Texas Tech University

Access, Success, Research: President Discusses Achievements and Goals for Future

Heidi Toth

September 28, 2016


(VIDEO) President Lawrence Schovanec met with stakeholders Wednesday at his inaugural State of the University address to share his vision for Texas Tech.

Comments begin at 15:15.


Texas Tech University is good. Its leader wants it to be great.

President Lawrence Schovanec spent the majority of his State of the University address Wednesday (Sept. 28) pointing out the many achievements of students, faculty and staff and discussing ways to maintain that success as the university grows.

"We've gone through a period of considerable growth and change – in enrollment, in breadth and amount of scholarship and research, in reputation," he said. "I would like for us to think about what we've done well and what we can do better. What should we strive for to enhance the university's status so it is increasingly recognized as a world-class institution?"

Promoting access and student success

Enrollment is at all-time high, even though the freshman class is smaller than past years. Retention after students' first and second years is the highest it's been in a decade, leading not only to more students but also to more students earning undergraduate and graduate degrees. Texas Tech is in the top 15 percent of universities nationwide for the number of doctoral degrees awarded.

This year's class includes 15 National Merit finalists, the largest in the university's history, and an uptick in the number of students who identify as Hispanic, moving Texas Tech closer to being a Hispanic Serving Institution. The average SAT score in the Honors College continues to climb – it is now higher than 1300 – and the university is building another residence hall to accommodate the increasing number of students who want to be a part of the Honors College.

Even though he's a numbers guy, Schovanec shared a few of those success stories:

  • Hattie Schunk, a junior chemical engineering major, won the Goldwater Scholarship for her STEM research. In addition to her work at Sandia National Laboratories in her hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico, Schunk is on the cross-country team for Texas Tech.
  • Berto Garcia, a sophomore studying computer engineering, came to Texas Tech with international honors and a provisional patent. As a high school student he created a helmet-and-shoulder-pads device to reduce concussions among football players; he won third at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. He continues to work on this and other projects.
  • Jenna Hay, who graduated in August, went to Switzerland earlier this month to compete in the Powerman Zofingen Duathlon, the world championship in the long-course duathlon. She won her age group, making her the world champion duathlete. She was a member of the Honors College, the banner bearer for the College of Agricultural Sciences & Natural Resources and an intern through university's congressional internship program.
  • Tyler Floyd, a graduate student and catcher for the Big 12 Conference Champion Texas Tech baseball team, was named Big 12 Baseball Scholar-Athlete of the Year in 2016. He was the only baseball student-athlete on the 2015 and 2016 Academic All-Big 12 teams to have a 4.0 GPA.

"We have so many students like this," Schovanec said, citing Floyd as an example. "So many of our student-athletes excel on the field, on the court, in the classroom."

Promoting research and the strategic plan

In 2010 the university adopted a strategic plan intended to help Texas Tech reach its goals, particularly those centered around research funding. One of those goals was to qualify for funding from the state of Texas' national Research University Fund (NRUF). Texas Tech reached that goal in 2012.

A second goal was to achieve the highest research designation in the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. In January, the university reached that goal when it was listed among the 115 universities that received Highest Research Activity (CHR) status.

Both of those designations indicate the quality of research that occurs at Texas Tech and the national and international attentions the researchers receive for their work. That support, both institutional and financial, must continue for the university to maintain its CHR status and work toward other goals.

Schovanec also pointed to a number of faculty members who are raising the university's profile throughout the country and the world:

  • Climate Science Center director Katharine Hayhoe, who has been recognized by TIME Magazine and Politico, will meet with President Barack Obama and activist and Oscar-winning actor Leonardo DeCaprio to discuss climate change.
  • Scott Ridley, dean of the College of Education, pioneered the Tech Teach program that the Texas Education Agency recognized for its excellence this year, and he authored a $7 million grant from the Gates Foundation to help teacher prep programs throughout the country increase their effectiveness.
  • Chemical engineering professor Harvinder Singh Gill won a five-year, $2.2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to study better methods of vaccination.
  • Mark Charney, director of the School of Theatre & Dance, is part of the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center team that just won the National Medal of Arts. He has twice received the Kennedy Center Gold Medallion of Honor.

There are dozens more examples of researchers and faculty members who are doing exciting, groundbreaking research in social issues, humanities, the arts, education and STEM at Texas Tech, he said, as well as being excellent teachers and mentors for their students.

"We need to provide the support of faculty and then systematically monitor our progress in achieving the benchmarks that distinguish the highest levels of research, scholarship and creative activity so Texas Tech is increasingly recognized as a world-class institution," he said.

There is room for improvement, he said, highlighting areas he will focus on during his tenure as president. One overarching goal is reaching the threshold of $40 million in annual federal research money. Many rankings require universities to have at least $40 million in federal research dollars for inclusion on their lists. Texas Tech, although it has the CHR status many other universities do not, had about $30 million in federal money this year, eliminating it from consideration.

"Once we hit 40, we're going to measure up in a number of those categories," he said. "Our goal is to hit $40 million by 2019. That means we will show up on the list in 2023, which is our 100th birthday."

That is one area of focus to raise Texas Tech's research profile. Schovanec listed many other ways to increase research, including focusing research questions on addressing problems of worldwide significance; increasing collaborative and multidisciplinary research; and making strategic investments in hiring and with seed grants.

His goal is that by 2025, Texas Tech will rank in the top 100 for research expenditures, and that the research will be going places.

"We want our research to be appearing in the places that have impact and are cited," he said.

What's coming

Schovanec has already appointed a committee to examine the strategic plan from 2010, determine what's working and what needs to be updated and recommend avenues by which the university can progress. In the upcoming months the committee will hold focus groups with students, faculty members, staff, supporters, administrators and alumni to solicit feedback. Don't go easy on the committee, he said; he didn't create a "disruptive subcommittee" for nothing.

"We want to know, what are the characteristics of Tier One schools that reflect us and are meaningful to this university but that designate it a world-class university?" he said.

Schovanec also has some plans of his own. He has committed to funding the Program in Inquiry and Investigative Thinking, in which Honors College Dean Michael San Francisco will recruit 100 students each year and pay them a stipend to be involved in some creative activity. Each student will be paired with a faculty member, who will act as a mentor. These do not have to be Honors students.

"We want to connect our students to faculty members early on and for them to remain partners in their success for their lifetime," he said.

He plans to add almost $8 million to scholarship funds, both merit- and need-based, and wants to double the number of transfer students in the next 10 years. To do so, Schovanec wants to find the students "where they are" and get them into one of the regional sites in Dallas, El Paso, Waco or the Hill Country for their first two years.

Finally, Schovanec will establish 50 endowed professorships, half of which will be awarded for exemplary educational activities. He's excited looking forward to Texas Tech's upcoming anniversary and the progress he anticipates will be made in that time.

"Now, as we approach the end of our first century, we will assess what we do well and what we can do better, not only to sustain and enhance the quality of the educational experience we provide to our students but also to solidify our position as a Tier One research institution," Schovanec said. "Let us work together in promoting access and student success so when students consider their options for a college education, they recognize Texas Tech University as second to none."

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