People, Partnerships and the Power of Big Ideas

2018 State of the University Address
President Marc A. Johnson
September 26, 2018

My address today has three, integrated themes: People, Partnerships and the Power of Big Ideas.

These elements are sources of value contributing to the industrial and cultural renaissance of Nevada.

Let me define my terms.

PEOPLE:  University graduates provide the well-educated people who modernize and diversify the economic, agency and cultural base of Nevada.

PARTNERSHIPS: The University has intentionally opened its doors to work alongside business and cultural groups to create new opportunities in Nevada.

THE POWER OF BIG IDEAS: The University’s capacity to create new ideas, knowledge and innovation is a cornerstone of the entrepreneurial transformation we are witnessing in our community.

Intentional University investments in people, partnerships and big ideas over the last several years are maturing and generating dividends. All of this impact is a result of the efforts and creativity of the people at our University and in the community.

Let’s start with some numbers.

Total fall enrollment at the University is 21,463, growth that has flattened because of the record number of graduates we saw in the 2017-2018 academic year.

The undergraduate population reflects the demography of Nevada with more than 38 percent associated with underrepresented ethnic groups. These 8,200 students from underrepresented groups are more than double the number of a decade ago. This increased diversity of our student body provides a rich opportunity and responsibility to adjust University staffing and operations to reflect the changing composition of our student body.

For example, nearly 20 percent of our students are from Hispanic/Latino backgrounds. We have an active committee working to understand essential elements of successfully becoming a Hispanic-Serving Institution.

Supporting our goal to become a Carnegie R-1 institution, there is a 6.9 percent increase in graduate student enrollment over 2017. New master’s students are up 7.6 percent. Total doctoral students are up 13.5 percent. New doctoral students are up 29.8 percent. With 951 doctoral students (compared to 838 in in 2017), we are rapidly closing in on our 2021 strategic plan goal of 1,000 doctoral students. These promising graduate school numbers are coming about thanks to the investments we’ve made in graduate education, which include increasing paid positions, raising stipends to competitive levels, and attracting more grants including graduate students.

In the last academic year, the University awarded 4,930 degrees, a record.

Our latest graduation survey indicates that about 75 percent of these graduates are staying in Nevada to work and live. They are the entrepreneurial leaders our state will rely upon.

For the ninth straight year, U.S. News & World Report has again ranked the University in the “top tier” of the nation’s best national universities.

With our investments in 230 additional faculty positions in the last few years, our student-to-faculty ratio continues to decline from 22 to 1 four years ago to 19 to 1 today, on the way to 18 to 1 to enhance student-faculty interaction and experiential learning.

Today’s students grew up with digital tools to acquire information. They demand and require experience in using information. Our graduates enter the workforce after receiving excellent education and experience through undergraduate research, student competition teams, internships with industry, and involvement in the community. Nearly 2,000 students participated in internships that connected students with business and organizations last year; 219 community partners benefitted from more than 40,000 hours of service provided through the Office of Service Learning and Civic Engagement. 50 students each year enter business plans in the Sontag Student Entrepreneurship Competition and are mentored by groups of successful professionals from the community. Noticiero Movil, the student-run bilingual newsroom, which has been honored nationally for its extensive work in serving northern Nevada, is another example. Creating opportunities for experiential learning is time-consuming and complex, but this sort of faculty creativity is making learning meaningful. In my interactions with our business community and agencies, I hear time and again that our student interns and volunteers exceed company expectations.

Graduation rates are an important indicator of student success. Our 6-year graduation rate rose three percentage points to 58 percent, which is on par with the median of our aspirant institutions.

Our 4-year graduation rate rose four percentage points, to 37 percent.

Five years ago, the 4-year graduation rate was at 23 percent; today it’s at 37 percent. That's a phenomenal 14 percentage point increase for such a short period of time.

This happens because of your caring effort to support student success to graduation. This has become a value embedded in our University culture. It starts when our people make their very first contact with a prospective student in recruiting and recruitment events, Upward Bound, GEAR UP and Dean’s Future Scholars. It continues on through orientation, Nevada FIT, TRIO, Financial Aid, First in the Pack, the Center -- Every Student Every Story, on-campus academic resources, and transformational instruction in the classroom and meaningful experiences outside of the classroom, all done with your devotion to student success.

As a Land Grant University, we take to heart our mission to provide the tools for academic and social success for all who are prepared, from a diverse range of backgrounds and income levels. Behind the scenes there are more people who attend to operational efficiency, fiscal accountability and solutions-based ideas to make our campus such a beautiful and welcoming place. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had parents tell me how they’ve tried to get a real live person call them back when they are looking at other institutions for their student. “Your University is different,” they tell me. “Not only do we get a phone call back the voice on the other end of the phone is always friendly, too.”

Please join me in applauding all of the people on our campus who create our University culture of friendliness, excellence and purpose.

Thank you.

