ROBERT HARRISON: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to the 68th joint annual meeting of the Board of Trustees and the Cornell University Council. I would like to begin by extending a huge welcome and thank you to our Enrique Vila-Biaggi, last year's chair of the University Council.
For those of you who were here last year, you'll remember that Enrique was unable to attend and deliver remarks as chair because Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria had devastated Puerto Rico in the days and weeks leading up to this meeting. He needed to stay with his family in San Juan and help obtain generators and diesel fuel for the entire community.
And even if you don't remember that, you will remember Enrique's daughter, Sofia, class of 2020, who filled in for her father on less than one day's notice to welcome all of us to TCAM. Enrique and Sofia, we are thrilled that you are here together this year.
I would also like to welcome my wife, Jane, who has become an honorary Cornellian and joined me at this event for the past 25 years.
And my daughter, Caroline, who's a sophomore, and despite listening to her father do this exact same thing last year, has decided to return this year. Thank you, Caroline.
And a very special welcome to all 675 trustees and council members and guests who have made this annual pilgrimage to Ithaca. Thank you, everyone, for being here. It is hard to believe that it was just over three years ago that we celebrated the sesquicentennial of Cornell University, the founding of Cornell in multiple events around the world leading up to charter day in April of 2015.
That milestone marked the 150th birthday of the creation of Cornell University in 1865, at least on paper when the governor of New York signed the charter establishing Cornell as the land grant university for the state.
That was certainly an historic moment, but it took several more years for Ezra Cornell and Andrew Dickson White to actually build the university, to clear the land, to erect the first buildings, to recruit faculty, to purchase books, to ship and install laboratory equipment, and to attract students to a college in upstate New York that no one had ever heard of. There was no common application at that time.
So the first class of 412 students-- which, by the way, marked the largest entering class of any US college or university at the time-- took entrance exams on October 6, 1868 in Cascadilla Hall, and classes began two days later in Morrill Hall. There was not even electricity in 1868, and it took less time to grade exams then than my daughter tells me it takes today.
But the reason I'm focusing on that time almost exactly 150 years ago is because it was during Cornell's official opening ceremonies held the day before classes began that Ezra Cornell publicly spoke the indelible words that became enshrined forever as the university's founding principles. He said at that ceremony, "I trust we have laid the foundation of a university-- an institution where any person can find instruction in any study."
And while many consider this Cornell's motto, it is actually something far greater. I'm not sure I can think of any motto of any institution of any kind that so crisply and inspirationally captures its mission. The mottoes of other Ivy League colleges were mostly penned in Latin for the elite religious students they taught, and they translate to admittedly noble sentiments, such as Yale's "light and truth," Princeton's "under God's power, she flourishes," Penn's "laws without morals are useless," Brown's "in God, we hope," or Dartmouth's "the voice of one crying out in the wilderness."
Which probably still resonates in Hanover today, as President Pollack can attest. But Cornell's "any person, any study" captured the radical ideals of the founders in plain English, and it immediately set itself apart from the other mottos of our peers. It was even named the best college motto by, believe it or not, Motto magazine in 2007. The now defunct Motto magazine.
"Any person" meant Cornell University would not just enroll young men who were financially able to afford college or planning to become members of the clergy. It would be open to men and women, open to African Americans, open to those who were foreign born, open to an ever increasingly diverse student body. And fortunately for this country, most colleges and universities have since followed Cornell's lead, but all of us should take great pride in being part of the institution that started it and has lived it for a century and a half.
"Any study" meant a deliberate departure from the conventional and religious curricula of the existing colleges in the mid 19th century. Cornell's curriculum included electives and work study and choices ranging from history, Greek and Latin, to horticulture, engineering, and military science.
Eventually, "any study" would include the country's first degrees in journalism, veterinary medicine, and electrical engineering, as well as the first courses in modern Far Eastern Languages and the first four year schools of hotel administration and industrial and labor relations.
And while we may not literally offer any study, there can't be too many universities where students can take the entangled lives of humans and animals in the morning and an introduction to wines in the afternoon. Cornell's undergraduate course catalog contains over 5,400 offerings, and our graduate students can select from over 85 fields and areas of study. Ezra Cornell could scarcely have imagined what grew out of the motto that he created almost 150 years ago.
Well, on that very first day of classes in October, 1868 at Morrill Hall, which was then the only completed building on our campus, the doors stood wide open to welcome the new students. In fact, as Morris Bishop wrote in A History of Cornell, "they had to, as the hinges had not yet arrived."
Cornell University has been opening countless doors literally and figuratively ever since. Most recently, we opened what could be called the university's new front door, the spectacular Tang Welcome Center located in the renovated Noyes Lodge just across the Thurston Avenue Bridge overlooking Bebe lake. Many of us knew it as the Pancake House.
And although the Lodge no longer serves the very best Sunday morning blueberry pancakes in Ithaca, it will now welcome thousands of students of future Cornellians every year and introduce them to what "any person, any study" means. So if you have not seen it yet, please make a point of visiting the Tang Welcome Center sometime over this weekend.
