2012 Opening Day Address
I have been a part of the Kean community since 1983. I have been a professor. A faculty senate chair. An assistant to two presidents, and for the past nine years, President. While I have loved this place from the first day I set foot on campus, I am proud to say that over the past decade we have grown and improved by leaps and bounds. And what’s more important, we are not done yet.
And with that in mind, I want to welcome everyone back to a new academic year at Kean University.
When I became President of Kean, I had a vision for this university, and what it could be and what we could accomplish. I looked around at the beautiful faces of our students and knew they deserved a better future. I spoke to some of our talented faculty and I thought with better resources they could accomplish anything. And then I turned to my Board of Trustees and I told them, although it would be an uphill battle, we could make Kean a world-class institution. And they had one collective response: get to work.
In those 9 years, we’ve accomplished some amazing things together:
- We launched New Jersey’s best Science, Technology & Mathematics program.
- We created the first Sustainability Sciences Program in the state.
- We created two doctoral programs.
- We became a cultural hub with our commitment to the arts and with the opening of Enlow Hall.
- We expanded our academic offerings with our Kean Ocean campus.
- We acquired a national treasure by the name of Liberty Hall.
- We built academic, residential and athletic facilities that are the envy of the state.
Last year on Opening Day, I introduced Vision 2020, a series of bold initiatives that would provide the blueprint for Kean’s future growth.
Ladies and gentlemen that begins now.
Our partnership with the City of Elizabeth to develop a section of Morris Avenue into University Boulevard is underway. Within 3-5 years there will be a mile’s worth of boutique stores, restaurants and residential space available for all members of the University community to enjoy. This will make us a true University town.
By this time next year, we will have completed construction on 18 new faculty-housing units behind the East Campus. This will help our efforts to attract the world-class faculty to Kean University.
As you can see, construction on the Green Lane mixed-use building has begun and in 2014, I plan on having the Opening Day reception in this gorgeous facility. The building will serve as home to our Global Business and Design programs. The first floor will house an expansive Barnes and Noble retail store complete with its own café. It will also be the new home of our campus bookstore, as we outgrew the space at the University Center about a decade ago.
Our doctoral program in Nursing Educational Leadership is in the final phase of review for approval as we await a consultant visit from the Secretary of Higher Education. This doctoral program will add yet another level of prestige to our University and to our nursing department.
We are now exploring the development of another doctoral program in Communication Sciences and Disorders. We are the leader in this area in New Jersey; our program has the most students and is the oldest in the state.
And we’re not done yet.
Kean University is poised to become the first public American institution of higher education to have its own campus in China. 208 students are beginning their journeys this week as pioneers in this two-year pilot program between Wenzhou and Kean University.
Now that is something we all can take great pride in!
Now here are more of our terrific accomplishments just from the past year alone.
At our Graduate College Commencement ceremony, 8 students made history at Kean University. These trailblazers became the first ever doctoral degree recipients at Kean and will serve as an inspiration for us for years to come.
As Executive Director of the School for Global Education and Innovation, Mike Searson had quite a year. Mike was one of 4 recipients of Facebook’s inaugural Digital Citizenship Research Grants – given to those who demonstrate dedication to advancing global understanding of digital citizenship. Mike’s innovative leadership as President for the Society for the Integration of Technology Education was also recognized by NJ Department of Education.
The New Jersey Department of Education bestowed additional recognition awards to our College of Education for our Urban Teacher Residency Model, our Modified Alternate Route Program and our cutting edge work in developing the Progressive Science Institute. This program has helped produce 105 certified teachers in physics and chemistry in the last three years alone. I want to thank Dr. Susan Polirstok for her ongoing dedication and professionalism in leading the College of Education.
The Gateway building on the Ocean campus will be open this January and not a moment too soon. Enrollment at Kean Ocean has grown steadily, exceeding 1,600 students and it is higher this year than it was last year. It will give us a home on the Ocean campus and help us expand our offerings and the services we provide to our students.
Our MBA in Global Management program was the first in the nation to earn accreditation from EPAS, an international program accreditation system operated by the European Foundation for Management Development.
Diverse Issues in Higher Education lauded Kean University for being a top producer of mathematics graduates among minority populations. We ranked in the top 40 in the entire nation in this area.
