President Ángel Cabrera

Institute Address

Thursday, Sept. 1, 2022

Clough Undergraduate Learning Commons

(as written, not necessarily as delivered)

Good morning! To everyone who has joined us in person today and for those who are watching online — welcome back and thank you for being here! And to our newest Yellow Jackets — students, faculty, and staff — welcome to Georgia Tech! 

Before I get started, I want to acknowledge a few new members of leadership, including a few colleagues here today.

Members of the Cabinet and deans, including some new faces that have joined in the last few months or as recently as the last few weeks:

    •    Ellen Bassett, dean of the College of Design
    •    Skye Duckett, vice president and chief Human Resources officer
    •    Jim Fortner, interim chief financial officer
    •    Jen Howe, vice president for Development
    •    Larry Jacobs, senior vice provost for Education and Learning
    •    Mike Shannon, interim executive vice president for Administration and Finance and interim chief business officer

On Sept. 19, we will welcome Danette Joslyn-Gaul, our new general counsel and vice president for Ethics, Compliance and Legal Affairs.

Also joining us are: 

    •    Dene Sheheane, president, Georgia Tech Alumni Assoc.
    •    Rohan Sohani, president, Undergraduate Student Government Association.
    •    Will Reichard, president, Graduate Student Government Association.

Thank you all for what you do for Georgia Tech and for being here today. 

I hope you all had a chance to rest and recharge this summer. Beth and I loved being able to travel again, reconnect with family and friends on both sides of the pond and spend time with many impressive Yellow Jackets along the way. At each stop, I was reminded of the impact Georgia Tech has around the world, and I thought I would share some of those moments with you. 

We started off on the beautiful Georgia shore, in Sea Island, where we spent time with the Georgia Tech Foundation Board of Trustees, updating them on all things happening at Georgia Tech, planning for the year to come and, very importantly, announcing the kickoff of our new campaign, Transforming Tomorrow - The Campaign for Georgia Tech. As I will explain later, this new comprehensive campaign will raise funds to amplify our impact, expand access, and deliver on our ambitious strategic goals. 

While at Sea Island, Provost McLaughlin, Dean Sheheane, former President Peterson, and I joined Georgia Tech alumnus and donor Michael Tennenbaum on a quick visit to the Kennedy Space Center. We landed on Cape Canaveral’s Shuttle Landing Facility and were welcomed by an impressive group of proud alumni who work for NASA in different capacities. They took us to see the new Space Launch System Artemis 1, which was scheduled to launch this week and return to the moon half a century after the end of the Apollo missions. How exciting, by the way, that our School of Aerospace Engineering was down there this week as well!

During the visit, we reflected on the major role Georgia Tech alumni and faculty have played from the beginning of our journey to space. From the great John Young, the ninth person to walk on the moon as commander of the Apollo 16 mission in 1972, to Shane Kimbrough, the first person to throw a first pitch at a Georgia Tech game from space, our faculty colleague Sandy Magnus who was just this year inducted to the Astronaut Hall of Fame, and Robyn Gatens, a member of the board of the Georgia Tech Alumni Association who serves as director of the International Space Station, there’s a long list of Georgia Tech alumni who have advanced the science behind space travel; have designed, built and piloted space craft; have led missions and organizations; and continue to play critical leadership roles. 

From Georgia, we travelled to my hometown of Madrid. Along with some time to see family and friends, I participated in a conference organized by Bankinter Innovation Foundation, where I serve as trustee. 

Amid a brutal heat wave that hit western Europe this entire summer, the conference appropriately centered around building a net-zero world. Among the world-leading experts gathered in Madrid to help think of a road map to decarbonize the atmosphere was our very own Gleb Yushin, professor of Materials Science and Engineering. Gleb has spun off a company from his lab, Sila Nanotechnologies, that has reached unicorn status … several times over. 

