2020 State of the University

Radford University President Brian O. Hemphill, Ph.D.
State of the University Address
Preston Hall, Bondurant Auditorium
November 13, 2020
10 a.m.

Good morning!

I greatly appreciate you joining me for today’s State of the University Address.

The State of the University Address is an annual event that presents a unique opportunity for us to reflect on the accomplishments of the past, while also providing focus on the initiatives of the future.

Let me be clear, although we are coming together in a much different format, the State of the University is strong!

This virtual platform has become a staple of our campus and our society.

The pandemic has taught us a great deal.

We have expanded traditional boundaries.

We have embraced emerging challenges.

And, most of all, we learned that no matter what…Highlanders rise!

We have proven that we are not defined by our campus, but we are defined by our character.

And, without question, Radford University is defined by its people!

I will begin today’s address by highlighting a few of the many individuals that make Radford University such a special place.

First, I would like to acknowledge my bosses, members of the Radford University Board of Visitors.

These dedicated individuals work day in and day out to provide both guidance and support.

They are critical partners in securing our success and active participants in planning our future.

I can attest to the care and compassion that they bring to the Radford family.

Please join me in acknowledging these incredible leaders!

Next, I would like to acknowledge four individuals, who are true champions of Radford University, our shared governance leaders:

  • Katie Hilden;
  • Ashlee Claud;
  • Kristina Contreras; and
  • Chris Davis.

Each and every day, they put Radford University and the Radford family first and foremost.

Please join me in acknowledging these strong advocates!

Our progress, success, and work would not be possible without a strong leadership team.

The individuals before you comprise the Leadership Council.

They are dedicated.

They are intelligent.

They are thoughtful.

And, most of all, they have a desire and drive to make a difference in the lives of Highlanders!

Please join me in acknowledging these impressive scholars and public servants!

Last, but certainly not least, I want to acknowledge and thank my lovely wife and your First Lady, Dr. Marisela Rosas Hemphill.

She gives freely of her heart and time to this campus and this community.

Please join me in acknowledging her for all that she does for Radford!

Looking back at the past year, our recent progress and continued work are a true testament to the worthwhile mission of our University and the diligent efforts of all Highlanders.

First, let’s focus on partnerships and programs!

Look no further than Radford University’s participation in the Tech Talent Investment Program created by the Commonwealth to support the workforce needs of Amazon’s HQ2 in Northern Virginia.

Or, the creation of the Shelor Motor Mile Scholars Program, which is providing scholarship support for 20 students in business-related fields in addition to hands-on experiences through internship opportunities.

And, what about our partnership with the Appalachian College of Pharmacy?

We now have a seamless process for their graduates to enroll in our MBA program, thereby providing generations of pharmacists who will thrive as entrepreneurs in small communities!

And, we are doing so with dedicated spaces in world-class facilities.

Consider this, in Reed and Curie Halls, home to the Artis College of Science and Technology, you can literally see science happening!

With science on display, we are creating a learning environment that is second to none!

Thanks to a $34 million investment from the Commonwealth, a three-year project came to a close in early 2020.

Since that time, a world of discovery has opened for students and faculty as they work side-by-side and showcase their work to all who visit Reed and Curie Halls.

These are clear examples of how we have stayed true to our core mission, while embracing the concept of innovation and collaborative approaches!

That work will continue with the on-going implementation of the 2018-2023 Strategic Plan and the 2020-2030 Master Plan, which was adopted this past December.

These guiding documents continue to frame our focus and drive our decision-making.

When adopting our strategic plan in late 2017, we committed to “garner recognition for signature programs in health sciences, healthcare, and human services” across the lifespan.

Now, nearly three years after establishing that goal, we have completed the first year of operations for Radford University Carilion.

Without question, it was a banner year at RUC.

In the first year of operation, RUC has welcomed new students, celebrated the inaugural class of Highlander graduates, enhanced synergies with main campus and expanded existing partnerships!

By building upon the first year of great momentum, our health sciences enterprise will continue to grow as we move forward together.

I could not be more proud of the growth and success of our health sciences programs.

Let’s take a moment to applaud their continued work and outstanding efforts!

As we opened the Fall 2020 semester, we did so with a new office dedicated to our incoming students and their success.

The establishment of the Academic Success Center was brought to the forefront during the University’s inaugural Retention Summit, which was held in January of 2019.

And, 18 months later, a recommendation became a reality!

