Thursday, April 12, 2017 – 8:30 p.m.
Hall of Champions, Kyle Field
• Twenty-five percent of our students are first generation.
• And many more face equally great obstacles to accessing a college degree, due to finances, family situation or geographic location.
• Access to higher education is personal with me.
• I was raised in a small town in the middle of coal-mining country in eastern Kentucky.
• I understand firsthand what happens to a community and its youth when higher education seems unattainable.
• The generous support of donors like you is critically important to helping these students realize their dreams of a better life through education.
• We often talk proudly about Texas A&M and its history as a land grant institution.
• We were established to provide access to education for the working people, those who may have been previously excluded.
• And because of land-grant universities like Texas A&M, first-generation college students like Luis have been given access to higher education in unprecedented numbers.
• I have served in my role for six years now and it has been a remarkable adventure.
• I’ve gained an Aggie son, an Aggie son-in-law, an Aggie soon-to-be daughter-in-law, and a bit of a Texas drawl.
• I have particularly enjoyed meeting with former students and learning how Texas A&M changed your life.
• You have told me stories about arriving on campus with little knowledge of what to expect. Yet, through the challenges faced over the years on this campus, with the support of your fellow Aggies, you succeeded.
• And the message that I have taken home is: “Remember who we are”
• Why is this message so important?
• Because too often in universities today, we are caught up in the game of competition.
• We focus on rankings, trendy programs, recruiting the elusive “best” student without taking the crucial step of evaluating whether our initiatives are in sync with who we are.
• In doing so, we risk losing that which makes us unique, our collective Aggie spirit.
• One of the most moving events in my time as dean was a special graduation ceremony.
• In March of 2016, we were contacted with an urgent request from Nick Brewer.
• Sadly, Nick’s father, Jim Brewer, a Texas A&M 1980 civil engineering graduate was ill with pancreatic cancer.
• Jim’s daughter, Jenny, was scheduled to graduate in May with an aerospace engineering degree.
• Jim told Nick that one of his last wishes was to see Jenny graduate from Texas A&M Engineering.
• Jim was not doing well in mid-March. The doctors told the family that the end was near.
• Nick asked if we could hold a special graduation ceremony for Jenny.
• One week later, with help from the university and the association, Jim witnessed Jenny’s graduation from Texas A&M with full regalia and ceremony at his home.
• Jim lost his battle with cancer two weeks later.
• As we were preparing for the ceremony, there were no arguments about process, proper approvals, or transcripts.
• We made it happen.
• We remembered who we are.
• The past six years have been a period of significant academic change.
• But, before any new program was implemented, we first evaluated whether it aligned with our core values. This meant at times we did not follow the same path as other universities.
• We have forged a new path.
• For example:
o To insure there is access to an Aggie engineering degree, we increased our entering class size and retention, and also developed a community college transitional program.
o To insure that our students are prepared for life outside of the university, we hired 75 professors of practice with many years of industry experience.
o And to insure our students experience the world outside of the classroom, we require all of our students to complete a non-credit extracurricular project.
• All of these changes are unique to Texas A&M.
• When asked by my peers about the risk of not following the path of other top universities, I reply: Aggies are not followers, we lead.
• We have a history of service.
• We stand up when others fall back.
• We provide an excellent education and opportunity to those who seek it.
• And we continue to face new challenges.
• Most of the jobs our students will be taking in 2030 haven’t been invented yet. How do you prepare a student for a job that doesn’t even exist?
• How do we focus on deep learning without stifling creativity?
• How do we select students with high potential from both urban and rural areas, who possess preparation, talent and grit, yet will embrace our core values?
• How do we remain custodians of the past while serving as creators of the future?
• These solutions will be complicated and will require all of us to find the proper balance.
• But I promise you: o As we move into the future, with all of the unknowns in our changing and dynamic world.
• As we face the challenges of educating a new generation of students with different life experiences and learning styles,
• And as we consider how to best serve our state and the nation.
• We will always remember who we are. We are Texas A&M.