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Office of the President

State of the University Address | 2009

Thank you all for being here today.

I am so proud of all that we are accomplishing together here at UTSA, and this event gives me an opportunity to celebrate your successes of the past year, review some of the great plans in the works for this year, and share with you where I believe this university is headed.

When I first arrived here in 1999, I was asked to articulate a vision for the university—a vision that would transform UTSA into a premier research university, focused on providing access to excellence in higher education.

image of President Romo delivering the address

President Romo delivers State of the University address. Watch the video

Mostly, I wanted to provide more students the opportunity to study at a first class university dedicated to scholarship and learning, much like the opportunity I myself had many years ago.

Ten years later, I am proud to say that we are well on the way to realizing that vision. But our journey continues.

This past year has been marked by several wonderful new developments and achievements at UTSA.

As you know, I am a historian and I love to tell stories that capture the essence of our mission here as educators, mentors, leaders and innovators.

I especially love stories that illustrate the success of our students, like the one that happened just two weeks ago.

Recently, we held our President’s Distinguished Lecture Series; inventor Dean Kamen was the guest speaker.

With more than 440 patents in his name, he may be best known for creating the Segway.

He owns DEKA Research and Development in New Hampshire and employs more than 300 scientists and engineers.

There was a reception before the lecture began, and I was standing with David Gonzalez, one of our talented young former students. David won the Conoco Phillips Energy Prize for his layered MagWheel. The prize is awarded to top scientists in the country.

It is too complicated to explain, but basically it has something to do with conserving energy in the car’s brake system.

I said, “David have you met Dean Kamen?”

He said, “No I haven’t.”

I said, “Come on, let me introduce you.”

I walked David over to Dean and said, “Mr. Kamen, meet UTSA’s own inventor David Gonzalez.”

They began talking about David’s invention and other things that were way over my head.

But the conversation ended with Dean taking out a business card, handing it to David and saying, ‘I have six empty seats on my plane. I’d like you to come back to New Hampshire with me.’

It was great to see a connection like that and know that UTSA played a big part.

That is what we want to do—help our students make these types of connections to improve their futures.

Of course, we are very proud of David and all that he is achieving at a young age, but we also know that he could not do it alone.

He needed great faculty to educate and inspire him.

He needed a nurturing environment to help him succeed.

He needed other bright students around him to challenge him to reach his potential.

That is what UTSA is all about ….. And that is the promise that we hold out for each of our students every day.

When we speak of becoming a “premier university,” or a “national research university”, or a “tier-one university,” what we really mean is that UTSA creates an environment where young people can come to achieve their full potential, and where scholars can come to reset the boundaries of human knowledge and creativity.

This is the university we are becoming!

The start of every new school year is marked by excitement and anticipation.

For those of us who stay here year-in and year-out, it also is a time to see lots of new faces—like the record 29,000 students enrolled at UTSA this fall.

Our university grew by 2.5 percent this year, despite the economy, largely on the strength of growing graduate enrollments and increased student retention.

Our doctoral student population increased by almost 100 students, or more than 20 percent, and our master’s students increased by about 400 students.

This is precisely the sort of enrollment management that is called for in our strategic implementation plan, and I am very grateful to Dorothy Flannagan, Gage Paine and all their colleagues for their concerted efforts to achieve these enrollment gains this year.

Among the new faces, we also welcome 53 new tenured and tenure-track faculty members to our campus community.

These impressive women and men have been educated at some of the best universities in the country and the world.

