President Munson’s Address to the RIT Community, August 2021

Welcome back, everyone! It is so wonderful to see you in person!

I want to start out with a huge thank you! Thank you to the staff who have worked so hard to keep us safe during this pandemic and ensure that the trains are running smoothly and on time. Thank you to the faculty for your flexibility and creativity in how you offered instruction and conducted your research and scholarly work. We all did different jobs this past year, holding the university together and continuing to make progress. And a special thank you to the student body for following the rules and persevering during a global pandemic. RIT is a special community — it was all hands on deck, all of the time. You have my deepest appreciation and gratitude for all that RIT has accomplished. As a special acknowledgment of the outstanding work by our faculty and staff, I know that many of you were able to enjoy your day at Seabreeze. We were so pleased that RIT could offer this experience. Please give yourself a round of applause!

We find ourselves in a better place than we were a year ago at this time. We have learned a great amount during the pandemic — we have a year and a half of experience navigating COVID-19. But we know we are not out of the woods just yet. We have very high vaccination rates as a university community. More than 95 percent of our student body is fully vaccinated. Faculty and staff are about 92 percent fully vaccinated. Vaccines remain remarkably protective against COVID-19 in terms of serious illness or hospitalization. Our recent indoor mask mandate will add further protection.  I am hopeful that this measure is temporary as we wait for the Rochester Region and the nation to achieve higher and higher vaccination rates. For now, we must remain vigilant to stop the spread of the Delta variant. RIT has proved to be one of the safest campuses in the nation throughout the pandemic, and we believe we can continue this trend.  We are looking forward to what we believe will be a much more vibrant campus this fall. In fact, it already is!

So, let’s celebrate and review our accomplishments of the past year and focus on our amazing future.

First, let’s welcome some new members of our leadership team:

  • Vanessa J. Herman is our new Vice President for Government and Community Relations, succeeding Debbie Stendardi who retired after 40 years of service. Vanessa joined us from Pace University where she served in a similar role and she also brings experience from Stony Brook University and working for a United States Senator. She brings a terrific network of partners in Albany and Washington, D.C.
  • Jackie Nicholson is only the fifth athletic director in RIT history, succeeding the nation’s longest-serving AD, Lou Spiotti. Lou retired after 47 years of service to the university. Jackie was previously the Associate Athletic Director at Albany State in Georgia, where she oversaw compliance and student-athlete development at the Division II level.
  • Anna Stenport is our new dean of the College of Liberal Arts. Anna was a professor of global studies and chair of the School of Modern Languages at Georgia Institute of Technology. Prior to that, she had a distinguished career at the University of Illinois. Anna is an expert in transnational cinema and media, modern literature and drama, and visual and cultural studies.
  • Yong “Tai” Wang joined RIT in January as our new dean of the College of Health Sciences and Technology. Previously, Tai worked at University of Texas at Tyler, where he was dean and endowed chair in their College of Nursing and Health Sciences. He also held positions at Georgia State University and Auburn University.  His research focuses on rehabilitative biomechanics related to wheelchair locomotion and Tai Chi exercise.

Welcome to these new leaders as well as the many new faculty and staff across the entire campus who are now a part of the RIT family.

Let’s take a brief look back at last year, as a way to highlight the resiliency and ingenuity of our students, faculty, and staff.

Despite all the turbulence of the past year, we stayed on course for nearly all the goals in our 2025 Strategic Plan. Here are a few examples in the research area. In terms of sponsored research proposals, we set a new record for the number submitted — 779 — and the total value of proposals submitted — $267 million. In these challenging times, our sponsored research awards topped $75 million, including a new record for health care-related grants, with 41 awards with a combined total of more than $7.5 million. We also inducted 13 new members into our Principal Investigator Millionaires Club and now have 115 “Millionaires” inducted since 2010.

As you know, National Science Foundation CAREER Awards advance promising research for future innovators and leaders. When assistant professors Pratik Dholabhai and Rui Li received CAREER Awards this spring, it placed them among an elite group of research faculty on campus and across the country. Professor Dholabhai, a member of the School of Physics and Astronomy, and Professor Li, from the Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences, are among more than a dozen faculty members from RIT given the honor over the last few years. Congratulations!

In keeping with the Strategic Plan, we expanded our doctoral offerings. We added three new Ph.D. programs within our Kate Gleason College of Engineering. At our most recent Board of Trustees meeting in July, two new doctoral programs were reviewed and approved, and now are being sent to the state for approval:

  • A Ph.D. in Business Administration that leverages existing faculty expertise, and augments the increase in both quality and quantity of scholarly productivity in the Saunders College of Business.
  • A Ph.D. in Cognitive Science, a newer field that integrates artificial intelligence, neuroscience, and cognitive psychology to understand the mind and its processes. This program illustrates how interdisciplinary programs are becoming a model for higher education in the 21st century. Five colleges are partners: Liberal Arts, Engineering, College of Science, Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences, and the National Technical Institute for the Deaf.

