President Munson’s Welcome Back Address to the RIT Community, August 2022

Welcome back, RIT family! I hope you all had a restful and enjoyable summer and are feeling recharged.

Let me start with a huge thank you to all in our RIT community. Needless to say, it’s been an interesting time for our university since March 2020. But we are resilient and have persevered throughout this pandemic. No matter what happens going forward, we will be prepared to adapt and we will succeed together. You have my deepest appreciation and gratitude for all that RIT has accomplished during this challenging period of our history. Thank you so much.

Fellow RIT Tigers, our university has much to celebrate! Let’s review some of our accomplishments of the past year and then focus on our amazing future.

First, let’s welcome a number of individuals into new leadership positions:

  • Erica Haskell is the inaugural director of our new School of Performing Arts. Erica comes to us from the University of New Haven, where she served as assistant dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, chair of the Division of Performing Arts, Oskar Schindler Humanities Endowed professor, and a faculty member of ethnomusicology. Our new School of Performing Arts is housed within the College of Liberal Arts and will leverage the unique strengths of NTID.
  • Matt Huenerfauth is our new dean of the Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences. Matt joined RIT in 2014 and created the Center for Accessibility and Inclusion Research, where he and a team of faculty and student researchers investigate ways to make technology accessible for all users, including people who are deaf or hard of hearing, people who are blind or with low vision, and older adults. Matt has stepped out of his role as chair of our School of Information to accept the dean position. While welcoming Matt, let me also thank Anne Haake for her six years of service as dean. She plans to rejoin the faculty following a sabbatical to refresh her research.
  • Diane Slusarski is our new dean and associate provost of the RIT Graduate School. Diane joins us from the University of Iowa, where her research focused on cell and developmental biology, including use of the zebrafish as a model for human disease. Diane is a former chair of the Dept. of Biology at Iowa and she held joint faculty appointments in the university’s interdisciplinary genetics Ph.D. program, the Diabetes Research Center, the Institute for Vision Research, and the Iowa Neuroscience Institute.  Let me thank former dean, Twyla Cummings, who recently retired, for her contributions, which included adding five new Ph.D. programs at RIT.
  • André Hudson, head of the Gosnell School of Life Sciences, will serve as interim dean for the College of Science, given the departure of Sophia Maggelakis, who is now provost of Wentworth Institute of Technology. Andre is a biochemist. Major themes of his research lie within biochemistry and microbiology, including amino acid metabolism and genomic characterization of plant-based bacteria. I wish Sophia Maggelakis the very best at her new institution, after her lengthy, successful tenure as dean of RIT’s College of Science.
  • Chad van Gorder, inaugural Director of Veteran Services and Military Affairs. We recently consolidated and streamlined our efforts to provide services to our student Veterans and dependents. Chad is an Army Veteran who served for 21 years and he also bring extensive experience in higher education to this important role. We look forward to welcoming him to campus on September 6th. 

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

Let me tell you a little bit about the RIT of today, our recent accomplishments, and how we are embracing the future. We are midway through our 2025 Strategic Plan, and RIT is on a firm path to realize all that we set out to accomplish — and more. We are becoming the university we want to be. This is to say that RIT is the top university in the nation integrating technology, the arts, and design. And perhaps equally important at this time in history, we put a premium on bringing goodness to the world.

RIT is 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, etc., as well as stronger interest from underrepresented AALANA populations. We’re even beginning to see social media posts referring to RIT as the new “it” school, as we attract ever more creative and multi-talented students. We anticipate this will be our second largest incoming class — following our largest class last fall.

At the graduate level, applications increased by 20 percent, with interest from international students returning to pre-pandemic levels and up nearly 30 percent. India led the growth, with master’s programs in STEM and Ph.D. programs among the most popular for international students.

Overall, we expect to top more than 19,700 undergraduate and graduate students, including our overseas campuses.

Let’s celebrate our research! We had a record year in sponsored research awards, attaining $92 million, which beat our previous high of $82 million. Some key areas of investigation include nanotechnology, optics and imaging science, cybersecurity and artificial intelligence. Many of these awards were funded by national agencies such as NSF ($13.5 million), the Department of Defense ($8.6 million), NIH ($6.7 million) and NASA and the Department of Energy ($2.5 million each). Congratulations to our faculty in garnering these awards!

