Remarks from RIT’s 10th president
Incoming RIT President David C. Munson Jr. addressed the crowd during the announcement of his selection as the 10th president of RIT. The text of his speech follows:
Good morning RIT Tigers!
It is wonderful to be here with all of you today. I am honored to become this great university’s 10th president. What a thrill and privilege this is for me, as well as for my wife, Nancy.
Let me start by thanking the Board of Trustees. Specifically, I would like to thank Christine Whitman, chair of the board, as well as Trustee Brian Hall, who led the Search Committee and is the previous board chair. And to the Search Committee: Thank you for putting in your time and dedication. I know it was a lot of extra work during busy times.
You don’t get far in life without the help of others. I have been blessed to be surrounded by an incredibly supportive family and by some amazing co-workers during my career. I am indebted to the University of Illinois and the University of Michigan for their collegial environments that facilitated my growth.
Nancy and I also wish to thank President Destler and Rebecca Johnson. Bill, Rebecca – your warm hospitality and generosity on our visits to Rochester and the campus are already deeply appreciated.
And for those of you who worked behind the scenes to plan this event, thank you all for this amazing welcome.
Today, congratulations are truly in order for all of you! I would like to acknowledge President Destler, RIT students, faculty, staff, and alumni for the exemplary work you all have done in creating such a strong foundation for the future. I will be fortunate to be working from a position of strength. The ascension of RIT is not just something experienced by those of you in Rochester; I've been watching your progress from the outside for years. RIT is on a most impressive trajectory!
While you heard a little about my bio in the video, let me give you some additional background on how I arrived here today.
I grew up in Iowa, Ohio and Delaware in a large family, surrounded by music, math, reading, sports and the outdoors. I sang with a folk group, played saxophone in the marching band, played basketball, became an Eagle Scout, and traveled on family camping trips to visit the national parks throughout the U.S. and Canada. I was one of those kids where my curiosity led me to take things apart throughout the house. Some of my fondest childhood memories were reading Popular Science magazine, peering at the rings of Saturn, and building rockets made from cardboard tubes and balsa wood. I should fit right in at RIT, don’t you think?
Given my fascination with math and science, I considered majoring in math or physics, but ultimately settled on electrical engineering. As an undergraduate at Delaware, I paid my own way to attend school. After completing my PhD at Princeton, I contemplated academia versus industry. I decided to try academia first and never left. I spent 24 years at the University of Illinois and now am in my 14th year at the University of Michigan.
I love working with students. I have advised more than 50 MS and PhD thesis students and have supervised dozens of undergraduates in research projects. Yet I decided to try my hand at administration and moved to Michigan to become chair of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. I tremendously enjoyed the chair job, but soon became Dean of Engineering. As dean, it was immensely rewarding to head up a world-class college with 10,000 students in a decentralized university. Here, I oversaw academic programs -- both education and research -- the budget, new facilities, alumni relations, fundraising, and outreach to industry and government.
My main research expertise is in signal and image processing, especially in synthetic aperture radar (SAR), which is a surveillance system that can produce high-resolution images through fog and cloud cover, and at night, from distances of tens or even hundreds of miles. My research on image formation in SAR positioned me well to also work on fast algorithms for image reconstruction in computer tomography (CT). This research, with a collaborator at the University of Illinois, led to our founding of a start-up company and the commercialization of our intellectual property. Successes include a fast image formation software product for a leading manufacturer of micro-CT scanners, and a major IP licensing deal to a multinational electronics company.
One of my favorite truisms is, “The organization with the best people wins!” At Michigan Engineering, I devoted enormous effort to faculty, student, and staff recruitment. During my 10 years as dean, I hired approximately 200 new faculty members. We were successful in retaining the vast majority of our hires, aided by our programs in mentoring, our constant drive to improve facilities, and dual-career placement for spouses and partners.
To enhance student recruitment, we established pipelines into select high schools across the nation, drawing better and more diverse students than ever before. Our graduation rates were among the highest of any engineering school in the nation. We have worked hard at creating a climate where every student would thrive, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, or economic status. I placed a special focus on student mental health, and also facilitated conversations with student groups and faculty on the topics of diversity, equity, and inclusion. And, following a work-hard play-hard mantra, I fostered a sense of belonging via fun, shared surprises.
