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Sailing with the 'big ships': UL celebrates its R1 status, research prowess (Advocate)

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University of Louisiana at Lafayette President E. Joseph Savoie on Wednesday seized a “moment in history” to tout the success of the institution that he captains, as it celebrated in raucous style its designation as an R1, top-tier research institution.

As much as he relished the moment, though, Savoie also looked to the past and his predecessor, Ray Authement, who led UL Lafayette for more than 30 years and only “dreamed of a celebration like this.”

Citing a poem that Authement, his old boss, revered and often quoted to lend others inspiration, “Call of the Open Sea,” Savoie pointed to the burning ambition the poem expressed — to “sail with the big ships.”

“Today we stand on the desk of a great vessel,” Savoie said of the institution, to the cheers of an enthusiastic crowd of about 1,500 students, faculty, staff and state and local leaders.

UL learned some two months ago that it has cracked the revered R1 benchmark, an honor it shares with about 140 of some 3,000 U.S. universities — about 3% of American campuses. The celebration was delayed so that the campus could fully prepare to focus on the achievement and allow all UL supporters to participate.

The Carnegie Classification has been for almost 50 years the leading framework for ranking colleges and universities. UL joins Tulane University and LSU in this state in that top tier of research institutions, based on a host of categories linked to research.

Jim Henderson, president of the University of Louisiana System — UL Lafayette is a member institution — looked over the grounds filled with supporters and said, "What a beautiful sight this is."

But he said thanks for UL and its success extends beyond the classrooms and the labs: He said staff members who keep the campus pristine and safeguard its students and otherwise serve the campus mission also deserve credit for making UL a success.

Ramesh Kolluru, UL’s vice president of research, said the designation places the university in “the top pantheon, the top tier, of research universities in the country,” making it “a global leader.”

Gazing over a sea of celebrants in front of the Student Center, Kolluru said UL people always knew there was “nothing second tier about this university. Now, the rest of the nation is waking up to our awesomeness.”

U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana, said UL’s research prowess is complemented by Acadiana’s entrepreneurial prowess, a happy marriage for Louisiana’s economy. He said federal efforts — awards of federal grants, among them — have helped UL to succeed. The R1 designation, he said, will make landing such grants easier.

In conversation later, Cassidy said UL is using its research to find solutions. He said the R1 designation gives the university “a vibe” that accompanies the confidence on campus that the university is succeeding in its research and results.

Navid Yousuf, a graduate student in informatics, said he traveled to UL from his native Bangladesh to do the type of research for which UL has become noted.

“This is definitely a proud moment,” he said.

Charles Fauver, a junior from Denham Springs who is studying physics, said the R1 designation would help him apply to other top universities for a doctoral degree.

“It’s exciting that we are doing research that is getting recognition,” he said.

More than 40 research projects were displayed in the Student Union to complement the celebration outside. They included a project by Samona Smith Drexler, which advises when cardio risks might be present in patients who face non-cardio surgeries. That project has been adopted for use at Ochsner Lafayette General.

Lunch was served on the grounds and 1,500 T-shirts were distributed. UL cheerleaders, the band and research students participated in the celebration.

Kolluru said the designation is good for three years. Then Carnegie will reevaluate the universities again.

“Today we pause long enough to celebrate,” he said. “Tomorrow we will keep moving, keep adding value to our university. This is about generating more value for the university.”

Acadiana Advocate


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