State of the University - 2017

A. Sue Weisler

RIT President David Munson addressed the RIT community earlier this year.

RIT President David Munson addressed the crowd at Brick City Homecoming & Family Weekend for the annual State of the University address. The full text of his speech is below.

Good morning everyone and welcome to RIT’s Brick City Homecoming & Family Weekend. It is wonderful to have so many parents, family members, alumni, and friends joining us for this magnificent weekend.

Let me start by saying that my wife, Nancy, and I are thrilled to be here and be a part of the RIT family! It is an honor and privilege to begin serving as RIT’s 10th president. We are energized by the cutting-edge nature of RIT, including its talented and ambitious students, alumni, faculty, and staff. Just like you, we made the right decision to come to RIT.

Nancy and I were attracted to RIT for many reasons. While RIT is primarily known for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), it also has a rich history in the arts. This university is truly unique in international higher education. We have been shaping the world through creativity and innovation. And now RIT is one of the top few universities working at the intersection of technology, the arts and design. We can leverage these strengths—the core of the university—to continue building important and unique programs in all disciplines, including business, the health sciences and the liberal arts. We can lead the nation, if not the world, in taking this approach. RIT has a long history of programmatic innovation. We are known for the National Technical Institute for the Deaf ­– NTID, sustainability, imaging science, and the list goes on. We’re accustomed to being on an upward trajectory — it’s part of our DNA. We expect to get better and I like that attitude. At RIT, I feel an eclectic vibe. Not everybody has to be the same. In fact, different is good! What really matters are the ideas and the passion that people bring and how they innovate.

Before I get too far along on RIT’s future, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge some success stories from this past year thanks to our tremendous students, faculty and staff. This past year has been another year of exceptional growth at RIT, both in size and stature. Our overall enrollment is now the largest in our history – when you factor in our students in overseas campuses located in China, Croatia, Dubai and Kosovo. We are in demand and becoming more selective. Here are some of our milestones in student recruitment:

  • After a record year for freshman applications this past spring, RIT enrollment is a record 19,000 students, placing amongst the largest private universities in the nation.
  • Nearly 2,800 freshmen are here with the best academic profile in the university’s 188-year history. First-year class academic credentials include:
    • Mean GPA of 92 out of 100
    • Mean SAT score of 1283
    • Mean ACT score of 29
    • 73 percent of the class will be studying in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) disciplines.
  • This is also the most racially and ethnically diverse first-year class in RIT history.
  • 17 percent are from under-represented populations.

How is that for a bright and dynamic class?!

Our students continue to compete at the highest levels nationally and internationally. A couple of quick examples:

  • The all-female RIT Hot Wheelz Formula SAE Electric vehicle team took home first place in the Electric-only category at the 2017 SAE Formula Hybrid national competition at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
  • RIT students became the first from a university to publish a video game on the Xbox One platform. Of course, our game design and development program ranks among the nation’s elite.
  • I have joined an athletic powerhouse! With ample successes in the classroom and on the field of play, the RIT Athletics program enjoyed tremendous success during the past season. From Liberty League Championships to NCAA berths, to All-American status, and Academic All-America plaudits, RIT’s 675 student-athletes had plenty to celebrate. And this includes an overall GPA of 3.3.
  • The quality of student life outside the classroom is outstanding. With more than 300 student clubs and organizations, a robust intramural and club sports program, and an active Student Government, RIT students have no trouble being engaged in and out of the classroom, as well as the greater Rochester community, and in the world.

Let me continue with a few more examples and evidence of RIT’s ascent to preeminence:

  • Research funding reached $58 million this past year. We had a record 722 proposals and it was our second-best year with National Science Foundation and third best year with National Institutes of Health in our history. We also had a record number of NSF Research Experiences for Undergraduate programs, placing us among the top schools in the nation.
  • We are transforming manufacturing, which is on the upswing. Golisano Institute for Sustainability was selected by the U.S. Department of Energy to lead its new Reducing Embodied-Energy and Decreasing Emissions (REMADE) Institute – a national coalition of leading universities and companies that will forge new clean-energy initiatives deemed critical in keeping U.S. manufacturing competitive. RIT is now involved in seven institutes in the “Manufacturing USA” federal initiative. This includes five institutes at the “Tier 1” level – placing RIT among the top 10 most involved universities in Manufacturing USA.
  • MAGIC Spell Studios is currently under construction and will open next fall. The program is a first-of-its-kind effort in higher education that will link RIT’s internationally ranked academic programs with high-tech facilities needed to commercialize computer gaming, film and animation, and digital media projects.
  • Employers from small start-ups to multi-national corporations actively seek out our talented students. Just last week, more than 250 employing organizations and nearly 900 recruiters sought out our students and alumni. It was the largest career fair ever — a good sign for the economy and the value of an RIT degree.
  • RIT is taking a leading role in an innovative approach to online education — the MicroMasters program of edX, which is the leading nonprofit online learning destination. We are collaborating with more than 90 global partners, including some of the world’s top universities.
  • We have reached another milestone in terms of rankings. We are now among the top 100 national research universities, jumping up 10 spots in U.S. News & World Report. This is only our second year in that top-tier category of doctoral universities. We were also cited for our internship and co-op programs, “Great Schools, Great Prices,” and the “High School Counselor Top College Picks” — 39th in the nation for reputation. Let’s remember there are nearly 4,000 colleges across the U.S.!
  • We celebrated the 10th Imagine RIT: Innovation and Creativity Festival. This left an inspiring impression on Nancy and me. We observed a sea of students with a strong sense of passion and purpose. We saw that RIT students are creators and they know how to put their creativity to use. Please save the date in 2018 and join us on Saturday, April 28th!

