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Statements to the Community
Commencement Addresses

The University of Akron

  • Date: 10/14/2002
  • Author: Dr. Luis M. Proenza (President, The University of Akron)
  • Location: Pro Football Hall of Fame Luncheon Committee
  • Thank you for the invitation. It certainly is my pleasure to be here.

    Indeed, Canton is the cradle of professional football, and the Pro Football Hall of Fame is one of the nation's top attractions.

    Not only does it provide entertainment, educational programs and great memories, it also provides an inspiration to thousands of student athletes who "suit up" each Saturday in Autumn with dreams of someday reaching this pinnacle of achievement - this level of perfection.

    In the past two decades, 18 University of Akron athletes have won roster spots in the National Football League, including four Zips who were rookies in NFL camps this season.
    (University of Akron Football Media Guide, Fall 2002)

    Several of our alumni are current NFL standouts, including Victor Green, of the New England Patriots, Pro-Bowler Jason Taylor of Miami, Dwight Smith of Tampa Bay and Jamie Reader of Philadelphia.
    (University of Akron Football Media Guide, Fall 2002 and Athletic Dept.)

    Two of our alumni played for the old Canton Bulldogs, and one of them, Ralph Waldsmith, was on the roster in 1922 when Canton won the first of its back-to-back NFL titles.
    (Pro Football Hall of Fame Web site, October 2002; University of Akron Football Media Guide, Fall 2002)

    And while The University of Akron's best-known player is not eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he certainly has helped pave the way for many of those already immortalized in the twin galleries.

    John Heisman quarterbacked our predecessor institution Buchtel College in 1893 and 94, and the trophy in his honor is awarded annually to the top college football player, which is often an important step in the athlete's remarkable journey to Canton, Ohio.

    Indeed, career paths travel in many directions, but no matter where the path ends, there is a good chance that it wound its way through a college campus.

    At The University of Akron, we are proud of the young men and women who make up our athletic program. They measure up, both on and off the field, and I congratulate our Athletic Director Mike Thomas and his staff on their leadership and on their progress in taking our athletic program to the next level.

    We are excited about the progress of other facets of the University as well, as we have set in motion a plan to capture our destiny.

    We continue to differentiate ourselves from the competition and strengthen our position and reputation as the public research university for northern Ohio, and to achieve a prominence comparable to that long enjoyed by The Ohio State University in central Ohio and to the more recent positioning of the University of Cincinnati in southern Ohio.

    Last Spring, we broke ground on The Student Recreation Center, Athletic Field House and Indoor Varsity Golf Practice Facility, which becomes the fifth major building to be added to the campus landscape in the past two years.

    The Recreation Center is beginning to dominate the campus landscape. And, the attached Field House with its 100-yard indoor football field, along with the indoor varsity golf practice facility, will allow our athletes to practice on campus, instead of across town, and our state-of-the art facilities and other amenities certainly will help our recruiting efforts.

    Last month, we dedicated the new College of Arts & Sciences Building, and work is nearly completed on the first phase of the new Student Union Building. We plan to occupy by year's end, at which time we will tear down the old Gardner Student Center and begin construction of the Union's second phase.

    Construction is well along on our North Campus Parking Deck, at Buchtel Avenue, and we soon will break ground on our Student Affairs Building adjacent to the deck.

    Last year, we dedicated our Polymer Engineering Academic Center and the East Campus Parking Deck.

    We have begun planting some of the 30,000 trees, which will soon provide our campus with a park-like atmosphere.

    We have permanently closed portions of Carroll and Brown/Union streets and have begun the process of adding more than 31 acres of open space to create courtyards, walkways, terraces, and plazas - nearly doubling what currently exists. And, with the addition of new signage, we are totally changing the face of our campus.

    All of these improvements are part of a $200-million New Landscape for Learning initiative, which is adding 6 new buildings and providing major expansions or renovations to 14 other structures.

    In addition to our New Landscape for Learning, we are developing a New Landscape for Living, in which we have partnered with the City of Akron, Summa and the University Park Neighborhood Association to launch the University Park Alliance - a community revitalization project in the 40-block neighborhood immediately surrounding the campus.

    This plan will help create an attractive, clean and safe residential area for a diverse population, and a commercial area that encourages private investment.

    This past year, we were pleased to receive a $2.5 million grant from the Knight Foundation, which will serve as seed money, as a catalyst that will spur activity and draw attention to the additional investment in this ambitious and worthwhile undertaking.

    Landscape for Living is not about rebuilding structures; it is about re-energizing a community.

    And last year, we dedicated The University of Akron's network upgrade and the wireless initiative, making our University the most "wired for wireless" public university in Ohio.

    Our campus network is now wireless throughout. Our students no longer need to plug in, to tap in, to the worldwide web.

    Yet...while facilities and technology are critical to our success and must reflect our vision and our documentable excellence, our number-one priority remains student success.

    In today's knowledge-based economy, human capital is business capital, and consequently a high school education is no longer sufficient. Rather, high school is just the first stop on the road to a lifetime of learning.

    In fact, according to a survey by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, 87 percent of the general public agrees that a college education is as necessary today as a high school diploma used to be.
    (Association of American Colleges and Universities, "Greater Expectations: A New Vision for Learning As a Nation Goes to College," 2002)

    Also, the Council on Competitiveness reports that jobs requiring technical skills will grow by 51% in the next decade.

    And worldwide, higher education is a growth industry because the market is increasingly sending a signal to everyone who needs gainful employment: Education pays!

    The recent Census Bureau study shows that people with college degrees are earning progressively more and more compared to those who earn only a high school diploma.

    And, the differences are notable. Persons with doctoral degrees will average $3.4 million in earnings over their careers; those with master's degrees, $2.5 million; those with a bachelor's degree $2.1 million; and those with professional degrees total of $4.4 million.

