Convocation 2012


Good afternoon, and welcome to the 2012 convocation. Thank you to Ensemble 64.8 for getting us started today, setting the tone for an upbeat year. Thank you also to the Theatre Department, OIT and the Music Department for all of your work in setting up today's event.

I'd like to start with a safety minute.

  • There are exits at all four corners of the hall, with lighted signs. If there is an emergency, proceed calmly to the exit nearest you, and leave the building.
  • To comply with fire and safety regulations, the aisles and doorways must remain clear.

Welcome to the start of a new academic year. While our summer programs are getting better by the year, the campus feels more vibrant once our faculty and students return for the fall semester.

A special welcome to UAF's governance leaders, with whom I share responsibility for major decisions affecting this institution:

I am pleased to have a member of the University of Alaska Board of Regents with us today:

  • Please welcome Mike Powers

Our special guest today is University of Alaska system president, Pat Gamble.

  • Please also give a warm welcome to Pat's wife, Ailese.

And I couldn't do all I do without the help of my wife and partner, Sherry Modrow, now a full-time volunteer for UAF.

Finally, a number of longtime UAF employees -- many of them alumni as well -- have taken on new leadership positions at the university, and they are joined by several newcomers. Please welcome our deans:

In administrative and support roles, please welcome:

When Mae was hired I challenged her to develop new initiatives that celebrate our diverse community and provide critical programs and services that ensure UAF is an open, caring, and supportive institution. I want to stress that UAF has not and will not back off in our efforts to support a diverse faculty and student body. I've asked UAF governance groups to work with me in a task force to plan actions that demonstrate our commitment to our diverse students, whether Latino, African American, Asian American, Alaska Native, active duty military and veterans, LGBT, international, students with disabilities, and all others. 

Also joining UAF will be Gary Gray, the new Nanook athletics director. Gary is committed to the "student" in student athlete -- and building upon the important role athletics play on the Fairbanks campus, our community, and Alaska.

Finally, I'd like to recognize Lael and Mark Oldmixon, chairs again for the UAF United Way effort. Our United Way campaign shows Fairbanks that we are part of the community; we give back; we inspire; we are engaged.

As much as we appreciate our new leaders, we do not forget our past. We do not forget those who have been part of UAF.

  • And we do not forget that they have helped us get to where we are today. The UAF community has lost several members over the past year.
  • Please join me in a moment of silence to remember those we lost, and who made a difference to us, and whom we will miss.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act of 1862, which established land-grant universities. It created the framework for UAF's missiontoday and it tells an inspiring story.

In Senator Justin Morrill's words, the Act would "promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes," to teach "agriculture and the mechanic arts." We are much more than that today. But let's talk about the three 50-year periods since it passed.

In the first 50 years, Alaska went from being part of the Russian empire to part of the American one. The seeds of the future University of Alaska were sown in the Fairbanks experiment station.

During the second 50, Alaska became a territory; the Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines was established; it grew to be the University of Alaska, and Alaska became a state.

In the third 50 years we blossomed as a university. Alaska was a young state, and the university was a small school. The Fairbanks campus in 1962 looked like this, with

In 1962 we had no MBS, no West Ridge, no Rasmuson Library, no Wood Center, no Fine Arts Building, no Gruening Building, and the Heat and Power Plant sat in the center of the campus.

Today the University of Alaska Fairbanks is far more than the Fairbanks campus. Today, we are also:

So what do we do with the next 50 years of this great land-grant tradition?

Well, we plan for it, and then we build it.

We think strategically, pick a direction, and we take the initiative. The Strategic Directions Initiative, developed by the UA System office and the three universities, will guide us. It's a series of commonsense directions for Alaska's university system that complement and highlight UAF's mission and vision for the future:

  • Student Achievement and Attainment
  • Productive partnerships with Alaska's Schools
  • Productive partnerships with Alaska's Public and Private Industries
  • Research and Development to Build and Sustain Alaska's Economic Growth
  • And Accountability to the People of Alaska

Here to talk more about the Strategic Directions Initiative -- SDI -- is the president of the University of Alaska system, Pat Gamble.

[President talks]

Thank you, President Gamble. The SDI themes at the Statewide level, and those of the draft UAF Strategic Plan, use different language, but they align well:

  • Educate students (SDI 1)
  • Alaska's premier research enterprise (SDI 3, 4)
  • Serve Alaska's diverse communities (SDI 2, 3)
  • Help students achieve new goals (SDI 1, 2)
  • Expand graduate programs (SDI 1, 2, 3)
  • Find and keep the best and brightest (SDI 1)
  • And manage resources wisely (SDI 5)

UAF's strategic plan and the Strategic Directions Initiative form the foundation of each decision we make. Each plan reinforces the other, and both of them strengthen this university.

In short, SDI and the UAF Strategic Plan come together in a commitment to serving.

