As our semester comes to a close, I want to take a moment to reflect on your achievements during the past few months and thank you for your efforts on behalf of our university.
The semester began with wonderful news that this year’s freshman class had grown for the fifth straight year and is the most academically talented class in KU history. To increase in both size and quality is a tremendous accomplishment — and a clear indication that the decisions we’ve made regarding how we identify, attract, fund and enroll students are paying off. These freshmen joined a university already brimming with talented students like Shegufta Huma, who last month became the 27th KU student to win the Rhodes Scholarship, and thousands of others who are making our community a better place in their own way.
This semester, we continued to build healthy communities. In September, our KU Cancer Center applied for Comprehensive Cancer Center designation through the National Cancer Institute. In October, we learned our Alzheimer's Disease Center will continue to pursue ways to prevent this devastating disease after the National Institute on Aging renewed its national designation for five years.
This semester also saw a number of KU faculty recognized for excellence in research and discovery. In October, we hosted KU Elevate to showcase four KU faculty who are doing trailblazing research in their fields. Earlier this month, we announced that Professors Alice Bean and David Darwin have been named Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. We celebrated KU researchers Judith Carta, a leader in community-engaged research in the fields of early intervention and early childhood special education, and Randolph Nudo, a renowned neuroscientist and pioneering scholar in rehabilitation medicine, as recipients of the Higuchi-KU Endowment Research Achievement Award. And Professor Raghunath Chaudhari was named a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors for his work to invent cleaner, safer, economically viable technologies for fuels and chemicals.
This semester, we continued the physical transformation of our university. In August, students attended classes for the first time in the new Capitol Federal Hall. In October, we celebrated the reopening of the Spencer Museum of Art. In November, we hosted a “topping out” ceremony for the Integrated Science Building in our new Central District. Together these projects are transforming the way we educate students, make discoveries, and fulfill our obligations to the society we serve.
I am proud of your continued efforts to make our campus more welcoming and inclusive. In September, our Office of the Provost responded to the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Advisory Group report. We launched the KU Climate Study, a university-wide examination of the living, learning and working environment at KU. This semester also saw new leadership in our Office of Institutional Opportunity and Access and the first full year of programming from our Sexual Assault Prevention and Education Center.
One reason students choose KU is the achievements of our alumni — and we had many to celebrate this semester! The semester began with several KU athletes participating in the Summer Olympics in Rio. And in October, we learned that KU graduate President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end a 50-year civil war in his country.
This semester saw another remarkable season for our volleyball team, which won the Big 12 Conference championship for the first time in history. In addition, senior Cassie Wait was named the Big 12 Conference Volleyball Scholar-Athlete of the Year. I want to congratulate and thank Cassie and her teammates for being terrific role models for student-athletes across the country.
This semester was not without its challenges. Last May, our state funding was reduced by $10.7 million, which forced difficult choices regarding the current fiscal year budget. And at the federal level, there remains uncertainty regarding the future of science education and research funding, as well as how the incoming administration will address specific issues of importance to universities and researchers nationwide. As always, we will need to address these challenges together.
None of our success would be possible without the hard work of our students, faculty, and staff. Your work enhances our university each day, and I am grateful that you are part of our community of scholars.
Thank you for your efforts, and may your holiday season be joyful and bright.