We also set a new record for the value of proposals submitted this past year at $265 million. This is another great sign of our upward trajectory as we mature as a student-centered research university.

RIT faculty continue to win prestigious NSF Career Awards. We’ve now had 16 winners since 2014. Joining the list are:

  • Poornima Padmanaghan, assistant professor of chemical engineering, is addressing the origins and formation of mirror-image, entangled molecules.
  • Daniel Krutz, assistant professor of software engineering, is conducting research on self-adaptive systems, decision support systems, and computing education.
  • Kai Ni, assistant professor of electrical engineering, is improving memory technologies for storage and computing, and also was recently honored with the DARPA Young Faculty Award.

In addition, we are very proud of our three recent faculty Fulbright Scholars, all from the College of Science:

  • Michael Murdoch, Color Science Program
  • Jie Qiao, Carlson Center for Imaging Science
  • Ben Zwickl, School of Physics and Astronomy

Three RIT students also secured Fulbright Awards through the Fulbright U.S. Student Program. These students, and now RIT alumni, are:

  • Benjamin Gloger, Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences
  • Maria Morcos, College of Health Sciences and Technology
  • Sydney VanWinkle, College of Science.

Our students are taking home top prizes at collegiate competitions. They are squaring off against some of the best universities in the world and bringing home trophies in cybersecurity, gaming, racing, and design competitions.

For example, teams from around the word arrived at RIT this summer for the Baja SAE competition. Our team entered the event ranked No. 1 in the world. These Baja racers, climb hills, surmount obstacles, and survive endurance challenges. And guess who won? Not Michigan. Not Cornell. Not Purdue. Not Brazil … Your Tigers — R I T!!!

Speaking of champions … Cheers to the men’s lacrosse team for winning back-to-back NCAA Division III national titles. Under Head Coach Jake Coon, the Tigers are a perennial national powerhouse, winning 10-straight Liberty League crowns. And congrats to the men’s swimming and diving team for winning the Liberty League championship. And kudos to the volleyball team for winning the regular season title!

Let me add that 260 student-athletes were named to the Liberty League All-Academic team, while the overall athletics program carried a 3.42 GPA.

A final word on athletics: After a successful petition with the NCAA, our men’s and women’s hockey teams are finally be able to offer athletic scholarships in our Division I programs. This will be a game changer. Our coaches have always done a tremendous job on the recruiting trail, finding players who excel both athletically and academically.  But now, we are in an even stronger position. So, let’s all get out to the Gene Polisseni Center this season to show our support, and let’s show our Tiger Pride for all our Division III teams as well.

These examples of recent RIT accomplishments are only a small sample. But let’s now look forward … Where are we headed?

We literally are designing our future as we are charting what this campus will look like in the next 25 to 50 years with a new Master 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 Master 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, classroom buildings, or athletic facilities. We’ve had great input from across the campus throughout the planning process and expect to finalize the plan later this year.

As noted earlier, RIT now has a School of Performing Arts. Our intention is to offer the leading performing arts program in the nation for non-majors. Our objective is to attract thousands of multitalented students who wish to pursue their passions in performance while majoring in a range of other fields. This is all about fostering creativity, discovery, teamwork, and wellness. 500 new Performing Arts Scholars are joining us this fall, bringing us to about 1,500 scholars overall.  On average, these students have superior academic records and far higher retention rates, and nearly 50% are women.  This program already has been so successful that the College of Art and Design is now constructing a new American Crafts Experience program to make available offerings in the studio arts to any interested student.

Expansion of our Ph.D. portfolio. Today, RIT enrolls about 300 Ph.D. students in 11 Ph.D. programs. A year from now, two new doctoral programs will launch:

  • Saunders College of Business will offer a Ph.D. in Business Administration, marking the university’s inaugural social sciences doctoral program.
  • The College of Liberal Arts will introduce a doctoral degree in Cognitive Science through its Department of Psychology. This is a joint program with four other colleges at RIT.
  • A Ph.D. in Physics will be next as we continue to build our portfolio.

