The Heart of Innovation: Our 21st-century Land-Grant Mission

University Address - October 30, 2014

Thank you very much, Joe. I appreciate that. It’s very good to be here and to see all of you this afternoon. It’s wonderful to be a part of a university with such great tradition and the power to make a meaningful difference to so many people. It’s great for us all to be a part of this together.

It’s an interesting day for me. Let me say that Thursday, the last Thursday in October a year ago, was Halloween, and on Halloween we had trick-or-treaters by the house, about 300 which was our norm. We gave big candy in those days. And then, after that, I went to the airport and took a red-eye to Newark, and then a flight here in the morning, and met with trustees at the first meeting that I would have in person to discuss the possibility of this transition in our lives together, to think about this position, and stayed here that weekend.

So this is 364 days later and I’ve been actually thinking about The Ohio State University every day in-between. We’ve been here for four months now and it’s been a wonderful homecoming. Let me also thank very much my wife, Brenda, for her support in this. This is late in our lives to be making a big move, and she has been incredibly enthusiastic and supportive and has really loved our time here in Ohio.

Ohio is truly the heart of America, both literally and figuratively. There’s a spirit of America that rings true in each of the places we’ve visited in the state – in Wooster, as part of the Roads Scholars trip; in London, for the Farm Science Review. And as we move through Cleveland and Newark and in Youngstown, where my mother was raised, we’ve seen a history of innovation that runs through Ohio. Our history bears this out, and so must our future.

Two questions have come up over and over during the travels that Brenda and I have had across our state and around the campus this summer. First: “How are you liking Ohio and Ohio State?” And second: “What is your vision for the university?”

Well, first, let me say that Ohio has been wonderful. We’ve had an extraordinarily warm welcome from Ohioans here on campus and wherever we happened to be in the state. At the very beginning, we were attracted by the people and the community and the vibrancy of Columbus. That was a great attraction that I began to notice last fall, but I would say that when we moved here we were additionally thrilled by the beauty of the countryside, the fields and farms and streams of Ohio, and have had a great chance to see what a beautiful place this is and what a wonderful place this is to call home.

Let me say as the 15th president of this great public university, with 140 years of history, I believe that our brilliant past illuminates our future path. And what I see for us moving forward is that we will enhance our reputation as one of the world’s leading research universities and be the exemplar of what it means to be a modern land-grant university.

Today, I will touch broadly on examples of academic excellence across the university that are critical to our journey forward – from research and medical impact to student success – and then talk more specifically about access and teaching as two founding principles of our land-grant mandate. Let me first begin with our founding purpose.

For those of us who have been in higher education for many years, the inspiration behind the Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862 speaks to our highest calling and why we are here today. When our university was founded in 1870 as the Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College, our land-grant purpose was to bring a college degree within the reach of all people, including the sons and daughters of the farmers and working people – the backbone of our society.

And that central tenet of our land-grant mission has never been more relevant than it is today. The challenge for Ohio State and for higher education is to provide access to an outstanding, affordable education during a time of funding constraints and rising costs.

Ohio State continues to be a great educational value – rated 26th nationally among public universities for the best value ( Kiplinger Personal Finance in 2014) – and we’ve implemented a number of strategies and programs to assist us in keeping it that way, such as Young Scholars, our LASER program for Latino students and the Bell National Resource Center on the African American Male.

But we know we must do more.

For so many, a college education is a bridge to the middle class and beyond, as well as a bridge to a better quality of life. But as a nation, we are falling behind many other countries in educational achievement. Just last Sunday, the New York Times had an editorial that was titled “The American Dream Is Leaving America,” noting that the projected number of Americans with college degrees is plunging, while in places like Russia and South Korea the number is on the rise. South Korea now leads the world in baccalaureate degree attainment – a position that during the time that I and most of us grew up was firmly rooted in the United States.

Improving access to higher education has always been an important part of my motivation as a university leader, and it will continue to be. And I’m grateful that Governor Kasich demonstrated a deep commitment to higher education, and just a few days ago has renewed his pledge to make affordable education a primary focus. I look forward to working with the governor, and with our partners on both sides of the aisle in higher education, to ensure the doorway to the American Dream remains open.