Sila is deploying new battery technology to electrify automobiles. They recently signed a deal with Mercedes-Benz, who will use the batteries in the new all-electric G-Class. Sila is a great example of the work of our faculty in not only creating new technologies but finding ways to solve problems of real consequence. This year the Board of Regents created a new designation of faculty excellence — the Regents Faculty Entrepreneur — to recognize these important contributions. I am proud that the very first recipients of this recognition are Prof. Yushin and four other Georgia Tech colleagues. I know many others will follow.

From Madrid we traveled to Paris. We connected with alumni and were impressed by the innovative startups being led by our alumni in Europe. 

During an event that showcased some of these startups, Georgia Tech Mechanical Engineering Professor Shannon Yee presented his work with Bill Gates and the Gates Foundation to re-invent the toilet. As you know, the goal of this project is to solve a massive public health problem faced by about four billion people who lack access to modern sanitation and who see millions of their children die of preventable infectious diseases. 

With a coalition of researchers from other top labs in the U.S., Europe and around the world, Shannon has created a self-contained toilet that processes all waste without need for sewage infrastructure. The reason Shannon was in Europe was to deliver a prototype of the reinvented toilet to be tested in our campus in Metz and to help find a manufacturer that will make the device available to the people who need it. 

These are just some of the many, many examples of how our research is helping solve real problems of great human consequence. 

This past year, our faculty across all colleges and GTRI have continued to deliver impressive growth in research awards and expenditures. In the latest Higher Education Research and Development Survey, published by the NSF in late 2021 using data from 2020, Georgia Tech was one of only 21 universities in the country with research expenditures exceeding $1 billion — and the only one among them without a medical school. Since 2020, new research awards have kept growing, reaching a record $1.2 billion during fiscal year 2021 and nearly $1.3 billion this past fiscal year, a leading indicator that our research expenditures will continue to grow in the foreseeable future. 

More resources mean more scientific breakthroughs and technological advances, deeper influence in the thinking and decisions of policymakers, business leaders and other scientists, and more innovative solutions to complex human problems. More resources also allow us to attract some of the best researchers in the world and provide them with the facilities and equipment they need. In the innovation business, talent and ideas breed talent and ideas. Scale really matters. In addition to the impact all this research has, it also creates a unique opportunity for our students to learn from faculty who are operating on the cutting edge of their disciplines and to grow into transformative leaders themselves.

From Paris, we traveled to Metz with Shannon Yee, Dean Beyah, Vice Provost Kippelen and other colleagues to visit the Georgia Tech-Lorraine campus (soon to be named Georgia Tech-Europe). In addition to meeting with our great partners in local and regional government who make this remarkable operation possible, we spent time with students, faculty, and staff. 

We were impressed by the dedication of our colleagues in Europe to our students, the experiences they create for them, the labs and research happening there, including Institut Lafayette, a technology transfer platform that provides access to advanced semiconductor and optoelectronic technology to European companies.

Very importantly, we were able to see firsthand the transformative power afforded to our students who study abroad. One memorable and moving highlight was the visit with students to the American Cemetery near Metz. We honored all fallen American soldiers buried there and paid special respects to Rupert Burnett Jr., a Georgia Tech student who was killed in action in 1944, during World War II, just months before he was set to graduate. 

We held a small ceremony and as I reflected on Rupert’s young life, I was struck by how our students are now able to travel and study freely because of what Rupert and others sacrificed eight decades ago, when they were the same age as our students. 

For many of our students their trip to Metz was the first time they ever needed a passport. Now they are seeing the world through a different lens, they are having experiences they will never forget and will return much better prepared to engage in an interconnected world.

Study abroad is one of many transformative experiences available to our students. Another exciting program that has grown in the past couple of years is CREATE-X, our flagship student entrepreneurship program. 

Just last week in the Fox Theater, CREATE-X gathered the largest and most impressive cohort of student-led startups to date. I was quite simply blown away. We had more than 2,700 RSVPs including about 190 investors, the largest we’ve ever had. A who’s who of the local entrepreneurial ecosystem was in attendance.

One of those startups, Sola, which won last year’s InVenture Prize, has developed an innovative, proprietary model to help homeowners access financial support immediately following the devastation of a tornado. This innovation will touch many people’s lives just when they are most vulnerable. 