It is now my honor to introduce the eight newly elected members of the Board of Trustees who are joining us this morning as trustees for the first time at a TCAM meeting. Each one is an exceptional, engaged, and loyal Cornellian. Please stand, each of the trustees, when I call your name. First is alumni-elected trustee John Boochever, Arts and Sciences, class of 1981. John.
John spent 30 years as a consultant with Booz Allen and Oliver Wyman, helping companies around the world manage change through technology. And now he is applying that expertise to help federal agencies deliver services more effectively as chief digital strategy and innovation officer at Atlas Research.
At Cornell, John has been involved with the University Council, the Arts and Sciences Advisory Council, and as co-chair of his 30th and 35th reunions. And John comes from a four generation lineage of Cornellians that began with his grandfather, Lewis, class of 1912, who was Cornell's first public affairs officer, which I think means he was the university's first lobbyist. Joel Molina, is that right?
John and his wife Carol have three children, including Audrey, class of 2013, and Oscar, class of 2019. Welcome to the board, John.
Second is faculty-elected trustee Melissa Hines, professor of chemistry and chemical biology.
And hugely respected member of the Cornell faculty since 1994. Professor Hines recently completed a 12 year stint as the director of the Cornell Center for Materials Research, where she has repeatedly been honored at the national level for her work on chemical reactions at the nanoscale. That, by the way, is the extent of my ability to understand, much less describe, what Professor Hines research focus is.
But of all of her rewards and awards, Professor Hines is most proud of being named a Weiss Presidential Fellow for her exceptional contributions to undergraduate education. And I look forward to working with you in your newest role as a trustee. Welcome to the Board of Trustees.
Third is employee-elected trustee Jeramy Kruser.
Jeramy's a systems analyst for Student Services Information Technology, and while this position has allowed him to work across many offices across the university to improve admissions processes, it doesn't even begin to describe how involved Jeramy has been to improve campus life. He was elected to both the Employee and University Assemblies and has served in leadership capacities in a wide variety of areas on issues including veterans issues, judicial issues, diversity, accessibility, and sustainability.
Jeramy has also been a big contributor to the Ithaca community, as you may have seen just last weekend in the Cornell Daily Sun, including cycling for the AIDS Ride for Life around Cayuga Lake and-- what you might have seen on the front page of the Sun-- dressing as Harry Potter's Hagrid for the kids and some adults during Wizarding Weekend Jeramy, would you just stand up one more time?
Welcome to the board. Fourth is William Lim, board-elected trustee, who is right there.
Who received his bachelor's and master's degrees in architecture in 1981 and 1982. William is the managing director of CL3 Architects in Hong Kong, a design studio specializing in architecture and interior design. His passion for architecture is nearly matched by his passion for art both as an artist and a collector with a focus on Chinese culture and contemporary art.
He's a member of the Cornell China Advisory Board, the University Council, and the College of Architecture Art and Planning Advisory Council. William is married to Cornellian Lavina Lim, class of 1978, and they have two Cornell children, Kevin, class of 2008, and Vincent, class of 2012. And they recently became grandparents for the first time to a future member of the Cornell class of 2039.
Congratulations, welcome to the board. Fifth is student-elected trustee Manisha Munasinghe. Manisha.
Manisha is a PhD candidate in computational biology. Manisha has served on the University Assembly and the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly where she helped create training programs for bystander intervention during mental health cases. She has also been a very strong advocate for bringing diverse student perspectives to the board, increasing the university's financial transparency, and expanding programming that will improve the climate of tolerance and inclusion on campus.
And I understand from some of Manisha's friends that ever since campaigning for and then winning the student trustee election, she has been aggressively collecting items of red clothing to comply with the strict Big Red trustee dress code.
Manisha, I look forward to working with you and comparing new sartorial acquisitions. I see you wearing red pants today.
Sixth is alumni-elected trustee Yonn Rasmussen, class of 1983 in engineering.
Yonn earned her master's and PhD degrees in engineering in 1986 and in 1989. Yonn has led global technical organizations for more than a quarter of a century at Xerox Corporation. She holds 29 more patents than I hold and has lived her career focused on the commercialization of technology into products in the marketplace.
At Cornell, Yonn has served on the University Council, the President's Council of Cornell Women, the Asian Alumni Association, and the Society of Women Engineers. Her passion pursuing innovation through diversity And collaboration across fields could not be more important to the university as we work to realize the potential of Cornell Tech and also One Cornell across our campuses. Welcome to the board, Yonn.
Seventh is board-elected trustee Aryan Shayegani, a double red Cornellian.
Following the strict trustee dress code. She is class of 1988 graduate of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, as well as an MD from Weill Cornell Medicine in 1992. Aryan is an ophthalmologist and an assistant clinical professor at Yale School of Medicine.
At Cornell, she's a member of the University Council, the CALS Advisory Council, and the Dean's Executive Committee. Aryan and her husband, Frank Bruno, ILR class of 1987, live in Westport, Connecticut and have three children, including Cole ILR class of 2020. Aryan, I look forward to having an ophthalmologist as a trustee. The more visionaries, the better.
