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This Is Akron! 2011 State of the University Address

  • Date: 11/07/2011
  • Author: Dr. Luis M. Proenza (President, The University of Akron)
  • Location: The University of Akron Student Union
  • Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for being here today as we consider the State of the University.

    See also:

    Video of this address

    Please indulge me as I play a short video for you.  It was not produced for today’s event, or for this purpose, but you will soon understand why it sets the perfect tone for this State of the University Address. 


    This is Akron.  Every day our legend grows, a soccer experience like none ever witnessed.

    This is Akron, where our Rowdies’ march shakes the earth.  Before you…a sea of the most loyal fans in the country, a place where loyalty and pride are not just words but are a way of life.

    This is Akron. Our leader is fearless, and we will follow him anywhere.  Know that, when you enter our field, you are stepping onto hallowed ground and you are playing on borrowed time

    This is Akron. On the field, our skill is unmatched, and our passion is unwavering.  Never has a place felt such perfection.

    This is Akron, a place that for the next four weeks becomes the center of the soccer universe.

    This is Akron, and we will fight to defend what is ours.

    This is Akron, the understanding that it is a privilege to wear our colors and the knowledge of the responsibilities they represent.

    This is Akron, where the sacrifice of a select few becomes the triumph of many. And when the fallen ask themselves— “How did our season end here?”—we will always answer, “…because, this is Akron.”]

    I would venture to say that even if you have never set foot inside our stadium.... even if you don’t know one sport from another...you have felt the spirit of our soccer team permeate our campus, and our community at large.  You have felt the pride.  You know what it’s like to defend our turf, our banner . . .  Akron.

    You know that as we stake out what is rightfully ours – a reputation for excellence and innovation – it takes determination and sacrifice and a deep sense of responsibility.  It takes a myriad of individuals who display extraordinary and passionate commitment to our region and to those we serve.  I want to recognize some of them now, and although they may not be wearing blue and gold jerseys, they all are important players in reaching our shared goals and, yes, even in capturing a little bit of glory. I ask that they stand as their names are called; and that you please hold your applause until all have been recognized.

    • Caleb Porter “the man in the video . .  .”
    • From The University of Akron’s Board of Trustees – Vice Chair Richard W. Pogue; Trustees Judge Jane E. Bond and Roland Bauer; Student Trustee Kathleen A. Duff; and former trustee, Ben Ammons and former student trustee, Joe Rich.
    • Members of the Boards of our foundations, Alumni Association and our advisory and advancement board members;
    • State senators Tom Sawyer and Frank LaRose;
    • State representatives Zack Milkovich, Lynn and Marilyn Slaby, and Vernon Sykes.
    • Summit County Council Member Ilene Shapiro;
    • Chief Operating Officer and Legal Counsel for the G.A.R. Foundation, Christine Amer Mayer, and Senior Program Officer, Kirstin Toth.
    • From the Akron Beacon Journal, Andrea Mathewson, Doug Oplinger, and Bruce Winges
    • Director of Economic Development for FirstEnergy, Patrick Kelly;
    • President of the FirstEnergy Foundation, Dee Lowery;
    • Dr. H. Reid and Susie Wagstaff; and
    • Would the leadership of our student organizations please rise, along with our leadership team of vice presidents, deans, and department heads?

    I especially want to recognize some special guests, the exhibitors representing our partners in the:

    • Austen BioInnovation Institute in Akron;
    • Corrosion and Reliability Engineering program;
    • Innovation Alliance, including Lorain County Community College and Stark State University;
    • National Inventors Hall of Fame School…Center for STEM Learning;
    • New Landscape for Learning;
    • University of Akron Research Foundation; and
    • University Park Alliance.

    Please join me in thanking them for their participation today and for their ongoing collaboration.

    No university could be celebrated without its faculty, staff and students. And so, I ask that our faculty, staff and students please stand and be recognized.

    Ladies and Gentlemen, This is Akron! —a talented collection of individuals who hail from around the globe, each bringing a unique set of skills and experiences, all united by a common goal with individual success being both critical to and subordinate to our objectives, and all having the assurance that collectively we can meet any challenge.

    This is Akron!” is a powerful rallying cry, a proud and passionate response to those who have yet to experience our energy and innovation.  It is our declaration of excellence and distinction.

