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Academic Convocation signals new year of opportunity

Band et alLamar University’s new year opened today (August 21) with fanfare as faculty and staff gathered to hear the annual “state of the university” address from President Kenneth Evans. Fall semester classes begin Monday, August 27.

LU’s award-winning drumline, Showcase of Southeast Texas Band, student ambassadors, cheerleaders and mascots Big Red and Lu added to the Cardinal spirit in the Montagne Center festooned in the university’s signature red and black.

As new and returning faculty and staff greeted one another, they took their places in the Montagne Center after a morning reception held in the adjacent Cardinal Club Room.

President Evans spoke to the crowd at the start of the 2018-2019 academic year in his sixth opening convocation address from a platform that just four days earlier was the site of the LU’s summer commencement exercises. Then, around 740 students, including 34 doctoral candidates, receive their diplomas. 

President EvansAfter a welcome from Provost Jim Marquart and introductions of the platform party, President Evans recognized all who were new to the university, those who had joined LU since the last convocation, as well as those serving in new positions.

To highlight LU academics, President Evans introduced four LU students who had exceptional summer research experiences: David J. Beck Fellows Sakurah Fisher and David Quispe as well as 2018 Presidential Summer Fellows Emily McCall and Amanda Warner.

Fisher, a junior from Port Arthur majoring in psychology, spent 11 weeks in New York State as a research intern at the renowned Nathan S. Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research and the New York State Psychiatric Institute at Columbia University Medical Center.

Quispe, a junior from La Porte majoring in electrical engineering and mathematics, worked alongside Arizona State University researchers in material science in solar energy.

McCall, a junior from Orangefield majoring in biology and pre-med, traveled to the coast of Lake Victoria in Kenya to perform schistosomiasis research. Warner, a biology and chemistry major from Orange, participated in Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease research at John van Geest Centre for Brain Repair at Cambridge University.

Kyle MutzAttendees also heard from Kyle Mutz, director of LU’s Disability Resource Center, on the array of supporting services, accommodations and advocacy efforts that ensure Lamar’s students with disabilities are given an equivalent experience as their peers.

“Lamar University is working to celebrate this aspect of its diversity,” Mutz said. “This valuable work is changing lives,” he said before introducing a video featuring some of the many students assisted through LU’s Disability Resource Center.

The work of the DRC is just one area in which LU is striving to improve student success, Evans said. “Our immediate past efforts and projects we have planned to roll out this year in quality enhancement, student advising, and much more are all aligned to improve the student experience,” he said.

President Evans spoke of the breadth of facilities improvements made in the past year including: 

  • The opening of the redesigned first floor of the Mary and John Gray Library with seating, a Starbucks, large computer lab, tutoring and writing center services.
  • The grand opening of the state-of-the-art Setzer Student Center and Quadrangle that has become the heart of campus, with the Live Oak Ballroom, numerous offices, meeting rooms and new food court area.
  • This November, LU anticipates the opening of the Science and Technology Building, the first building devoted solely to academics in more than five decades.

President Evans highlighted a number of recent academic grants that are enhancing the university as well:

  • LU faculty partnered with colleagues from the University of Texas at Austin for a $4 million grant from the Department of Energy to explore new technologies for offshore geologic CO2 storage.
  • The Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry received a highly competitive Welch Foundation Grant in the amount of $120,000.
  • The National Science Foundation awarded LU a $400,000 grant under the provision of its Major Research Instrumentation program.
  • Assistant Professor Jing Zhang received a $500,000 NSF award to house a CPU/GPU high performance computer cluster.
  • Associate Professor Vinaya Manchaiah and Endowed Professor Jo Mayo received a $400,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health-National Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.
  • Assistant Professor Yisha Xiang was awarded a $280,000 NSF grant to explore the causes of equipment failures in capitol intensive industries.

Platform partyIn looking back at the year past, the president spoke about the many impacts of Hurricane Harvey on the region and the university, praising the many LU faculty and staff who persevered and provided agile solutions to the myriad of challenges students and employees faced in the wake of extensive flooding throughout the region just as the semester was set to begin. The year past also saw other weather impacts, from freezing pipes to wind damage the night before a major recruiting event on campus.

President Evans also shared of his recent loss of his beloved wife Nancy, expressing his resolve to continue the work they had begun together as president and First Lady, to which faculty and staff responded in support.

The event concluded as the Showcase of Southeast Texas band provided a musical fanfare and LU’s cheerleaders and mascots Big Red and Lu led in the LU Fight Song before faculty and staff returned to the work of preparation for the new semester.

Platform partyOn platform were: Ken Evans, president; Jim Marquart, provost and vice president for academic affairs; John Bello-Ogunu, vice president for global diversity, inclusion and intercultural affairs; Vicki McNeil, vice president for student engagement; Craig Ness, vice president for finance and operations; Priscilla Parsons, vice president for information technology; Juan Zabala, vice president for university advancement; Katrina Brent, assistant provost for enrollment management; Brenda Nichols, vice provost for digital learning; Joe Nordgren, acting associate provost for academic affairs; Srinivas Palanki, associate provost for research and sponsored programs; Marco Born, athletics director; Arne Armquist, dean, Mary and John Gray Library; Kevin Dodson, dean, Reaud Honors College; Dan French, dean, College of Business; Bill Harn, dean, Graduate Studies; Derina Holtzhausen, dean, College of Fine Arts and Communication; Lynn Maurer, dean, College of Arts and Sciences; Bob Spina, dean, College of Education and Human Development; Kyle Mutz, director, Disability Resource Center; Norman Bellard, assistant to the president for community relations; Victor Zaloom, interim dean, College of Engineering, Diann Broadnax, president, staff council; and James Slaydon, president, faculty senate.