Welcome to the board.
Eighth and finally is Brad Stone, board-elected trustee, class of '77, graduate of the Hotel School. Brad.
Brad has developed, opened, and operated some of the world's most dramatic hotels in Las Vegas, Macao, and Singapore, including Venetian Sands and Four Seasons properties. He is currently president of Global Gaming Asset Management with a new resort project in Manila in the works.
At Cornell, Brad serves on the Dean's Advisory Board of the School of Hotel Administration and is a member of the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business Leadership Council. He and his wife Susan are parents to four children, including Bradley, Arts and Sciences class of 2005. Brad, now that you are on the board, I look forward to working with you on our pet project, the Statler Hotel Club and Casino.
Only kidding. Welcome to the board.
And may I please have one more round of applause for all of the newly elected trustees?
I would also like to take one moment to ask all 88 of our new and returning members of the Cornell University Council to stand and be recognized.
I'm sorry we don't have time to introduce each and every one of you, but welcome to the council. Thank you for your leadership, your commitment, and for acting as our most important ambassadors. Now it is my pleasure to introduce the new chair of the Cornell University Council, Dr. Nathan Connell, a 2001 graduate of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
Nathan was a neurobiology and behavior major in CALS, but found time to become an active Cornellian despite the premed grind. He served as a resident advisor on West Campus, joined the CALS ambassador program, and headed up his senior class campaign. After graduating and attending medical school in his hometown of Miami, Nathan stayed connected as a member of the board of the Cornell Club of Miami. And when he moved to Boston for his residency and fellowship, he served on the board of the Cornell Association of Class Officers and then the University Council.
Today, Nathan is a faculty physician at Harvard Medical School and a hematologist at the Brigham and Women's Hospital, where he remains as engaged as ever with Cornell. Nathan is joined today by his husband, Dr. Jorge Alvarez, a 2001 graduate of Harvard College and a cardiologist also on the faculty at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's.
Despite Georgia's crimson pedigree, I understand he has thoroughly enjoyed attending Cornell reunions and events and becoming part of the Big Red family. Please join me in welcoming Dr. Nathan Connell this morning as he begins [INAUDIBLE]
NATHAN CONNELL: Good morning. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. President Pollack, council members, trustees, parents, friends, and staff, I am very pleased to welcome you to the 68th joint meeting of the Council and the Board of Trustees. With a focus on student stories, this year's meeting highlights the student experience both inside and outside the classroom. As you participate in these programs, I urge you to become a student again and reflect on how you felt when you first became a part of the Cornell community.
Yesterday, we heard from several of the vice provosts as they described faculty innovation in undergraduate education, scholarship, and engagement. Last night, many of you were able to attend an event in Donlon Hall where we brought together students, trustees, and council members in a way never done before to show our common bonds as Cornellians.
Thank you to Vicki Hartman, Tim Dick, and the TCAM planning committee for your hard work to create such a spectacular weekend of opportunity and engagement. Our ambassador committee under the leadership of Tom Cummings and Karen Stewart continue to facilitate the work of all Cornellians as we share the university message and facilitate a two-way exchange of information.
President Emeritus Rhodes once said, "The university has an enormous secret weapon in its volunteers," and all of you continue to show that year after year. I ask all of you to connect with fellow alumni, potential students, and their parents, and advocate on behalf of higher education, as no one knows the value of a Cornell education better than those of you in this room right now.
Our mission today builds on the charge given by the first council chair, Francis Scheetz, class of 1916-- to be catalytic agents able to ferret out the interests of others and channel those interests to the right places at Cornell. We rely upon you to identify Cornell's new volunteers, and I encourage all of you to [INAUDIBLE] volunteer to nominate new members not just to council, but to all of the advisory boards and groups looking for new voices to further their mission.
Our membership committee-- this year under the leadership of Nick Daniels and Arturo Carrillo-- continue to elect an outstanding class of new council members. We've reimagined our development committee under the leadership of Charles [? Depard ?] and Joy [? Hega ?] to make sure the university has the critical resources it needs right now to further all of the programs that you will learn about this weekend. And it's important to remember that any gift, no matter the size, matters. I want to thank all of you that have registered and given a gift and those of you that have pledged to make a gift as part of your registration for this weekend.
Last year, we launched CUeLinks, and you heard Sofia Vila talk about that as part of her remarks. CUeLinks is a mentoring platform to connect students and alumni across the university. And through this platform, I had the pleasure this summer of working with a premed student who joined me in my clinic this summer to see what it really means to practice medicine.
She's applying to medical school next year, and these connections are vital to our mission to propel a broad recognition of Cornell in the world. And I want to thank our mentoring committee chairs, Dan Simpkins and Howard Greenberg, for organizing the work of this committee to orient those new 88 council members to their roles and responsibilities.