Under the leadership of Dr. Corey Cassidy and with direct support from Academic Advising, New Student and Family Programs, and Student Success staff, we are being more intentional and thoughtful about our work with incoming students.

Their success is our success.

And, with this dedicated team in a new space with a united focus, I am confident that our Highlanders will succeed in greater numbers!

Please join me in acknowledging Lyn Lepre, Craig Cornell, Susan Trageser and Corey Cassidy for all their hard work.

Future Highlanders will also have access to world-class space as they discover and develop their talents.

Following many years of hard work, the Commonwealth of Virginia has allocated $101 million to construct the Center for Adaptive Innovation and Creativity to take the place of McGuffey and Porterfield Halls.

This critical support from the Commonwealth will be a game changer for the interdisciplinary work within the College of Visual and Performing Arts, the Waldron College of Health and Human Services and the Artis College of Science and Technology.

We will begin to see changes in the coming year with the goal of occupying the completed building in 2025.

This will be a long-awaited and much-deserved moment and opportunity!

The COVID-19 global health pandemic changed every facet of our society and our institution!

While transitioning from in-person to online delivery near the mid-point of the Spring 2020 semester, the Radford family demonstrated a tremendous amount of versatility.

As Radford students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends, we remained committed and strong.

During times of significant achievement, and even in times of great uncertainty, we do not lose sight of our purpose, and we do not waver in our commitment.

Highlanders are known for pushing through fears and frustrations to pursue their hopes and dreams, while creating a better future for themselves, their families, and the communities in which they live, learn, and work.

This is what defines members of the Radford family and sets us apart from others.

As I have shared on numerous occasions, our efforts to limit COVID-19 were successful due to the many precautions put in place and the constant care demonstrated by Highlanders.

Additionally, our successful effort to reopen our campus and remain open was a result of shared responsibility and collective work of our faculty and staff.

We had so many individuals who were critical to our COVID-19 planning and response.

Individuals like Ashley Schumaker, Susan Trageser, Chad Reed, Jorge Coartney, Heather Miano, Peter McCann, Tricia Smith, Jamie Penven, Robert Lineburg, Cory Durand, Ed Oakes, Tom Knisely, and so many others!

Please take a moment to acknowledge your colleagues, as well as yourselves, for a job well done!

In addition to the work that occurred on campus, I would be remiss if I did not take this opportunity to acknowledge and thank Governor Northam.

He demonstrated strong leadership throughout the pandemic.

In fact, Virginia emerged as a leader in the nation and was the first state to both establish and enforce COVID-19 safety standards in the workplace

In addition to strong leadership at the state level, we are very fortunate to have a public health leader in our region who is second to none.

Dr. Noelle Bissell and her team were instrumental in our planning and response efforts.

They have consistently and skillfully provided sound guidance and medical expertise as we have navigated this challenge together.

Please give Dr. Bissell a hearty round of applause for the New River Health District’s commitment and dedication to our region and its citizens throughout this pandemic.

During this pandemic, the Highlander spirit has never shined brighter.

Students, like Adam Berry, have given back to our community.

Adam, a student in the School of Teacher Education and Leadership, worked as a teacher’s aide in Montgomery County Schools.

When given the option to end his assignment once schools closed or remain onboard, he chose to stay.

During the pandemic, he was part of a team that delivered meals, both breakfast and lunch, to area schoolchildren at their homes.

He was part of keeping them fed, but also connecting with them and making their day exciting.

And, what about Kristin Buck Hinson?

Kristin, a 2014 graduate and double major in the College of Visual and Performing Arts, created “Foodies for Frontliners” by putting together snack bags with thank you notes for medical professionals and first responders in her hometown of Suffolk, Virginia.

Her good deed caught the attention of others as individuals began making donations to support her efforts.

Our students and alumni were not the only individuals who responded and helped those in need.

Dr. Alan Forrest, a Professor in the Department of Counselor Education, delivered “Mindfulness Mondays” content in a digital platform to stay connected with and support his fellow Highlanders!

Or, what about the Pandemic Professors, Dr. Stirling Barfield and Dr. West Bowers in the College of Humanities and Behavioral Sciences, who launched and produced a weekly podcast recording of conversations, comedy, and comfort.

And, we cannot forget Dr. Jim Newman in the Department of Recreation, Parks, and Tourism, who worked 12 to 13 hours a day from his home in Radford as a volunteer staff officer with the Virginia Defense Force, one of the three components of the Commonwealth’s military.

