Peterson offers updates, news in his annual Institute Address

Photo courtesy of Office of the President

President Peterson took the stage in one of campus’s largest lecture halls on Thursday to deliver his sixth annual Institute Address to students, faculty, staff and alumni. The auditorium was filled to capacity, with people standing in the periphery and a sizable crowd in the overflow seating.

Dr. Peterson gave a rapid summary of recent Tech history, highlighting turning points in the Institute’s transition from a niche research institution and technical university to a world-renowned research, innovation and educational leader.

With occasional pauses both for effect and to wrestle with his remote — “Here I am, president of a leading technology university … ” he said as man and machine struggled for command of the slide show — President Peterson talked about the booming innovation center that Tech Square has become in barely 10 years. Tech has recently acquired the historic Biltmore building to add even more Tier 1 innovation space to the campus, and though ground has not yet been broken, the Coda tower abutting it is set to open in the fourth quarter of 2018.

National Cash Register Corporation is currently building the first of two planned structures to bring their world headquarters to the edge of campus — a move that is sure to be a boon to students seeking careers and a burden on those seeking coffee.

The Strategic Plan’s progress was discussed, with special emphasis on the Institute’s focus on Engineering for Social Innovation, Gender and Inclusion issues and expansion of the Alternative Service Breaks program.

This fall, there are 4100 students enrolled in Tech’s Online Master’s in Computer
Science program, bringing the total graduate student population of to over 11,000 for the first time.

The College of Computing is considering the addition of one or two new OMS degrees in data science or information security.

Dr. Peterson discussed the experimental “artificial intelligence” teaching assistant that one Computer Science course used in the past year to answer student questions after the answers were checked for accuracy by a TA ­— a project with mixed results but interesting takeaways for AI ethicists and researchers.

This year, the number of applications to Tech rose 12 percent, from 27,270 to 30,537, and the admission rate fell six points to 26 percent. Minority students and women are better represented in this freshman class than any other class in Tech’s history.

The administration has placed tremendous import on mental and physical health and wellbeing on campus in the past year.

The Center for Health and Wellbeing has been created to help address issues such as sexual assault and mental health, which along with the Counseling Center have been bringing on full-time counselors and staff.

Peterson announced the Tech Ends Suicide Together initiative, a community effort to reach out and help fellow students who may be struggling with mental illness, stress or other issues.

The Gender Equity task force returned a list of 11 recommendations to the President’s desk to be acted upon in the coming year, ranging from hiring, promotion and tenure concerns, implicit bias workshops and professional leadership development to reporting systems and event promotion.

Peterson closed by answering a few questions about various topics including relations with neighborhoods surrounding Tech, impact of recent federal policy and executive orders on the Institute and collaborative projects.

Such a collaboration is with Emory University, with whom Tech is launching a five-year program for a BS/MS in engineering and patent law.