    By comparison, those with only a high school education will earn just $1.2 million during their lifetimes of work.

    And herein lies one of the investment values of public higher education. Higher incomes equate to increased state revenues as college graduates pay back to the state significant dividends, just in additional taxes, for every dollar the state invests in higher education!

    But there is more, because there are additional returns of as much as 60 percent per year resulting from the enhancements made possible by research and from the productivity gains made possible by a higher-quality workforce.

    And there are yet other social and economic benefits to be counted - including savings from the many costs often associated with the lack of education, including unemployment, welfare, healthcare, and crime.

    Indeed, education is the infrastructure of our economy, and at The University of Akron, we are committed to building on our traditions of service and excellence, and we are committed to building a campus and learning environment where our students can dream and dare and do those things that will change the world and make their roles in it more rewarding.

    We are making the University more accessible to the non-traditional student by offering more courses at the times they can take them - evenings and weekends.

    Our distance education programs are designed to accommodate non-traditional students, who, for whatever reason, cannot pursue their educational goals on our main campus.

    The University of Akron is expanding its vision in other ways, as work continues on the establishment of the Medina Higher Education Center.

    Our partnership with the Medina County Task Force to establish a higher education facility in Medina County, builds upon the historical success and ongoing active support of the community, school superintendents, and leaders of Medina County.

    Major expansion to our Wayne College campus in Orrville and our proposed creation an academic center in Holmes County will allow us to expand the University's outreach even further.

    Also, we are preparing our students to become valuable contributors to the workforce through our Career Advantage Network.

    There are a lot of internship opportunities, lots of practical experience opportunities, and lots of networking experiences in the greater Akron area, and this program allows our students to take advantage of them.

    The University of Akron also is working to improve its revenue stream by seeking additional funding in gifts, grants and contracts from a broader base, including state and federal agencies, as well as from private sources. Last year, we recorded our second best giving year in history.

    We also are continuing our lobbying efforts with lawmakers on the need to increase state and federal funding.

    If our state is to become a leader in science and technology as Ohio Governor Bob Taft has called for, it follows that our state must make higher education a priority, because in today's knowledge-based economy, higher education is society's infrastructure and research is a fundamental driver in our economic development efforts.

    Indeed, economists agree that creation of new technological knowledge through research is our most direct economic avenue for acquiring added value.

    When that new knowledge is quantified in a market environment, it creates fuller employment, capital formation, growing profits and surpluses for investment.

    In other words, it is from research that new companies are born; that new jobs are created. It is from research that new wealth is created and the economy expands.

    And that is why some states have made higher education the infrastructure of their new economy - because universities excel at the creation of new knowledge, through research.

    Here is how Tim Ferguson put it in Forbes magazine: "In Cleveland('s) heyday, . . . proximity to water or rail mattered a lot. Today, proximity to a university campus matters a lot."
    (Tim Ferguson, Forbes, 5/31/99)

    That is why Donald Alstadt, the chairman and C.E.O. of the Lord Corporation, has maintained an office at each of 10 or 15 universities, so that he can be the first to "mine" new knowledge and technology and thus gain a competitive edge for his company.

    It has been a banner year for new knowledge creation at The University of Akron, as we surpassed last year's grants and contracts awards.

    We have created a University of Akron Research Foundation and have approved an equity policy for our faculty, so that for the first time, they can now be part of their own startup companies based on their research.

    New relationships and interactions are being developed to grow a more coordinated base for long-term strength in the arena of polymer and advanced materials.

    As northern Ohio's public research university, The University of Akron is the only Ohio university, public or private, to have a science and engineering program ranked in the top five nationally, with our polymer science and engineering program rated second by U.S. News & World Report.

    To meet the needs of Ohio's largest industry, the polymer industry, we are working to engender an effective commercialization engine for new polymer technologies, and establish, together with industry, a national resource that will advance technological innovation across the spectrum of the industry.

    A comprehensive industry association is being formed, Polymer Ohio, Inc., thanks to the support of PolyOne and Sajar Plastics, among others. And, with the strong support of NorTech and of the Ohio Department of Development, The University of Akron is undertaking several initiatives, many in collaboration with key partners like Case Western Reserve University and the Battelle Memorial Institute.

    These innovative practices are the signs of an economy that is changing...that is searching for ways to be more competitive and more successful.

    But success is not going to come simply as a result of a whole series of individual activities. Instead, it is going to require a bold economic growth strategy.

    Governor Taft's exciting Third Frontier project, with its $1.6 billion projected investment is the kind of bold action that Ohio's research efforts have needed.

    By matching strengths with opportunities, we can build a vibrant and progressive economy.

    Indeed, this is an exciting time to be associated with higher education and even more exciting to be a part of The University of Akron, as we set in motion a plan to capture our destiny.

    And like the Pro Football Hall of Fame, we also encourage visitors to tour our facilities and to see, firsthand, the excitement and progress that we are making as we are engaged in building one of the best universities in the nation!

    As we move forward, let me remind you of an important, yet often overlooked, element that is essential to the success of any university athletic event - the mascot, who during the course of a game is often called upon to defend the University's honor by encountering the opposing mascot.

    At The University of Akron, our mascot is an adorable kangaroo that we affectionately call Zippy, but our mascot's presence goes far beyond the football field.

    At The University of Akron, Zippy represents everything that we do, because in the new economy, science and technology will play an increasingly important role in our future, and our students must be prepared and equipped to effectively compete on a field that is face-paced and forever changing.

    Therefore, let me close with this thought: In the metaphors of financial markets, you need to know that this kangaroo is bullish on Akron and on Ohio!
    It packs quite a punch, puts quite a zip into the economy, and yes, it is always one giant leap ahead of the competition!

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