Sid Salter: Welcome to a special holiday edition of Presidential Update with MSU President Dr. Mark Keenum. I'm Sid Salter. Dr. Keenum, it's been an exciting year here in 2016 at Mississippi State, a lot of accomplishments, a lot of excitement for our friends, our fans, our students. Tell us about this last year.
Dr. Mark Keenum: It has been an exciting year. It's a year that we, as Mississippi State Bulldogs can be very proud of. I'm excited that we have reached enrollment heights like we've never seen before in the history of our university. You know, we've got nearly 22,000 students now at Mississippi State, and the good thing is, you know, obviously a record freshman class, record transfer class, but this year's freshman class especially had a record, all-time record average ACT score of 24.5, and I'm excited about that.
I'm excited that we're attracting the best and the brightest students from our state and from around the nation. And these are students that are being prepared, like in the graduation ceremony we had earlier this month, where we had nearly 2,500 August and December graduates who are going off into the world to do great things, and have been well prepared to take on some of the challenges of the future.
And you know, our world is changing at a very rapid pace, and I'm proud that we are doing things right here at Mississippi State to help prepare our students to not only be successful in this fast-changing world of the future, but to be leaders in the future.
In fields like, I think of automotive for example, the work that we do here in our Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems, and the work that our students are doing to help build and design the automobile of the future, it's exciting the things that our students are doing right here. A lot of our engineering students, in particular, are engaged and working on this project, and they're excited about working on designing an autonomous automobile, which is a driverless vehicle, which is part of our future, their future.
And I think of, speaking of autonomous, I think of unmanned aircraft systems, and as you know, Sid, we are the national center of excellence for research in unmanned aircraft systems, and our students, our faculty, our scientists are leading the way in this cutting-edge field of technology that is spawning wonderful industries right here in Mississippi.
So yes, we have a great deal to be excited about, and you know, when I think of some of the innovative work that our students are engaged in, I also think of things like cybersecurity and national defense, that our students are doing, and working, and preparing themselves for, for the future, not only national security, but industry security, and our own personal security. What's so exciting about that, why it's a big deal, is that Mississippi State, our cybersecurity program here, is ranked among the top three in the entire nation. So, a lot to be excited about, just on those fronts alone for our students.
Sid Salter: When we look at all the technology you're discussing, unmanned aero-systems, car of the future, all of the things that our research is developing, we look at the worth and the value of a college degree. Why is it so important today, that these students that go through our commencement ceremonies go through it with these degrees, equipped to work with this technology?
Dr. Mark Keenum: Well, the world is changing. It's changing faster than any time in the history of mankind, and for a young person today, my message to them is get the best and the most education they possibly can get to help equip them for the world of the future. What's exciting about a degree and the educational experience here at Mississippi State is that our students are the most sought-after graduates of any college, or university for that matter, in the state of Mississippi. They command the highest average starting salary, and oh, by the way, our graduates at mid-career are earning more than graduates from any other college or university in the state of Mississippi.
A degree from Mississippi State has huge value. That's why we're growing in our enrollment, not only in state, but students in other states, parents, and families are recognizing the quality of an education, quality of a degree from Mississippi State for their life, their career, and a way that they can ... those graduates can and will make a difference in the world of the future.
You know, not only are we looking at technology, and innovations, and preparing bright young minds to be leaders, but you know, the world is changing. Our population is growing faster than any time in the history of mankind, and as I like to remind students, you know, we're going to go from seven billion people today, that by the time students who graduate from Mississippi State today, by the time they're my age, we're going to have more than 10 billion people on the planet. We can't feed and support all the people on the planet today, and yet, we're about to bring three billion more people in the span of just over three decades. These are challenges for these young people that we're graduating, so it's incumbent on us as educators to best prepare them for this world.
And what's great about that, obviously, feeding a growing population in the world, Mississippi State is right in the center of this. We're helping to lead the way in science, and innovations, and technology, and the agricultural sciences. We're ranked number six in the entire nation, among all colleges, all universities, in research in agricultural sciences. We're one of the leading research universities in this field, and what a great opportunity for young people pursuing degrees in agriculture, in conservation, in environment, to prepare themselves to make a difference, to have an impact, to have a lasting impact for our future. So yeah, I get excited talking about it.
Sid Salter: And while Mississippi State does face and deal with these very weighty, important issues, our students, our faculty, our staff, they have a lot of fun while they're here as well.
Dr. Mark Keenum: Yeah, absolutely.
Sid Salter: The Bulldogs are bowling again this year. Our women's basketball program is top five in the country.
Dr. Mark Keenum: Five in the country, yeah.
Sid Salter: Our men's basketball team off to a good start, and hey, it's not too long until we'll have a brand new baseball coach and a brand new year in Mississippi State baseball.
Dr. Mark Keenum: It's exciting. We have so many fun things here going on. You mentioned the athletics. We have ended the football season on a very high, positive note, bringing the Egg Bowl trophy back home to the start, where it belongs, but what a great momentum, to get to a bowl, not so much because of the great success in the athletic performance of our football team, but because of their outstanding academic achievements is how we got to go to the St. Petersburg Bowl. And you're right, our young women, and our basketball team, Coach Schaefer's got them going great, and I'm so proud of each and every one of them, and how hard they're working, and Coach Howland's got our men focused on hopefully a good season, a good building season to move us forward, and then we've got Coach Andy Cannizaro coming in to lend some great excitement for our baseball program, and we've got a wonderful new athletic director in John Cohen, so a lot of really good things happening on the athletic front.
And over in the College of Business, we've seen the debut of the MSU Entrepreneurship Center, where our students and faculty are starting real companies that change the world, and our Adkerson School of Accountancy is moving up in national rankings as well, which makes me so very proud. And I'm excited to see the great work that's happening in our Shackouls Honors College, which this year produced two Rhodes Scholar finalists, Natalie Jones and Holly Travis, both from our College of Arts and Sciences.
And the College of Education is celebrating great news as well, thanks to the Robert Hearin Foundation that just announced a major gift of $28 million to our Mississippi Excellence in Teaching program, our program which will raise the bar in attracting top students to the field of teaching in our state.
Sid Salter: Well, like all families, this is a special season in the Keenum household. You've got four bright, not-so-little children anymore, and you and Rhonda are busy with them. Dr. Keenum, what's your message for the university community during this season?
Dr. Mark Keenum: Well, as I said, we have so much as a extended Bulldog family, to be thankful for during this holiday season, and on behalf of my wife, Rhonda, and our four children, Katie, Brett, Mary Phillips, and Tory, we want to extend a very, very merry Christmas, a happy new year, and a joyous holiday season for all of our Bulldog family. We wish you all the very best going forward. May God bless you.