Let me say that facilitating our mission is very, very important, and as an institution of higher learning, we produce knowledge. That’s our main product. And our production of knowledge is reflected in many ways. We produce knowledge in our laboratories, and we produce knowledge in our teaching mission by transmitting that knowledge to our students. The new knowledge that we produce through research is meant to be shared with the world. So we teach for Ohio, and, as my friend Janet says, we do research for the world.

My job as president is to support our faculty and our staff in their efforts to create the best possible learning environment and learning outcomes for our students, and the most impactful and meaningful research and creative activities for our broader world. Every day, nearly 100,000 faculty, staff and students contribute to the creativity, the inspiration and the vitality of our campuses. And it takes all of us in every unit and at every level working together to leverage the knowledge and energy of the university to do the most good, for the most people. Each of us plays an important role. All of us are necessary, but none of us is sufficient alone.

Let me give a quick example about our staff, who are really the stewards of this university. Brenda and I have been delighted continually by the splendor and beauty of our campus. I’d like to take a moment and offer a special thanks to our Facilities Operations and Development for keeping our campus looking so magnificent in summer’s heat and winter’s cold. So a special thanks to Kenny King and Dave Abbott in our audience today who represent 700 staff members in Operations, and a round of applause if I may.

While our university has grown exponentially, our commitment to community and the state has remained a central focus. On my very first day on the job, I joined Mayor Coleman and other city representatives and representatives from the federal government to announce a collective effort to revitalize the Near East Side community. A few weeks ago, I was joined by Cardinal Health CEO George Barrett and Lt. Governor Mary Taylor at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new medical imaging facility that is a collaboration between Ohio State, Cardinal Health and the state of Ohio.

We’re fortunate to live in one of the nation’s best cities in the heart of the country, and we will continue to build these mutually beneficial relationships with our community, with our government and with our business partners. This truly is our great land-grant mission in action.

Now in 1870, at the very beginning, our mission really extended from Lane and High to the citizens around the state. In 2014, our community extends around the world. In September, Ohio State’s newest Global Gateway opened in São Paulo, Brazil, joining similar offices in Shanghai and Mumbai. Through our Discovery Themes, we are focusing our tremendous talents on the most significant global issues of our time. As a modern land-grant university, Ohio State has become a doorway to the world.

As you know, our world is more competitive than it has ever been. We compete for the very best students, the very best faculty and the very best jobs. When I talk to our philanthropic community, I focus on their role in helping us move in that space between A and A+. One of my mentors, Professor Lloyd H. Smith, once said to me with a hand on my shoulder, “The difference between A and A+ is huge.” And he would know; he’s truly an A+. The difference between A and A+ is the difference between doing a good job and being your best self. That’s why at a modern land-grant university, we must do our very best to compete on a global scale and have meaningful impact in society – we must be our best selves.

The support we receive from our friends and alumni, as well as our faculty and staff, is truly critical to our mission. In 2014, more than 230,000 donors gave $404 million to the university’s But for Ohio State Campaign. This sets a record for giving. Never have so many been so generous with us – and in August we surpassed the $2 billion mark in total giving for this campaign. This is a remarkable example and a testament to our friends’ and donors’ faith in our ability to elevate society.

The impact of the university is greater than it’s ever been, and we see it in so many critical areas. I will share a few examples that speak directly to our land-grant mission and in our community here in our backyard and beyond.

Three generations of a Columbus-area family have funded the Crane Center for Early Childhood Learning at the Weinland Park Center. This initiative supports our immediate community through childhood language and literacy development, but also our broader community through research discoveries.

This summer I was proud to ride along with 7,200 other riders in Pelotonia, some of you I watched carefully during that great morning. It’s the largest event of its kind in the nation. And raising money for cancer is as important an activity that we could engage in. This is a disease that touches families everywhere.

Speaking of things that we do for the broader community, right down the street from us here, we have Modern Masters on display, thanks to alumnus Les Wexner and his family. The Wexners have given to us in many, many ways, but this in-kind donation of their family collection of masterpieces is something that is wonderful. It’s an exhibit that you might see if you traveled halfway around the world and went to the finest art museum you could find. We’re honored and pleased to have it here, just a few hundred yards from where I am today, available for all of us, for members of our community, and I think very nicely for our students.

