President Lawrence Schovanec recognized students, faculty and staff for their contributions to Texas Tech’s upward trajectory.
In years past, Texas Tech University's annual State of the University address has presented an opportunity each fall for President Lawrence Schovanec to list the institution's achievements of the last 12 months.
That was before COVID-19, of course. In its wake, many things changed; large gatherings, like the president's presentation, went away. But now, we've come full circle – and just in time.
Today (Oct. 18), in his first post-pandemic State of the University address, Schovanec spoke of the progress we've seen since 2019. With a growth trajectory as pronounced as Texas Tech's, a lot has happened in those three years. We find ourselves heading into our centennial celebration, positioned better than ever to meet the challenges of the future.
And as Schovanec pointed out, the key to all of Texas Tech's success is our people.
Just how much has changed over the last three years? Well, as of Schovanec's last address, Texas Tech had not yet reached its goal of enrolling 40,000 students; that happened in the fall of 2020.
Today, things look dramatically different. Our four- and six-year graduation rates have seen significant improvements and, at the same time, we've added about 2,000 more first-year students over the past decade. We have doubled the number of first-generation students and Hispanic students at Texas Tech over the last 10 years, and the number of Black students is up more than 50%. This year, we welcomed to campus a record first-year class and a record number of National Merit Finalists and Presidential Merit Scholars.
But numbers tell only part of the story. Schovanec highlighted four students from diverse backgrounds who are thriving at Texas Tech.
- Andrew Ibrahim, an Honors student and a 2022 Goldwater Scholar, hopes his research can one day result in better treatments for diabetic cardiomyopathy.
- Amanda Castro, a military wife, a mother of four and the daughter of Cambodian refugees, promised her dying mother she would earn her college degree. In August, she fulfilled that vow.
- Matthew Chapman, a first-year student in the Edward E. Whitacre Jr. College of Engineering, never planned to go to college. But after a brain tumor made him realize he wanted
to use the time he has left to help others, he focused his attention on computer engineering's
potential to solve life-threatening issues. Texas Tech and the Make-A-Wish Foundation
covered the cost of his education this year to help him achieve that goal.
Melissa Casillas' parents initially didn't want her to come to Texas because they feared the first-year dance student from Tijuana, Mexico, would face discrimination. But after discovering that the new dean of the J.T. & Margaret Talkington College of Visual & Performing Arts was raised in Mexico City, Casillas was empowered to follow her dreams.
“These are just four stories of lives that have been changed by their Texas Tech experience – by the difference you're making,” Schovanec told the audience. “There are many, many more stories just like Andrew, Amanda, Matthew and Melissa. Some are in our classrooms. Some are waiting on word of their acceptance. And others are still contemplating their choice of a university. They might be visiting campus tomorrow, or next week or next month, but you do a great job of making them feel welcome. We have to let them know that From Here, It's PossibleTM isn't just a tagline; it's what we aspire to do every day, for every individual who joins us.”
Our student-athletes consistently remind us that they're students first, boasting a 3.32 grade point average and an 84% graduation rate – the highest in university history – while also flourishing competitively. A Red Raider track and field athlete claimed the NCAA title in the 800-meter run, while our golfers brought home the Big 12 Championship, the Ben Hogan National Player of the Year award and the Big 12 Sportsmanship Award. The men's basketball team had its first undefeated season at home since 1996 while advancing to the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16, and six Red Raiders represented their home countries in the Tokyo Olympics.
Among those who joined the university this year are four new deans: Tosha Dupras, College of Arts & Sciences; Martin Camacho, Talkington College of Visual & Performing Arts; Upe Flueckiger, College of Architecture; and Jill Hernandez, Honors College. Each brings distinct abilities and accomplishments that will benefit their respective areas. After all, student success hinges on having engaged, passionate faculty members in place to teach in the classroom and lead in the laboratory.
Because we have such talented people, 2022 was a banner year for research across campus. Texas Tech received the largest grant in its history, a total of more than $50 million from the National Science Foundation to launch the Engineering Research Center for Advancing Sustainable and Distributed Fertilizer Production (CASFER) collaboration, but the year's successes went far beyond that. Texas Tech also achieved record-high research expenditures, putting us among an elite group in academia. Texas Tech topped $220 million in total research expenditures and more than $43 million in federal research expenditures. And with institutional enhancement funding from the Texas Legislature, the university will continue to invest in impactful scholarly activity.
