2021 State of the University

Radford University Interim President Carolyn Ringer Lepre, Ph.D.
State of the University Address
Bondurant Auditorium, Preston Hall
Friday, October 1, 2021
10 a.m.

Good morning, and welcome to the annual State of the University address and our Homecoming weekend!   

I am deeply honored to have the opportunity to be with you today, to update you on our accomplishments from the past year, to celebrate who we are as a purpose-driven community, and to share the ways Radford University continues to move forward.

It feels as if we haven’t spent much time talking about the future, because we have been so busy with the day-to-day management of our university as we continue to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.

Today we will reflect upon the profound impact the last year has had on our community as well as the significant progress we have made over the course of this unprecedented time in our lives. 

At this time, I would like to begin by acknowledging a few groups of people who are vital to our success! 

I’d like to acknowledge the Board of Visitors for their continued support and leadership for Radford University.

We are pleased to welcome former Rector and Board Member Mark Lawrence, Dr. Katie Hilden, and Ms. Grace Hurst, who are joining us this morning.

Would you please stand and be recognized?

Please join me in giving Mr. Lawrence, Dr. Hilden, Ms. Hurst and our entire Board of Visitors a warm round of applause.  

Will the members of the Leadership Council, please stand and remain standing? 

Will the members of our shared governance team and please stand?

These student-centered leaders are working tirelessly on your behalf to advance our great university forward! 

Please join me in recognizing each of them for their hard work!  

I would like to also recognize John Cox, CEO of the Radford University Foundation. Thank you for all you do on behalf of our students. 

The Mayor of The City of Radford and the City Manager are also with us today. Please join me in recognizing David Horton and David Ridpath.

I would also like to take a moment to acknowledge my family – my husband Todd and my daughters, Sarah and Ainsley.

They give me purpose and meaning each and every day.

Both of my daughters just started their first year of college, and they have given me a new appreciation for the college experience and how critical it is to help students get connected and to feel like they belong.  

My experience as a mother helps shape who I am as an academic and as an interim President. Seeing a university through their eyes enriches my understanding.

My family is my foundation.

The word family means different things to different people.

I hope that you have, as I do, a positive, caring or comforting connotation when you think of family… It is something that holds you up, has your back, and fiercely loves you.

Families also sometimes disagree. They argue. They face challenges.

So, what holds a family together? Shared core values. Shared vision for the future. Common goals and aspirations. And mutual respect ….

When I think of the Radford Family, I see people who have shared values and ideals, which allows us to work collaboratively to accomplish our mission — transformational education.    

Like any family, we may sometimes agree to disagree, but we have the most important thing in common – we care about the well-being, potential and future of our students, institution and community.

Nowhere was the power of our community more evident than in how we responded to the COVID-19 pandemic throughout the last 18 months.

Like many institutions of higher education, we bravely sought for solutions and overcame challenges. 

However, our priorities remained clear: maintain the well-being of our community and continue to deliver high quality learning experiences to our students.

Countless hours of effort and collaboration were required to effectively develop and implement our comprehensive plan. 

We spent 1,000s of hours planning and implementing;

  • More than 5,000 hours in our call center, which was launched specifically for our pandemic response
  • Almost 3000 hours vaccinating and administering COVID-19 tests
  • 545 classrooms and learning spaces were adjusted
  • Approximately 2000 courses moved to an online or hybrid format
  • $47 million dollars in Cares Act funding was disbursed to support our students and our COVID-19 operations.
  • We installed 4 banks of innovative Food Lockers to safely ensure students had their favorite foods readily accessible to them.

We held 18 commencement ceremonies with over 4,000 graduates – Many of whom were Healthcare Heroes who were immediately deployed into the field where they were so desperately needed.

In other words, we spent countless hours, together, caring for our Radford family.

I know that we had all hoped that the pandemic would be behind us.

Our reality is somewhat different.

However, we are moving forward with living, learning and working at Radford University, in a way that fosters a caring and inclusive community, while at the same time supports our commitment to protecting and promoting the health, safety, and well-being of all students, faculty and staff.

At this time, I would like to acknowledge the dedication and hard work of the COVID-19 Work Group led by Vice President for Student Affairs, Dr. Susan Trageser. 