    Today, I will detail for you many accomplishments of the last year.  You will have heard of some, but not all.  And you, too, may even respond like so many: “Akron?”  Yes, This is Akron!  It is our collective celebration in the pride of accomplishment; and the realization of remarkable capacity and future potential.

    I.               Highlights:

    So let us begin . . .

    Just as Coach Porter has done in soccer, we are demonstrating that

    • Akron can set records.
    • Akron can be a model for the nation.
    • Akron can win.

    Individual successes, programmatic achievements and exemplary outcomes are the hallmarks of this university.  You may have seen them on the screen as you walked in, I will recite some of them now, and we will show them again at the end.

    This year,

    • Our University was again recognized among the "Best in the Midwest" by The Princeton Review,
    • Our School of Law and colleges of Engineering and Business Administration earned similar accolades,
    • We have three Fulbright award recipients among our students and recent graduates,
    • Our athletics program had one of the most successful seasons in history, and won the National Excellence in Management Cup,
    • For the third consecutive year, largely based on staff input, The University of Akron again was honored as one of the NorthCoast 99 best places to work, better enabling us to attract and retain highly talented people,
    • And, most important, our faculty continued to demonstrate superb scholarship and creative expression. Many of them are quoted in publications around the world; they also live the “public” in public university and change the lives of their students for the better.

    This is Akron! – a research university pursuing innovative solutions to some of the world’s major challenges. Indeed, discoveries on our campus could greatly improve the lives of millions. Just consider these remarkable opportunities:

    • Right now, America has enough coal to meet current domestic demand for more than 250 years, but now imagine doubling that potential and doing so with a clean coal technology! Our researchers have devised a coal-fired fuel cell that produces twice as much energy per pound of coal, while at the same time capturing carbon dioxide and other emissions. (Dr. Steven S. C. Chuang, Professor, Polymer Science)
    • Today, many cities remain under a cloud of pollution with associated public health problems.  But researchers here are designing improvements to catalytic converter filters and working with entrepreneurs who can help us bring cleaner air to major cities around the world.  Simply put, our researchers will make it healthier and easier for people to breathe. (Dr. George G. Chase, Professor, Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering; Dr. Darrell H. Reneker, Distinguished Professor, Polymer Science; and MemPro Ceramics Corporation)
    • Today, mountains of scrap tires still pose environmental hazards around the world, but because of work done here in Akron, there’s a new way for “devulcanizing” rubber, which will make it easier, safer and cheaper to reduce the scrap, by recycling the materials into new products. (Dr. Avraam I. Isayev, Distinguished Professor, Polymer Engineering)
    • This is Akron! where we are developing a miniaturized sensing system to monitor the human heartbeat, and detect the faintest early signs of heart failure. (Dr. Fred Kat-Chung Choy, Professor, Mechanical Engineering)
    • Here you also will find a polymer device no bigger than a coin that could serve as an artificial pancreas for the millions of diabetic patients, eliminating finger prick tests and insulin injections from their daily lives. (Dr. Mukerrem Cakmak, Distinguished Professor, Polymer Engineering;  Dr. Joseph P. Kennedy, Distinguished Professor, Polymer Science)
    • Something as seemingly abstract as a set of mathematical algorithms developed by one of our faculty could speed up computer processing of pictures and sound, and enable MRI and CT scanners around the world to detect tumors or anomalies at very early, and very treatable, stages. (Dr. Dale H. Mugler, Dean of the Honors College, Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Professor of Applied Mathematics)
    • Our researchers are investigating the possibilities that spider silk bundled into thin ropes could simulate human muscle, and larger cords of such silk could power robotic devices that could repeatedly hoist a 10-ton truck. And by replicating the tiny foot hairs found on geckos, researchers could give robotic devices similar abilities to “walk” on ceilings and walls without the aid of adhesives. (Dr. Todd Blackledge, Associate Professor, Biology;                        Dr. Ali Dhinojwala, Chair & Morton Professor, Polymer Science)
    • Finally, taking shape in our labs is a new generation of polymers that can conduct electricity. These advanced materials could find applications as diverse as artificial nerves, electromagnetic shielding or better rechargeable batteries. (Dr. Steven Z.D. Cheng, Dean of the College of Polymer Science & Polymer Engineering and R.C. Musson & Trustees Professor of Polymer Science;          Dr. Matthew Graham of Akron Polymer Systems, Inc.)