The work of council would not be possible without the guidance experience of our vice chairs, the brand new PhD Dr. Jonelle Bradshaw de Hernandez this week, Carlos Falcon, and John Kuo, along with Laura Denbow and the Office of Volunteer Programs. Thank you for your hard work to make sure this weekend is a success.
Unfortunately, not all Cornellians feel a strong connection to Cornell. When I walk through the campus, I realize how easy it is to forget the challenges and isolation that our students encounter during their time on the Hill. As a freshman, I almost transferred away from Cornell because of my first semester experiences. I struggled to succeed in an unfamiliar environment and build new friendships over 1,000 miles away from my hometown. I was told by an advisor that I essentially had no chance to pursue a career in medicine.
It didn't seem funny at that point, but now it does. And it took me a long time, but I managed to get back on the right path with the help of a new advisor, Ron Harris-Warrick.
Ron is the William Keeton professor of biological sciences, and I still visit Ron on my trips back to campus, including running into him last night at the wine and dine. The guidance, friendship, and kindness Ron showed me made all the difference between success and failure. Later today, you will have the opportunity to see how Ron and his colleagues continue to innovate through flipped classrooms and active learning.
Ron wasn't the only one that became part of my Cornell family, and some of my favorite times on campus are visiting with university staff who are indelibly woven into my Cornell experience and continue to quietly support and serve the university mission every single day.
I never thought it was possible to come close to other alumni who weren't on campus at the time I was a student, but my TCAM family has yet again proven that our common bonds as Cornellians transcend class year, college affiliation, and geographic region. Always remember we are One Cornell, and I charge all of you to forge connections with each other with students this weekend as you hear their stories.
Before I conclude my remarks today, I have two final items. First, I'd like to take a moment to recognize the death of former Cornell University Council Chair Les Stern, class of 1960. Les served as council chair from 1987 to 1989, and council sends our condolences to his family and Cornell friends. And finally, I'd like to ask a dear friend and mentor of mine to join me at the podium, Immediate Past Council Chair Enrique Vila-Biaggi, class of '94, and MEng class of '95.
So, Enrique, on behalf of Cornell, I'd like to read this citation to be presented to you today, signed by President Martha Pollack and Board Chairman Robert Harrison. Cornell University awards this citation to Enrique Vila-Biaggi, class of '94, MEng class of '95, chair of Cornell University Council from 2016 to 2018 in grateful recognition of his loyal and effective service to his alma mater.
A passionate alumnus, gracious colleague, and optimistic motivator, Enrique is a tireless leader and volunteer for Cornell, particularly in his efforts to help students. From aiding the admissions experience to building scholarships to support to cultivating a devoted connection with Puerto Rican students on campus, he gives generously of his time and resources to guide young Cornellians.
His work has had a profound positive effect on the university. He is a longtime member of the Cornell Alumni Admissions Ambassador Network, former chair of the network's Advisory Council, of which he is a current member. Enrique has been an integral part of the Cornell Club of Puerto Rico since 2002, serving as an officer and strengthening connections between alumni and Cornell.
He served as a representative and regional director of the Cornell Alumni Association. He contributed wisely and enthusiastically to the Cornell University Council, of which he is a life member. And he worked during his chairmanship to increase the efficiency of the organization. An accomplished and well-respected professional, Enrique builds on the humanitarian vision of the distinguished Ezra Cornell and amplifies the university's commitment to higher education opportunities for talented peoples regardless of origin or economic background.
With admiration and gratitude, we honor Enrique for enriching the lives of students past, present, and future, for strengthening alumni leadership organizations, and for enlivening the alumni community in his home, Puerto Rico, and all around the world. For his tireless commitment to Cornell, his years of service, and his passionate drive to embody Cornell's ideals, Cornell University salutes Enrique Vila.
ROBERT HARRISON: Thank you, Nathan. It is now my privilege to introduce the 14th president of Cornell University, Martha Pollack. A year ago at this meeting, President Pollack was still relatively new to the job. She had been inaugurated only two months earlier in a ceremony at which she committed Cornell to a future of academic excellence, a culture of educational verve, and a devotion to One Cornell across our campuses.
Now well into her second year, President Pollack has been spreading her vision across the globe, meeting thousands of alumni in the United States, Europe, and Asia, and speaking to Cornellians on more than 200 occasions about what matters to her and what she wants Cornell to become. She has fostered a climate of inclusion and diversity in the aftermath of several disturbing incidents on and off campus.
She has promoted and protected free speech at every opportunity. She has announced long overdue reforms to Greek life that will eliminate what is unsafe and unfair while preserving what is so valuable. She has elevated the importance of innovative classroom technologies and active learning techniques across the university to make educational verve vital and ubiquitous.
She has built academic bridges between Cornell Tech, Weill Cornell Medicine, and the Ithaca campus that further leverage our unique upstate and downstate, rural and urban strengths. And on top of these substantive accomplishments, President Pollack has become a red-blooded, full-throated Cornellian.
