Topics: President, Human Resources

August 21, 2008

President Jo Ann M. Gora
President Jo Ann M. Gora delivers her fall convocation address to faculty members Friday morning in Emens Auditorium.
"Boldly Building Our Momentum"
Fall Faculty Convocation
President Jo Ann M. Gora
Friday, Aug. 22, 2008; 9 a.m.; Emens Auditorium

Good morning to all of you.  Welcome to our annual fall faculty convocation.

One year ago, I discussed the challenge of distinctiveness.  I talked about how Ball State must respond to the challenges of a rapidly changing world if we were to remain a vibrant, relevant institution; how external stakeholders expected a more focused description of our value and purpose; how students and faculty had more choices and higher expectations about learning and teaching.  I said that the implementation of our Education Redefined strategic plan would clearly show Ball State's unique attributes and vividly demonstrate our vital role to the future of Indiana's citizens.

In my travels around the state, country, and world, I can assure you that we are succeeding in meeting that challenge of distinctiveness.  Over and over again, alumni, students, parents, legislators, and reporters tell me that they understand that Education Redefined is not just the name of our strategic plan but rather an accurate summation of all that we are doing to educate young people for the 21st century, a time of global competition and breathtaking technological advances.  They recognize Ball State as a university on the move and the events of the last year as evidence of that.  And we received further confirmation of it only an hour or so ago, when the annual America's Best Colleges edition of U.S. News & World Report honored Ball State as one of its "tops for innovation" selections in its list of 70 up-and-coming schools.  So I begin today by congratulating you on your hard work, creativity, and collaboration, all of which have been keys to the success of this past year.

Our bold strategic plan has four key strategies.  The first is to offer relevant immersive learning opportunities to each undergraduate student.  I reiterate that this is the cornerstone of what we do.  Our students are graduating into a truly interdisciplinary and interconnected world-and this is the best preparation we can give them for it.  Immersive learning takes a long, proud tradition of experiential, collaborative learning created by so many of you and intensifies it, creating a significant intellectual challenge embraced by bright, talented students, creative in approach and entrepreneurial in outlook.

Our many constituencies praise immersive learning.  It is widely seen as something that separates us from other colleges and universities and brings tangible benefits to the people of Indiana.  In the past two years, private donors have pledged more than $17.5 million to Ball State in support of immersive learning.  The Office of the Provost distributed more than $600,000 to immersive learning projects in the last year, confirming how crucial this initiative is to our future.

One of those projects is the Digital Studio Consortium, where more than 300 students from the College of Fine Arts, the College of Sciences and Humanities, and the College of Communication, Information, and Media are collaborating on more than 20 projects.  Here are just two examples.  An interactive television design course allowed students to create an interface for live broadcasts combining NewsLink Indiana briefs with customized, interactive content, including sports scores, stocks, and calendar listings that constantly update.  A second course in interactive advertising focused on developing an interface for consumer-driven advertising, not only for your television, but also for small-screen devices like the iPhone and iTouch.

Much of my time in the last year has been spent traveling to support our immersive learning opportunities around the state.  We connect student-driven projects with needs in local communities and businesses throughout Indiana, and in so doing, we find new and exciting ways to build strong partnerships with the larger community.  Let me give you one example.

In April, I had the pleasure of attending an event in the Statehouse Rotunda, at which Bob Pritchard, associate professor of journalism, and a team of students from Cardinal Communications presented a crisis communication protocol to officials at the Indiana Department of Homeland Security.  Our students took this responsibility so seriously that they voluntarily-and successfully-completed the Federal Emergency Management Agency certification course on public information systems before working on the protocol itself.  They then prepared a substantial report that forms the basis for how IDHS informs the citizens of our state during future emergencies.

