April 28, 2021: Graduation and other MSU milestones

Dear Spartans and Friends,

This has been such a busy, challenging year that it’s hard to believe this weekend we will celebrate the graduation of MSU’s Class of 2021. More than 9,000 Spartans will carry their degrees, knowledge and uncommon will into the world.

To our graduates, I offer my heartiest congratulations and warmest wishes as you pursue your careers or, in many cases, continue your studies to earn advanced degrees.

We at MSU are especially happy to be able to offer in-person graduation ceremonies for most spring 2021 graduates, with more than 50 smaller outdoor ceremonies planned. Safety is still imperative and masks will continue to be required on campus. Seating will enable social distancing for graduates and their families.

We have a lot to celebrate and I would like to share more with you in this message.

COVID-19 update 
We were pleased to receive COVID-19 vaccine supplies to distribute to students this month and expanded the service to MSU employees. MSU’s vaccination clinic at the Pavilion accommodated more than 3,400 students, faculty and staff over nine days. The Pavilion clinic, operated by the Ingham County Health Department in cooperation with MSU, meanwhile, had vaccinated more than 73,400 community residents by April 23. Some 750 MSU volunteers have contributed more than 15,000 hours to the county’s ongoing vaccination clinic.

I encourage everyone to seek a vaccination wherever it can be secured soonest. Broad participation in vaccination will be the key to a return to safe in-person fall activities.

More than 80% of our students surveyed said they intend to get a COVID-19 vaccination, an encouraging sign that we are moving closer to offering a more typical campus experience in the fall. That is something all of us eagerly anticipate.

Fall semester
In the fall, about 85% of undergraduate courses will be held in person or as hybrid classes, and 15% of courses will be online — up from about 10% before the pandemic. Students say they like the online flexibility, which can help accommodate obligations such as internships and work schedules. We’re also capping most large lectures at 100 students in person, breaking larger ones into smaller classes or offering them as hybrid or online courses.

First-year students will be living in residence halls on campus, with as many others as we can safely accommodate. We’re pleased with the demand we’ve seen. It’s clear that students value — and miss — campus living. Dining facilities will be open and seating available, as allowed by public health department rules.

Athletics is preparing for fall events with spectators, also to the degree allowed by state requirements. The Wharton Center is planning to host performances once again, and the Broad Art Museum will continue to host visitors at its exhibitions and events.

We expect COVID-19 testing and other precautions to continue at appropriate levels, and all of us will need to adhere to these policies and engage in the actions and behaviors that have kept us safe and healthy.

Relationship violence and sexual misconduct prevention
Since I arrived at MSU, safety has been my top priority for our campus community. After many months of listening and study, the Relationship Violence and Sexual Misconduct Strategic Planning Committee has delivered a thorough report, including a comprehensive set of strategic initiatives for a prevention-focused and trauma-informed approach to RVSM on campus.

The RVSM plan will be implemented and assessed over five years. It is a primary component of the three values-based strategic initiatives I set in motion shortly after arriving at MSU; the others focus on diversity, equity and inclusion, and on institutional strategic planning.

Multicultural center plans
One component of our diversity, equity and inclusion focus is a feasibility study for a new campus multicultural center. The study’s leaders this month briefed the MSU Board of Trustees on design and location options developed over the past year. The plans next will undergo more detailed study, including considering how such a project may be funded.

The feasibility study resulted in multiple design options, one focused on additions to the International Center and the other a new structure on the northeast corner of Shaw and Farm lanes. Planners and staff assembled the report in a transparent way, emphasizing student and campus community voices, gathering input through surveys; online public presentations; student, employee and alumni stakeholder sessions; and other means.

Our green commitment and legacy
Last week, MSU joined many around the world in celebrating Earth Day. This university has a proud record of accomplishment in environmental sustainability research and practices over many years. We are committed to doing our part to address climate change in the years ahead and helping lead the way to a globally sustainable future through four pillars of success: campus, curriculum, community and culture.

I was pleased to see MSU’s long-standing leadership in food science and sustainability recognized with recent high rankings among those for universities’ work toward global sustainable development goals, including addressing poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace and justice. MSU earned a top national ranking in food security and sustainable agriculture, and additional recognition for its collaboration with other organizations toward development goals, how it supports community health and for its support for educational access.

MSU also enjoyed broad public recognition for what has become one of its signature scientific legacies, the Beal experimentThe New York TimesNational Public Radio and others last week reported on the overnight excavation of a bottle from a secret campus location. It was one of 20 such bottles, each containing more than 1,000 seeds divided between more than 20 native plant species. They were buried in 1879 by visionary botanist and MSU Professor William J. Beal to determine how long seeds remain viable under the soil.

Beal originally retrieved the bottles at five-year intervals, which his successors extended to 10- and then 20-year periods. Led by plant biology professor and W.J. Beal Botanical Garden Curator Frank Telewski — who unearthed the previous bottle 21 years ago — MSU researchers now are tending the latest cache of seeds in a campus laboratory growth chamber.

It is one of the world’s longest-running scientific experiments and, thanks to new genetic analysis technologies, could yield discoveries Beal himself could not have foreseen. I look forward to hearing more about this amazing story in the coming weeks and, with four bottles remaining, to the continuation of this time-capsule-in-a-bottle experiment for decades to come.

Regional impact
Outside of our campus, MSU’s impact extends to communities across the state. We learned recently how much MSU’s medical and research facilities along the “Medical Mile” in Grand Rapids will contribute to that region’s economy. A new study estimated future annual direct economic activity related to the four buildings located or under construction there at $203 million, with an overall economic impact of $339 million and support for 2,017 jobs.

The report also noted the catalytic effect MSU’s Grand Rapids Research Center has on the region’s scientific ecosystem, complementing other organizations and attracting top researchers and funding opportunities. It’s a powerful quantification of MSU’s partnership with that community, which was accelerated with the expansion of our College of Human Medicine to the Secchia Center when it opened in 2010.

Impressive rankings
The quality of MSU’s academic programs was again highlighted by U.S. News & World Report, which ranked five of our graduate programs first in the nation in its latest rankings, with several other programs appearing in the top 20.

For the 27th consecutive year, MSU’s College of Education ranked No. 1 for elementary and secondary education. The college also ranked No. 1 in curriculum and instruction and in rehabilitation counseling, and for the first time, added a No. 1 ranking for educational administration. And the Eli Broad College of Business supply chain management program maintained its top ranking for the fifth consecutive year.

In another recent top ranking, MSU’s College of Communication Arts and Sciences’ game design and development program was ranked first in the nation by the Princeton Review.

It is for all the reasons above that this season’s Spartan graduates can go forth with confidence in the value of their degrees and the preparation they have received at MSU.

Go Green!


Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D. (he/him)