Oct. 26, 2023: Spartan Community Letter

Dear Spartans and friends,

Our students have returned from fall break this week. Tom and I missed the lights in the residence halls and the excitement outside Cowles House and around campus. The days are getting shorter as the semester moves forward. As I write this note, I think of all of you, the Spartan community and your own experiences as the leaves begin to fall. The news these past few weeks has been challenging. But the light of education pushes out darkness, and I have hope for tomorrow because of our students, faculty and staff and their good work. As we turn toward the second half of the fall semester, I hope the news and updates below bring you comfort with the knowledge that the university lights are shining brightly.  

Safety and belonging
The work we do to make our campus a place that is safe, welcoming and supportive is a top priority. At MSU, our values include collaboration, equity, excellence, integrity and respect. Living out these values will ensure a sense of belonging throughout our community, which is critical as we navigate these times locally, nationally and abroad.

Reinforcing the need to feel safe and to feel that one belongs, I promised that we would closely examine the university’s response to the violence our campus experienced on Feb. 13 and share the results with you. This process has involved students, faculty, staff, law enforcement and external experts. We have now received a full, independent review compiled by the external firm Security Risk Management Consultants.

The report details the firm’s findings and recommendations to strengthen campus safety and security, as well as bolster future responses to emergency events. It also highlights the complexities of that night and the incredible response by first responders, volunteer counselors and others, to whom we are forever grateful.

We are also grateful for the diversity of our community, which is a point of pride for MSU. Our students come from all 83 counties in Michigan, all 50 states and more than 130 countries. My hope is that the different backgrounds and experiences of all Spartans will help make our world a better place. As global conflicts come home to Michigan, our outreach to affected communities has intensified. Safety and security remain a top priority, and we will continue to provide resources, support and space for educational dialogue to make tomorrow better than today. Two examples include the “Conversations on Antisemitism and Islamophobia,” and the “Summit on Achieving Black Equity at MSU by 2030.” This sharing of knowledge and opportunity for dialogue contributes to the sense of belonging we strive for at MSU.

Accessibility and placemaking
Accessibility to opportunities to earn a degree is important to us — MSU was one of the first to offer tuition-free scholarships to Michigan residents. Now, we are once again redefining college access and affordability through a new tuition-free financial aid program for in-state residents.

Starting with the fall 2024 class, MSU’s new financial aid program, Spartan Tuition Advantage, will automatically cover the full cost of tuition for all Pell Grant-eligible Michigan high school graduates who have a family income of $65,000 or less. Eligible students need only complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA.

We expect Spartan Tuition Advantage to cover tuition for more than 6,000 students annually when fully operational, building on MSU’s current annual investment of $224 million in student financial aid. 

A sense of place is another ingredient of belonging, and I invite you to read this photo essay featuring new spaces on campus and beyond. More than buildings, walking paths and roadways, all these spaces are avenues for students, faculty and staff to learn, thrive and succeed.

New vehicle and pedestrian bridges at Farm Lane are among our campus upgrades and will make crossing the Red Cedar River easier and safer. The river has always been a cherished natural feature of our campus, itself a living laboratory for research and learning as well as a restorative opportunity to gaze and reflect.

Environmental and human health
Water is a strong focus of MSU research. Preserving this precious resource in the face of continuing challenges from factors like pollution and invasive species, plus concerns related to climate change, requires alignment of our many research and service efforts. So, we have formed the MSU Water Alliance to bridge our extensive water science units and faculty experts. Leading this new organization is internationally acclaimed water researcher Joan Rose, MSU’s Homer Nowlin Endowed Chair in Water Research. 

Healthy environment, healthy people — both are part of MSU’s mission of education, research and outreach. We recently announced the latest program rising from our Henry Ford Health + Michigan State University Health Sciences partnership, a new statewide center in association with Corewell Health and others to reduce pregnancy-associated deaths and complications, particularly among Black, Hispanic and rural residents.

It is called the Multilevel Interventions to Advance Maternal Health Equity Center, or MIRACLE, and is one of 10 new maternal health research centers funded by the National Institutes of Health. With a nearly $19 million grant, the center will test multiple community-informed interventions to address disparities in health outcomes during pregnancy and postpartum.

Sports and recreation are other aspects of supporting health, and I want to give a shoutout to the MSU women’s soccer team. Last weekend, the team earned its second consecutive Big Ten championship! Well done, Spartans!

All of us belong
As I write, early twilight heralds autumn’s advance on our lovely campus. MSU, we love thy shadows, but always remember, Spartans: You are the light.

My best,

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