Skip to main content

Founder's Day - 2006 - The Continuing Transformation of Utah State University

Utah State University President Stan L. Albrecht
March 3, 2006
Taggart Student Center Stevenson Ballroom

[The following is the text draft prepared for Utah State University's 2006 Founders Day Celebration.]

Thank you for joining us this evening to celebrate the 118th anniversary of the founding of Utah State University. We are honored by you presence.

Let me congratulate, again, our special honorees this evening. All have made, and continue to make, significant contributions to Utah State University. Each has become a cherished personal friend. So thank you from each of us. You make us a better place because of who you are and what you do. I would also like to take a moment and add my personal thanks to the sponsors who have helped to make this event possible. Thank you.

This has been an important year of transformation for Utah State University. The face of our campus has changed in significant ways. We have taken important steps, with the help of our legislature, to become much more of a player in helping facilitate economic development in our state. We have made important organizational and administrative changes. And, we have continued to strengthen and enhance the quality of our academic programs.

But I begin by noting that the great successes of this year have been tempered by the tragedy that will forever be a part of us all. I would like to take just a moment to honor, again, the memories of our eight students and their instructor who lost their lives on September 26, 2005. As you recall, faculty member Evan Parker had taken 10 of his students on a field trip to observe a farm equipment demonstration in Box Elder County. On their way back to campus, a tire blew out causing loss of control and the van rolled. Everyone was thrown from the van, and Evan and eight of the 10 students were killed. The two surviving students are still recovering from their injuries. Robbie Peterson has made significant progress and will return to USU this fall to continue his studies. Jared Nelson has made less progress and faces a long and somewhat uncertain recovery process. Our thoughts and prayers continue to go out to Jared and his family and to all of the families who have been so grievously impacted.

These young men were our brothers and our sons, and the USU family joined their spouses, their children, their moms and dads, their sisters and brothers in mourning. All were Agricultural students, studying the land and the profession of farming that they loved and were born to. For this reason, their connection to our history and mission as Utah's Land Grant University is particularly important. While this tragedy has cut to the very core of our institution, it has helped us reaffirm and demonstrate to the world just who we are, the values we stand for, and the quality of students, faculty, and staff that characterize our university. The response of our entire community has been exemplary and though the empty place in our hearts will never be completely filled, the amazing outpouring of love, support, and compassion has made us all proud to be Aggies.

As part of a very special service to honor our students and faculty member, our colleagues produced a video memorializing those who lost their lives. I want to share with you a brief two-minute segment of that video. [Click here to watch the full video.]

We join you tonight in celebrating the qualities that make Utah State University the very special place that it is. Joyce and I continue to feel humility and honor in the opportunity to serve both this institution, and the people who make up the USU family.

We are located in a beautiful valley. The winters are a little long, but we are surrounded by great natural splendor. We are, of course, not the first to notice this. As A.J. Simmons notes in his historical essays on Cache County, following the end of the so-called Utah War in 1859 and 1860, the beauty and natural richness of this area became known across the territory and resulted in the movement of about 10 percent of the total population of the territory from their earlier homes to Cache Valley. The attractiveness of the area was acknowledged by Brigham Young, though he worried that other settlements might be harmed by the Cache Valley boom. Young noted, and I quote, "So far as I know, no other valley in this territory is equal to this. This has been my opinion every since I first saw this valley…" Young's view also included a cautionary message: "I greatly desire that (Cache Valley) may be filled with Saints and not rowdies - not with horse thieves, murderers and rioters, who roam over the county regardless of right." I don't think he said this in anticipation of what would happen when a university came to the valley.

We have talked about this as a year of transformation at USU. Let me share with you some of the important transformations that are occurring on our campus. I begin with two examples from our students, since these are the ones that matter most.

As a student at Seoul National University in the 1980s, Syng-il Hyun (sing-ill yoon) was thrown into prison because of his pro-democracy activities. He was released only when he agreed to leave the country to attend graduate school at Utah State University. He moved his family to Logan, and took a job at the Miller's meatpacking plant in Hyrum. Today, Doctor Hyun, a USU Sociology Ph.D., is president of one of South Korea's top private universities and a member of the Korean Senate. For Syng-il Hyun, and for his Korean homeland, USU was a life transforming experience.

Kiersten Hewitt was a struggling single of mother of four when she decided to go back to college at USU's Brigham City campus after a 12-year hiatus. When she got to school, she was surprised that there was no daycare facility there for nontraditional students with kids. So she started one. Kiersten also thought students should have more voice, so she got the Brigham campus student government organized. Kiersten is now completing her psychology degree. In 2004, she was named USU's Robins Woman of the Year. And next month, she will be honored by the National University Continuing Education Association as the top non-traditional student in the country. For Kiersten Hewitt and students like her at Brigham City, and at our other regional campuses, USU is a transforming experience. Like so many others, she proudly exclaims that "USU changed my life."

