President Munson’s Welcome and State of the University Address, September 2023

Good afternoon! Welcome fellow RIT colleagues, students, and members of our community who are watching via live stream across the globe.

Today, fellow RIT Tigers, in this State of the University address, I am going to review some of our most recent accomplishments, and there are many. And then I will lay out some of the challenges, opportunities, and vision we have for our bright future.

First, let’s welcome a few individuals in their new leadership positions:

  • Dr. Prabu David joined us August 1st as our new provost and senior vice president for Academic Affairs. Prabu previously served as vice provost for faculty and academic staff development, interim vice provost for Teaching and Learning Innovation, and dean of the College of Communication Arts and Sciences at Michigan State University. His history of fostering interdisciplinary research and building strong ties amongst health colleges, engineering, social sciences, the arts, and humanities, will serve us well as we strive to further develop our partnerships across all colleges. I’m confident that his presence will strengthen our leadership position in the areas of creativity and innovation as we continue to build our preeminence at the intersection of technology, the arts, and design.
  • Kathleen Davis joined us September 1st as vice president for Enrollment Management. She previously served as vice president for enrollment and retention management at Saint Louis University. She also has led the enrollment management division at Canisius College and held positions in admissions at several colleges, including St. Joseph’s College, St John’s University, New York University Tandon School of Engineering, and Clarkson University.
  • At this time, I would like to thank Collen Peterson for her leadership as the interim vice president for Enrollment Management. Let’s give Colleen and the Enrollment Division a hand for all they did to bring in another stellar and amazing class to RIT!
  • Overseas, Dr. Irena Guszak is serving as interim president and dean of RIT Croatia, leading our campuses in Dubrovnik and Zagreb. Irena replaces Don Hudspeth who retired in June after serving in that role for 25 years. Congratulations to Don, who played a key role in the establishment and development of RIT Croatia, formerly known as the American College of Management and Technology (ACMT), when it opened in 1997.
  • After a national search, André Hudson was elevated from interim dean to the dean of the College of Science. André is a biochemist. Major themes of his research lie within biochemistry and microbiology, including amino acid metabolism and genomic characterization of plant-based bacteria.
  • Kelly Norris Martin is our interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts. Kelly earned her Ph.D. in communication, rhetoric, and digital media. She is currently a co-PI on two NSF funded projects examining the skills that help U.S. college students succeed and increase employer competitiveness.

Let’s take a moment to acknowledge these leaders and welcome the many new faculty and staff across the entire campus who are now a part of the RIT family.

It’s time to celebrate some of our recent accomplishments, learn more about the RIT of today, and together envision our future.

Let’s start with enrollment highlights: RIT was in high demand with a record number of undergraduate applications for our incoming fall class. We are seeing a higher-quality pool of applicants, based on standard measures such as GPAs, rank in class, leadership traits … as well as stronger interest from underrepresented AALANA populations.

More than 3,300 new and transfer undergraduate students arrived in August. The new undergraduate students come from 48 states (all but Iowa and Wyoming); Puerto Rico; Guam; U.S. Virgin Islands; and 47 countries, with the largest international contingent coming from India, Canada, and China.

They are among the most well-rounded and academically prepared class at RIT. Their average high school GPA was a record 93, and 60 students graduated first in their class. 36 percent of the incoming class are women — also a record for RIT.

More than 500 new students received a Performing Arts Scholarship, bringing the number of Performing Arts Scholars to more than 1,800 students.

In addition, there are 927 new graduate students—about 150 are recent or former RIT undergraduate students continuing for a graduate degree. About 60 percent of RIT’s incoming graduate class is international students, coming from 40 countries, the largest contingents coming from India, China, Nigeria, Iran, and Ghana. There are 11 Fulbright scholars enrolling this year, and 112 new Ph.D. students, up 19 from a year ago.

And at our global campuses in China, Croatia, Dubai, and Kosovo, our enrollments continue to increase as we add new programs. This fall, we are at a record high of more than 3,500 at these campuses.

