Florida Atlantic University



Florida Atlantic University
State of the University Address
FAU 2012: Celebrating a Year of Firsts, Building Community
Delivered by President Mary Jane Saunders
September 6, 2012


Thank you, Chairman Stilley. I greatly appreciate that wonderful introduction. I am sure that I speak on behalf of the entire University community when I say that we all appreciate the dedication that you and your fellow Trustees bring to your leadership role at FAU year after year. We are, indeed, fortunate to have the benefit of your guidance as we work together to move the University forward.

Good morning, everyone, and thank you for being here today as we review the high points of the historic year that has just ended and anticipate some of the exciting developments that lie ahead. I chose the title of this year’s State of the University Address – “Celebrating a Year of Firsts, Building Community” – to focus attention on the accomplishments of our 50th anniversary year and underscore the importance of the initiative to extend FAU’s reach into the greater community.

First, let’s talk about our own community – the FAU community. We have seen profound changes over the past year, and I would like to thank you all for your patience and cooperation as we faced extraordinary financial challenges. In the face of a reduction in our state funding of close to $25 million, people across the University responded to the call for suggestions about ways to streamline our operations and maximize efficient use of the University’s resources – while remembering that our core mission is to educate and serve our students. As Chairman Stilley said, student success remains our primary focus.

The deep E&G cuts of the past four years coupled with the suspension of both PECO funding and the state matching funds program sent us a message we could not ignore: The day of strong reliance on public funding is over – not only for FAU, but for universities all over our state and nation. We knew we had to work smarter as well as harder. Thanks to input from many members of the University community, we were able to formulate a plan and make the difficult decisions that were needed to put it into effect. As a result, I can report to you this morning that Florida Atlantic University is moving into the future as a leaner but stronger institution.

In a few moments, I will share some of our goals for the future with you, but first let’s take a look at the events of last year, which marked FAU’s 50th anniversary. It was truly a year to remember! We began the fall semester with the largest student body in our history, topping 29,000 for the first time. That total included a record-large freshman class of more than 3,300 students as well as the 64-member inaugural class of the Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine. Phase One of the Innovation Village housing project was finished, adding luxurious residential space for more than 1,200 students, and it was full on the day it opened its doors.

For the first time in the University’s history, more than 300 registered student organizations offered opportunities to students. Membership in social Greek organizations surpassed 1,000 students – another historic first.

There are more ways than ever for students to immerse themselves in the FAU experience, from a steadily increasing array of online courses to a rapidly growing presence in social media. Thousands of people are exploring life at FAU through Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, Foursquare and a suite of mobile apps. Our own students are helping to expand the app universe through innovative interdisciplinary courses that give them hands-on experience in designing marketable products. This year, a course called “Android App Design and Project Management” brought together engineering, business, graphic design and anthropology students. Under the guidance of four faculty members, they developed very interesting new apps that can be used for a wide variety of purposes – including allowing physicians to transmit prescriptions electronically and helping emergency workers get accurate evacuation information during natural disasters.

In addition to opening this very promising career door to our students, we made huge strides last year in bringing them a greatly enriched campus life. As we cut the ribbon on FAU Stadium on that bright October day, we reflected on the many years we spent dreaming of having a stadium of our own and marveling at the beauty and versatility of the one that finally took shape on the Boca Raton campus.

Over the past year, the stadium has been the scene of football games and many other memorable events – including “50 on the 50,” our golden anniversary gala. More than 850 people attended this high-profile celebration, generating more than $230,000 worth of support for the President’s Scholarship Challenge. This enthusiastic response from the community has convinced us to make the gala an annual event. It is more than a fundraiser – it is also a friend raiser, and well worth making into an FAU tradition. This year we’re calling our fall gala “Make Waves on the 50.” It will be held in the stadium on November 10th and you are cordially invited to attend.

Most importantly, over the past year we forged ahead on the academic and research fronts, awarding undergraduate and graduate degrees to nearly 7,000 students. They included 97 research doctorates, with two-thirds of them in the STEM disciplines.

Groundbreaking research discoveries made at FAU received international media attention. A study by Dr. David Lewkowicz of the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science and doctoral student Amy Hansen-Tift demonstrated that infants learn how to talk, in part, by reading the lips of the adults. This fascinating new finding was reported by news organizations worldwide. Their work not only casts new light on our knowledge of how speech development takes place in babies, but also provides a fresh approach to the early diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders.

