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April 12, 2024

MSU Board of Trustees remarks by President Kevin M. Guskiewicz, Ph.D.

April 12, 2024

It's a pleasure to join you this morning for my first Board of Trustees meeting as your 22nd president here at Michigan State University, and I'm wrapping up week number six.

It has been a whirlwind of activity over those six weeks, and it's hard to believe that we're only two weeks away from graduation, where we'll celebrate the class of 2024. As I look at a few of those incredible students who will be graduating two weeks from today, I look forward to congratulating those accomplished Spartans at the Breslin Center and wishing them well for the next chapter of their lives.

Curious, engaged students

If there's one thing that I've enjoyed during my listening and learning tour over the past six weeks, it's been the curiosity of our students. I talk often about the importance of always remaining curious. And it was a thrill to meet so many future Spartans at the Breslin Center last week when we welcomed many of whom will be part of the class of 2028.

At Admitted Student Day at the Breslin last Saturday, we had 3,600 prospective students plus family members, and I want to thank our Office of Admissions and our colleges and units for supporting this event. It was a huge success, and probably one of the highlights of my first six weeks, as we gathered over 10,000 people in total at the Breslin Center. Thanks to all those faculty, staff and current students who stepped up to help orient the prospective students. It means so much to show them what a friendly and welcoming community we have here at Michigan State University in addition to the incredible educational programs and student experiences that we offer.

I met another wonderful group of students just a few days earlier when we celebrated the induction of our Tower Guard student honor society at the May’s Morning Sing. It was bright and early in the morning over at Beaumont Tower — we had held the annual pre-dawn ceremony there. These high-achieving student leaders are relatively new to Michigan State University with their work in our Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities, doing things like scribing for exams, creating more accessible textbooks and tutoring, being just some of the responsibilities that these students take on just in their second year as sophomores here at Michigan State.

And so, that was a lot of fun. It was great to help welcome and honor all those, as I said, sleepy-eyed but engaged first-year students who were inducted and meeting many of their parents — who would surprise them by showing up unbeknownst to them at the Beaumont bell tower as the sun was rising up off to the east. It was just a beautiful morning, with a cappella singers, and, again, one of the highlights.

I've also met a lot of students on my campus-wide listening and learning tour and have been struck by how many come from out of state or from other countries, and many are part of multigenerational Spartan families, which is a testament, I think, to the love and passion that Spartans have for this university. I'm pleased to know that about two-thirds of our recent graduates stay in Michigan to start their careers, making MSU an important talent pipeline to advance the state's economy. That’s something that I had a chance to speak with Governor Whitmer about just a few weeks ago, and placing emphasis on that we are a university for Michigan and thinking about the future opportunities here in Michigan.

So, with regards to that listening and learning tour, I've just completed my 20th stop on a 48-stop tour — it's been busy — and I'm getting close to halfway through all the colleges and administrative units.

One that I visited two weeks ago was the Broad College of Business, including the Burgess Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. And that same week, sadly, we lost alumnus Bob Burgess, whose generosity supported the institute's creation in 2005, and I'm glad that I had the opportunity to speak with him by phone on two occasions shortly after my having been appointed president back in December.  Bob Burgess was an incredible Spartan and someone who cared deeply about the success of our of our students.

And so, I regret that Bob passed away that same week when I was scheduled to meet him in person over dinner at Cowles House, but I can't think of a grander legacy to leave than the bright and engaged Burgess Institute students like those that I had the opportunity to meet at that celebration of entrepreneurship and innovation just a few days after Bob's passing.

One such student, first-year finance major Alina Morse, founded the nation's fastest-growing zero-sugar candy company, better known as Clean Teeth Candy, and introduced herself to me. Together with a nonprofit organization that's dedicated to oral health and entrepreneurship education, Alina, I will guarantee you, is going to be an incredible ambassador for our great university. She was incredible and I could have spent the entire evening listening to her talk about the impact that she's had. I did take a few pieces of candy and a lollipop back to my daughter Tessa, back at Cowles House, and she gave it a thumbs up.

Another student, senior Matt Rogian, helped found a company around a high-tech pepper spray device that, when activated, alerts the user’s emergency contacts and 911, and they already have a development and marketing contract with Mace Security Management. And again, another incredible, curious student as I like to say.

And so, I think that, as you well know, with many faculty here in the room, we really have such passionate and curious students at Michigan State University. I know that you'll be impressed with today's research presentation, which includes an undergraduate entrepreneurship component to it.

