Welcoming a new year, reflecting on the old

01-07-2013

It’s a new year and a good time to reflect on the past 12 months as we anticipate the challenges and opportunities before us. Michigan State is entering 2013 with positive momentum after another year of accomplishments.

We culminated our sesquicentennial celebration of the Morrill Act in 2012 with events on campus and in Washington, D.C., including a salute on the National Mall we helped produce with the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. It left us with a refreshed sense of our great opportunity—and our destiny as America’s prototype land-grant university—to renew the mission and the vision of what it means to be this type of university in a new era. The world-grant university we have become is certainly what is desperately needed to engage with today’s problems of water and food security, energy availability, and other issues of sustainability that affect every economy and society around the globe.

Sustainability is one of our guiding institutional principles, and we make sure we worry about putting it into action on our own campus even as we engage with issues in Michigan and around the world. The Energy Transition Plan approved last year will be a chief component of our effort. As we weigh our options for supplying power to this campus in the years to come, the plan takes into account key considerations including reliability, capacity, environment, health, and cost. Our primary goals as outlined in the plan are to improve the physical environment, invest in sustainable energy research and development, and to become an education leader in sustainable energy.

The new home for the College of Nursing also demonstrates our commitment to a more sustainable campus as well as to helping address the nation’s nursing shortage. The 50,000-square-foot Bott Building for Nursing Education and Research is expected to earn LEED certification and is the first building on campus to use ground-source geothermal energy for heating and cooling.

Furthering our interdisciplinary agenda, which recognizes that today’s problems are so complex that they are rarely addressed effectively by a single discipline, the Molecular Plant Sciences Building we opened last spring connected MSU’s two plant-research buildings and brings together a diverse group of scientists. We also consolidated our language arts program in September when we opened the new addition to Wells Hall, which serves as the university’s language education hub. Wells is now home to a number of academic units, most from the College of Arts and Letters.

With migration of English department offices to Wells and the history department to Old Horticulture, Morrill Hall is now ready for removal. The 112-year-old wooden building’s structural deterioration prohibits rehabilitation, but we’re working on plans for suitable ways to commemorate the venerable structure. A stone’s throw away from there, in December we reopened the renovated first floor of the MSU Union, which hasn’t really been a student destination in a generation. We’re reinvigorating it for that purpose and integrating it into the developing north campus neighborhood. Already, use of the union has increased as students and others in the campus community enjoy the new space.

Farther east on Grand River Avenue, one of 2012’s highlights was the opening of the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum. Nearly 6,000 people visited during the November 9–11 dedication weekend, and it is expected to attract somewhere between 125,000 and 150,000 annual visitors and pump $5.75 million per year in new spending into the regional economy. It will become a cultural hub for the visual arts not just on campus but across the region as well.

An existing cultural center also was renovated and opened in the fall, the Byron and Dolores Cook Recital Hall in MSU’s Music Building. The hall honors lead donors to the $5 million renovation project, Byron and Dolores Cook, who are alumni, longtime friends, and supporters of MSU and the College of Music.

In September, the Board of Trustees approved the next steps in the development of the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams. The board established a budget of $55 million for building the exterior structures of the target high bay, linear accelerator support building, cryoplant building, and the electron cyclotron resonance area. Authorization of the $15.5 million high bay component, which will house superconducting radio frequency equipment, followed in October.

We’re watching federal negotiations on the “fiscal cliff” very closely. While we’re relieved that lawmakers have taken action to postpone automatic sequestration budget cuts for two months, we still need them to work quickly to come together on a long-term workable plan. In the last year, MSU passed a milestone by exceeding $500 million in external funding, most of which is accounted for by research grants. And no matter how the federal budget is resolved, we’re certain to feel some impacts to funded programs; however, we are working hard to develop more competitive approaches to research funding, which is reflected in our continued growth in federal research dollars.

The foundation we’ve laid for technology transfer with the establishment of the MSU Innovation Center last year is facilitating our innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystem here. The Innovation Center is the umbrella organization for offices devoted to MSU technology transfer, corporate liaison, and business start-ups.

The hard work that goes on in our classrooms, in labs, and in the field day after day was validated by a number of sources in the last year. We improved our top-50 standing for in-state students in Kiplinger’s 2013 top 50 “Best Values in Public Colleges,” and we’re now ranked in the top 100 global universities by two annual world rankings—Times Higher Education of London and the Shanghai Jiao Tong University ranking. U.S. News & World Report ranks MSU 28th among public universities and consistently ranks MSU among the top 100 national universities in its annual rankings. MSU’s contribution to the public good was recognized by Washington Monthly, which ranked MSU 34th among 281 research universities on its 2012 list.

What’s in store for 2013? At a university where an incredible work ethic and devotion to excellence are the norm, the list could go on and on. But one thing we know for sure is that we will continue sharpening our focus on our core mission: be a sustainable center for knowledge discovery that makes a real difference in peoples’ lives. We’ve convened a number of our internal stakeholders—students, faculty, and staff—over the past year to assess the Boldness by Design initiative I introduced in 2005 and to renew it with a new set of objectives. We’ll be talking more about that this year as we work with all of Team MSU to better fulfill our institutional mission in the 21st century.

So allow me to wish you a fulfilling, prosperous, and productive new year—one where we all can point to ourselves and say with certainty: Spartans Will.

Hear portions of President Simon’s year-end interview with WKAR’s Scott Pohl.

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