Their leadership and compassion have been critical to our pandemic response and has continued to guide us as we move forward.

I would also like to acknowledge our extraordinary faculty and staff. They did so many things we were not aware of:

  • Our team in Student Affairs – for delivering meals, transporting students, standing up a call center, providing programming, expanding counseling sessions and intentionally helping our students better navigate student life during the pandemic. Thank you!
  • Our team in Enrollment Management – for creating a virtual recruiting experience and fighting for every prospective student to become a Highlander in a  dynamic enrollment environment, and helping them to successfully transition to Radford University. Thank you!
  • Our team in Academic Affairs – for your flexibility in adjusting schedules, teaching multiple delivery formats, modifying programs, expanding advising, following up with students and continuing to bring excellence in the classroom – regardless of the delivery mode (in person, on Zoom, online, and often all three) – Thank you!
  • Our team in Advancement and University Relations – for creating communication, documenting our experiences and keeping our alumni and donor community engaged last year. Thank you!
  • Our teams in Central Administration – for your commitment to providing the highest quality online experience, and hosting virtual, events so students could learn and connect safely from home. And for their tireless work to Radford University. Thank you!
  • Our Intercollegiate Athletics staff – for your leadership in delivering both academic and athletic excellence while dealing with continuous testing, limited in-person fan presence and the uncertainty of competing during the pandemic. Thank you!
  • Our team in Finance and Administration – for ensuring our financial well-being, keeping our campus safe, supporting our COVID 19 reporting, developing telework arrangements and virtual training options, and helping us all navigate technology and Zoom!  Thank you!
  • And I would like to say a special thanks to our staff members in facilities, housekeeping, trades, and grounds, and our partners at Chartwells.

Each and every day you ensured that our spaces were sanitized, safe, functioning and beautiful; that our community was nourished; and Our departments and operations ran well. Please know that you are seen, heard and deeply appreciated.  Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

I am humbled by the acts of grace, strength, courage and leadership shown during this pandemic and for that – one final, heartfelt thank you.

It is because of all the tremendous efforts just acknowledged, our University moves forward. Our focus on academic excellence did not waver and I am thrilled to share some of our achievements and acknowledgements.

Radford University’s strong academic tradition and commitment to student success continue to garner recognition.

In the U.S. News & World Report’s Best Colleges report, Radford is ranked No. 14 among Top Public Schools – Regional Universities South category, and a Best Value School.

6 programs were ranked as Best Graduate Schools.

AND, Radford University Carilion was ranked among the top Health Schools.

Radford University was also named as college of distinction, specially recognized as a top public university, top public university in Virginia, and top programs in nursing, business and education.

We were also recognized for our high-quality Career Development services.

The Princeton Review recognized Radford as a Green School.

Last year, Radford University received not one, but three recognitions for our efforts in creating pathways for the men and women who have served this great country:

Victory bestowed upon the university a Military Friendly Designation  

Colleges of Distinction recognized Radford for its military support.

College Consensus listed the university among its Best Colleges and Universities for Veterans.

These accolades would not have been possible without the vision and hard work of the team in the Military Resource Center led by

  • Deanna Mabe – Director of Programming; and
  • Dr. George Santopietro, Assistant Provost for Academic Operations. 

Thank you both!

Continuing in the spirit of acknowledgements and recognition --

It was with great pleasure that we celebrated the scholarship and achievements of faculty and staff at the Fall 2021 Convocation.  

  • We honored members of our Radford community for prestigious individual awards;
  • We celebrated our 2020 Dalton Eminent Scholar Award Winners; and
  • Announced our 2021 Founders Award Winner;
  • We also recognized the 2021 Radford University Foundation Award winners and today we are pleased to recognize their student honorees.

Will all our award winners please stand and be recognized?  

Several of our exceptional students were recognized with significant national awards last year as well.

Radford University interior design student Karizma Woods was named to the “Future 100” list in Metropolis Magazine, a highly respected trade publication focusing on architecture and design that highlights the top 100 graduating students from architecture and design programs in the United States and Canada.

AND, this year, the magazine, Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, highlighted some of the nation’s best students and their academic accomplishments across all disciplines as Diverse Rising Graduate Scholars.