The University also has intentionally fostered a research and innovation environment that is carrying us toward the Carnegie classification of R-1.

The University has grown its research expenditure portfolio to $144 million. The projected R&D expenditure amount to be reported to NSF has grown to $118 million, $23 million more than just two years ago. This hasn’t happened overnight either, and the work continues.

Our faculty number has grown and individuals and teams have brought immense talent, creativity, energy, networking, and collaboration to help reach individual and institutional achievement. People in our maturing research support system for use of environmental, chemical, human, and animal resources are contributing greatly; these services continue to receive high marks for quality and compliance by accrediting bodies. Services for grant support are receiving accolades from our research faculty, as well. For all the gains that have been made, I wish to say, “Thank you.”

Please join me in applauding all of the individuals involved with our research effort.

Now, let me speak for a moment about the innovation ecosystem which has led to gains in commercialization, the creation of new businesses, jobs and a whole new way of looking at university research, innovation and development.

In just three years, the University of Nevada, Reno InNEVation Center, Powered by Switch has become a catalyst for regional enterprise, and is empowering our next generation of technology and business leaders. The InNEVation Center has contributed to the area’s economic growth by creating 119 jobs, involving 57 companies, and six venture-funded companies which started here. It is now an opportunity to connect new businesses with successful entrepreneurs from the community who volunteer as mentors, with economic development agencies like EDAWN and GOED, and with venture capital sources, like Sierra Angels, to jump-start these enterprises.

One of its many success stories is that of Clickbio. Clickbio, which designs and manufactures customized high-performance products for biotech companies, was located in the InNEVation Center in 2016. Now Clickbio has “grown up” and is moving to a new commercial space in south Reno. This is just the latest of our InNEVation “graduates.” You all no doubt remember Flirtey, which made history with its drones, and there is also Breadware, which is powering a more connected economy through development of smart products. And this is just the beginning. It is estimated that several high-growth venture companies residing at the InNEVation Center have raised in excess of $42 million in investment capital.

But the innovation ecosystem stretches far beyond the InNEVation Center.

The Nevada Center for Applied Research (NCAR), has helped the University make its most sophisticated laboratories and equipment ñ and the brainpower and infrastructure that make them work ñ available to industry, start-ups, collaborators and entrepreneurs. Since its inception in 2015, NCAR has been responsible for more than $15 million in grant proposals and gifts and has contributed to the creation of 108 jobs. We now have 15 start-up and spin-out businesses that have found a home on our campus.

And we’ve found ways to tie goals, aspirations and funding opportunities from the Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development’s Knowledge Fund to our research and innovation effort. New grants, contracts and industry agreements have supported development of the Biosciences Entrepreneurial Lab, High Performance Computing cluster, Autonomous Robots Lab, and more.

As we move forward, it’s important we continue to develop dynamic partnerships with our community.

Last year we established the Nevada Research and Innovation Corporation, with a board composed of community and University members, to facilitate commercialization of university-generated intellectual properties.

Our medical school represents more community connections. Many people were concerned about the transition when UNLV began its School of Medicine and ours became known as the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine. We wish the new University of Nevada, Las Vegas School of Medicine well. Their core faculty once were our colleagues at the University of Nevada School of Medicine.

The transformed UNR Med has reached out even more effectively in its mission in northern Nevada. This year, the newly re-accredited UNR Med celebrates its 50th anniversary with an impressive record of educating physicians who stay in northern Nevada. With new programs coming on line, such as the Physician’s Assistant program that is partnered with Renown; to new departments and clerkships that will be northern Nevada-based; to greater partnership with community physicians; and to a new Elko residency program; it’s clear UNRMed is uniquely positioned to meet the needs of our growing state.

University programs engage people all across the state, like the School of the Arts bringing 300 public performances and arts events, 1,800 seniors involved with the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, 55,000 youth involved in 4-H activities through 17 County Cooperative Extension offices, 1,300 clients counseled in Nevada’s 14 offices of the Small Business Development Center, and numerous non-credit, professional development courses offered face-to-face or on-line. Members of the public are invited to stimulating lectures in the Discover Science Lecture Series, the Healthy Nevada Speaker Series, the University of Nevada TedX event, and annual lectures in Engineering, Journalism, and Philosophy. The University is a stimulating source of knowledge and activity for Nevadans.

Athletics is also excelling in connecting with our community. Who can forget the Sweet Sixteen run by the men’s basketball team in last year’s NCAA Tournament? Or the compelling final seconds of the women’s basketball team’s run to their first-ever Mountain West Conference Tournament title game? All of the Wolf Pack sports are at high-water marks for academic achievement. For the eighth straight semester, the program-wide average GPA of all Wolf Pack athletes was above 3.0.

