Introduction and Welcome
September 3, 2009—Thank you Chancellor Davis. On behalf of the more than 5,600 faculty and staff and 20,000 students here at the Georgia Institute of Technology, I want to extend my hearty welcome to you Chancellor Davis, Governor Perdue, Congressman Gingrey, Board of Regents Chair Hatcher, and to all of our other special guests and friends of Georgia Tech. We are honored to have you all here with us today.
I want to express my gratitude to you and the entire Georgia Tech community for the warm welcome Val and I have received since our arrival five months ago. I can't tell you how much that has meant to us.
I also want to extend a special welcome to our long-time Tech student and alumnus George P. Burdell. I heard he would be here today. I have not met him yet, and I look forward to doing so in the near future.
Before I begin, I think it is appropriate to thank Provost Gary Schuster for his leadership during his time as Interim President. His steady hand guided Georgia Tech through some of the most challenging financial times we have experienced and for that we are all enormously grateful. Thank you Provost Schuster.
Today is a special day for the Georgia Institute of Technology and we are here to celebrate our proud history and our promising future.
Before I came to Tech, I was well aware of its reputation for excellence, but I didn't realize what a truly incredible place it really was. I quickly learned of the tremendous impact it has had on, and continues to have on, the state, the nation and the lives of our students. In just five short months, I have come to share the tremendous pride we all have in this fine institution.
We can all be proud of Tech's reputation, as one of the nation's top ten public universities, with outstanding programs in engineering, architecture, computing, liberal arts, management and the sciences.
We can be proud that in addition to the Atlanta campus, we are offering educational and research opportunities both across the state and around the world—in places in Europe, Asia and Latin America.
We can be proud that Georgia Tech was named to the honor roll of the Chronicle of Higher Education for one of the "Great Colleges to Work For."
We can be proud of our students. Last week we welcomed one of the best qualified, largest, and most diverse freshman classes in Tech's history. These RATS, or Recently Acquired Tech Students, will add to the great legacy of Georgia Tech. We must never forget that the success Georgia Tech has enjoyed and the acclaim that it has received are a direct result of our spirited, hard-working student body, and an outstanding faculty—A faculty that we can be proud of, and our staff, the men and women who shape the keen minds of our students. They have won hundreds of prestigious awards, many of which extend well beyond just engineering and the sciences, into disciplines such as public policy, architecture, business and the liberal arts.
We can be proud of Tech's more than $525 million in annual research expenditures, which help the Institute consistently rank among the top 10 nationally among research programs without a medical school. It also contributes to Tech's annual impact on the economy, which has been assessed at more than $2 billion this past year.
We can be proud of Georgia Tech's tradition in athletics. Our NCAA Division I intercollegiate athletic program is one of the oldest and most storied in the country and sponsors varsity programs in 17 intercollegiate sports. These programs represent the best in intercollegiate athletics and our student athletes perform at a remarkably high level both on the field athletically and off the field academically.
And finally, we can be proud of our more than 121,000 alumni working around the world. In addition to being leaders in business, industry, government, and their own communities, Tech alumni are known for their loyalty, their enthusiasm, and their commitment to the Institute. Today, Georgia Tech ranks first among public universities in the percentage of alumni who give back to their institution.
In this challenging economic environment, we are extremely fortunate to have this support. The support of our alumni, friends, the Georgia Tech Foundation, and other generous organizations and individuals, all of whom partner with us on critical projects and critical facilities.
In the five short months that Val and I have been here, we've been fortunate enough to participate in the formal opening of the Marcus Nanotechnology Building, which will allow us to expand important leading edge research in this field. We've participated in the groundbreaking for the Zelnak Basketball Practice Facility, which will provide much needed practice space for both our men's and women's teams. We have participated in the beginning of the construction of the G. Wayne Clough Undergraduate Learning Commons, which will be one of the finest undergraduate laboratory and student service facilities in the country.
All of these are visible reminders of the wonderful resources that lie ahead for our students, our faculty, and our staff, and all of which have been made possible by the generosity and vision of thousands of people who believe in Georgia Tech, and who believe in higher education.
Higher Education: an Investment in the Future
Higher education is in fact an investment in the future. Today, our society is facing many challenges: the global economic recession, energy, health care, water resources and climate change. And, if these problems are to be solved, they will be solved at our universities, at places like Georgia Tech.