  • We serve our students, in rural Alaska and in Fairbanks, and via eLearning, worldwide; we serve students born here and students who have come here to study
  • We serve the nation and the world in developing understanding of natural processes and their impacts on people and culture.
  • We serve the citizens of Alaska, our partners, our communities, and our cultures. 

This commitment to service requires us to think boldly, take risks, and break new ground.

And we've certainly broken a lot of new ground recently!

  • We have been living in the midst of construction chaos.
  • In the utilidor-Atkinson project alone, we moved 57,000 cubic yards of dirt. That's enough to fill the Patty Gym four times over.
  • The good news is, we won't need to do it again on such a large scale, at least not for a very long time.

We're changing our core infrastructure, so our buildings work safely, reliably, and efficiently. These are the "bones" of a university, that allow for safe work by our faculty, staff and students. Sidewalks and roads are torn up, new buildings are going up. And that means accidents and injuries can happen. It can be easy to slip or trip.

I am asking you to work with me to make safety a priority. You'll hear more this year as we identify steps to bring down our accident and injury rate. Here's what I ask of you:

If you see something, say something.

I did, and I contacted Facilities Services.

Did it get fixed because I'm the one who called?

  • Perhaps. But I doubt it.
  • It got fixed because the people at Facilities Services did their job. I am proud of the work they do, day in and day out, to ensure our facilities allow UAF faculty and staff to accomplish our mission safely.

But safety isn't just Facilities' job. It's the responsibility of each of us to work, safely.

  • So if you see something -- say something.
  • Be prepared. When you live where we live, we should expect the unexpected.
  • And please, make sure you complete your required safety training.

Safety doesn't happen because of rules and regulations; it's a culture, a culture of safety that begins with you -- our staff, faculty, and our students. We will look for ways to improve campus safety without imposing new burdens. We've shown we can make change fun -- as we did with wellness in last spring's Fittest Winner contest.   In 10 weeks, 500 faculty and staff, on 46 teams, lost over 2,400 pounds and averaged 6 hours of exercise per week. If you didn't get a chance to participate last year, a new round of Fittest Winner kicks off next month. Stay tuned for details.

This past year, we saw significant legislative support for expansion of UAF programs and services, including

  • Stronger academic advising for at-risk students
  • New faculty for the Indigenous Studies PhD program
  • Support for graduate students in the Resilience and Adaptation program
  • Core funding for the UAF Honors Program
  • Faculty and support for Engineering, and the first phase of an expanded Engineering Building
  • Start-up funds for the new Department of Veterinary Medicine
  • And, for the first time, capital budget support for research, in this case ocean acidification

Clearly you helped the legislature realize that UAF really makes a difference in the lives of Alaskans, in the state's economy, and in the contribution to knowledge in the world at large. 

UAF is growing, and changing. In the last year, OIT has completed outfitting nearly $1 million in smart classrooms and upgraded our information systems. We have a host of new academic and research facilities throughout the state. Some examples:

We've started to transform student life on the Fairbanks campus, based on the 2006 student life master plan. We completed the new rock and ice climbing wall and the Sustainable Village, a student-oriented research project in progress.

We still have work to do throughout the state

  • The combined heat and powerplant at the Fairbanks campus,
  • Energy upgrades at the Northwest Campus
  • Expanding the cultural center, and improving indoor air quality at Kuskokwim
  • Dock and support facilities for the R/V Sikuliaq in Seward
  • Revitalizing the Fairbanks campus West Ridge research facilities, where our faculty lead outstanding research projects -- these facilities have been our research platform for the last 50 years, but desperately need renewal to be the platform for the next 50, and
  • Other energy conservation and deferred maintenance projects throughout the state

The campus that Fairbanks knows is changing profoundly. These are essential, centennial changes -- based on what we know about enrollment trends, student expectations, industry demands, and state needs.

We are transforming how students experience UAF, with

  • Plans for a new dining facility at Wood Center, which will begin construction in the spring
  • And new residence halls along Copper Lane, which we hope to be working on by spring 2014

Last week, we completed a new outdoor broomball ice rink. And in the next two weeks we'll begin construction of our new Nanook Terrain Park, giving students more winter outdoor opportunities.

This morning, I asked the UAF Master Planning Committee to develop a plan for UAF trails and pathways. We have a good network of trails, but there are gaps and areas that need improvements. Whether it's sidewalks for walkers, commuter bike paths or recreational bike trails, trails for skiers, snowshoers, disc golfers or dog walkers, we can do better, improving safety and encouraging outdoor activity.

The physical changes to the campus support what I think is the most important transformation -- a renewal of UAF as a land-grant institution for the 21st century. We are transforming traditional thinking about teaching, research and public service to prepare students and society for life in this century.

The Faculty Senate took on the most important task in our instructional mission -- revitalizing UAF's general education requirements. Thank you for adopting student learning objectives, and for tackling the tough work of fitting the general education requirements to those objectives. Students need a transformative higher education in the 21st century, and it is not the same as what you discussed in the late 1980s and adopted in 1991. What you are doing is core to our students' educational experience.

