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Northside Rotary

12:15 p.m. Thursday, May 28 — Holiday Inn, North Monroe Street

Good afternoon. Thank you so much for inviting me to speak today. It’s a pleasure to be here among so many friends of Florida State University.

I hope everybody had a nice Memorial Day weekend. I know Mike Cramer and a few others in the room today are fellow veterans. I want to salute you and thank you for your service.

You might be interested to know that we have about 400 student-veterans and active duty personnel enrolled at Florida State. I’d like to start by talking a little about our veterans initiatives.

Military veterans are typically an underserved population of college students. In fact, nationally the college graduation rate among veterans is less than 52 percent.

At FSU, it’s always been higher than that, but we knew we could do better. That’s why in 2011 the university made a commitment to focus on veteran success. I’m pleased to tell you that since then, the combined retention/graduation rate among our student-veterans has risen from 69 percent to 86 percent.

We can attribute a lot of that success to initiatives that are designed to ease the transition for these students and help them to feel a part of the Florida State family.

Our Student Veterans Center holds orientation sessions exclusively for veterans and active-duty personnel. They hold a free one-hour a week course called Strategies for Veteran Success.

In addition, about 40 Veteran Liaisons are available for advice and assistance in academic and administrative units throughout campus.

Our efforts are receiving national recognition. Last October, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities presented its annual Opportunity Award to FSU for its veterans initiatives.

Military Times magazine moved Florida State up to No. 8 in the country in its rankings of the most veteran-friendly schools.

And we are extremely proud of Daniel Hubbard, a student-veteran who was named a 2015 Truman Scholar. He is among just 58 college juniors — and the only one in Florida — to receive this prestigious national award.

Daniel spent five years as an Army medic before enrolling at Florida State. He’s now a junior psychology and sociology major who is researching the causes of suicide in the military community. His work may literally save lives.

As a university, we’ve set our sights on being the most veteran-friendly university in the nation.

Ultimately, though, our veteran programs are designed to nurture a heightened understanding among the entire campus community about the positive contributions veterans bring to the university, their communities, and, later, to their careers.

Our work with student-veterans is just one component of the entire student experience we offer at Florida State.

We would like FSU to be recognized as one of the best universities in the nation for combining academic rigor with a warm and caring environment that provides students with a wide range of research, creative and engagement opportunities.

Florida State has long been a leader among universities in developing students beyond the classroom, so I believe we are well on the way to reaching that goal.

Our students are winning top national scholarships, conducting high-level research, studying overseas, working amazing internships and volunteering in the community. Not only are we preparing career-ready college graduates, we are producing good citizens who can improve the world.

The quality of our students is on par with top national universities. In fact, the average GPA for students accepted into FSU’s freshman class last year was a 4.0 and their average SAT score was 1864.

These high-achieving students are well prepared for the rigors of academic life. So we also see our retention and graduation rates increasing.

Our students are a big reason why I am confident Florida State University is poised to rise in the national rankings. You may have heard that it is our goal to improve metrics until we are recognized among the country’s Top 25 universities.

Our faculty are another reason why I believe we will get there. One of the most satisfying things for me about the new job has been the relationships I have built with our faculty members. I am so impressed with the work they do. They have distinguished themselves in many disciplines and have gained the high regard of peers around the world.

Thanks to them, we have top-notch academic programs, and many of our colleges and schools are already recognized among the nation’s Top 10.

Many of you know that FSU is recognized by the state Legislature as a preeminent university for meeting rigorous standards of excellence. This designation has allowed us to advance on several fronts.

These include hiring new faculty in emerging disciplines and hiring entrepreneurs-in-residence to teach our students how to turn their ideas and innovations into practical enterprises.

We sought additional preeminence and STEM funding from the Legislature during the 2015 Session, which has now turned into the 2015 SPECIAL Session.

We’re optimistic that the Legislature will honor our priorities by providing an additional $10 million for our preeminence and STEM initiatives.

We’re also seeking funding for STEM facilities that will help us advance these research efforts. And we’re advocating for an increase in performance funding that would be distributed among the State University System universities based on accountability measures.

The legislative support coupled with the research grants our faculty are winning are really making a difference.

Last year, FSU achieved its highest total to date in research funding, bringing in more than $230 million from federal, state and other funding sources. In addition, our faculty members transform their knowledge into products and services that can help people, our economy and society as a whole.

All of these successes will help us when it comes to national rankings. These rankings are important for reasons beyond bragging rights. That’s because rankings signal to employers, clients and others the value of a degree from Florida State University.

The best investment I ever made was when I decided to come to FSU in 1961. My business and law degrees have opened doors for me throughout my life. Now it’s great to see how my diplomas have appreciated in value over the years. They will continue to do so as Florida State reaches even greater national recognition.

This is an exciting time for Florida State University. We are on the threshold of a new era, with some challenges but incredible opportunities.

Our “Raise the Torch” fundraising campaign will help us to reach our goals. Private giving will allow us to implement bold ideas that will continue to distinguish Florida State as a preeminent university. It will allow us to strengthen our most successful programs and lift other areas to higher prominence.

I’m pleased that our campaign total now stands at more than $676 million. That’s more than two-thirds of the way to our $1 billion goal!

If you are an alum or a friend of FSU, I hope you will consider contributing to the campaign because you can make a real difference in our future.

I want to close by saying something that is probably obvious to everyone — I love Florida State University. And I think many of you in this room do, too. Whether you are an alum or have children who attend FSU, whether you are a sports fan or maybe you work or do business with the university — you all share in our success!

We have a great story to tell, and as we continue to rise in rankings and national stature, I hope you will join me in sharing our story. Thank you.

I’d be happy to take your questions.