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Holiday Greetings and an OU Update from President Harroz

December 18, 2020
Dear OU Family,
The final days of our university’s 130th year are rapidly approaching. As the year winds down, it’s a natural time to pause and reflect on some of the challenges and achievements of 2020. Without question, this year has been vastly different from any other, confronting all of us as individuals, as families and friends, as an institution, and well beyond. The hardships we’ve experienced with COVID-19 will undoubtedly linger well into the spring. Despite a seemingly endless stream of uncertainty, our University of Oklahoma family has remained steadfast and strong, and our future is brighter than ever.
Through your extraordinary effort, our focus on our sacred purpose of changing lives has never wavered. We have stood together, displaying both our fortitude and our humanity at every step. To attempt to recall each moment that’s reminded me of the inimitable OU spirit would be impossible. 
As we prepare to begin a new year, I wanted to bring attention to some of the high points we’ve seen in recent months, which speak to the momentum we are building together. To attain these achievements during this unprecedented year is truly remarkable, but the credit is owed to each and every one of you. Because of you, the hope and promise for our future remains abundant. 
Our Path Forward – Lead On, University: In July, we officially unveiled our strategic plan for the Norman campus – Lead On, University – which defines a clear vision for our long-term sustainability and success. The heartbeat of our plan echoes our university’s fundamental purpose – We Change Lives – three small, but powerful words that carry deep meaning for all that we do at the University of Oklahoma. The work to implement our strategic plan is taking shape across all areas of the Norman campus, and these efforts provide a roadmap for how we approach our strategic plans for the Health Sciences Center and OU-Tulsa. Together, we are building upon our core traditions of providing a world-class, affordable education; creating a welcoming place of belonging; and harnessing innovation and pathbreaking discoveries to advance society.  

Enrollment Growth: In a year that has disrupted higher education on practically every front, we were all thrilled that this fall, OU welcomed its third-largest class in our history. Made up of more than 4,400 students, the Class of 2024 represents our commitment to establishing OU as a place of opportunity for the next generation. Their class make-up represents 35% from historically underrepresented minority groups, and 22% as first-generation college students. With an average ACT score of 25.8 and a collective GPA of 3.63, these new students comprise one of our most academically qualified classes. At the Health Sciences Center, enrollment remained strong, with over 1,100 new students for the summer and fall 2020 semesters. Approximately 17% of our more than 3,100 total HSC students identify as a minority or as multi-ethnic.
Research Successes: Driven by the talent of our entire research enterprise, we are seeing exciting progress in our efforts to grow OU’s national position in groundbreaking research. The research landscape at OU has progressed tremendously in the past year, with researchers on the Norman campus setting a record-high $255.6 million in research awards earned through grants and external funding in FY2020, surpassing the previous benchmark of $218 million in FY2019. This trajectory continues, with research awards up 7% at the end of the first quarter of FY2021. In addition, OUHSC earned a record-high $190 million in federal and state awards during FY2020, including the highest-ever funding from the National Institutes of Health to an Oklahoma research institution of more than $70 million. Also, three departments in the OU College of Medicine were ranked among the top 20 in the nation for funding from the National Institutes of Health. The annual ranking, compiled by the Blue Ridge Institute for Medical Research, is considered the gold standard for biomedical research metrics. We were also pleased to see that, according to a recent study published in the journal PLOS Biology, 197 OU researchers have been listed among the most influential researchers in the world. 

Launch of OU Health: In October, we announced the launch of OU Health – a new, unified brand identity for the combined clinical enterprises of the OU Health Sciences Center and our hospital partner. The OU Health brand captures over a century of providing unmatched patient care, advancing scientific discovery, and training Oklahoma’s health care workforce. We also recently celebrated the opening of the new OU Health University of Oklahoma patient tower – the largest hospital expansion project in Oklahoma history and one of the largest in the nation, solidifying our standing as the state’s only comprehensive academic health system and one of only three of its kind in the nation. This state-of-the-art facility fully integrates the best clinical care, top-tier research, and the training of top talent to provide the highest quality care at the patient’s bedside.

COVID-19 Response: While the pandemic permeates through all of the aforementioned, the OU community’s response to COVID-19 deserves further recognition. Guided by the expertise of our Chief COVID Officer Dr. Dale Bratzler, the health and safety of our campuses has remained our top priority, enabling our academic mission to flourish. Because of the collective work of our entire university community, we completed our fall semester safely and successfully. From the onset of the pandemic, OU’s health professionals have remained on the front lines, providing critical and compassionate care to our patients in their times of greatest need. We are incredibly proud that OU trains 70% of our state’s health care workforce. Across the academic spectrum, OU scientists and physicians are contributing research efforts to the fight against COVID-19 in a variety of ways – developing breakthrough treatment protocols, participating in vaccine development with clinical trials underway, studying the wider impact of the pandemic on children and families, and much more. The rollout of the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine this week to frontline health providers at OU Health and the Health Sciences Center represents a moment of hope for all of us, and our plans to implement the state’s phased vaccination plan to other employees and students is underway. In addition, many of our alumni and friends have generously contributed their resources to our students who have encountered unexpected financial hardship related to COVID-19, including specialized support for our international students, who have experienced disproportionate challenges as a result of the crisis. 

These are just a small sampling of the countless inspiring stories that tell the story of a year that’s demanded more than we ever could have imagined. Thank you for taking care of each other, keeping your faith in our purpose, and remembering what truly matters.
I extend my greatest wishes to all of you for a truly joyous holiday and a new year of hope and goodwill. Together, we will greet the new year with resolve, everlasting optimism, and the unwavering belief in our university that we love.
Live on, University,

Joseph Harroz, Jr.