While I may not be the first, let me be among the many to wish you a Happy New Year from the University of Tennessee!
It is such an honor to serve the great state of Tennessee. I’m incredibly proud of the accomplishments our team has made this past year. From providing more opportunities for students’ success to new platforms for research and discovery, to our impact in the lives of Tennesseans in every community across the state, it was an exciting and transformative 2019.
I am convinced, more so than ever, that there is no better time in the University of Tennessee’s history than now. As I look back on the last year, I am encouraged by all that has been accomplished and energized about what’s to come. The next decade will be the greatest in the history of the University of Tennessee. All that has come before has provided the foundation, and we have the team in place to make it so.
• Increased enrollment. Across the UT System, total enrollment rose 1.5 percent to an all-time high of 51,582 across all campuses. Together, we are preparing the next generation through the combined force of education, research and outreach.
• A sizeable impact in our communities. Everywhere you look, we are making a sizeable impact in the communities we serve. Last year, we announced UT’s estimated economic impact of $9.094 billion across the state.
• New Chancellor for UT Knoxville, Donde Plowman. After a national search, Donde Plowman was selected to serve as the ninth chancellor of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville in April. In a short amount of time, Chancellor Plowman has already made tremendous strides in bringing the campus together and helping ensure our faculty, staff and students are working and learning in a welcoming environment.
• Created UT Promise. It is critically important that we do our part to be a ladder up for the middle and working classes. We announced UT Promise in March, and I traveled the state in September and October to promote the scholarships to students at 14 high schools. To date, UT Promise has more than 4,212 first-time, full-time freshman applicants and 1,414 applications from current UT students. An endowment was created to support this endeavor, and more than $21.5 million has been raised so far.
• Hosted Summit for Opioid Addiction and Response (SOAR): UT is uniquely positioned to identify the state’s “grand challenges,” such as the opioid addiction crisis, and convene the key stakeholders to work together to combat those challenges. More than 700 leaders from across the state and nation gathered in Knoxville to share ideas and information, make connections and make new plans to work together to combat this epidemic on our people, our state and the nation.
• Oak Ridge Institute at UT: The Oak Ridge Institute at the University of Tennessee (ORI@UT) forges a path of increased collaboration and alignment between UT and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and will enhance Tennessee’s ability to provide talent to meet national needs. We expect it to result in 120 new faculty positions, nearly 400 new graduate students, and generate more than $150 million in annual research expenditures within seven years. In addition to enhancing Tennessee’s ability to provide talent to meet national needs, it will catapult UT into the top echelons of research institutions.
• Transparent UT. We launched Transparent UT in an effort to be more open regarding our information and data, which included the launch of the Transparent UT website and online portal for individuals to submit new ideas. We launched a “data dashboard” that will build on our commitment to providing greater and easier access to information for UT’s faculty, staff, students and the communities they serve.
• UTIA and UTK Reunification. Of all the 1862 land grant institutions, UT was the only one with its flagship campus independent of the College of Agriculture, College of Veterinary Medicine, Experiment Stations and Extension. As a result, according to Fiscal Year 2017 National Science Foundation Higher Education Research and Development Survey data, UT Knoxville ranked 107th in research and UTIA ranked 170th among all universities. We were not structured in a way that allowed us to be competitive. This summer I asked the Board of Trustees to reunify these two critical campuses, which already shared the same faculty senate, faculty handbook, residence halls and facilities management. As a result, now together, the campuses rank among the top 50 public universities.
• Unleashing our best kept secret. After my first two weeks on the job, I boasted I had been to every campus: Memphis, Martin, Tullahoma, Chattanooga, Institute for Public Service, Institute of Agriculture, Knoxville and Oak Ridge National Lab. I was reminded that we have campuses in all 95 counties—our Extension offices. I promptly committed to visiting all 95. They share the same mission and passion, but are unique and inspiring in their own way. To date, I have visited 61 extension offices, and my goal is to have all 95 visits completed by early 2020.
These are just a few of the many points of pride we have all contributed to during the past year. While these milestone achievements are important, I remain squarely focused on our students and ensuring we do our part to help them achieve their dream of successfully completing college. That means hiring and retaining the best faculty and staff, having a growth mindset at all times, and expanding access to our campuses and institutes to students across Tennessee and around the world. I can’t wait to see what next year brings!