Montana State University is shown in this Chronicle file photo.

Montana State President Waded Cruzado is forecasting another record-breaking year for the Bozeman campus.

In an email message wishing faculty and staff a happy new year, Cruzado predicted that this year MSU will graduate the largest class in its 127-year history.

Students who started in fall 2016 were part of MSU’s largest ever freshman class and many are on track to graduate this spring, though exact numbers won’t be known until May, MSU spokesman Michael Becker said Tuesday.

Those students, he said, “took full advantage of the Freshman 15 program, which … has helped many students graduate on time with less debt.”

The number of graduates awarded degrees has risen by more than 900 a year in the past decade from 2,354 degrees awarded to 3,290, according to data for 2010 to 2019 posted by MSU’s planning and analysis office.

The most dramatic growth has been in the College of Engineering, which last year awarded 743 degrees, nearly catching up to the College of Letters and Science, MSU’s biggest college, which awarded 768 degrees.

The five departments that awarded the most degrees last year were business, health & human development, nursing, mechanical & industrial engineering, and education.

One of MSU’s biggest events of 2020 will take place March 26 to 28 when the Bozeman campus will host the National Conference on Undergraduate Research, which is expected to bring 4,000 college students and professors from around the world to Bozeman.

Leading up to the conference, MSU has declared this school year to be the Year of Undergraduate Research. MSU considers itself a national leader in offering hands-on opportunities to undergraduates to work with professors in their labs and in the field. Hundreds of MSU undergraduates have been invited to present their research projects at the conference. Astronaut Mae Jemison, an engineer and physician who became the first black woman to travel in space aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour, is scheduled to be one of the conference speakers.

January 2020 will mark two milestones for Cruzado, who will celebrate her 10th anniversary as MSU president and her 60th birthday.

This year will see more construction changing the face of the Bozeman campus. In the fall, MSU plans to open the $50 million Hyalite Hall, a new 500-bed dormitory under construction on West College Street. Construction will continue this year on the new $20 million American Indian Hall and the $32 million renovation of Romney Hall, which will create more classrooms and student support and tutoring centers for MSU’s near-record number of students. Construction is expected to begin this year on the new $18 million Bobcat Athletic Complex.

In January, MSU will tackle a thorny issue, whether to bar romances or sexual affairs between professors and undergraduates. A proposed policy that has been in the works for more than a year will go to the University Council for discussion next week.

Also up for consideration at the Jan. 8 council meeting is a new policy laying out rules for how to handle secret research, projects classified as secret by the federal government or involving inventions or patents privately funded by companies.

MSU will start the new year by welcoming people back at the annual Spring Convocation on Jan. 9. Winners of faculty and staff awards will be honored at a 10 a.m. ceremony in Reynolds Recital Hall. Cathy Whitlock, regents’ professor in the Earth Sciences Department, will give a talk at 2 p.m. on Yellowstone. The MSU Library will hold an open house from 3 to 6 p.m. with food and music. Classes for students begin Jan. 13.

Gail Schontzler can be reached at gails@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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