    Yes, This is Akron! Where students, faculty and staff earn accolades, set records, receive awards and improve the quality of life for thousands of people – further enhancing the momentum we have gained during the past decade.

    This is Akron! Where we labor to secure the future for ourselves by taking a giant leap ahead of the competition at the same time that we are creating a Third Cycle of Expansion in our University.

    You and I are part of that expansion, of that success! In this time of unprecedented challenges, we – the faculty, students and staff of The University of Akron, together with our partners – are innovating our way to growing prosperity!

    II.              The Akron Model:

    Let me tell you how our University is helping to lead the way in the “new normal” economic realities of public higher education. You see, a relentlessly competitive and challenging global economy is radically revising how higher education and other services are funded, and this is happening at the same time that the importance of education has become the prerequisite for prosperity and well-being individually, regionally, nationally and globally.

    In its most recent cover story, Time magazine states that “education is the engine of social mobility.”  It is that because education also is an engine of economic development. And that’s why we developed the Akron Model and why we are accepting significant responsibility for the economic, social and cultural vitality of the communities and constituencies we serve. We are assembling talent and resources in order to become more connected, productive and relevant to our communities. (Zakaria, Fareed.  When Will We Learn? Time. November 14, 2011)

    And by bolstering the economic vitality of our region, our own institution’s long-term competitive and comparative advantages are themselves strengthened.

    You can best understand the Akron Model by thinking of it as kind of “tool chest” for strengthening community; as a robust and broad-based platform for ensuring economic success in our region. Indeed, as you can see here, a growing number of components best illustrate the Akron Model – a model in which each initiative is the outcome of partnerships demonstrating the power of collective impact.

    The two most recent examples of this growing platform include our strategic partnership with the Timken Company, announced in August, and our Lakewood Higher Education Center, which opened in September.

    Our agreement with Timken is an unprecedented collaboration. Timken and UA have an open-innovation agreement to combine their expertise in materials and surface engineering, which should yield increased opportunities and developments. This historic agreement, moreover, has the capacity of becoming a new model for university-corporate collaboration.

    The second example is a partnership with the Lakewood community, just west of Cleveland, where we have made it easier for adults to enhance their skill sets or return to college, while also expanding our network into Cuyahoga County.  . . . Lakewood now has a university, and it is Akron!

    Surely, most of you recognize some or all of the initiatives that are part of the Akron Model. And many of you have worked hard over the years to build and expand upon them. And in so doing, you have enabled our University to act as a convener, developer and anchor for clusters of innovation – clusters that generate knowledge and creative capital, train human capital, build social capital, attract financial capital and preserve natural capital.


    University of Akron Research Foundation

    New Landscape for Learning

    University Park Alliance

    Austen BioInnovation Institute in Akron

    Corrosion and Reliability Engineering Program

    National Inventors Hall of Fame School/Akron Early College High School

    Open Innovation

    Innovation Alliance

    Regional Innovation Institute] 


    As I reported to you last year, we are increasingly asked to share the Akron Model before national and international audiences.  So far this year, we have been invited to tell our story in presentations from Akron to Cleveland, Washington to California and from Waikiki to Berlin and back again. This is Akron! . . . reaching out and becoming known well beyond the borders of our region and our state.


    Waikiki, Hawai’i, Jan. 13, 2011 – “E Kamakani Noi’I: Wind That Seeks Knowledge” symposium, sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences and University of Hawai’i

    Akron, January 18 – “Building Prosperity in Greater Akron” forum, sponsored by Greater Akron Chamber, University of Akron, city of Akron, Summit County and Greater Ohio Policy Center

    Cleveland, April 25 – “Building The Ohio Innovation Economy” symposium, sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences, NorTech and The University of Akron

    Los Angeles, May 1-4 – “Shaping the Future” Milken Institute Global Conference

    Berlin, Germany, May 24-25 – “Meeting Global Challenges: German-U.S. Innovation Policy” symposium, sponsored by the German Institute for Economic Development and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences

