Two years ago at Traditions Night, I shared with the freshmen how Shade and I enjoy evening strolls across Mount Oread. I even revealed my favorite location atop Daisy Hill, from where you can look east and see clear across campus to Fraser Hall.
Today, that view looks very different than it did a few years ago. During the past eight years, we have transformed the University of Kansas with 50 capital improvement projects totaling $700 million and launched a once-in-a-generation redevelopment of our Central District that will change the face of education and research at KU.
But as I have said before, the transformation goes deeper than buildings and encompasses every aspect of our mission. As the semester comes to a close and we reflect on the 2016-17 academic year, we can all be proud of our role in this transformation.
The transformation is apparent in the way we educate students, starting with how we bring them to KU in the first place. This year, our freshman class grew for the fifth straight year and was the most academically talented class in KU history — the result of strategic changes in how we identify, recruit, fund and enroll best-fit students. These record-setting freshmen joined KU students like Shegufta Huma, who this year became our 27th Rhodes Scholar, and Taylor Zabel, our 19th Truman Scholar. Overall this year, KU students received two Goldwater Scholarships and one Rhodes, Truman, Schwarzman and Udall scholarship awards.
The transformation of KU is also apparent in the way we build healthy communities. In September, our KU Cancer Center applied for Comprehensive Cancer Center designation through the National Cancer Institute. In October, our Alzheimer's Disease Center’s national designation was renewed, empowering us to continue our efforts to prevent this devastating disease. And in June, we will complete construction on the new Health Education Building, which will enable us to accommodate a modern curriculum and increase the number of healthcare professionals we educate.
The transformation is apparent in the way we make discoveries. Last semester, Professors Alice Bean and David Darwin were named Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and Professor Raghunath Chaudhari was named a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors. In April, KU alumnus and Google Earth co-creator Brian McClendon joined KU as a research professor in electrical engineering and computer science. And last week, Cecilia Menjivar, our Foundation Distinguished Professor of Sociology, became the second KU researcher in three years to be named a Carnegie Fellow.
This past year, we sought opportunities to make campus more welcoming and inclusive. In September, our Office of the Provost responded to the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Advisory Group report. Work continues on our Climate Study, a university-wide examination of the living, learning and working environment at KU.
This year was not without challenges. Earlier this semester, we reacted to executive orders on immigration that have caused uncertainty about the future of immigration and international scholarship. We also face uncertainty about federal research funding and the state budget as it relates to higher education. I remain hopeful we can manage these challenges if we remain vigilant and committed to our core values.
Next weekend at Commencement, thousands of Jayhawks will walk down the Hill and receive their degrees. My hope is these graduates have transformed themselves in their time at KU, and you should be proud of your role in that. Likewise, you should be proud of your role in transforming this university for future students and future generations of citizens who benefit from our work.
Best wishes as you conclude the semester. I look forward to seeing you tonight at the Lied Center for a celebration of your achievements during the past eight years, and then again at Commencement.