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Arlington City Council Presentation

June 7, 2016


Mayor Williams, members of the Council, Ladies and Gentlemen - Good Afternoon.  Thank you for giving me the opportunity to update you on the progress of your University. 

I’d like to thank the Mayor and the Council for the tremendous support that you have provided UTA over the years and especially since I took office three years ago.  This is a cherished partnership between the “American Dream City” and its R-1 University and one that will grow in strength and continue to yield tremendous benefits to the region in the years ahead. 

Imagine a time 25 years ago – Arlington had a population of just over 250,000 and an ad valorem value of just above $9 billion. UTA had an enrollment of about 18,000.  It was a predominantly “engineering” school and had an annual economic impact of under $1 billion. 

Fast forward to today – Arlington is a thriving city, the hub that holds and balances the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, with a population of over 380,000 and an ad valorem value of over $24 billion.  With the Rangers, Cowboys, Six Flags, a GM plant, and the headquarters of Texas Health Resources, Arlington is both a technological city and a tourist destination - filled with vibrancy and excitement. 

The city and its university are intrinsically tied together, right from the beginning when Arlington College was established in 1895 at the urging of an Arlington civic leader, Edward Emmett Rankin, and through its formation as the University of Texas at Arlington in 1967 through support of the city and its citizens.  Over the years, UTA has also grown from a small college to a university of choice, serving over 53,000 degree-seeking students this academic year, being one of the largest employers in the region, and having a tremendous economic impact.  

Since the Board of Regents enthusiastically adopted UTA’s new Strategic Plan at the February 2015 board meeting, we have had a clear focus and a set of well-defined goals.

Our path is laid out clearly, support from the UT System and legislature is at levels higher than ever before, news about the excellence at UTA is slowly, but surely, permeating through the Metroplex, state, and nation, and the University’s reputation has never been higher. 

This afternoon I hope to brief you on our progress, where we are today, and mention some plans for the near and not too distant future.  From being designated a Center of Excellence by the National League for Nursing, one of only two in Texas, to 13 members of our faculty being named fellows of the National Academy of Inventors – the second highest of any university in the nation and over one-third of those in Texas, to our recent designation in the elite group of R-1 Doctoral Universities – Highest Research Activity in the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education – the definitive list for the top doctoral research universities in the nation, our reputation is on the rise.

The success of a student’s academic career is measured by graduation and in the 2014-15 academic year we conferred 10,585 degrees, placing us third in the state in the generation of highly skilled intellectual capital behind UT Austin and Texas A&M, both of which have about double the number of schools and colleges as we do. In addition for the last two years we have graduated more than 200 PhDs.  Our goal is to award more than 13,000 degrees annually by 2020, adding significantly to the economic and intellectual vitality of Arlington and the North Texas region.

For the third year in a row, UTA ranks fifth among national universities for undergraduate diversity. We are also focusing on increasing diversity at the graduate level, and our student population represents almost every state in the United States and over 100 countries globally. 

Our campus population mirrors the demographic trends of the region and this provides us a tremendous opportunity to set new standards for excellence in diversity and inclusion.

Spring enrollment numbers indicate our continued growth and attractiveness as a university of first choice.  We had the largest spring enrollment in history: 38,650 students residing in Texas for purposes of education, a 5.8 percent increase over last spring and 4.4 percent over that of fall.  Adding in degree-seeking students in our online programs, our global enrollment count is currently higher than 53,000.  Enrollment in the College of Education, the College of Engineering, the College of Nursing and Health Innovation, and the School of Social Work continues to increase highlighting our growing reputation and ability to meet the workforce and intellectual needs of the Metroplex and nation. 

It is interesting to look at our growth in comparison to targets set by THECB and those set in our Strategic Plan both of which have been exceeded during this academic year.  We anticipated a growth rate of about 3.6 percent annually as part of the Strategic Plan, which would result in a population of about 43,000 students reported to THECB in Fall 2020.  Assuming a sustained level of 5.5 percent, which is the average over the past three years the expected enrollment in 2020 would be 48,000.  Even with this growth, the quality of our incoming students is extremely high with 23.9 percent being ranked in the top 10 percent of their high school class and 58.6 percent being ranked in the top 25 percent, third in the state behind A&M and Austin. 

As you know, we have a set of strong, and nation-leading online programs that were initiated some years ago in the then College of Nursing and have now been expanded to other Colleges as well.  Through mechanisms of digital learning, UTA educates 64 percent of all RN-to-BSN students in Texas and produces 54 percent of all RN-to-BSN nursing graduates.  Applying three different growth-rate assumptions, the highest of which is lower than our current rate of growth, shows that our online population in AY 2019-20 could be larger than the current in-seat population.  Arlington could very well be the home of one of the largest universities in the nation.

