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President's Address to Parents

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Welcome, and thank you for coming. I’m Teresa Sullivan, and I have the privilege to serve as the University’s president.

I’m pleased to have this opportunity to visit with our  students’ families.  Many of you were here on Opening Weekend, especially the parents of our first-year students.   So welcome back.

I want to say thank-you to the Hullabahoos for providing the musical entertainment this morning. This is just one of several a capella groups that exist on Grounds. Information about these groups is available on the University website, if you have a son or daughter who is interested in auditioning.

I want to thank the UVaFamilies Board and the Office of Engagement for hosting the breakfast in the lobby this morning. The UVaFamilies Board helps us stay connected to the parents of our students, especially in their home communities.  Board members serve as event hosts and volunteers for the University. 

We have several other parent leadership groups. The Parents Committee works to enhance the student experience at UVa. The Parents Advisory Association of the Office of African American Affairs has groups in the Washington DC area, Richmond, Tidewater, and in the greater New York area. The Parents Campaign Advisory Board engages parents in the University’s capital campaign.  All of these groups do tremendous work for our students and for the University.

If you are here today and involved in one of the parent groups I just named, please stand and be recognized. If others are interested in getting involved with one of these groups, talk to one of these parent volunteers. Information about these groups is also available on the University website. Just click on the “Parents” tab on the home page.

Various publications are available in the lobby: the 2011 Fact Book, which has facts and figures about U.Va.; the Parent Handbook, our primary resource for parents; schedules for Family Weekend; and materials on UVa Clubs, travel activities, and other programs of interest to families.

Sitting in the front of the auditorium this morning are representatives from across the Grounds: deans, vice presidents, various administrators, and student leaders.  They’re here to help me answer your questions during the Q&A period after my remarks.

Opportunities for Undergraduates
We call this Family Weekend because the families of our students come to Charlottesville for a weekend of activities and celebration.  But Family Weekend also has another meaning, because we think of our entire University community — students, parents, faculty, staff, and alumni — as a sort of very large, extended family.

Like all families, we want to share advice and offer tips to help each other succeed. So my remarks this morning are going to focus on unique opportunities that are available to undergraduate students at UVa — especially opportunities outside the classroom.

If you were at Fall Convocation yesterday, you heard Milton Adams talk about the value of undergraduate research. I’ll describe some of our research programs for undergraduates, as well as other programs that enrich the learning experience for our students.

I hope you and your son or daughter already know about some of the programs I will mention. My goal is to make sure you know about all of them, so your students can make the most of their time at UVa and you can get the most bang for your tuition buck.

Jefferson Public Citizens
I’ll start with the Jefferson Public Citizens program, or JPC, because it’s one of our signature programs and it’s relatively new. JPC is an academic public-service program that allows students to integrate their service and research experiences throughout their time at the University.

Students create JPC teams, usually with 3 to 6 students. They choose a topic, choose a faculty advisor, engage a community partner, and apply for a JPC award. The JPC award money supports student stipends, student travel, and project costs. For this academic year, 81 students received JPC awards to conduct projects at sites ranging from Charlottesville to Inner Mongolia.

One JPC team is assessing the needs of mentally and physically disabled persons in rural communities in the Limpopo province of South Africa, where the disabled are often treated as an unwanted burden. Another JPC team is creating a model for rural trash management by building a greenhouse from recycled glass in a Mongolian village. Another team is partnering with the Local Energy Alliance Project (LEAP) here in Charlottesville to work toward 20-40% energy reductions in 30-50% of the buildings in our area, by guiding building owners through cost-effective energy-saving retrofits. Another team is working with a group of widows who gather regularly in a town in Tanzania to make jewelry. This JPC team will create a website for the widows to promote their jewelry among local retailers, and then travel to Tanzania to train the women in business practices.

The JPC student-teams publish their project results in the JPC Journal, and they receive a special JPC notation on their academic transcript. This program is open to all of our undergraduates in all of our schools, during all four years, so make sure your sons and daughters know about this great opportunity to combine their academic work with research and service.

