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This column appeared in the January 2009 issue of Best Times.

As 2009 dawns, we wonder, as we do at the start of every new year, what it will bring.  This year, as individuals and as a nation, we are faced with challenges greater than any most of us have experienced.  As president of the University of Memphis, I am concerned for the more than 20,000 students and their families, and for our more than 2,500 employees.

Our mission, since 1912 and in 2009, is to educate.  Our core business is “learning.”  We provide opportunities for students to learn in the classroom, in the laboratory, in cyberspace, and in the community.  Internships, co-ops, and on-the-job practica are central to preparing students for employment.  Our research in medical devices science, supply chain management, and transportation prepares students to join world renowned companies, or to start their own.

We are dedicated to the continued improvement in the caliber of higher education that the University provides and in the caliber of students who attend the University.  Our Honors student enrollment is currently above 1,400 and matches in percentage of undergraduates the numbers in some of the best universities in the country.

Just recently, through the wonderful generosity of Helen (Mrs. Jabie) Hardin, we received $2 million to underwrite the mission of the Honors Program.  Although not all our students are going to be at the honors level, the stronger such a program is, the more beneficial effect their presence on the campus has on the overall academic program.  We intend to keep, and to expand, our Honors Program.

To teach the students who choose to attend the University of Memphis, we have recruited a highly qualified faculty who could teach at any university of their choice – and their choice was the University of Memphis.  Thanks to state funding in financially better times, together with the help of private donors who saw the importance of a world-class faculty, we have established 25 chairs of excellence – more than any university in the state – and those seats are held by professors who are some of the most sought after for their research and knowledge generation.

Many of the students who attend the University of Memphis are the first ones in their families to go to college, and many of them come from households of modest means.  They also are among the brightest students at the University, and their intellect holds not just the promise of success for them as individuals, but the promise of great progress for society, as they become its scientists, philosophers, teachers, nurses, business owners, and create professions not yet even imagined.  For some students, attendance at the University of Memphis is often made possible only by financial aid and need-based scholarships that are offered by or through the University.  As a university, and among our donors, there is a strong commitment to both merit- and needs-based scholarships.

The University of Memphis is an integral sustainer of our community, and we interact closely and often with the businesses and non-profit world of Memphis.  Our partnerships have resulted in many internships and cooperative education programs for students in fields ranging from medical science to journalism to business.  Cooperative education, in which a person is both a student at the University and an employee of a business, is also a means by which we work with the business and engineering community to make higher education accessible and affordable for our students.  Coops, internships, work-study, assistantships and part-time employment are great resume builders for undergraduates and graduates

Through our Career and Employment Services office, we can help students and graduates find jobs.  The staff there assists them with job searches, resume preparation, interview techniques, and other non-academic, but very important, aspects of moving from college student to career employee.  In all, the University takes students into an academic environment, but prepares them to begin the rest of their lives’ journeys, wherever those journeys may take them.

The University of Memphis students, from freshman through doctoral studies, are vital to our community’s success.  While challenges lie ahead for individuals, for families, for businesses, and for universities, we remain the vital link for an educated society.

Dr. Shirley Raines

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