While a growth in student population is attractive, it is only worthwhile if our students graduate equipped with knowledge they require and are competitively placed to join the work force.  Our faculty continuously focuses on identifying needs and national and international workforce trends and developing new degrees to enable our students to be at the forefront of their professions.  Over the past two years we introduced new degrees in Construction Management and Architectural Engineering, and have received permission to add two more this fall – a BS in construction management which will meet the tremendous need for highly skilled engineering project managers in the Metroplex and across Texas, and for doctorally qualified kinesiologists trained in interprofessional skills.  Additional degrees including professional degrees in science at the master’s degree level, much needed degrees in education, counseling and educational leadership, healthy care administration, and entrepreneurship, as well as online degrees, are currently being developed to be launched in the months ahead. 

Growth in student numbers, development of new programs and an increase in rankings all stem from the tremendous faculty at UTA.  Over the past few months, three of our faculty – David Nygren, Ken Reifsnider and Duane Dimos – were named fellows of the National Academy of Inventors bringing the total number at UTA to 13, representing the second highest at any university in the nation and over one-third of those in the State of Texas. 

Two of our faculty were named to the 2015 power list by The Analytical Scientist, representing the Top 100 most influential people in the world of analytical science. Dan Armstrong was ranked 8th in this list for his pioneering work related to the development of new methods for separating chemical mixtures in solution or as gas essential to pharmaceutical drug development and disease identification and treatment.

CAREER Awards from the National Science Foundation are won by only a select few in each discipline and the awardees represent the very best in their field at the assistant professor level.  Three of our faculty were awarded this prestigious honor this year and each is pioneering work in fields critical to the nation’s future.

Our faculty are held in great esteem by their peers nationally and internationally as evidenced by the numerous awards and recognitions through professional societies and organizations.   Of note, both Dr. Frank Lewis in electrical engineering and Dr. David Nygren in physics received the top awards in their field in 2015.  Both not only spearhead significant research enterprises but also serve as mentors to younger faculty, enabling UTA to continue building strength.  From Kaushik De who was elected a fellow of the American Physical Society and Vijayan Pillai who was named a Fellow of the Royal Society of Public Health to Samir Iqbal who was honored by the Royal Society of Chemistry with its highest accolade of fellow, our faculty continue to not only achieve very lofty levels of professional recognition but they are also actively engaged in transformative and impactful research. 

The highest award for teaching in the UT System is being named a member of the Academy of Distinguished Teachers This year the System only named three, of which two were from UTA.  Kevin Schug and Barbara Shipman are both exemplary faculty – top-notch researchers, scholars and dedicated to teaching. At UTA, research and teaching are not just valued we expect our faculty to excel at both, thereby providing the very best experience to our students.

To support the growth in student numbers and our research enterprise, we have been active in recruiting some of the very best minds from academia and the corporate world.  Our focus in health sciences has been enhanced through the addition of a growing group of top medical researchers headlined by

  • Dr. Marco Brotto, who held joint appointments at the Schools of Medicine, Nursing and Pharmacy at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and is an internationally renowned scientist focusing on the cellular and molecular basis of muscle atrophy and weakness that come with aging;
  • Dr. Mark Haykowsky, an internationally renowned researcher in exercise physiology and rehabilitation medicine from one of the world’s preeminent rehabilitation medicine programs at the University of Alberta, Canada, where he also served on the Faculty of Medicine in the Division of Cardiology; and
  • Dr. Paul J. Fadel, a prominent physiology integrative researcher and expert in neural cardio-vascular control in health and disease, from the University of Missouri School of Medicine.

In addition, Dr. Jon Weidanz, founding chairman of the department of immunotherapeutics and biotechnology in the School of Pharmacy at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center joined us late last year as associate vice president for research and professor of biology.  Since then, we have added a few more faculty and they have already brought in new funding from NIH.  Expect to hear a lot more from UTA in the area of health sciences as we continue to expand supporting a theme area of our Strategic Plan – Health and the Human Condition.

To integrate the ongoing work at UTA in big data we recruited Dr. Krish Prabhu as a Research Professor.  Dr. Prabhu currently serves as President of AT&T Labs and Chief Technology Officer for AT&T, overseeing the company’s global technology direction.  Through hires such as this, we will be enhancing our connection with industry while also integrating our research and teaching activities.