I want to give a shout-out to our two newest Goldwater Scholarship winners selected by the Goldwater Foundation for their STEM activity and potential for significant contributions in their chosen fields. Third-year student Libby Ashby is studying geological sciences and chemistry, and second-year undergraduate Aaron Phillip is studying physics and advanced mathematics. Both are in the College of Natural Science and the Honors College, and they represent Michigan State University's 54th and 55th Goldwater Scholars, so congratulations to Libby and Aaron. I think they deserve a round of applause.

As you noticed, as I describe the backgrounds of Libby and Aaron, they're both double majors, and that's another thing I've been so impressed with, by talking with our students here, is the many students that either double major or graduate with a major and a minor, and I think that's something that's unique to Michigan State and something that I think is so important as we think about the career trajectories of our students in a way in which they will pivot multiple times throughout their careers. I think to have the breadth across multiple disciplines is important.

I also want to offer up congratulations to Michigan State University's gymnastics and ice hockey teams on winning both their regular seasons and their Big 10 championships, which I greatly enjoyed witnessing last month at Jennison Fieldhouse and at Munn Ice Arena. I know that the future's bright for so many of our student-athletes here at Michigan State, but that was a lot of fun — I think that was maybe at the end of week three — to celebrate two Big 10 championships within hours of one another.

Faculty and program excellence

And I'd be remiss if I didn't talk about the importance of seeing how innovation is promoted across our colleges, and that takes world-class faculty that place emphasis on this, and it honors how this institution was created to give everyday people starting with farmers, our first entrepreneurs if you think about it, the cutting-edge knowledge allowing them to thrive in a dynamic world.

I’m just so impressed with the many growing researchers, instructors, faculty. Starting on my very first day here, we honored several of those distinguished faculty members at our annual endowed faculty investiture. I appreciated the presence of trustees Kelly and Tebay for being there, alongside many of our senior leaders and faculty who were there to support and to honor these outstanding faculty. I've greatly enjoyed hearing how our faculty members are reaching across disciplines to address some of society's greatest challenges.

If we are to continue this strong trajectory of excellence in teaching and research, we have to do everything possible to be able to recruit and retain top talent and faculty, and I want you to know that will be a major priority for me as your president. I know I speak for members of our leadership team and our provost team and the deans — this is critically important.

I also admire how so many of our faculty members are supporting students' curiosity and confidence, including through evidence-based restructuring of our STEM courses to make them more experiential and interdisciplinary. That was something that I learned on two or three of my stops on my listening and learning tour. One of those faculty leaders that I met was the Lappan-Phillips Professor of Science Education Melanie Cooper, who was recently elected to the prestigious National Academy of Education. So, congratulations to Dr. Cooper!

And on the graduate education side, you probably saw within the last few days we had some great news. It gives me great pride to congratulate the programs that placed highly in the new U.S. News and World Report graduate program rankings. Just to highlight a few, not only have our College of Education's elementary and secondary education programs topped their national rankings for 30 consecutive years, but the college now has five programs ranked No. 1, including program and curriculum instruction, Educational Administration and higher education administration. All nine of the college's programs are ranked in the top 10. So, what a remarkable achievement and I think they deserve a round of applause!

And in the Broad College of Business, our supply chain management program, which I've heard so much about even prior to my arriving here on March 4, continues its No. 1 ranking for the eighth consecutive year. Congratulations to our faculty and staff who are driving excellence in that program as well.

I mentioned in my community letter about 10 days ago that we also celebrated Graduate Professional Student Appreciation Week, and I had a chance to drop into one of our gatherings to express my appreciation to our graduate students.

Throughout my academic career, which is now 28 years and running, I've been fortunate to have the support of many graduate students. I think while as faculty members we talked about how we support them and their career trajectories, I would say that it's a two-way street. I've been fortunate to secure probably more than $30 million in research grants during my career, and I could never have done that without the support and the partnership of outstanding graduate students.

Groundbreakings and facilities

As I say, there are few joys that are greater than watching these dedicated scholars grow into tomorrow's leaders, and so I was pleased to be able to go and celebrate alongside them.

I want to just also talk a bit about facilities, because resources come in many different shapes and sizes and there's no resources more important than people — people are what make this place run, and they are the heart and soul of the university, and their successes are our collective success as a university. But such excellence demands facilities that are equal to the task of allowing them to rise to their potential.

I've seen many facilities on my tour and some of them are incredible and outstanding; they're state-of-the-art buildings, but also there are many that are showing their age and their limitations, and the top talented and dedicated people working in those facilities get the job done despite some of the inadequate facilities.

So, I just want to again emphasize that we'll continue to work hard to improve facilities. We're going to maintain that upward trajectory as a top global public research university, and we need to continue to keep our eyes toward renovation and replacement of some of our, many of our facilities, I should say. So, stay tuned, and there's more to come.