Dr. Sukanya Chakrabarti, also of the College of Science, generated widespread excitement in the field of astrophysics when she developed a mathematical method of finding dwarf galaxies in outer space. This new method, called tidal analysis, promises to advance the search for dark matter in the universe by enabling scientists to characterize it from the gravitational ripples of bodies that are too dim to be easily seen.

The annual State of the University Address provides an opportunity for us to thank some individuals who are stepping down from leadership positions after giving years of dedicated service to FAU, and to welcome some newcomers to the team. I’d like to start by thanking Dean Dennis Coates for his six years of distinguished service at the helm of the College of Business, capping 23 very productive years as a faculty member and administrator. We look forward to welcoming him back to our business faculty.

Dean Gary Perry is also stepping down after six years of outstanding leadership of the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science. He will continue to serve as dean until a successor can be found for him, and then he will return to the faculty.

National searches will soon get under way for deans of the College of Science, the College of Business and the College of Engineering and Computer Science.

Dean Michael Friedland came to FAU in 2004 to accept the challenge of leading the development of our medical education initiative. Now that the Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine has been successfully launched, Dr. Friedland has returned to the faculty. We’re very glad that our students will continue to have the opportunity to benefit from his many years of experience as a medical professional.

Since January of this year, the College has been led by Dean David Bjorkman, who came to us from the University of Utah, where he was associated with the School of Medicine for more than 25 years – seven of them as Dean. His experience, skills and integrated approach to medical education make him an excellent fit for FAU.

FAU alumna Dr. Jennifer O’Flannery Anderson returned to the University last December. As Vice President for Community Engagement and Executive Director of the FAU Foundation, she is leading an important initiative to establish new ties of all kinds with organizations outside the University—with emphasis on the business community.

FAU Athletics has entered a new era with the arrival of four key leaders. On behalf of all Owl fans, I offer the warmest of welcomes to our new Director of Athletics, Mr. Patrick Chun, who came to us from The Ohio State University; to the second Head Football Coach in the history of our program, Coach Carl Pelini, from the University of Nebraska; to new Head Women’s Basketball Coach Kellie Lewis-Jay, who is also a former Nebraska Cornhusker; and to new Head Volleyball Coach Fernanda Nelson, who came across the state from Florida Gulf Coast University to join us here in Owl Country. We welcome them all to the Burrow and look forward to an exciting year in FAU athletics!

This fall 20 new full-time faculty members have joined the FAU community in disciplines that include nursing, medicine, science, business, education, American literature, public administration and architecture. They are all wonderful additions to the FAU family, and we’re so glad that they have chosen to build their academic careers with us.

Three new degree programs have recently been introduced. The Master of Fine Arts degree in Media, Technology and Entertainment is being offered collaboratively by the School of Communication & Multimedia Studies and the Department of Computer & Electrical Engineering. The College for Design & Social Inquiry has launched new bachelor’s degrees in Public Safety Administration and Urban Design.

I am delighted to announce that our student body has reached another historic high this fall, topping the 30,000 mark! This total includes 3,244 freshmen who come to us with an average GPA of 3.57, an average SAT score of 1625 and an average ACT score of 23.9.


Two important sub-sets of that population are the 130 first-time-in-college students who have been accepted by the University Honors Program on the Boca Raton campus and the 75 incoming freshmen at the Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College in Jupiter. Our new Honors College students bring with them stellar academic credentials. They have an average GPA of 4.12, an average SAT score of 1935 and an average ACT score of 29.

We continue to take enormous pride in the fact that Florida Atlantic University has the most diverse student body in the State University System, with 46 percent classified as minority or international students. On the Davie campus, the richness of our University community is celebrated on a daily basis as students, faculty and staff stroll along Diversity Way, which opened earlier this year. This year we received national recognition when U.S. News & World Report rankedFAU 27th for campus ethnic diversity among all American universities. The next highest-ranking school among our sister institutions in the State University System came in at 63rd.

Continuing this trend, more than a quarter of the members of our second incoming class of 64 medical students – selected from a field of three thousand applicants – are Hispanic, African American and Asian. Sixty percent of this medical school class have come to us from Florida’s major colleges and universities, while 40 percent are graduates of distinguished institutions around the country – including Boston University, Columbia, Duke, George Washington, UCLA, William & Mary, Brigham Young, the University of Michigan, Notre Dame, the University of North Carolina, the University of Wisconsin and The Ohio State University.