So, in addition to preparing our graduates, our institutions of higher education contribute to society in dozens of other ways, helping with needed research, assisting in commerce, and strengthening communities through outreach programs. With the many challenges we are facing, the economic challenges of today, we may be tempted to pull back on the support for higher education. Clearly, this would be a mistake, for it is our universities, and in fact, our research universities that are preparing the next generation of people who will identify and resolve the problems of the future.
We are grateful to the University System of Georgia, our Regents, the legislature and the state for recognizing this. And, while we are all participating in cutbacks to help with tighter budgets, the vision and commitment that have made Georgia Tech great in the past will continue well into the future.
It is not an accident that the State of Georgia is one of only a handful of states that has two or more public universities ranked in the top 25 by US News & World Report—it's because the people of Georgia, because of the Regents, because of the Legislature and because the leadership of the state all understand the importance of higher education and what it means to the economy, what it means to the development of our human capital, and what it means to the overall welfare of the state of Georgia and to our nation.
The HOPE Scholarship that was mentioned earlier is a prime example of the state's commitment to education. It helps make a college degree possible for thousands of Georgia residents.
At Georgia Tech we've taken that program one step further with the G. Wayne Clough Tech Promise program. Our alumni and friends along with the Foundation have partnered with Georgia Tech to provide a program started two years ago that assures that an in-state student that's qualified can come to Georgia Tech if they fall at a family income that is less than 150% of the federal poverty level. They can attend tuition free—that's tuition, books, room and board. I cannot tell you how important this program is to the institution, to the state, and to the young people whose lives it will touch.
At its best, higher education connects what is going on in academia with the rest of the world. And while here at Georgia Tech, we do have a Tech Tower that serves as a symbol of our past, we have never been restricted to existence in an ivory tower.
Since its founding, Georgia Tech has been a leader in teaching, research and economic development, partnering with business, industry and government—Partnering in order to develop real-life solutions for real-world problems. Many of tomorrow's problems will not be solved by traditional disciplines, but rather through collaboration and interdisciplinary new initiatives.
One example of this collaboration is the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, a joint effort between Tech and Emory University. I am pleased to note that Jim Wagner, President of Emory, is here today. Today, researchers in our joint laboratories are developing gene prediction protocols, cancer detection and prevention methodologies, and cardiac regeneration methodologies and biomedical imaging systems that will transform the way we think about treatment and health care.
Eleven years ago neither Emory University nor Georgia Tech had a biomedical engineering program. Today, it is clearly recognized as one of the finest in the country.
A second example is our ongoing work in the field of nanotechnology—the result of collaboration between physicists and engineers. Researchers at Tech have developed a new treatment that attaches magnetic nanoparticles to cancer cells, allowing them to be destroyed, or captured and carried out of the body. Imagine what a difference that will make in the lives of millions of people.
The idea came from the work of Ken Scarberry, a PhD student in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry. It was originally conceived as a means of extracting viruses and virally infected cells when his advisor, Professor John Zhang, asked "What if?—What if this technology could be applied to cancer?"
These types of collaborations and the vision of those that developed them are just two examples of the types of interdisciplinary and collaborative research, and the broad vision that we must continue to develop in order to solve the most challenging problems that we as a society face.
In fact, much of what we have been able to accomplish here at Georgia Tech has been made possible due to the vision of people from our past: people who like Professor Zhang, asked "What if?" People like, Jim Dull, who was associate dean of students in 1961 and conceived and implemented a plan for the peaceful integration of Georgia Tech. And, more recently, by people who asked "What if? What if Georgia Tech were to jump the connector, build a bridge that is more like a park, and create what we know today as Technology Square?"
Every day, Georgia Tech faculty, students and staff are asking "What if" and creating things like tornado warning technologies, advancing the science of sustainability, protecting computer network operations, developing medical treatments, designing new buildings in public places, addressing key technology policy issues and strengthening global trade.
Designing the Future
But here at Georgia Tech, we're not only solving problems for today, but also designing the future—our future. That's why we have initiated a strategic planning process to develop a 25-year plan, a strategic vision that will identify what Georgia Tech should be like on its 150th anniversary, when the children who are being born today will be graduating as proud Georgia Tech alums.
Just the thought of predicting the world in 25 years is daunting, especially if you look at how much we've changed. As we look back 25 years, IBM's first personal computers were just hitting the marketplace—remember the AT and the XT, or the Commodore 64? The first cell phone entered the marketplace in 1984 and it was a brick. It weighed two pounds, cost nearly $4,000 and held a charge for 30 minutes. Today, they are ubiquitous and instead of just talking, people are texting and tweeting. Today, there are more text messages sent and received every day than there are people in the world.