And we have more Ph.D. programs coming. These new doctoral programs are important because they will help us attract top-notch faculty and help us recruit students who will become the world’s future leaders in research and discovery.

Our faculty are engaged in such exciting research and scholarship. Here are a few examples:

  • AT NTID, Professor Matt Dye is using an NIH grant to examine the effects of auditory development, cognitive function, and language outcomes in young deaf adults. Researcher Rain Bosworth’s NSF and National Eye Institute-funded research showed that sign-language exposure impacts infants as young as 5 months old ... Professor Joseph C. Hill is conducting two NTID-funded research projects—a sign language evaluation study using a signing avatar model; and documentation of individual ASL variations among the NTID population.

RIT researchers are leading the way with the James Webb Space Telescope. Our team won the largest block of time for research in the telescope’s first year. RIT Assistant Professor Jeyhan Kartaltepe is the principal investigator of COSMOS-Webb, the largest General Observer program selected for the James Webb Space Telescope in 2022.

The list of student and alumni accomplishments is endless. Here are a few samples:

Two of these students will head to Germany while the others travel to Nigeria and Turkey for immersive global learning experiences in the coming months.

  • The RIT Baja team won first place nationally in return to onsite competitions during an event in Arizona this spring.
  • RIT students took home the top trophy at the Collegiate Penetration Testing Competition international finals, beating out 3-time defending champion Stanford in a competition that challenges the world’s brightest cybersecurity college students to put their hacking skills to the test in terms of offense-based computing security.
  • Two RIT games won awards at 2021 Game Developers Conference in July. “The Camera That Bleeds” won at Intel University Games Showcase; while “Genesis Noir” was awarded at the Independent Games Festival during the conference.
  • And, Tigers, we are the champions! … The men’s lacrosse team captured its first NCAA title with a “sudden victory” goal in double overtime. Congrats to Coach Jake Coon and the team for bringing home the national championship.
  • Evan Vucci, Class of 2000, was part of a 2021 Pulitzer Prize-winning team announced in June, joining an ever-growing list of journalism’s top award winners with RIT connections. The chief photographer for the Associated Press in Washington, D.C., Evan helped win the top prize for a collection of compelling photographs that compellingly captured the country’s response to the police killing of George Floyd. RIT now claims 15 Pulitzer Prizes in photojournalism with 11 alumni winners.
  • I am also happy to announce that the United Stated Peace Corps has designated RIT as a Peace Corps Prep University. This is yet another opportunity for our students to take their RIT experience to a global level and change the world in impactful and meaningful ways.

We have our eye on the future and we are well positioned for future success.

Let’s begin with Enrollment. For the second consecutive year, the university is welcoming a record number of first-year undergraduate students. A class of 3,271 new Tigers comprise the largest new student enrollment in RIT’s history. These students see what the rest of the world is seeing: RIT is perfectly aligned with the opportunities of the 21stcentury.

This incoming class represents the most academically accomplished group of new students in the university’s history. They are distinguished through metrics such as high school GPA, high school rank, rigor of curriculum, and more. Geographically, 53 percent of first-year undergraduates come from outside New York, with students from 49 states and 38 countries joining us.

Kudos to our enrollment professionals, and our entire community, for establishing rich relationships that have brought in this new class.

We have heard from Vice President Keith Jenkins this morning on our new Action Plan for Race and Ethnicity. Let me reiterate that the plan will guide RIT’s efforts over the next several years as it rolls out new programs, services, and policies to help create equal access, opportunities, and respect for all students, faculty, and staff. Everything in the plan is fresh thinking – with new and enhanced activities. We are already doing many things well, but these new efforts will advance the university even closer to where we need to be. The initiatives outlined in this plan will go a long way toward making RIT a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive university. I want to thank every RIT community member who participated in the plan’s formulation and who contributed their voice and passion to the discussion. While we have a significant amount of work ahead of us to realize the plan, the university will be a better place because of it.

Let’s revisit another campus initiative where we can continue to drive progress, shape what is possible, and transform the future: Our Campaign for Greatness.

The campaign is unique because it is a blended campaign. Our blended campaign is seeking support from a variety of investors, including alumni and friends, government and corporate partners, and research foundations and agencies. By blending these contributions, corporate, government and private dollars can work together to achieve our shared goals. The campaign enables us to implement the Strategic Plan, engage alumni, grow our status as a top research university, and build deeper relationships with government and corporate partners. The blended campaign is impacting every area of the university. Priorities include recruiting and developing exceptional talent, enhancing the student experience, improving the world through research and discovery, and leading future innovation.

