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From vision to reality:A question and answer with President Shirley Raines

The University of Memphis is rapidly approaching an important milestone in 2012,
its 100th anniversary. As we approach that important date, University President Shirley C. Raines takes a look back at her first five years in office and details goals of the University, including how it will accomplish its ambition to become one of America’s top metropolitan research universities.

  Dr. Raines Portrait

Dr. Raines, you have set forth an ambitious goal for the U of M to become recognized as one of America’s top metropolitan research institutions. Can you first tell us where we are now and how we have achieved that designation?

The University of Memphis is already a great metropolitan research university as recognized by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. This Foundation designates Research I or Doctoral Extensive universities. There are three in the state of Tennessee: Vanderbilt University, the University of Tennessee at Knoxville and the U of M. The University achieved this designation because of the number and variety of doctoral degrees we confer and the amount of research dollars we obtain each year. Moving forward, we must not only keep growing our research and graduate programs, but also connect the new knowledge we obtain to what our students are learning and what society needs.

To make the University’s vision become a reality, you mention investing in people, building productive partnerships and creating interdisciplinary initiatives. When you say, “invest in people,” what do you mean and why is this important?

The University is in the people business, whether we are talking about students, faculty, administrators or staff. The University benefits from an esprit de corps where all of us understand that we have an investment in our students’ success. We strive to promote collaboration across the University by focusing on a common vision and achievable goals.

The first investment in people is an investment in the right people to lead the University. We are fortunate to have a distinguished and dedicated team of administrative and academic leaders, as well as longtime staff members. In addition to our deans, the President’s Council works with me in investing their knowledge and expertise in planning and stewarding our operations and our growth. Provost Ralph Faudree contributes his vast knowledge of academics. Rosie Bingham, the Vice President for Student Affairs, is invaluable to us as she leads our efforts in student learning through engagement and involvement. Charles Lee, with his vast expertise in finance, and Doug Hurley, with his strength in cutting-edge technology, both are critical members of the leadership team. Julie Johnson leads our Advancement division with a focus on the future resources of the University. R.C. Johnson works tirelessly to direct the Department of Athletics in developing our student-athletes and teams to represent us well. These leaders, along with the deans, make a great management team.

Another “investment in people” is a financial one; therefore, we have increased funding for scholarships, endowed professorships and chairs of excellence. We strive to provide resources and quality experiences for our students’ learning.

In addition, we invest in people by providing opportunities for staff to continue their professional training as they seek advanced degrees. Our investments in people are the very bedrock of creating a great university.

I understand that our $41 million in research dollars has created a good environment for research, but we want to reach even higher. What is our goal by 2012 and why is this level an important benchmark?

Our goal for 2012 is to obtain annual research funding of $100 million dollars. This benchmark is generally accepted to be the level at which a university is considered by national funding agencies and foundations as capable of handling large, significant grants and contracts. While the dollar amount is significant, our emphasis must remain on contributing to the knowledge base that make possible scientific, technological and societal breakthroughs.

We obviously will have to generate more resources to reach this goal. What type of new resources are we talking about? How will we do this and are we on track?

Each research grant or contract we are awarded funds personnel, various facilities, equipment and educational costs, which help move us forward with greater resources. The University’s infrastructure for research includes adding and renovating facilities, expanding computing capabilities, the establishment of a special research foundation, giving incentives for faculty to expand their efforts and building the technology transfer operations.

Our strategy is to target and capitalize on both the strengths and the issues of our metropolitan community. Many of these opportunities and challenges have implications nationally and globally. For example, the strengths in our community include healthcare, medical devices, transportation and global distribution, music and performing arts, as well as a growing strength in biosciences. The challenges faced by our community provide the University with research opportunities in education, cyber security, technology innovation, supply chain management, community building, artificial intelligence, sensors, molecular biology and bioinformatics, and technology applications across many businesses.

Facing the challenges that confront our community means we are an engaged research university, partnering with businesses, schools and government, as well as some of the city’s Fortune 500 corporations and many of the best entrepreneurs in our community.

You have said before that you want the University to compete at the national level. Can you tell us some recent successes?

Our students are our greatest successes. For example, one of our psychology graduate students, Andrew Olney, won first place in the freestyle robot competition at the 20th Annual Conference of Artificial Intelligence. Jessica Swan, an undergraduate sociology major, was chosen as a Truman Scholar for her leadership potential, intellectual ability and the likelihood that she will make a difference in society. Four of our students have been awarded the prestigious Goldwater scholarship for science and mathematics. Recently, Erin Nutter, in regards to academic performance, placed 15th out of over 3,800 graduates of the ROTC program nationwide.

