In his inaugural State of the U address, President Julio Frenk outlined top strategies of the Roadmap to Our New Century.

State of the U address showcases ‘upward trajectory’

Photo: TJ Lievonen/UM News
By Robert C. Jones Jr.

Photo: TJ Lievonen/UM News

State of the U address showcases ‘upward trajectory’

By Robert C. Jones Jr.
At UM’s inaugural State of the U address, President Julio Frenk detailed the strategies of the Roadmap to Our New Century.

Saying that the institution he leads is at a pivotal juncture in its history, President Julio Frenk on Monday outlined the strategies of the Roadmap to Our New Century initiative designed to transform the University of Miami into a top comprehensive research academy, but he cautioned an audience of students, faculty and staff that it will take “determination and collaboration” to overcome the challenges that lie along the path to achieving that goal. 

“We have an unprecedented opportunity to become a university not just of Miami, not just of this country, but also of the world,” said Frenk, delivering his inaugural State of the U address from the Watsco Center, where, only three years ago during the infancy of his presidency he shared with the UM community a vision for the University’s future.

“Since then, we rolled up our sleeves and got to work,” Frenk said Monday. 

His address was augmented by a PowerPoint presentation playing on giant screens behind him and would be followed by both a discussion with NBC6 news anchor and UM alumna Jackie Nespral and a Q&A session with the audience.

In his remarks, Frenk described UM as being on an “upward trajectory,” retracing its journey from a fledgling teaching school dependent mostly on tuition to a successful research university with a powerful athletics program and a strong impact on education, research, health care and the broader community. “The state of the University is strong and rising,” said Frenk. 

But while UM’s ascent has been swift (the school will not celebrate its 100th birthday until the year 2025), the goal of becoming a preeminent research institution still remains unmet. 

He called that goal an “urgent” one and said to achieve it, UM, like all universities, must overcome a number of obstacles, among them: the rising costs of higher education, a dearth in research funding, a massive shift in health care, and an attack on the fundamental values—mutual respect, the pursuit of learning, and the quest for knowledge and truth—upon which universities are based. 

“These challenges require thoughtful determination and collaboration. They require big ideas and big ambition,” said Frenk. “As ’Canes, we will move forward with action and intention.” 

The roadmap, approved by the Board of Trustees earlier this year, will be the institution’s guide to reaching that goal, Frenk said. 

Mission-Driven Research 

Frenk said the University will endeavor to become a leading institution in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathamatics), noting that the institution has already broken ground on a science quad intended to be a research hub for the Americas. Also underway: a University-wide program called U-LINK (the UM Laboratory for Integrative Knowledge), which is designed to foster interdisciplinary collaboration, and a 100 Talents initiative that will recruit and retain talented faculty members through full-time and innovative flexible programs. 

He also used examples of the ongoing research being conducted by faculty to make his point, highlighting the work of Rosenstiel School climatologist Amy Clement, who, along with her students, is using computer simulation models to address and better understand climate change. 

Building a Preeminent Academic Health System 

Noting that UM is the only academic health system in the region, Frenk said UHealth — University of Miami Health System, will lead the transformation taking place in health care by providing more “destination programs,” which attract patients from around the region, the country and the hemisphere for advanced specialty care in specific areas. 

Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, the only Cancer Center of Excellence in South Florida, is one of those specialty areas. UHealth is also home to a number of other such programs, he explained, noting Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, which was recently named the No. 1 ophthalmology program in the nation by U.S News & World Report for the 15th year in a row and the 17th time since the publication began surveying U.S. physicians for its annual Best Hospitals rankings; and The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, world-renowned for its research targeting spinal cord and brain injuries. 

He also shined a spotlight on the cutting-edge research being conducted at the Diabetes Research Institute, the Interdisciplinary Stem Cell Institute, the Department of Neurology, and the Clinical and Translational Science Institute.

Education for Life 

With its students graduating into a dynamic workforce, UM must equip them with the skills to land rewarding jobs and become “constructive members of their communities,” said Frenk. As such, the University is leading the 21st-century revolution in education by building on the pioneering efforts in technology on multiple fronts—from the Gordon Center at the Miller School of Medicine, to the School of Nursing and Health Studies’ new Simulation Hospital, to the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science’s wind-wave tank, which can generate Category 5 hurricane-force conditions with the flip of a switch.

