President's report to the Board of Trustees

The following remarks were delivered during the public session of The Ohio State University Board of Trustees meeting on Thursday, May 19, 2022.

 

Thank you, Trustee Von Thaer. Veronica and I are happy to support the university. From my first day, our focus has been on supporting students, and the Scarlet & Gray Advantage program — which I will talk about more in a moment — is just one way Ohio State is combating the nationwide student-debt crisis in higher education.

I want to begin today by thanking Trustee Heminger for nearly three years of outstanding leadership as chair. I am sorry he could not be with us for this portion of the meeting. He has been invaluable in steering Ohio State through a global pandemic and presidential transition, while also taking an active role in the university’s administration during the summer of 2020. We are tremendously fortunate to continue to benefit from his wise counsel.

I congratulate Trustee Fujita on his election as chair. I look forward to continuing to work with all of you to guide Ohio State forward.

I also want to recognize the outgoing members of our Board of Trustees: Ms. Erin Hoeflinger; Mr. Brent Porteus; and Dr. Carly Sobol.

Trustee Hoeflinger’s long-standing commitment to student mental well-being is particularly meaningful as we continue to identify and deploy resources to support our fellow Buckeyes. And I’m deeply pleased that Trustee Porteus, who hosted my first official event with the university — Cultivating a Cure, which benefits Ohio State’s Comprehensive Cancer Center — will remain engaged in shaping the future of our university through the Scarlet & Gray Advantage Committee. 

Trustee Sobol has provided an invaluable first-person view into professional and graduate studies at Ohio State. We extend to her special congratulations for earning her medical degree on May 8, and we wish her well as she embarks on her medical residency at the University of Wisconsin.

Thank you, to all of you, for your extraordinary contributions to The Ohio State University. It has been a true pleasure working alongside you.

Dr. Sobol’s diploma was one of more than 12,000 degrees and certificates conferred during commencement. The weather was perfect — a far cry from last year’s rainfall — and we were thrilled to be joined by Intel CEO Patrick Gelsinger, who delivered the afternoon’s address.

Among these thousands of outstanding graduates was Aaron Westbrook, who received his undergraduate degree in marketing on Sunday. Born without a lower right arm and unhappy with the heavy, functionless prosthesis he had in high school, he saved up for a 3D printer, found instructions online and went to work making a better one.

He even started a non-profit company to help others with the same issue — Form5 Prosthetics — and worked with Lt. Governor Jon Husted, the General Assembly and the state board overseeing prosthetics to ensure work like his can continue.

Aaron’s story — and those of all our graduates — is incredible. It’s a fact that makes losing any of our students all the more tragic.

As you know, our university community was rocked by two such devastating losses very recently. Our hearts go out to the families and friends impacted by this loss. As I noted during commencement, their deaths come in the wake of two hard years of the pandemic. They remind us just how important every member of the Ohio State family is.

At the core of Ohio State’s success is our people, and we are proud to support them through tragedy and triumph by advancing our excellence in talent and culture.

Last year, we created the Commission on Student Mental Health and Well-Being, led by Senior Vice President for Student Life Melissa Shivers and University Chief Wellness Officer and College of Nursing Dean Bernadette Melnyk.

We are now implementing the commission’s five recommendations — all of which place a strong emphasis on evidence-based quality improvement, communications and building skills to be successful both personally and academically.

These add to a broad menu of student support available through the Office of Student Life’s Counseling and Consultation Service as well as the Student Advocacy Center. Faculty and staff have access to resources, too, through the Employee Assistance Program.

Largely because of our high vaccination rate, the university announced earlier this month that we will shift to a voluntary asymptomatic testing model beginning with the start of summer term. Buckeyes will still be able to take advantage of optional asymptomatic testing on the Columbus campus at the Biomedical Research Tower on 12th Avenue.

Because we are no longer conducting large-scale surveillance testing, we also paused updates to our COVID-19 dashboard as of May 6.  The dashboard will be retained on the university’s Safe and Healthy Buckeyes website for the near-term.

Few other universities managed the scale of operations as Ohio State did during the pandemic. We continue to deal with this virus, and — in collaboration with our public health partners and the Buckeye community — we are prepared to deal with future challenges.

Our gratitude goes to our Spring Response Team, jointly chaired by Executive Vice President and Provost Melissa Gilliam, Senior Vice President for Administration and Planning Jay Kasey, and College of Public Health Dean Amy Fairchild. Their leadership was essential to a successful and in-person Ohio State experience this semester.

As we continue managing the pandemic and supporting the mental well-being of our students, faculty and staff, we remain focused on the safety of our Buckeye community.

As all of you know, Columbus is not immune to the nationwide increase in crime. In response to this trend, the university announced in September an additional 10-year, $20 million investment in enhanced safety measures on and near campus.

The university has installed new, permanent lighting, cameras and license plate readers both on campus and off. We’ve worked with the Columbus Division of Police to expand patrols, we’ve hired five new University police officers just this year; and we have increased non-sworn security patrols in off-campus neighborhoods as part of the Buckeye Block Watch program.

