Remarks from the 2005 president's dinner — Nov. 12, 2005
Thank you, Maryalice, and thanks to all of you who are here tonight to show your support for Niagara University.
I have been associated with Niagara University over the last 35 years. I have come to know it well, and I love our university. I have committed my heart and mind to it, convinced that my belief in Niagara, and my dedication to it, might help inspire others to do all that they can to ensure its continued growth and stability. I ask you to commit your hearts and minds to Niagara University so that, together, we will be able to accomplish great things for present and future students and for the community we serve.
In speaking to the university community last month, I said I believe we are at a tipping point. Many positive things are coming together, coalescing, and transforming the university as it prepares to embark on its next 150 years. We are at the point, the tipping point, as Malcolm Gladwell says, where change is not just possible, it is certain.
What inspires this confidence?
First, our enrollment is the highest it's been in 25 years. Retention this past year was the best ever, and the quality of our student body continues to show steady improvement. The placement rate for our graduates in the work force and in graduate and professional schools is outstanding; an outcome of a Niagara education in which our faculty take great pride.
Speaking of faculty, we have a number of new members this year from some of the best universities in the country. Many of our professors are doing important research, and they are involving our students in it. Last week, I was pleased to learn that one of our history professors, Dr. Andrew Jenks, had his new book, "Russia in a Box: Art and Identity in an Age of Revolution" reviewed in the Times Literary Supplement.
Important and exciting things are also happening in our new Academic Center for Integrated Sciences, where students and professors are assisting the Heart Center of Niagara in research aimed at combating the serious problem of heart disease in Niagara County. The center is also being used to support a partnership the university has developed with Oncology Research Therapeutics to develop a novel cancer drug-delivery system that is patent pending. We are in active discussions with Mt. St. Mary's Hospital and other community partners for a shared relationship to offer an RN to BSN program.
We have new curricula and programs, and are employing active, integrative learning that allows our students to combine the knowledge gained in the classroom with real-world learning experiences. We want to be widely known for our teaching and learning. We want students to seek us out and to come here because of the wonderful educational experience Niagara offers.
In the spring, we expect to break ground for a new academic center. This $19.4-million project will provide us with new classrooms and new homes for our nationally and internationally accredited colleges of Education and Business. We continue to invest in ourselves and in this community, to which we are firmly committed.
Down the road, we have even bigger plans for facilities such as a new university and community center and theater, a new science building and new fields for athletics. It is hard to single out very many institutions in Niagara County that have made the kind of investment Niagara University has made in recent years, and that it will continue to make. We will continue to invest in this university to ensure that it remains an important economic force in Western New York.
As we have for several years, this past summer we spent another $1 million on maintenance and improvement projects on campus, including the new sesquicentennial garden on the front lawn. We will continue to beautify our campus; we will make it a welcoming place, a place in which the community can take great pride.
Our four colleges are not only doing excellent work in educating our students, but they are also extending their reach into important sectors of our society. Through a new center in the College of Education, we are providing professional development for local school districts, working with teachers in ways that will enhance the literacy, math and science skills of the students they teach. We just formally blessed our Center for Excellence in Catholic Education at Stella Niagara where we will support professional development and research for teachers and administrators in Catholic schools. Our College of Business is providing assistance and educational programs for family businesses and the logistics industry, and our College of Hospitality and Tourism Management is providing training for the hospitality industry. Our Environmental Leadership Institute is addressing environmental matters and our GIS lab is being used to help local police agencies in fighting crime. With the aid of another government grant, we are training volunteers to respond to natural and man-made disasters.
Last year alone, our students provided 46,000 hours of service, nearly 30,000 of which were spent tutoring at-risk students in nine area school districts and other after-school sites. By the way, just this week we were notified that the First Niagara Bank Foundation has awarded the university's Learn and Serve Niagara program a $5,000 grant to address literacy problems among socio-economically disadvantaged students in Niagara Falls schools. First Niagara has also sponsored a table tonight; thank you.
We just heard several days ago that we received a $400,000 grant from HUD for a COPC program-i.e. a Community Outreach Partnership Center-to improve the quality of life for Niagara Falls, New York residents. In partnering with community leadership, we will address problems of economic development and employment; environmental justices and health.
Niagara University has also experienced some exciting developments in athletics. This year, two of our teams, men's basketball and women's tennis, went to NCAA tournaments. Incidentally, another sign of excellence is that our athletics program has been found to be in full compliance with NCAA rules and regulations. Unlike many other schools, our athletes are having great academic success, and they are graduating.
We continue to have a significant cultural impact on Western New York. The theater program is staging entertaining productions here on campus and at our stage in Lewiston, and the Castellani Art Museum continues to mount outstanding exhibitions for the cultural enjoyment of visitors to our campus. "Saints and Spires," a special work by Brother Augustine Towey, was performed Monday night at St. Joseph's Cathedral in Buffalo as part of the cathedral's 150th anniversary celebration
Our fund raising is also improving. In the 2004-05 academic year, the annual fund passed the $1-million mark for the first time in 12 years. We hope to build off that success, and have established a goal of $1.2 million for this year.
And speaking of fund raising, we have undertaken our largest-ever capital campaign to help us achieve our goals and to provide endowment funds for scholarships and programs. We are now in the silent phase of this $55-million campaign, and already we have received several substantial commitments. The outlook for success is very promising.
At this time next year, we will be in the midst of our sesquicentennial anniversary celebration. We will begin the celebration in September and continue it throughout the academic year. This event next year will be extra special, and I urge you to be here to enjoy it.
All these things and others I haven't even mentioned lead me to believe that Niagara University is at a tipping point. We are being transformed, and by your very presence here tonight, you are part of the transformation process. We do need your help to spread the word about Niagara University.
In the ordination rite, the bishop talks to those who are to be ordained about their role as teacher in spreading the word of God. "Meditate on the law of God," the bishop says, and then he adds, "believe what you read, teach what you believe and put into practice what you teach."
I always have been impressed with that phraseology. Tonight-relating that phrase to NU-I encourage you to continue to believe what you hear and read about NU/tell others about what you believe about NU/and hopefully we will all be encouraged at "Niagara University" to keep on building/improving NU and telling the world our good news.
Please continue to support Niagara University and thank you for your presence here tonight, a sign of your commitment.
Thank you and God bless you.