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September 26, 1997


Convocation is one of our most important traditions. As a community, we celebrate the beginning of a new academic year by welcoming those new to the campus, and by reflecting on both our progress and challenges. We also reaffirm our mission, emphasizing the sciences, engineering, and public policy at the graduate level, and the liberal arts at the undergraduate level.

In reaffirming this mission today, we are honored to recognize both Jack Gibbons and Ira Magaziner for their contributions to the nation. Their presence today also reflects growing recognition, on a national level, of the University's contributions and ground-breaking progress. Our physical growth is, of course, one visible measure of that progress. By the turn of the century, we will have added over $100-million of facilities in recent years. We are creating a physical environment that reflects our mission, our abilities, and ambitious aspirations -- from the new Library Tower, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and South Campus-Technology Center to our plans for a new Physics Building, renovated Biology Building, and renovated Theatre facilities.

We also are working to strengthen our sense of community through additional recreational facilities, our plans for a new University Commons, and an expanded athletic Fieldhouse.

In addition, we've recently launched the first phase of our Research Park, and created adjacent to the Park the new Conservation and Environmental Research Area, better known as CERA. Just as the Research Park breaks new ground, so does CERA, serving as a laboratory for students and faculty in environmental research and teaching.

When we think of ground-breaking progress, we also think about the capabilities and accomplishments of our students and the strength and productivity of the faculty and staff.

Our freshman class is substantially larger, and even more diverse, than a year ago, and the vast majority of these freshmen were honor students in high school. We have hundreds of valedictorians, salutatorians, and 4.0 students in this class. Our new graduate students are equally impressive, coming largely from Maryland's work force and from leading universities around the world. It is significant that we attract students from approximately 45 states and 80 countries.

As one of the nation's most selective public universities, we have become a model for both access and academic excellence. We pride ourselves on giving our students substantive research opportunities and personal attention. In fact, a year ago, almost to the day, I was inspired to hear Jack Gibbons talk about the importance of mentors in his own life. I was representing the campus at a White House ceremony where UMBC was one of the first recipients of the President's Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring. The award recognized our ground-breaking success in connecting serious students with outstanding faculty and staff.

We've also broken new ground by creating an environment where students not only succeed, but where they thrive on success -- an environment that truly engages and challenges students to discover and achieve their potential. Whether in the classroom or lab, in the studio or on stage, in the library, residence hall, or community, in internships or co-ops, intellectual or athletic competition, in the States or abroad -- our students have special opportunities for research, service, and personal and intellectual development. These opportunities produce graduates who are prepared for global citizenship, and the majority move easily into professional positions in industry and government, while more than a third go immediately to many of the nation's finest graduate and professional schools.

And like our undergraduates, our graduate students are an exciting success story. Over the past three years, we have produced over 150 Ph.D.s in science, engineering, and public policy, and virtually all are now employed throughout Maryland and the nation.

Our students' success largely reflects the efforts of faculty and staff. We take special pride in knowing that our productivity is exceptional. For example, a recent national study showed that UMBC ranks 13th among all public campuses in the nation in the arts and humanities, based on the numbers of prestigious awards per faculty member. And our reputation in the arts is enhanced by consistently strong performances, such as those by our Theatre faculty and students. For example, our student production this past spring of The Diary of a Scoundrel took national honors at the Kennedy Center's American College Theatre Festival.

The kind of dynamic interaction we see between Theatre faculty and students occurs daily across campus -- from the Structural Biochemistry Center and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, focusing on anti-cancer strategies and AIDS research, to the Imaging Research Center and Geography's Spatial Analysis Lab, where students are applying the latest technologies to create animation and to map urban growth in the Chesapeake Bay region.

Another measure of our progress is the phenomenal growth in contracts and grants, totaling over $44 million this past year -- nearly a 25% increase over the year before. It is significant that this increase is taking place across the campus -- from the sciences, engineering, and education to the Shriver Center and the Center for Health Policy Development & Management.

An important key to the University's progress has been our multi-level partnerships with business, industry, and government at all levels, and with the schools. These partnerships have resulted in major benefits for the campus -- from scholarship support, student internships, and jobs for our graduates to faculty research, equipment donations, technology development and commercialization, and much greater campus visibility.

As companies and agencies see us increasingly as a resource, they are investing in us more and more, helping to build our endowment for the future. In fact, we will publicly launch our capital campaign next month, and already we have received a number of major financial commitments that reflect a future filled with promise.

Our future also includes serious challenges, chiefly the result of success and growth that already are testing our infrastructure and our ability to continue moving ahead at such a rapid pace -- challenges ranging from budgeting and auditing to the demand for new technologies and even more effective strategies for supporting our students, faculty, and staff.

We will face these challenges together, as a community, just as we have in the past. Our collective strength and character have fueled our ground-breaking progress, and they serve as the foundation for our success as an honors university in the future.

Let me conclude, as I do each year, simply by saying that it is an honor to be a part of UMBC.

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Posted by dwinds1 at September 26, 1997 12:00 AM