Living the American Dream
Dr. Mary Ellen Mazey: (Inaugural Address)
American Dream through Higher Education
I appreciate and thank everyone in attendance today and those watching at the Firelands campus. A special thank you to the Bowling Green State University Board of Trustees and its chair, Bill Primrose, our alumni, students, faculty and staff for not only your support today but for the welcoming atmosphere of the past five months. I look forward to working with you in the coming years. To our out-of-town alumni, former Board of Trustees members, community members and representatives from universities across this state and the country, I am pleased you are here to help us mark this occasion. I also want to thank my predecessor, Carol Cartwright, for her service to BGSU.
Today, we celebrate BGSU’s first 100 years and dream about its next 100. It is my honor and privilege to serve as BGSU’s 11th president. I am here today because — like so many others — higher education gave me the foundation to fulfill the American Dream. I am also here because of my family, friends and colleagues who have been so important in my life. I must acknowledge them.
First, my mother, who was widowed at the age of 30 without finishing high school, but still managed to raise three children who achieved advanced degrees. She taught us to seek an education and work hard at whatever we strived to achieve. Secondly, my two dear brothers, Bobby and Eddie, my aunts, uncles, cousins and others who helped raise me. And my dear deceased husband, Bruce, who told me over 30 years ago to finish that Ph.D. because he did not want to live with an unfulfilled woman. Thirdly, my wonderful sons, Bryan and Zack, and my daughter-in-law, Michele, grandchildren, Natalie and Logan, you are the perfect support system and joys of my life. To my many mentors and supporters who are here today — I appreciate the knowledge and wisdom you bestowed on me. I listened and have tried to emulate your great leadership attributes. You taught me institutional relationship building, and showed me how to make strategic planning practical and effective, and believed in me more than, at times, I believed in myself.
West Virginia University and the University of Cincinnati provided me with a strong educational foundation. At Wright State I learned how to work with multiple constituencies and build consensus both inside and outside of the university. At West Virginia University I had the opportunity to work with our keynote speaker, Dr. Peter Magrath, who has served higher education with distinction all across this country. At Auburn University, I learned how shared governance and a collaborative approach for decision making can change a university. I appreciate all of my former colleagues from Wright State, West Virginia, and Auburn for attending today.
Now for BGSU’s future:
After 100 years BGSU has graduated over 175,000 alumni who have impacted this state, the country and the world. In fact, we have just over 100,000 alumni here in the great state of Ohio, 60,000 alumni in the other 49 states, and almost 2,000 alumni in 125 countries. Our alums include such notable individuals as Shantanu Narayen, president and chief executive officer of Adobe Systems; Eileen O’Neill, group president of Discovery Communications; Jimmy Light, an organ transplant pioneer; and Jennifer Higdon, a world-renowned composer and winner of both a Grammy and the Pulitzer Prize.
We continue to have this recognition as we examine the statistics of our current student body. We have students from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, three U.S. territories and 75 countries.
This year we welcomed the 3rd largest freshmen class in history—15 percent of these students are from out of state, the largest percentage in our history, and 22 percent are students of color. Our alumni came to BGSU to get an education … to build a future for themselves and their families. While our current students face far different challenges, they are here for the same reason. The United States of America has the best and most recognized system of higher education in the world, but the world has become more competitive since our founders began this great University. Now, we must position ourselves to play an important role in higher education on the world stage while, at the same time, building a strong town/gown relationship with the City of Bowling Green and the metropolitan region! We must constantly assess our performance and adapt ourselves to ensure we can meet the educational needs of the future.
How do we undertake this mission? First, we must determine where we are in relation to our peer and aspirational universities. We are proud of the fact that for the last 17 years we have been ranked in the top 100 public universities in the country as noted by U.S. News and World Report. And over the last several years, U..S News and World Report has recognized us for our first-year experience programs and learning communities.
Included in U.S. News and World Report rankings is a factor considered “value added” of a college education, which is composed of the expected vs. the actual 6-year graduation rate. BGSU was number one in the State of Ohio on this factor and third in the nation. We are very proud of these academic rankings and must build on them in the coming years.
As I talk to students and alumni, they tell me how nurturing BGSU was and continues to be. I attribute this accolade to the faculty, staff, fellow students, alumni and others who have made and continue to make this possible. We are experiencing a renaissance as these second 100 years begin, especially with the opening of two new dining facilities, two new residence halls, The Wolfe Center and the Stroh Center. Now we are very excited about continuing this renaissance with the renewal of our academic facilities.
Our future will be built on strong and innovative undergraduate and graduate programming.
As we build on the success and history of our undergraduate programs, our task over the next five years will be to support the most innovative undergraduate curriculum enhancements in the country — some of which have already begun. We want every student to engage in experiential learning while they pursue the undergraduate degree. Beginning in the freshmen year, each student’s degree program will be integrated, starting with living and learning communities through the senior capstone experience. No matter what their major, our students will be provided with the curricular and co-curricular experiences that ensure they graduate with critical thinking skills and problem-solving abilities. These experiences are the basis for lifelong learning and paramount for a successful career. Our goal is to educate BGSU students for future careers that will meet the challenges of this country and the world’s social and economic needs. In addition, we will continue to build our undergraduate research programs and our study abroad programs to ensure that our students have a global experience and opportunities for research and creative scholarship.
