Dear Friend of Indiana University:

Last week, I had the privilege of participating in 10 commencement ceremonies across eight campuses in which more than 20,000 students received Indiana University degrees. Of those, a record 19,344 students received degrees from IU’s seven managed campuses across the state, while another 1,009 earned IU degrees from IU-Purdue Fort Wayne, which is managed by Purdue.

In fact, a number of our campuses—Bloomington, IUPUI, IU East and IU Kokomo—set records for the size of their graduating classes. And since IU prides itself on not limiting the number of guests graduates can bring to commencement, this year’s crowds were extremely large.

Altogether, nearly 71,000 guests attended IU commencement ceremonies this year, including 31,000 at IU Bloomington where commencement was held outside for the first time since 2001. IU Southeast, which moved its commencement indoors for the first time, saw a 50 percent increase in attendance from last year.

Commencement also provides the university with the opportunity to recognize leading thinkers, philanthropists and humanitarians for their contributions to IU, the community or society at large through the awarding of honorary degrees. This year, we were pleased to bestow honorary degrees on four individuals:

Renowned biologist and IU alumnus C. David Allis, who also served as the graduate commencement speaker at IU Bloomington; IU Maurer School of Law graduate Lowell E. Baier, who has fashioned a half-century long career as an attorney and who has been a tireless advocate for the environment; Franklin D. Schurz, chairman emeritus of Schurz Communications, Inc. in South Bend and a longtime supporter of IU South Bend; and James Steck, chancellor emeritus of Ivy Tech Community College in Richmond, known for forging strong collaborations across the educational community in the city.

This annual rite of passage is always a highlight of the academic year for myself and the thousands of IU faculty and staff members that help our students reach their academic goals. The record number of students receiving IU degrees this year, which represents far and away the largest total of graduates among universities in the state, also serves as a vivid reminder of the powerful role this university plays in the lives of Hoosiers, who make up the majority of our graduates.

This past academic year has been one of wide-ranging progress across IU, highlighted by the launch of new schools and academic programs, exciting building projects that will reshape the physical landscape of many our campuses and innovative partnerships that will strengthen IU’s ability to serve its students as well as residents of the state of Indiana. Many of these activities and initiatives have been the subjects of my updates over the past year, and I invite you to read about them on my website.

At its core, however, the university is only as strong as the faculty and staff who lead our work and, of course, the students we are all here to serve. From that perspective, we have had another outstanding year across IU with many of our faculty, students and alumni recognized for their achievements.

To try to list everyone who merits recognition would certainly lead to omissions and take far more time than anyone can spare, but I did want to highlight some of the truly outstanding individual and group achievements from the recently concluded academic year.

Students shine in the classroom, provide philanthropic leadership

From a record-setting IU Dance Marathon in Bloomington that raised $3.2 million for Riley Hospital for Children to the IUPUI Paws Pantry, which played a major role in collecting more than a ton of food for those in need in Indianapolis, IU students across the state stepped up in a big way to help those in need during the past year. For example, students at IU South Bend established the Student Philanthropy Council this year and raised money to fund free dental care for approximately 160 students and their immediate family members at the IU South Bend dental hygiene clinic, while at IU Northwest students embarked on a first-ever philanthropy campaign, “We’re on a Mission…” and surpassed their goals in support of student scholarships.

IU students also had an exceptional year in the classroom, with many being recognized with campus or national honors for their academic and research achievement.

At IU Bloomington, graduating senior Rachel Green, who has played a leading role in the creation of the campus’ innovative Culture of Care initiative, was one of just 12 students nationwide to be awarded a George J. Mitchell Scholarship for graduate study in Northern Ireland. Green, who majored in economics and sociology and served as a member of the Board of Aeons, a student board that advises me on campus issues, will attend Queens University in Belfast to study moral, legal and political philosophy.

Three other IU Bloomington students were awarded the prestigious Goldwater Scholars award, given to undergraduates studying math, science and engineering. The awards, which provide up to $7,500 in support, were given to David Burke, a junior majoring in chemistry and jazz trumpet, Thomas Dauer, a senior majoring in math and physics, and Joshua Foster, also a senior majoring in math and physics.

At IUPUI, Janice Farlow received the inaugural Charles R. Bantz Award for Excellence, named for the current IUPUI chancellor who is retiring from that role in August. Janice, who attended IU Bloomington as an undergraduate as a Wells Scholar, earned her doctorate in medical and molecular genetics this month at IUPUI and also is a student at the IU School of Medicine. I also have had the pleasure of working with Janice for the past two years in her capacity as the student representative to the IU Board of Trustees, where she has done an outstanding job.

Our regional campuses do a tremendous job of providing an IU education to a diverse and often non-traditional student population. In many cases, students at these campuses thrive in the classroom while working full-time or returning to school to complete their degrees after time in the workplace or military service. These campuses play a vital role in IU’s commitment to increasing the percentage of Hoosiers who earn college degrees and I continue to be inspired by the success stories they generate. Here are just a few examples.

Jonathan Wells is a first generation student who graduated last week from IU South Bend with his bachelor’s degree in physics. Jonathan attended IU South Bend following distinguished service on a nuclear submarine as a member of the U.S. Navy. As part of his undergraduate studies, Jonathan worked closely with professor Ilan Levine who is conducting research into dark matter. Jonathan will attend Notre Dame in the fall to pursue a graduate degree in engineering.