To give you just a small sampling of how they significantly enhance our faculty, I would like to introduce you to a few of them:

  • Angela Hall, who we lured away from Florida State, after she earned both a Ph.D. and a law degree there. She researches accountability, social influence, and legal issues affecting human resource management including employee legal-claiming, the Family and Medical Leave Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  • Amaury Nora, in educational leadership and policy studies, was recruited from the University of Houston where he was director of the National Center for Student Success. He is a nationally prominent scholar in the field of college student persistence and success.
  • Xiaohe Xu is a sociologist who studies changing trends in marriage and family relationships, both in East Asia and in the United States. He has been involved in a variety of research projects funded by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and by multiple foundations and comes to UTSA from a faculty position at Mississippi State.
  • Annette Portillo, who joins our English department after earning her Ph.D. from Cornell University. She specializes in Native American literature and culture, Native American feminism and women writers of color.
  • John Murphy is the new dean of Architecture and comes to us from Auburn. John specializes in the field of construction science, and his talents, along with those of new faculty members, Yilmaz Karasulu and Saadet Toker, will be tremendous in helping us bolster our new construction science program.

I cannot say enough about all of our new faculty and how excited I am that they are now part of our UTSA community of scholars.

My thanks to Provost Frederick and all the deans for their hard work in bringing such an illustrious group to the university.

This is the university we are becoming!

Another addition to the faculty this fall also played a role in our recruiting success this past year, but he is hardly a newcomer to UTSA.

David Johnson has decided to return to the faculty after 12 years of distinguished service as Vice Provost for Academic and Faculty Support.

During that time, he has worked tirelessly on behalf of faculty --- overseeing the faculty appointment process, the promotion and tenure process, establishing career ladders for non-tenure-track faculty, and even serving for several years as the interim dean of the Library.

To give you some perspective about how far this university has come in a short time, when David first came to UTSA, there was only one building— all the other founding buildings were still under construction!

David, I thank you for all your service to the university and wish you well as you work on that long-delayed book project.

Appointing high quality faculty is an important part of becoming a premier university, but it is just one element of our strategic plan for improvement.

We also seek students who will contribute to our learning environment and make all of us proud of their accomplishments.

We strive to be a university of first-choice and we are rapidly becoming just that.

Though we were once a commuter school with no on-campus housing for students, we now house more than 3,700 students on campus and less than half of our student population comes from high schools within San Antonio.

In fact, about 70 percent of our new students each fall come from out of town, most of them from other counties in Texas.

Harris County (Houston) is now the second largest source of UTSA students, behind Bexar County, and we get substantial numbers of students from the valley, from Austin, from El Paso and even from Dallas.

And I must say, I believe UTSA has the best students in the world.

Recently, Harriett and I hosted 40 sociology students at the house for a small dinner.

During the course of the evening, we were both impressed with the depth of knowledge and charisma these kids exhibited.

They demonstrated a love of learning and a desire to achieve …... Those who had spent their undergraduate years here also had a passion for UTSA

That’s something I hear over and over from students; they have a genuine love for this university.

And that is one reason we now produce roughly 5,000 new loyal alumni each and every year!

This university has made great strides in creating the sort of campus environment that attracts students and makes this a welcoming place.

I thank all of you, and especially Gage Paine and her team, for the great work you do in taking care of our students and making our campus a place where they want to spend time.

Today, there are students studying, socializing and working out or playing sports at all hours of the day.

Student life has really come alive.

With the addition last year of a new Library Dean, Krisellen Maloney, we have embarked on a program to enhance students’ on-campus learning experience even more by providing them a 21st century library.

We are in the process of expanding our student academic services by bringing the Writing Center, the Tomas Rivera Center tutoring services, and supplemental instruction to the library.

All this while we give the library a major face-lift!

I should note that all of this also is part of our effort to bring world-class research services to our students and faculty as we work toward achieving future designation as an Association of Research Libraries facility.

This will become more obvious as we finish renovations on the second floor of the JPL.

The plan calls for adding an information commons, and converting the fourth floor of the building to library space with new faculty development services located there.

And, of course, I cannot mention the enhancement in campus life without mentioning the advent of UTSA football and our plans to enhance our 16 intercollegiate sports.

We also are planning improved facilities on our Park West campus.

This will provide new opportunities for student activities— think marching band— and new avenues for school spirit and community engagement.

