Office of the President

Dr. Patrick T. Harker is the 26th president of the University of Delaware. He also serves as professor of business administration in the Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics and professor of civil and environmental engineering in the College of Engineering.

State of the University
Mitchell Hall
June 1, 2013

Read the UDaily story
Watch the video

Welcome home! It’s great to have you back, and to update you on the State of UD.

This spring marks an important milestone for the University. Five years ago, we embarked on our Path to Prominence. During my closing keynote at the 2008 University Forum—the forerunner to this Alumni Weekend—I outlined the goals that would guide our work, goals for which we’d hold ourselves publicly accountable:

  • Excellence in undergraduate, graduate, and professional education;
  • Recognition as a premier research university;
  • Leadership in environmental education, research & technology;
  • Engaged global citizenship; and
  • A sustained dedication to public service.

I’ve been talking about our progress along this Path for a few months now. I’ve attached a lot of numbers to these milestones. I’ve shown graphs and charts documenting our baselines and our goals.

The data points are important. A plan isn’t much of a plan without them.

But then something funny happens: The semester ends, finals wrap up, and Commencement Weekend rolls around. You walk out onto the field of Delaware Stadium in late May—and seated in neat rows in front of you are 4,000 graduates in blue robes, all of them happy, all of them relieved, all of them eager to go out and make their mark on the world.

And it’s immediately obvious that no number, no statistic, no trend line can match those 4,000 stories. If you want to describe our mission, that’s where you have to start.

So let me start with our students—the students who choose to make UD their home. And let me tell you about the home we strive to make for them every day.

This year, more than 26,000 high school seniors applied for admission to the Class of 2017. They came from 46 states and 46 countries—the third-largest applicant pool in UD’s history.

We continue to attract students of incredible talent and impressive academic credentials. We saw a
3 percent gain in the number of applicants with a three-part SAT score of 2100 or higher. And more students applied to our Honors program than ever before in our history. We topped 5,000 Honors applications.

The applicant pool was also the most diverse in our history—which is critical given our guiding belief that diversity is central to higher education, that the process of learning hinges on expanding one’s viewpoint, on being exposed to many different perspectives by many different people. This year, nearly one in four freshman applicants was a student of color or an international student.

And that unprecedented diversity has yielded an incoming class that’s historic in so many ways. Over just last year, we have 18 percent more African American students, 21 percent more Hispanic students, 41 percent more Asian students, 36 percent more multi-ethnic students, and 46 percent more international students.

All of these young people—from different places and different backgrounds and different
experiences—come together in this amazing tradition, and institution, of higher education.

They learn together and grow together. They teach each other; they transform each other.

And a transformational experience is exactly what we owe them. That’s why we pledge to invest our time and creative effort in stoking students’ intellectual curiosity and their passion for learning; to create educational experiences that are authentic and interdisciplinary and entrepreneurial; to encourage students to use their full imaginative potential in the service of solving persistent problems.

Students come to Newark at a pivot point in their lives—when they begin on their own paths of discovery and start turning dreams into plans.

Bari Melker’s pivot point came in the fall of 2010, her senior year, when she talked her way into instructor Lisa McBeth’s winter study-abroad trip to South Africa, even though the sign-up deadline had passed.

The nursing student was assigned to work with New Beginnings in Pretoria, a safe-house for abandoned, abused, and neglected babies.

Within the first minute, Bari says, she knew her life was about to change forever. It did.

Bari graduated that spring, passed her boards, and worked as a nurse in New York for five months—just long enough to save the money she needed to get back to Pretoria and her work with the children who needed her.

As it turns out, there was one child in particular who needed her a great deal: a premature baby named Busi who, for nearly three months, was carried by Bari in a scarf-like wrap—22 hours a day—as she cared for all the other infants in her charge.

From New Beginnings, Bari went to a maternity hospital just outside of Cape Town, working in labor & delivery and the neonatal intensive care unit. In a bit of luck, Bari’s volunteer year in South Africa was winding down just as Lisa McBeth’s 2013 study-abroad group was visiting Cape Town.

Just 24 years old herself, Bari transformed from student to teacher. She said seeing the students connect with the patients just like she had two years earlier was an amazing experience. And it was teaching the UD students coming after her that inspired Bari to take her own education further.

She’s back in the U.S. now, attending midwifery school, and she’s anxious to go abroad again to put her indispensible skills to work—maybe this time in South America.

