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France A. Córdova made these remarks Monday (May 7) during her speech accepting the Purdue University presidency. Córdova will become Purdue's 11th president, replacing the retiring Martin C. Jischke.

May 7, 2007

Purdue presidency presents perfect opportunity

Chairman McGinley, members of the Board of Trustees, faculty, staff, students and members of the Purdue community: thank you for the confidence and trust you place in me. It is my great honor to accept the invitation to become Purdue's 11th president.

It would be hard to be at Purdue, the intellectual launching pad for 22 astronauts, without commenting on how extraordinary an opportunity this is for me, a space scientist. Since I was a young girl, I looked up and wondered about those tiny points of light in the night sky. Many Purdue graduates have traveled in that darkness and seen a sunrise every 90 minutes. I feel privileged to be at the wellspring of inspiration for these space-faring Boilermakers.

There are lots of "firsts" with my presidency: first woman, first X-ray astronomer, first NASA chief scientist, first Latina, first soccer mom.

Yet, acknowledging some firsts, this ceremony - the passing of the presidential torch - also celebrates the continuity of Purdue's legacy, beginning with its land-grant origin in 1869. Land-grant historically meant agriculture, the mechanical arts and classical studies. Science and engineering research blossomed at our public institutions in the middle of the 20th century. At Purdue today, frontier research is fused with spirit of the land-grant mission so that Purdue is able to reach into every community in Indiana and make a difference. At the same time that it impacts Indiana, Purdue reaches out to bring students to Purdue from every state and many countries. Land grant today means making a difference on every geographic scale.

My appointment follows that of a long line of distinguished presidents, each of whom has made his mark on Purdue. I will follow the engaging President Martin Jischke, who with his wife, Patty, has impacted every acre of this state. President Jischke, in partnership with the board of trustees and the campus citizens, laid out a strategic plan that has been transformational. The plan has focused on learning, discovery and engagement. It is now time to pull out the pencils, or, I should say, pull out the laptops, and develop a renewed strategy for the next several years.

At this point, I cannot envision exactly what such a plan would look like, but I know what it will celebrate. First, the student experience: My highest priority will be the excellence of a Purdue education for our students and the quality of life and opportunities for learning that they can experience on our campuses. My husband Chris and I will attend student functions around campus, listen to students in dialogue and debate, and include them in making decisions that affect the campus and their experience.

A renewed plan will celebrate the staff. While I will have a faculty title here and will be the leading administrator, I like to say that I am staff, in the truest sense of the word. I think of myself as part of the support structure that keeps the place moving forward and facilitates faculty and students in their pursuits. I will listen to the varied voices of the staff, and they will be brought into planning and decision-making, as well. A new strategic plan will likely focus on opportunities for staff involvement, communication, recognition and development.

A new plan will celebrate the talent among the faculty and will require their leadership, both in its definition and implementation. The faculty define the quality of the institution, and quality is paramount at Purdue. Faculty love a complex challenge, and there are many that abound in a large institution like Purdue; the collective wisdom when you put a group of bright, energetic faculty in the same room is the surest antidote to a thorny problem.

A new plan will celebrate our alumni. Our graduates are both our most important product and our greatest ambassadors. Purdue has almost 400,000 of them. We will strengthen the bond between these alumni and the university. Every student will think of herself or himself as an alum upon entering Purdue to encourage involvement and momentum-building from the start of a student's career here.

A new plan will reexamine Purdue's relationship with the state. Purdue is one of Indiana's greatest assets - the governor himself told me it is his "pole star," meaning it sets the compass for the state. Purdue will be the energizer for the state's economy. Its faculty will both assist existing businesses and create new ones. Incidentally, so will the students! Discovery Park and the Purdue Research Park, as well as agricultural extension are spectacular assets to accomplish this goal.

Discovery Park was one of Martin Jischke's great achievements. He took this from an idea to a $350 million multidisciplinary enterprise in just a few years. We have only begun to tap the potential. We will build on this success.

We will want to realize multiple sources of revenue to reach our goals.  We will look to increase financial aid to expand access to undergraduate students from all parts of Indiana, and we will look to increase the strength and funding for the many graduate and professional programs that distinguish Purdue.

A new plan will continue to enhance the diversity of Purdue - from recruiting students, faculty and staff that represent the changing face of America to enriching the curriculum, infusing the creative arts and imbuing social dialogues with diverse perspectives. With its great strength in engineering, Purdue has a significant opportunity to address what has been called the Quiet Crisis, the dearth of women and minorities entering science and engineering, as students and as professors. Purdue can be the most welcoming, the most nurturing of environments for the new talent this country will need as it seeks to maintain its economic competitiveness. The thriving cultural centers and programs at Purdue are great assets in building a welcoming, inclusive campus.

Purdue has one of the largest international enrollments in the country and a strong presence from other nations on the faculty. It has numerous partnerships with universities abroad. These will be important advantages as we draw on the global talent base and leverage our home advantage onto a worldwide cultural, social  and economic stage.

As you can see, I am just beginning to learn about Purdue. My husband and I are excited to become explorers, in the tradition of Purdue, and begin our "listening tour" of the campus and the community. And we are thrilled to be back at a campus with a football team. Yet, we've been cheering for the Nittany Lions since we left Penn State in 1993 - and that's going to change! Go Boilermakers!

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