Tressel reflects back while looking forward

By Elizabeth Coss

President Jim Tressel gave his final State of the University Address on Aug. 24 in Williamson Auditorium after his previous announcement he’d be stepping down as president in February 2023. 

Tressel began the event by introducing new and returning staff to Youngstown State University while praising the accomplishments of various employees over the past year. 

“As a collective group, our faculty had a 12-year high of nearly $11 million in grant activity,” Tressel said. “This past year 96 different grants were awarded to our faculty and we’re awfully, awfully proud of that.”

Despite the successes of faculty, Tressel expressed disappointment toward faculty compensation. 

“One of the challenges that I’m most disappointed with, that we haven’t progressed as much as I would like, is in the compensation of our workforce, our faculty … You’ve heard all the extraordinary things they’ve done. We’ve got to make good decisions so we can compensate properly,” Tressel said. 

He also highlighted the collaborative successes of the university in a PowerPoint presentation, including the creation of Candidate Relationship Management Recruit, which streamlines the application process for prospective students; CRM Advise which focuses on the advisement and mentoring of students; the creation of the Penguin Pass which operates as a degree auditing system and checklist for students’ degree plan and finally the Higher Learning Commisions’ midpoint assurance plan. 

The most notable  announcement regarding community engagement and upcoming collaborative success was a $3.5 million endowment tied to the Williamson Innovation Park. 

“Through the unbelievable work of the YSU Foundation working with the Willamson family, Bud Williamson had this dream of having young people in the region spend time on science and problem solving and thinking and so forth,” Tressel said. “So, he’s donated 200 acres, built buildings, built a runway and ponds… has given us an endowment to maintain the property.”

Alongside the announcement of the endowment, Tressel mentioned what could be expected from not only the money gifted, but the land as well. 

“We’re only limited by our creativity… We’ve even talked with the Student Government [Association], you got 200 acres, we’ve got a food pantry we deeply care about. Hey, why don’t we start a big garden,” Tressel said. “There’s going to be so many neat things. Stay tuned on that work.”

In the address, Tressel covered campus improvements, mentioning the demolition of the M60 parking deck located on Lincoln Avenue and improvements to expect in the near future. 

Tressel briefly discussed what the future of Kilcawley Center could look like as the university has been considering renovations or a new center altogether.

“[Kilcawley Center] was built in 1964 and then there was a little addition in ‘71,” Tressel said. “So it’s at the stage where the building – it’s time to go. We’re having conversations with the board of trustees, with the YSU Foundation as to how can we go about starting over if you will, and having a student center that meets the needs and the activities of today’s students and not the ones from the 1970’s.”

Additional campus improvements being made in relation with athletics include a 150-seat auditorium to Stambaugh Stadium as well as a physical therapy center to be added within Beeghly Center. Tressel attributed the funding for these projects to private funding through the YSU Foundation and thanked private donors. 

A notable university accomplishment achieved last year was the Collegiate Purple Heart Award, which is given to universities that make exceptional efforts to provide for students with military backgrounds. 

YSU was also awarded the Changing Campus Culture designation for achieving a five out of five-star rating from the Department of Higher Education for changing cultures on campus in regards to sexual violence. 

For a second year in a row, YSU has achieved a top rating for fulfilling the state of Ohio’s Sunshine laws, including the Ohio Public Records Act and Ohio’s Open Meeting Act. 

Alongside all the successes of the university, Tressel also discussed the hardships it has faced regarding enrollment. 

“It’s not a new challenge but if you’re going to put it in perspective, there are 111 institutions of higher ed in Ohio, under level, and a decreasing number of students projected to go to colleges,” Tressel said. “The 13 main campuses that are four-year publics like ourselves, if you look at the last five years, five of them have held pretty steady. Eight of us have gone down from an enrollment standpoint. What’s encouraging to me is, we’ve gone down the least percentage of any of those.” 

Tressel accredited the programs offered, affordability, and opportunity at the university as leading factors against the enrollment decline and stated he looked forward to the challenges the year brings until his presidency ends. 

“I know we have the talent, fortitude and really, the ingenuity to meet these tremendous challenges,” Tressel said. “I will enjoy being in the trenches there with you until February.”