Nineteen years ago the protocol for the World Wide Web was developed. Google.com was formed just over 10 years ago. Fast forward to today, to the Google library project, a project whereby Google is going to digitize every book that's been written in the English language, over 32 million volumes—and put it in a searchable data base that students who are freshmen today will have at their fingertips when they graduate. Our challenge is to help them take that tremendous amount of information and turn it into knowledge, because there is a difference.
We have before us today an opportunity to shape the future of not only this great institution, but also of the many students who will pass through its doors in the coming years. The students that we're educating today will cure cancer, they will resolve the technological and societal issues surrounding climate change and water resources, and they will witness interplanetary space travel. We must make sure that we have done everything we can o prepare them for that environment.
The Opportunity before Us
During the past 25 years, Georgia Tech has continued to improve—a steady state of excellence in a broad range of areas. We now find ourselves in the enviable position of being one of the best public universities in the country. Just this past year the College of Management jumped from 29th to 22nd in the US News and World Report rankings. And every one of our engineering specialties is now ranked in the top 10 in the country. Today we must both respect our past, but we must also design our future.
Our place among the best universities is continually being challenged and we will be judged not by how well we have done in the past, but rather by how well we can meet the evolving needs of the world around us. We cannot be a fast-follower—we must lead, we must define the rules and plan for the long-term. We must ask hard questions&mash;questions like:
- What will the student experience be like in 25 years?
- How can Georgia Tech strengthen the state, the nation and the world through our leadership?
- What will, or should be, our "international footprint" and how can we prepare our students for a "Global Future?"
- How will we meet the demand for technologically educated professionals in the State of Georgia and in the nation?, and perhaps most importantly,
- What has in the past and will continue in the future to differentiate graduates from this fine institution from those around the world?
Over the course of the next several months we will be working to answer these and other questions as part of the Strategic Planning process.
We've designed the process to be both comprehensive and inclusive—reaching out to the entire Georgia Tech community and combining our best thinking to design action plans around key issues.
You—the faculty, the staff, the students, the alumni and the many friends of Georgia Tech—know the Institute best, and you are uniquely qualified to help shape her future.
This afternoon our Strategic Planning Subcommittees will host nine open sessions at the Georgia Tech Hotel and the Global Learning Center, where the entire Tech community is invited to provide feedback on a number of these key issues. I encourage you to attend and to participate in these discussions, today and over the course of the next several months. Your participation in this process is critical to the future of Georgia Tech.
These individual themes will come together, and become part of an overall strategic vision that we will launch next fall, one which will determine what this institution will be like in 25 years.
As we design our future, and as we go through this process, we will embrace the values that have made Georgia Tech what it is today. While our reputation and influence will increase, the culture upon which our reputation has been built—hard work, curiosity combined with intellectual rigor, collegiality, inclusiveness, and an intense passion for problem solving—will remain steadfast and will serve as our foundation, as we strive to not only define, but to be, the technological research university of the 21st century, and to educate the leaders of a technologically driven world.
Here at Georgia Tech we must continue to seek, continue to lead, to learn, to analyze and to solve, for this is the very essence of Georgia Tech. But, as we begin the strategic planning process, it is important that we not be afraid to look at all the possibilities in order to envision a future for Georgia Tech that's grounded in our cultural legacy, while at the same time centered on far reaching strategic themes that span our educational, research, and outreach missions.
Students, as well as faculty, staff and friends, can and will benefit from our legacy—one that thrives on creative and analytical thinking, and one that will be further enhanced as we continue to stress the importance of interdisciplinarity, creativity, innovation and leadership.
In the past 25 years, Georgia Tech has transformed itself from a regional institution into a national research university. In the next 25 years Georgia Tech must firmly establish itself as an international leader in resolving the most pressing problems that we face today—issues in areas of global health, water, and energy, and the linking of technology with economics, policy, and management, while remaining true to our original purpose.
Georgia Tech is a product of the people who have worked together for the past nearly 125 years to make her what she is today. We are poised for preeminence, and it is through people working together, all the people of Georgia Tech, that we can identify and achieve our goals.
It is a privilege and honor to be able to serve as your president in such an exciting and pivotal time: exciting and pivotal in the history of the Institute, and an exciting and pivotal time for our society. I am absolutely convinced that together, we can accomplish anything.
Thank you very much.