Since late fall, recruitment has been underway for the addition of over 50 tenure and tenure-track faculty positions.  This is likely the highest number of positions at a single time by any university and underlines not just our growth, but our commitment to excellence and our growing reputation.  Excellence attracts excellence and those we have recruited in this group come to us from leading institutions such as the University of California Berkeley, Rice, the University of Michigan, Penn State, and Memorial Sloan Kettering among others.  These are the very best young minds and they will be enriching the University family and the city. We expect to continue hiring in fall, perhaps adding another 25 or so at that time.

The exponential rise in our reputation is based on laser-focused progression along the Strategic Plan that I’d briefed the Council on last year.  As we plan for the university of the future, we envision one that flourishes without silos, that embraces collaboration, that builds on our geographic location at the center of one of this nation’s fastest growing metropolitan areas, takes advantage of its location next to a major airline hub and gateway to the globe, and that will serve as the model 21st century urban research university – an urban flagship with global reach and impact.  As an urban university, we believe that it is our mission to meet the challenges facing our community with vision and leadership, ensuring that the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington megacity of the future will be one that addresses critical issues prior to their overwhelming the area. 

The plan is driven by a single focus that provides context for engagement and impact.  Four guiding themes

  • Health and the Human Condition
  • Sustainable Urban Communities
  • Global Environmental Impact, and
  • Data Driven Discovery

build on the strengths of our faculty across all colleges focusing on the goal of enabling a sustainable megacity.  Six guiding aspirations direct our progress.  Six areas of operational priority provide broad logistical direction for the University.  Details on these, as well as the progress being made, can be found on a specially designed website and I hope you’ll log in to learn more about these exciting developments.

While I would like nothing more than to talk at length about each area, time precludes this and so I’ll just mention a few.  Advances are being made under the theme area related to health sciences by faculty from the College of Engineering, College of Nursing and Health Innovation, College of Science, School of Social Work and UTARI. 

All these are based on significant external funding in the multi-million dollar range from extremely competitive agencies such as the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute on Aging and the Office of Naval Research.  From the development of computational models to understand battlefield-blast-induced damage to neurons and the effect of shock waves on injuries to the brain to the development of bioengineered smart gloves for regenerative healing of extremity trauma, our faculty are not only creating new knowledge through inquiry, but also translating discovery into innovation and application that will impact our health and wellness.

Data is voluminous, fast, increasingly complex, and comes in a range of formats. UTA is focused on research that integrates big data from specific fields and is developing data analytics and science that explores information from a wide variety of sources. From the very fundamental research being conducted by our world-renowned faculty in the area of high energy physics led by Professors De and White, to the pioneering simulations of materials strength and life-prediction by Professors Andrew Makeev and Endel Iarve, and the development of a one-of-a-kind national hypersonic research facility for high temperature materials characterization by Prof. Maddalena, our faculty are gaining funding from agencies such as the National Science Foundation, Department of Energy, Army Research Office, NASA and the Office of Naval Research – establishing themselves and UTA as among the very best not just in the Metroplex or Texas, but the nation.

As a result of the tremendous advances being made by our faculty and the many awards obtained over the past year, our reputation and rankings are increasing by leaps and bounds.  For the first time in our history, we have 20 graduate programs in each of our eight academic Colleges and Schools ranked amongst the nations very best by US News & World Report.  Consider that:

  • Our graduate public administration programs are ranked 9th in the online category and 12th in the on-campus category;
  • Our online graduate program in nursing is ranked No. 31 in the nation;
  • Our graduate program in aerospace engineering is ranked No. 39 in the nation;
  • Our online master’s for social work program is ranked 12th in the nation and the School of Social Work was No. 10 on a list of the top 25 social work schools based on student ratings and reviews. 
  • Our master of Education program was ranked 2 in the listing of Top 50 Best Value Online Graduate Education Programs of 2016.

As an urban research university we are committed to not only providing a top-notch education and to perform research and development linking discovery and technology commercialization.  Our research institute, UTARI, enables close collaboration with the corporate world and government agencies providing unique affordable solutions to complex problems.  It not only builds strong partnerships with some of the largest companies in the area, but draws a number of others through its outreach.  The Start-Up Lounge, the Shimadzu Institute and our Silicon Valley commercialization office in San Jose are just the start to the development of an entrepreneurial ecosystem.  Talks are already underway though this venture to launch up to six new companies and we hope that many in the future will be right here in Arlington.

We recognize that companies do not succeed overnight and TMAC serves to accelerate growth through delivery of hands-on business management, technology and operations solutions.  Over the past years TMAC has helped more than 5,000 companies gain more than $2.5 billion in sales, creating or saving more than 25,000 jobs – many of which are in Arlington.  From discovery and inquiry to commercialization and business development, UTA is proud to be a strong contributor to the health of our community.