Vinicius Rios, class of 2021 was one of the 10 students who made up the inaugural class.

Two years ago, as part of our path toward strengthening the first-year experience, we embarked on a plan for an innovative alternative to the traditional delivery of general education.

At most institutions, general education is nearly always built on a menu of courses in specific areas.

We’ve done away with the menu of courses and now everything a Radford University student studies fulfills their general education requirements.

And that makes our REAL Curriculum different. It shows students, in a dynamic new way, that everything they learn at Radford contributes to their overall education and career goals.

The REAL curriculum is a true differentiator for our university and one that will be incredibly compelling to prospective students.

Sincere thanks and congratulations to Dr. Nicole Hendrix, the members of the REAL Council and the entire faculty for their diligence and care in getting us to this long-awaited moment — the launch of our new curriculum.

In March 2021, Radford University unveiled a new name for our international education center: the McGlothlin Center for Global Education and Engagement.  

The name acknowledges the “dedication and leadership” of Thomas D. McGlothlin, president of The McGlothlin Foundation in Bristol, Virginia, who “has been a champion of international education and engagement for years.  

This past year, under the direction of Assistant Provost Ismael Betancourt, the Center has advanced our mission of broadening opportunities for international engagement and study abroad through the establishment of dozens of new MOUs and partnership agreements, new internal process and procedures to streamline operations, and an ESL program, which will launch this January.

Radford University and the Appalachian School of Law entered into a partnership this year that will streamline the opportunities for students to earn advanced degrees. This partnership includes pathways for students to earn their juris doctor degree at ASL and an MBA at Radford in an accelerated timeline.

By partnering with the Appalachian School of Law in this way, we continue to give our students multiple pathways to achieve their academic goals and partner with an institution whose mission aligns with our own.

Great progress is being made on the Together Campaign!  

As of today, $76.4 million dollars has been raised and we are within sight of the $100 million dollar goal.  

The Together campaign website received both a DotComm Gold award and a University Standard of Excellence award from the Web Marketing Association.

We know that each donation and dollar amount are meaningful and can have a powerful impact.

Last year we had more than 2,800 donors, 821 of whom were new.  

Gifts under $100 totaled more than $94,000 from 1,423 donors. Our Highlander family benefits from gifts of all shapes and sizes and we are diligently seeking ways to ensure every donor feels valued and understands the impact of their investment.

We are so very thankful for the continued generosity of our donors and are excited to continue our efforts in meeting the campaign goal.

In recognition of the generous $6 million dollar gift of Dr. Pat and Nancy Artis, we named the Artis Center for Adaptive Innovation and Creativity in their honor;

This is the largest single gift in the history of Radford University. Pat and Nancy Artis, would you both please rise and let us thank you for your exceptional gift.

This year, we were able to enhance our athletic facilities with a $1.1 million dollar gift from an alumnus in support of our baseball program, adding a state-of-the-art turf playing field for our student athletes.

And we received a $1 million dollar gift from our alumna Lisa Arundale, supporting both scholarships and creating an immersive summer experience for aspiring vocalists in the College of Visual and Performing Arts.

Advancement’s efforts in fiscal year 2021 have resulted in the most dollars raised in the history of Radford University.

Congratulations to Wendy Lowery, the Campaign Committee and the advancement and university relations team for their efforts and hard work!

As part of Radford University’s commitment to provide innovative educational experiences, we have broken ground on the Artis Center for Adaptive Innovation and Creativity, funded through the generous $101 million dollar investment from the Commonwealth of Virginia.

It will bring together students from health sciences, visual and performing arts and other disciplines across the university in a dynamic multi-story building that will include instructional space, health science clinical lab space, and painting, drawing, music and dance studios.  

On June 15th, members of the Radford family gathered in the atrium of the College of Humanities and Behavioral Sciences Building, to formally dedicate it as Hemphill Hall, honoring former President Brian Hemphill’s leadership and legacy.

As a recognition of Dr. Hemphill’s professional career as a champion of student engagement and success, a scholarship fund was created to provide meaningful opportunities for future generations of Highlanders.

Intercollegiate Athletics plays an extremely important part in a University’s feelings of community.