Overseas, we opened a stunning new campus for RIT Dubai, made possible through our partnership with Dubai Silicon Oasis. Our programs in China and Kosovo are prospering. And this year, we are celebrating the 25th anniversary for RIT Croatia at its locations in the cities of Dubrovnik and Zagreb. Beyond these campuses, RIT has 92 active international partnerships in 43 countries.

We have just launched RIT Certified, a new education organization committed to promoting professional advancement and economic mobility in the Rochester region, throughout the nation, and across the globe. RIT Certified will offer a portfolio of professional education and workforce development courses, certificates, and programs to provide educational pathways. This new organization aims to meet the needs of the changing job market where a growing number of people are seeking new skills to enter the workforce, keep up to date in their current job, change jobs, or advance in their careers. At the same time, employers need more qualified talent with demonstrated skills that match their needs today. Much of the curriculum will be co-developed with practicing industry professionals in order to reflect the current needs of employers.

We are reimaging our future by forging ahead with the largest construction projects in our history, outside the move to the Henrietta campus in 1968. We are transforming RIT by building places and spaces for creators and makers.

This work includes:

  • The Student Hall for Exploration and Development. I’m sure you have noticed the progress on the SHED over the summer. This showcase facility will open in fall 2023 as the heart and creative hub of the university. THE SHED, with major support from Trustee Austin McChord, will include the Brooks Bower Maker Showcase, the Sklarsky Glass Box Theater, and music and dance studios. The SHED’s focus on hands-on learning extends to the 27 new classrooms—five extra-large learning spaces in the SHED designed for active learning and 22 regular-sized flexible classrooms in the totally renovated Wallace Library. Faculty will gain experience with the new learning environment this academic year by teaching in a large-capacity learning space designed to simulate the new active learning classrooms in the SHED. The beta classroom is located in Slaughter Hall. When finally open, the SHED will be the heartbeat of the campus, where prospective students, parents, and other visitors will instantly grasp the distinctiveness of a hands-on RIT education.
  • Athletic facility improvements. The first phase for baseball, softball, and track and field debuted this spring. This summer, a new turf field and lights were added to Tiger Stadium. A new stadium on this same site will feature locker rooms, concessions, and a hospitality suite.
  • Work has commenced on a near-doubling of the footprint for Saunders College of Business. The expansion, with major support from Trustee Phil Saunders and alumnus Chance Wright, will offer cutting-edge teaching and learning spaces, opportunities for innovative research and collaboration, the Gueldenpfennig Auditorium, and the Susan Holliday event space.
  • Renovation of the College of Art and Design—with focuses on key areas within the internationally recognized School of Photographic Arts and Sciences and School of Film and Animation—made significant strides this past year. This sizeable project, with initial funding from Chance Wright, is part of a five-year comprehensive plan to renovate, rejuvenate, and transform spaces to meet the growing needs of this college.
  • Brown Hall is receiving a total makeover to become a research laboratory building. Renovations include a laboratory that forms the College of Science’s Genomics Center, two laboratories for the School of Chemistry and Materials Science, five labs for the Department of Computer Engineering, and space for the College of Engineering Technology’s traffic studies laboratory.
  • We literally are setting the stage for performing arts as we break ground on the first theater in our performing arts center, located east and north of the Golisano Institute for Sustainability. With thousands of RIT students involved in performing arts expected in the next few years, plans are moving forward for the first theater, seating 750 for musical theater and other performances, and eventually a 1,500-seat orchestra hall for larger audiences. The first theater is expected to be completed in 2024.
  • In addition, NTID performing arts renovations are commencing this fall in spaces surrounding the Panara Theatre to create far better facilities for dance, enabling collaborations with organizations in the Rochester community.
  • In July, the Trustees approved a $120 million bond issue to fund numerous projects around campus. Included are the new Tiger Stadium, a new research building with both wet and dry labs, and air conditioning where still needed in the College of Art and Design, and the College of Science. We also are planning major renovations in the residence halls, adding air conditioning where still needed, and upgrading restrooms and public spaces.

We are eagerly pursuing the bond issue now, while interest rates are still relatively low.

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.