The event also illustrated the strong, lasting partnerships that Building Better Communities projects build.  The genesis for the project we celebrated in April was actually the production of eight public service announcements for the state Department of Homeland Security a year ago.  Our telecommunications and journalism students wrote, filmed, and produced the "Take Responsibility" series, which continues to air, informing Hoosiers about disaster preparedness.  IDHS leadership was so pleased with the result of that project that those officials approached Ball State to research and prepare the crisis communications protocol.  And when we finished the April event, those officials began discussions about partnering with Ball State to develop a disaster preparedness curriculum appropriate for high school students, a proposal that we are finishing and will present to the state director of homeland security for that project in the next few days.  Repeat customers like this high-profile Indiana department firmly establish the value of immersive learning for the citizens of our state.

In fact, many of the immersive learning projects led by Fred Kitchens, associate professor of information systems and operations management, propose solutions to similar security problems.  Three years ago, his students developed a cluster computing solution for the Indianapolis International Airport and won the International Business Informatics Challenge.  Two years ago, his Business Fellows team worked for the Delaware County Emergency Management Agency to develop contingencies for earthquake, flood, and tornado.  His Systems Analysis and Design class that year developed a business continuity and network security plan for the City of Muncie and Delaware County; their efforts recently earned the Laureate Award from Computerworld magazine.  Last year, his Business Fellows team assessed the feasibility and sustainability of a disaster-proof, vandal-proof data center planned for a Midwest location.  Two more projects developed technology plans driving the services provided by two start-up companies for a local entrepreneur-one in digital signage and one in unique online video services.  Both projects are under review for potential patents and venture capital.

These projects again show the potential that immersive learning holds-Ball State solves problems, attracts jobs, provides technological infrastructure, and demonstrates value to the people of Indiana.  Our students and faculty have completed more than 600 projects in 68 Indiana counties in the last two years.  In fact, we soon will have an international immersive learning opportunity, thanks to a Six Sigma minor in process improvement, developed by faculty in the College of Applied Sciences and Technology, which partners us with a company in China.

The strategic plan's second objective is the recruitment and retention of high-ability students.  Immersive learning poses a significant intellectual challenge, and we need students who can meet that challenge.  As we attract and graduate outstanding students, those students, as alumni, become our greatest ambassadors for the distinctive value of a Ball State education. 

Last year, I reported that retention of first-year students who were returning as sophomores stood at 76.7 percent, an impressive increase of more than 2 percent from the same figure in 2006.  The figure for this fall is more than 78 percent, another impressive increase as we continue to provide many programs to enable freshmen to succeed academically and to build the relationships that make campus life meaningful.  In fact, I am delighted to report that just this morning, Ball State's freshman-year experience is cited for the fifth year in a row in the America's Best Colleges edition of U.S. News & World Report.

We have again concluded a successful recruitment effort.  Freshman applications were up nearly 600 over last year's record, totaling more than 13,750.  Over the past three years, we have seen a remarkable 38.5 percent increase in applications.  This has produced a freshman class of 3,806, more than 260 students larger than just last year and 450 members more than the class that entered in fall 2005.  Coupled with improved retention, this has contributed to our first increase in overall on-campus enrollment in four years.  This enrollment increase is critical to our budget.

At the same time, we are delighted by the size of the entering class as we continue to emphasize quality.  The average SAT score for this year's freshman class is 1,566, up five points from last year and 28 points from 2006.  Among this year's freshman class, 56.5 percent completed the Indiana Academic Honors Diploma or its equivalent for out-of-state students.  This is up from 50.9 percent last year and 46.8 percent just two years ago.  The accomplishment is even more impressive since only 30.7 percent of Indiana's high school graduates complete the Academic Honors Diploma.

Attracting-and enrolling-the best and the brightest students will be increasingly challenging; we face stiff competition from both in-state and out-of-state competitors. Last fall, the Honors College enrolled more than 300 freshmen, up 21 percent over the previous year.  This year, we implemented a separate Honors College application for selective admissions.  We've seen a slight decline in the number of students enrolled in the Honors College this fall but are confident we can increase that number next year.  The students we are attracting to Ball State and to the Honors College have many options and receive attractive scholarship offers from many institutions.  This is why raising funds for freshman scholarships is one of my main priorities.