Our dedicated athletic leadership, staff, coaches, and student-athletes faced many challenges last year, from extensive COVID-19 testing to running all 16 of our sports in the Spring 2021 semester.

Despite these and other challenges, our athletic program and our student-athletes thrived.

Impressively, our student-athletes showed extraordinary Academic Achievement.

Last year:

  • 71% of our athletes made the Big South Honor Roll
  • 55% made the dean’s list
  • 43 earned a perfect 4.0 GPA
  • And most remarkable of all, collectively our teams achieved an overall GPA of 3.28.

Congratulations to our coaches, staff, faculty and student-athletes for rising above the obstacles and achieving in a most impressive way.

On April 21st, Radford University selected Darris Nichols, as our eighth men's basketball head coach.

He was an outstanding student-athlete at Radford High School and at West Virginia University.

He climbed the ranks as an assistant coach and has made a tremendous impact in each of his progressive coaching roles.

We are thrilled to welcome him home.

Softball athlete Sydney Fisher, class of 2021 was named Big South 2020-21 Woman of the Year Co-Honoree.

She was three-year starter for the Highlanders and…graduated with a 4.0 GPA as a double major in Biology and Chemistry and is now studying at the University of Georgia’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

And it is always exciting when a Radford alumnus continues their athletic career after graduation, as once a Highlander always a Highlander. This year we something special to celebrate.

This summer, Highlander alumni Nick Mayhugh, class of 2018 and Radford University Division 1 Soccer player, not only represented the United States in the 2020 Paralympics held in Tokyo, Japan but took home four track and field Olympic medals, three of which were gold, and shattered a world record.

We know that one way that our university can help both our students and our community succeed is by contributing to the overall economic development of the City of Radford and the New River Valley.

Following more than a year of planning, and in collaboration with the Radford University Foundation and the City of Radford, construction has officially begun on The Highlander Hotel.

The hotel will provide more than 30 new full-time jobs and is projected to bring more than 46,000 visitors to the area annually, adding approximately $410,000 in new city room and meals tax to Radford City in its first year of operation and $35.5 million over the next 50 years.

It will provide conference space and dining to the heart of Radford, and provide work-based learning opportunities for our students.

It is expected to open in late 2022.

We reaffirmed our long-standing focus on reaching carbon neutrality and promoting campus-wide sustainability this year by signing a Carbon Commitment.

The Carbon Commitment recognizes the increasing pace and detrimental impacts of climate change and the need for colleges and universities to exercise leadership in addressing the problem.

The President’s Task Force on Sustainability will chart a course for achieving net carbon neutrality that is efficient and financially beneficial, while also increasing the sustainability of University operations across the board.

Growing our enrollment continues to be a major focus and we have launched several new programs to ensure that more students who would like to become a Highlander have the opportunity to do so.  

One example is our pioneering Bridge program.

Last year we partnered with the New River Community College to successfully launch the Bridge Program, which provides support for the transition from high school to college and encourages engaged learning in active communities of students, faculty and staff.  

54 students enrolled in the inaugural class and 26 students “crossed the bridge” and are now enrolled at Radford.

This fall we welcomed an additional 58 new Bridge students to campus.

We also know that our diverse population needs choice, a variety of learning modalities, and different pathways to achieve their educational goals.

Three new fast-track programs were developed and launched in July: an RN-to-BSN, a Master of Science in Nursing and a Master of Business Administration.  

Each program offers coursework using seven-week terms as opposed to the traditional 15-week semesters, six start dates per year, pay-by-the course tuition and 100% online course delivery.    

Thanks to support from the Commonwealth of Virginia, we received $10 million to equalize tuition at RUC and promote growth in our health sciences offerings.  

This funding helps make a Radford education more affordable for our students.  

Many thanks as well to our Finance and Administration team who were pivotal in implementing the plan.

The Academic Success Center, which launched last year is instrumental in elevating the advising experience for our students.

This year the ASC will expand services and launch the Academic Leadership Fellows program.

Faculty fellows will serve as representatives for their undergraduate academic disciplines to support student recruitment, onboarding, persistence and retention.

A representative from each academic college and the School of Nursing has been selected to serve in a leadership role.