Student retention and progression are national issues of import and one can find statistics provided by various agencies showing that at a conservative estimate 1.2 million students drop out of high school every year.  UTA is involved with a variety of initiatives to nurture and prepare students in this pipeline.  The University Crossroads program focuses on college awareness, financial aid workshops, and SAT and math prep classes.  Our award winning Pathways to College Access and Readiness program that has served over 23,000 students and 3,000 parents through an emphasis on 24 GO centers in 9 partner districts where UTA mentors help high school students navigate the college admissions process and career exploration.  In addition to the Bound for Success program, which was initiated a year and a half ago, we have established a STEM Academy at Martin High School and a unique Teacher Academy at AISD.  This is a wonderful addition to the work already being done by our College of Education and College of Science in the UTeach program.

We continue to strengthen our ties to the two-year colleges and already have very strong partnerships with TCC.  We just signed a landmark agreement with TCC to enable students to move from lower division through upper division and to graduation with a degree as though they were at one institution through the early transfer identification program and are close to announcing another unique partnership that will further engage TCC and UTA to generate the needed levels of a highly skilled workforce and to ensure that higher education remains within the reach of all who desire it in Arlington and Tarrant County.

Our faculty and staff continue to innovate in developing opportunities for education.  The Pathways to College program led by Prof. Carla Amaro was the only university-based program named as one of five THECB Star Awards finalists.  Prof. Maria Cosio led a team of faculty to a successful award of a $2.62-million HSI Department of Education grant which is aimed at the establishment of the IDEAS Center to enhance graduation and retention rates among Hispanic and lower-income students.  Two GAANN awards for graduate students in areas of national need in the Departments of Mathematics and Computer Science and Engineering and the $1.8 M grant enabling our Division of Continuing Education to provide technical assistance and workforce development for counties and cities are recent examples of how UTA continues to serve our community, the State, and nation. 

Under the able leadership of John Hall, we have been able to maintain a beautiful campus in Arlington, the Research Institute in Fort Worth, and centers in both Dallas and Fort Worth despite tight budgets.  As we have grown, our needs for infrastructure have increased as well.  Over the next few months you will see substantial construction on campus as we complete the new Career Development Center, break ground on the SEIR building, and start construction on a complex that will include residence halls, a new dining facility, space for off-campus students and a new parking garage. 

While we are proud that the WBNA considers UTA’s College Park Center as its home, our own athletics program is also making great strides and is catalyzing a new enthusiasm on campus, assisting to build school spirit to levels not seen before. 

  • Our men’s basketball team had a very exciting season beating powerhouses such as Ohio State and Memphis, and won its first ever post-season game, while the women’s team played in its first ever pre-season WNIT tournament and clinched a berth to the Sunbelt Conference tournament; 
  • Golf Coach Stuart Dean was not only a member of the 2015 US PGA Cup team but has already recruited some top players for our women’s team which is set to compete in the 2017-2018 season;
  • Men’s Tennis won its 5th conference championship and reached the NCAA Tournament; and
  • The Lady Movin’ Mavs won the National Intercollegiate Wheelchair Basketball Championship

The upcoming year promises to be even better and I’d like to invite you to come and watch as our athletes compete and win.  It’s exciting and you won’t be disappointed.

For years UTA has been a well-kept secret and even our neighbors did not know of our size or our growing reputation for excellence.  Today we are focused on ensuring that our story is told through a range of media.  An increasing number of our stories are carried by the Star-Telegram and The Dallas Morning News as well as at the state and national levels.  The UTA Impact newsletter is sent to 1,400 influencers – legislators, elected officials and leaders.  And the weekly alumni newsletter goes out to 117,000 alumni globally. If you do not receive these, please let me know so that we can add you to the mailing list.

You’ve probably heard me say that UTA is a great institution with boundless potential.  Innovation, diversity, excellence, access, and student success – these are the hallmarks of an institution on the move, one on the rise – and these define UTA as the model 21st century urban research university – the urban flagship if you will, for our system. We continue to think quick, think new, think big and believe that the future is not 2, 5 or 10 years away – but that the future is NOW. 

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak with you.  This is an exciting time and I hope you will not just watch as we accelerate to preeminence but that you will also join us on our journey, focusing development around the University, assisting us in growing an entrepreneurial ecosystem around UTA just as it exists in Austin, Orlando, San Diego, and in Silicon Valley, merging and leveraging plans and investments, as we continue to bring the city and its research university closer together, aligned for a wonderful future, with dreams that will become reality.