At reunion weekend, she belted out "Give My Regards to Davy" with hundreds of alumni in Bailey Hall as if she were one of them. At homecoming, she sang with the Cornell glee club to celebrate its 150 year anniversary as if she were one of them. And in just a couple of weeks, President Pollack will serve with baton and kazoo as the Grand Marshal of the Sy Katz Parade, leading--
--leading the Big Red Band, Cornell cheerleaders, and many other Cornellians, including me, down Fifth Avenue for the shortest but most fun legally authorized parade in New York City. If you are in the city on November 17, please join us at Rockefeller Center after the Columbia game. In any event, please join me now in welcoming President Pollack.
MARTHA POLLACK: Nobody told me about the kazoo.
Welcome, everybody. Welcome back to Ithaca. I hope you are all remembering just exactly how much wonderful sunshine we get here-- very, very little. This is my second trustee council meeting, and it's a real pleasure to see so many of you. There's so many people here who I've had the opportunity to meet across the country and around the world during my first year, and it's a real pleasure to welcome you back to campus.
I want to open this morning-- if I can find my clicker-- I want to open this morning with a little bit of Cornell history involving Morris Bishop, who was already mentioned this morning. I think many of you know that Morris Bishop was both an alumnus and an historian of Cornell. He earned his bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees here, and he taught here from 1921 until his retirement in 1960.
Now there are really a number of great stories about Professor Bishop, including one that I love. It turns out that in 1970, he was the marshal at the graduation ceremony, and while President Dale Corson was speaking, a graduate student attempted to rush the stage and attack President Corson. But Professor Bishop held the student off by blocking him with the mace.
Now that's Professor Bishop. And in 1977-- 1970, he was 77 years old. There's the mace. It's heavy. It's very heavy. It was damaged, by the way, in this event, but we did get it repaired.
I want to read you a quote. It's a little bit long, but I want to read you a quote from an essay by Professor Bishop that appears in a very slim collection called Our Cornell, edited in 1939 by Raymond Howes. For those of you who might have been at President Rhodes' inauguration back in 1977, you might recall this passage because he read part of it there. And it goes like this.
"A college president from the Middle West made a fine speech in New York the other day in praise of his institution and in scorn of the London Sunday Review, which had referred to it as 'a place of no particular intellectual pretensions.' In the course of his philippic, he revealed that The Saturday Review had listed as places of intellectual pretension and as essentially American colleges Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and perhaps Cornell.
'Perhaps Cornell,'" said Professor Bishop. "It has always been the fate of our university to be 'perhaps Cornell.' A part neither of the aristocratic tradition of the original colonies nor the educational democracy of the great West, half state college, half endowed institution, stoutly liberal and strangely conservative, its activity ranges from research in the noblest mysteries to broadcasting messages on disinfecting brooder houses." Cows, graduates out there.
"The Saturday Review's writer, seeking parallels for Oxford, Heidelberg, and Padua, thinks of Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. And perhaps Cornell. Had he sought pure examples of the great popular American university, a part of the body politic, agent and function of the people, enlightener of the everyday life for many leagues around its walls, he would have mentioned Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio State, and California. And perhaps Cornell."
Well, as I described to you this morning the state of the university, I'm sure you'll see that Cornell is not perhaps anything, and I'm sure that Professor Bishop, were he here today, would agree. So let's start where any assessment of the state of a university should begin-- with our students.
Cornell is remarkably attractive to prospective students. This past year, we had over 51,000 applications for the entering class, the class of 2022. That's a 9.1% increase over last year. And, look, if this were a one time phenomenon, it might not signal so much. And the same thing is true if students were just adding Cornell to their list of schools because it's easy to apply through the Common App but weren't actually coming here.
But in fact, what we've seen-- and I promise this is the only graph you'll see this morning, for me at least. Ray? Ray has graphs coming up. What you'll see is a multi-year trend in the number of increases in the number of applications. That's on the top. It's a little bit hard to see. But over the last five years, we've seen almost a 20% increase in the number of applications.
And while the applications have been soaring, and that means that the percentage of students we've been admitting has been decreasing, yield-- that's the number of students we admit who come-- has also been very steadily rising. So students aren't saying, perhaps I'll go to Cornell. They're applying in droves, and when we admit them, they're saying, Cornell, yes, I'm going.
The class of 2022 includes 3,325 students from 47 states and 43 countries. Everybody always asks, so I'll tell you. The states we're missing are North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming. If any of you are from those states, we need help recruiting from them. I'm serious. I want to be able to say 50 states.
The incoming class is also one of the most diverse we've ever had. It includes 14% first generation in college students, 27% of students who identify as underrepresented minorities, and 44% who identify as students of color. So that means the inclusion typically of Asian Americans.
It also includes a 2017 national rodeo champion, a professional harpist, and a beekeeper with an apiary of 40,000 that produces a ton of honey each year. But I want to introduce you to one student, one of our new first year students. Amy is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences.
AMY PANTOJA: Many of my friends, if they see me, they would never suspect that I'm homeless. My family and I have lived in Brooklyn as long as I could remember. I was living with my mom, my stepdad, my older sister, and my two younger sisters. When it was freshman year of high school, they told us that we were going to get evicted, and we really had nowhere to go.
