President Proenza: State of the University Address

By: Molly Gase & Pamela Kellman

“This is Akron!” rang through the Student Union ballroom, pronouncing President Luis Proenza’s pride in The University of Akron.

Though few students attended the address, the content dealt mainly with their future at the University. Proenza stressed the global presence of Akron and the importance of building upon the University’s current success.

The ballroom swam with the dark colored suits of the powerful people of Akron. President Proenza’s State of the University Address Monday attracted not only those directly related to The University of Akron, but many concerned with the state of the University.

President Proenza began his address with the goal of instilling a sense of pride in those attending the institution. Filled with positive energy toward the future, the address contained the quality of a sophisticated pep rally.

The sense of athletic pride was escalated through a video that kicked off the address, highlighting the achievements of the UA men’s soccer team. Images of student fans painted blue and gold raced across the screen as the soccer legacy at UA was expanded upon.  A major point of pride for Zips, Proenza set the stage for his audience with the aid of the 2010 National Champion men’s soccer team.

With the mood high, President Proenza, in a similar fashion to Gerard Butler’s portrayal of King Leonidas in the movie “300,” stated with gusto that “This is Akron! is a powerful rallying cry, a proud and passionate response to those who have yet to experience our energy and innovation. It is our declaration of excellence and distinction.”

Declaring this, he proceeded to discuss what The University of Akron has done in the past year and what lies on the horizon.

Continuing with the example of excellence on the soccer field, President Proenza said that just like Coach Porter, the University can set records, be a national model, and that “Akron can win.” Proenza stressed the importance of individual success at the University, and not just through athletics.

The past year’s accomplishments ranged from the realm of “devulcanizing” rubber to the creation of an artificial pancreas. The University of Akron has been involved in many endeavors over the past year, helping to improve the world outside the boundaries of campus.

Researchers at UA “have devised a coal-fired fuel cell that produces twice as much energy per pound of coal, while at the same time capturing carbon dioxide and other emissions.” Proenza spoke not only about the green efforts being pursued at the University, but also about the research being conducted in Akron.

Researchers at UA are even investigating the “possibilities that spider silk [can be] bundled into thin ropes [that] could simulate human muscle.” Proenza even chuckled when talking about research that incorporates the foot hairs of a gecko into technology that would allow machines to walk on ceilings without adhesives, the president sharing a laugh with the audience at the expense of the geckos.

Building on the Akron Model for the future, the University will become, according to Proenza, an “anchor …of innovation” to “generate knowledge and creative capital, train human capital, build social capital, attract financial capital and preserve natural capital.”

The Akron Model is focused on education as the foundation to prosperity, along with an increased interaction with the metropolitan community.

A successful regional economy will help the University, Proenza stated. Announced in August, the University will “insource” from the Timken Company in a university-corporation collaboration. Apart from tangible statistics, the entrepreneurial optimism is what makes the Akron Model most successful.

Vision 2020: The New Gold Standard will further develop the Akron Model. Proenza mentioned in his address several initiatives the University is taking toward innovation, including a new University Council, updating plans for renovations, increasing collaboration with China, new budgeting with “talent development a priority” and a revamping of the general education curriculum featuring early involvement of students to enhance the “Akron Experience.”

In lieu of this last point, Proenza made note of new enrollment and scholarship strategies to help lower the cost per credit hour for students.

For many students who come to Akron less prepared than others, Proenza stated that he wants to provide a less costly path, one that will have students arriving ready to go in order to reduce cost overall. For those who have to meet heavy general education requirements before they get to their specialized area, tuition can quickly add up.

Academic success is proven to be higher for those who live on campus, Proenza stated. Few schools, the president said, have more than 15-20 percent of their student population living on campus, citing The Ohio State University as an example.

Akron currently has about 12 percent of enrolled students living on campus, according to Proenza. A two-part strategy the University will use to attract more students to live on campus features new residence halls and collaboration with the University Park Alliance to make the neighborhoods surrounding campus more attractive to potential residents.

Although there are exceptions, namely in those students whose permanent residence is close to campus, Akron will continue to encourage students, including both freshmen and sophomore demographics, to live on campus, according to the president.

In the immediate future, those at The University of Akron will witness three key initiatives enacted to increase Akron’s scope on the map of higher education.

Firstly, Proenza addressed the success of Akron Athletics and its impact academically.

“Because benchmarking ourselves based on geographic proximity or athletic conference alignment is no longer relevant,” said Proenza, “we will define a new way to benchmark our success by indentifying a unique set of national and international universities better suited to our dynamic locale, mix of programs and opportunities.”

The second initiative is to build on student success by expanding partnerships with local school districts. Finally, Akron will look to enhance marketing and communication.

“Success will be determined by our collective efforts,” Proenza said.