And, finally, what about the Radford Yarn Makers?

Responding to a request from a local healthcare professional, they banned together to crochet handmade mask straps to provide needed comfort for our region’s most essential workers!

I am optimistic about our ability and desire to continue moving forward and create lasting change.

And, I am confident that progress will occur even in the midst of a global health pandemic.


The Highlander spirit is on display each and every day on our campus, in our communities, across the Commonwealth, and beyond!

We are compassionate.

We are driven.

We are hard working!

Consider this, the prior holiday season featured a special performance by the Radford University Highlanders Pipes and Drums with the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra.

It was a unique experience for our students, as well as select faculty, and they shared their musical talents and holiday cheer with our region!

The opportunity for Highlanders to perform continued on a national platform as the Radford Singers, an ensemble group in the Department of Music, were invited to participate in the National Concert Women’s Chorus at Carnegie Hall in New York City.

This group of talented performers made their way to the Big Apple and performed on the biggest stage.

It was a life-changing moment for these talented Highlanders.

Our students are giving back to our community and sharing their talents both near and far.

They are also excelling in the classroom and their careers.

For the fourth consecutive year, 100 percent of seniors in the Nutrition and Dietetics program applying to accredited dietetic internships have been accepted and placed in prestigious programs throughout the nation.

And, graduates from the Family Nurse Practitioner programs on the main campus and at RUC achieved a 100 percent pass rate on their national exams.

Let’s take a moment to applaud these outstanding scholars for their hard work and incredible accomplishments!

At the same time that students are achieving more and outperforming their peers, we have welcomed student cohorts in expanded locations and new programs!

This past year marked the first year of the Doctor of Education program.

This past year also marked the expansion of a Counselor Education cohort in Abingdon, while welcoming the largest class in the history of the Communication Sciences and Disorders graduate program.

Student success at Radford transcends colleges, programs, and cohorts.

Look no further than Jordan Chittick, who was ranked the ninth-best cadet in the nation.

An active and dedicated member of the ROTC program, Jordan was nationally ranked by the U.S. Army Cadet Command, through a multitude of factors, including GPA, physical fitness, and leadership.

And, what about the women’s soccer team?

They won the Big South Tournament Championship followed by their eighth NCAA Tournament appearance in team history.

And, we cannot miss an opportunity to highlight our talented student-athletes.

The Big South Conference had a league-record 64 percent of eligible student-athletes earn Presidential Honor Roll status for their work in the classroom in 2019-20, while Radford landed 72 percent of its student-athletes on the list.

It was the fifth time in seven years the Highlanders exceeded 60 percent of its student-athletes on this prestigious list.

And, it was the second consecutive academic year that Radford surpassed 70 percent.

To be named to the Presidential Honor Roll, student-athletes must maintain a grade point average of 3.0 or better!

Let’s give these outstanding and talented Highlanders a warm round of applause!

Our students are not alone in their pursuits of excellence!

Our world-class faculty have also experienced great success and received deserving recognition.

Radford University is honored to have two back-to-back honorees for the Commonwealth of Virginia’s top award for teaching excellence.

This marked a first in Radford University history!

In 2019, Dr. Agida Manizade in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics was honored by State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.

And, in 2020, Dr. Jeremy Wojdak in the Department of Biology was selected for the same prestigious award.

He was honored for his classroom engagement, field work, and scholarly contributions, including collaborations with the National Science Foundation.

Additionally, Steve Shelton in the Department of Health and Human Performance was awarded the Physical Educator of the Year for 2019 by the Virginia Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance.

Our exemplary faculty have been recognized at the state level for their many contributions in the classroom and to their respective fields.

And, this fall, our campus was honored to celebrate and recognize the contributions and impacts of the 2020 Radford University Foundation Faculty Awards, including:

  • Meghan Viet, Director of the Teaching Resource Center in the College of Education and Human Development, who received The Award for Administrative and Professional Excellence;
  • Dr. Leslie Daniel, Professor of Special Education in the College of Education and Human Development, who received the Distinguished Faculty Advising Award;
  • Dr. Nicole Hendrix, Executive Director of General Education and Professor of Criminal Justice, who received the Distinguished Service Award;
  • Dr. Robert Trent, Professor of Music in the College of Visual and Performing Arts, who received the Distinguished Creative Scholar Award; and
  • Dr. Jane Machin, Associate Professor of Marketing in the Davis College of Business and Economics, who received the Donald N. Dedmon Distinguished Teaching Professor Award.