Harrison Awards
The Harrison Undergraduate Research Awards provide another opportunity for undergraduates, with grants of up to $3,000 to support research projects. Students submit  proposals to our Center for Undergraduate Excellence, which works in conjunction with the Faculty Senate to select and advise the recipients of the awards. All undergraduate students can apply for this funding, regardless of their school or area of interest.

This past summer, 24 of our students received Harrison Awards to support independent projects. One student studied the use of anti-depressants to treat post-traumatic stress disorder. Another student researched unlawful pre-trial detention in the Ugandan criminal justice system. One student researched how sensory information about taste is processed in the brain. Another studied the effectiveness of a water-filtration system in a rural community in Guatemala.

In some cases, the Harrison award can be a stepping-stone for further research. One of our 2008 graduates was inspired by his undergraduate research in South Africa to establish a non-profit organization in Washington, D.C., devoted to HIV prevention. Students frequently continue to pursue their research interests after graduation.

We have many other awards, grants, and fellowships that support undergraduate research. Our Center for Global Health has its CGH-University Scholar Awards that support students who carry out cross-disciplinary service projects in global health. The Double Hoo Research Grant supports pairs of undergraduate and graduate scholars seeking who pursue joint research projects. Hereford Residential College offers research grants specifically for Hereford students. Information about these and other opportunities are on the Center for Undergraduate Excellence website at

I hope you will encourage your sons and daughters to take on a research project during their undergraduate years.

Arts Awards

The University Awards for Projects in the Arts are modeled on the Harrison Awards — but, as the name suggests, they focus on the arts rather than research. Student submit proposals, and a faculty committee reviews them and offers awards of up to $3,000. The grants are available to all undergraduates, regardless of school or major. This past summer, seven students received grants for projects involving sculpture, writing, filmmaking and other arts work. One fourth-year student who majors in neuroscience and biochemistry is writing a children’s book about the brain, with the intention of getting children interested in neuroscience and science in general.

The College of Arts & Sciences has its own College Arts Scholars program. Each year, 15 to 20 incoming students are selected for participation based on arts supplement packages submitted as part of the admission process. In addition, Arts Scholars Awards are offered to a limited number of rising fourth-year students to support summer arts-related work. This past summer, four students received grants to work on an off-Broadway play; train in the use of a large-format camera; pursue intensive clarinet study at a music academy; and serve as an intern at a dance festival.

These awards allow students with an interest in the arts to engage in the same kind of independent inquiry as students who work in science labs. If you have a son or daughter who has an interest in the arts, make sure they know about these awards.

Sometimes, these undergraduate awards lead to greater things. One of our fourth-year students in the Engineering School, Hannah Meredith, received a Harrison Award to support research on sanitation systems and an Arts Award to explore the science behind cooking. Just last month, she became the first UVa student and one of only 26 recipients nationwide to receive a $10,000 scholarship from Astronaut Scholarship Foundation. The Astronaut Scholarship is the largest monetary award given in the US to science and engineering undergraduate students based solely on merit. Hannah will use the scholarship to attend graduate school.

Education Abroad – Semester at Sea

Thomas Jefferson said he wanted this University to be a “bulwark of the human mind in this hemisphere.” Today, our aspirations for UVa and for our students are not limited by hemispheres or other geographical measures. The inter-connectedness of nations and economies demands that we prepare students for life and leadership on a global scale. Ideally, we would like every one of our students to have some type of education-abroad experience while they are students at UVa.

In the 2010-11 academic year, more than 1,200 of our undergraduates and 500 of our graduate students participated in education abroad. Overall, in recent years, 35-40% of our undergraduates have studied abroad during their time as students here. We would like for these numbers to go up.

UVa became the academic sponsor for the Semester at Sea program in 2006. Students who travel on Semester at Sea’s MV Explorer take classes while the ship is sailing, and the class work connects to the nations they visit along the voyage. The current Fall Voyage is taking students to 12 countries in 111 days. Destination countries include Morocco, South Africa, India, Malaysia, Vietnam, China, and Japan.

