Len Jessup, who became UNLV’s 10th president in January, delivered his first State of the University address Thursday in front of hundreds gathered at the Judy Bayley Theatre on campus.
With a little help from UNLV’s humanoid robot, Metal Rebel (who hand-delivered a copy of the speech to the stage), Jessup recognized many on campus who have contributed to the university’s success in the community, the classroom, and in research over the past year. He then outlined the university’s path toward — and actions already underway — for joining the top tier of national public research universities, stressing that “this university, in this place, at this time” is poised to achieve great things.
Here are some key takeaways from the address:
UNLV is Emerging
UNLV was among the hardest hit universities by the Great Recession but has emerged stronger and more focused, thanks to a solid foundation of faculty and staff and engaged students, alumni, elected officials, and community and business leaders.
The university welcomed its largest-ever freshman class for the fourth consecutive year, driven in part by a flourishing Honors College. National rankings for programs in law, nursing, and business are rising. Research growth is evident in the tripling of patent applications over the past two years. And the university’s students and faculty are performing — and succeeding — on the national stage.
“We are inextricably linked to the community," Jessup said. "We have a shared destiny: the university and the community. We can’t get to where we need to get to at the university without the help of the community. And likewise, the community can’t get to that next level without a good, thriving research university that’s driving the community both economically and socially.”
An Expanded Top Tier Vision
Over the past year, the campus has solidified its strategic planning into its Top Tier vision, which is community-focused, student-centered, and inclusive of all disciplines.
Jessup stressed that the university is committed to improving student achievement, growing research and creative activity, expanding community partnerships, and building an academic health center through collaboration with the new UNLV School of Medicine and health-related campus units. He said he expects UNLV to continue its development as the high-performing, community-engaged research university that Southern Nevada needs now and into the future.
“Top Tier means that you have got to be good at everything you do, not just research," he said. "Research and teaching go hand in hand.”
Funding Top Tier Growth
UNLV’s Top Tier growth plan will require resources. Jessup said the university must become more entrepreneurial and build on the success of the 2015 Nevada Legislative Session and a banner fundraising year, which brought in close to $75 million in private support.
Jessup stressed a vision of a more self-sufficient UNLV through increased grant funding and business partnerships, streamlined economic development activities, and a pending capital campaign that will rally additional private support. He also pledged to increase online course offerings by 30 percent in the next three to five years, and reward academic units for focused, entrepreneurial growth by allowing them to retain up to 70 percent of revenue generated from new or expanded high-demand programs.
“The community stepped up from a fundraising point of view," he said. "This past year was the best fundraising year for UNLV in five years, and was second best year for UNLV in private giving.”
Focus on Student Achievement
Student success is a cornerstone of UNLV’s Top Tier plan. To Jessup, this means offering students great customer service, strengthening advising, growing in-demand academic programs, supporting teaching excellence, and delivering a campus experience that will keep students engaged and help them graduate on time.
To get there, UNLV continues to refine its general education programming and has added seven advising positions within the past year. Graduation rates are rising, and retention, progression, and completion goals advance this semester with new technology that will help advisors and academic units identify students in need of academic counseling, monitor student progress and further improve graduation rates.
“This has got to become a school of choice, the top choice, the first choice among parents and the students that choose to come here," he said. Including "improving the students’ experience through advising. We need to do a better job with our retention rates … and graduation rates. We need to make sure that our degrees are becoming more valuable and our students are more employable.”
Academic Health Center for Southern Nevada
UNLV must answer the community’s call for greater access to quality health care, and Jessup said a new medical school integrated with strengthening health science programs will do just that.
The university has been educating nurses for 50 years, and its existing health sciences programs help thousands each year through research and service programs. When it opens in fall 2017, the UNLV School of Medicine will feature high-tech, high-touch programming that embeds students in the community from day one. With research focused on issues critical to Southern Nevada — mental health, neuroscience, cancer, heart disease, and orthopedics — the school will partner across campus and within the community. An example is an only-in-Las Vegas partnership with the Harrah Hotel College to incorporate best practices from the service-driven hospitality industry into the patient experience.
He noted some of the innovative aspects of the School of Medicine’s developing curriculum. "This is a very problem-based, experiential, hands-on, community-focused curriculum. An example: One of the first thing the students are going to do when they get here in the fall of 2017 is they are going to go out and become credentialed as EMTs. They are going to be in this community serving as emergency medical technicians.”
Commitment to Diversity
Jessup said that embracing and celebrating diversity within the university and the community is critical to UNLV’s Top Tier aspiration.
The university recently completed a campus-wide strategic diversity planning process with noted national consultant Damon Williams and will soon implement a plan to enhance the campus experience for all of UNLV’s employees, students, and stakeholders.
UNLV was just named the second most diverse campus in the nation for undergrads by U.S. News & World Report. Earlier this year, UNLV became the first four-year institution in Nevada to reach Hispanic enrollment of 25 percent, meeting the U.S. Department of Education’s definition of a Hispanic-Serving Institution.
“We are doing a lot, spending a lot of time, effort, and resources in making sure that the diversity and inclusiveness on this campus continues.”