Sola has already raised money, including the very first venture investment by the Georgia Tech Foundation in a CREATE-X company. A new fund that we created this year with a gift from alumnus Michael Tennenbaum (the same one who flew us to Cape Canaveral) will provide seed funding to many student-led startups like Sola in the years to come. By the way, the three founders of Sola just completed their first year at Georgia Tech—and I hope they will return and graduate one day!

Thanks to the dedication and ingenuity of our faculty and staff, thousands of students every year have a chance to engage in some form of high impact, transformative learning: a VIP course, a national competition, a capstone project, service learning, a co-op, faculty-led research … all these are powerful experiences that help students apply what they’re learning in the classroom, collaborate with experts in other disciplines and build the confidence to lead and have real impact. As part of our strategic plan, Provost McLaughlin is currently leading efforts to expand these transformative learning experiences and ensure all students have access to them. 

Key to the success of our students is their engagement and well-being. Our strategic plan calls out our intention to invest in those two areas and I’m happy to report some important progress.

Perhaps the most visible addition this year is the opening of the John Lewis Student Center and Stamps Commons. I hope you all have taken the opportunity to explore the new spaces. They are built with our students in mind. A place to recharge, to grab a bite, to play, to meet, to engage. A place to grow as leaders. As a great architectural innovation, the building now has windows! And some of the best views on campus!

Later this month we will dedicate this wonderful facility to the memory of John Lewis, civil rights icon, our district’s congressional representative for more than three decades, and a legend among student leaders. In his honor, donors have provided generous gifts towards a student leadership development fund that will help us create new and exciting programs.

To further support students, we are expanding staff capacity for health and wellness outreach initiatives and crisis response, including the creation of the Center for Mental Health Care & Resources. The new center combines the CARE Center and the Counseling Center into one new department that will proactively promote mental health, advance a culture of self-care, and of shared community responsibility around crisis response and case management. 

With this alignment and expanded staff capacity, students will have greater and quicker access to more case managers, decreased wait times and overall increased critical care through referrals and interventions. 

These efforts are part of an Institute-wide plan to improve the well-being of students, faculty, and staff. In collaboration with the VP of Student Engagement and Well-being, colleagues in Human Resources are hard at work implementing strategies that improve the employee experience as well, including the creation of an Employee Experience team that will focus on health and well-being initiatives, employee engagement, mental health support, and close collaboration with groups like Staff Council. 

Over the last year, we completed a two-part comprehensive compensation program review, paired with a market equity study. As a result of the review, we raised the minimum wage at Georgia Tech and have since implemented equity adjustments, where needed, to members of our faculty and staff. 

Additionally, with the help of generous state investments, eligible employees also saw cost of living adjustment increases. Compensation reviews will be ongoing as part of our strategic goals focused on providing a rewarding employee work experience so that we can attract and retain the best and brightest faculty and staff.  

These are just a couple of examples and know that more details are forthcoming as we scale these and other efforts so that Georgia Tech is an exceptional place to learn and work.

Our work over the past decade to strengthen the student experience has paid off. Our six-year graduation rates, an industry standard, are now among the country’s best — just last month The Chronicle of Higher Education ranked us number seven among public universities, an extraordinary outcome especially given the large number of majors we have related to engineering and computing. We do very well for Pell students (we rank eighth in the nation) and transfer students (we rank 19th). 

The one area where we have room for improvement is in four-year graduation rates, another priority for the provost and his team. Overall, though, I am very proud with the dramatic improvements in the last decade and the fact that the days of the “look to your right look to your left, only one of you will graduate” are finally and thankfully long gone!

Strong graduation rates are key to strong return on investment for students. ROI factors in what students invest (time and money) and what they get in return (a good job and career). Because of our strong graduation rates, relatively low tuition and great career outcomes, independent ratings of student ROI consistently place Georgia Tech near the top in the nation.

