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From the President: Spring 2014
Author: President Wim Wiewel
Posted: April 21, 2014

Attracting high achievers

COMING OFF one of Portland State's most rapid growth periods, it's tempting to look at the University from the standpoint of numbers: our growing diversity, record-breaking graduating classes, the $59 million in research grants our professors were awarded last year.

But behind the numbers, there is a qualitative picture of PSU that helps explain why we are drawing so many students. One clear example is our Urban Honors program.

Two years ago, the University revamped our honors program, made it more inclusive and sharpened its focus on PSU's unique urban setting. Director Ann Marie Fallon and Honors faculty regularly visit with high school students and teachers in the community to spread the message that PSU is a rigorous destination for high-achieving students.

Their efforts have paid off. Enrollment in Urban Honors increased 268 percent over the last two years. It now has about 600 students, and statistics show that 85 percent of them will go on to graduate school. A third of Honors freshmen come from out of state. They include Ryan Scott, a mechanical engineering student from Northern California who graduated from high school with a 4.0 GPA. He continues his 4.0 here at PSU.

Almost 30 percent of Honors students are the first in their families to go to college. Tiffany Morrison, for instance, grew up in hardship and moved from one town to the next during her unsettled childhood before settling at PSU. She went on to an internship with the National Institutes of Health while a PSU student, and is now in medical school in Philadelphia.

Urban Honors takes what we're already doing at PSU and makes it more intensive. Every discipline at the University is fair game for Honors research. Theresa Mau, who graduated last year, became the first person in the world to sequence and synthesize spider RNA while a PSU Honors student.

URBAN HONORS is just a slice of the whole. The bigger picture is of an urban research university with a rising national reputation.

  • The number of minority students at PSU has increased more than 57 percent over the last five years. The largest increase is in the enrollment of Latino students. PSU's 2,386 Latinos now make up nearly two thirds of all underrepresented students on campus.
  • Seventeen percent of incoming freshmen this year—including 14 local valedictorians—had near-perfect GPAs in high school.
  • Enrollment at the Maseeh College of Engineering and Computer Science rose 22 percent just in the past two years, driven as much by the College's reputation as the rising job demand in Oregon's tech sector.

These are just a few examples of Portland State's growing stature. There are many more. I hope you share my pride in how our faculty and students are shaping this very special place.

Wim Wiewel