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 integrating these contributions, government, corporate, and private dollars can work together to achieve our shared goals.

This summer, we surpassed a major milestone. The $1 billion campaign passed the $900 million mark and now stands at $920 million. We are in the homestretch!

The campaign is enabling us to implement the Strategic Plan, serving students, growing our status as a top research university, and building deeper relationships with government and corporate partners. Priorities include recruiting and developing exceptional talent, enhancing the student experience, improving the world through research and discovery, and leading future innovation. 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 and staff.

Let’s take a moment now to watch a video that we are sharing with our alumni around the world to see how the transformation is occurring.

The living legacy and lead voice in the video is Caleb Harris. Caleb is a Niagara Falls native and is majoring in Management Information Systems in our Saunders College of Business. He anticipates graduating in 2023. Caleb is one of the many reasons RIT has so much to celebrate as we continue along our path to greatness.

Our work to build a great, student-centered research university perpetually continues. Our recipe has three main ingredients:

  • Distinctiveness: This includes novel degree programs and co-curricular experiences, particularly at the intersection of technology, the arts, and design.  In so doing, we are focusing on creating experiences that a student can have only at RIT.
  • Goodness: Economic mobility for all of our students and a large portfolio of cutting-edge research projects that matter to everyday people, across the globe.
  • Excellence: We seek to advance the exceptional in everything we do from education to athletic competitions to the performing arts to cybersecurity competitions.

I now ask for everyone’s undivided attention for what I am about to say. It’s not about a new program or building. It’s about us. Like every institution, we’ve been through a challenging time over the past 2+ years. We’ve navigated the pandemic as well as humanly possible, but there is no question that it has worked to erode the intense feel of community and loyalty that characterize RIT. Well, I say enough is enough. We now are far better equipped to deal with COVID, monkeypox, or whatever else comes our way, so it’s time to fight back and recover all that we have lost.    

I want to encourage everyone to be back on campus this year in whatever capacity is feasible. This is not because we need all faculty and staff to do your job here. Rather, this is about experiencing the excitement of a face-to-face campus so that we all can be reminded of why we do the work we do. It’s all about the students and producing the next generation of leaders, creators, and innovators. RIT is a thrilling place to be! We need to recapture the old energy. And we need to help our students capture or recapture it, too, many of whom did not have a normal high school experience. Last year, students were reluctant to attend faculty office hours in person. “Why not use Zoom, it’s so convenient!” they may say. But they don’t realize that the professor may have a demo in their office or something interactive to show them. RIT is an experiential, in-person place. And we want to do everything we can to get our students engaged so that they receive a FULL education. So, let’s bring the back the thrill. Zoom has its place, but you can’t catch the wave online!

Let’s all make a New Academic-Year Resolution to spend more time face-to-face with one another, faculty and staff with students, and students with faculty and staff.  In my case, I’ll be specific.  I’m going to do my very best to attend at least one competition of each of our varsity sports teams. The fall season starts on September 1 with men’s soccer and then on the 2nd with women’s soccer and volleyball.  After that comes men’s and women’s tennis, men’s and women’s cross country, men’s and women’s hockey, and men’s and women’s basketball.  I’ll also be attending as many student concerts and theater productions as possible, beginning with Fringe Fest, September 13-24.  And, I can’t wait for Brick City Homecoming, October 14-16, and the special DEI program, that Keith Jenkins mentioned --Together RIT: A Day of Understanding, Solidarity, and Racial Reconciliation on October 21.  In addition, I plan to interact more broadly with our faculty and staff.  This will be partly accomplished by visiting each college with Provost Granberg, where we will highlight exciting initiatives under way and solicit your feedback and ideas.   

I invite each of you to make your own New Academic-Year Resolution. How will you engage with the RIT family? If you do so, I bet you’ll find yourself energized, uplifted, and connected, with a strong sense of purpose and fulfillment, understanding how you make a positive difference each and every day.   

Let me conclude and summarize by saying that RIT is embracing and designing a very bright future. Our amazing community of creators and innovators is shaping the world through ideas that inspire, inform, and improve lives. 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 a talented and committed group of faculty, staff, and students. Thank you all so very much.

Go Tigers!