Competing at the highest levels has also been the clarion call for faculty. The most well known is the recent discovery of a new tomb in the Valley of the Kings as a part of the Amenmesse Tomb Project. This discovery, emanating from the Center of Excellence in Egyptian Art and Archaeology, was the first of its kind in the past century and lay just five meters from the tomb of King Tutankhamun.

When our academic programs compete at the national level, it increases our image and reputation. For example, Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology are ranked 8th and 13th, respectively, by U.S. News and World Report. The Psychology program is ranked eighth in external funding by the National Science Foundation, and our doctoral program in Rhetoric is ranked 13th nationally by the National Communication Association. The Mathematics program is known throughout the world — its Discrete Mathematics and Combinatorics graduate program is ranked 14th by U.S. News and World Report. The Fogelman College of Business & Economics was recognized by the Princeton Review for its program quality and its opportunities for minority students. While it is appealing to achieve national rankings, our most important ranking is the success of our graduates.

Leading by example, some of our academic leaders also compete at the highest levels. Provost Ralph Faudree received the prestigious Euler Medal, awarded annually by the Institute of Combinatorics and its Applications to a mathematician with a distinguished lifetime contribution to combinatorial research. Herff College of Engineering Dean Richard Warder recently was elected as Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

What are some of the other highlights of the past five years?

Ground breaking  


For me, the most significant highlight is assembling the right administrative and academic leaders to chart our course for the future. The second is the growing recognition of what we can accomplish with focus and determination as we become recognized as a great metropolitan research university. The third highlight is our connection to the community through our ongoing research and academic programs. The fourth highlight is the development of new instructional programs. Over the past five years, the University has implemented new academic programs, including Bioinformatics Masters, Biomedical Engineering, Nursing Masters, Health Care Administration, International Masters of Business Administration, and Hospitality and Resort Management. We have also instituted six graduate certificates in Teaching English as a Second Language, Family Nurse Practitioner, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Women’s Studies, College Teaching and Leadership and Museum Studies.

The fifth highlight is the construction of new facilities and renovations to others. The Holiday Inn on campus gives our students in the Wilson School of Hospitality and Resort Management a real-world working experience. Research-wise, one of our most visible additions is the FedEx Institute of Technology, which is the hub of technology for our campus and the community. It is home to academic classes across various disciplines and 18 research centers and institutes. To serve our students better, we renovated the old library tower and moved all student services to the newly named Wilder Tower. With the new Millington Center, which eventually can host 6,000 students, we have expanded our reach into outlying areas. Looking toward the future, we are constructing a new University Center, which will serve as the hub of campus life. We are also acquiring the U.S. Customs House and Post Office downtown, which will serve as our Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.

The move of the School of Law to a downtown location has been a hot topic in the news. Why is this a good move for the University and what will it do for our law students?

Moving the School of Law downtown will place our students close to many law offices and the local, state and federal courts, a unique access to the practice of the profession they are preparing to enter. Moreover, locating the School of Law library close to many practicing attorneys enhances their access to legal information, which also benefits our community. We have a unique opportunity to preserve a 120-year-old historic building while enhancing our overall facilities. The building contains four courtrooms that can be used for instruction and for our nationally recognized moot court team.

Why are partnerships important and what are examples of some of the partnerships we have formed in the past five years?

Partnerships are relationships that the University shares with corporations, organizations and community groups. By sharing resources and working together in research, academics and outreach, the University can accomplish much more than if acting alone. The University benefits from its partners by learning about the real-world issues and challenges they face everyday in their businesses, community life and the dilemmas of living in a complex world. The learning experiences in our partnership-projects enable our students to face the issues they will face professionally. Our faculty members keep in touch with their professional colleagues and community partners who similarly profit from working with our faculty.

The University’s partnership with FedEx resulted in one of the University’s most innovative developments, the FedEx Institute of Technology. The Institute’s researchers work with scientists from industry in interdisciplinary teams. Their research interests include multimedia, artificial intelligence, geospatial analysis and sustainable design.