What you have just heard is a set of numbers. But behind these numbers are amazing students with diverse interests who will come together to grow and thrive. They are thriving by getting involved in 300+ clubs and student organizations. They are thriving by interacting with cultures different from their own. They are thriving by competing against the best from across the globe and bringing home top prizes at national and international collegiate competitions. They are thriving by landing co-ops, internships, and other forms of experiential learning to find and develop their passions. And they are thriving by becoming successful alumni with rewarding careers and fulfilling lives outside of work.

National and international awareness of RIT’s reputation is on the rise and spreading to prospective students and parents of prospective students, as well as being noticed by our 145,000 alumni, donors, and other university stakeholders. The Division of Marketing and Communications is producing incredible work online and in print using video and photography, and more. And their collaboration with the Division of Enrollment Management is getting noticed and achieving results at we tell the story of RIT across the globe.

We continue to reach new heights with our research and discovery. We had yet another record year in sponsored research awards, attaining $94 million, as we move closer to our Strategic Plan goal of $100 million by 2025. Some key areas of investigation include nanotechnology, optics and imaging science, cybersecurity and artificial intelligence, and growth in life sciences and health fields. Many of these awards were funded by national agencies such as NSF ($16.5 million), the Department of Defense ($14.5 million), and the NIH ($8.1 million) as well as awards from NASA and the Department of Energy. We also received $14 million in research awards from the state of New York.

Once again, we set a record for the value of proposals submitted this past year at $325 million — a 23 percent jump — as we continue our upward trajectory as a student-centered research university. Thank you and congratulations to our faculty involved in this endeavor to move knowledge forward.

RIT is appropriately taking its place on the international stage. We are one of six U.S. universities named as part of an international USA-Japan partnership that was announced this past May at the G7 Summit in Japan. This effort is being led by Micron Corp., which has already committed to invest $100 billion over the next 20 years to construct a new megafab facility in Clay, N.Y.  The objective is to focus on improving competitiveness in computer chip design, development, and manufacturing here in the United States. This global alliance will focus on STEM workforce development with concentrated efforts to engage women in STEM.

RIT is also contributing to the development of high-profile technology hubs across New York that can impact economic development across the Finger Lakes region, state, and nation.

Let me give you a few examples:

  • Governors Island, a historical site in New York Harbor for centuries, will be the home to a new world-leading climate solutions center that will position New York City as the global leader for one of the most pressing issues of our time. RIT is part of “The New York Climate Exchange”, a first-of-its-kind international consortium, bringing public and private higher education institutions and global companies like IBM and Moody’s together. The goal is huge: Develop and deploy effective solutions to our global climate crisis. Sponsored by the New York City Mayor’s Office and the Trust for Governors Island, The Exchange was awarded to a consortium selected through a highly competitive process initiated last spring. RIT is a proud higher education partner, joining other prestigious institutions including Stony Brook University, Georgia Tech, the University of Oxford, and the University of Washington.
  • Batteries: RIT is part of a major national initiative that secured more than $63.7 million to establish upstate New York as a national hub for battery research and manufacturing. New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer announced that Binghamton University’s New Energy New York Proposal secured substantial funding for the new hub, Battery-NY, which will include partners such as RIT’s Battery Prototyping Center and New York Battery and Energy Storage Technology Consortium.
  • Tech Hub: In response to unprecedented federal funding opportunities created by the recently passed Chips and Science Act, RIT is part of a joint Buffalo-Rochester-Syracuse consortium whose goal is to turbocharge workforce development throughout the region to benefit our students and meet the growing needs of the semiconductor industry. It’s early in the funding process, but I hope to have some good news to share about this later this year.

In terms of academic portfolio, you may recall that RIT’s strategic plan calls for adding six to 12 new Ph.D. programs and conferring 50 doctoral degrees per year by 2025. The university conferred a record 69 Ph.D. degrees during commencement in May. Today, RIT enrolls more than 400 Ph.D. students in 12 Ph.D. programs.