All of us, we were scared and confused and definitely the stereotype that's associated with being homeless. I worry a lot about that. We moved to a homeless shelter in the Bronx. Not only being evicted but having to go to a shelter was-- it was not pleasant, as you could probably imagine.
KATHY DICUNTO: Amy, as a freshman, she was always very bright. But freshman year, her family lost their apartment, and they moved to the shelter in the Bronx, and her life turned upside down. But until she turned up on a displaced housing list, I was not aware because it did not show up in anything she did in school.
FRANCES FERRARA: She made a conscious decision to continue to come here. She felt like this was her home, and she really didn't want to give that up, especially since she had lost her family's home.
KATHY DICUNTO: She took four trains, two hours, maybe more. AP Chem first thing in the morning. And I said, Amy, it's too much for you to get here first period. I said, your commute is almost two hours. And she said to me, oh, no, it's fine. I like that class. I don't want to move to the later class. This is perfect for me. She said, I can do this, and she did.
AMY PANTOJA: I wake up at 4:35 everyday, and I'm out the door by 5:10, and I get here around like 7:00, 6:50. I have three AP classes. I think AP Chem is like one of my favorite classes because it is science related. I'll admit it's challenging, but I think in the end it's worth the satisfaction.
KATHY DICUNTO: When Amy moved into the shelter and she had no personal space, she would go to the library so she would have time alone. During her lunch periods, Amy doesn't go to the cafeteria. She finds a little space where she would do her homework. She never complained. She just found a way to do it.
FRANCES FERRARA: She's part of the Make a Difference Club, the Medical Science Club, the flag team, our band. She's also very highly ranked in our school. She's in the top 2% of the graduating class, which is over 1,000 students. Amy is really one of the most resilient students one could ever meet.
KATHY DICUNTO: Amy always has her dream, and she will take the steps to get there.
AMY PANTOJA: So I've always loved animals. I've grown up with them like all my life. And I think it was when I really got to high school, and I think sophomore year was when it clicked. Being a veterinarian, it was something that I could make into reality if I did work hard enough. And since I am living in the Bronx, I thought might as well go volunteer at the Bronx Zoo.
KATHY DICUNTO: Even with everything else going on in her life, Amy knows who she is and where she wants to go. And she doesn't allow her circumstance to stop her from being the person she wants to become.
AMY PANTOJA: I know that I can be independent and someone who will be successful enough to provide for my family and be there for them. It's still possible to overcome these barriers and not to let anything stop me from being what I want to be.
MARTHA POLLACK: I don't know. I've seen that video probably 20 times, and every time I just about tear up. I am personally just so thrilled that Amy decided to say, "Yes, Cornell," and come here.
So we've got students saying yes to Cornell, and so our faculty. Within the past year on our three main campuses, we've had 173 new faculty. Now it's getting late, so I'm not going to tell you about all 173 of them. But let me just give you three really quick examples.
Laura Riley is our new chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Weill Cornell Medicine. She came from Harvard. She's had over 20 years of experience there. And she's an internationally recognized expert in obstetric infectious diseases with all kinds of awards.
Catherine Kling is a new professor in the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, joining us from Iowa State University. Her expertise is in environmental energy and resource economics and policy, and fittingly, she's also a faculty director at the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future. She's a member of the National Academy of Sciences with over $7 million in research.
And at Cornell Tech, we welcome Daniel Lee, professor of computer and electrical engineering from the University of Pennsylvania. As part of Cornell Tech's mission of close collaboration with companies, nonprofits, and government agencies, Professor Lee is also serving as head of the new Samsung AI center in New York City, bringing ideas from industry back into the classroom. He's a world leader and, again, with just an extraordinary number of awards.
Professors Kling, Lee, and Riley join an already distinguished faculty. And I want to just mention one, Deborah Estrin, because Deborah recently won one of the most prestigious awards for academics and non-academics in the world. She's a MacArthur Fellow, what's often known as the Genius Award. She won this for her pioneering and incredibly innovative use of mobile devices and data to improve health care.
Now there are all kinds of ways to measure the success of our faculty. One is the degree to which they receive research funding, the degree to which government agencies and NGOs and industry say yes to them, yes to supporting their work. Over the past year, our sponsored research is up 10% to about $700 million, with all three campuses going strong.
And I also want to note that we are really diversifying our funding sources. In particular, here in Ithaca, funding from industrial sources has increased tremendously, 175%. This is going to be a continued focus for us. It's really important for the future of this university.
But the humanities represent another area of scholarship that's critical. In fact, I think that understanding and appreciating what makes us human is just as important today, if not more so, than it ever was. And we're fortunate at Cornell to have really outstanding humanists working on a very broad range of subjects. Two of our humanities faculty won highly prestigious Guggenheim Foundation Fellowships this year.