Another example is the Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare partnership that established the Maurice Elliott Leadership Institute, the Center for Health Care Economics and the Center for Healthcare and Technology at the FedEx Institute. Eventually this partnership will expand to include most of the hospitals and numerous clinics in the area. The focus is on how technology can improve services through better records and management of time, allowing physicians and healthcare providers to give increased attention to patients.

Another important partnership is with Baptist Memorial Health Care system. In the midst of a national nursing and healthcare professional shortage, we have partnered with Baptist to expand and enhance the Nursing and Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology programs. Reducing the shortage requires us to entice more students to enter these fields.

You just described the FedEx Institute of Technology as one of the University’s most innovative projects ever. With that in mind, the phrase “cutting-edge research” often surfaces. Is the facility living up to this definition and can you tell me about some of the exciting projects going on there?

The FedEx Institute of Technology absolutely lives up to this “cutting-edge” description. The Institute is all about innovation, collaboration, and partnerships — across the University and across the community. Designed to foster interdisciplinary, cutting edge research across our campus, the Institute is home to several of our most prolific research teams, particularly those able to make best use of the computational infrastructure and collaborative workspace that characterizes this facility. The Institute for Intelligent Systems, for example, has an international reputation for its work in cognitive science and artificial intelligence. When you enter the FedEx Institute, you are greeted by one of the cutting-edge products created by this talented team of scholars — an intelligent kiosk/video guide that answers your questions using the latest in voice recognition software, provides information on researchers and their work and guides you to your destination. This software has potential applications in a wide range of business sectors, including retail and healthcare environments.

Other computationally intensive research teams are conducting work in robotics, bioinformatics, GIS and cyber security at the FedEx Institute. Equally important, however, is the Institute’s ability to serve as a catalyst for collaborative research and university-corporate research partnerships campus-wide. One University team is working on sustainable housing design in an inner-city neighborhood downtown. Scientists in biomedical engineering, biomaterials and nanotechnology have been able to leverage the resources and connections of the FedEx Institute to further their work in tissue engineering, the creation of new medical devices and the development of biosensors for use in disease detection and treatment. These are just a few examples of the cutting-edge research successes we are building at the FedEx Institute of Technology.

At the same time, the Institute is actively engaged in economic development initiatives with organizations like Emerge Memphis, BioWorks Foundation and Memphis Tomorrow. Working with the University of Memphis Research Foundation, the Provost and my office, we are refining a formal technology transfer program at the U of M. The FedEx Institute is not only the focal point for leading-edge research but will also become the source for commercialization and transfer of new technologies — the outcomes of the research achievements of our faculty.

Interdisciplinary initiatives would seem to be an important part of the University’s vision of becoming a major research institution. What exactly does that mean and why is it so important?

The power of disciplines comes from their focused attention on a particular branch of knowledge or a particular question. Increasingly, we have recognized that a thorough understanding of many theoretical or real world questions requires knowledge that is broader than a single discipline. Complete understanding is more likely through interdisciplinary work. If we are relevant in addressing the challenges before society, interdisciplinary work is critical to problem solving.

Bioscience is a good example of an interdisciplinary field. Biomedical engineers collaborate with biologists, computer scientists, biostatisticians, engineers and practicing physicians on projects such as orthopedic implants, artificial organs, cardiovascular prostheses and improved medical imaging techniques. Such advances are critical to meet the increasing needs of an aging population.

The music industry is another example of an interdisciplinary field. Being a performer takes talent, but success in the music industry requires business acumen and increasingly more technological expertise. For example, our degrees in Music Business and Recording Technology integrate entrepreneurship, marketing, accounting, management, engineering, electronics, digital technologies, computer science, digital art, journalism and publishing. These are all necessary for successful contemporary music production. In recent research, our faculty in Music and Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology have partnered to work on music production specifically related to frequency ranges and hearing loss.

The University plays an important role in the local economy, with an estimated economic impact of $1.5 billion. You have said that strengthening community connections is an important part of the University’s plan. Why is this so important?

  Dr. Raines reading to a class of children

This question goes back to the core meaning of a metropolitan research university — our focus areas are aligned with major industries or issues the community is facing. An important way we affect the local economy is how we impact the local workforce. The University is the primary source of advanced education for the area. Our graduates are leaders in all sectors of the area’s economy.

Another source of impact comes from University research that aids in the development of new products and services. For example, Brian Janz, associate director of FedEx Center for Supply Chain Management, along with his colleagues, have conducted research on Radio Frequency Identification (RFID). While most often associated with tracking products and packages, Janz’s RFID project increases hospital efficiency. Once admitted, patients are given a tag, which tracks their location throughout the hospital. Knowing the location of every patient enables the hospital to streamline their movement through testing and treatments, which results in saved time and money.