This includes the Saunders College of Business, which just welcomed its first cohort of students into its new Ph.D. in business administration, marking the university’s inaugural social sciences doctoral program.

We have two more doctoral programs on the way.

A year from now, we will launch a new physics Ph.D. program. Also in 2024, the College of Liberal Arts will introduce a new doctoral degree in cognitive science, which is a joint program with four other colleges on campus.

Opportunities abound for this university. I will briefly outline where we, and this includes many discussions with our Board of Trustees, see RIT’s role in the future of health care:

First, the demand is already there for RIT to play a significant role, playing off our core strengths. We also plan to further leverage our alliance with Rochester Regional Health.


  • Healthcare is the single largest employer sector in the United States and accounts for about 20 percent of the nation’s GDP.
  • Our aging population utilizes healthcare services 3 times more than younger generations.
  • There are increased shortages in healthcare professions including nursing, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and other health professions. These are major opportunities for growth in the College of Health Sciences and Technology.

So, looking ahead, we are in the planning stages with our College of Health Sciences and Technology to develop a Doctor of Physical Therapy as well as an Occupational Therapy Doctorate. We are also looking at a Nursing BSN program as we scope out our strategy.

As healthcare demands surge, RIT can be an active player in contributing to the healthcare system locally, nationally, and globally.

RIT has outstanding opportunities for collaboration with:

  • Engineering, Bioengineering, and Industrial Engineering in particular
  • Computing & Information Sciences
  • Art & Design

There is much planning and work to do, but the opportunities in this arena are huge for RIT. Stay tuned.

RIT is accustomed to audacious goals. For six years — even amid the global pandemic — the RIT community kept busy brainstorming, conceptualizing, designing, problem solving, collaborating, and building a new place where ideas, creativity, and innovation can come to life.

We engineered one of the largest projects in our history with one timeframe in mind: Fall 2023. Our time has arrived! The doors are open to the SHED (Student Hall for Exploration and Development) where we are emblematically and demonstratively unlocking creativity.

The SHED will further showcase technology, the arts, and design at RIT.

We are transforming RIT by building places and spaces for thinkers, creators, and makers unlike any other university in the nation. Big ideas can turn into reality. And we want that message to energize our students.

From morning classes into the evening extracurriculars, the SHED, when fully complete, will be the new heartbeat of the campus. It is evident that we're offering an education for the whole person. RIT is about more than taking five courses each semester and working as hard as you can to get As. The SHED will allow our students to think laterally, to be creative, and to apply what they've learned in the classroom to solve real issues facing humanity. I am confident that incredible things will be produced and invented in the SHED and that it will form the basis for student start-up companies and big ideas that will change the world.

Along with our core programs, RIT can be the university where engineers and scientists pursue the performing arts, techies tackle the humanities, and artists learn to code. To further facilitate these activities, construction began this fall on the first major theater project in the Rochester area in decades, a 750-seat music performance theater designed to support musical theater productions at RIT. The venue, designed by renowned Los Angeles-based architect Michael Maltzan, is expected to open in 2025.

The theater will have two balconies, costume and scene shops, as well as rehearsal space. And it will feature a massive historic theater pipe organ as its centerpiece. This project is intended to provide more venues for the RIT community as well as options for the Rochester community to hold concerts, talks, and other events. The music performance theater will serve as a new gateway to the campus. Why does all this matter at a university with “technology” in its name? It is well established that mathematical talent and musical talent often go together. In addition, broadening the learning experience to include the arts can build competencies to engage creatively, critically, and confidently.

We are always on to the next big thing to inspire creativity, collaboration, and expression, which ultimately leads to innovation.

