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Waded Cruzado, president of Montana State University

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As a land-grant university, addressing societal needs is the beating heart of Montana State University. Despite one of the most challenging periods in our history, your university has stayed true to its mission and has many accomplishments to celebrate.

Preparing carefully, we started the fall semester two weeks in advance and planned to finish our in-person semester before Thanksgiving. With the help of CARES Act federal funding and Gov. Bullock, MSU has been able to provide symptomatic students with walk-up testing and contact tracing, which has alleviated the demand for those resources in the community. None of this would have been possible without the incredible efforts of our on-campus medical professionals. Our gratitude for the hard work of our students, faculty, staff and neighbors cannot be overstated. We know it has not been easy.

MSU is part of this community and, as such, we have strived to do our part. Early on, we loaned diagnostic equipment to Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital and, when the state needed more testing capacity for all Montanans, our faculty used their knowledge and MSU’s labs to meet that demand. MSU faculty are still at work developing complementary COVID-19 saliva testing, using wastewater to detect the presence of the virus, researching the pandemic’s effect on American nurses, and examining how to prevent the spread of viruses from animals to humans.

This fall we recorded an all-time high in research expenditures, $167 million, obtained from competitive grants and contracts that will result in new knowledge and will confront specific challenges in Montana, the nation and world. And despite the pandemic’s effects on higher education, your university registered its third largest enrollment in history at 16,249, while also setting new records for graduation rates and student retention.

With precautionary adjustments, MSU’s faculty continued their strong teaching, research and outreach efforts. Among many faculty achievements, Paul Gannon, Wan-Yuan Kuo and Meta Newhouse became Montana University System Teaching Scholars, receiving recognition for their innovative ways to help students succeed. And some of our students are in the final stages of some very prestigious national awards that will be announced later in the year.

We happily celebrated Gallatin College MSU’s 10th anniversary helping students and southwest Montana’s businesses alike by providing qualified graduates for local workforce vacancies. With the assistance of the Montana Legislature, MSU hopes to explore ways to strengthen career and technical programs that our region desperately needs.

At the start of the semester, we were proud to feature noted author and MSU alumna Sarah Vowell discussing American democracy and her book, “Lafayette in the Somewhat United States,” at our annual convocation. We were also fortunate to have U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo, the first Native American to hold that title, join us as part of Indigenous Peoples Day.

We continue to build for the future. Thanks to students’ support and fees, we opened our new Hyalite residence hall, and we are moving forward with the new Student Wellness Center. Thanks to our donors’ generosity, construction continues on our American Indian Hall and the Bobcat Athletic Complex. Finally, thanks to legislative support, the repurposing of Romney Hall is proceeding on schedule and on budget.

While we have missed the vibrancy that comes to campus from Bobcat athletics competitions, our student athletes have continued to condition, train and study hard. We are proud of our student-athletes, coaches and fans: go, Cats, go!

Finally, making the best out of challenges, we are launching our first-ever Snowmester, which runs Nov. 30 through Jan. 8. Snowmester is an opportunity for students to catch up, stay on track or get ahead during the winter break with online courses. Snowmester is exceeding our wildest expectations: More than 1,800 students have registered.

I close by announcing that, in spite of the difficulties we have experienced this year, our tradition of “Lights on Montana Hall” will endure, and the lights will be on every night through the darkest time of the year. I hope you will be able to enjoy their glow and the promise they symbolize: That, soon, the darkness of this period will fade away and a brighter future will come for us all.

On behalf of all of us at Montana State University, thank you for your support. Never has it been more appreciated than it has been this year. I wish you all health and a good year to come.

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Waded Cruzado is the president of Montana State University.