With so much done, there is still much to do. We have a legislative session looming in 2019. We have several priorities:

  1. The Governor’s Office of Economic Development has identified Advanced Manufacturing as the key driver of economic growth in northern Nevada. We will seek funding for an advanced manufacturing research initiative to add faculty, graduate research assistants and other professionals to this university-wide effort.
  2. The University will seek a supplemental proposal to address salary compression. This supplemental proposal would work to correct this issue over the next three biennia.
  3. We will be supporting an effort that would count Summer School credits as part of the state’s higher education funding formula. If this initiative is funded in the second year of the biennium, there will be significant changes as we bring summer school into the regular operations of the university. Provost Carman has a committee working on the many aspects of change which this policy implies.
  4. We will be requesting additional operating support for Cooperative Extension, Nevada Small Business Development Center, the Nevada Seismological Laboratory and the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology.
  5. The outlook for state fund growth through the funding formula looks promising since our weighted student credit hours are up, and this should provide a significant infusion of revenue for ongoing infrastructure and campus maintenance. The Board of Regents also has approved a 4 percent increase in registration fees for each year of the next biennium.

All of this growth in staffing, research and other programs calls for a continued focus on facilities. I want to thank Development and Alumni Relations for the work they’ve done, and the donors who have so generously contributed to, our comprehensive capital campaign which has raised $350 million on the way to our $500 million goal. The new engineering building has started construction and designs are being drawn for renovations of laboratories in Chemistry, Leifson Physics and Neuroscience in Mack Social Science. After much building renovation and infill, the University footprint is moving south into the Gateway District on the south edge of campus. Since the approval of the University Master Plan and Strategic Plan, approved in 2014, we’ve stretched the campus all the way from the Medical School to I-80. We’ve been intentional in keeping the campus pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly. We have agreements to move most of the houses to new locations to support building sites for a new College of Business Building, a new Life Sciences Building and a parking garage on the south edge of campus. There may be space for two additional buildings for the future. Our joint vision with the City of Reno and the Regional Transportation Commission is to connect the University with downtown and midtown.

I want to conclude these remarks by addressing the series of shocking events experienced last year. We all know that last year we were faced with challenges. The last academic year started with the events of Charlottesville in which the public face of that demonstration was a student from our University. While we didn’t resolve the issues associated with Charlottesville we did start important conversations among students and faculty about the content of those messages and about the values of an inclusive campus. We were further challenged by an inappropriate police stop, threats to the opportunities of our students, their families and faculty with the rescission of the executive order on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and the travel bans from Muslim countries, swastikas raising fears among at least one religion, incidents of sexual harassment, and the rise of “micro-aggressions” which by their name seem small, but have strongly chilling effects on their targets.

Had these incidents occurred at another university, we might have been satisfied showing empathy for what happened there. But this was not another university; this was here. We did not always respond well, and certainly not to everyone’s satisfaction, and some of the conversations were uncomfortable. As I reflect back on last year, I believe this institution has benefitted by being “in the arena.” Our faculty and students responded with active conversations and principled actions, from the faculty letter to freshmen last fall, to the “I am the real Nevada” student T-shirt campaign, to the many activities and forums held throughout the year. Our campus has resolved to support an environment of inclusion and equity for all. We take the lessons learned from last year and commit to do better. We do this with the purpose of letting our students, faculty, staff and community collaborators know that they all have a place here, that they all belong here, at this University.

We are becoming more diverse every year, in terms of race and ethnicity, ability, age, sexual orientation, place of origin, socio-economic position, gender identity, and background. Diversity is an opportunity for each of us to learn the value of others’ ideas. Diversity is a responsibility to listen, learn, and make a place at the table for those different from us. This year, the University undertakes a campus climate study. To ensure full transparency and to provide a more complete perspective, we have contracted with Rankin & Associates and formed a University Climate Study Working Group to help lead this effort. The results of this study will help develop programs and policies to increase inclusivity, equity and diversity. We want all of you to know that your voices on defining campus climate issues will be heard. What’s more, we wish to learn. If we take seriously the many experiences that will be shared, applying them with care and compassion, there is no doubt we will become a better, more understanding institution. We are also beginning the search for a University Diversity Officer to lead the enhancement of inclusion and equity in our campus culture. Our new University Diversity Officer will be an essential leader in helping us take our next steps in building awareness for the issues of diversity, inclusion and equity.

As I noted at the beginning, we are all here for the purpose of fulfilling important missions of discovering, developing and sharing knowledge. Our people, the partnerships we develop within our campus and within our community, and the power of the big ideas we create, show the world why we are a cornerstone of the community.

We’ve made intentional investments in people, programs and facilities. These investments, I’m pleased to report today, are paying dividends that will benefit our University and our community for years to come. We are on a steep, upward trajectory of progress, and are maturing as an institution in every dimension of our enterprise. The State of the University is strong.

Thank you all for all the wonderful work you have done for the University and your community. And thank you all for what we are yet to experience. Our best is yet to come.

State of the University Address - 2018