At IU Northwest, two of the campus’ top students are supplementing their academic work with valuable off-campus experiences that will enhance their credentials immeasurably. Jennifer Addo, a third-year student at the IU School of Medicine-Northwest, will be taking a break—if you can call it that—from her medical studies starting this fall to earn her master’s degree in public health from Harvard University. Once she completes the one-year program, Jennifer plans to return to IU Northwest for her final year of medical school.

Larissa Dragu, a first generation college student who attended IU Northwest as a 21st Century Hoosier Scholar, graduated last week with her degree in criminal justice and plans to attend graduate school in hopes of eventually joining the FBI. She supplemented her classwork with a semester working as a member of the campaign staff of U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski.

As a married mother of three children, Alexius Babb’s schedule away from college is probably more hectic than her time on campus. Still, she excelled at IU Kokomo where she earned her degree in psychology and was the recipient of the student diversity award. Alexius also was one of the top performers at this year’s IU Undergraduate Research Conference, and plans to earn her doctorate and eventually work as a clinical psychologist.

At IU Southeast, Sean Marguet, who earned his bachelor’s degree in chemistry and plans to pursue his doctorate in physical chemistry, was named the 2015 Chancellor’s Scholar at the campus. Sean was active in undergraduate research during his time on campus, including work on malaria that he presented at the IU Southeast Student Conference.

Faculty honors and recognition

IU is fortunate to have extraordinary faculty members across all its campuses. These individuals inspire our students to embrace the life of the mind and in many cases perform groundbreaking research across myriad disciplines. I would like to highlight some of our faculty who have been recognized for their work in the past year.

IU Bloomington professors Feisal Amin Rasoul IstrabadiRobert N. Nosofsky and Roger M. Teman were selected as fellows to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, one of the country’s most prestigious academic societies. Istrabadi is the founding director of the Center for the Study of the Middle East, and a professor of practice at the IU Maurer School of Law. Nosofsky is a Distinguished Professor of psychological and brain sciences in the IU College of Arts and Sciences, while Teman is a Distinguished Professor in the mathematics department and director of the Institute for Scientific and Applied Mathematics.

Three other faculty members were named to the American Association for the Advancement of Science this year: Edward R. BerbariThomas Sterling and P. Sarita Soni. Berbari is a Chancellor’s Professor and chair of the biomedical engineering department at IUPUI, Sterling is a professor in the School of Informatics and Computing at IU Bloomington and Soni is professor emerita in the School of Optometry and the recently retired vice provost for research at IU Bloomington.

Two faculty members from IU’s regional campuses were the recipients of the Frederic Bachman Lieber Memorial Award, IU’s oldest teaching award established in 1954. Subir Bandyopadhyay, professor of marketing at IU Northwest and Dmitriy Chulkov, professor of economics and management information systems at IU Kokomo were this year’s recipients of this prestigious honor. The President’s Award for Teaching also went to an IU Northwest faculty member, Zoran Kilibarda, chair of the department of geosciences.

At IU East, Frances Yates, director of the Campus Library, was one of just 10 librarians nationwide to be honored by the Carnegie Corporation with an “I Love My Librarian” award. Yates, who joined IU East in 2008, has been instrumental in efforts to make the IU East library a greater community resource and to update the campus’ collection of learning materials.

Deborah Finkel, a psychology professor and director of the Graduate Liberal Studies Program, earned IU Southeast's Research and Creativity Award for this academic year. Finkel, an IU Southeast faculty member since 1992, is an established leader in the field of behavior genetics of lifespan cognitive development.

Jerry Hinnefeld was named the 2015 Chancellor’s Professor at IU South Bend. Hinnefeld, a professor in the physics department, has been at the campus since 1991, was recognized for his outstanding performance in all aspects of his work, most notably for his role in supporting student support and his work as a member of the IU South Bend Academic Senate.

Notable alumni highlight commencement ceremonies at IU Bloomington, School of Medicine

Each year at commencement, the university strives to bring interesting and relevant speakers to campus to address our new graduates, and this year we were privileged to have had a pair of alumni return to engage and inspire our graduates.

Sage Steele, a 1995 IU Bloomington graduate and currently an ESPN television personality, offered a spirited speech to undergraduates in which she highlighted her sometimes rocky road to graduation and career success. Her words and sincerity resonated with our new graduates who also were thrilled when Steele, who was honored with IU’s Distinguished Alumni Service Award, revealed her choice of commencement attire—a pair of signature candy striped warm-up pants worn under her commencement gown. (Steele’s commencement speech can be viewed online.)

Our IU School of Medicine graduates were treated to an inspiring address from Dr. Kent Brantly, who made international news with his work to treat Ebola patients in Africa and his subsequent successful personal battle with the deadly disease. Brantly, who graced the cover of Time magazine recently, which honored all Ebola fighters as its “Person of the Year,” spoke passionately about the service ethic that drives his work and encouraged our newest physicians to take a similar approach to their work. (His speech can be viewed online.)

This update has admittedly been a little on the lengthy side, but it represents only the highlights of what has been an exceptional year at Indiana University. I am extremely proud of the remarkable people with whom I work every day, and their passion for this university, our students and their research.

As we already begin to look ahead to what the next academic year will bring, I would like to take a moment to offer my sincerest thanks for your generous and ongoing support for Indiana University.

With best wishes for a great summer,

Michael A. McRobbie