Since initially joining the top tier of the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education in 2015, Texas Tech has been reaffirmed twice, first in 2018 and again in 2021. But with our 2019 designation as a Hispanic-Serving Institution by the U.S. Department of Education, Texas Tech also joins a more elite group – only 21 universities meet the criteria for both. This summer, that group came together to form the Alliance of Hispanic Serving Research Universities with the goal of doubling the number of Hispanic doctoral students and increasing by 20% the Hispanic professoriate in Alliance universities.
While highlighting these high-level efforts across the university, Schovanec also called attention to a handful of individuals whose work is positioning Texas Tech for a better future.
- Gerardine “Gerri” Botte, director of CASFER, which will develop more efficient, next-generation technologies for capturing, recycling and producing nitrogen-based fertilizers that are better for the planet.
- Naïma Moustaïd-Moussa and Mindy Brashears, two of the nation's leading experts in food. Moustaïd-Moussa, as founding director of Texas Tech's Obesity Research Institute, and Brashears, as director of the International Center for Food Industry Excellence and former Under Secretary of Agriculture in Food Safety, are two examples of how research performed at Texas Tech impacts the world.
- Bryan McLaughlin and Melissa Gotlieb in the College of Media & Communication and Devin Mills in Community, Family & Addiction Sciences. Their recent interdisciplinary collaboration examined the mental and physical effects of problematic news consumption.
- Phil Gipson and Garret Langlois in the Davis College of Agricultural Sciences & Natural Resources, who made a historic discovery after months of diligent study: beavers have returned to Lubbock after a 5,000-year absence. The researchers' level of dedication to their field exemplifies the spirit of Texas Tech, going above and beyond in the name of scientific exploration.
“Our faculty are essential to the success of our students and advancing our stature as a national research university, but today, your role comes with more expectations,” Schovanec said. “We recognize that teaching does not begin or end in the classroom. Now we have greater focus on experiential learning, expanded resources and engagement opportunities for undergraduate and graduates alike. And then there are the expectations of scholarly work, research and outreach. But through all you do, you make a difference at a personal and institutional level.
To ensure that Texas Tech has the best people in staff positions as well, the university has placed a greater emphasis on resources, opportunities and benefits within the last several years – and the results have been striking.
The first stage of a campuswide compensation review resulted in equity and compression adjustments for many employees. One of the most obvious evolutions, a direct result of the pandemic, was the addition of a hybrid work option in late 2021. And philanthropic support was at an all-time high, with $234 million raised and 114 new endowed funds created to support the university and its programs in the future.
Schovanec praised the work of several specific individuals and their teams.
- Kyle Phillips' team in Information Technology for the Division of Enrollment Management works to meet the technical needs of Undergraduate Admissions, the Office of the Registrar, Student Financial Aid & Scholarships and Orientation Services – but they also go farther than that. They constantly strive to increase efficiency and communication among all IT functions and within the division overall.
- Lacey Ellis' compensation and operations team in Human Resources provides guidance on such critical topics as hiring compliance, employment changes and appropriate salary ranges. She was instrumental in analyzing staff salaries and providing structure to the university's pay grades as Texas Tech worked to address equity and compression issues.
- James Peel and Michelle Barrera, both in the Services area of the Operations Division, were two of four Texas Tech employees recognized at the 2022 Simon Institute Symposium, a gathering of cleaning industry professionals. The pandemic highlighted the importance of honoring the people who work to keep our facilities clean, and these are two of the people whose flexibility and commitment made our return to campus in 2021 as safe and seamless as possible.
- Shannon Wallace, in the Office of Advancement, coordinated the inaugural Texas Tech Day of Giving in August to better support our
students. In only 1,923 minutes, the effort raised more than $340,000 and reminded Wallace how strong and connected the Red Raider community truly is.
“You have demonstrated tremendous resilience throughout the last few years, and we want to be certain the institution continues to adapt to the requirements of the modern workplace,” Schovanec said. “Your initiative and dedication to support our campus are part of what makes Texas Tech a special place.”
He emphasized that, without the dedicated service of everyone at Texas Tech, the university could not have emerged from the pandemic stronger than it was at the start. But having done so, Texas Tech is now well situated for the bright future ahead.