Congratulations to the inaugural group of Academic Leadership Fellows for this academic year.

We are committed to providing wrap-around student support, and at times, the support needed goes beyond academics and advising.

According to the College and University Food Bank Alliance, nearly 30% of college students are food insecure. The rates are even higher for minority and first-generation students, and studies show that COVID-19 has exacerbated the problem. When students cannot focus on their studies because of hunger, their grades can suffer and their ability to stay in school is diminished.

In response to the growing issue of food insecurity, we launched The Highlander Pantry, which is available to all students, faculty or staff and offers safe and discreet access to free nutritious food items.

Continued volunteer engagement with the Highlander Pantry is welcomed.

More than 30% of our undergraduate population on main campus self-identify as first-generation.

We are creating a comprehensive approach to first-generation student support that includes the creation of the Center for Opportunity and Social Mobility.  

This center will provide mentoring, faculty engagement and programming dedicated solely for our first-generation students and families to create a strong sense of belonging.  

Landscape of Higher Education and the Reality of the Times we are in…

The momentum at Radford University is unmistakable.

And I also know how challenging this past 18 months have been.

As a community, we have been planning, thinking about, and coping with societal issues like the lasting effects of the pandemic, social injustice, the political environment, natural disasters and other stressors. These concerns are shaping our landscape and impacting who we are and how we show up each day.

Some of our typical coping mechanisms such as traveling, connecting with loved ones and friends or participating in hobbies have been hindered over the past year.

Social connection and the power of community is important to fostering a sense of belonging and supporting our collective well-being.

When I think about the future of Radford University, I think about our potential and what it takes to deliver our mission.

We demonstrate an incredible level of commitment and hard work to be here.

We are scholars, care-takers, innovators, leaders, researchers, life-long learners, supporters, athletes, community servants, and entrepreneurs.

In short – though we might be tired, we are extraordinary. And we are stronger when we stick together.  

I am grateful that you chose and continue to choose Radford University as a place where you live, learn and work.

You belong here.

You belong at Radford University.

Your presence is felt when you are here and you are missed when you are gone.

I believe that we can accomplish incredible things and there are no limits to what we can do together.   

And as we move forward together our focus is simple:

Promote the well-being of this community and cultivate a sense of belonging.

Increase enrollment and retain our students and workforce.

This is not a departure from our strategic plan but being intentional about how we finish it strong and do so together.

Our first priority is and should always be our people!

Our goals are the “what we do” to be a successful premier institution.

But being purpose-driven and compassionate is the “how we do it.”

One way we can create a sense of belonging is to acknowledge and appreciate the value you bring to Radford every day.

To that end, we have launched Highlander Highlights, a new way for us to celebrate and share our achievements, innovation, collaboration and service that happen every day.

We hope you will take the opportunity to share with us your stories – so that we can share them forward and help us all be inspired.

Like any other family, taking the time to pause and refresh is one way for us to “be well” so that we can “do well”.

For you this might mean more time with those you love, traveling, time alone, or the opportunity to just unplug from work to do nothing.

It is my pleasure to announce that for this year, because of the tremendous efforts everyone has made during the COVID-19 pandemic, employees will be able to carry over an additional 40 hours of leave to next year, and we will be closing the university on December 22nd, adding an extra day off. We hope this allows you time to replenish and rest.

I also want to share another new initiative being launched  -- Wellness Wednesdays!

A comprehensive workshop series offered through our office of Human Resources has been created to help us all address anxiety, burn-out and other stressors in our lives.

As the academic year progresses, look for additional ways that the University will be responsive to our community’s mental health needs.

As we keep our full attention on retention and student success, we also understand that one barrier to retention is financial.

I am pleased to share that this year we are offering every degree-seeking student, regardless of need,  funds ranging from $500 to$2,500.

These are one-time funds provided by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.

This funding will be distributed during both the fall and spring semesters.

Providing flexibility and delivering a high-quality learner experience has been a strategic imperative of the Vinod Chachra IMPACT Lab since its inception.

The lab is now launching new payment options and expanding its model to include business to consumer coursework offerings.

We look forward to serving additional learners who are seeking to advance their careers via new certificates and stackable credentials through the IMPACT Lab in the future!

