for this important center of research collaboration.
Flooding actually brings me to a next crucial area of excellence at the University of Iowa: new frontiers in the arts. The visual and performing arts have always been world-renowned at the UI, but our arts campus, as you may know, was dealt the most severe blow of the 2008 flood. But in such adversity we find remarkable opportunity. When we are finished rebuilding, we will have the most advanced arts campus in the country, a model for what creativity in the university looks like in the 21st century.

We are thrilled that the world-renowned Pelli Clarke Pelli firm will be our Hancher Auditorium architect. They have built spectacular performing arts centers throughout the world, and are perhaps best known for the Petronas Towers in Malaysia and New York’s World Financial Center, which surrounds where the World Trade Center twin towers stood. We are also very excited about the highly regarded Seattle firm LMN Architects coming aboard to design our new music complex.

This weekend will see a very special celebration that I invite everyone here to attend. We will be bidding farewell to the old Hancher building on Sunday at 7:00 p.m. with a free, outdoor celebration on the Hancher Green featuring Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. We’re only an hour away, and you can reflect on your Hancher memories, enjoy a great performance in the here and now, and anticipate the tremendous future of Hancher Auditorium and the arts at Iowa and throughout our region.

And as we’re speaking about the flood and the arts, I can’t forget to mention how our arts collaborations work both ways. One of the gravest threats of the 2008 flood was to our world-class Museum of Art collection. We could not be more grateful for the generous partnership that we have with the Figge Art Museum, who is both storing and displaying much of our collection, including the world-famous Jackson Pollock Mural. Over the last three years, the Figge has been incredible. They have not only been the best curators of the collection that we could have asked for, but they have also extended their magnificent generosity in our educational and professional work. They have hosted trips from our students, educational programs for the public related to our collection, and exhibitions by our faculty. When we have a new art museum up and running and the collection back in Iowa City someday, these collaborations will ensure a long, productive, and creative partnership between the UI Museum of Art and the Figge Art Museum for many years to come.

As our work with Figge indicates, our arts programming doesn’t just happen in Iowa City. The University is well-known for its arts outreach programs into the area’s communities as well. This includes Hancher Auditorium’s own community residencies with some of our visiting artists and other important projects. For example, an innovative arts and health care collaboration took place right here in the Quad Cities in the last year. In collaboration with the UI’s Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center and the College of Public Health, Hancher created the “Iowa Arts and Healthcare Project.” The project featured Robert and Rebecca Bluestone, two multimedia artists whose work connects the arts to health care and healing. An important stop on the tour was in Davenport before the Bluestones’ final performance at the Holden Cancer Center’s Blue Gala.

Our areas of excellence at the UI often intersect, as the arts and healthcare project illustrates, so that’s a segue for me to talk a little about how we contribute the best in medical research and care here in the region. On our campus, the construction of the new Pappajohn Institute for Biomedical Discovery is under way. Here, we will unite scientific expertise and resources from across the University to address some of the world’s most devastating diseases and conditions. The Fraternal Order of Eagles Diabetes Research Center—which has been made possible by an extraordinary $25 million gift commitment from the Eagles—is one great example of a Pappajohn Institute initiative that will make a difference in millions of lives. This summer, we were very excited to announce the first round of research grants for innovative pilot projects by young investigators and to name our first Diabetes Faculty Scholar—Dr. Christopher Adams—all as a result of Eagles support.

But we also continue to provide health outreach and services to our neighbors beyond Iowa City. From just Scott County residents alone, UI Hospitals and Clinics sees about 25,000 visits each year. And over 2,600 Scott County residents annually receive services through UI Outreach Specialty Clinics located in Davenport, Rock Island, and East Moline, as well as through UI Community Home Care, a visiting nursing program that provides services in both eastern Iowa and western Illinois. Multiply those Scott County numbers by the entire Quad Cities region, and you can see what a major role the UI plays in the health and well-being of your home communities.

Although we at the UI continue to grapple with challenges such as the historic challenges of the 2008 flood and the economic recession, we are also seizing the opportunities they—and many other circumstances—present for our future. We remain optimistic across our entire campus and throughout the state and region that the University of Iowa’s best days of learning, discovery, and engagement are ahead of us. My goal as President is to ensure that we successfully fulfill—and exceed—the prospects before us in the coming years, and to lead the University in directions that will help us fulfill our mission of teaching, research, and service in the best ways possible. We want to make—and we do make—a tremendous impact on the lives of everyone we can throughout our region and nation, as well as around the world.

I thank you for the opportunity to share my excitement over The University of Iowa’s bright achievements and prospects with you today.