For those who are returning to our campus after a time away, let me highlight some of the important transformations that are occurring in our physical appearance. In the past few months, we have opened both a wonderful new 21st century library and a world class performance hall. At the ribbon cutting for the new Manon Caine Russell Kathryn Caine Wanlass Performance Hall, I noted that the event would assume a place among a relatively small handful of the most significant events in our 118 year history. This new facility will lift the arts at USU to an entirely new level of prominence and will become a living legacy to two great women and their families while it enriches our lives and those of generations to come.

In conjunction with the opening of the Performance Hall, we have established the new Caine School of the Arts, a reorganization of the arts on our campus into a single entity, named in honor of the Marie Eccles Caine Foundation, a great champion and advocate for the arts on our campus. The Caine School will allow us both to train future generations of artists and to provide an essential component to the education of all our students.

We have completed the first phase of the renovation of Romney Stadium with an attractive new south entrance, new concession stands, and new rest rooms on the east side. Following the completion of this year's football schedule, the north end zone buildings will come down and we will begin construction on a new complex that will house locker rooms, weight rooms, equipment rooms, strength and conditioning rooms, a sports medicine complex, and student academic services. With these additions, we will position ourselves to attract the kind and quality of student athlete that will make our football program competitive in the WAC conference. (We hope you all saw the news conference earlier this week announcing that BYU is back on our football schedule).

We have already marked our first year in the WAC with a number of important successes. We have had significantly greater media exposure for both our football and basketball programs. This has positively impacted our national image, and has facilitated the recruiting of student-athletes. We have had important successes in cross country, soccer, volleyball, and basketball. But perhaps even more importantly, 35 of our student-athletes made the WAC all academic teams. Our graduation Success Rate is 74%, best in the WAC. Our overall gpa for all of our student athletes surpassed, for the first time, 3.0. This is a wonderful compliment to the quality of students we are attracting, and to our coaches and athletic administrators. As these numbers demonstrate, our principle that at USU, academics come first, is more than a hollow promise.

Progress on our new living/learning center is continuing. This will be a first class living/learning facility that surpasses anything else in the state. We continue with our move of our agricultural programs from north of campus to the South Farm/Caine Dairy. This will allow significant expansion of the Innovation Campus from its current 38 to 150 acres. In this space you will see the construction of new state of the art research buildings that will house growing research programs in the Life Sciences and other areas. We also continue our planning for a new building that will fill the space on our Quad where the Merrill Library is currently located. This will be a large, modern, multi-purpose building that will house our College of Agriculture, as well as a number of other programs and activities.

We have faced other important challenges this year, in addition to the van accident. One of them has been to address a significant downturn in the number of students enrolled at USU. Several factors have contributed to this, including a smaller number of graduates from Utah high schools and the continuing effects of HB 331, which made it more difficult for out-of-state students to attend USU. We have developed an aggressive and multi-pronged strategy for addressing this problem, including highly successful recruiting activities to Idaho and Utah schools. Our turnouts have been amazing. Clearly, young people and their parents recognize the quality that characterizes USU. We have worked hard to obtain passage of new legislation that will allow us to offer additional out-of-state tuition waivers, making us competitive again in areas of Idaho and Wyoming that have traditionally sent significant numbers of outstanding students to Utah State University. We have placed a person at our Salt Lake office to recruit at Salt Lake area high schools and at Salt Lake Community College.

Let me share a brief segment of one of the videos that we are using in our recruiting trips to high schools around the region. This is a bit fast-paced, but remember its audience is high school students. [Click here to view full video.]

We are already seeing significant payoff from these efforts. Our application numbers are up significantly from last year. However, I emphasize that this is not a one-year fix. It will take us 18 months to get where we need to be, but we will get there.

Our efforts to achieve the passage of the new waiver bill reflect the importance of our historical relationships with areas just across our border. When Cache Valley was resettled at the end of the Utah War, the hundreds of settlers who came to the newly opened lands had in common one firm belief: that they were in Utah Territory - 42nd parallel be damned. For 12 years after the settlement of Franklin in 1860, the towns and villages which grew up in northern Cache Valley simply ignored their location and considered themselves citizens of Cache County, Utah. While the Idaho Territory eventually added these communities to the tax rolls of Oneida County, the residents continued to pay taxes to Cache County. In 1870 the north Cache towns were so certain of being in Utah that the U.S. Census of that year shows population figures for Weston, Utah; Oxford, Utah; and Franklin, Utah, a situation which has confused generations of genealogists. So you can see, we are simply attempting, once again, to get things right.

Let me briefly describe some important organizational and administrative changes at USU. We have lost, or will shortly lose, three key members of our central administrative team - Jack Payne, VP for Extension and Continuing Education, Juan Franco, Vice President for Student Services, and Caryn Beck-Dudley, Dean of the College of Business. All were valued colleagues and will be sorely missed. We wish them great success in their new ventures.

