Convocation speech kicks off spring semester


Kody Kahle

NKU President Mearns speaking during during his 2015 Spring Convocation. President Mearns spoke about the past year and the upcoming year in the Student Union Ballroom on Friday, Jan. 9, 2015.

NKU began the spring 2015 semester with its usual tradition: a convocation speech. The speech was delivered by President Geoffrey Mearns and detailed NKU’s accomplishments in the past year as well as plans to market the university’s brand and cast off its “hidden gem” status.

“At the end of the fall convocation, I said that, too often, I’ve heard that our university is a ‘hidden gem’ and ‘the best kept secret’ in the Commonwealth,” Mearns said. “I also said that it’s great to be a gem. But we know that it’s not good to be hidden. And it certainly isn’t good to be a secret.”

According to Mearns, NKU implemented two strategies for making its presence more known. The first was to define what NKU is more clearly to potential students. He said  the university surveyed over 600 people, including students, faculty, staff and alumni, about what they thought of NKU.

“Many people emphasized our academic creativity and our innovation — and the need to inform the public about these qualities. ‘Get the credit you deserve,’ one person said. Another person wrote, ‘It’s up to us to tell the story we want people to hear and remember,’” Mearns said.

Mearns said that what makes NKU’s brand different than a traditional company is that it’s not represented by a tagline or slogan but rather individual people’s experiences.

“That rational response and emotional reaction — that experience — that brand — is represented by everything that we do and by everything that we say,” Mearns said. “Every contact is important. From prospective students who explore our website or who visit our campus for the first time to our graduates who hear their name announced as they walk across stage at commencement — every interaction creates that experience.”

The second strategy Mearns discussed was a statewide tour that took place during the fall semester  called “the Road to NKU.” During the tour, Mears stopped in seven regions in Kentucky, visiting Pikeville, Paducah, Ashland, Owensboro, Somerset, Lexington, Lee County and Louisville along the way.

“We met with high school students, guidance counselors, teachers, principals and superintendents,” Mearns said. “We also met with many alumni, community and business leaders and elected officials.”

By the end of the tour, Mearns said that he and his team had spoken to approximately 3,000 high school students at 25 high schools and had traveled 2,741 miles, approximately the distance between New York and Los Angeles.

“Last year at this time, we had received 400 applications from students at the 25 high schools we visited. As of this Monday… more than 600 students from those high schools have applied to NKU, an increase of 55 percent,” Mearns said. “Bear in mind, many of the students we met on the tour were only juniors or sophomores, so we don’t yet know if our visits will produce applications from those students over the next few years.

Mearns said that some of the things he spoke with those students about were the university’s INKUBATOR program, which he said is one of the top five university incubators in the world, Chase College of Law, which was named a top 10 law school for pro bono services and that NKU’s average class size consists of 24 students.

In addition to Mearns delivering his speech, NKU’s Provost Sue Ott Rowlands took the microphone to recap on what the university had accomplished in 2014.

According to Ott Rowlands, NKU awarded 2,919 degrees to graduates in the last academic year. She added that it was the highest in the university’s history and that in the past 10 years, NKU has seen a 40 percent increase in graduates while the state average was 21 percent.

Another goal of the university’s was retaining a higher number of freshman. Nearly 70 percent of all fall 2014 freshman returned for the spring semester. That is the highest number in the past eight years, according to Ott Rowlands.

Despite a decline in overall student enrollment, Ott Rowlands said that NKU has seen an increase in minority undergraduates. She attributes this to programs such as the Latino Mentor Program, also known as LAMP, and NKU R.O.C.K.S., which provide mentoring and support for Latino and African American students respectively. Ott Rowlands said that freshman in LAMP saw a 80 percent retention rate while freshman in NKU R.O.C.K.S. saw 83 percent.

“These programs work,” Ott Rowlands said.

The biggest achievement Ott Rowlands said that NKU has achieved in the past year was the state approval to build the Health Innovation Center. She said that construction on the $97 million project will begin this upcoming fall and is planned to be finished in 2017. Ott Rowlands added that a complete report on the Health Innovations Center will be released later this month.