State of the University address highlights progress and promise
Interim President Carolyn Ringer Lepre, Ph.D., presented the annual State of the University address Friday morning, Oct. 1, 2021, in Bondurant Auditorium, highlighting and celebrating with the Radford family the progress the university has made in the past year and sharing the strategic initiatives that will propel it into the future.
“I am deeply honored to have the opportunity to be with you today,” Lepre said before recognizing members of the Board of Visitors who were present as well as members of the university and Radford community.
“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 — transformation education,” Lepre said in her first State of the University address since taking the role in July. “We care about the well-being, potential and future of our students, institution and community.”
Reflecting on Radford’s response to the COVID-19 global health pandemic, Lepre noted that the university’s priorities remained clear in maintaining the “well-being of our community” and continuing “to deliver high-quality learning to our students.”
Countless hours of effort and collaboration, Lepre said, were required to effectively develop and implement the university’s response, which included moving about 2,000 courses online or into a hybrid format; almost 3,000 hours spent vaccinating and administering COVID-19 tests; and more than $47 million in CARES Act funding disbursed to support students. In the spring, Radford held 18 commencement ceremonies in which over 4,000 Highlanders graduated, many of them healthcare workers who immediately began working “in the field where they were so desperately needed,” Lepre said.
“I know that we had all hoped that the pandemic would be behind us,” Lepre said. “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 supporting our commitment to protecting and promoting the health, safety and well-being of all students, faculty and staff.”
Lepre thanked individuals and teams across the university and the community who played critical roles in the university’s COVID-19 response.
“I am humbled by the acts of grace, strength, courage and leadership shown during this pandemic,” she said.
Through the pandemic, Radford's commitment to academic excellence “did not waver,” Lepre said, highlighting some of the many achievements and accolades the university has received in the past year.
Among those were Radford’s ranking on the U.S. News & World Report’s 2022 Best College. Radford is ranked No. 14 on the list of Top Public Schools – Regional Universities in the South and is considered a Best Value School. Six Radford University programs were ranked in U.S News & World Report’s 2021 edition of Best Graduate Schools, and Radford University Carilion was ranked among top health schools.
Other notable rankings include Radford receiving three recognitions “for our efforts in creating pathways for the men and women who have served this great country,” Lepre said, noting recognitions the university has garnered for supporting students who are military veterans.
One Radford student who received recognition of her this past year was interior design major Karizma Woods ’21, who 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.
In addition, Vinicius Rios ’21 was one of 10 students who made the list “Diverse Rising Graduate Scholars” published by the magazine Diverse: Issues in Higher Education.
Embarking on a plan for an “innovative alternative to the traditional delivery of general education,” Lepre said, Radford University launched the REAL curriculum with the 2021 fall semester. “It shows students, in a dynamic new way,” she said, “that everything they learn at Radford contributes to their education and career goals.”
The university continues to make a powerful impact on the lives of students, thanks in large part to the generosity of donors, and the Together capital campaign is making “great progress,” Lepre said, in that effort. As of Oct. 1, 2021, $76.4 million has been raised.
“We are within sight of the $100 million goal,” Lepre said. “We are so thankful for the continued generosity of our donors and are excited to continue our efforts in meeting the campaign goal.”
University Advancement’s efforts in the fiscal year 2021 have resulted in the most dollars raised in Radford University’s history.
Radford’s legacy of academic excellence has been demonstrated throughout the years by its commitment to providing spaces for collaborative and interdisciplinary scholarship. The most recent example is Artis Center for Adaptive Innovation and Creativity, which broke ground in the summer, and, Lepre said, “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.”
Lepre also noted the achievements of Radford student-athletes on the playing field and in the classroom. She cheered the spectacular accomplishments of alumnus Nick Mayhugh ’18, who won three gold medals and one silver in the summer 2021 Paralympic Games in Tokyo.
Lepre updated the gathering about the highly anticipated boutique hotel, The Highlander. Construction has begun and is expected to be completed in late 2022. She also noted significant milestones within the past year, such as the signing of the Carbon Commitment to achieve net-zero carbon emissions, the Bridge program with New River Community College and the Fast Track program, both designed to meet the needs of students.
Fifty-eight new students came to Radford this fall through the NRCC Bridge program, and three fast track programs were launched in July: an RN-to-BSN nursing track, a Master in Science in Nursing and a Master of Business Administration.
In addition, Lepre noted the McGlothlin Center for Global Education, with its broadening of opportunities for international engagement, and a university partnership with the Appalachian School of Law (ASL) that will streamline opportunities for Radford students to earn advanced degrees, including pathways to a Juris Doctor degree at ASL and a Master of Business Administration at Radford in an accelerated timeline.
Lepre praised the Academic Success Center, launched in 2020, calling it “instrumental in elevating the advising experience for students.”
The university’s commitment to students goes beyond academic and advising, Lepre reminded the gathering as she spoke of the creation of the Highlander Pantry in response to the growing issues of food insecurity. The pantry is available to all students, faculty and staff and provides safe and discreet access to free nutritious food.
Radford is also committing resources to support first-generation college students by creating the Center for Opportunity and Social Mobility, which offers mentoring, faculty engagement, and programming dedicated solely to first-generation students and their families.
“The momentum at Radford is unmistakable,” Lepre said following a brief video focusing on the power of the Radford University community. “When I think about the future of Radford University, I think about our potential and what it takes to deliver on our mission.”
Moving forward, the university’s focus is “simple,” the interim president said. It is to “promote the well-being of this community and cultivate a sense of belonging,” increase student enrollment and “retain our students and workforce.”
In doing so, Lepre announced a number of initiatives to achieve those goals, including extended time off for faculty and staff “to be well so that we can do well,” Lepre said, a Highlander Highlights feature focused on achievements and the launch of Wellness Wednesdays.
For students, Lepre explained how the university is offering every degree-seeking student “regardless of need,” one-time funds ranging from $500 to $2,500. The funds are provided by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 and will be distributed during the fall and spring semesters. Lepre also spoke of “re-imagining our dining experiences” in Dalton Hall and also in Hurlburt Student Center with the launch of the new Honeycomb Commons coffee shop, among others.
Lepre also announced the reinstatement of the Presidential Fellow position, which will help lead and integrate Radford diversity, equity and inclusion efforts across campus.
Continuing to look into the future, Lepre said Radford will continue to develop programs that ensure the needs of students are met. Those will include nursing resilience training and the expansion of health [MH1] science offerings, such as an Occupational Therapy Assistant to Master of Occupational Therapy weekend program and an online degree program in respiratory therapy.
“Radford University is creating opportunities to contribute to the overall well-being of our students, staff, and the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Lepre said in closing. “We are moving forward with purpose to transform lives through academic excellence, a strong sense of belonging and life-changing outcomes.
“This community — this family,” she continued. “We will stay healthy together, problem-solve together, and we will move forward together.”