The level of experience and prestige of Highlanders is creating countless opportunities both on and beyond this amazing campus.

Like, Radford University’s renowned Psy.D. program, which received a Health Resources and Services Administration grant totaling nearly $1 million to improve the health of underserved communities by strengthening the health workforce and connecting skilled professionals to those communities.

A significant component of the grant is telehealth, which is a way for clients to receive care remotely, and one that our society has been utilizing to the greatest extent possible during the on-going pandemic.

Please join me in applauding these dedicated faculty and their colleagues throughout our University who are making a significant difference in the lives of our students and their lasting impact on our community!

On March 10 of this year, one day before we moved to online delivery due to the pandemic, Radford University quietly celebrated 110 years of teaching, research, and service.

We are a strong and steadfast institution known for our storied history and proud legacy of impacting our students and advancing our region.

Our institution emerged from humble beginnings.

The first graduates of Radford were celebrated in 1915 with a total of five diplomas awarded.

During the past academic year, we celebrated the accomplishments of 2,430 graduates ranging from associate to doctoral degrees.

Throughout our 110 years, we have awarded more than 100,000 degrees, certificates, and teaching diplomas.

And, this year, we welcomed our inaugural class of Highlander Distinction Scholars.

These students are a direct result of a significant investment, totaling $13 million, in new financial aid to be awarded over the next four years.

We cannot wait to welcome future Highlander Distinction scholars as they make Radford their institution of choice!

I must also acknowledge the inaugural class of Bridge Program students, a unique partnership between Radford University and New River Community College.

Standing strong at 51 students, these scholars are making the most of the opportunity to explore and live on our campus, while taking classes with New River.

They are an important part of our community, which I am confident will grow in the years to come!

And, we cannot forget about our competency-based education students studying online as part of the Vinod Chachra IMPACT Lab.

In just three short years, the Chachra IMPACT Lab has enrolled a total of 5,608 students and expanded Radford University’s reach across Appalachia and throughout our nation.

Let’s take a moment to acknowledge Highlanders of the past, present, and future, including our Highlander Distinction scholars, as well as our Bridge and IMPACT students!

Radford University’s commitment to producing changemakers started with Radford’s first President, Dr. John Preston McConnell.

President McConnell’s advocacy for women’s education set him apart from his scholarly peers and carved the institution’s influence in Virginia!

Today, the growth and impact of Radford University are felt and seen beyond the wildest dreams of our founders!

Our students have committed to making a difference here on campus, online, and in their chosen fields,

Our faculty have encouraged forward momentum in scholarship that has transformed the world!

Our staff have dedicated their careers and themselves to being fierce advocates for Highlander success!

Our alumni have established meaningful careers, connections, and support that carries the Highlander spirit around the globe!

The truth is Radford University continues to dream bigger dreams.

We continue to be innovative in our thinking and forward-focused in our work.

At the same time, we are also mindful of the environment and the role that we play in protecting and promoting sustainable practices.

We have long been a leader and proponent of sustainability.

From creating benches from recycled bags and implementing the Fill it Forward program, we have consistently demonstrated our lasting commitment in everyday uses and daily habits.

And, today, I am pleased to announce that Radford University has signed the Carbon Commitment.

The Carbon Commitment is focused on reducing Greenhouse Gas emissions and achieving carbon neutrality.

I am proud to say that we are a leader in the Commonwealth!

These critical efforts on our campus will be led by the Sustainability Task Force and the Sustainability Office, which is now housed under the Division of Finance and Administration.

Please join me in applauding our expanded commitment to be environmentally friendly and socially responsible, as well as recognizing the dedicated individuals who have pledged to lead this important work, especially Dr. Stockton Maxwell and Josh Nease.

As our environment is changing, our campus is evolving.

In last year’s State of the University Address, I announced a public private partnership to bring a world-class hotel to Radford.

Today, I am excited to share the continued progress that has been made over the past year.

Radford University has partnered with a team of private companies working collectively to deliver the project, including:

  • S.B. Ballard, of Virginia Beach, as the general contractor;
  • Blur Workshop, of Atlanta, Georgia, as the designer;
  • Preston Hollow Capital, of Dallas, Texas, as the capital partner; and
  • Aimbridge Hospitality, of Arlington, Texas, the largest third-party management company in the U.S., as the manager of the hotel.