Building community and fostering a culture of belonging can also happen through space and experience.

This year we are reimagining our dining spaces in the Bonnie and Dalton Hall with the launch of

The Honeycomb Commons, our new coffee shop.

A ”Student’s Choice” concept that will feature pop-up restaurants based on student’s preferences.

And the Highland Smokehouse our BBQ restaurant using our new 1910 Smoker.

In the future, we will continue to look for opportunities to nourish our community around the table and foster connections through food.

Our community will be stronger by cultivating an inclusive environment, celebrating what each of us brings to our collective experience.

Thanks to the hard work by the DEAC Committee, we have submitted our DEI strategies to the Commonwealth, as part of the state’s OneVirginia Plan.

We recognize that in order to do the good work required to create an inclusive environment the University must devote both manpower and support to DEI efforts.

To that end, as a next step, I am pleased to share that we have re-envisioned the Presidential Fellow Position, and are repurposing it.

For the spring semester, this Presidential Fellow will be devoted to collaborating with other campus partners, DEAC, and statewide constituents to further our strategies and keep diversity, equity and inclusion at the forefront of our operations. We will be seeking interested applicants from among our university community. More information will be forthcoming.

We are dedicated to expanding health science offerings by focusing in high growth and demand areas.  I’d like to mention a few programs of note that are in active development.

An Occupational Therapy Assistant to Master of Occupational Therapy weekend bridge program will allow licensed OTA’s advance their careers in a flexible format.  

We are developing an online degree advancement program in Respiratory Therapy, in direct response to the current needs.

And, to help keep nurses at the bedside, a nurse resiliency program. We are keenly aware of how important it is to minimize burnout and ensure our nurses have the skills they need to adequately address growing mental health needs,  both for themselves and for their patients.

In 2020, Radford received a $25 thousand dollar Virginia Talent and Opportunity Partnership grant to establish a Presidential Taskforce charged with developing a university-wide plan for experiential learning.  

Their work culminated in more than 60 strategies to support our Highlanders on an intentional career pathway.

I am thrilled to announce today the launch of one of those exciting strategies.  

Today we are making the Highlander Promise – That every student will have the opportunity to engage in at least one experiential learning activity during their academic career here at Radford University.

I anticipate that this Presidential promise will be a catalyst to expand student employment opportunities, increase work-based learning experiences on and off-campus and ensure that our students have the skills that they need to be successful in the future.

Esports programs provide a tool for universities to meet our students where they are and to provide student-gamers with an opportunity to find community.

To bring this closer to home – our Esports club is the largest club on campus!

Today I can share that Radford University is taking a step forward into this exciting area and providing our Esports students a new, state of the art facility in which to gather, compete, and play.

The facility is scheduled to open early in the Spring 2022 semester.

Celebrating who we are as Highlanders and supporting our athletic teams is important to our community and builds not only engagement but promotes a strong sense of university spirit, pride, attachment and identity.

I am thrilled to share we will be launching the Highlander Courtside Experience in the Dedmon Center.

This new area, inspired by courtside lounges at other collegiate arenas, will provide a secure and upscale location to enjoy food and beverages, as well as premium seating for basketball games.

Phase I of the courtside club will launch this fall, with the start of our men’s basketball season!

Radford University is creating opportunities to contribute to the overall well-being of our students, staff, and the Commonwealth of Virginia.

We are moving forward with purpose to transform lives through academic excellence, a strong sense of belonging and meaningful outcomes.

As a family we are acknowledging and celebrating who we are.

We are doing life-changing things for the thousands of students who put their faith in us, and impacting the communities and this great state that we serve.

We are taking the time to pause, reflect and refuel so that we can each do our best work for and on behalf of this university.

We are purpose-driven and supportive of one another.

I’d like to end by offering up some final inspiration from the beehive on our university’s official seal. A beehive is an incredible thing — efficient and strong — a marvel of collaboration and engineering. The hive protects, and when it works together on a common goal, it flourishes.

This community…this family…will stay healthy together, problem-solve together and we will move forward together.

Thank you for all you have done, and all you will do.

Enjoy Homecoming and Go Highlanders!