In some instances, the University’s research improves the opportunities for economic development. The College of Education, partnering with Memphis City Schools, is developing instructional programs that improve reading achievement of middle-school children. Improved reading ability helps students graduate from high school and later acquire the professional and technical skills for productive jobs.

And finally, of great significance is the impact of the University’s $330M budget and almost 2,500 employees on the local economy. However, the effect of our budget in the community pales to the effects of approximately 21,000 students and their future earning power.

The Alumni Association has seen its numbers grow dramatically in recent years, enjoying a 60 percent increase in membership since 2005 and 150 percent since 2003. Why is a vibrant alumni association vital to the success of the University?

Membership in our Alumni Association provides affirmation of an individual’s positive experiences in their college years. It gives a person the opportunity to continue their connection to the departments and colleges they were a part of before they left the University. Through athletic events, artistic performances and social activities, alumni are able to engage with present students and other graduates of the U of M.

You have said that the University is working to enhance its overall image and part of the plan to do this is by increasing the number of students in the Honors Program from the current total of 1,270 to higher numbers in the future. Why is this important?

The goal for the Honors Program is to have 10 percent of our undergraduate enrollment to be honors students. Great universities attract great students. We also know that great universities with great reputations have approximately 10 percent of their students in honors programs. When students have lively engaged learning experiences at a university, they tell other students and our reputation in the community and in the nation increases. Honors students have the opportunity to take advantage of what we call “Memphis Extras.” These extras include internships, international experiences, research and involvement in living-learning communities.

Another program that we have implemented to develop excellent students is our Emerging Leaders program. Rather than focusing on academic attainment alone, this program also focuses on leadership. Recognized by the Templeton Foundation for encouraging character development, the program is a progressive training model. It focuses on community involvement, goal setting, resourcefulness and relationships. Graduates of this program have become student leaders throughout the campus and graduate to become leaders in business, social services, entertainment, healthcare and government.

One other part of the University’s plan aims to increase the number of endowed professorships/Chairs of Excellence from the current level of 52 to 80. What will this do for the University?

Hallmarks of great universities are the numbers of honors students and the number of endowed professorships and Chairs of Excellence it possesses. The University is actively raising funds to increase these faculty positions. Endowed professorships and chairs attract some of the nation’s finest faculty members. Their reputations also enhance the image and reputation of the University. Endowed professors and chairs often create research centers and institutes, which house interdisciplinary teams, allowing us to compete at higher levels for research and service funding. Centers and research institutes also positively affect the recruitment and retention of students and faculty. Currently, the University has 60 research centers and institutes conducting research.

Much has been done to enrich the educational and social experiences of freshman. What are some of the things that have been done?

We know that students who stay involved in the University community both inside and outside the classroom are more likely to graduate on time. They also will experience greater success in their classes and in campus activities. To this end, the University has developed programs to engage our students from freshman through seniors. Freshman-centered experiences include Frosh Camp, Living-Learning Communities, Freshman Convocation and a summer reading program. Upper classmen participate in experiences such as internships, study abroad and national student exchange. We encourage them to apply for graduate school and professional programs. There are more than 150 social, volunteer, academic and Greek student organizations on campus for students to take part in.

Athletics at the U of M has enjoyed much recent success with three straight bowl trips by the football team and an Elite Eight appearance by last year’s basketball team. Why are athletics important to the U of M and what role does it play in the University’s overall mission?

Intercollegiate athletics is an integral part of the college experience in the United States. Athletics help to build relationships among our current students and continue social activities for our alumni.

Athletics scholarships provide access to higher education to approximately 300 students. Student-athletes learn discipline that helps them succeed academically and through life. Recently, 105 student-athletes were named to the Tiger 3.0 Club (3.0 GPA in 12 or more hours). Our student-athletes graduate at a higher rate than the general student population.

The positive exposure generated by our athletics department helps us build image and reputation through local and national media, increases recognition by potential students and can be critical to generating financial support for the whole University.

So as we approach our 100th anniversary, you do sound confident we are on the right path to move our University to a higher level.

By expanding our research capabilities, our outreach into the community and our financial resources, as well as bettering our students’ learning experiences, we are on the right track to becoming one of America’s great research universities.

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