From hockey at Polisseni to MAGIC to performing arts scholarships to Global Cybersecurity, and to the experiential learning opportunities that will take place in the SHED, our campus is transforming in magnificent ways. The Campaign is making our vision a reality.

The finish line is nearing, yet there’s more to accomplish. We’re continuing to raise money for student scholarships, we’re elevating our research to even greater heights, and we are focused on attracting and retaining the best and brightest faculty. Under Vice President Phil Castleberry’s leadership, we have reorganized the Division of University Advancement. We have more horsepower and better systems in place. It will be great to be back on the road this fall, telling the amazing RIT story to our most important alumni and friends. We’ve accomplished so much already and I’m thrilled to be able to highlight our successes and describe our very bright future.

Let’s take a moment now to watch a video that we’ll be sharing with our alumni around the world and see how the transformation has begun. You’ve been such an important part of this journey and so I’m pleased to share this video with you first.

The living legacy and lead voice in the video is Caleb Harris. The Niagara Falls native is majoring in Management Information Systems in Saunders College and he anticipates graduating in 2023.

The $1 billion campaign now stands at $807 million. Everyone is invited to help us transform the future by joining the Campaign for Greatness in this final stretch.

This global pandemic didn’t stop us from looking ahead and building the future. Here’s a look at construction projects that are transforming our campus.

  • RIT’s Global Cybersecurity Institute opened its doors last year. The state-of-the-art center is meeting the demand for computing security professionals, while developing future technologies and human understanding needed to address the global cybersecurity crisis. Save the date for Friday, Oct. 15 during Brick City Homecoming and Family Weekend when this world-class facility finally gets the formal dedication it deserves. Stay tuned, by the way, as we will soon have more announcements on entertainment and speakers for Brick City Weekend.
  • Construction on RIT’s maker space and educational complex at the center of campus has entered a new phase this summer as you can see with all the steel rising. The newly named SHED — the Student Hall for Exploration and Development — will include huge makerspaces, classrooms, a black-box theater, dance studio, and music rehearsal rooms, and is on track to open in fall 2023.  This project also includes a major renovation of almost the entire Wallace Library, which has necessitated temporary relocation of library assets to Ritter Ice Arena.
  • Complementing this project, RIT is in the process of designing a performing arts center that will feature a 750-seat theater and eventually a 1,500-seat orchestra hall for larger audiences. The new facilities are an essential part of RIT’s plan to develop the leading performing arts program in the nation for non-majors. Construction on the first phase is scheduled to commence in spring of 2022 with a completion date of fall 2023.
  • Saunders College of Business will break ground on a major expansion and renovation of Max Lowenthal Hall soon. The expansion will almost double the size of Saunders College. The project was made possible by donations from many Saunders College alumni and friends, including significant gifts from alumni Chance Wright and Susan Holliday as well as a transformational gift from serial entrepreneur and philanthropist E. Philip Saunders. All three will join us for a ceremonial groundbreaking event on August 31st.  Additional funds for the project are being provided by New York State.
  • The renovation of RIT’s College of Art and Design moved at a brisk pace during the summer months, with a key focus inside Gannett Hall. The project is part of a five-year masterplan that has already begun, to renovate, rejuvenate, and transform spaces to meet the growing demands for a college that serves as a creative hub at the intersection of technology, art, and design.
  • A multi-phase plan to upgrade athletic facilities also began this summer. The first phase of the department’s multimillion dollar stadium project is the relocation of the outdoor track across the road from its current location in front of Gordon Field House. New baseball and softball fields are also under construction with upgrades to all-weather artificial turf fields, which will be ready for play in spring 2022.
  • Overseas, construction of the first phase of RIT Dubai’s new $136 million campus is complete. The new campus will be able to accommodate up to 4,000 students.  We thank the Dubai government for their forward-looking investment.

So yes, we are always moving forward — even during a pandemic!

In conclusion:

  • We have successfully weathered the pandemic to date. And we will be prepared to handle whatever comes our way in the future.
  • The Strategic Plan is on track.
  • Aligned with our plan, our global campuses in China, Croatia, Dubai, and Kosovo are thriving.
  • Our faculty continue to produce cutting-edge research and deliver outstanding academic programming.
  • We are bringing our Action Plan for Race and Ethnicity to life.
  • We are improving our student body.
  • We are making great hires, surrounding ourselves with smart and passionate people.
  • We have a bright philanthropic picture.
  • Stunning new facilities will open soon.
  • We have momentum and others are watching us.
  • Like you, I can’t wait for a more normal fall semester!!

Finally, I wish to thank each of you again for doing your part to move this great university forward. I am honored and humbled to be working with such an exceptional group of talented faculty, staff, and students. Thank you so much.

This is an extraordinary time for RIT, and with our amazing community of creators and innovators we are definitely on to something amazing! Go Tigers!