Since 2006, about 300 of our students have participated in Semester at Sea voyages. We want to increase this number. The trouble is, our students enjoy UVa and Charlottesville so much that they don’t like to leave the Grounds for very long. One solution is for our students to take advantage of the shorter trips on the MV Explorer such as the summer voyages that last about 70 days and the short-term voyages that last 20-30 days.

Service to the Community

Community service and civic engagement is another area of opportunity for students.  Our student volunteer center at Madison House recruits and trains more than 3,000 student-volunteers each year.  Madison House partners with 90 community non-profits in ways that benefit more than 15,000 of our residents in the Charlottesville area.

Building a Portfolio for Careers

Participating in the programs that I’ve mentioned gives our students a well-rounded experience at UVa. But it also helps them build a robust portfolio that will improve their job prospects after graduation. This is especially important these days, when the economy is still weak.

As of early October, the national unemployment rate was holding steady at 9.1%. But we are seeing signs of life for students who will seek jobs after graduation this spring. The unemployment rate in large metropolitan areas (areas with a population of 1 million or more) is lower in many of the key regions where our students seek jobs, including the Metropolitan DC area; Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News area; Richmond; Baltimore; Boston; and New York.

The National Association of Colleges and Employers issues regular reports on hiring activity based on surveys of employers. Based on the most recent survey conducted this fall, overall hiring for the Class of 2012 is projected to increase by 9.5%, following a 19.3% increase last spring. This represents two good years of hiring projections from organizations that recruit heavily on college and university campuses.

Here at UVa, we continue to see signs that the job market is improving. In the first five weeks of on-Grounds interviewing this fall, our students have participated in almost 3,300 individual employment interviews; this is a 10% increase over last fall, and a two-year increase of 19%.  We currently have 169 organizations with recruiting reservations for the 2011 fall session.

We continue to see strong activity at our University-sponsored career fairs.  This fall, 122 employers attended the two-day Engineering career fair, and 96 employers attended the Commerce Career Day. For Diversity Career Day, which will take place Wednesday, November 2nd at the John Paul Jones Arena, we have 116 employers registered to attend.  If your student has an interest in searching for a summer internship or a full-time job, encourage him or her to attend Diversity Career Day, regardless of their academic class year.  For the past 28 years, we have hosted this career fair for all of Virginia’s colleges and universities, public and private.  So, if you have children attending other Virginia colleges or universities, encourage them to attend as well. 

In addition to the research, arts, and study-abroad programs I mentioned earlier, students have many other opportunities beyond the classroom. Through participation in fraternities and sororities, club sports, publications, and part-time jobs or internships with University offices, students can develop a range of skills, including budgeting, event planning, communication, negotiation, and the all-important time management.

Because of student self-governance, students here take on serious responsibilities that, in other circumstances, would be professional, paid duties. The Resident Staff, the Honor Committee, and Judiciary Committee — all of these organizations are student-run. Because of these unique leadership opportunities, employers see the competitive edge that our graduates offer when they join the workforce.

Having a college degree is especially important during tough economic times. At a time when politicians and others are questioning the value of a college education, the unemployment rate for citizens with a bachelor’s degree or higher continues to be less than half of the national unemployment rate. For September 2011, it was 4.2% versus 9.1%.  So the value is pretty obvious.

Family House-Keeping Items

Like all families, when we get together we have house-keeping items to attend to. In the next few minutes, I will mention several deadlines and other details. By Monday this speech will be posted on the University website, on the President’s Page. So you can check there to pick up information if you aren’t able to write it down today.

Student Housing

Student housing seems to be a perennial issue of concern for both students and parents. So I’d like to provide some information, and also clear up some misconceptions.

The main thing for parents and students to know is that there is plenty of space available, both on- and off-Grounds. There’s no reason for students to feel pressured into signing a lease. Students have lots of choices.

 Please note two important deadlines: November 14 is the deadline for students to apply for rooms in residential colleges and language houses.  December 1 is the application deadline for rising second-years who want to live on Grounds and for upper-class students who want to keep the same room on Grounds.

You will have time to review on-Grounds housing options with your son or daughter over winter break.  Our housing office will send offers to students on December 9, but they will not be required to accept offers until January 20.