Historian Paul Friedland was chosen for his research project on the French Caribbean around 1800, and music Professor David Yearsley's fellowship will support a book project on JS Bach. And speaking of books, philosopher Kate Manne has been receiving rave reviews for her book, Down Girl-- The Logic of Misogyny, and so has Noliwe Rooks, professor of Africana studies, for Cutting School-- Privatization, Segregation, and the End of Public Education.
These professors-- Professor Friedland, Yearsley, Manne, and Rooks-- are among so many faculty I could tell you about who are enriching the lives of our students and our world through their scholarship. But I also want to mention one staff member because our faculty and students can only do what they do with the strong support of our staff.
And so consider Nianne VanFleet. Nianne is a registered nurse who worked at Cornell Health for 35 years, eventually becoming director of nursing and later, director of operations. Along the way, she earned the admiration of everyone who worked with her. She coordinated all the internal logistics of our extensive renovation and expansion of our health facilities.
And then recently, she shifted over to join student and campus life facilities and administration, where she's coordinating our North Campus housing expansion. Ms. VanFleet is a natural problem solver, and clearly, she's said yes to Cornell over many, many years.
Now I've mentioned students, faculty, and staff. But, of course, there's one more group of stakeholders who have never said, "Perhaps Cornell," and that's all of you, our alumni. Over the past year and a half, as Bob mentioned, I've met Cornell alumni around the country, around the world. Their-- your-- enthusiasm and university-- enthusiasm for the university has been extraordinary.
I did sing. I sang the Alma Mater with 120 alumni in Seoul, South Korea, and Fred Van Sickle and I danced on stage with them, no less to a K pop tune. That was a lot of fun.
We didn't dance very well, but we danced. In Washington, DC at the National Museum of African American history and culture, I joined with more than 1,000 alumni in a remarkable celebration of our founding principles of access and inclusion.
And everywhere I went-- Philadelphia, West Palm Beach, London, Chicago, Mumbai, Los Angeles, and more-- I met people like you who are deeply proud of their Cornell education and the ways in which it's enriched their lives. In fact, we commissioned a recent study, and it showed that when asked whether they were proud to be Cornell graduates, 85% of our alumni strongly agreed. That's about 13 percentage points higher than peer universities.
And Cornell alumni have supported us financially. Last year, we received $512 million in new gifts and commitments with alumni and friends, strengthening our annual funds by $44.4 million, a 6.5% increase over fiscal year 2017. I thank all of you for your participation. Really any gift-- maybe it should be any person, any study, any gift. Any gift.
Seriously, every gift does make a difference to it, and I'm deeply gratified for your support. Now as Bob mentioned, alumni stepped up to meet the need for a more welcoming front door with contributions that enabled us to create the new Tang Welcome Center.
As another example, Dave Atkinson, class of '60, and Pat Atkinson, who named the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, have recently stepped up again with a lead gift for a new building that will house not only the Atkinson Center but also the master's in public health program, the new Department of Computational Biology, and new multidisciplinary centers that will further connect researchers here in Ithaca and those in Weill Cornell Medicine. We're very excited about the potential for this collaborative hub, and we hope to complete fundraising for it in the years ahead.
So what is it that makes Cornell so special? What's bringing students here in droves, attracting outstanding faculty and staff, and making our alumni so proud and so generous? I'd argue that the answer is embedded in Morris Bishop's insight. Our strength stems from the fact that, as Bishop put it, we're "half state college, half endowed institution, stoutly liberal and strangely conservative with activity ranging from research in the noblest mysteries to broadcasting messages on disinfecting brooder houses."
We're distinguished in our academics through our commitment both to the core liberal arts that are such a core part of the great Ivy League tradition and to the range of excellence of professional education often associated with the great public universities. That dual commitment matters enormously in today's world where the most pressing issues require a breadth of perspective and where they require both theorizing and practice.
We at Cornell can take on research into great social challenges in ways that very few other universities can. That's what lies behind our radical collaboration efforts. We're carefully and intentionally forming research communities that span disciplinary boundaries to address challenging problems and make discoveries that point the way towards the solutions of tomorrow.
These span our campuses as well, and I'm going to just give you one of many examples. The new Friedman Center for Nutrition and Inflammation was recently established with a gift from Barbara Friedman, class of '69, and Steve Friedman.
It links our globally recognized life sciences and nutrition programs in Ithaca with exceptional biomedical research and clinical care programs at Weill Cornell Medicine. And it brings together faculty to study the interaction among diet, the immune system, and the microbiome with the goal of both advancing science and understanding and also developing treatments and preventive strategies for a range of diseases.
A unique combination of Ivy League plus land grant also influences our teaching. A key reason that many students say yes to Cornell is so that they can obtain an education that's relevant, where they make use of what they're learning in the classroom.
There are many ways we do this, many programs that support it-- from Engaged Cornell, which provides courses and programs in which students work with community partners to put their learning to use, to the Active Learning Initiative in which faculties reinvent their courses, having students read text and or watch videos with core material outside of the classroom and then within the classroom, work together on challenging problems. We've been studying the impact of this program, and the early evidence is that students enjoy the experience and learn more as well.