    Washington D.C., June 9 – “The New Role of Universities in the 21st Century: Universities as Engines of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Hubs” conference, sponsored by the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies

    Palm Springs, CA, Aug. 1 – “DoD Corrosion Conference 2011”, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense

    East Lansing, MI, Oct. 2 – “Engaged Scholarship and Evidence-Based Practice” sponsored by the 2011 National Outreach Scholarship Conference

    Akron, OH, Oct. 28 – “TEDxAkron 2011 ‘Rebirth’” event sponsored by the UA Taylor Institute for Direct Marketing]

    What is the message we offer at these important gatherings?

    We explain that a changing economy or changing technological underpinnings of any industry require the institutions, themselves, to change, and that the Akron Model provides a useful framework for such a transformation.

    We demonstrate how, through innovative collaborations, initiatives and interactions, metropolitan-sited institutions can play a vital role in sustaining and growing their regions in this global, knowledge and conceptual economy.

    And we tell them that, beyond the many statistics and facts that detail our successes, the most important outcome of the Akron Model is the least quantifiable and most intangible.

    It is a kind of entrepreneurial optimism, a belief that our collective impact can achieve audacious goals and improbable outcomes.

    The Akron Model enables us to believe that we can accomplish bold endeavors because we have accomplished bold endeavors, and we will continue to do so by using the Akron Model as our framework.

    This…is Akron!

    For more than a decade, we have advanced, nurtured and walked the talk of these ideas, . . . ideas whereby “We see that our location in Akron, at the heart of a thriving regional economy, is a significant competitive advantage . . .” that . . . the University of Akron is in, of and for Akron, and community engagement is at the core of our portfolio of opportunities.” (Proenza, Luis M. Charting the Course. 2001.)

    And if imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, it certainly is gratifying to hear a number of universities across the country now echoing these same ideas and rallying their campuses and communities. Just a month ago, in his state of the university address, Ohio State University president Gordon Gee talked about engaging their external partners and communities in the work of the university.  (Gee, E. Gordon. Innovating to the Core: Sustaining the University’s Mission. October 4, 2011.)

    The new president of Drexel University in Philadelphia recently said that the “future of our university and our community are inextricably bound in a mutual self-interest that virtually dictates our support for one another.  (Fry, John. Convocation Speech. October 5, 2010.)

    And last month, the chairman of the Gallup Organization concluded that the “ . . . next economic breakthroughs . . .” would  “ . . . come from . . . the combination of forces within big cities, great universities and powerful local leaders.” (Clifton, James. Excerpted from The Coming Jobs War, Gallup Press. October 2011.)

    So we must move forward even more vigorously, and continue moving into an even closer stage of integration with our communities, a stage characterized by coordinated institution-scale engagement, linkage to a regional plan and the production of benefits for students, the region and our University – something we are well embarked upon already. (Arbo & Benneworth. Understanding the regional contribution of higher education institutions:  A literature review. 2007.)

    Indeed, through the principles of relevance, connectivity and productivity we are becoming one with our region—employing strategies of infrastructure investment and partnerships; and also serving as an anchor institution of substantial magnitude and continuing to grow so as to further engender a stabilizing influence on the economy.

    This is Akron! . . . and the Akron Model is our path to increasing relevance, connectivity and productivity . . . and our roadmap is Vision 2020, our strategic plan.

    III. Initiatives for Success:

    Last year, in the State of the University Address, I discussed eight interactive steps being shaped in Vision 2020 that I thought would help us leverage opportunities, draw on uncommon resources in novel and optimal combinations and further develop the Akron Model.  Those eight steps are shown on this slide:


    1. University as a broad-based platform, “tool chest,” with collaborative & interdisciplinary approach
    2. Best integrator of learning resources; best assessor of learning; best educational environment
    3. Collaborative knowledge production/open Innovation
    4. Adequate incentives to yield new, successful initiatives
    5. New market opportunities
    6. Economic development
    7. New business models
    8. Define and refine the New Gold Standard; Implement a comprehensive, integrated, dynamic plan]

     So let me briefly tell you about the progress we have made:

    • Through collaboration among our faculty, including the Faculty Senate and others across the university, we are better aligned for impact and success. The convergence of the Buchtel College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Creative and Professional Arts, and a similar process to create a new College of Health Professions are two examples, with other opportunities for alignment surely to follow.
    • Our drive for broad consultation and shared leadership also is being extended through the establishment of the University Council, which will hold its first meeting this month. All nine standing committees have been formed and already nearly all have met. Our goal is for this University Council to function at such a high level that it becomes nationally recognized as a best practice in shared leadership.
    • Our faculty are developing a new general education curriculum that calls for earlier involvement from faculty in the various major fields of study, thereby creating a new model of depth and breadth in undergraduate education. This new general education curriculum will be a complementary part of “The Akron Experience,” a multifaceted program that will substantively and positively differentiate our graduates from those of other universities by providing them a “passport” to success.
    • We have implemented a new talent development strategy to attract, develop and retain a broad range of excellent and engaged faculty and staff so as to assure the high quality, global relevance and effective community engagement of the University. And we are creating a professional and individual staff development framework to make sure that the talented people who work here have every opportunity to advance in their careers and make meaningful contributions to our community.
    • And we are developing plans for a 10-year investment strategy of at least $50 million in four clusters of innovation for adding up to 200 new faculty and staff aligned with vital partnerships that will bring us to no less than $200 million in annual research support by 2020.
    • We are working with a variety of companies, including Pearson Publishing, to develop tools that will enable us to become an integrator of learning resources and an assessor of knowledge.  And we also are progressing in the development of a model for shared services, not only among colleges and universities, but across a broader spectrum of public and private institutions and within our own University.
    • We are updating our master guide plan for the ongoing physical transformation of our campus. And, in partnership with the University Park Alliance, we are continuing the exciting prospects of creating a vibrant set of neighborhoods and connections to the larger community surrounding our campus.
    • We are reaching across continents, and our collaboration with China is expanding and now includes annual trips by our students and faculty, agreements with several prestigious universities; two joint Ph.D. programs in polymer science and polymer engineering; an emerging program in intellectual-property law; an innovative new “one-plus-one” bachelors and masters program for polymer science students from China here on our campus; and a Confucius Institute that grows stronger and larger with each year.  
    • Our new budgeting process takes a strategic investment approach that enables us to fund talent development as a high priority.  We have taken a vital step toward improving faculty salaries and rewarding the significant and collective efforts of our staff and contract professionals. What is more, the budget also includes strategic investment in new full-time faculty, an enhanced scholarship portfolio, renovation of our facilities, and reserve funds.
    • We also are advancing our enrollment and scholarship strategies by developing thoughtfully informed and inclusive pathways to success that match the particular needs of students at a lower cost per credit hour.

    Colleagues, through these and other efforts, we will achieve distinction, greater prominence and more effectively differentiate The University of Akron in this region and across the nation.

    In the immediate future, as we move the University forward, you should expect to hear more about three vital initiatives:

    1. Because benchmarking ourselves based simply on geographic proximity or athletic conference alignment is no longer relevant, we will define a new way to benchmark our success by identifying a unique set of national and international universities better suited to our dynamic locale, mix of programs and opportunities.
    2. Because student success is the one-shared vision that embraces all of what we do at The University of Akron, we will expand our partnerships with school systems throughout our region to engender greater achievement, and meet the aspirations of students who would seek to continue at The University of Akron. And, finally . . .
    3. Because the University’s accomplishments are growing and should be recognized widely, we will accelerate our momentum through enhanced marketing and communication initiatives, more effectively enabling us to tell our story, so that we can attract additional resources and forge new partnerships to advance the University’s mission, the Akron Model and our strategic plan, Vision 2020: The New Gold Standard of University Performance.

    In these and all other initiatives, success will be determined by our collective efforts, for this is indeed, our story to tell, a story of all of us, celebrated by us.

    You are Akron.

    We are Akron.


    . . . a place where campus and community are one.

    . . . a place where the challenge of opportunity is welcomed

    . . . a place where you can dream, and dare, and do what it takes to make the world a better place,

    Because . . . my friends . . . This is Akron!

    Say it proudly – This is Akron!

  • Topic Category: State of the University Address
  • Tags: Akron Model, Vision 2020, research, achievements
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