Early in my deanship, I launched three task forces on aspects of experiential learning, in the areas of international programs, multidisciplinary design, and entrepreneurship. We mounted targeted programs in each of these areas, with thousands of students participating and having life-changing experiences. Our programs in multidisciplinary design and entrepreneurship attracted many students from outside engineering. Indeed, about half of the students in our Center for Entrepreneurship are from the liberal arts college at Michigan. We also collaborated heavily with the three arts-related schools at Michigan (Music, Theatre, and Dance; Art and Design; Architecture and Urban Planning). Together, Engineering and the arts units built an enterprise called ArtsEngine, which developed joint programming and coursework. The success of ArtsEngine led us to develop a nationwide consortium of colleges and universities to pursue integration of the arts into other disciplines, with an emphasis on creativity and innovation. This new organization, called the Alliance for the Arts in Research Universities, already has more than 30 member institutions.
So what drew my interest to RIT?
When I stepped down from my dean position this past summer, RIT was already known to me because I had admired your progress over the years and your strength in the arts as well as technology. I resonate strongly with your ethos as a “student-centered research university” where student learning comes first. And I applaud your focus on dimensions that make RIT unique: the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, active commitment to sustainability, focus on students from low-income families, and extensive service to the Rochester community. And it is good to see that RIT has successfully leveraged the historic strengths of Rochester in imaging science and visual media. More broadly, I share your passion for creativity, innovation, and collaboration, which is well expressed in the Imagine RIT festival you hold each spring.
In the coming years, I look forward to maintaining RIT’s traditions and simultaneously building on the 2025 Strategic Plan, ‘Greatness through Difference.’ To be sure, there is still much work to be done at RIT in program development, recruitment of top-notch faculty and students, planning of facilities, and fundraising. But, I believe that RIT is positioned to continue its upward trajectory, elevating its distinctive programs to best in class and generating new ideas and programs for the future, with the promise of making an ever-larger difference in the word.
During my interviews with the Search Committee, I shared an early vision for the university.
I won’t say much today because I first have a lot of listening and learning to do in the coming months. But let me observe that innovation, and “making” can occur in every field, whether it be writing a poem or short story, choreographing a dance, composing a piece of music, advancing a new scientific hypothesis, developing a new government policy, designing a new piece of technology, creating a social movement, or launching a start-up company. The point is that every student can be involved in creating things that never before existed, and then putting those concepts into motion, in an effort to improve the world. And, if the development of this mindset, and the leadership to bring new ideas to fruition, were a part of the RIT education offered to every student, then this could help further distinguish RIT as the creative university that is shaping the future. As a side benefit, building this into the humanities and social sciences may offer a way to broaden and strengthen those disciplines at RIT.
As your future president, I pledge that I will be mindful of all of the university’s stakeholders:
To students and parents:
- I am committed to building on the great foundation of RIT and I share your love and passion for the university.
- I am committed to access and inclusion.
- Our goal will be that students’ return on investment will come not only in the material form of future earnings, but also in their ability to effect positive change, contribute to the social good, and continue on a path of lifelong learning and service.
To faculty and staff:
- I am passionate about fostering positive work environments and creating transformational opportunities.
- Our future will be driven by building a shared vision; and I will actively seek out ideas and input.
To NTID and all of our deaf and hard-of-hearing constituents:
- I am committed to understanding the unique dimension of deaf culture.
- Nancy and I are looking forward to receiving instruction in American Sign Language.
- I will continue to advocate for NTID funding with federal officials.
To alumni and donors:
- I am committed to increasing the value of an RIT degree; and offering opportunities for lifelong engagement with the university.
- I welcome active participation and input from alumni, and I will be excited to be meeting you here in Rochester, throughout the nation, and across the globe.
- I look forward to working with you as we advance the mission of the university.
To our corporate partners:
- RIT will continue its tradition as a valued partner with corporations through cooperative education and graduation of talented and creative students.
- In concert with RIT blossoming into a leading national research university, we will increasingly partner with business and industry on research and development.
To our global campuses and international partners:
- I look forward to learning more about RIT’s presence in China, Croatia, Dubai and Kosovo – and eventually visiting.
- RIT will continue to strive to be among the top universities in global engagement with a mission to solve complex problems across the planet.
To the Greater Rochester community:
- I eagerly anticipate meeting with local - Town of Henrietta, City of Rochester, Monroe County - state and federal leaders.
- I am committed to the economic development and prosperity of the Greater Rochester region.
Let me conclude by saying, it is a great honor and privilege to become the next president of what I believe to be a gem in higher education. I am eager to meet members of the RIT family and Greater Rochester community.
Nancy and I are looking forward to speaking with you today, and we will return to campus periodically this Spring.
I look forward to the opportunity to work with each of you to help RIT play an increasingly vital role in New York State, the nation, and the world!
Thank you, and Go Tigers!