President Beverly Warren gave her annual State of the University Address and highlighted the achievements of the university and the “collective purpose” she hopes to accomplish in the future.
“In these challenging times it’s not nearly enough for a university to be big,” she said in reference to the current problems plaguing colleges across the country including reduced enrollment from international students and less federal funding. In the face of difficult headwinds, she delivered a rallying call for members of the community.
“Kent State is called to be different, unique, inspiring. That requires us to take a journey together. A journey of purpose.”
Hosted in the Kent State Student Center Kiva, the event opened with a video illustrating notable achievements within the last year by both the university and its students.
Themes of collaboration, innovation and preparing for the future of higher education echoed in the introductions made by both Kent State University Provost Todd Diacon and Multicultural Center Director, Dr. Talea Drummer.
Diacon said October 17 is historically a date where new ideas have “change[d] the world,” and today would have similar implications for the university and surrounding communities. He added the president is a woman who “calls upon us all to aim higher, reach further and have a greater impact on everything we do.”
When Warren took the stage, she expressed a desire for Kent State’s direction to be bold and a vision shared by everyone involved.
“We again come together to celebrate our individual and collective achievements. There’s no better day than a day I can celebrate what you do, and perhaps even more importantly, to really consider our future—to frame a shared vision for the university we aspire to be,” Warren said.
Warren featured the accomplishments of the last year, including a grant awarded to Gemma Casadesus Smith for her research into Alzheimer’s with the Brain Health Research Institute, the May 4 site’s registration as an official National Historic Landmark and national recognition for inclusive excellence amongst other academic and athletic achievements.
“Accomplishments like these don’t just happen. They are products of hard work,” she said.
Philanthropic donations also reached a new high last year, rising 31 percent from 2015. Warren thanked donors and said she had hopes for even more assistance in 2017. “We need you,” she said to the audience in the Kiva or those watching via livestream.
Although enrollment declined for the first time in 10 years, Warren said the class of 2021 was the most qualified in the university’s history. She expressed a hope the university would continue to “hold firm in our belief that we must be that welcoming university for all students.”
Looking to the future, Warren encouraged the community to “engage in work that makes for a purposeful life.” To achieve this goal, she said it had to start by embracing our “humanness,” developing empathy and working collaboratively.
She highlighted the importance of “T-shaped individuals” who are rooted in a deep expertise in one field but are also willing to branch out beyond their comfort zone to collaborate with others. Doing so will enable the university to “reach across boundaries and break down the barriers that often divide us.”
Innovation will play a key role toward her goal of becoming a “top university for purposeful learning.” Warren expressed a desire to build an “Innovation Center,” that encourages students and faculty to work outside of their discipline to create projects benefiting the community. Referring to it as an “interdisciplinary mecca,” she said it could become “a gathering space for current and future entrepreneurs and innovators.”
In a Q&A session after the address, she said the center would be a concept that extended across campus while also expressing a desire to transform the existing Art Building into a hub of sorts.
“I actually think there will be donors who will be really interested in this kind of idea. So it’s a journey of matching finances with my dream,” she said.
The closing elements of the State of the University Address focused on breaking down barriers and working side-by-side with one another to meet the university’s full potential.
Warren expressed the journey toward becoming a collaborative and innovative hub of higher learning has already begun. Citing collaborations between the fashion and podiatric medicine schools, she said the university was working to push boundaries, but the continued success lies within our hands and will require unity.
“We can’t get there without locking arms,” she said.
This academic year will be focused on honing the design of the “Innovation Center: and joining together to grow collectively in the face of whatever challenges the university may face.
“When we are challenged to our core, we respond. Not only with resilience but with an intensity of effort,” Warren said. “Our intensity tells the world Kent State will overcome. We will overcome. And we will move on with purpose. We are truly the architects of our own fate and purpose is essential.”