Our M.A. in Educational Leadership Program received national recognition by NCATE until August 2018. Thank you Effie Christie and all the members of your department that worked on this.
Under the leadership of Linda O’Shea, our award-winning Interior Design Program received a six year re-accreditation from the Council for Interior Design Accreditation this past April.
Professor Holly Logue was inducted into the National Theater Conference, a select group of only 150 individuals invited from around the country.
Computer Science also made history this year as the first cohorts in their 5 year B.S./M.S. degree program graduated in May.
Our Occupational Therapy students continue to excel at every level. This year, they had a 100% pass rate on their licensure exam. I’d like to tell you a little about one alumnus of the program who is doing some amazing things. Alex Lopez developed an innovative intervention program for at-risk inner city youth called PAR FORE.
Alex credits Kean University and specifically Laurie Knis-Matthews as his inspiration for developing this amazing idea. Our own Jennifer Gardner is now Program Director for the state of New Jersey and the entire department deserves a round of applause.
Alex embodies the sense of community and dedication to improving the lives of others that can be found all throughout the university. For the third consecutive year, Kean has been named to President Obama’s Honor Roll for Community Service. We performed over 15,000 hours of service to our surrounding communities and I would like to thank Janice Murray-Laury and Scott Snowden for a terrific job.
The Union County Human Relations Commission recognized recent graduate Melissa Heron and Associate Director of Undergraduate Admissions Manuel Donelson for their work in promoting human rights and cultural diversity.
Norma Bowe and her Be The Change organization continue their selfless work. They recently planted several gardens in vacant lots in Newark that residents now use to grow fruits and vegetables. Thank you Norma for all of your efforts.
Another group that is a source of tremendous pride for our university is our spirited and talented student athletes.
Field Hockey’s Olivia Triano became the first player in school history to earn First-Team All American honors and represented Kean in the Senior All-Star game.
Ryan Zamorsky also earned First-Team All American honors as he helped lead our baseball team to its fifth trip to the College World Series in the past six years. The team also won its third consecutive NJAC championship.
In just its second season, Men’s Volleyball appeared in the inaugural NCAA Division III championships. Steve Vahalla became the program’s first ever All-American.
Under the leadership of Coach of the Year, Dan Garrett, Kean Football advanced to the NCAA playoffs for the first time in school history and won the NJAC championship by beating Montclair State. TJ Denehy became the first player in program history to be named a First-Team Academic All-American.
All of these efforts bring great prestige to our university and I want to thank the Athletic Director, Chris Morgan, for all of his hard work and professionalism in steering us through this past year. Thanks Chris, for everything.
Kean University continues its commitment to fostering research opportunities for students and faculty. Dr. Sonia Arora paired with student Khushbu Solanki on groundbreaking research into Neem compounds and their effects on HIV proteins. Dr. Arora also led a team of students that included Khushbu, Christine Chen and Ramanpreet Kaur who were invited to participate in the prestigious Posters on the Hill conference in April.
Dr. George Change and the College of Natural, Applied and Health Sciences produced 12 peer reviewed and conference papers that featured student authors.
Our nursing program continues to grow, adding Middlesex and Bergen county to its list of offsite locations. Kean’s nursing program is now offered at five counties in the state.
Dr. Cheryl Krause-Parello led an effort that resulted in a major grant for the Center for Nursing Research. “Working Dogs for Wounded Warriors” studies the effects of animal-assisted therapy on post-traumatic stress disorder. Cheryl is also a recipient of the Diva and Don award, a prestigious honor given by the Institute of Nursing.
You remember that several years ago we were the trailblazers in offering New Jersey’s first Sustainability Sciences degree. Well, that decision has proven to be wise, and the number of majors in the program has increased 135% over the past two years.
Our state-of-the-art composter has processed over 155,000 pounds of food waste that has been used to help beautify our campus and grow bigger tomatoes. Thank you Nick Smith-Sebasto for all your efforts.
Our Human Rights Conference was a tremendous success once again. This year’s event was attended by over 900 teachers, students and community leaders and featured one of the most inspirational people you will ever meet, Dr. Tererai Trent. I’m looking forward to this year’s conference on March 8 as we welcome John Prendergast as our keynote speaker.
