Trustees heard a new list of initiatives the University will focus on in the coming years in Purdue Moves 2.0, some of which will include actions from the Equity Task Force and a new Mach 8 quiet wind tunnel to be built using a nearly $10 million grant from the United States Air Force.
Purdue Equity Task Force
Trustees approved plans for the Equity Task Force, which aims to improve recruitment, retention and placement of Black Boilermakers.
One of the task force’s goals includes doubling the number of Black undergraduate students on campus, Provost Jay Akridge said.
He said the initiative was based on ensuring “all members of Purdue are able to experience what Purdue has to offer equally.”
“The goal of this initiative is for Black Boilermakers to have a place to call home. Purdue is their home,” said John Gates, vice provost for diversity and inclusion.
Chair of the task force Don Thompson thanked the trustees for their time, as the board has now listened to many reports from the task force in the past seven months.
Purdue is planning on expanding its pool of undergraduate students by establishing relationships with predominantly Black high schools across Indiana, Akridge said. Graduate student initiatives will focus on partnering with historically Black colleges, and faculty growth will depend on pulling from the broadest possible pools.
“(We need to) focus on Black faculty, and gather Black scholars across campus in a cluster to develop support for new faculty on campus,” Akridge said.
Mentoring and professional development will also be at the forefront of the initiative, as Akridge explained plans to expand those opportunities for undergraduates as well as develop existing programs such as the minority engineering program. Akridge also proposed professorships supporting Black scholars and “connecting Black graduate students with Black graduate alumni.”
“We appreciate the chance to bring Black individuals to our campus, but want to see them succeed and graduate and start their careers,” Akridge said.
Measures of the task force’s success will include Black student retention and graduation rates, he said.
Purdue invests in national security
Theresa Mayer, executive vice president for research and partnerships, presented the National Security and Technology Initiative. Mayer highlighted how last year Purdue was “awarded a major contract from the Office of the Secretary of Defense.”
The contract was valued at nearly $19.2 million.
The proposed Mach 8 quiet wind tunnel, developed in part by Steven Schneider, a professor in Purdue’s School of Aeronautics and Astronautics, is a major part of the initiative. Purdue will also focus on developing programs in the area, recruiting talent and developing holistic partnerships with outside companies.
“There will be no other place in the country (like this facility),” Mayer said.
Purdue has a history of working with the Department of Defense. Mayer invoked the fervor surrounding Soviet satellite Sputnik when it was first launched into orbit in the late 1950s. During the Cold War, Purdue developed and yet maintains the world’s largest academic jet propulsion lab — Zucrow Laboratories.
Plant sciences initiative
Plant 2.0, an initiative supported by Dean of Agriculture Karen Plaut, will work to support a better fed world, combat forest fires and develop phenotyping. There will also be a focus on digital forestry, which will digitize the counting of trees, increasing efficiency.
“(With this technology), we can count much more than 1% of the trees,” Plaut said.
Trustees discuss other initiatives
Another initiative Mayer discussed focused on the Purdue Applied Research Institute, an organization “aimed at helping Purdue reach its full potential.”
Areas of focus for the institute will include digital innovation in agri-food systems, national security and technology, and global development and innovation.
Akridge presented the Transformative Education 2.0 initiative in order to “better support the success of our students.”
He proposed further developing the residential learning program to support laboratory courses as well as active learning. More than 600 students are in learning communities this year and over 1,000 plan to participate in learning communities for the 2021-2022 school year, he said.
In the classroom, the Lilly Endowment has invested $5 million in the idea of an “innovation college,” Akridge said. He discussed the possible use of augmented and virtual reality in education, as well as faculty use of artificial-intelligence teaching assistants.