Other construction projects you will see around campus include:

  • Max Lowenthal Hall: The expansion project for our Saunders College of Business is coming along nicely. We expect completion in early 2024. This will nearly double the building’s footprint and will offer cutting-edge teaching and learning spaces, opportunities for innovative research, state-of-the-art event and collaboration spaces, as well as renovations to existing spaces.
  • The RIT Research Building: We are expanding our research footprint to accommodate the university’s growing research portfolio. Construction of a modern research facility has been underway since mid-summer. The facility will provide more laboratory space in science, computing, and engineering. The new building will be 39,200 square feet spread over two floors. Occupancy is expected in fall 2024.
  • Tiger Stadium:  Beginning in early 2024, we will begin construction of a stadium complex featuring new seating, locker rooms, concessions, and a press box.
  • We have earmarked $50 million for renovations in the residence halls. This includes adding air conditioning and updating hallways, restrooms, and lounges. This is a multi-year project with work occurring during summers, and we made a lot of progress this summer.

We are also designing our future as we are charting what this campus will look like in the next 25 to 50 years with a new Campus Plan. This is a long-term planning document that provides a conceptual layout to guide future growth and development on our 1,300 acres. Themes of the Campus Plan include densification of the central core of the campus, creation of a new Half Mile that will parallel our Quarter Mile, moving the loop road to the north, conversion of parking lots to parking decks, and making better use of our natural environment. The plan also identifies sites for future buildings, whether they be residence halls, research facilities, or classroom buildings. We received great input from across the campus throughout the planning process and the final touches are being put on the planning document.

We would not be where we are today if not for Transforming RIT: The Campaign for Greatness. We officially surpassed our $1 billion goal in March.

You have my deepest appreciation and gratitude for all that we have done to achieve our greatness. How did we define greatness throughout this campaign?

Greatness is surrounding yourself with diverse talent—thinkers and creators who elevate a team. Greatness is creating a transformative student experience inside and outside the classroom, leading to alumni who become engaged global citizens. Greatness is bringing goodness to the world through research and discovery.

I also want to emphasize that we sailed across the finish line with momentum. So, while we have completed this campaign, we are just getting started for the next chapter as we have identified many new friends of RIT. Transforming RIT involved nearly 55,000 donors, of which 39,000 were new donors.

You may recall, Transforming RIT was a different kind of campaign. It has been a blended campaign because it sought support from a multitude of investors—from our proud alumni, parents, and friends—to our government and corporate partners, research foundations and agencies. In a blended campaign, investments to one initiative leverage additional contributions in related areas, so corporate, government, and private dollars work together to achieve our shared goals to greatness. Many thanks to the divisions of University Advancement, Research, and Government and Community Relations for their efforts, as well as students, faculty, and staff across the campus.

$1 billion and counting: Thank you! We did it!

Please join me on the evening of Thursday, October 12th as we officially celebrate the campaign with a ribbon cutting and tours of the SHED. This will be part of our biggest Brick City Homecoming and Family Weekend we’ve ever planned. Please join the fun! We are featuring former Saturday Night Live cast member Melissa Villaseñor and Hank Green, an internet icon. You can engage in dozens of college activities and reunions. Women’s hockey will face off against Union on Friday, October 13th and Saturday, October 14th. And our men’s hockey team, who won the Atlantic Hockey regular season championship a year ago, will host perennial powerhouse Notre Dame in the Blue Cross Arena in downtown Rochester the evening of October 14th.

Let me close by acknowledging that we face challenges and strong headwinds.

War, climate change, social unrest, economic woes—it is stressful keeping up with the flow of global news these days. We can be consumed by the dark headlines.

Or we can flip the narrative by eagerly working on solutions. The world needs collaborative thinkers who can identify and solve the most pressing and vexing global problems of our times.

Embracing challenges brings out the best in RIT. We are operating from a position of strength. We are always on to something new that is embracing and designing the future. Our amazing community of creators and innovators is shaping the world through ideas that inspire, inform, and improve lives.

  • From Los Angeles to Africa
  • From New York City to Europe
  • From Rochester to the unfolding universe …

This is an extraordinary time for RIT. Thank you all for moving this great university forward. I am honored and humbled to be your colleague.

Thank you and go Tigers!