Michigan State University interim president Teresa K. Woodruff, Ph.D., delves into some of the topics she covers in her May 2023 Spartan Community Letter, which you can read by clicking on the communications tab at president.msu.edu.
Could you start by reflecting a bit on the beginning? And it was nice to see you with the tiny microphone around Breslin Center talking to some of our graduates.
“Oh, that was so exciting, and I never knew that tiny mic was a thing. I got to talk to many students and what was really cool was seeing their spirit and enthusiasm. They were excited for that beautiful graduation day. One of the things I did, Russ, was ask them about their favorite places on campus, and they would go from the front of Cowles House to the frog pond south of the tracks. I’ve had a couple of people tell me about the frog pond, which I love too, places for meditation, and places they had been for their classes. It was a wonderful representation of the students’ love for this campus and this place.”
Placemaking is the theme of this month’s community letter. How do you define placemaking?
“I’m reading William Beal’s book about founding MSU, and it’s really about a place and that place where people can come and learn. This is a place that remains a natural wonder and we really want to protect the learning and living environment that is the campus. People gain integrity and indeed in this last semester, obviously, they heal from this campus and the places on our campus. So, the key for us is to really think about those spaces and places and how the new buildings are situated within that larger ethos of a place that is restorative but continues to evolve, and that’s what our campus is doing. Right now. It has the ability to accommodate the new evolution of the way we think, learn and act, while remaining faithful and faithful to that beauty and that living and learning environment in which we gather when we walk between those places and spaces.
Let’s talk about the independent multicultural center that we touched last month and what are some of the other facilities on the horizon?
“The opening of that multicultural center was so exciting with standing room only and a lot of people jumping in to throw that first bucket full of sand to keep that process going. And boy, are they going fast over there. Furthermore, we have the dairy and the greenhouses. Those are really teaching and learning structures that we need to have in order to enable the best teaching within agriculture, which is our foundation and necessary for the state of Michigan. We are also working on our Digital Innovation Center, or EDIC, and this is a place where we will rebuild what it means to do engineering and digital innovation, scholarship and learning, and bring together six colleges. It’s reversing the pattern of having individual colleges. We are bringing colleges together in this new model.
“Our new greenhouses are home to members of the National Academy of Science working on scientific discoveries that could really sustain us and sustain this population into the future. We have the Student Recreation and Wellness Center that will replace the IM West facility and people are really excited about that on this campus.
MSU’s annual research and development expenses grew to nearly $760 million in fiscal 2022. How will some of these funds go toward creating places?
“These new buildings and facilities will house new faculty and students, and it is in those facilities that we will be able to continue our upward trend and reach the heights of research spending not only in the Big Ten, but literally in the nation.”
Our placemaking extends beyond the East Lansing campus to places like Flint, which you’ve recently visited.
“I had a wonderful time in Flint and really liked that Norm Beauchamp and Aron Sousa were with me when I visited our work at the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation that is taking place there with Mona Hanna-Attisha. We are building a new community partner and research facility that is very exciting. I’ve met some of the guys who are in that area of downtown Flint and they’re really excited about Michigan State University. I think I’ve hospitalized a couple of six year olds or maybe even a four year old or so. So just a full disclosure Russ, we have a few Flint guys coming to MSU in 2042, and I’m already excited to welcome them.
We have the very first philanthropic named department in MSU history with the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation Department of Public Health.
“Public health is as critical as we have seen through the COVID context and will continue to have an important way to revitalize the research we do. And particularly in Flint, we’re really concerned about public health, not just what MSU researchers think we should be doing and then going to be doing. This is a completely different model where during my visit we had all of our community partners actively participating in the work, people then saying, “Well, this is what we need to know.” In many ways, what we’re doing in Flint in health care is what we’ve done at Extension in agriculture. We’ve really asked for and then developed the partnership that enables the best kind of thinking and therefore the best kind of work, and it’s that positive productive cycle that is so exciting in Flint and throughout Michigan.”
You also recently had the opportunity to recognize and celebrate the achievements of our amazing staff and faculty.
“The key for me is that the State of Michigan has been celebrating its employees for nearly half a century. This is nothing new. This is a place that really values every single individual that is a part of this whole ecosystem, and I don’t think there is anyone who thinks they are above and beyond each other. Whatever parts we play within this orchestra that is Michigan State University, we play our parts as best we can. And in the end, it’s a beautiful symphony.”
Ensuring the safety of campus community members is another vital element of MSU’s placemaking for well-being. You recently had the pleasure of welcoming a new VP of Civil Rights and Education and Title IX Compliance, Laura Rugless. Tell us about Laura and her important role.
“Laura is from Cornell. She is a veteran and she brings an incredible sense of the ways we need to focus on prevention and the ways we respond to actual discrimination, sexual assault and misconduct. People I’ve talked to about her see her as a people-driven ethical leader. I shared with her this morning that there is a little yellow sticker on my computer that says, “Today is my favorite day.” I offered her that every day at MSU is my favorite day no matter what. And I offered her that hope and that positivity. She embraces MSU and is excited about what her leadership will bring to campus.
Got a little travel advice for Spartan and others visiting the campground this summer.
“We have some traffic diversions. As you walk through the campus, you’ll have to take a few detours, but it’s truly wonderful. I really like land cranes. There are a lot of cranes building some of our new buildings, but you’ll also see cranes moving overhead like we did after graduation; they were heading north. The cranes in the air and the cranes on the ground truly represent the natural and physical beauty of this campus. I invite people to come this summer. Come to the Summer Circle Theater. Come stroll in the Beal Garden. Come see the frogs at the frog pond on the south side of the tracks. There are so many amazing places to be and be present within this grand and legendary institution.
The results of the research she and her husband Tom O’Halloran worked on were recently published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry. The research looked at zinc’s role in follicle development and how scientists use X-rays to determine zinc’s role in ovarian follicle development.
“It represents deep biology. Before Tom and I collaborated—he was an inorganic chemist and I’m a reproductive scientist—we collaborated on an area no one had ever thought to look into. We found that the egg, just before fertilization, occupies 20 billion zinc atoms. If it does not absorb that amount of zinc atoms over a 12 hour period, it cannot progress to fertilization and then to the embryo. At fertilization, zinc is exported from the egg in this big explosion we call a zinc spark.
“That zinc spark means that subordinate sperm can’t actually go in and have what’s called polyspermy. No one knew any of this before that job. Tom and I with my latest graduate student, Alison Tange, worked to examine the very earliest stages of follicle development. We used one of the most sophisticated microscopes in the world at Argonne National Labs that Tom actually helped build to really look at the zinc and all the other metals in these early follicles. It really was the perfect bridge between new technology and this biology. Again, no one would have been looking for these signatures of life except for that interaction, and they’re really just some of the most exciting discoveries that pretty much happen to all of us at the first moment of conception. I’m really excited that it’s been released.
What are your final thoughts as we really dive into summer.
“I am thrilled that everyone is returning to this amazing campus. The red cedar is beautiful and the trees are in full bloom. During graduation, I think every tree on campus was at its peak. MSU is a wonderful place to live and work. I look back on our 168-year history and know that we are preserving our legendary historic campus, but continuing to evolve with what we need to ensure the next generation of students have that great experience so many have had in the past.
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