Record enrollment, a new high in research investment, several major scholarly and scientific announcements and new facilities on the academic front and, athletically, national championships and a move to the Southeastern Conference (SEC) highlighted the year 2011 at Texas A&M University.
With their eyes on continued progress, university officials, faculty, staff and students revisited provisions of Vision 2020, the institution’s roadmap for attaining top-10 status among the nation’s public universities by the year 2020, from the perspective of assessing progress to date and fine-tuning priorities going forward.
Texas A&M President R. Bowen Loftin said 2011 was another good year for Texas A&M.
“We’ve had some challenges — certainly fiscally, like all of higher education — but 2011 was another good year for our university, highlighted by new records in several key areas and significant progress in others,” Loftin observed. “We look forward to continued progress in 2012 and beyond as we pursue a culture of excellence and our Vision 2020 goals.”
Fall enrollment approached the 50,000 milestone, with the official 20th class-day total being a record 49,861, placing Texas A&M among the top six institutions nationally in student body size. The university’s branch campuses, Texas A&M University at Galveston (http://www.tamug.edu/) and Texas A&M University at Qatar (http://www.qatar.tamu.edu/), also had record fall enrollments, with 2,058 and 473 students, respectively. The overall total for the university: 52,392.
Texas A&M’s Corps of Cadets (http://corps.tamu.edu/) reported fall strength of 2,218, highest in the past 14 years, boosted by the largest number of freshmen since 1987.
Texas A&M not only has lots of students, it has lots of high-achieving students, many of whom are being recognized nationally for their accomplishments. Once again the university ranks among the top 10 institutions in enrollment of new National Merit Scholars — 177 this past fall, bringing the total number of National Merit Scholars currently on campus to approximately 500.
Among many Aggies being cited for their academic and service accomplishments, several stand out: Bianca Manago, who was selected both as a finalist for the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship and as an alternate for the Marshall Scholarship; Ana Monzon, who won a Fulbright Program grant; Omar El-Hawagi, recipient of a Harry S. Truman Scholarship; and Matthew Grunewald, winner of a Goldwater Scholarship.
The high quality of Texas A&M graduates continues to attract top companies to recruit on campus, with more than 3,000 sending “head-hunters” each year and job opportunities posted for Texas A&M students increased 95 percent for 2010-11 compared to 2009-10—from 4,600 to 9,100. The university fared well in a recent New York Times listing of what business leaders worldwide say are the top institutions from which they recruit. Texas A&M placed eighth among public U. S. universities and first among all public or private universities in the Southwest or deep South.
Texas A&M also continued to fare well in a variety of national surveys based on academic standing and costs of a college education. The latest, posted by a new online organization, TheBestColleges.org, ranks Texas A&M sixth nationally among public universities and first in Texas. The group’s editors say they base their ratings on weighted factors that focus on economic value, quality of life, academic quality and student satisfaction.
The university’s annual investment in research totaled a record $689 million, which placed it among the top 20 institutions nationally, according to the National Science Foundation, and third among all universities that do not have medical schools within their administrative frameworks. The research included a broad array of studies and experiments, many of which have significant economic potential or address social or cultural needs.
One research project, for example, focuses on converting waste into biofuel, and another examines ways to more effectively address post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in troops who have been involved in combat, while still another resulted in the discovery of a topical HIV preventative that may soon enter into clinical trials. Other trailblazing studies involving Texas A&M faculty pushed back the generally accepted time of the arrival of the first people in North America and another shed new light on early man. Still others focused on the historic drought affecting large areas of the United States, clouds’ effect on climate change and the adverse effects of red tide and the “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico.
The research findings of Asst. Prof. John Kessler (http://ocean.tamu.edu/profile/JKessler) of the Oceanography Department during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was cited earlier this month by Discover magazine as one of the publication’s “Top 100 Stories of 2011.” Texas A&M received similar recognition by Discover in 2010.
The institution opened new facilities for its agricultural and engineering programs, providing additional space for classrooms and laboratories, along with the expanded and renovated YMCA Building, which provides additional office space for several departments, and a new facility for the National Center for Therapeutics Manufacturing. Also, a new intramural sports facility with adjacent playing fields for flag football, soccer and other activities was opened on the West Campus, supplementing existing facilities there and at the Student Recreation Center in support of the university’s intramural and club sports programs that are among the largest and best in the nation, officials note.
Additionally, work was completed on a $73 million state-of-art combined heating and power (CHP) system that officials say will provide millions of dollars in cost avoidance for energy needs and provide reliable power service for decades to come.
Several other facilities are in varying stages of construction or major expansion and renovation. They include the Memorial Student Center, set to open on April 21, 2012, a new five-story building for the College of Liberal Arts, additional facilities for the Department of Health and Kinesiology (http://hlknweb.tamu.edu/) — giving the university its first indoor tennis capabilities — along with a major student housing project and new player development facilities for the varsity football program.
Additional information about construction and related endeavors is included in a campus update provided by Vice President for Administration Rodney McClendon (http://vpa.tamu.edu/december-2011-update.aspx).
In terms of far-reaching effects, the move to the SEC is being viewed as “profound,” not only for the university’s athletic program but also for the overall university from “national exposure” and branding perspectives. President Loftin called it a “100-year decision.”
The year 2011 was particularly rewarding for Texas A&M’s women’s basketball team, which won its first NCAA national championship, and for the men’s and women’s track teams that each won their third NCAA consecutive outdoor national championships, and for the equestrian team, which finished first nationally in western discipline competition. Additionally the baseball team earned its first trip since 1999 to the College World Series and is getting ready to play in the vastly expanded and upgraded Olsen Field at Blue Bell Park. Also, the men’s basketball team, the men’s and women’s golf and tennis teams, the soccer team, the men's and women's swimming and diving teams, the softball team and volleyball team all earned the right to play in their respective NCAA post-season tournaments.
The football team, coming off the 2010 season as Big 12 South co-champions, began this year with an invitation to play in the Cotton Bowl against LSU, which is currently ranked first in the nation. The Aggies are now preparing for another bowl appearance, in the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Houston Dec. 31, and gearing up for a new era under recently named Head Coach Kevin Sumlin.
This is the first calendar year in which all Aggie intercollegiate sport teams won opportunities to participate in NCAA post-season competition. Based on 2010 results, Texas A&M was announced this year as placing eighth in the Sports Directors’ Cup, which is sponsored by Learfield Sports to recognize the nation’s top overall athletic programs based on their teams’ final records and standings.
Other significant 2011 activities or endeavors by the university:
--Produced more than 11,000 graduates, with many of them entering the workforce and beginning careers and starting the process of becoming future leaders for the state and nation.
--Solidified its higher education leadership role in use of social media, by significantly helping “tell the Texas A&M story” directly to thousands of constituents, with the university now having more than 300,000 Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/tamu) “friends” and almost 25,000 Twitter (http://twitter.com/tamu) followers.
--Launched the “Aggie Owned and Operated” program to provide support for the more than 200,000 former students who are currently in the workforce, many of whom are proving themselves to be entrepreneurs.
--Initiated a new email newsletter, TAMUtimes, which is packed with institutional news and information and distributed twice weekly to more than 50,000 Aggies and others. TAMUtimes is available to anyone interested in keeping abreast of developments at Texas A&M — former students, friends of the university and other interested individuals. To subscribe, go to http://tamutimes.tamu.edu/.