It truly is a world-class team that has been assembled and continues to be led by JLL in great partnership with the Radford University Foundation and the City of Radford!

It will be an upscale, full-service boutique hotel.

The hotel will be designed to reflect our local area.

Our hotel will be unique.

The University’s seal will take a prominent role in the design features within the hotel.

Our tradition of hard work will be on display for all to see.

Our hotel will tell a story.

It will tell the story of our great institution, the City of Radford, and the New River Valley.

It will highlight our region’s history, featuring the role and impact of Radford University, as well as the life and journey of Mary Draper Ingles!

In addition to a powerful story, our hotel will have a distinguished name and strong reputation.

Without question, the Commonwealth of Virginia is home to many notable hotels that provide guests with one-of-a-kind experiences.

Our hotel will rival the experience and uniqueness of places like:

  • The Cavalier;
  • The Homestead; and
  • The Jefferson!

Our hotel, The Highlander, will be a destination in our region and a showcase of our history!

Very few hotels in the early planning stages survived COVID past late Spring.

However, The Highlander was one of those that not only continued with planning throughout the summer, but is on track for completion in 2023!

This is a testament of the team’s belief in the quality of this project and its tremendous location on Tyler Avenue.

Like each of you, I cannot wait to walk into The Highlander for the very first time and be amazed at the level of service and quality that will be available for our community and our guests!

On September 19, 2019, our campus came together for the inaugural event of the Highlander Discovery Institute.

The focus of the event was civil discourse.

Exactly one year later, on September 19, 2020, a group of students organized and led an event to stand up for their beliefs and express their voices.

They expressed their concerns about the injustice that is occurring in communities across our nation.

They did so in a peaceful, respectful, and safe manner.

Their event was a model for civil discourse and advocacy in action.

Our country is at a crossroads.

There are some people who are discouraged about the future.

Let me tell you that you should not be!

Only in the dark can you see the stars.

Only in the dark can you see the light.

We are in a challenging political environment, coupled with a great level of injustice felt by individual citizens in our country.

But, on the heels of the election, we do have opportunities ahead of us!

And, that is what’s most important.

I encourage you to not look at politics as sides.

Regardless of your individual political beliefs, do not look at any opponent or individual as the enemy.

We must move forward together.

Whether our great nation was led by former President George H. W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, or Barack Obama, there was a general sense of the importance of all voices being heard!

They all believed that we are one nation and stronger together!

As former President Ronald Reagan said, “If we ever forget, we are one nation under God, then we will become one nation gone under.”

As former President Barack Obama said, “We are all a part of the same team – the American team.”

“When America succeeds, we all succeed.”

Both Presidents shared a very powerful message!

It was a message of unity!

We must take ownership of our role and responsibility as citizens to create this perfect union.

We must take ownership of our responsibility to act!

If hope inspires you, act!

If love inspires you, act!

If change inspires you, act!

Act with great integrity and total respect for one another and create opportunity for yourself and stand up for others in this process!

Let’s discuss the next generation of leaders and the vital role of education in our society!

Education is for all who desire it, for those who need it.

Our nation desperately needs an educated citizenry.

As educated citizens and leaders, we must describe in concrete terms how education changes lives, improves communities, and feeds the world.

We must tell our powerful stories – no matter how different or difficult they may be – in order to help future generations pursue their dreams!

They must be able to visualize the path forward!

United, our voices are stronger.

United, our voices can be heard by our children, our students, and our leaders!

It is through education that we can keep moving.

It is through education that we envision a better future.

Success comes quicker when we welcome good ideas and develop partnerships to implement them.

That has been and will continue to be a cornerstone of success at Radford University!


Because, we are all in this together!

We know that, when people of different races, genders, and backgrounds come together, the exchange enriches each of us!

Without question, it enriches the human experience!

We must work to ensure that all people have an opportunity to experience a wide range of cultures, beliefs, and perspectives, both in and beyond their own communities.

Powerful experiences create both awareness and compassion.

These experiences define us – as a society and as individuals!

With a clear focus on our shared purpose and the path forward, as one Radford family, we must continue to celebrate the excellence and success of our students, faculty, staff, alumni, and community members.

Without question, we are proud of our past and excited for our future!

As Highlanders, we are achievers.

And, we are dreamers.


Because our resiliency sustains us!


Because our responsiveness empowers us!

God Bless each of you.