At the undergraduate level, we are particularly proud of our Sidney A. Ribeau President’s Leadership Academy, which targets students who do not always have the opportunity to attain the American Dream. The program provides the support system to make it possible — especially for our first-generation students just like me — to achieve college and career success. These students are instilled with the fundamentals of leadership that states leaders are those to whom much has been given, and now much is expected. In addition, BGSU is proud of our over 400 student athletes who have an average grade point of over 3.0 — and who have earned recognition by the Mid-American Conference for this achievement.
A new initiative will be to link our undergraduate and graduate education, which will give our students an opportunity to earn a master’s degree in four to five years by being accepted into a broad range of accelerated bachelor’s/master’s degree programs. This is important to the Ohio Board of Regents and to the future of our state. Just as the standard of education in this country has been the percent of the population that has a bachelor’s degree, the standard of the future will be a master’s degree or another professional degree. BGSU should and will lead the way. We all want to position Ohio to have a workforce that meets the future needs of our economy and ensures that the American Dream is within reach of all of our citizens. Our degrees must be innovative and flexible. We will always be a residential University, but we must find new ways to deliver our curriculum and give students across the state and around the world the flexibility to receive a degree from BGSU. Just a little over 100 years ago, BGSU was created by the state legislature as one of the two normal schools in this state, and 101 years later we still graduate the largest number of licensed teachers in the State of Ohio.
Our overall goal is to build strong graduate and research programs in selected fields of study. The graduate programs will be the core of our research efforts.
Of the 48 Ohio Board of Regents Centers of Excellence, BGSU has three selected programs. They are Sustainability and the Environment, Health and Wellness Across the Lifespan, and Developing Effective Businesses and Organizations. Each Center provides us with an opportunity to propel BGSU in research and scholarship, teaching and learning, and engagement and outreach. First, our researchers in Sustainability and the Environment have generated over forty million dollars in external funding with our unique Photochemical Sciences program. They have done and continue to do ground-breaking research with photovoltaic cells that will assist the U.S. in becoming more energy independent. As part of our sustainability efforts, over the next months we will develop a plan to make our campus part of the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment and join other leading universities in the country in signing this agreement.
Secondly, our Center of Excellence in Health and Wellness Across the Lifespan promotes wellness and quality of life to help lower costs for health care and reduce the number of missed days at work. It builds on the work of more than 100 faculty members; 5,000 students; and 78 academic programs, research units and student activity groups that have $11 million in research grant awards and nearly $1 million in student support grants, as well as over 300 partnerships with health organizations and agencies in the community.
Third, in the Developing Effective Businesses and Organizations Center of Excellence, we connect faculty and students with companies to work on applied learning projects, and we organize the most comprehensive business plan competition in northwest Ohio and one of the largest annual entrepreneurship events in the state.
Our future goals will be to build on the successes and collaborations of our Centers of Excellence and their interdisciplinary work to build BGSU’s future.
We have two other BGSU Centers that have built strong national reputations. Our Center for Family and Marriage Research is a nationally recognized center focused on the changing attributes of the U.S. family and is funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In collaboration with Ohio University, our Center for Regional Development received a $1.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce to build a regional workforce development database. It also won a national award for its work, and in the future, our faculty and students will continue to receive national recognition.
In terms of creative scholarship, we have outstanding programs in music, art, and theatre and film, all of which have collaborated to have space and programs in our new signature building on campus — The Wolfe Center for the Arts. We are very proud of this new BGSU facility and we know our community and alumni engagement will propel BGSU to higher heights in this new environment.
Here at BGSU we offer our students an excellent educational experience inside and outside of the classroom and on and off the field. As John F. Kennedy said, ”Let us think of education as the means of developing our greatest abilities, because in each of us there is a private hope and dream, which, fulfilled, can be translated into benefit for everyone and greater strength for our nation. For education is the mainspring of our economic and social progress — it is the highest expression of achievement in our society, ennobling and enriching human life.”
At Bowling Green State University, we work every day to give our students the opportunity to live a new global American Dream through higher education.
Bowling Green State University and all of higher education must now rise up and meet the challenges of leadership in this country to ensure that the new global American Dream is possible for this generation of students and for the generations to come. I stand here today and pledge that this great University will become even greater and that we will play a major leadership role in this community and region, the State of Ohio, the United States of America and the world. Our best years are ahead, and we plan to ensure that our students, faculty, staff and alumni are duly empowered to create and implement the innovative ideas and beliefs that will take us forward into the next century of BGSU. Thank you for being here today and, in the future, I look forward to working with each of you in order to reach our goals.