Reflecting and looking forward

Academic Voices: A Provost's Blog

Reflecting and looking forward

December 7, 2022

As the autumn semester draws to a close — and we take a break from the regular pace of academic life on our campuses — this moment presents an opportunity to reflect, especially as we prepare to bid farewell to 2022.

It is also a fitting time to express appreciation for the outstanding work that goes on each day across The Ohio State University’s academic enterprise. Throughout the year, I have been impressed with the exceptional dedication of our faculty, staff, and students. A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to participate in the Faculty and Staff Service Recognition Luncheon, where I met so many colleagues who have served Ohio State for more than 25 years, including two who have served for 50 years. I was humbled by this display of commitment to our university and reminded of how many have played important roles in shaping who we are today. I was also reminded of the special obligation we share to move Ohio State forward by investing in our faculty, empowering our students, supporting our staff, and creating an environment where all belong and can reach their full potential.

Last month, the Office of Academic Affairs (OAA) shared its Academic Plan, which will advance academic excellence and transform academic life at Ohio State. Although the plan will focus our efforts over the long term, I am encouraged by the significant progress that we have made already toward the plan’s goals.

The following are a few highlights as well as details about the efforts that will occur in the near-term and during the weeks and months ahead across our six priority areas.

Faculty Eminence

We have launched several programs centered around the faculty lifecycle that will help Ohio State become a destination for the most gifted scholars and researchers.

Some highlights include:

In addition, I am especially excited about the progress we have made with the Race, Inclusion, and Social Equity (RAISE) initiative. We have 48 faculty positions approved across our research areas, and with searches underway, we will welcome our first RAISE faculty to Ohio State in autumn 2023.

Finally, we are working to ensure Ohio State is a supportive and equitable place to work for our current faculty. Our new Office of Faculty Affairs has launched Faculty Networks to introduce colleagues and build connections beyond colleges and departments. We also have a committee exploring data around faculty compensation that will help us develop a more clearly defined philosophy on faculty compensation, along with best practices for identifying and addressing gaps. I am grateful to our faculty senators for their contribution to this effort and look forward to sharing more in the spring.

Student Academic Excellence

Our commitment to an affordable undergraduate education is strong, and during the autumn semester, we have made significant progress on that effort and on improving the academic experience of our students.

This fall we welcomed the first 125 undergraduates as part of Scarlet & Gray Advantage. Recently, I had the opportunity to visit with about 40 students from the program’s Learning Community course. The semester-long course focuses on leadership development, financial wellness, and career exploration.

These students had excellent questions about leadership, academic success, and finding purpose in one’s life. Yes, they are enthusiastic about the prospect of graduating from Ohio State with greater financial security. Yet, they are cognizant that their participation in the program will enhance their lives and create opportunities and pathways for future students.  

Creating an accessible and affordable undergraduate education will take focus and determination. Other recent developments around student success include:

  • The Buckeye Affordability Grant is now available to regional campus students in their first semester when previously they only qualified in their second semester.
  • Recent data shows a continued decrease in our undergraduate students’ average debt over the past five years. In 2017-2018, 52% of graduates left Ohio State with debt, and in 2021-2022, 44% left with debt.
  • For our graduate students, a committee on graduate funding recently completed work examining how we can be a more supportive destination. I look forward to reviewing the committee’s findings and reporting back with more.
  • To compete for top graduate students, we are piloting a new approach to graduate fellowships, enabling colleges to quickly award five years of funding to top recruits.

Last month, I had the opportunity to deliver opening remarks at the first-ever Student Success Summit. The daylong event was focused on learning about our student talent pipeline and identifying strategies to support Ohio State’s efforts to increase student retention and graduation rates. It was exciting to see the approximately 175 program directors, advisors, staff, and faculty who came together to share ideas around our retention and graduation efforts.

External Engagement

In November, we welcomed Gaëtane Verna as executive director of the Wexner Center for the Arts. An internationally recognized art historian and arts administrator, Gaëtane joins us after a decade of serving as director and artistic director of The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery in Toronto. We are thrilled to welcome Gaëtane to Ohio State, where she joins a talented and dedicated staff at the Wex.

On January 1, we also welcome Jason Reece to his new role as vice provost for urban research and community engagement. Jason will collaborate with internal and external stakeholders to create a strategic vision for academic partnership with Ohio State’s local communities.

Inclusive Excellence

Ohio State was selected to receive a $2.5 million Driving Change grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The grant will transform STEM education at the university and strengthen pipelines for underrepresented students. This award is especially significant because the university was one of only six grant recipients of the nearly 100 institutions that submitted proposals in 2019. Please join me in thanking Susan Olesik, divisional dean of natural and mathematical sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences, for spearheading this proposal for the university.

On January 1, Ange-Marie Hancock will join the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity as its new executive director. I am excited to welcome Dr. Hancock to the university, and I look forward to the perspective she will bring to the Kirwan Institute as an internationally recognized scholar.

Technology and Digital Innovation

During the Ohio State-Michigan game, Ohio State’s wireless network set a new record with 64,147 concurrently connected clients and 34.80TB of data consumption — figures that surpass those of even the most recent Super Bowl. I am so grateful for our Enterprise Networking team for connecting not just our fans but also our campuses, clinics, and Extension offices across the state.

Our Office of Technology and Digital Innovation also works at the crossroads of technology and accessibility and recently updated the Ohio State app to enable users to view accessible entrances and wellness spaces on the Columbus campus.

Operational Excellence

OAA is reestablishing the Office of Institutional Research and Planning, and I look forward to welcoming Michele Hansen as its associate vice president on January 1. Michele joins us from IUPUI in Indianapolis, where she is assistant vice chancellor of institutional research and decision support. Her leadership will help us develop a more data-informed culture that enables us to make data-informed strategic decisions.

As we prepare to close out another year, I am excited about the positive strides we have made to advance academic excellence and Ohio State. The work that happens each day across the academic enterprise is vitally important, and I have no doubt that we will continue our exciting trajectory into 2023 and beyond. I appreciate the extraordinary dedication of so many colleagues who continue to work tirelessly toward advancing the mission of Ohio State.