Another form of generosity comes from our alumni who give generously of their time and leadership. Our Alumni Advisory Council is meeting right now on campus to offer feedback and support for major initiatives. I had the opportunity to meet with them earlier today, and will engage with them again tomorrow. I appreciate their service to the university and value their leadership as we move forward.

Ohio State has made steady and impressive gains in its academic reputation over the last decade. If we are to continue our ascendancy among the very best of land-grant universities, we have to be highly innovative in how we generate and use our critical resources.

Just a few days ago, we announced that the university is beginning to evaluate carefully the way that we advance our sustainability goals, and looking at ways that we can do this and also provide increased support for our academic priorities.The preliminary plan was discussed at the Senate Fiscal Committee on Tuesday (10/28) and will continue to be discussed through the university governance process. We also intend to work with members of the President and Provost’s Council on Sustainability, as well as faculty experts to provide guidance throughout this process.

There is still much to discuss, but this focus on sustainability has the potential to generate significant funding that could increase access to an affordable education for students and provide strong, meaningful support for faculty research.

Because of innovative funding, we also have considerable resources to focus on critical global issues through our Discovery Themes initiative. Last month, we announced that Philip Payne, professor and chair of the Department of Biomedical Informatics, will lead the first Discovery Themes initiative as director of the Data Analytics Collaborative.

We’ve also identified and awarded funding to seven core areas and approved 39 positions in 20 different departments. I look to Provost Steinmetz to aggressively advance this critical initiative. The provost and I met recently with the President and Provost’s Council on Women, and we shared our steadfast commitment to improving the search and selection process to promote diversity, broadly defined. This commitment will be evident throughout our Discovery Theme recruitment and we look forward to great success.

One of the most visible symbols of innovation that sits just west of the Oval is our health sciences campus. In today’s society, our academic medical center has never been so important to our mission. Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center is providing the very best patient care for our community. At the same time, the scientists at our medical center, at the James and our seven health sciences colleges, continually look for new ways to treat disease, promote wellness and improve lives.

The opening of the new James Hospital and Solove Research Institute is just around the corner. This has been a 10-year effort to create an unparalleled cancer facility – the third largest of its kind in the nation.

This is a result of critical research and the outstanding efforts on the part of people such as Dr. Michael Caligiuri and others at the The James, who devote their lives to the science of this disease. Our new facility will bring cancer researchers and oncologists under one roof, working together to find better ways to fight and cure cancer. I’m grateful to Dr. Caligiuri’s leadership in this profound effort. This project will transform patient care.

We also recently learned that our medical center was ranked No. 3 out of 117 academic medical centers in the 2014 University Hospital Consortium (UHC) study that measures quality, safety, effectiveness and patient centeredness. That’s really incredible. If you’re familiar with UHC, it’s the 117 most prominent academic medical centers in the country. The names that you know would be Massachusetts General, Johns Hopkins, Barnes-Jewish, The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center – it’s the most prominent academic medical centers anywhere in the country. This No. 3 ranking underscores the quality of the care that we provide on a daily basis to the people of central Ohio. In fact, at No. 3, we’re just behind the Mayo Clinic, which is at No. 2, and I will say they can hear our footsteps and they’re nervous for next year. We’ll be moving past them in short order.

Let me say also that it reflects the hard work of really thousands of people on a day-to-day basis, people who are working as we speak, people who are administering medications, people who are cleaning rooms, people who are performing surgery and caring for patients – and we are tremendously proud of their great work and all the work that’s being done by our physicians, our nurses, our staff and our leadership.

I want to take a moment to thank Dr. Gabbe for his long service to the university and his passion for our community. Under his leadership, the medical center received recertification as a Magnet Hospital for nursing excellence and national recognition for improving diversity. These are further reflections of the quality of our work.

I should also mention that he and his team have been aggressively monitoring the Ebola situation,and will continue to share important information with our university community. They have been working in close consultation with our healthcare partners around the state and they continue to be at a high level of preparedness.

In the past few months I have been involved in taking part in the search for new leadership because Dr. Gabbe is stepping down. Let me pause for a moment and thank Dr. Gabbe once again for his service.

