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VCU Faculty Convocation

Sept. 6, 2012
Siegel Center

Thank you, Dr. Warren, for that introduction and for being such a strong partner and an astute leader of our faculty.

I always look forward to this day. It’s such a great day for Virginia Commonwealth University because it showcases our very best, my faculty colleagues, who are the heart of our university and so committed to VCU’s mission. You make VCU a remarkable place — and today, we celebrate you.

We also recognize our University Student Scholars, who are highly motivated to succeed and be their very best. We’re so pleased to be joined as well by our past award winners and retired faculty members, who are part of our great legacy and laid the foundation on which our successes are built.

I am proud to congratulate our four faculty award winners, who demonstrate a burning passion for educating and mentoring our students and, in doing so, are transforming lives; to researching, creating and discovering that which no human being has ever known; to serving our communities and being leaders in your disciplines. You personify what I love so much about VCU, and that is an unwavering commitment to excellence.

Today, the state of our university is very strong, and it’s because of you. It’s an honor to work with you. You are what keep me going and why I will do anything I can to help advance VCU on the national stage.

Since we met last year, we have made great progress in implementing Quest.

There are more of us now today, about 244 more faculty hired since last year. We have not only hired more people, but the right people — individuals who are making a difference in their field and, professors like you, who are committed to being leaders at a national research university.

Together, we have accomplished great things, especially in light of an enormous resource crunch. As hard as the economic landscape has been, you have still succeeded in unprecedented ways. For example:

  • More students than ever before graduated from VCU last year, about 7,500. That includes the most Ph.D.s in our history, about 333, and that is fueled by our highest graduation and retention rates. It is a result of your commitment.
  • We reached record levels in invention disclosures and patents issued, and our research awards topped $256 million — up 17 percent in three years.
  • We are in the Top 100 NSF rankings for the first time, both in terms of federal and total expenditures.

Every one of these successes is because of the work you do. Thank you.

And they are all great successes, but the most important thing that we can celebrate today is the investment you make every day.

Like Peter Pidcoe, our colleague in the Department of Physical Therapy. Dr. Pidcoe helped a little boy’s dream come true. Like most 7-year-olds, Aaron Nalle wanted the fun and freedom that comes with riding a bicycle. Unlike most 7-year-olds, Aaron was born with severe physical limitations that restricted his movements and made things like riding a bike impossible.

But at VCU — difficult takes a day, impossible only a little longer. Dr. Pidcoe led an interdisciplinary team of students from the departments of Physical Therapy and Bioengineering to create a bike that Aaron could use. Working with Dr. Pidcoe, physical therapy students studied how Aaron’s body moved and engineering students built a one-of-a-kind bicycle modified just for him.

Now, Aaron’s favorite thing to do is to zoom around the family’s circle driveway.

The strength that Dr. Pidcoe and his students have given Aaron’s body is wonderful. But the strength they have given his mind is truly profound. “There are so many things Aaron can’t do,” his mother said. “So riding his bike makes him feel normal.”

Chemistry and physical engineering professor Samy El-Shall was recently named one of only 13 Jefferson Fellows in the nation. This is a program that helps engage national leaders on complex scientific issues and their impact on foreign policy. For Dr. El-Shall, this is personal: He has a long and distinguished record of using science to build bridges between nations. Specifically, he has used nanotechnology and nanoscience to address global energy, water, food, health and environmental challenges.

Samy understands science and education, and the strong role they play in creating advanced societies with strong economic futures. So, we have a colleague who is not just bringing partners to our university, he is building allies for our nation.

By the way, VCU: four Jefferson Fellows in our history — no other university has more. They include Puru Jena, Robert Balster and Nicholas Farrell, some of whom are here today.

These are only a couple of examples of research and teaching that help us understand our world, our place in the world, and — at least for one little boy — create a more ideal world. This is what happens at a premier national research university.

And it is where we are headed.

What do we need in order to get there? Well, more resources, including funding, space and support. My priority is securing the support you need to help us take the next step, ranging from compensation to student scholarship to facilities that are competitive.

This includes recruiting and retaining our best faculty. We need more of us. We also must keep the talent we have here, and so I plan to address the critical need to ensure that we have competitive salaries. Attracting and retaining talented and diverse faculty is our No. 1 need and No. 1 priority.

My colleagues and I have an absolute and unwavering commitment to finding the resources that you need to continue to perform at the highest level. That is what drives me.

It will not be easy in this economic climate, or with increased international competition for resources and talent. But we will achieve this because we recognize that our students transform our university, and then our world; that our faculty fuel our progress; and that, working together, we all shape the future of VCU.

Thank you for inspiring me with your dedication. This is your day, and I thank you.