I would like to thank Athletic Director Lynn Hickey for her hard work in making these goals a reality.

Lynn has been a great asset to UTSA’s athletic program.

She was one of the first women named to the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee in 2007; and she won the 2007-08 Southland Conference Commissioner’s Cup for the best overall athletics program in the league.

Lynn, thanks again for all you’ve done. And for bringing us Coach Larry Coker, UTSA’s first head football coach.

Coach Coker has already begun to recruit some great athletes for the first Roadrunners football team. And today, he was featured in a New York Times article.

Larry, congratulations on that.

As a former student-athlete myself, I can attest to the importance of athletics in promoting student success in college.

So thank you to all our coaches and the athletics staff for your efforts to give our students an opportunity to compete and learn important lessons about teamwork, perseverance and leadership.

This is the university we are becoming!

No matter how wonderful our campus environment becomes, our students still need a high-quality educational experience to be successful.

We achieve this by promoting discovery, innovation and creativity among our faculty at all our campuses --- Main, Downtown and at the ITC.

The real distinction in the education that a research university can provide lies in its ability to teach students how to engage in discovery.

No other type of educational institution can do this with the same effectiveness.

So how are we doing?

During the last year, we have made great gains in research and in the commercialization of research.

We are proud to acknowledge our first success in commercializing technology developed at UTSA.

In collaboration with the health science center, biology professor Bernard Arulanandam has successfully licensed his chlamydia vaccine to pharmaceutical giant Merck.

He is now working on plans to establish a new center for vaccine development.

And this is just one of many examples of outstanding research and scholarly achievements by our faculty:

  • Our program in Counseling is now accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs, thanks in large part to the efforts of department chair Marcheta Evans. She is now exploring greater horizons as her college’s associate dean at the Downtown Campus, and as president of the American Counseling Association.
  • Our Center for Advanced Manufacturing and Lean Systems in the College of Engineering is directed by Frank Chen, who holds one of our distinguished chairs, and improves internal processes for businesses in the manufacturing, service and defense industries.
  • Economics professor Hamid Beladi, is the editor of two leading journals in international economics, International Review of Economics and Finance and Frontiers of Economics and Globalization.
  • Interdisciplinary Learning and Teaching professor Belinda Flores, was appointed last year as a member of the Hispanic Association for Colleges and Universities (HACU) panel, “Hispanic Higher Education Research Collective” or H3ERC. This national panel is developing a research agenda to support Hispanic success in higher education.
  • John Silantien, professor of choral music is the lead researcher and chief editor of a Library of Congress project to digitize American choral music of the 19th and early 20th centuries.
  • Nandini Kannan (Statistics), was elected a fellow of the American Statistical Association, and Miguel Yacaman (Physics) and Ravi Sandhu (Computer Science) were both elected fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science this past year.

And I could go on and on singing the praises of our great faculty.

The results of having a strong faculty?

Our sculpture program is ranked in the top 15 in the nation.

Our research funding for life sciences ranks third among Texas universities, behind only UT Austin and Texas A&M

And our MBA program in Business was recently ranked, No. 1 in the country by Hispanic Business magazine.

This is the university we are becoming!

One yardstick by which the scholarly activities of a university are measured is the amount of external funding received through grants and contracts and expended on research activities.

In this arena, UTSA continues to improve its performance.

Last year, we spent about $38 million on externally-funded research, and about $54 million altogether in externally-funded projects.

While these numbers are up substantially from where they were just five years ago, we are still setting our sights on reaching our goal of $100 million in funded research by 2016.

Through your hard work, and through the leadership of our Vice-President for Research, Bob Gracy, I am confident that we can attain this goal.

Why am I optimistic?