Last year we added a critically important component of their medical education to our program when we signed a graduate residency agreement with a consortium of five of Palm Beach County’s leading hospitals. The healthcare institutions named on the screen (Bethesda Memorial Hospital, Boca Raton Regional Hospital, Delray Medical Center, St. Mary’s Medical Center and West Boca Medical Center) are working to develop more than 250 residency opportunities in a wide variety of specialties not only for our students, but for medical students from all over the country. The residency experience is an essential element of graduate physician training, and we are grateful that these fine institutions are joining hands with us to make Palm Beach County a center of medical education nationally.

During last year’s State of the University Address, I reported to you that the process of updating the strategic plan to a horizon of 2017 was under way. That process was brought to completion in February when the 2012-2017 Strategic Plan was approved by the Board of Trustees.

The plan provides direction for the University’s continued growth within the framework of the following four goals:


Many of you who are here this morning have been taking part in the activities of the task force headed by Vice President Gitanjali Kaul that is working on readying the University for SACS reaccreditation in 2013. This global institutional self-assessment takes place every 10 years, and I want to thank everyone who has been devoting major amounts of time and effort to this very important project. The SACS visitation team is scheduled to be here in February.

SACS requires all universities seeking reaccreditation to develop and implement a Quality Enhancement Plan – or QEP – that materially improves the learning environment for students over the next five-year period. Our QEP is “Integrating and Expanding a Culture of Undergraduate Research and Inquiry at FAU.” A steering committee of more than 40 students, faculty and staff, led by Dr. Donna Chamely-Wiik, has been at work for many months putting flesh and bones on this concept under the unifying theme of “Distinction through Discovery.” This initiative will increase the number and types of opportunities for all motivated FAU students to engage in undergraduate research and inquiry under the guidance of faculty members.

Our students have founded an undergraduate research journal and established the Council of Scholarship and Inquiry, which is facilitating their input into development of the QEP. Pilot programs are currently in progress in the departments of Accounting, Political Science and Biology to beta-test a model for establishing, implementing and assessing QEP-related curricula throughout the University. We feel certain that this important initiative will bear impressive fruit in the near future by helping our undergraduates understand and participate in scholarly activities side by side with our talented faculty. This is the University experience.

We are already seeing the emergence of some very talented student researchers. As an undergraduate, Edith Nagy was a member of a research team in Dr. Salvatore Lepore’s laboratory that discovered a novel chemical reaction with the potential to facilitate the production of therapeutic amino acids.This is an exciting advance that could ultimately lead to new and better ways to treat a wide variety of illnesses.Last December, Edith graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry.Today she is back at FAU, continuing to move that research project forward as she pursues her Ph.D. on a coveted National Science Foundation three-year fellowship valued at $126,000.

Our arts and humanities students are also carrying out important research, and I would like to tell you about one project that is especially interesting. Janet DeVries, a history major in the Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters, looked into the commonly held belief that the City of Boynton Beach was founded by Major Nathan Boynton in the late 19th century. Her painstaking search of land records revealed that the town’s first plat map was actually filed by a couple named Fred and Byrd Spilman Dewey. Mrs. Dewey was a best-selling author in the 1890s, and the couple owned the 40 acres of land that would ultimately become known as Boynton Beach. After leaving South Florida in 1910, the Deweys were largely forgotten, only to be rediscovered more than a century later by an FAU student researcher. Janet and FAU alumna Ginger Pedersen have co-authored a book – released just two days ago – that is titled Pioneering Palm Beach: The Deweys and the South Florida Frontier.

Our research funding continued to grow over the past year, as grants increased from $43.2 million to $48 million – an advance of 11 percent. This is truly remarkable in light of the decreasing level of federal research funds available.

University-wide, these faculty members received the top nine new awards:





Six-figure grants were received by the following researchers:






We congratulate these researchers and ALL faculty members at FAU who have committed to the creation of new knowledge in their respective disciplines. The Division of Research has introduced a number of programs that are designed to help faculty expand their opportunities. These include a seed grant program, research roundtables and grant-writing workshops. I urge all researchers seeking grants to make use of these and other helpful programs offered by the Division of Research.

Increasing the University’s ties to the business community is a top priority of the Board of Trustees – so much so that we have redefined the mission of the Division of University Advancement and changed its name to the Division of Community Engagement to better describe its expanded focus.

A recent study conducted by Dr. Bill Stronge and Dr. Khi Thai shows that FAU currently has an annual economic impact of $6.3 billion. We are creating an environment in which the University’s relationship with a broad cross-section of the business community will flourish and grow. This process is already well under way, and we are experiencing the power of partnerships on a daily basis.

