Dec. 21, 2022: Year-end thoughts and thanks

Dear Spartan community,

Fall semester is behind us now, with more than 188,000 grades recorded and 5,000 Spartan graduates on their way to the next chapter in their lives. Graduation was a grand and celebratory event! I want to congratulate all the graduates, families and friends who attended and to thank the student speakers for their inspiring stories of love for MSU. I am grateful to our faculty, academic staff and extraordinary support staff for making those educational journeys possible. As I shook the hand of each graduate and saw joy on their faces, I thought about each of you and that work. Thank you all for grading, supporting and enabling student success at MSU.

Below I also share an update on my recent activities and the good work taking place across our university. There are many other highlights from this eventful year, and I encourage you to view a wonderful photo gallery memory board.

Employee excellence

I am thrilled to work in a community of excellence and want to lift up some of our remarkable employees who have been highlighted through our Spartan Employee Spotlight campaign. These excellent colleagues include:

  • Carla Iansiti in our Office of Sustainability, who for the past 12 years has dedicated her time as the sustainability officer for Student Life and Engagement, where she educates students and trains staff in stewardship practices and implements innovative sustainable initiatives within MSU’s residence and dining halls.
  • The staff within the Power and Water Department of Infrastructure Planning and Facilities — who quite literally keep our East Lansing campus’ lights on and power our Spartan community.
  • Julie DeGraw, an accommodations specialist in the Human Resources Office of Employee Relations. Julie has served as a neutral party on behalf of the university to bring forward disability-related workplace accommodation requests since 2020. The MSU 2030 Strategic Plan prioritizes creating an environment in which excellence and opportunity thrive, attracting and retaining talent in a space where staff and faculty can do their best work — and that’s just what Julie helps accomplish.
  • Robin Ellsworth and colleagues in Digital Classroom Services, who manage the technology and media equipment for 500 classrooms and computer labs across campus.
  • The Capital Asset Management team within University Procurement and Logistics, who help track and certify our more than 21,000 movable capital assets — 75% of which are used for research and education.
  • Sally Becker in Contract and Grant Administration, who has worked for the university for the past 15 years, assisting with the execution of non-sponsored program agreements, including memorandums of understanding, service contracts and consignment gifts. She helps ensure that MSU spends grant and contract dollars as stated in agreements. In FY 21, this office assisted in the management of more than 4,000 sponsored program accounts and approximately $600 million in expenditures.

Thank you for your excellent work!

Education and research excellence

Student success is, as always, MSU’s highest mission. I was reminded of that last week not only at graduation but also at a celebration of the more than 50 new graduates who earned perfect 4.0 cumulative grade point averages.

A great faculty is the heart of a world-class university, so I extend my thanks and congratulations to the 11 MSU researchers who were recognized in the 2022 Highly Cited Researchers List compiled by Clarivate Analytics. These faculty members have demonstrated significant and broad influence in their fields over the past decade — and all are truly one in a thousand among their peers.  

MSU’s research leadership has shined through in so many other ways. For example, through an $11 million U.S. Department of Energy grant announced last week, MSU is leading a collaboration to usher the U.S. into new frontiers of clean energy with inspiration from microbes. It is led by Cheryl Kerfeld, a Hannah Distinguished Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and the MSU-DOE Plant Research Laboratory. And, we are pleased to announce a $2 million DOE grant to improve the oilseed yield of Camelina sativa, a common plant that could provide cleaner jet fuels and teach us about other important crops. Project leads are Erich Grotewold, a professor in the College of Natural Science and the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and Patrick Edger, an associate professor in the Department of Horticulture.

Further examples of faculty excellence are clarinetist and Assistant Professor in the College of Music Tasha Warren, who has earned two 2023 Grammy nominations for her new album. And, I wish you all could have been with us at last Friday’s Board of Trustees meeting to hear a research presentation and performance from College of Music Professor Mark Rucker and Academic Specialist Sadie Rucker. Their amazing work is dedicated to involving youth in the performing arts — especially students from underrepresented groups and those from disadvantaged families.

Supporting safety and well-being

Supporting the success of our staff, faculty and students requires fostering a culture of support and care. To that end, MSU has made important changes over the past five years to help prevent relationship violence and sexual misconduct. We have strengthened our mandatory reporting policies and training and grown our prevention, outreach and engagement office. We have invested in the Office for Civil Rights and Title IX Education and Compliance. The university has completed 95 actions from a 2019 letter of findings and resolution agreement between MSU, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. We will continue to make additional changes using what we learn from this year’s Know More @ MSU campus surveys, which will be shared with the university community early in the new year. And we are not finished.

We are searching for a new vice president for Civil Rights and Title IX Education and Compliance. The search is led by Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer Jabbar Bennett and campus police Deputy Chief Andrea Munford, who is also one of the special advisers to the president on RVSM issues.

As we consider the well-being of everyone on our campus, we were pleased to recently announce the addition of Dr. Alexis Travisas assistant provost and executive director of our new University Health and Wellbeing division. Dr. Travis will bring together 11 departments focused on supporting campuswide health and well-being. This is an exciting development that fits into our larger efforts to build a healthy community.

Athletic competition updates

Our men’s and women’s basketball teams have been outstanding to watch — win or lose! I hosted our Big Ten champion women’s soccer team and watched our hockey team beat our rival down the road. And Spartan wrestling recently took home the team championship at the Reno Tournament of Champions. Our student-athletes, the spirit teams and our spirited bands and fans are all part of a collective cheer and remind me that MSU is a ‘we’ university. We compete, sing, play, cheer and learn together. I look forward to the new year and an intrinsically collaborative ‘Go Green, Go White!’ resounding across this great campus.

In closing

I will deliver a more comprehensive view of MSU and our vision for it in a State of the University address Jan. 18 at the Wharton Center. I hope you can join us for the event, whether in person or over livestream.

Finally, I want to end where we began just a few weeks ago, with the thought about lifting up our eyes. MSU is a strong and remarkable institution with strong and remarkable people. Look upward to the beacon of hope that is ennobled in Beaumont Tower, which stands on the foundation of the university’s first building. Look upward and see the Sower, who is you the faculty, academic staff and our remarkable support staff laying out the furrows with seeds of knowledge and of growth. Look further upward and see the hands of the clock moving forward no matter the circumstances. Let us learn from the university’s past and still have courage to look upward with hope.

Have a joyous holiday break and see you in 2023!

Teresa K. Woodruff, Ph.D. (she/her/hers)
Interim President
MSU Foundation Professor