Ryan Murray of our Holocaust and Genocide Studies program won the New Jersey Holocaust Education Commission’s Humanitarian Award.
Dr. Dennis Klein will lead a multinational delegation to Europe next summer as part of the Holocaust & Genocide Studies program. Everyone is welcome to attend what promises to be a memorable trip.
Dr. Terry Golway’s work in developing the Kean University Center for History, Politics and Policy continues to shine a spotlight on the knowledge and expertise of our talented faculty. The Center produced five polls that measured New Jersey’s attitudes on a range of issues that led to front-page coverage in The Star Ledger. The faculty associated with the Center produced more than a dozen Op-Ed pieces and book reviews for newspapers around the region. In a few weeks, the Center’s new website will launch and one of the first initiatives associated with it is a White Paper Series developed by Terry, Dr. Kathy Callahan and Dr. Leila Sadeghi.
University Relations continues to develop new ways to tell the story of our university and for all of you iPad fans out there, I think you will get a kick out of this. They have made it so that readers can access an interactive version of the Kean Magazine from their iPads.
Get on over to the Apple website and get the app. The Vision 2020 issue of the magazine is currently available and when the fall issue of the magazine is ready in September, it will be available online before you can get a print copy.
Our Premiere Stages program continues to earn rave reviews for its efforts, including the play Handicapped People in Their Formal Attire over the summer. John Wooten is doing fantastic work and I hope all of you will come out to see Farragut North which debuts on September 6th.
Music student Nancy Gleason won first place in the Adult Non-Professional Division at the 34th Annual New Jersey National Association of Teachers of Singing.
Jennifer Crupi was awarded a 2012 New Jersey State Council of the Arts Individual Artist Fellowship Grant.
A number of faculty published books and major works during the past year:
- Robin Landa
- Lily Chen-Hafteck
- John Gruesser
- Frank Esposito
- Eric Hayat
- Sidney Langer
- J. Robert Merritt
- Paul Myerson
- Rongsun Pu
- Frank Wetta
- Nick Smith-Sebasto
- Saar Ahuvia
- Anthony Scelba
- Ray Viglione
- Reva Narasimhan
- Mahmoud Affouf
These are just a few of the many accomplishments of the past year, and I expect much more from you in the years ahead. I also want to recognize the hard work of the faculty and staff who, over the past year, have dedicated their time and expertise to moving our university through the accreditation process.
I thank you for embracing this challenge presented by the Middle States Commission and for your determination to demonstrate the quality of our university. At a time when our students needed it most, the people who love this university rolled up their sleeves and got to work.
Later today the Board of Trustees will act on the hard work that produced our Monitoring Report and will endorse the document in a public forum. And tomorrow, we will submit this report to the Middle States Commission. It was truly a collaborative effort and one through which we have learned a great deal. And in the end, Kean University will emerge even stronger.
The Monitoring Report describes every aspect our student-focused operations and the policies and procedures we follow. We not only meet these standards, but in several aspects we have systems and programs that are recognized nationally and even globally.
I have told the Kean Federation of Teachers, the Executive Directors and Department Chairpersons that, barring financial exigencies, I am committed to hiring 40-45 new faculty every year for the next three years. Kean University is committed to the principle of shared governance and I look forward to working with all campus constituencies to ensure that we continue to move forward.
We have done all that was asked of us to reaffirm our accreditation. And if the Middle States asks for more, we will give that to them as well. I will not tire. I will get the job done. Our university deserves it. Our 16,000 students deserve it. Our 90,000 alumni deserve it. And I will give them nothing less.
There is one reason and one reason alone why we will not falter. We have been entrusted with the lives of 16,000 individuals, all with their own specific vision of the American Dream. But they all have one thing in common – the hope for a better life. They hold on to this hope in the face of uncertainty. They hold on to this hope in the face of difficulty. As President Obama would say, they possess the “Audacity of Hope” that gives them strength when they feel like they might break.
Our students overcome their own personal challenges every single day. They serve as an inspiration to us all. The story of Kean is the story of our students. And what amazing stories they are.
