We are just a few months into the academic year and already there have been extraordinary achievements and noteworthy accomplishments. I am so proud of what is happening at Penn State, and I’d really like to take this opportunity to raise the song. Here are a few notes that recently really impressed me.

As you know, federal and state dollars that support research are in decline. Faculty have to be outstanding, aggressive in writing proposals, and consistent in their level of accomplishment to maintain funding for research. So, all Penn Staters should be incredibly proud that Penn State broke our all-time record for research expenditures this year — totaling nearly $863 million.

Philanthropy is of growing importance to the success of Penn State. It is very difficult to aspire to greatness when funding is based on tuition and declining state support. In this regard, our alumni and friends are sending a strong signal on the importance of Penn State to them. This year, in only the first year of our new fundraising campaign, A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence, we raised more than $300 million — the third highest amount in our history. We had one of the largest increases in private gift commitments of any Big Ten school last year, and an impressive 5 percent increase in the number of alumni donors. In all, a total of 222,448 alumni, parents, companies, foundations and friends made a gift to Penn State. Now that is a message!

I am particularly proud of our overall graduation rate. National ranking groups like U.S. News and World Report predict the graduation rate of our students based on factors such as the number of students in the top 10 percent of their high school class, and the family economics of our students. Penn State’s doors are wide open to hard-working students, and U.S. News predicts that our graduation rate should be only 65 percent. In fact, it is 86 percent. The difference — a whopping 21 percent — is the largest of any university ranked among the top 100 schools. No one is even close. Penn State is the land of opportunity for tens of thousands of students. And more than 600 companies each semester come to recruit the combination of our students’ work ethic and a Penn State education that ranks in the top 1 percent in the world. No wonder more than 130,000 individuals applied to come to Penn State this year.

Speaking of graduation rates, our student-athletes also outperform our sister institutions with an outstanding graduation rate of 90 percent. A few other highlights from this year’s NCAA 2017 Graduation Success Rate report:

— Men’s basketball has a 100 percent graduation rate for the fifth consecutive year;

— Women’s basketball has a 92 percent graduation rate for the second year in a row; and

— The Nittany Lion football team has an 84 percent graduation rate, up 4 points from last year.

All three teams continue to be above the national average for their sport. This is testimony to the dedication of these student-athletes and their coaches, who face long hours of practice, a full schedule of home and away games, and challenging academic schedules. I am proud that Penn State student-athletes continue to achieve noteworthy success in the classroom and in athletic competitions.

In the area of innovation, Penn State has created 17 incubators for company startups across the state of Pennsylvania, giving faculty, staff, students and community members the support they need to create companies and drive our economy. Visited by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, a senator, members of Congress, and numerous other elected state and local officials, our “launchboxes” are making their mark. In fact, there are many signs of success. This year, 1,100 teams from 450 universities around the world entered the Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge. The grand-prize winner of $100,000 was Project Vive, a company founded by Penn State students (now alumni) that helps individuals with communication disabilities express themselves. This company had a great idea that was advanced through the Happy Valley Launchbox.

I have visited many universities and come to the conclusion that Penn State is likely the strongest university when it comes to crossing disciplinary lines to solve major problems of importance to society. Consider one example: A team led by Stuckeman School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture faculty was trying to solve the problem of energy loss where windows meet walls. Shadi Nazarian, associate professor of architecture, worked her way to finding experts in materials science and 3-D printing with the idea of literally printing a wall — where the material used for printing went seamlessly from concrete to glass. Really interesting. Now imagine this team entering a NASA competition to use 3-D printing to print a habitat on Mars. After all, NASA can’t actually ship buildings to Mars. Seventy-seven teams competed and only two survived — a corporate effort and PennStateDen@Mars.

Here are some additional notes:

Penn State World Campus is ranked in the top 10 in six categories of U.S. News and World Report’s 2017 Best Online Programs, the most of any institution.

For the fifth year in a row, Penn State has been included on the U.S. Department of State’s complete list of colleges and universities that produced the most Fulbright U.S. students.

Five Penn Staters were named to the Forbes ‘30 Under 30’ list!

The past five semesters are the five all-time highest for the number of Nittany Lion student-athletes with at least a 3.0 GPA. A record 97 Nittany Lions earned Big Ten Distinguished Scholar Awards for the 2016-17 academic year. Our football program has surpassed all prior academic standings.

The National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics has selected Penn State’s Sandy Barbour as one of the recipients of the prestigious Under Armour Athletics Director of the Year Award. She also has been named to the United States Olympic Committee’s Collegiate Advisory Council, which is tasked with guiding high-performance strategies for Olympic sport programs at the collegiate level.

The Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center received the highest national honor for nursing excellence.

No wonder I am so proud of our great institution, and the amazing students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends who are contributing so much to our world. Although I don’t often have a chance to report it, I am fascinated and impressed by the continuous work underway on all of our campuses. Thank you for making us proud.

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