  • Recently, we joined the top third of American universities for funding in research and sponsored programs.
  • We are eighth in the nation for research expenditures among Hispanic serving institutions and third in the state for research expenditures in the life sciences.
  • We are second in the University of Texas System for research funding in biology, social sciences, arts and humanities, microelectronics and computer technology.
  • We were recently named a Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance Research by the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security.
  • We have more than 19 institutes and research centers dedicated to improving the community socially and environmentally through innovative research and solutions.
  • A group of engineering and science faculty, led by Stathis Michaelides, have recently received a major $5 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to establish a computer modeling and visualization center that will support and enhance the work of both faculty and students.
  • And in January, UTSA will make history as the only university in the world to have the most sophisticated electron microscope ever developed. Only two exist on the planet, and one will be here.

UTSA can do this thanks to Miguel Yacaman, and his fine work in nanotechnology, as well as a $1.2 million gift from the Kleberg Foundation, which helped us buy the $2 million microscope.

This is the university we are becoming!

In this century, the success of most premier universities will be enhanced by a commitment to globalization --- and UTSA is no different.

I am pleased to report that we have made tremendous progress in this area in the past year.

We have established a university-wide effort in global outreach, under the coordination of Vice-Provost Julius Gribou, who now holds the title of Senior International Officer.

Julius, Chuck Crane, and our Office of International Studies are engaged in implementing our commitment to globalization and aiding faculty and staff efforts to develop new international ties.

This past year, we launched UTSA’s East Asia Institute, supported by a generous $2 million gift from international businessman Richard Liu.

Mr. Liu’s gift will help strengthen our faculty and student involvement in promoting global teaching, learning and research focused on cultures and societies in China, Japan and Korea.

UTSA also is involved in global outreach through the excellent work of the Institute for Economic Development, or IED.

Bob McKinley and his team have shared UTSA’s IED model with more than 60 universities in Mexico.

Remarkably, since its creation in 1979, the Institute has assisted in creating more than 2,600 new businesses, more than 40,000 new jobs, and helped retain more than 35,000 jobs in South Texas and the Border region.

Finally, Misty Sailors and her colleagues in the College of Education and Human Development have helped thousands of South African children learn to read in their own language through the ITHUBA project.

Their efforts have recently resulted in a new $13 million grant from USAID, awarded to UTSA to expand the Africa reading program to Malawi.

I am proud to say that we competed against many of the best universities in the country for this funding, and through projects like this one, UTSA is beginning to have a profound impact on the world.

This is the university we are becoming!

Excellence of any kind requires resources, and we are hard at work to increase all revenue sources to support our mission, our vision, and our goals.

As many of you know, we are preparing for our first major capital fundraising campaign. Vice-President Marjie French and her team in the Office of Advancement have begun sharing our wonderful UTSA stories with our donors and potential donors.

Through these stories, we are generating a lot of excitement in the community.

San Antonio understands that its future is strongly linked to our future, and I believe that we will increasingly see our community investing in the success of the university.

Using the university’s strategic plan as a template, our deans and their development directors have identified several areas for investment that will provide a margin for excellence, including:

  • Financial support for students in the form of scholarships, fellowships and study abroad assistance.
  • Endowed faculty positions to strengthen the recruitment of new faculty stars and provide support for those already here.
  • Financial support for outstanding programs.
  • And funds for new construction

We are already seeing some tangible results.

About a month ago, we received a $2.5 million gift from Valero that enabled us to receive one-to-one matching funds from the state through the newly-created Texas Research Incentive Program (or TRIP).

The total gift-plus-match of $5 million will be used to support graduate students in Engineering and Business.

Of course, an important revenue source for UTSA is the state, both for our appropriation and for various incentive funds that we compete for.

Overall, I was very pleased with this past Legislative session, especially for the foresight and leadership of those elected officials who sponsored legislation to develop more national research universities in Texas.

Joining us today is one of those leaders, Texas Representative Dan Branch of Dallas, who as chairman of the House Higher Education Committee authored House Bill 51.