He also noted immersive learning initiatives now underway at all of UM’s schools and colleges and said the institution’s pedagogical improvements, including the spaces where students learn and live, will be “greatly reinforced” when new undergraduate housing facilities open two years from now. 

He said the institution would meet the “evolving educational needs of its alumni” and others at each stage of their careers, citing the case of Darlene Holland, a science teacher who learned how to design apps at a UM coding boot camp because she wanted to teach her students about the changes happening in STEM fields.

Hemispheric Leadership 

Frenk touted the relationships UM is fostering throughout the Americas to promote student and faculty exchange. 

UM, he said, took a giant step in that direction over the spring when it launched the Hemispheric University Consortium. “Presidents and other leaders of 11 universities from across the continent came together, here on our campus, to collaborate on solutions to shared issues like climate change, crime and corruption, gender equality, and public health threats,” said Frenk. “We agreed to further the exchange of people and knowledge to tackle the world’s problems together so that we may all benefit from the unique talents each institution brings to the table.” 

Platforms for Success 

He committed the University to providing its staff with the resources they need to thrive and “support our faculty and students.” 

“The University of Miami has grown so quickly on hard work and ’Canes fortitude. To sustain that growth, we are investing in our infrastructure and our people so we may improve the efficiency of every operation. We are creating the financial sustainability that will support our goals,” said Frenk, adding that by the year 2025, UM will increase its endowment by 50 percent.

He hailed UM for its diversity and inclusion programs, saying that the Office of Institutional Culture has gone “beyond diversity in numbers to create an environment that fosters bridging, nurtures respect and provides the space and support for difficult conversations.” 

And he challenged the University community to be “good stewards of our fragile environment,” honoring Marcelo Bezos, the director of energy management systems at the Miller School, who, along with his team, secured the required permits to use well water instead of drinking water to cool the towers that help power UHealth, saving nearly four million gallons of potable water each month. 

Frenk said the Roadmap to Our New Century will “ultimately make our world better and leave a lasting impact that will endure long after we are gone.” 

“The stakes are high. Our goals are ambitious,” he said. “They will require change and growth. But our history, our drive, and our vision have prepared us for this moment.”

The Roadmap goals Frenk outlined were prominently featured on six interactive displays inside the Watsco Center, giving students, faculty, staff, and visitors the opportunity to read about and ponder them even before the State of the U address began. 

It was an opportunity Arian Gomez could not resist. A systems administrator in UM Information Technology, he confidently walked up to the exhibit that allowed attendees to describe in one word the University of Miami of the year 2025, typing the word “fun” on a keyboard when prompted by the video screen in front of him. 

“It’s been a whole lot of fun working here, and I hope it continues to be fun,” Gomez said, going on to explain that the Roadmap initiative is critically important to the University. “We have to stay relevant, but at the same time it’s very competitive in academics. So it’s not just about our facilities but everything else—health care, athletics, research. I’m looking forward to experiencing what’s to come.”

During his conversation with UM alumna Nespral, Frenk explained the progress the institution has made in diversity and inclusion programs, noting that the University is now at the top of its peer institutions in terms of African-American enrollment. But he said UM must be more proactive in reaching out to those students who are not even applying to the institution.

Frenk also talked with the television anchor about everything from how important UM is to the economic vitality of South Florida to the tremendous progress the institution has made in achieving diversity. 

He noted that UM is the second largest nonprofit employer in Miami, employing some 14,000 workers, and he called attention to the fact that the University operates a program that benefits local businesses. “Just our presence here as a positive impact on the economy,” Frenk said. But beyond that, he explained, UM is a magnet for talent, attracting world-class faculty and students from all over the world who remain in Miami even after graduating. 

He praised faculty for not just publishing scientific research, but helping to ensure that their scholarship and study results benefit the community. “There’s a very strong sense that we’re a part of this community,” said Frenk.

“This University was founded as part of the development and vision of Miami,” Frenk said. “It was born as the University of Miami, not a university in Miami. We’re a university of the city and of the region. And that continues to be the case.”