February 5th was an extraordinary day at SDSU. We began the day by announcing Conrad Prebys’ $20 million gift to support student scholarships and naming our new Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union. I ended the day at the Parma Payne Goodall Alumni Center with a group of the university’s dedicated supporters, watching the fifth-ranked Aztecs men’s basketball team come from behind to beat Boise State in the closing seconds. As we rolled out of the parking lot, I asked my wife if we should stop to buy lottery tickets. It had been a great day, and I was feeling very lucky.
Our fundraising and athletic successes are just two reasons why it is a great time to be an Aztec. Due to the dedicated efforts of our faculty, staff, students, alumni and community supporters, we are enjoying enormous success – a record number of applications, academic success and increased graduation rates for students from all backgrounds, important research discoveries, the power and strength of a diverse student body, international programs that have resulted in a record number of Fulbright fellows, national recognition in college rankings, and new initiatives in the arts, where our programs have a tradition of excellence. In the past two years alone, Aztecs have won an Oscar, a Grammy and 12 regional Emmys. These accomplishments, and many more, are built on and bring to fruition 116 years of dedicated service by the members of our community.
The university, of course, is not perfect, and we do face significant challenges. Since 2007, we have faced a transition in higher education with reduced state funding for our operations and our facilities. This has resulted in lower faculty and staff levels and affected our facilities. Our strategic plan, “Building on Excellence,” recognizes that we must address these issues to ensure the university’s long-term success. We have taken significant steps through the strategic plan toward achieving these objectives, and there is more work to be done in the coming year.
In meeting these challenges, our traditions and history serve us well. We have faced many difficulties and, each time, we have moved our campus forward. In 1930-31, amidst the enormous uncertainties of the Great Depression, we moved our campus to Montezuma Mesa and laid the cornerstone of Hepner Hall. In 2011, our students, facing the deepest recession in U.S. history, followed in this tradition and began construction on the new Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union. Each of us knows of many, many more examples in which the vision, dedication and investment of the members of our community helped us overcome challenges and create something special.
This Aztec Spirit – this commitment to advancing our campus – is why we will meet our current challenges and achieve even greater success. This, above all, is why it is – and always will be – a great time to be an Aztec.