Thank you Chairman Branch for your leadership; and thank you for taking the entire day to be with us.

Also, thank you for your efforts to ensure that Texas takes its place as a leader in research and discovery.

I was at an event recently honoring Texas Speaker Joe Straus, and someone said, “This has been the best year for higher education in Texas in 25 years.”

I agree.

Special thanks are due to Rep. Branch and Speaker Straus, as well as other members of our San Antonio delegation, including Texas Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, who has joined us today. Thank you, Sen. Van de Putte for your leadership in enhancing higher education in Texas.

UTSA was included in House Bill 51 as one of the state’s seven emerging research universities.

This will make us eligible to compete for incentive funding based on our attainment of certain success measures, including research productivity and funding, student success and quality, and faculty quality.

It is now up to us to rise to that challenge and compete for additional resources that will help us define a new margin of excellence in our various educational activities.

Along with Tier One legislation, UTSA realized a 7.5 percent increase in its operating budget and $4 million in support of the San Antonio Life Sciences Institute (SALSI), a collaborative effort with the health science center.

Thank you senator for your vision and leadership in this area.

For this support, we are all very fortunate, especially during a time when other public universities in the U.S. are suffering cuts due to reductions in state revenues.

Those new funds were allocated according to strategic priorities recommended by our Strategic Resource Planning Council, chaired by Provost Frederick and Vice-President for Business Affairs Kerry Kennedy.

I appreciate the work that both of them undertook this past year to ensure that our precious resources are used to address our greatest strategic needs.

I understand that information about the work of the Council will soon be posted on the Strategic Planning Web site.

I would like to shift gears a little bit at this point and talk about an important process that UTSA will be going through this year: our 10-year re-accreditation process.

Accreditation is important because it is higher education’s way of providing quality assurance for the education we provide.

I know that many of you have worked very hard and contributed to our compliance certification document during the past year.

While I cannot acknowledge you all by name, I want to specially thank our leaders, Vice-Provost Sandy Welch and Gerry Dizinno, our accreditation liaison, for their hard work and dedication in preparing us for this review.

Our on-site review team will visit us next March.

For those unfamiliar with SACS, The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools asks all of its member universities to develop a plan to improve student education.

That plan is called a Quality Enhancement Plan or QEP.

UTSA’s proposal for a QEP is called “Quantitative Scholarship: From Literacy to Mastery.”

This plan will help students better understand and interpret data and make informed decisions in their personal and professional lives.

It will give them the quantitative skills they need to be more competitive and successful.

Toward the end of the fall and increasingly in the early spring, everyone on campus will see and hear messages concerning the “QEP.”

To help us understand what our “QEP’’ is all about, a team of faculty, students and staff have developed a marketing plan to explain it.

Take time to learn about it.

Ask questions— especially students.

Be prepared to answer if someone comes up to you and asks, “Do you know what your QEP is?”

Believe me, there will be a quiz.

I would like to thank Nancy Martin and Nandini Kannan and their colleagues for all of the hard work they have put into our QEP this past year and for their leadership in implementing the plan.

It is clear that this university is making great progress on the path to becoming a premier research university, but we also face several challenges on our journey together.

Over the past two years as part of Project Innovation, I have enjoyed meeting many people, including staff, faculty, and students, from across the university and learning about what works, and occasionally, what doesn’t work at UTSA.

I heard your messages loud and clear and want you to know that we are doing something about the concerns and issues you raised.

First, we are focusing special efforts on improving academic advising, which is so crucial to mentoring our students.

We have added advisors and lowered the ratio of students to advisors, but there is work to be done.

Vice-Provost Larry Williams is heading a special task force of students, advisors, and other stakeholders to examine where improvements can be made and advise us as to the best way to implement those improvements.

A second challenge we face involves our institution’s management of externally-funded projects.

I have tasked the Provost, Vice President Gracy and Vice President Kennedy to find ways to streamline this process, especially as it applies to research grants and contracts, which is so crucial to our development as a research institution, and critical to helping us reach the goal of $100 million in external research expenditures by 2016.