And I’ll pause again to say that that third ranking in UHC is really an incredible thing. Hospitals around the country will spend their entire existence trying to get to that level and we all appreciate that and our patients appreciate that, most importantly. Let me say we’re doing our best now, to the best of our ability, to recruit an exceptional person for the medical center who will continue to elevate its stature and reputation for quality patient care and groundbreaking research in the future.

One of my favorite examples of how a modern land-grant university can create transformative research is Dr. Ali Rezai’s work on the Neurotechnology Translator. This partnership between the Wexner Medical Center and Battelle enabled a 23-year-old quadriplegic to move his hands and fingers for the first time, thanks to a sensory chip implanted in his brain the size of a pea.

This represents the coming together of science, electrophysiology, precise microsurgery, healthcare, business and the broader community. It also requires the talents and brainpower of many different areas on our campus.

Earlier this month, scientists in biochemistry and chemistry, including one of our doctoral students, succeeded in combining a battery and solar cell into one hybrid device that would create the world’s first solar-powered battery, which could help reduce costs of renewable energy by 25 percent.

And in response to the water crisis in Toledo last summer, our College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences launched Field to Faucet, a wide-ranging water quality initiative to ensure clean drinking water across Ohio. This is a critical issue for the state and beyond, and we already have some great partnerships with our colleagues in higher education and the state.

You can hear more about our exemplary research at Dr. Carol Whitacre’s State of Research Address tomorrow right in this room.

Let me also go back for a second to Dr. Ali Rezai’s work. This is available on YouTube and has had actually hundreds of thousands of hits. It’s an amazing thing to see someone with an implantable device be able to take his thoughts and through a cord that connects outside his body to sensors on his arm – not like you and I would do it through our spinal cords because his was damaged, but through a cord – is able to move his hands. I’ve watched him pick up a spoon, and over these next few months we hope he’ll be able to do things like feed himself. He’s incredibly encouraged, and this is the first step in this direction, but it’s an absolutely amazing thing to do. It’s the kind of thing that, again, when we were growing up was science fiction, something you might dream about or pray for. Now we can actually see it happening in our own labs.

So creating that new knowledge, like the Neurobridge, is a critical piece of our land-grant mission. The other piece of our equation is just as powerful – teaching our students and continuing to enhance their academic experience.

We again have the most impressive class, selected from the most applications in university history—nearly 43,000. They have the highest ACT scores on average and the highest record of high-school achievement. They are diverse in composition, hailing from all 88 counties in Ohio, 49 of 50 states and from 33 countries around the world. One in five comes from central Ohio, one in five is a first-generation college student and 18 percent are minority students.

As the quality of our students continues to rise, so does our responsibility as a land-grant university. We need to give our students real-world experience and prepare them for the global economy.

One way we are doing that is through our Export Internship Program at the Fisher College of Business. This program pairs undergraduate students with internships at Ohio companies to increase exports. Just because our students are helping with exports doesn’t mean we want to export our students, of course. We want our students to stay here in Ohio and become part of the fabric of our growing economy.

And by the way, I want to congratulate Professor Anil Makhija, who this week was named as the new dean of Fisher College of Business. I believe Anil is here today with a student from the Export Internship Program. And I think, actually, Anil is standing so that must mean we should give him a round of applause. Anil, thank you for what you have done for us, and what you will do for us. Look forward to working with you. Also like to thank Christine Poon for leading Fisher for the last five years. A round of applause for Dean Poon as well.

If our students are an impressive group collectively, as individuals they have amazing stories to tell as well. I’ll mention just a few.

Greg Freisinger, a doctoral student in mechanical engineering, won a Bronze Star in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Our first-ever Tillman Military Scholar, he is researching how to better design artificial knee replacements so he can work with military amputees to improve their lives.

Senior undergrad psychology major, Rebecca Plumage, interned with the South Dakota Department of Social Services working with Native American foster kids. She was named our first-ever Udall Scholar in the Native healthcare category.

Students are at the heart of our historic land-grant mission. In order to prepare them for the 21st century, we need to renew our focus on one of our greatest assets, which is our teaching. Whether our students are attending a campus in Mansfield, Marion or Columbus, we want to make sure they are inspired by the very best teachers.