Our research program is transforming, too. We continue to move toward more interdisciplinary programs, recognizing that today's challenges are complex and require understanding of interactions between physical, biological and social sciences. The success of this year's Alaska EPSCoRproposal, working across disciplines, institutes, and indeed institutions, shows that UAF does well in this highly competitive arena.

The EPSCoR grant engages students and faculty across many different disciplines in place-based research that links social and ecological systems research in new ways.  This project will focus on the linkages between climate, water and landscapes, our salmon fisheries and our communities. We will monitor the current environment, and develop predictive models and scenarios of future change, working with our communities to understand how they experience change. Together with the communities we will work to develop strategies and tools to adapt and respond. We are changing how Alaskans understand and respond to climate change. This is important work -- for us and for the people and communities of Alaska. And it's only one among scores of projects where UAF research makes a difference.

UAF researchers are informing local, state, national, and international issues with new knowledge in a broad variety of topics. And by doing so, they are also informing the world on other important issues like ocean acidification, ice dynamics, social and biological change, and indigenous languages and cultures. Our researchers have depth and breadth of knowledge, expertise, and creativity that benefit us all -- spanning the many disciplines that make up this extraordinary institution.

We are also transforming how we think about extension and public service. UAF's outreach programs now focus on engagement and collaboration. As in community-based participatory research, engagement helps us to understand the concerns of those we serve, and to better meet their needs. Often, that means working with other organizations to share experience, facilities, and resources. UAF's rural campuses do this every day with their regional partners; it is how these campuses transform the communities they serve.

Through shared governance, UAF faculty, staff, and students play an integral role in shaping UAF's culture and institutional integrity, and in supporting academic freedom. Shared governance is about collaboration on a common mission. We have outstanding faculty and staff at UAF and it's important we recognize you.

I ask you to make an effort this year to nominate those individuals who make a difference to our institution. Whether it's the Chancellor's Cornerstone award for staff or a Usibelli nomination for faculty, please help me and all UAF recognize the contributions of those who stand out.

It is because of your efforts that UAF has momentum. Nearly every week, I learn of another employee who has a good idea, and who has figured out how to run with it, to make UAF a better place, to serve students more efficiently, or to support faculty more effectively. Whether it's your individual initiative, or your work with other employees on process improvements, I want to thank everyone in this room, and everyone watching online, for caring about UAF, caring about the people and communities we serve. You are making a positive difference in people's lives.

Soon you will see new opportunities for collaboration and creativity reflected in our physical infrastructure.

  • The new engineering building literally bridges two buildings and two disciplines -- management and engineering -- creating new opportunities for each.
  • Alaska is in the business of building on our resources. Doing so is getting harder and more expensive.
  • That's why it makes sense that our students in business and engineering learn to work together now so they can work together, effectively, in the future.

In 2015 UAF marks the 100th anniversary of laying the Cornerstone for the Fairbanks campus. That cornerstone represented faith in the future -- Alaskans knew we needed higher education in the territory, and that a land-grant institution would serve its people.

In 2017 we will celebrate our 100th anniversary as an Alaska institution - in service to Alaskans, our country, and yes the world.

We have a proud history -- one worthy of celebration.

Together we will celebrate our students, our staff, and our faculty. And together we will celebrate the future.

Our Cornerstone Campaign will bring new resources to UAF to enhance and expand the programs we now offer, and establish new programs and initiatives that address the needs of an ever-changing society.

So as we look back with pride upon our first cornerstone nearly a century ago -- we prepare for the next cornerstone -- one that will lay the foundation for our next 100 years.

I look forward to working with all of you to shape our future.

Teaching, research and public service -- it's what we do. It's who we are.

It's our brand.

  • Our brand is not a logo, and it's not the logo police.
  • Our brand is our culture. It is who we are and what we stand for.
  • It's how we communicate our values.

How do we know this? We did the research. Throughout the state, we asked students, alumni and employees. We talked with people who work in industry, education, government and the military.

They told us consistently: UAF is welcoming, practical, and always game. We are authentic and energizing. This place called "Alaska" is what defines us. UAF is Naturally Inspiring.

Of course, this tells just part of the UAF story. A story which is "to be continued." Continued by all of us, in all our actions, in how we recruit students, teach students, conduct research, extend knowledge and treat each other. Our brand is reflected in everything we do.

  • In November, we will launch a marketing campaign targeted to new students and a brand book that will help the campus clearly communicate who we are and what we're all about.
  • With one, strong, clear, authentic voice, we set ourselves apart from the rest.
  • This is your brand. It belongs to you.

Our brand is a reflection of all that we have been, who we are now and the promise of what we aspire to be. It is the foundation for our future.

Some are inspired by people.  Some are inspired by images; some by words; some by actions.

Others are inspired by ice cream.  It is outside, along with a Naturally Inspiring token of appreciation from our brand ambassadors, the UAF Street Crew

Thank you for coming, and let's get inspired.

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