YSU Meets Challenges with Opportunities

By Ron Cole
Director, University Communications

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – For nearly two years, the bi-weekly Zoom calls with my communications and public relations colleagues at universities across Ohio have mostly focused on one topic – COVID-19.

Do we shut down our campuses? How do we enforce masking requirements? Do we mandate vaccinations? What is the CDC recommending? What is Gov. DeWine saying? Or President Biden?

How do we continue providing quality instruction and support while ensuring the safety of campus in the midst of a pandemic where so many questions remain unanswered and even the questions themselves change on a day-to-day, hour-to-hour basis?

It’s been a lot for all of us – especially students and parents. So much, in fact, that – if not properly addressed – it can knock you off track, make you lose your way and wander directionless.

That has not been the case here at Youngstown State University.

From our students grinding tirelessly through ever-changing classroom modes, to our faculty showing great  professionalism and patience, to our administration carefully steering through uncharted waters while keeping an eye on the horizon – YSU maneuvered through another undulating year in 2021, with forethought, finesse and focus.

This past year, students were our greatest inspiration.

Yanked out of classrooms mid-semester, placed into whole new remote ways of learning, losing out on interactions with faculty and fellow students, missing the camaraderie that comes with being on campus – our students still excelled.

Take, for instance, the Penguin Ethics Bowl team, which won the regional Ethics Bowl for the sixth consecutive year. Or the four mathematics students who took home Awards of Excellence from the national MathFest. Or the students in an art class who designed and painted a beautiful new mural on campus that features 24 majestic penguins. Or student athletes who won six Horizon League titles this past year and earned YSU its first-ever conference all-sports trophy.

And it didn’t end with students.

Faculty and staff received 96 research and service grants totaling nearly $11 million in fiscal year 2021, the most in more than a decade. Among the grants was YSU’s largest ever from the National Science Foundation – $1 million.

We opened the new Excellence Training Center on campus, thanks in part to a $5 million donation from Dr. Chander M. and Karen Kohli, matching YSU’s largest gift ever. It was also the largest donation in YSU’s “We See Tomorrow” campaign, which attracted 32,581 gifts totaling $126.2 million. It was by far the largest fundraising effort in the YSU’s history and is believed to be the largest philanthropic initiative ever across the Mahoning Valley.

There were also great challenges this past year, for sure, including loss of enrollment and subsequent budget pressures that resulted in the difficult decision to lay off a handful of YSU faculty.

The university also this past year completed its first-in-decades comprehensive review of all academic offerings, resulting in the curtailment of some programs.

Those kinds of assessments, through the university’s strategic plan, will continue, helping optimize our academic portfolio and positioning YSU for the ever-evolving higher education landscape.

Meanwhile, we move into a new year – the 114th since YSU’s founding in 1908.

The Zoom calls with my colleagues have resumed. Challenges will
arise, and opportunities will surface. Our faculty and staff will work hard; our supporters will again have our back.

And through it all, our students will achieve, succeed and will, rest assured, lead us with confidence and hope into our post-pandemic future.