………

The University of Delaware knows something about engaged education. We know about global citizenship. We pioneered it—90 years ago this summer.

On July 7, 1923, UD launched America’s first study-abroad program, when a small group of students set sail on an ocean liner bound for France. That inaugural class spent its junior year immersed in French language and culture—learning from their classroom instructors and from the families with whom they stayed.

The experiment was the brainchild of a young professor of Modern Languages, Raymond Kirkbride. Before he was a professor, he was an ambulance driver in World War I. So he saw the carnage of war firsthand; he saw exactly what conflict could do to countries and communities.

At the end of the war, he was one of 400 soldiers to attend the Army School Detachment at the University of Grenoble. And this, he thought—international travel and scholarship—was a sustainable path to peace, to cross-cultural friendship and global cooperation. “We must get to know each other,” he said, “in order to understand each other.”

And so eight juniors followed Kirkbride to France just five years after the war had ended.

You’ll see some extraordinary men in this photo. Prof. Kirkbride is in the top row, center. Frankie Cummings—first row, third from left—who’d lost his sight at age 12, won the Sorbonne’s coveted diploma in French civilization. He placed 4th out of 71 students on the final exams, a feat that made international news. Cummings went on to become a foreign language professor at Penn, the school’s first blind faculty member, and then executive director of the Delaware Commission for the Blind.

Herbert Lank—first row, second from left—became president of DuPont Canada. David Dougherty—second row, second from left—became a professor at the University of Oregon. And there he honored his hero, Raymond Kirkbride, by establishing a foundation to promote world peace. It exists today as the Friendship Foundation for International Students.

UD’s study abroad program was hailed nationally for its success in promoting cross-cultural education, and soon other colleges began sending their students to UD to participate.

Let’s take a look at how these students—representing Delaware, Harvard, Wellesley, Penn, Brown, Smith, Princeton, and others—passed their time in France. The year is 1926.

………

2013 actually marks a second study-abroad anniversary, as well. Ten years ago—80 years after our pioneering trip to France—we finally made good on our global ambitions.

That’s when we put a program on the seventh continent for the first time. In 2003, a group of students followed Ralph Begleiter, our emcee today, to Antarctica—a trip dedicated to photojournalism and geopolitics. The “global” in global citizenship was fully realized.

The group paid tribute to their predecessors—that earlier band of intrepid travelers.

Today we continue this vital tradition, this bold experiment in discovering that which binds us together, that which honors connection over division, and contributes to a broader understanding of the world and our place in it.

………

International scholarship and service take many forms at UD—and they don’t all fit into a few-month timeframe.

This year, two teams of students from UD’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders completed sustainability projects in Africa and Central America, finalizing work that took years of planning, construction, and close collaboration with their teammates and with the townspeople they labored alongside.

In Cameroon, a four-member team returned to Bamendjou, ensuring that the solar-powered pumping system they built was doing its job: feeding water to a 20,000-liter cement tank the team had built near a hilltop school. The potable water system now includes: three bore-hole wells, six pumps powered by 24 solar panels, and seven tap-stands serving safe drinking water to 2,000+ people in three Cameroonian villages.

The evidence that they’ve made a difference? Student absenteeism in the local school has been cut in half since clean water came to the area.

Mike Orella, project manager in Cameroon, graduated last week. He says work like this changes the course of students’ education, their careers, and their lives.

In Guatemala, students put the finishing touches on a 60-foot, steel-reinforced concrete bridge that several Engineering teams had spent years building. The bridge connects the village of San Jose Petacalapa with bordering farmland. During the rainy season, the river separating the farmers from their crops runs deep, and they needed safer passage.

The bridge recently survived a magnitude 7.3 earthquake off the Guatemalan coast, and the townspeople gave the river spanned by the sturdy bridge a new name: the “Rio Delaware.”

Project manager Dhara Amin, another brand-new alum, says the lives they’ve affected with this work will never be forgotten.

What’s especially gratifying is that given UD’s long tradition of international study and service, our alumni are enormously invested in it. In 2007, alumnus David Plastino generously established the Plastino Scholars program, allowing students to design independent fieldwork projects that take them far outside the classroom.

Scholars have developed solar panels in Bangalore; delivered vaccines to children in Peru; traveled to Bogotá to study Colombia’s adoption process, and to Bangladesh to study the causes of maternal mortality.

