Growth Report 1: YSU Embraces Change, Inspires Success

By Rebecca Rose
YSU Assistant Director, Communications

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – As 2023 kicks off, we are preparing for a pretty big change on the Youngstown State University campus. For the first time in 8.5 years, there will be someone new at the helm.

Beginning Feb. 1, Helen Lafferty, long-time professor and administrator at Villanova University in Pennsylvania, will assume the position of interim president of YSU as the board of trustees begins a nationwide search for a permanent replacement for President Jim Tressel. Tressel, who became YSU’s ninth president in 2014, announced last summer that he would be stepping aside on Jan. 31.

While it may be hard to imagine the YSU campus without President Tressel, Lafferty has shared that she is “thrilled and excited to be serving Youngstown State University as the interim president.”

“I am coming home and it is simply a great place to be,” she said recently during an interview for YSU Magazine. “YSU is blessed with excellent faculty, dedicated staff and terrific students. Learning is our focal point and purpose. We can expect great things when we stay focused on learning and serving in meaningful ways.”

This focus, on learning and serving, is what will allow YSU to address the challenges of a drastically changing landscape of higher education and position the university to be a leader in the region, all while continuing to provide students with opportunities to thrive in their educational and career pursuits. 

YSU students excel in and out of the classroom. Our ethics bowl team, for instance, advanced to the national competition in March for the eighth consecutive year. The concrete canoe team won the Eastern Great Lakes regional competition and placed fourth in the national championship, while the Penguin steel bridge team designed and built a mini steel bridge that also captured the top prize at the regional competition and placed seventh nationally. With the addition of the Frank and Norma Watson Team Center, teams such as concrete canoe and steel bridge, as well as seven other YSU engineering teams, will have a new state-of-the-art facility in which to prepare and collaborate for regional, national and international competitions.

It is not just our students that are experiencing success; YSU faculty and staff earned nearly $16 million in research and service grants this past fiscal year, the most ever in a single year. Faculty and staff were awarded 93 grants totaling $15.8 million, up from $14.4 million last fiscal year, the previous high mark for YSU. More than $30 million in grants has been received over the last two fiscal years.

YSU is also setting itself apart through the Division of Workforce Innovation and Education (DWIE). Aligning workforce, education, research and commercialization to develop regional talent for in-demand industry skills, DWIE is bridging the skills and opportunity gap in areas such as advanced manufacturing, electric vehicles, energy storage, robotics, automation, information technology and professional business skills.

DWIE programs serve YSU and K-12 students, as well as companies and community members looking to upskill, reskill or enter into new career pathways. Partnerships, such as the recently announced collaboration with Foxconn to establish an electric vehicle training and innovation center, have regional and national reach and generate a strong economic impact on the region and beyond.

Even facing some significant changes in 2023, as is higher education in general, YSU will remain a strong institution with great momentum, because of our outstanding students, talented faculty and staff, and our spectacularly supportive alumni, donors and others who believe in YSU as the positive force it is to the region.

Pictured at top: Rick Rajaie, vice president of Foxconn operations, and Jim Tressel, president of Youngstown State University, sign an agreement Oct. 26, 2022, at the Excellence Training Center on the YSU campus during the announcement of YSU and Foxconn’s intentions to establish a partnership to design and launch a national electric vehicle workforce training and innovation center.