You are here: American University President Announcements March 28, 2019 - Spring Has Sprung at AU

Dear AU Family,

Welcome back! I hope you had a relaxing and rejuvenating spring break, whether you stayed close by or traveled far away. Now that you’re back on your campus home and spring has finally sprung, you can look forward to seeing a few of the colorful reasons that AU’s campus is officially an arboretum. (Please note the daffodils already in bloom.)

Just as folks were leaving for spring break, our AU Faculty Brass (yes, our faculty have musical talents!) kicked off the first formal installation ceremony in AU history for a newly endowed faculty chair—the Kogod Regional Innovation Chair.

kogod chair ceremonyFrom left to right: Provost Daniel J. Myers; Mrs. Arlene R. Kogod, Mr. Robert P. Kogod; Dr. Brett Anitra Gilbert; President Sylvia M. Burwell; Dean John T. Delaney

This special occasion reflects a number of elements of our new strategy, and the implementation of it. 

First, it showcases the outstanding teaching and research here at AU and affirms how we value that work. Dr. Brett Gilbert, the first Kogod Regional Innovation Chairholder, is a leader in her field, with her work on economic geography, internationalization, and emerging “clean energy” technologies (pretty appropriate for the first university in the United States to achieve carbon neutrality).  

Second, by highlighting our exceptional faculty, we increase our reputation and attract even more great faculty members and students.

Third, in a region that will soon be home to Amazon’s HQ2 (see Professor Gilbert’s thoughts on that decision here), the importance of being an engaged partner in the Washington region and a leader in regional innovation will only grow.

Finally, we wanted to honor the philanthropy of Bob and Arlene Kogod, who funded this chair, and the importance of faculty chairs to the future of AU. The Kogod Regional Innovation Chair wasn’t the first time that Bob and Arlene Kogod stepped up for AU. Bob has served as a member of our Board of Trustees, and his and Arlene’s generosity to what was then called the School of Business Administration is why we call it the Kogod School of Business today. 

The Kogods are among the most generous philanthropists in all of Washington. In fact, if you head downtown to the National Portrait Gallery, chances are you’ll walk through a gorgeous indoor courtyard called the Kogod Courtyard. And when you walk through the Kogod School of Business, you’ll see some of the Kogod collection right there on the walls.

As we gathered to celebrate Professor Gilbert’s installation in this position, we were celebrating what AU is—an exciting student-centered research university, poised to tackle some of our newest and most cutting-edge challenges. We were also celebrating where AU’s going—and the fact that we’re a community that is moving forward today thanks to those who have chosen, like the Kogod family, to give back.

The generosity of our entire community was on display in the Founders Day Challenge. During 36 hours, 1,182 donors stepped up (the most ever!) and, with challenge and matching funds, brought in the most ever raised for this event. People across the community got the word out—our Founders Day hashtag was even trending on Twitter! We saw increases in faculty, staff, student, and parent donors over last year. Thank you!

Changemakers for a Changing World

Our new Kogod Regional Innovation Chair isn’t the only part of our strategy moving forward:   

  • DC Region Progress: meet our new assistant vice president for community & government relations, Ed Fisher. A couple fun facts about Ed—he loves '90s hip hop and restoring his vintage 1977 Corvette.
  • We’re building on AU’s strength as the university with the most politically active students in the nation (and experts in policy as well) by launching the search for the executive director of the Sine Institute for Policy and Politics.
  • Inclusive Excellence: we released our One-Year Progress Report on AU’s Plan for Inclusive Excellence, communicating about where we are and what more we need to do.
  • How AU works: we moved the fiscal year, to make it easier and align it with our competitors.   
  • Our board just approved the budget that funds the strategy for two years. In addition to funding the strategy, it kept the increase in the total cost of attendance to its lowest ever while investing millions more in financial aid.  

Those are some of the steps we’re taking. Visit our Strategic Plan websiteto see what else is ahead.

Recap of Crucial Conversations March 5 Event

Earlier this month, I was thankful to spend an afternoon with a rocking panel, including voices from really successful folks who didn’t pull punches as we shared the stories of their journeys through college and their careers. As Susan Rice reminded us, “resilience is something that’s vitally important … it comes out of experience, yet it’s absolutely critical to making change and having an impact.” I learned a lot, and especially enjoyed the participation of our community in the Q&A session. If you weren’t able to join us, I hope you’ll take a moment to look back at it and share your reflections on Twitter (I’m @SylviaBurwell, btw).

crucial conversation panel

Our community had an engaging conversation with panelists Eric Liu, founder and CEO of Citizen University; Susan E. Rice, former national security advisor and ambassador to the United Nations; broadcast journalist Maria Elena Salinas; and Ibram Kendi, professor and director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center.

Wonk of the Year

Back in the 1990s, while I was working at the Office of Management and Budget, I found myself working frequently with the head of the budget committee in the House of Representatives and his staff as we balanced the federal budget for the first time in nearly three decades. Later on, I’d work with him again when, as governor of the state of Ohio, he worked to expand Medicaid coverage to his state’s residents. So I had worked with the Kennedy Political Union’s choice for 2019 Wonk of the Year John Kasich.

Through the questions posed by our students, we had a great dialogue. I’m thankful to the students in the Kennedy Political Union for their work to bring leaders with a wealth of experience to our campus.


  • Sometimes some inspiring impact comes from a little friendly competition. That’s why I was happy to see so many students compete in the 2019 Global Health Competition sponsored by the Department of Health Studies and the College of Arts and Sciences. Congratulations to the winning team who took on malnutrition in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta!  
  • Supporting leaders at AU: the 21st Century Leadership Institute is an important investment in 25 dedicated members of our staff, from all across campus, who come together to learn ways to improve their management style, to support a more inclusive and diverse workplace, and to communicate across offices and schools so we can operate every day as one AU. The program wrapped up its 5th year with more than 100 alumni of the program throughout campus!
  • Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, a publication that has written about diversity, multiculturalism, and inclusion in higher ed for more than 30 years, announced that our very own dean of the Washington College of Law, Dean Camille Nelson, is one of their Top 35 Women in Higher Education for 2019. Go Dean Nelson!
  • Is there someone at AU who’s made an impact to you and others? Then nominate them for one of our University Awards through the end of this month—nominations are open for any student, faculty, staff, or alumni!

Preview of Commencement

It might feel like spring break just ended, but we’re about to have one of the best parts of the year! That’s right, it’s time to start thinking about American University’s 137th commencement. 

We want to make sure you have what you need to know. If you’re one of those prospective Eagle alumni, visit our commencement website for a helpful guide for this spring’s ceremony on Saturday, May 11, and Sunday, May 12, including a quick Commencement Countdown Checklist.

As for me, I’ll be working out those arm muscles for all those handshakes. The smiling part is easy, because it is such a great event to celebrate!

Welcome back!

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