And so it was with great satisfaction that yesterday I joined board members and others for the groundbreaking of our updated, state-of-the-art, Dairy Cattle Teaching and Research Center. That was a wonderful event that brought together members of the community from the legislature and others who helped to make that possible. And today, we'll gather again to break ground for crucial upgrades and expansion of our Plant Science Greenhouses. Both of these facilities support our research, teaching and partnerships in the plant and animal sciences, and we're grateful for the financial support of the state of Michigan and many forms of support from stakeholders and donors around the country, I should add. These much-needed facility enhancements will serve MSU students, scientists, and stakeholders well into the future.

Another important facility comes before the board today with a request to proceed with a new joint biomedical research building in Detroit, in collaboration with our partners at Henry Ford Health. This is an endeavor that I've been very excited about since the day I started exploring this opportunity to become your new president. This new building will add capacity and synergy to our joint research into cancer, neuroscience, immunology and infectious diseases together with a focus on health inequities and disparities and social determinants of health.

So, this is an incredibly exciting project that will lay a physical foundation for one of the nation's designated cancer centers by the National Cancer Institute, and this is an important designation because it essentially says that we are a center of excellence in cancer.

And as I look over at Norm Beauchamp, who's been at the front of this endeavor, thank you, Norm, for your hard work on this. This is going to help deliver cutting-edge cancer treatments across the state of Michigan.

DEI and RVSM response

Let me briefly return to the topic of Michigan State's welcoming, supportive and inclusive campus, which is so important to the success of any university community and certainly that's the case here. I'm going to first highlight the release of our annual Diversity, Equity and Inclusion report. Our DEI work is a recurring topic of discussion in my listening tours. It's one of the questions that I asked the deans and senior leaders to provide for me in a briefing: What are we doing in this space to make sure that we have an inclusive and welcoming community for all of our students, and where are we falling short and what can we do to help make sure that we are continuing to improve?

I think we're seeing improvement across our colleges in areas that, including faculty recruitment and staff recruitment, the new report tracks our progress for inclusive excellence. And as our Chief Diversity Officer and Vice President Jabbar Bennett wrote in his announcement, some 110 action items are being implemented or are in progress, and so I look forward to learning more about the specifics of those action items over the next few months. You can access the report and view the university's DEI scorecard on the Office for Institutional Diversity and Inclusion website. And thanks to all, starting with IDI, a team who are moving us forward in this important area.

While we are making improvements, we still have much more to do in this space, and I know there are empathetic, emphatic and emotional conversations taking place on our campus and in our community. So, we'll continue to work together to get better in this space, and just know that our communities’ experiences, thoughts and concerns will help inform my leadership on this topic, and so your voices are important. And I'm committed to fostering a safe and inclusive community in which we demonstrate compassion, empathy and understanding for one another.

Second, I want to remind people on this topic that we observed National Sexual Assault Awareness Month and MSU's It's on Us Week, as we call it. We continue to build a culture of awareness and safety around preventing relationship violence and sexual misconduct. We are celebrating the fifth anniversary of our Prevention, Outreach and Education department and 15 years of focused prevention work at MSU. I'm looking forward to touring the Center for Survivors later this month as part of my listening and learning tour.

I'm pleased to report that the documents pertaining to the Nassar case have now been fully transferred to the Michigan Attorney General's office, per the board's earlier decision to release those privileged documents.

Welcoming, supportive campus

Finally — and I'm just about done — in the spirit of a welcoming and supportive campus, this week I had the opportunity to help welcome Earvin "Magic" Johnson back for a Lansing Regional Chamber Economic Club program focused on the Lansing Promise. If you don't know much about this program, you ought to check it out. It was an incredible day to have Magic back on campus.

This scholarship program has assisted 2,000 Lansing K-12 students to attend post-secondary opportunities, including at Michigan State University. Four of the five students who were featured two days ago at the event were MSU students, a few who are about to graduate, and I applaud Magic's commitment to community engagement, giving back to his hometown and helping students achieve their path to success. He clearly cares about this community and his alma mater, and I enjoyed hearing him reflect fondly on his time at MSU, learning how transformational it was for him and for his career.

So together with people like Bob Burgess, who I spoke about, and Magic Johnson, I've been able to meet a number of alums and donors and I've been told that it totals now more than 260 contacts that I've had with alums and donors, and 10 different advancement events so far in only six weeks. And there are many more to come. I'm looking forward to meeting many more Spartans in the weeks and months ahead.

And so, with that, I want to just again thank all of you for your support, so many in this room who have made my first six weeks enjoyable. I know that my wife Amy and I just felt so welcome. So, thank you, and we will move on with the agenda.