Third, the strategic plan focuses on increasing the number of nationally recognized faculty and academic programs.  We do not pursue recognition for its own sake but to reinforce to external audiences the excellence of a Ball State education.  Several university departments and programs are making their mark and advancing Ball State's reputation.

Ball State's undergraduate entrepreneurship program has been in the top 10 in the country every year since 1999, according to U.S. News & World Report, which described it as the "ultimate entrepreneurial experience."  Our landscape architecture department was ranked as the nation's fourth best undergraduate program and the fifth best graduate program by the respected professional journal, Design Intelligence, in its annual edition.  For the third consecutive year, the educational leadership department rates among the best in the eyes of the editors of Leadership Excellence magazine, a publication cofounded by business and administrative effectiveness guru Stephen Covey.  It ranks the department 11th nationally, where it keeps company with Harvard, MIT, and the University of Pennsylvania.  Teachers College attained two important rankings from U.S. News & World Report in 2008, as its graduate education programs were ranked 90th nationally, placing them in the top third of those offered by all universities, and Burris Laboratory School was listed among the top 3 percent of America's high schools, as well as earning a Blue Ribbon award from the U.S. Department of Education.

But rankings are not the only important recognition of faculty and programs at Ball State.  When professors Harold Mortimer and Greg Witkowski earned Fulbright Scholarships last year, those brought recognition to Ball State.  When our students were nominated for nine regional Emmys, bringing the total to 70 nominations this decade, it continued to raise our university's profile.  When Fulbright officials brought Omer Salih Mahdi, the former Iraqi physician and maker of an award-winning documentary, to our campus as a graduate student, they provided a ringing endorsement of our journalism and telecommunications programs.  When the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation selected us in December as one of its initial partners in encouraging high-ability teacher candidates to seek long-term careers in high-need classrooms, it increased public awareness of Ball State.

Similarly, many of our students have earned top national scholarships and awards recently, reflecting the guidance and caring of our excellent faculty.  These include winners of a Margolis Scholarship, a Morris K. Udall Scholarship, a Goldwater Scholarship, a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship, a U.S. State Department Critical Language Scholarship, and a U.S. Navy Health Professions Scholarship.  Thanks go to Barb Stedman and her colleagues for this dramatic upswing in the number of our students winning national scholarships.  And national recognition came to several Ball State student groups that embrace an interdisciplinary, cocurricular approach and serve as symbols of Ball State's academic quality.  The debate team won the championship at the National Education Debate Association tournament, led by Alexander Newman, one of five students named debate All-American.  And the staff of The Ball State Daily News earned top honors from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association for the ninth straight year, winning 64 Gold Circles, the most received by any college in the country.

Finally, the strategic plan seeks to create a university community nationally recognized for its vibrant, diverse, and supportive atmosphere.  High-ability students demand a campus that fuels their curiosity and creativity-both inside and outside the classroom.  This was most visibly represented by the whirlwind four weeks we experienced at this time a year ago.  The opening of four new or completely renovated buildings-Woodworth Commons, Park Hall, Scheumann Stadium, and the David Letterman Communication and Media Building-changed the face of our campus, and the return of our most famous alumnus attracted a crowd of thousands of students and national, even international, media attention for Ball State.

Looking forward, renovations to Pittenger Student Center are well under way.  Those renovations, as well as those to Ball Honors House and DeHority Hall, should be completed by next summer.  Construction has begun for both the 200,000-square-foot student recreation and wellness facility and another residence hall similar to Park Hall and located on the north end of campus.  Both of these projects should be finished by fall 2010.  Work soon will begin on the central campus academic project, and the renovations of the North Quad and Teachers College buildings are scheduled for completion in the 2011-2012 time frame.  And we will continue to work on the replacement of our aging boiler plant and update the chilled water plant to bring increased efficiencies to our energy consumption.

I hear frequently from visitors how beautiful and modern our campus is compared to when they were last in Muncie.  Imagine what their reactions will be in 2012, when we can show off a campus featuring $320 million in newly constructed or remodeled facilities in just eight years!

