Friday, April 22, 2011

Discovering More at URI (Part 2)

Last week the University of Rhode Island hosted two especially noteworthy events that attracted substantial attention on- and off-campus. These were the Cybersecurity Symposium and Discovery Day. Both events presented, in different ways, many of the challenges we face in the 21st century, and highlighted the numerous and important contributions that contribute to overcoming those challenges made by faculty and students at URI.

The Cybersecurity Symposium featured Congressman Jim Langevin and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse who are both widely regarded, as among our nation’s key leaders in understanding and combating the threats posed to America and Rhode Island by breaches, spying, and attacks on the ubiquitous networks now seemingly indispensible to practically every aspect of our lives. Those threats were cogently outlined in a compelling keynote address from General Keith Alexander, who is the Director of the National Security Agency/Chief of the Central Security Service, and Commander of the U.S. Cyber Command.

The magnitude of the damage already done to the U.S. economy and to citizens is much larger than many people realize, and the threats are diverse and growing. As sobering as that information is, it was also clear that faculty, students, and alumni of the University of Rhode Island are among the leaders in developing solutions to the challenges and problems posed by security breaches in our information networks. The URI Center for Digital Forensics, and the research and education activities of several faculty and students in the Department of Computer Science and Statistics and the Department of Electrical, Computer, and Bioengineering already contribute in important ways. I got the sense that many who attended the Symposium discovered this fact about URI while they were here. It is clear, I think, that URI can play a much more substantial role in assisting both government and the private sector. New collaborations and partnerships are in the works, which will provide additional opportunities for students and faculty, which, somewhat ironically, may actually provide an economic boost to Rhode Island.

Discovery Day at the University of Rhode Island also emphasized the contributions of students and faculty at URI across the entire range of research and scholarship characteristic of a research university. Students and faculty from every college participated. It was frankly inspiring to see the contributions URI is making to understanding and finding solutions to problems in education, health, science and technology, business, and the environment. URI’s scholarship and creative work in the humanities and the arts was also well represented.

I would like to personally thank our speakers for Discovery Day as well. Keith Stokes, Executive Director of the RI Economic Development Corporation, Leslie Taito, CEO of the RI Manufacturing Extension Service, Umberto Crenca, Founding Artistic Director of AS220, and Paul Hastings, President and CEO of OncoMed Pharmaceuticals, all provided insightful and illuminating talks that illustrated the close relationships between research and creative work and economic and community development. Thanks also to Vice President Peter Alfonso and Den Nasser Zawia (and their staffs) for organizing these events. Dean Dave Maslyn and the Library staff did an excellent job in hosting both the Cybersecurity Symposium and Discovery Day.

The enthusiasm and energy of all who participated in both events, and the invaluable connections that were strengthened or initiated, provide a very strong argument for continuing these symposia. I’m confident we will do that.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Discovering More at URI

The last couple of weeks have been incredibly busy at the University of Rhode Island. Four events stand out: two evenings where special university awards were announced – the Rainville Leadership Awards and the Diversity Awards; and two symposia – one on Cybersecurity and then Discovery Day at URI. My guess is that everyone who attended discovered new things about what our students, faculty, and staff are doing that are, to recycle a phrase that I’ve used previously, “transforming the world.”

Let’s focus here on the awards, and then I will discuss the other events in a subsequent post. The University of Rhode Island has long been committed to developing leaders who make a difference. Our Leadership minor is a very popular and effective program that is a key part of our curriculum. In addition, there are innumerable opportunities for students to develop their leadership skills and to gain invaluable experience. Many of these are created and developed by the students themselves. URI seems to attract students who are committed to transforming the university and the world, and I conclude that we have built a climate here that encourages and supports our students in those efforts.

The students who won the Rainville leadership awards are all simply amazing. Lauren Creamer, Courtney O’Keefe, Valerie Damon-Leduc, and the students in the URI Violence Prevention Peer Advocates have had a tremendous, positive impact on the university, our neighboring communities, and beyond. Remarkably, they also excel in their academic work. They exemplify what is best about URI.

Last night, the Diversity Awards, which also reflect outstanding leadership, were presented to another amazing group of students, faculty, staff and alumni. Jason Almeida, Darnell Spencer, John Brito, Maxwell Edmonds, Michaela Cashman, Brandford Davis, the Gay – Straight Alliance, eXposure, WOWW, Bryana White, Tripp Hutchison, Amy Olson, Dr. Jody Lisberger, Dr. Mercedes Rivero Hudec, and Paul Hastings each represent a compelling testimony of courage and devotion to creating a just and equitable community where diversity is respected and honored. I believe that everyone present was inspired and encouraged by their example.

It’s easy in times like those we currently face to be discouraged and even angry at the conditions and challenges that confront us. It’s easy to simply focus on ourselves and our own priorities and goals. It’s easy to ignore, marginalize, resent, or blame others who we envy or regard as “different”. But the enduring testimonies of the individuals and groups honored over the past week speak to the contrary. They speak to taking action against anger, discouragement, and despair; they speak to courage in the face of adversity; they speak to commitment to make a difference. Most of all, they speak to hope.