But this year, two Plastino Scholars didn’t need to leave the U.S. to find their cause. Let’s watch how a trip down South opened up the road—and so much more—for Katie Yoder and Jill Farquharson.

………

As all of these experiences transform our students, we’re working to transform this campus for them, transform it into something that enriches their academic journey and strengthens their bonds to people and place.

A few important capital projects open this fall.

The biggest—the biggest in UD history—is the Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Lab, the first major lab to be built at UD in 20 years. I hope some of you were able to make the tour. Let’s watch it go up—three-plus years in just 30 seconds.

The Lab will be a hub for the University’s celebrated research, especially the cutting-edge work we’re doing in energy and the environment. But a good part of the building will be given over to another kind of lab, where undergraduates engage in problem-based learning, where professors teach critical thinking alongside scientific content.

Here, the “thinking” really is the thing, because that’s the heart and the art of science—knowing what’s going to be a productive question, and knowing how to test it. The spaces are designed to promote inquiry, hypothesis-building, the anchoring of ideas—encouraging students to stake out an opinion—a thesis—and marshal evidence toward it.

We’ve enlisted design to help us here.

The building has four problem-based learning labs. In each suite, two teaching labs adjoin a classroom, separated only by glass walls, so that students can discuss real-world problems and then immediately test solutions. No classroom holds more than 48 students. Lecture halls don’t exist here. That means there’s no hiding.

Movable furniture will allow flexible seating so that students can transition back and forth between individual and group work, which is important in a space where the lecture is deemphasized. And the classrooms are equipped with the latest educational technology, like 3–D projectors that allow students to slice into a brain (virtually!), to examine a molecule from the inside out, to explore a stream’s geological formations, to travel through an artery. For a generation of students raised on video games, it’s perfect.

The whole enterprise is about engagement and connection—a pedagogical emphasis on active, authentic problem-solving, a dedication to interdisciplinary inquiry, and custom, integrated curricula that target content to students’ various majors.

Students know as well as anyone else that the challenges we face as a nation and a world will be met by those working at the intersections between established fields. That’s where they want to be, and that’s where this state-of-the-art building will put them.

Problem-based learning pre-dates the ISE Lab—UD has long been a leader in it—but this is its temple.

There’s another capital project opening this fall that I want to mention: two freshman residence halls going up on the site of the old Gilbert Complex. Just last month, the Board of Trustees approved the names we’re giving these two important buildings.

Those of you who once lived in Gilbert might be happy to know that one of the residence halls will retain the name, honoring our first and third president, Eliphalet Gilbert.

Meanwhile, the larger building will be named for a man who also shaped this University—its community and its character. In 1950, Louis Redding—for decades, the only non-White attorney in Delaware—took a case that would change this institution forever. As counsel for 10 African-American students denied admission to the University based on their race, Redding argued Parker v. University of Delaware, which would dismantle segregation at UD.

In no small measure, Louis Redding made us the University we are today. He showed us the path to diversity, equity, and inclusion—to justice and fairness for all.

We think Louis Redding deserves his name on a building, and we hope that the students who live in the building, or visit it, might be especially committed to sustaining this great man’s legacy.

These residence halls are part of our plan to build an integrated first-year student neighborhood and a more intentional residential program. Creating meaningful connections among students is a lot easier when they live close to one another. So we’re moving student housing east, and creating a locus for student interaction and activity—in a bid to strengthen the bonds of lifelong friendship. We just broke ground on phase II of this plan. The Academy Street Dining and Residence Halls will open across from Perkins in 2015.

All of this—the transformational experiences that tether students to UD, to each other, and to our most basic mission—all of it is enabled by you, our alumni and friends. You directly influence our ability to educate thousands of students each year, and send them out into the world confident of their ability and desire to enrich it.

Your commitment of time, guidance, expertise, and money have a direct impact on our students, our faculty, and our community.

I’ve seen the gratitude on the faces of students who are here and excelling because of a scholarship funded by an alumnus; who have an internship or a job because a Blue Hen went to bat for them; who are forever changed by a professor or an experience supported by alumni.

College is an accumulation of once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, and you make so many of them possible. We—and they—are deeply appreciative.

We’re now in the planning phase of the next comprehensive campaign for UD. Our ambitions—like those of our students—are big. The plans we’re hatching will take a significant investment of resources. And I hope we can count on your partnership and support as we work to fulfill them.

Thank you.

  • University of Delaware   •   Newark, DE 19716   •   USA
    Phone: (302) 831-2792   •   © 2013