But there is more to a vibrant and energetic campus than newly constructed or renovated buildings.  I was so pleased with the large number of successful programs planned and carried out by our students last year.  Many of them, from the events of Unity Week to the Focus the Nation teach-in about global warming, raised the level of awareness and discussion not just on campus but throughout our community.  Also contributing to that discussion was a long list of distinguished campus speakers in the last year-Arthur Levine, Jonathan Kozol, Mikel Harry, Chelsea Clinton, Terrence Roberts, and Barack Obama, just to name a few.

There is one other aspect to our objective to provide a vibrant, diverse, supportive campus that I want to mention, and that is our dedication to advancing international education.   Two of the goals in our strategic plan are to increase the number of students participating in our study-abroad programs to 1,000 and to similarly increase the number of international students here on our campus to 5 percent of the total population.  We are making tremendous progress in the number of those studying abroad, as 790 students did so last year, a nearly 60 percent increase over the 2004-05 total.

Our international student numbers have grown over the same period, but less dramatically.  This is why I traveled in June to meet with nine university presidents in mainland China and South Korea, at the invitation of those academic leaders.  These countries provide Ball State with almost one-third of the international students on our campus.  It was important to enhance our existing relationships with Korean and Chinese universities, some of which stretch back decades, and equally important to establish new partnerships with other institutions.  Ties between this university and institutions of higher education in East Asia are vital as we progress toward providing our students with a campus that resembles the global village into which they will graduate.

In sum, the past year was a successful and memorable one for Ball State University, something in which we should all take pride.  But as Soren Kierkegaard once wrote, "Philosophers are perfectly right in saying that life must be understood backward.  But then they forget the other clause-that it must be lived forward."  How do we continue-even increase-the momentum of our success in coming months?  We do so through bold initiatives that continue to redefine education!

So we will continue to expand our immersive learning opportunities.  Joe Trimmer, our immersive learning consultant, will be working hard with his faculty committee this year to provide expertise to academic departments and faculty who either have challenges in identifying immersive learning opportunities or are struggling to find funding to support those opportunities.  In talking with deans and faculty last year, Joe learned much about the benefits faculty see in immersive learning and the challenges in providing those opportunities in every Ball State department.  As Virginia B. Ball Center director, he knows how to maximize the benefits and deal with the challenges; we look forward to him using that experience to assist faculty colleagues.

As the provost has mentioned, another important focus this year is increasing our recognition for the use of emerging media.  Ball State has a long and proud tradition of innovative and entrepreneurial faculty coming together to develop centers of true excellence.  As you know, the purpose of our Education Redefined strategic plan is to focus our resources on activities that make Ball State distinctive and distinguish us as an institution.  It guides us toward interdisciplinary endeavors, ones that facilitate immersive learning and support our commercialization goals.  Emerging media can be a center of excellence at this university that addresses all of these goals.

Approximately 65 of you attended a retreat in April organized by Dave Ferguson, associate vice president for emerging media and director of the Center for Media Design.  Most impressive at that retreat was the wide range of emerging media projects across campus.  Those examples included a variety of fields: digital fabrication, emerging media research, interactive and visual learning products, virtual worlds, visualization and modeling, emerging media policy, the science of multimedia learning.

The past few months have brought several digital media honors to Ball State.  At May's annual Mira Awards, presented by TechPoint in Indianapolis, more Ball State faculty members earned nominations and awards than those of any other Indiana university.  The Center for Media Design received a $3.5 million contract from television ratings giant Nielsen to study how viewers are using traditional and emerging media.  The project will show the best ways to measure media consumption as it moves from the TV to the computer and mobile devices.