In terms of cost, I am delighted that over the last three years not only haven’t we increased tuition, but thanks to state investments, enrollment growth, and fiscal prudence, we have been able to reduce it. This year, undergraduate tuition and fees for in-state students is $11,764, compared to $12,682 three years ago — a 7% reduction (or 19% when adjusted for inflation). 

In terms of employment opportunities, Georgia Tech is also excelling. This past month, the University System of Georgia unveiled a new tool, Georgia Degrees Pay, as part of Chancellor Purdue’s efforts to increase transparency and inform the public.
With this tool, anyone can look at data about the future earnings of students by school and by major. I encourage you to use it. What you will see, is that Georgia Tech provides the best earning opportunities in the state.

With these outcomes, it is not surprising that demand for a Georgia Tech education is at an all-time high. Amid a national decline in college students, this year we broke a new record, with more than 50,000 students applying for first-year admission.
This unprecedented demand has pushed our selectivity to the top of the charts — according to The Chronicle’s Almanac, Georgia Tech was the number three most selective public university behind only UCLA and Berkeley. We are indeed competing with the best universities in the nation for the best students and are bringing them here to Georgia to study with the best students in the state.

But selectivity is not our goal. Our strategic plan defines our impact by the number of talented students we serve and help succeed, not by how many we reject. That’s why we are continuing to grow and make room for more students. I know this growth is testing some of our systems and creating some stress. And I am very grateful for all the work everyone is doing to serve more students and amplify our impact.

This year we just welcomed nearly 3,700 new first-year students. With another nearly 1,400 students transferring in from other universities, this is our largest incoming class ever. Add to this the continuing expansion of our online graduate programs, our overall enrollment now sits at more than 46,000 students. That is the largest number of students we have ever served and second only to Georgia State University in our state.

Over the past decade, Georgia Tech has emerged as the fastest-growing university in our state and one of the fastest-growing public universities in the country— according to The Chronicle only the University of California Merced, just established in 2005, grew faster than Georgia Tech.

Put all these numbers together — #1 research expenditures without a med school, #3 most selective and yet #2 fastest growing — and you get a picture of a one-of-a-kind institution in American higher education. One that brings together world-class faculty and students on a greater and greater scale.

There are areas where we still need to do better though. We’re making progress in our commitment to Expand Access, and our new class includes record numbers of undergraduates from our state, first-generation and transfer students, women, and Black and Hispanic students. Much work remains to be done to recruit women, minority and Pell-eligible students, and I am confident that we will keep making progress.
We celebrated the 60th anniversary of Black students at Tech last year and will, this year, celebrate the 70th anniversary of women at Tech. If we’re going to produce technologies that help us live better lives, we need all voices and perspectives represented in our classrooms and our labs.

Given our growth trajectory, we have a unique opportunity to make significant advances in expanding access.

Back to our summer travels, just as we arrived back from Europe, with barely a day to catch our breath, we hit the road again for the Georgia Summer Tour, resuming an Institute tradition that the pandemic put on hold for two years.
The trip was a whirlwind put together by the staff in Institute Relations and our colleagues at the Georgia Tech Alumni Association. By the time we wrapped up, we had hosted and attended more than 20 events in eight towns across 550 miles.
We visited Augusta, Gainesville, Dalton, Rome, Cobb County, and other locations. Even Athens, where the very courageous Ramblin’ Wreck driver Evelyn Edwards took us for a joyride on the Ramblin’ Wreck to the loud delight (I think) of local residents!
At each stop, we met current and incoming students and their families, friends and alumni. We also visited with local lawmakers and businesses leaders to learn what we can do to support their local economy and drive innovation.
According to the annual report produced by the University of Georgia for the Board of Regents, just last year Georgia Tech had an immediate statewide impact of nearly $4.2 billion, the highest in the state and about 22% of all public universities.

And that figure does not include our more significant, even if less easily quantifiable, contributions: the talent we provide to help employers grow, the support we provide to our state industries, the startups we incubate, the philanthropic dollars we raise and invest, or the companies we help attract.

