President Beverly Warren gave her annual State of the University Address in the Kiva Tuesday to an auditorium filled with faculty and students. In her address, she highlighted the achievements of the university, as well as the “collective purpose” she hopes to accomplish in the future.
“In these challenging times it’s not nearly enough for a university to be big,” she said in reference to the current problems plaguing colleges across the country, including reduced enrollment from international students and less federal funding. In the face of difficult headwinds, she delivered a rallying call for members of the community.
“Kent State is called to be different, unique, inspiring,” Warren said. “That requires us to take a journey together. A journey of purpose.”
The event opened with a video illustrating notable achievements within the last year by both the university and its students.
Themes of collaboration, innovation and preparation for the future of higher education echoed in the introductions made by both Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Todd Diacon and Student Multicultural Center Director Talea Drummer.
“We again come together to celebrate our individual and collective achievements,” Warren said. “There’s no better day than a day I can celebrate what you do, and perhaps even more importantly, to really consider our future to frame a shared vision for the university we aspire to be.”
Warren featured the accomplishments of the last year, including a grant awarded to Gemma Casadesus-Smith for her research in Alzheimer’s with the Brain Health Research Institute, the May 4 site’s registration as an official National Historic Landmark and national recognition for inclusive excellence among other academic and athletic achievements.
“Accomplishments like these don’t just happen,” she said. “They are products of hard work.”
Philanthropic donations also reached a new high last year, rising 31 percent from 2015. Warren thanked donors and said she had hopes for even more assistance in 2017. “We need you,” she said to the audience in the Kiva and to those watching via livestream.
Although enrollment declined for the first time in 10 years, Warren said the class of 2021 was the most qualified in the university’s history. She expressed a hope the university would continue to “hold firm in our belief that we must be that welcoming university for all students.”
Looking toward the future, Warren encouraged the community to “engage in work that makes for a purposeful life.” To achieve this goal, she said it had to start by embracing our humanness, developing empathy and working collaboratively.
She highlighted the importance of “T-shaped individuals” who are rooted in a deep expertise in one field but are also willing to branch out beyond their comfort zone to collaborate with others. Doing so will enable the university to reach across boundaries and break down the barriers that often divide us, she said.
Innovation will play a key role in her goal of becoming a top university for purposeful learning. Warren expressed a desire to build an innovation center that encourages students and faculty to work outside of their discipline to create projects benefiting the community. Referring to it as an “interdisciplinary mecca,” she said it could become a gathering space for current and future entrepreneurs and innovators.
In a Q&A session after the address, Warren said the center would be a concept that extends across campus, while also expressing a desire to transform the existing Art Building into a hub of sorts.
“I actually think there will be donors who will be really interested in this kind of idea,” she said. “So it’s a journey of matching finances with my dream.”
The closing elements of the State of the University Address focused on breaking down barriers and working side by side with one another to meet the university’s full potential.
Warren said the journey toward becoming a collaborative and innovative hub of higher learning has already begun. Citing collaborations between the fashion and podiatric medicine schools, she said the university was working to push boundaries, but the continued success lies within students’ hands and will require unity.
“We can’t get there without locking arms,” Warren said.
This academic year will be focused on honing the design of the innovation center and joining to grow collectively in the face of challenges the university may face.
“When we are challenged to our core, we respond,” Warren said. “Not only with resilience but with an intensity of effort. Our intensity tells the world Kent State will overcome. We will overcome. And we will move on with purpose. We are truly the architects of our own fate and purpose is essential.”
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