Friday, Jan. 21, 2022
Dedicated students, distinguished colleagues and dear friends,
“A culture of value creation!”
Since joining this wonderful university in 2019, I’ve visited with hundreds of our students and graduates – one on one, in small groups and large groups, in person and on Zoom. And without fail, when I ask them about their S&T experience, they tell me about how their Rolla education transformed their lives. In the words of one of our most successful and respected alums, John Lovitt, “the historic and emerging strength of S&T is the culture of value creation.”
Most of our alumni come from modest means. Many were the product of hardworking, middle-class or lower-middle class families. Many of their parents had no college degree, and they saw that a college education offered their children the pathway to a better life. These parents were correct; higher education is an engine for upward mobility. Needless to say, our students, historically and today, are bright, typically good at math, and possess a strong work ethic as well as a desire for a better life. Not all were high school students enrolling as freshmen, of course. Veterans of World War II and later conflicts flocked to campus on the GI Bill, and older, non-traditional students have always found a congenial, high-value educational place on campus or, more recently, through our online offerings. But these students, too, were in search of the better life a college degree could provide.
So these students came to Rolla, because they knew of our reputation to provide the academic depth, breadth and rigor they would need to be successful in life. They wanted to become ready for the challenges of life by accepting the challenges of the life-enhancing, value-creating education at S&T. And they graduated from S&T with much greater opportunities than their parents could ever imagine.
For many alumni, their first job and first paycheck were the first tangible signs that their Rolla education had paid off. I recall one successful graduate telling me about his entry-level job as a civil engineer fresh out of S&T. “When I got my first paycheck, I was amazed,” he told me. “I had never seen so much money in my life!” That graduate was none other than the late Fred Kummer, who bestowed S&T with the largest single gift to any institution in the state of Missouri and one of the largest in the history of gifts to academic institutions in the United States.
The return on investment of an S&T degree is well known and well documented. Our graduates consistently rank among the nation’s highest in terms of their average starting salary or mid-career earnings. There is no doubt that this university has enabled many to earn a good living. But what I also hear from our graduates is that their S&T education has given them the opportunity to have a good life.
What is it about the Rolla experience that has had such a dramatic, transformational impact on so many of our graduates? I’m sure there are many factors, but from my observations and conversations, I think it boils down to three factors: caring faculty and staff, a strong community, and our constant and continuous connection to our land-grant mission.
Caring faculty and staff. Throughout the institution’s history we have had many, many caring professors and staff at S&T who help our students make it through. Countless alumni have shared their stories of “parent professors” and caring staff who helped them get through times of struggle. These faculty and staff are role models, counselors, coaches and even cheerleaders. To our faculty and staff, I say, keep looking out for our students and keep helping them on their paths to success. They will appreciate your concern and help!
A strong community. One thing that sets S&T apart from many other institutions is our focus on STEM education. Many of our students and alumni are inquisitive thinkers and tinkerers, makers, possibility thinkers, and gifted in mathematics and the sciences. Coming together at a place like S&T, they find common ground through these common characteristics, and in the many clubs and organizations we offer, from design teams to professional organizations to the arts. (Our theater, choir, symphony, and jazz and marching bands are all popular with our students.) They also gain a sense of belonging through our strong Greek organizations and residential hall communities. Many alumni have told me of the strong sense of community they gained through these extracurricular activities. The relationships they established here have led to life-long friendships.
Our land-grant mission. This is not a common topic of conversation, but it is crucial to understanding the “DNA” of an institution like S&T. Established in 1870, this university was a product of the Morrill Land-Grant Acts, which established schools of the “agricultural and mechanical arts” and, in the words of the act, were intended “to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life.” While much has changed in the 150 years since we were established as the Missouri School of Mines and Metallurgy, the essence of the land-grant mission – to provide affordable, accessible education and a pathway to a better life – is again one of the elements of S&T that makes our education, and our alumni, stand out.
The story continues to play out over and over, generation after generation. From our very first graduate, Gustavus Duncan, who secured five patents over his mining career; to copper mining pioneer Daniel Jackling, an 1892 graduate; to Lelia Thompson Flagg, who in 1960 became the first African-American woman to graduate from our institution; to Gary White, who is bringing clean water to millions through water.org; to the many alumni who have held positions of influence and leadership at NASA, including three astronauts; to countless others who have been successful in their chosen careers and in their lives, our graduates have demonstrated the “culture of value creation” S&T fosters.
In my conversations with the “greatest generation” of our alumni, I hear in their voices a deep sense of appreciation for the parent professors and administrators who prepared them to be the best talent possible and who, as a result, helped these Baby Boomers transform the American industrial and technological workforce. In more recent years, Generation X, Millennials and Gen Z are continuing the tradition and are building on those contributions. I witness daily how they are making their own significant impact.
We are continuously trying to identify ways to manage the melding of generations and better understand each generation’s specific needs, approaches and desires. We continue in our quest to maintain “the culture of value creation.” To highlight a few examples: our Kummer Student Design Center is well known for providing experiential learning opportunities for our students, and their experiences on any of our 19 design teams make them very attractive to employers. Our planned Innovation Lab will build on that record of excellence to provide a space for other transformative student experiences, including creative approaches to spur entrepreneurial thinking. The presence of major employers like Garmin and Boeing on our campus creates even stronger connections with our corporate partners, and our plans to develop the Manufacture Missouri Ecosystem will strengthen and expand our corporate partnerships to a broader range of small and medium manufacturers.
To all our alumni, faculty, staff and students who are familiar with the current and future needs of their programs, industry, and the worlds of business and education, I say that we need your input, thoughts and suggestions on how to better prepare the future generations of our graduates. What do you see that we might not see? What are the leading vectors pointed to? How do we maintain the “culture of value creation”?
Your thoughtful and actionable suggestions will provide us with a deeper understanding of generational challenges and opportunities, inform our strategic direction setting, and enhance our decision-making processes.
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