We’ve also expanded our Lyft Ride Smart program and we’ve distributed more than 11,000 personal safety devices.

Since the university initiated enhanced safety measures this past fall, reports of crimes in the three major categories most likely to affect our students have decreased significantly.

We will continue to adjust our approach in response to changing trends and in partnership with members of our campus community, local law enforcement and University District stakeholders.

This collaborative attitude toward addressing challenges is deeply rooted in our history as a public land-grant university. It’s a mindset that continues to drive our work advancing service and clinical excellence across the state of Ohio.

To illustrate the reach of our impact, we developed a map to capture the statewide presence of our campuses, OSU Extension, the Wexner Medical Center and our alumni clubs and societies.

The cornerstones of our footprint across the state are the university’s six campuses in Columbus, Lima, Mansfield, Marion, Newark and the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences’ campus in Wooster.

Nearly 64,000 students are educated across these locations, including 50,000 undergraduates. And soon, they will have new pathways to earn their degrees debt-free, through the Scarlet and Gray Advantage Program.

We are excited to launch the program’s pilot this fall with 125 students from across our campuses. I’ve said before that this program is not “free college.” Participating students and their families are expected to contribute.

At the same time, we plan to surround them with a network of support in the form of the Scarlet & Gray Advantage Learning Community. This will include shared educational programming — like our nationally recognized Scarlet and Gray Financial coaching — monthly workshops, and career guidance.

The outpouring of support from our Buckeye friends and family for this initiative continues. They’ve helped us raise almost $90 million this fiscal year — far surpassing our $58 million goal.

This includes $26 million from our recent day of giving. And $1.4 million of this comes from Ohio State faculty and staff — further proof of their daily commitment to the transformational work of this university.

Our Extension educators and staff demonstrate this dedication in each of Ohio’s 88 counties.

They facilitate vital, two-way communication between scholars and food producers; guide a vibrant 4-H program; and provide essential expertise in everything from renewable energy to foreign-trade zones.

Another arm of Ohio State’s service mission is our academic health care enterprise. The Wexner Medical Center’s anchoring presence in central Ohio is comprised of seven hospitals, 46 ambulatory and outpatient care sites, and 19 primary-care locations.

This robust presence in and around Franklin County supports the medical center’s 116 network hospitals across the state. These include nine James Cancer Network hospital affiliates and 107 network hospitals and providers.

These collaborative relationships embody our land-grant mission. They enable our partners to continue providing care that is best suited to their communities while leveraging the nationally-recognized expertise of the Wexner Medical Center — such as rapid stroke intervention, comprehensive cancer care, electronic medical records and more.

The next layer illustrates the locations of our centers and institutes across the state — from Ohio State South Centers in Pike County, to the Transportation Research Center in East Liberty, to Stone Laboratory on Lake Erie. These field stations facilitate industry collaboration and ensures that our university understands and meets the unique needs of Ohio’s diverse communities.

There are also 34 local alumni clubs in all corners of the state and 50 societies operated more centrally out of the Columbus campus. These of course help engage our alumni network in the work of Ohio State and helps them channel their passion for their alma mater into paying forward for future generations of Buckeyes.

This map represents powerfully our university’s reach. Yet it is nearly impossible to account for the constellation of relationships we have with people, community organizations, institutions, research collaborators and corporate partners.

One of those partners, of course, is Intel. As I’ve said previously, Ohio State is committed to the semiconductor industry’s success in the region, and we are working proactively to ensure it.

These efforts include convening higher-education and economic-development representatives in April for the Midwest University Workshop on Semiconductor Research and Workforce.

Ohio State’s reach and expertise put us in a position to lead the way few other institutions can. This is true in our state and also on the other side of the world.

I was reminded of our university’s truly global reach during a call on Monday organized by the Association of American Universities with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, whose main message to students, faculty and staff in higher education encouraged all to make choices to fight for democracy.

Our John Glenn College of Public Affairs has long partnered with Ukraine’s parliament through a USAID funded effort providing technical assistance, and Buckeyes have stepped up to support Ukrainians since the invasion began.

And when peace is secured, our university will be there to help rebuild Ukraine’s higher education system and help its people seize their bright and rightful future.

Buckeyes are also busy fueling incredible growth in our university’s research excellence. Our 2022 Innovators of the Year exemplify this wonderful momentum:

  • Associate Professor of Optometry Melissa Bailey was named “Innovator of the Year;” 
  • Assistant Professor of Engineering Katelyn Swindle-Reilly, took home “Early Career Innovator of the Year” honors; and
  • Madison Tuttle, a PhD student, was recognized as our “Next Generation Innovator of the Year.”

These three women and their work embody the dynamism of our research enterprise and its ability to spin out startup companies, spark new industries and contribute to the global conversation.

A study led by microbiologists at Ohio State detailing the discovery of more than 5,500 new species of R-N-A viruses in the Earth’s oceans was covered in USA Today, Smithsonian Magazine, Salon, Yahoo News and many others.