We have added an outstanding new Provost, Ray Coward, and have completed a reorganization that includes the appointment of our Dean of Agriculture, and former Interim Provost, Noelle Cockett, as new Vice President for Extension and Agriculture. This change allows us to bring together the three legs of the traditional Land Grant model - teaching, research, and service. This also allows us to create a true 21st century extension program that maintains its historical connection to agriculture, but also looks much more innovatively and aggressively to opportunities to assist our communities in other forms of economic development.

With Provost Coward's appointment, we are moving our Continuing Education operation to the academic side of the university. You will hear much more about this in the future, but we intend to create a true Utah State University System - one that recognizes more fully our opportunities and responsibilities to respond to the educational needs of our students throughout the state. You will see, for example, the growth of robust and thriving campuses in Vernal/Roosevelt, Tooele, Brigham City, and perhaps other areas, as well.

To reflect Utah State University's important role in an increasingly competitive and connected world, we have made globalization one of our primary themes. Again, you will hear much more about this as you see important things happen on a number of fronts - student involvement, international research collaboration, and a more globally-focused curriculum. Our partnership with the Dominican Republic is one important example, and the 66 Dominican students bring increased vitality and excitement to our campus. We are currently working on a partnership with Chile that will bring up to 50 Chilean students to our campus, and this spring I will join a number of colleagues in traveling to China, where we will sign new agreements for research collaboration.

Sometimes the best thing you can say about a legislative session is that it is over. This has been a year when I have sometimes felt that Will Rogers was right when he said that we should be thankful that we don't get all of the government we pay for. That aside, we have had some important things happen this session, and I would like to express our great appreciation to our legislators - particularly, Lyle Hillyard, Fred Hunsaker, Craig Buttars, Scott Wyatt, Ronda Menlove, and Peter Knudsen - for their help. We also received strong support from our legislators in other areas of the state, such as Gordon Snow, Bev Evans, David Ure, John Valentine, and many others. Given the changing state demographics, and the continuing growth of population on the Wasatch Front and Utah County, it is critical that USU receive strong support from legislators throughout the state.

Some highlights:

  • Passage of the waiver bill referenced earlier. This is critical to stabilizing our enrollment and revenue picture.
  • $5 million to complete the move of our Ag activities to the South Farm so we can continue expansion of the Innovation Campus and the growth of our research infrastructure.
  • A change in bonding language that will allow us to begin construction this summer on a new research laboratory wing for our College of Engineering.
  • Support for a Transportation Research Center.
  • Continuing support for the Engineering Initiative.
  • And salary support for our faculty and staff.

Finally, let me express our gratitude to the legislature, the governor, and particularly, our business partners for support for the Utah Science, Technology, and Research Initiative. This will result in the allocation of $15.2 million to USU and the University of Utah to hire new research teams and $50 million, plus increased bonding capacity, to construct new research buildings.

USTAR is an innovative, aggressive, and far-reaching effort to bolster Utah's economy with high-paying jobs and the development of the research infrastructure that will keep the state vibrant and competitive in the Knowledge Age. The initiative has been developed over the last 24 months by Utah's business leaders in collaboration with the Governor's Office, economic development leaders, key legislators, and the two research universities. The initiative will allow us to attract world-class research teams in targeted disciplines with multi-billion dollar markets where we already have competitive advantages. These teams will develop products and services that can be commercialized into new businesses and industries, creating high-paying jobs and new state tax revenues. Conservative estimates indicated that over 30 years, USTAR will yield $4.9 billion in new external research funds, over 400 new companies, 125,000 new jobs paying $62 billion in salaries and $5 billion in new tax revenues for the state.

More importantly, the initiative assures that with rapidly expanding global competition, Utah's place in providing scientific research, technological innovation, and economic growth is more secure. It recognizes that our universities are among our greatest treasures and that their role in maintaining the strength of out state's and our nation's economic vitality is essential. I express special appreciation to Vice President Brent Miller for his tireless leadership in helping make this happen.

So this is an important time of transformation. We build on a solid foundation carefully put in place by those who preceded us. We look forward to the great challenges and opportunities ahead. We underscore our commitment to both EXCELLENCE and to OPPORTUNITY. We will continue to provide the quality of educational experience that will transform the lives of our students, and, in turn, the lives of those who are touched by our students and faculty.

Now, one final brief video clip that describes but one of many areas on our campus where this happens on a daily basis. [Click here to view the full video clip from the Lillywhite Endowment Celebration.]

"Give them hope, let them be anything they can dream,
hold them up higher, build that fire that makes them believe,
take them where they want to go."

In our 118th year, this is Utah State University's message of transformation.

Thank You.