Looking Ahead: A Year of Tradition and Change

A letter from President Henry S. Bienen

Dear Northwestern Alumni,

The new academic year is under way, and, as is always the case on a university campus, this year will be one of both change and tradition. Every year one-fourth of our undergraduate students are new -- and even more in our professional and graduate schools -- so there is a constant infusion of new blood and new ideas. At the same time, one of the strengths of Northwestern and other great institutions is the remarkable continuity that exists on our campuses. Northwestern's commitments to excellent teaching, innovative research and the personal and intellectual growth of our students remain the foundations of our mission, just as they have been for many years.

This fall's entering first-year students will be a remarkable group, even by Northwestern's historically strong standards. Nearly 22,000 students applied for admission this year, an all-time record. The approximately 1,975 enrolling students have an average SAT score of 1423, and 86 percent rank in the top 10 percent of their high school class. Both of those statistics are the highest in the University's history. While some may question whether test scores and class ranks are the best metrics to measure academic achievement, there is no doubt that Northwestern continues to attract some of the very best students in the country and, increasingly, from around the world.

An important change will occur this fall when the Kellogg School of Management begins offering undergraduate courses for the first time in nearly 30 years. A new program in financial economics will begin this fall in cooperation with the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, and one in managerial analytics will begin in fall 2008 in cooperation with the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science. Both innovative new programs will enhance greatly the opportunities for undergraduate students who are interested in those fields.

Another example of change and continuity is taking place at the Medill School of Journalism, which has significantly revamped its curriculum starting this fall. The new curriculum is designed to teach students the necessary skills for employment in the rapidly changing media world while still being grounded in Medill's renowned tradition of engaging the audience through solid reporting and well-written storytelling.

Northwestern also is changing to become a more global institution. Approximately 30 percent of our undergraduate students now participate in study abroad programs, compared with only 4 percent in 1999. Kellogg has added a global course requirement for all MBA students starting in fall 2008, reflecting the increasing globalization of business.

Change is also under way in the Feinberg School of Medicine, where Larry Jameson took the helm as dean and vice president in July. Dr. Jameson had been chair of the department of medicine since 2000, and I'm very much looking forward to working with him as dean.

At the law school, planning for change will begin soon. The school has assembled a working group of alumni, faculty, students and staff to update its strategic plan. The school is conducting focus groups with constituents, including partners of leading law firms throughout the country.

I'm pleased to report that our faculty continue to earn significant recognition for their stellar work. Last spring, for example, two Northwestern faculty members were awarded the National Medal of Science. Receiving the award were Jan D. Achenbach, Walter P. Murphy Professor and Distinguished McCormick School Professor of the Departments of Mechanical Engineering, Civil and Environmental Engineering and Engineering Sciences and Applied Mathematics, and Tobin J. Marks, Vladimir N. Ipatieff Research Professor of Chemistry in Weinberg and professor of materials science and engineering. They are the first Northwestern recipients of the nation's highest award for lifetime achievement in fields of scientific research. In addition, Jennifer Richeson, associate professor of psychology, last fall was named a MacArthur Fellow. She is the fourth Northwestern faculty member in the past nine years to have received the award, sometimes known as a "genius grant," from the MacArthur Foundation.

It's also worth noting that last year was one of the most successful in Northwestern's history in terms of athletic accomplishments. Ten of our 19 varsity sports teams advanced to NCAA postseason play, and six of them finished in the top eight in their respective sports. Leading the way again was the women's lacrosse team, which captured its third straight NCAA title. In addition, our wrestling team finished fourth in the NCAA championships, the men's swimming team placed sixth in the NCAA championships, and the men's soccer team advanced to the final eight, all the best finishes in those teams' respective histories. Our women's tennis team took a record-tying ninth-straight Big Ten Conference championship, and the women's softball team made its second consecutive Women's College World Series appearance, placing third.

Northwestern's many successes would not be possible without the continued volunteer and financial support of our alumni. Whether it's by helping to coordinate an alumni event in your community, making a gift to the annual fund or holding a leadership position in the alumni association, your contributions are both noted and appreciated. There is a full schedule of alumni events in the coming year, so I hope to see you at one or more of them, either on campus or in your area.

Best wishes,

Henry S. Bienen