Research conducted by our Office of the Chief Wellness Officer and College of Nursing about parental burnout during the pandemic was featured on the Today show and in the New York Times.

Because of extraordinary work like this, Ohio State has been chosen to lead a number of major federally funded cross-disciplinary research centers.

As I said in my first State of the University address, we set a goal to add two such federally-funded centers this fiscal year — we won eight.

One of these is the Intelligent Cyberinfrastructure with Computational Learning in the Environment institute, or ICICLE — funded by a $20 million grant from the National Science Foundation and led by Ohio State.

The team there, guided by Professor D.K. Panda, is working to create the infrastructure and tools needed to share with the masses the incredible power of artificial intelligence — including in applications like agriculture.

By combining information gathered by on-field sensors, farm machinery, UAVs and satellites with historical weather data and the latest in crop science, we can deliver to farmers actionable crop management plans, at scale, in the palm of their hand. 

In the words of Professor Tanya-Berger Wolf, a member of the ICICLE team, the director of our Translational Data-Science Institute: “Ohio State is the one place you can do a project like this. We have the right people across the spectrum of necessary expertise, and they’re willing and able to answer big questions.”

Another of our new cross-disciplinary research centers in which the right people, expertise and audacity come together is our Gene Therapy Institute, which I announced during my State of the University address last month.

Led by Dr. Krystof Bankiewicz and Dr. Russell Lonser, the institute doubles down on Ohio State’s strength in the field — including research conducted by more than 50 faculty across six of our colleges. It will help accelerate work like the gene-therapy infusion that can essentially cure spinal muscular atrophy — a disorder that usually takes the lives of children by age two — and novel treatments for the genetic disorder AADC deficiency, which have allowed children to walk, talk and laugh for the first time.

More synergies like this exist across our university, and the Enterprise for Research, Innovation and Knowledge continues its work to develop a multi-year strategic plan to identify and bolster them.

Our research excellence is of course accelerated by the academic excellence of our faculty. I’m pleased to share with you just a few of the many distinctions they’ve earned recently.

In the College of Engineering, Dean Ayanna Howard was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and Professor Betty Lise Anderson received the 2022 Public Service Award from the National Science Board.

Dr. David Brakke, the Joe R. Engle Chair in the History of Christianity, and Dr. Kris Stanek, professor of astronomy, are among the 180 American and Canadian scientists and scholars honored by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation this year.

Two Buckeye faculty received the 2022 Ruth C. Bailey Award for Multicultural Engagement: Dr. Darryl B. Hood of the College of Public Health and Dr. Barbara Jones Warren from the College of Nursing.

Senior Vice President Wolfe Foundation Endowed Athletics Director Gene Smith received the David Williams II Leadership Award from the Lead1 Association last week.

I’d like to extend special recognition to Ohio State’s newest distinguished university professor: Dr. Bill Marras, Honda Chair and professor in the College of Engineering, and director of our Spine Research Institute.

The year’s second and final distinguished university professor designation will be announced tomorrow.

And Buckeyes everywhere cheered along when Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Marvin White received a Technology and Engineering Emmy Award last month in Las Vegas. He was honored alongside Northrup Grumman for pioneering a better method of processing images from low-light scenes which is still widely used in the film industry today.

As incredible as our current faculty are, the talent of the next generation is truly something to behold.

Dr. Ranthony A.C. Edmonds, a postdoctoral scholar in the Department of Mathematics was selected as a 2022 Early Career Fellow by the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics in recognition of her exemplary achievements; support of diversity, equity and inclusion; and commitment to her field.

I commend all 13 of our Distinguished Staff Awardees, who each received the university’s highest honor bestowed upon staff members.

Five recipients among our staff, students and faculty were also recognized with our Distinguished Diversity Enhancement Award. These include the team at the Bell National Resource Center on the African American Male, Ms. Sandra Dawkins, Professor Thomas Magliery, medical resident Bismarck Odei, and recent graduate Tabitha Willis. 

I’d be remiss in not again congratulating James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute CEO Dr. William Farrar on his coming retirement. He’s had an immeasurable impact on patients, families and colleagues, and we wish him the best in all that lies ahead.

The excellence of our community of course extends to our student-athletes.

Our dance, pistol, synchronized swimming and women’s ice hockey teams all brought home national titles. Men’s and women’s track and field, rowing, fencing, and women’s swim and dive won their conference championships. And our women’s basketball, men’s gymnastics, and men’s and women’s tennis teams all won or shared Big Ten regular-season titles.

Congratulations to all of them. Their excellence makes me proud to be named the Big Ten Conference’s representative on the College Football Playoff Board of Managers.

Our students, faculty and staff are talented in a breathtaking variety of ways. And at the conclusion of a truly extraordinary academic year, I want to convey my deep gratitude to all of them.

Together, we are poised to create a future for Ohio State as storied and impactful as our past. And it continues to be my privilege to help guide us to toward that goal.

That concludes my remarks. Thank you.