A third challenge involves business processes.

As the university has grown, our support infrastructure has sometimes struggled to keep up with that growth and new technologies have made it possible to streamline processes that we have been slow to adopt.

I have asked our senior administrative team to look for ways to make the university run more smoothly and efficiently.

My goal is to have our campus be known for its excellent customer service and problem-solving spirit.

There are, of course, other challenges that impact our effectiveness, but none is as daunting as the challenge of physical space on our campuses.

As you know, we recently unveiled our Campus Master Plan.

The plan provides a framework to best develop and expand our campuses so our physical space supports the strategic plan.

As part of that planning, we have re-vamped our building development process and appointed, for the first time, a university architect, Doug Lipscomb, who will help ensure that we remain faithful to the spirit and direction of the master plan.

Of more immediate note, we continue to add space as resources are available:

  • We just opened our new $82 million Applied Engineering and Technology Building, which will stimulate further expansion of our science and engineering programs.
  • We have begun improvements to the West Campus that will bring several science and engineering labs up to modern specifications and support the further expansion of funded research in these areas.
  • We are busy planning the addition of two multifunction office buildings by fall 2010, which will allow us to free critical space in the Library … and in some of our academic buildings to create new classrooms and faculty offices.
  • And, of course, we continue to plan for a major new classroom and instructional laboratory building that will relieve some of the pressure placed on our current classroom inventory.

While these additions will not completely erase our space deficit, they will allow us to continue to add faculty so that we can lower our student-faculty ratio from almost 25:1 to 21:1.

I am often reminded how fortunate I have been to participate in the tremendous growth and development of UTSA, and how fortunate we all are to participate in the growth and development of so many fine young women and men.

And that, after all, is why we are all here.

If someone had told me when I was graduating from Fox Tech, many years ago that I would one day have an opportunity, as president of a public university in San Antonio, to help other kids like me achieve a college education, I would have thought they were out of their mind.

So I am especially grateful for the opportunities that a college education has provided me, and I hope that all of you take pride in the work you do and the lives that you change on a daily basis.

I recently hosted UT Regent Robert Stillwell on our campus.

While we were giving him an overview of the university, he was struck by one particular characteristic of our student body: the portion of our students who are the first in their families to attend college.

At UTSA, that portion is 57 percent.

Just think of what that means:

  • 57 percent of our students come from families with no prior experience with the college admissions or the financial aid application process
  • 57 percent of our students cannot benefit from the experience of their parents in anticipating the academic workload expectations that are placed upon them
  • 57 percent of our students are blazing an educational frontier for their families— some of them are paving the way for younger siblings to attend college, also
  • 57 percent of our students represent a generational turning point for their families— their descendants are now much more likely to attain a higher education because of their determination to pursue a college education.

So when I am asked to describe my vision for the future of UTSA, I think of those 57 percent of our students, and I know that our vision must be to create a university that will serve all the highest educational aspirations of those students.

That means we must become a university that:

  • provides an education of the highest quality, taught by the best faculty our nation can offer
  • supports a welcoming and nurturing environment that helps our students succeed;
  • provides a broad variety of degree options from which our students can choose majors;
  • offers a rich array of extracurricular and co-curricular activities that complements and enhances our students’ classroom education;
  • encourages students to engage in such signature experiences as study abroad, internships, undergraduate research projects, or service learning activities;
  • provides advanced degree opportunities for students who wish to pursue an enhanced career path;
  • and integrates scholarship and discovery with the learning experience offered in the classroom.

These are the qualities of a premier research university; these are the goals we must all embrace if we are to succeed in achieving this vision.

And I know that, with your help, we can help our students achieve the dreams that only a superior education can provide.

I am so grateful for all that you do. Thank you.

Ricardo Romo
The University of Texas at San Antonio