To our distinguished alumni: The true measure of RIT success is not just the graduation of students, but also the continued success of our alumni! Our alumni association is 125,000 strong and these Tigers blaze innovation, creativity and entrepreneurial paths around the world in all 50 states and 123 countries. Our alumni are a relatively young and up-and-coming pool of talented innovators, entrepreneurs, leaders and creative artists. About 40 percent have graduated since 2001, and nearly 20 percent have graduated since 2011.

  • Notable alumni range from CEOs to Pulitzer Prize winners to Academy Award winners in film and animation. They are elected officials and leaders in government. They are inventors of gaming platforms and mobile payment options that keep small businesses running. They are entrepreneurs in the world of disaster and data recovery.
  • Alumni are the true representation of the RIT “brand.” We do not prepare students just for graduation and their first job. We prepare them for a complete life that includes personal and professional growth and success, and positive impact on their industries and communities.
  • Our alumni make significant contributions across the globe. Let me quickly tell you about a particularly impressive example of our international reach. RIT has become an educational legacy for eight members of the Chhita family from Johannesburg, South Africa. Radha graduated in May with a master’s degree in professional studies from the School of Individualized Study—like her sisters Asha and Tulsi before her. Another sibling, Kalpana, earned a master’s degree in print media. This all started with their father, Kishor, who received an associate degree in printing in 1974. Three cousins have also graduated from RIT in the fields of graphic media and graphic communications. All eight work for Golden Era Group, the Chhita-family-owned business and second largest independent printing and packaging company in South Africa. Maybe we should just open a satellite campus over there and put them in charge!
  • To further demonstrate RIT’s commitment to alumni, we are establishing a permanent alumni house. A new RIT Alumni House will illustrate how significant our alumni are to RIT and will celebrate the mutually beneficial relationship that can be built between alumni and the university. We will be breaking ground any day now on this 5,700-square-foot home that will be used for professional development, networking with students, and even weddings and other lifetime milestones. And we are grateful to the more than 1,500 donors who have already contributed to this project to bring it to reality.

Let’s now talk about the future of our university. Is RIT on the cusp of preeminence?

Let me share with you some thoughts from my recent inauguration address and strike up a conversation.

The path to major success in business and industry now relies more than ever on creativity and innovation. This is a product of the Digital Age, where change is rapid, information is instantly available and nations and economies are globally interconnected.

We live in one world and, across the planet, we share both problems and opportunities. Issues that come to mind are poverty, nuclear nonproliferation, global warming, sufficient clean water, renewable energy, and affordable healthcare. I note that, although technology can help in solving these problems, much of the solution, maybe even most of the solution, will not be technical. In many cases, we already have the technology, or at least much of what we need. But, we may not have the political and social answers, or the leadership and willpower.

Of course, new technology often brings new challenges. Think about the future, when it will be possible to have your genes edited to make a better you. In what cases will this be ethical? What might be the societal risks? With progress in artificial intelligence and robotics, how long will it be before we humans are routinely interacting with machines in very complex tasks? Will we humans always be in control?

What kind of education should our students receive in order to help answer some of these questions and thereby contribute to guiding the future of society? Clearly, we need strengths in science and technology, but we must go beyond the purely practical. According to a World Economic Forum report released in January 2016, by year 2020 about a third of employment skills that were considered important in 2016’s workforce will have changed.

The forum’s report says the top three skills for 2020 are complex problem solving, critical thinking and creativity. The forum also highlights collaboration, emotional intelligence, judgment, service orientation and cognitive flexibility.

What does this mean for a student here at RIT? As a starting point, each student should choose a discipline for which they have a passion. And then, no matter which discipline is selected, the student should learn about and gain experience in critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, innovation, collaboration, communication and other high-level skills. This calls for experiential learning, including co-op, internships, summer jobs, international experiences, participation in student groups and societies, service initiatives, entrepreneurship, research, and participation on project teams.

Let’s double down on making our campus a thriving ecosystem to stimulate creativity, and innovation which is the translation of an idea into a product, service or process that has economic or social value. 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.

Finally, we have a busy weekend planned for you. Enjoy yourselves at some of the signature events, including Trevor Noah, host of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show. The show begins at 1 p.m. in the Gordon Field House. Returning this year are the popular Classes without Quizzes series. We have 18 classes to check out. One featured class will be hosted by the Hon. Robert L. Wilkins, an RIT parent and U.S. Court of Appeals justice who will talk about his recent book, Long Road to Hard Truth: The 100-Year Mission to Create the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Hockey fans: You can head over to the Gene Polisseni Center at 1 p.m. to catch our women’s hockey team versus Rensselaer. And tonight, our men’s hockey team faces off downtown against Northeastern University in the Blue Cross Arena. You will see a near sell-out crowd of 10,000 loyal Tiger fans. We have remaining tickets. Let’s fill the arena with a sea of Orange!

Thank you for being a part of our family and sharing this special weekend with us. We hope that you will leave here feeling a stronger connection to RIT and to each other. Thanks again and have a great weekend.

Go Tigers!