There are many options for upper-class students to live in on-Grounds housing. We have 3 residential college programs, 12 language house programs (Hebrew and Korean were added this year), 4 apartment-style complexes that offer the support of a Resident Staff program, and one upper-class facility that is primarily single rooms.

One important factor for students who live in on-Grounds housing and want to study abroad: on-Grounds leases are canceled for students for the duration of their study-abroad period.

Our Housing Open House takes place today from noon to  3 p.m. Upper-class students will be showing their rooms and answering questions.  Students and parents can see the following areas: Lambeth Field, Faulkner, and Copeley apartment complexes; Johnson, Malone, and Weedon Houses; Bice House; and the language house precinct.  Buses will pick up regularly for all these areas at the Chapel stop on McCormick Road. 

Two of our residential colleges — Hereford College and the International Resident College — will be having receptions this afternoon from 4 to 5 p.m., so you can visit and talk with students and faculty members who work with those programs. Our residential colleges offer students a dynamic living experience, with regular student-faculty interaction, international service trips, movie nights for residents, and other activities. Encourage your sons and daughters to consider these housing options.

 As for off-Grounds living, lease-signing started October 1. All leases are for 12 months. Lease terms are June to June, or August to August. It’s nearly impossible to sublet an apartment for the summer —there’s much more availability than demand.

Along with other publications for families available in the lobby, we have a new flyer titled, “UVa Housing Options Comparison Guide.” This guide allows you to compare on-Grounds and off-Grounds housing options. When looking at off-Grounds housing, it’s important to consider additional costs, such as utilities and parking.

To enhance the safety of our students who live off-Grounds, the University pays for a full-time City Property Maintenance Inspector to address health, fire, and other concerns.  This official meets regularly with the Off-Grounds Housing Manager, who works with Student Council and with other University representatives.

Students in off-Grounds housing who have safety concerns should first contact their landlord or property manager.  If problems are not corrected in a timely manner, they should contact the inspector for assistance.  Contact information for this official is in the Parent Handbook.


One important reminder about flu shots and other immunizations for your son or daughter:  Student Health will hold its fall immunization clinic next Thursday, Nov. 3, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., in Newcomb Hall Ballroom.

We want to increase the number of students getting flu shots this year so everyone here stays healthier.  The clinic will also include other immunizations required by the University.  Students who have not received the required immunizations and provided proof of immunizations to the University are blocked from registration for spring classes. If your son or daughter still needs immunizations, the easiest way to get them would be to come to the clinic on Nov. 3.

Closing Thoughts: Get Involved!

In closing, I encourage you to get involved in the life of the University.  You have lots of opportunities to do this.  All family members of students are automatically members of UVaFamilies, including grandparents, step-parents, and siblings.  Membership is free.

UVa Clubs exist all over the country and all over the world. They offer opportunities for you to meet other parents and alumni during social events, educational programs, and service projects.

Please visit the University often.  Enjoy the Grounds. Visit the Art Museum, the South Lawn buildings on the other side of Jefferson Park Avenue, the Aquatics & Fitness Center, the Special Collections library. Come to a sports event, or a music concert, or a play.

Culturefest 2011 is going on today.  Now in its 27th year, Culturefest is a student-run festival with an international bazaar of performances, foods, and arts and crafts in the Aquatic and Fitness Center.

You can refer to the Family Weekend event schedule for times and locations of all events taking place this weekend.

On Family Weekend, I hope you enjoy celebrating with your own family and also with the extended family that includes all of us who share connections to the University.  Thank you for joining us for Family Weekend and thank you for entrusting your sons and daughters to us. 

I’ll be happy to take questions now. Milton Adams, our vice provost for academic programs, will help moderate this session. You are welcome to walk up to one of the microphones in the aisles to ask your question yourself, or you can request an index card from one of our ushers — just write down your question and hand it back to the usher. You can pass your questions to one of the ushers anytime throughout the Q&A.

We will try to answer as many questions as possible. We know that you have other commitments this afternoon, and we may not get to every question in this session. But if you submit a question on a card, we will be sure to respond to you following this event. So please include your name and email address on your note card.   Now: questions?