Here are just a few examples:





It is obvious from these examples that members of the business community recognize the value of the work we are doing here at FAU to advance interests of importance to them – such as having a well-educated talent pool, having a healthy population and encouraging entrepreneurship among young people. To a great extent, the future of our University depends upon the rapid expansion of mutually beneficial relationships with business and industry. We can – and should – look to the local business organizations that share our vision of building a prosperous future for South Florida through education, research, cultural enrichment and innovation.

This year we saw a wonderful example of all that can be accomplished when our students and faculty work cooperatively with professionals in the community. The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying awarded its $25,000 grand prize to our Department of Civil, Environmental and Geomatics Engineering. Teams of FAU students working under the guidance of Dr. Frederick Bloetscher and Dr. Daniel Meerof collaborated with professional engineers to design a new nanofiltration facility for the City of Dania Beach. It has become the first water treatment plant to receive gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. The plant has set a new worldwide efficiency standard, removing 95 percent of waste materials from the municipal water supply. The award specifically recognizes university programs that connect engineering students with licensed professionals, and we are so proud that our program was declared the best in the nation!

We in the FAU family continue to show our commitment to worthwhile causes in the greater community by participating in a wide variety of charitable events. The Em(brace) Walk, held annually on the Boca Raton campus, is just one example of this. Sponsored by the non-profit FAU partner organization Stand Among Friends, the Em(brace) event showcases the ability of all people to reach out and help one another.

I am so proud to report to you that together we contributed more than $58,000 to last year’s United Way campaign!This year’s campaign will get under way on October first, and I hope there will be widespread participation once again. It provides a wonderful opportunity for us to show how much we care about our neighbors in need.

Our medical students have begun volunteering their services to groups in the community through the “Spirit of Giving Network,” an umbrella organization for about 60 non-profits in Palm Beach and Broward counties. They also conducted a food and diaper drive that brought in many canned food items and more than 10,000 baby diapers for distribution to low-income families. This shot shows the student who organized the drive, Megan Behm, with a small sampling of the diaper harvest. Megan and Dr. Mario Jacomino won this year’s College of Medicine award for Outstanding Contributions to Community Service for their outreach work through the College’s Pediatric Interest Group.

One important initiative that is moving into its second year at FAU is statewide oversight by our College of Education of the Troops to Teachers program, which helps returning veterans transfer their leadership skills to the classroom.

To keep our University growing requires the commitment of strong allies, and I am happy to report to you this morning that gifts from generous individuals and organizations in the private sector are on the rise. In 2011-12, gifts and pledges to the FAU Foundation totaled more than $16.5 million. Recent major gifts include a $3 million bequest to the College of Business and a $1 million gift to name the stadium tower.

Equally as significant as these large individual gifts is the magnificent aggregate gift of $491,000 received from members of the University community during this year’s faculty/staff campaign. Many of you are among the generous donors who supported the University’s mission in this very important way, and I want to thank you most sincerely. As members of the FAU family, you have cast a resounding vote of confidence in the future of our University, and nothing could be more meaningful than that.  

Another piece of great news is that the Broward Seaside Burrow of the FAU National Alumni Association once again hosted a very successful annual Shindig, raising thousands of dollars for scholarships.

I have already discussed the challenges we faced in dealing with this year’s very deep overall budget cut. I am happy to report to you that, despite those challenges, we were able to produce a balanced budget totaling more than $626 million, including auxiliary operations. A key component of our planning effort is the 15 percent tuition increase that was approved by the Board of Governors in June. Without this increase, it would have been impossible for us to offer students the courses they need to graduate in a timely manner. Throughout this very difficult economic period, our first concern has been – and will always be – delivering essential services to our students. Even with the increase, tuition and fees at FAU continue to be an excellent value. The rates at Florida’s public universities are the fifth lowest in the nation. Our pledge to our students is that we will work with the Trustees, the Governor, the Legislature and the Board of Governors to try to restore state funding to a level that will eliminate the need for ongoing tuition increases.

Last year we continued to add value to the FAU experience by opening more than $193 million worth of new facilities, including Innovation Village and FAU Stadium on the Boca Raton campus and a state-of-the-art research lab at Harbor Branch. On the Jupiter campus, the two highly sophisticated facilities that were built as temporary homes for Scripps Florida and Max Planck have been renovated and returned to the University. Several faculty members from the departments of Psychology and Biology have moved from Boca Raton to Jupiter to establish a major new neuroscience institute there. This continues the development of the Jupiter campus as a flourishing center of biomedical research and education.