I’d like to tell you about a few of them now:
Emely Garcia grew up right down the road in Elizabeth and was a gifted student her entire life. She was enrolled in accelerated classes and was described as every teacher’s dream student. Her parents stressed the importance of getting a good education and Emely heeded that advice. When Emely had her son during her senior year of high school, it resulted in what she describes as the most stressful time in her life. Emely’s father told her that he didn’t think she would be able to do all that she wanted to do with her educational goals. At the age of 18 years old, and now responsible for another life, Emely could have very easily given up on her dreams.
So what did she do? She worked harder. She fought to hold onto her dreams.
Although nervous and a little insecure, Emely enrolled in the STEM program. In her own words, she made it through those first two brutal years and excelled in her course work.
She is now the first member of her family to have a master’s degree and is a math teacher in Union High School. She is married to her high school crush and they have two beautiful children.
Nakyah Elijah grew up in Orange, N.J., without her parents. Raised only by her grandmother, the odds were definitely not in Nakyah’s favor. Upon graduating high school, Nakyah was basically on her own, left to fend for herself. She took a job at a hair salon to make ends meet and struggled to make enough money to pay the bills. She wondered what kind of future was in store for her.
But Nakyah had a voice inside of her, one that kept telling her that the only path to a successful future was a college education. She came to us through our EEO program, determined to make a difference in her life and the lives of those around her. Nakyah quickly immersed herself in all that Kean had to offer, working first with Residence Life and now with the University Center, and becoming a friend to so many of our students.
I am proud to say that I get to shake Nakyah’s hand in May when she walks across that stage to get her diploma. And she isn’t done yet. Nakyah plans on pursuing an M.B.A. degree and possibly law school after that.
Over the past 5 years, the McNair Program has produced seven doctoral students and 22 master’s level students. The program is designed to prepare low-income and first-generation students for doctoral studies. As a member this vaunted McNair Program, Sarah Salter epitomizes the effort and dedication found in a lot of our student body. Sarah is a transfer from Ocean County where she served as Vice-President of the Student Government and of the Sailing Team.
Sarah didn’t start out with her foot on third base. She comes from a working class background and has had to persevere through some very difficult times, including a traumatic brain injury that her father suffered. Through it all, Sarah has kept her head up and has accomplished some amazing things. She has a GPA of 3.97 and recently conducted research at the University of Iowa’s Summer Institute in Biostatistics. This October, Sarah will head to the University of Pennsylvania to participate in the prestigious IVY Plus Symposium.
Sarah graduates this May and I have a strong feeling that the best is yet to come for her.
Another of our high achieving McNair students is David Garcia. David in an inspiration to all those around him while conducting noteworthy research, some of it with our Vice-President of Academic Affairs, Dr. Jeff Toney.
At birth, David was diagnosed with Moebius Syndrome, a condition that left him with missing fingers and toes and that limits his peripheral vision. This has not stopped David one bit and he is thriving at Kean University. David joined fellow McNair student Elana Yousef this summer interning at John Hopkins University. Working with imminent researcher Dr. Peter Karakousis, David performed cutting-edge research in diagnosing tuberculosis.
Vice-President Toney told me that David has “a rare gift of confidence, quiet determination and sharp intelligence. And that he represents the very best of Kean.”
David will graduate this May and I am certain his education will continue and I expect great things to come from this remarkable young man.
When we talk about the word STRUGGLE in this country, many times it is exaggerated and overblown. Though no fault of our own, we simply don’t have a notion of what true struggle is. Chimaobi Odumuko knows what it is like to truly struggle and fight for what you want.
Chimaobi grew up in Nigeria, in a poverty that most of us could never even imagine. There were many times when he did not have food to eat. He would carry clean drinking water for miles to bring it back home to his family. And even though he did not have electricity to do homework at night, he held onto his dreams of a better life. And even if he wanted to give up, his father would not let him.
Chimaobi made his way to America at the age of 13. He dedicated himself to his education and made a promise that he would not let his family in Nigeria down. After years of hard work, and through the devastating loss of his father, Chimaobi earned his Pharm.D. This past year and has kept that promise to his family.
I know most of you are as committed to the success of our students as I am. I am certain that you will stand up for them and their future. I am sure you will stand up for Kean University and your own future. I know I will.
Ladies and Gentlemen: The future of our university is very promising and that of our students will be brighter than ever.