John Fillwalk, director of our Institute for Digital Intermedia Art and Animation, earned Blackboard Inc.'s special Greenhouse Grant for Virtual Worlds for his team's work combining the interactive technology of Second Life and Blackboard.  This allowed Ball State to extend virtualized studio and laboratory experiences to an online distance education audience.  And Phil Repp, interim vice president for information technology, and two of his colleagues earned an Innovators Award from Campus Technology magazine for creating the Digital Corps, which groups faculty and students into interdisciplinary teams to develop media software expertise that can be used across campus.  Professor Fillwalk also earned an Innovators Award for his Second Life project, meaning two of the magazine's 14 national awards went to our university-the only one to receive multiple honors.

Taken individually, these projects-and many others-are compelling and important on their own merits.  But when you put all of them together, a new and more vivid picture forms.  Emerging media has permeated every college and each of our three mission areas: teaching, research, and service.  All this is even more striking when we examine a new report from Michael Hicks, director of our very own Bureau of Business Research, which demonstrates why emerging media is the most dynamic sector of Indiana's economy.

In short, we have an important opportunity, and we must seize it.  Plans are under way to provide new resources to you as faculty that will encourage the increased use of emerging media in the classroom and will more fully integrate emerging media in our immersive learning experiences.  A new faculty council will be formed to help set an interdisciplinary research agenda around emerging media.  We are expanding our support for commercialization with a particular emphasis on this sector, and we intend to expand the opportunities for students and faculty to work on emerging media projects on behalf of external clients.

All of this will provide another focused avenue to develop interdisciplinary immersive learning projects and a critical path to help us reach our commercialization goals, both of which are important objectives in our strategic plan.  And it enables us to distinguish ourselves in an area where we already excel.  We will announce more later this fall and detail our plans to further Ball State's growing reputation in this field.

Several other exciting developments are unfolding this fall.  This year marks the 90th anniversary of Ball State's founding in 1918.  To commemorate this historic occasion, we will be hosting a series of events, one of which the provost described earlier.  I would note that in addition to this speaker series, we plan to celebrate our Ball family roots with an event on October 25th.  I hope all of you will join me at these noteworthy events.

Last year was another successful one in securing new resources in support of strategic plan implementation.  We have spent much time and energy in the last few months carefully preparing our legislative requests, which were approved by the Board of Trustees last month and heard by the Commission on Higher Education a few days ago.  These requests soon will be submitted to the state budget committee in preparation for next spring's biennial session of the Indiana General Assembly.

We must continue the hard work we demonstrated in the 2007 session to secure appropriate support.  These are difficult economic times for our state, and the challenges facing Indiana's colleges and universities are particularly daunting.  Only through clearly demonstrating the crucial difference that Ball State makes in Indiana will we be able to receive adequate public funding.  The strategic plan calls for us to use our resources to attract and retain highly productive faculty of national prominence.  Our commitment to provide competitive salary increases and benefits for our faculty members is absolutely critical to our long-term success.  Providing competitive salary increases remains my top priority as I make our case to the legislature in every budget year.

Meanwhile, we are about to take a bold step in seeking expanded philanthropic support.  Our private donors provided more support than ever last year; their gifts totaled $22 million, an increase of $4 million over 2006-07.  On September 5th, we will unveil a comprehensive capital campaign that will support the objectives of the Education Redefined strategic plan.

We should all take a moment to savor the excitement and importance of this announcement.  All of you know that our capital campaign planning has been under way for some time, and many of you have played integral roles in that process.  This will be our opportunity to recognize your efforts and spread the word about how this campaign will have a lasting impact, especially on our students and faculty.  Our public announcement in two weeks promises to again raise Ball State's reputation and distinction, as we announce our financial goal, our progress thus far in reaching that goal, and the various initiatives that campaign funds will support.

I also want to emphasize the strategy behind the date of this announcement.  The events on September 5th constitute a public celebration of Ball State University, its history, its mission, and its vision for the future.  Many of you will be involved in the noon ceremony in Sursa Hall announcing the campaign and the immersive learning showcase that follows it in the Fine Arts Building.  Our football Cardinals, fresh off last season's International Bowl appearance, host the Naval Academy that evening in a game that will be nationally televised on ESPN.  Thus, our capital campaign, our strategic plan, our 90th anniversary, and all the bold initiatives being undertaken here at Ball State will have an audience of millions of people nationwide.  It will be a historic day in the life of this university, nearly a year to the day after we garnered national coverage of the events surrounding the opening of the David Letterman Communication and Media Building.  I encourage all of you to be a part of the activities of this special day!