Also, faculty from our Integrative Biology Ph.D. program have teamed with scientists from the Max Planck Florida Institute to create a doctoral program that combines Integrative Biology with Neuroscience. The first course in this exciting new program was offered on the Jupiter campus last spring in a teaching laboratory featuring more than $300,000 worth of state-of-the-art equipment purchased with a grant from the New Florida Initiative. Midway through the semester, the lab was visited by two Nobel laureates from Max Planck – Bert Sakmann and Erwin Neher, who shared the Nobel Prize for their development of methods to study single ion channels in living cells.

The eyes of the nation were on us last April, when the President of the United States delivered a nationally broadcast speech on the economy in FAU Arena. The University was also privileged to host former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright; Ambassador Robert “Skipp” Orr, who holds a degree in history from FAU; Princeton University Professor Cornel West; and Dr. Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, who received the Nobel Prize for discovering HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

In addition to hosting these high-profile speakers, we continued the University’s long-standing tradition of offering a wide variety of cultural activities to the community. Throughout the year, the College of Arts and Letters presented a dazzling array of public events, including concerts, dance performances, plays, films, exhibitions and lectures. Carrying on in the spirit of the Dalai Lama’s visit to FAU, the College’s Peace Studies Program brought a group of Tibetan monks to campus to create an exquisitely beautiful sand mandala.

Faculty members University-wide received many well-deserved honors. Here are just a few examples:





As always, our students distinguished themselves in a host of ways. Here are some examples:








At the other end of the age spectrum, our Lifelong Learning program continues to grow. Last year, course enrollments on the Boca Raton campus increased by almost nine percent, to more than 24,000. On the Jupiter campus, enrollments went up by five percent, to top the 20,000 mark. Our Lifelong Learners provide us with inspiring role models of men and women who are enriching their retirement years through intellectual activity. And we greatly appreciate the financial assistance that they generously provide to our traditional-age students.

Our student-athletes continue to make us proud. The baseball team captured the Sun Belt Conference regular season title for the second time in three years.Women’s basketball advanced to post-season for the first time since 2005 with an invitation to the NIT. Most importantly, three teams – women’s cross country, women’s tennis and men’s golf – earned NCAA Public Recognition Awards for achieving Academic Progress Rates that are among the top 10 percent in their sports. This means that all of those teams have maintained perfect 1,000 scores over the past four years – and isn’t that a fantastic achievement!I am so proud to tell you that all of our teams met or exceeded the Academic Progress Rate standard. Our next home football game will be held on September 29th against North Texas, and I hope you’ll all turn out to root for the Owls!

We are moving into the future guided by the Strategic Plan that I spoke of at the beginning of this address. Every strategy in our plan has one goal, and that is student success. We have put systems in place that are helping at-risk students acquire the skills they need to achieve academic success, and we are creating an environment that allows gifted students to soar as high as their dreams can take them. Studies have shown that students benefit greatly from the intellectual stimulation and mentoring advantages offered by close interaction with faculty, and that will be a renewed focus for FAU.

The Strategic Plan is helping us to craft a niche for our University by developing academic programming and research initiatives that align with our three signature themes – Marine & Coastal Issues, Biotechnology and Contemporary Societal Challenges. A great deal of productive work is already under way in each of these areas, and we will continue to work with Provost Brenda Claiborne in giving them priority status.

We are continuing to add enhancements to campus life. I’m sure that you’ve noticed the major construction project on the east side of this campus. One year from now, a 614-bed freshman residence hall will open on that site. It will be the first housing facility at FAU to include a faculty member in residence.

Another much-needed parking garage will soon be built on this campus. The design was completed over the summer, and construction will begin early next year.

As you can see, we are building Florida Atlantic University in a multitude of ways, and that will continue as we move forward. Everyone throughout this great University of ours is contributing to its development, and I thank all of you for the dedication you bring to your work day in and day out. We are touching the lives of tens of thousands of students as we open the door of higher education to them. It is the greatest privilege of my life to lead Florida Atlantic University at this pivotal moment in its history, and I look forward to working with all of you in the year ahead.

Thank you again for coming this morning, and please stay to enjoy the reception that will begin in the Grand Palm Room in a few moments. Now please stand as Dr. Patricia Fleitas and “Cantemos!” lead us in singing the Alma Mater. Thank you very much, and Go Owls!



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