Nowhere is our impact most visible than right here in our neighborhood. We are all very familiar with the work we’ve done with our affiliate organizations — most notably the Georgia Tech Foundation and the Georgia Advanced Technology Ventures — and other public and private organizations, to transform our neighborhood into a thriving innovation hub appealing to both big companies and startups as well to a growing number of young professionals who choose to live here.

Tech Square, West Midtown, and surrounding areas have become a destination for corporations like Microsoft, Google, Cisco, Micron, Airbnb, Norfolk Southern, Nike, and others who want to be close to the talent and research emerging from Georgia Tech, following others like Accenture and NCR. The announcements, one after another, show how this has become one of the hottest tech neighborhoods in America. And the list will keep growing in the months to come. 

Our work in this space is far from done. Thanks to state investments and generous contributions from the George, Scheller, and Stewart families as well as other leading philanthropists, we are planning a two-tower complex in the heart of the neighborhood that will house the Scheller College of Business, the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering, GTRI, and several programs in support of the district’s startup ecosystem. 

And on the south side, across the street from the North Avenue Research Area and just west of the Coca-Cola campus, construction is underway for our new biomedical innovation district — Science Square. Science Square will become a global biomedical research and technology hub focused on devices and therapeutics with the power to improve and save lives. Just like Tech Square, we want Science Square to be an example of how a research university can support innovation and help transform its city. 

But our economic impact, as I said, spans our entire state. We recruit and educate talented students from every corner of the state, we do research in sectors that are central to the state economy — agricultural technology, aerospace, semiconductors, software engineering —  we build capabilities and support innovation in businesses across the state through our portfolio of EI2 programs, coaching and supporting entrepreneurs through ATDC, empowering educators and inspiring high school students through CEISMC, or extending innovative policies and solutions through suburban and rural areas of our state through the Partnership for Inclusive Innovation, we are committed to making a difference in the quality of life in our state. And we are getting the job done.

Finally, as I mentioned at the beginning, I want to bring your attention to the new campaign that we officially launched this summer — Transforming Tomorrow: The Campaign for Georgia Tech. This comprehensive campaign will raise more than $2 billion through various funding priorities centered around lives, ideas, learning, our community, and our world. Very importantly, more than one-quarter of the funds are expected to be earmarked toward student financial aid. 

This will be our biggest fundraising effort to date to support student access. We are currently building a strong campaign steering committee and will be hitting the road this fall to share the campaign goals with alumni and friends around the nation and beyond.

As I turn it over for questions, I want to take a moment to acknowledge and thank our faculty and staff. Each one of the accomplishments I have cited today belongs to you. In the classroom, the lab, in the offices and workrooms, and across our facilities and grounds, each of you is responsible for a big part of what this institution does. 

I thank you for the way you live our values every day and that you keep them as a foundation to your work. They define us as we keep students as our top priority and take Progress and Service out into the world. 

We will continue to strive for excellence, thrive on diversity, and celebrate collaboration. We will continue to nurture the well-being of this community and act as ethical and responsible stewards of the great responsibility we are given. 

And we will safeguard freedom of inquiry and expression in academic instruction, research, and publication, and as individuals. As we say in our strategic plan, these values are our lodestar, and we will hold tightly to our commitment. 

And lastly, I thank you for a great start to the fall semester. I look forward to seeing many of you around campus. For others in Metz, Shenzhen, Oxford, Savannah, or elsewhere around the world, I send you my best wishes for a great semester. We hope to see you in Atlanta soon. 

Before our team takes the field at Mercedes Benz Stadium against Clemson on Monday, we are very excited that Buzz is up in New York right now and will ring the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange this afternoon. In honor of the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Classic, Buzz will join Chick-fil-A Chairman Dan Cathy, Chancellor Perdue, Board of Regents Chairman Reynolds, and a few others including some smelly “Harry Dawg” as the season officially gets underway.   

Also, before I go, I would be remiss if I didn’t call out that tomorrow, Sept. 2, is College Colors Day. I will most certainly be wearing my old gold and white tomorrow and showing off my Yellow Jacket pride.

Thank you again for joining me today. Go Jackets! I’m happy to take questions.

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