Another objective of the strategic plan is that each of us would take stock of our health and improve it, resulting in an increase in the number of faculty and staff, and their families, participating in a coordinated wellness program.  Last year saw tremendous strides in this area, through the leadership of Patty Hollingsworth, director of the employee health enhancement program, and her outstanding committee.  The Start Where You Are initiative gave us great strides in employee wellness last year that were much, much greater than simply becoming a smoke-free campus, as notable as that was.

Patty and her committee have many new programs planned for this fall.  One is the Life Health Assessment, an online tool that compiles information about your health and well-being.  It also offers aggregate data to help the university plan programs that meet your needs and measures our institutional progress.  The Life Health Assessment is a contracted service, and no individual information is shared with any Ball State officials.  You received a brochure this morning with information about the Life Health Assessment, a schedule of clinical screenings, and support services for those choosing to improve their nutrition and physical fitness.  We believe clinical screening and the Life Health Assessment are so important that benefit-eligible employees will receive a gift card worth $50 just for completing the assessment.
I also want to mention one other strategic plan objective, our service initiative titled "Roll Out the Red."  Under the leadership of Judy Burke in University Human Resources, a task force has been working for a year, conducting surveys and focus groups to determine how to provide better service to our many constituencies.  What that task force found, in a nutshell, is that the overwhelming majority of our faculty and staff are talented, helpful, caring people, but that our systems are often cumbersome and do not lend themselves to providing prompt service easily.  Marilyn Buck is leading the "Roll Out the Red" faculty committee, and the two groups will coordinate service training for all departments over the next two years, even as we look at methods for streamlining and improving our systems to better serve our constituents.

I've provided many examples of our accomplishments in the last year.  I've outlined a number of exciting initiatives for the coming year.  But I must tell you that my many discussions over the past year show that the public understands our distinct mission at Ball State, how we make a difference in the lives of our students, and how we demonstrate our value to Indiana's citizens.

I am the Indiana representative on the American Association of State Colleges and Universities board and recently received the results of an AASCU survey of Fortune 500 chief executive officers about the public accountability of colleges and universities.  The CEOs were asked which higher education measurements were most beneficial-and least beneficial-in determining whether a graduate would be a successful employee.  Only 29 percent of those surveyed found a student's college transcript helpful in evaluating whether a job applicant had the potential to succeed at their company!  So what did these executives find most useful?  By far, the most effective assessment method for them was, and I'm quoting here, "Supervised and evaluated community-based projects or internships where students apply their college learning in a real-world setting."  Sixty-nine percent of the respondents identified these projects as very effective in ensuring that graduates have the skills to succeed, the highest response to the survey question by 23 percentage points.  Forty-four percent said universities should devote more resources to these projects, also the highest response to that survey question.

Through immersive learning and our other strategic plan objectives, we are preparing our students to graduate with the critical thinking, global knowledge, and self-direction they need to compete in the marketplace.  Ball State is uniquely positioned to supply this state with the leaders Indiana needs in the 21st century.

Together, all of us at the university have accomplished much over the past year.  We should all be proud.  That's why, even as I prepare to attend the first meeting of The New York Times-Chronicle of Higher Education cabinet next month-one of only 50 presidents in the nation to do so-I think of all that you have done to raise this university's reputation and visibility.  The fact that I was invited to be a member of that esteemed cabinet is one of the many ways in which our success-individually and collectively-is reflected.

As I stand before you today, I am again reminded of your passion, your dedication, and your bold innovation.  Because of your efforts and their impact, it is with great pride that I lead Ball State University as we build our already considerable momentum in the coming year.  Thank you for all that you do to make this a great university.  My best wishes for a successful year!