I'd also like to mention the Cornell Portal and urge you to visit. This is part of the global public arts initiative. It uses immersive audiovisual technology to place you virtually in the same room with people from around the world. This was a visit that I made where I had the opportunity to talk with a pair of young men in Afghanistan who run a program that teaches girls to code and to do web development.
It sounds like, oh, yeah, I use Zoom. What's the big deal? But there is something remarkable about being in this room and seeing these life size video images and talking immediately. It's just very hard to explain how special it is. The Portal is out on the arts quad by the library, and I encourage you to visit.
Yet another reason that Cornell education is so relevant to today's world lies in our founding commitment to diversity and inclusion. That commitment is not an add-on for Cornell. It's been a core value since our beginning.
In fact, it was just a few weeks ago on October 7 that we celebrated the 150th anniversary of Ezra Cornell's first public declaration that this is a university for any person. Today, more than ever, in the face of horrific incidents of hatred like last week's shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Cornell must stand for human dignity, for acceptance, for respect, and for inclusion.
Last May, after working through much of the academic year, our presidential task force on campus climate issued a long list of recommendations of ways to assure that our campus is not just diverse but also inclusive and welcoming. Last month, I sent an update out to the college community, outlining steps we've already taken as well as plans for the future. Here are just a few examples.
Starting this year, all first year students participated in an intergroup dialogue project during orientation. This program has proven successful in teaching people to communicate more effectively across difference, something that is just so important in today's world. There is also now an online course to train faculty and teaching assistants in how to teach more effectively in multicultural classrooms and how to address difficult topics in class. This is something both our students and our faculty had asked for.
And we've announced an expanded commitment to recruiting a more diverse faculty. There's so much more I could tell you about, but it's getting late, so I would encourage you to look at the website, which lists everything going on. You can find it by going to the Cornell Gateway page and just searching for diversity and inclusion.
There is so much here at Cornell that's exciting, so it's probably not a surprise that people are saying yes to us. But, of course, there are challenges. First of all, nationally we're facing a crisis in mental health among college students. Across the country, campus counseling centers saw an average 30% jump in the number of students seeking mental health help between 2009 and 2015. And here at Cornell, student requests for mental health services have also soared.
To address our students' need, we've added seven mental health professionals in the past three years for a total of 40. We've added drop-in counseling sites across campus. We're providing more group therapy sessions, and we've assigned every student a primary care provider who can serve as a first point of contact and provide continuity of care. In the months ahead, we are also conducting a comprehensive evaluation of student mental health needs and our approaches.
Cost is, of course, another concern. And, again, that's not one that's unique to Cornell. It's an issue at all good institutions of higher education in this country. We work extremely hard to make Cornell affordable for families. We've invested very heavily in financial aid, especially over the past decade. And today, for most students with financial need, the net cost of a Cornell education is actually lower than it was a decade ago and even in many cases, two decades ago.
But we recognize that there are continued financial stresses, particularly on middle class families, and we're working hard to address them. We're holding the line in administrative costs with fewer non-teaching staff than we had 10 years ago, even though we have more students. But as we rein in costs, we have to do so carefully, ensuring that we protect the outstanding education that our students receive. Education of this quality is expensive to provide, so we must focus on scholarships as a key philanthropic priority.
The final challenge I'd like to mention is public perception of higher education in this country. A recent Gallup survey found that only 48% of American adults have either a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in higher education, and that's down from 57% just three years ago. Each of you in this room, I'm sure, knows the value of a Cornell education. It goes well beyond financial benefits.
But even there, the college wage premium-- the amount of extra salary that college graduates earn-- remains very high, especially for students who graduate from a university of Cornell's caliber. The median starting salary-- the median starting salary of a Cornell graduate is higher than the US median household income.
PayScale's most recent analysis projects a 20 year return on investment for a new Cornell graduate as being between $650,000 and $790,000. And, of course, there's so many other benefits in terms of personal growth and insight, the establishment of lifelong friendships and professional networks, and more. One of the most important things you can do to help Cornell is to get the word out about the value your education has had as an investment in your career and in the quality of your life.
Now despite these challenges, which apply, as I said, to all good universities in this country, I have no-- no hesitancy in saying that the state of Cornell University is strong. We're attracting the very best faculty, students, and staff. They are receiving awards and obtaining external funding for their work, and that work is having an impact on the world. We have a very high level of alumni engagement and support.
So let me end by returning to the words of Morris Bishop. Quote, "Should we complain because our alma mater has no fixed and sure classification in the educational world? Why, no. I should think not. Perhaps the amazing growth of the university from the seed planted by Ezra Cornell is due to the characteristics implicit in that seed and developed by its isolation and independence.
Perhaps it is important that we should not be grouped as a member of any big four or big 12. As the qualities in the seed persist and fructify, it may be that foreign observers hunting the essentially American college will specify Cornell University. And perhaps Harvard, Yale, and Princeton."
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President Martha E. Pollack delivered the State of the University Address to an Ithaca campus audience as part of Cornell's Trustee-Council Annual Meeting on Nov. 2, 2018.