We have wonderfully inventive and committed teachers across the university – teachers who motivate students, who “flip the classroom” to increase engagement and mentor students in the research laboratory. And all of us know that our students remember these experiences for their lives. Our students clearly benefit from the fact that our teachers are scholars, scientists, researchers and artists – many of whom are well-known in their fields, nationally and internationally.

But I also know that we could spend more time focusing on our teaching.

My younger son is a PhD student himself, and is now in the advanced years of his graduate program – hope not too many more years to advance forward – but he’s entering his fourth year and things are working nicely, and he received the honor of being asked to instruct new graduate students on teaching methodology because he’d been given an award for this. I happened to be talking to him a few weeks ago, and I said, “Well, you’re starting to do your research and you’re starting on actually telling other people how to teach, that’s a great thing. How much training have you had in preparing you for your research project?”

He said, “Well, I’ve had about eight courses in statistics and research methodology, and maybe 100 hours of eyeball-to-eyeball consultation with my mentors on this, and then we’re just starting the research and so I’m expecting that I’ll have many, many hours of direct, one-on-one guidance on the research part of my portfolio as well.” I said, “Great, and how much training did you have in formal teaching?” and he said, “Well, the seminar that I’m about to give next week, I went to that when I was a first-year graduate student and that was an hour and a half and you know it was very helpful.”

And I just sort of remarked on the difference between eight courses and 100 hours of preparation to start his research and an hour-and-a-half to help start with his teaching, and as we think about this I think there are some ways that we can think about the many things that we can do to help make sure that we are doing everything we can to look at that balance and to continue to push forward the quality of our teaching that we’re doing.

I think that Ohio State can become an exemplar in this area, as well as being an exemplar in research as we already are. And I am committed to emphasizing our focus on teaching in order to elevate the quality of student experiences on all of our campuses. I think that it is through the quality of our teaching that students become A+ thinkers and really contribute to a global society.

And finally, let me say that as a modern land-grant university, we must strive to provide affordable quality education to all. Access and affordability are key. Our regional campuses are often the doorways to access for many students. I had the privilege to visit our campuses in Wooster, Newark and Lima recently, and I plan to visit Marion and Mansfield in the near future.

Our commitment to access aligns with our participation in a new higher education effort to boost completion rates. Eleven major public research universities make up the University Innovation Alliance, which is working collectively to develop an innovative “playbook” to retain and graduate more students, particularly low-income and first-generation students.

The alliance will first examine predictive analytics to determine how we can make students more successful. While we want to do this for all of our students, our Center for Higher Education Enterprise, in conjunction with our Office of Institutional Research and Planning, will use data analytics to focus on the success rate of students on all of our campuses, and particularly our regional campuses and for those students who change to the Columbus campus.

With this information, we hope to identify and develop programs and support services to help all of our students increase their completion rates and enhance their academic experience. We’d like to help ease the transition from high school to college and from college to the real world. At the same time, we want to work to help keep the costs of higher education affordable. This eases the burden for students and families and is really critical for people to be able to enter the world and really make use of all the things that we have taught them.

For this first four months, I have spent much of my time listening and learning to all of you and to many others. In this way, you are the teachers and I am the student. I am grateful for your insights and for your dedication to this extraordinary university.

Our vision to continue our ascendancy among leading land-grant universities will require our very best selves. And we need to work together in the coming weeks and months to refine our mission of what it means to be the exemplar of a land-grant university in the 21st century. That’s why we are all here. What a remarkable personal and professional opportunity this is for all of us. My belief in our ability to move forward together is the reason that Brenda and I came to Ohio State. And I am excited at the opportunities that lie before us.

From the days of Thomas Edison and the Wright Brothers, Ohio has long been the heart of innovation. From Jesse Owens to John Glenn, Buckeyes have been the fastest on the surface of the earth and the first to orbit it in space. Inspiration and brainpower have taken us from candles to light bulbs, and from railways to the skies. And now, at Ohio State, we’re moving from the status quo to sustainable, from cancer to a cure, and from outstanding to exemplary. That is the tradition of Ohio, and it is the tradition The Ohio State University. And that is how we, together, will continue to change the world.

Thank you.


View the archive of President Drake’s speeches and statements.