Ángel Cabrera, Georgia’s Tech’s new president, revealed the university’s updated mission statement and contents of its new strategic plan to the attendees of the May 19 virtual session of the Kiwanis Club of Atlanta while acknowledging that the COVID-19 outbreak had underscored the university’s adaptability.
Georgia Tech is to be committed “to developing leaders who advance technology and improve the human condition,” Dr. Cabrera repeated to the more than 80 video-linked attendees several times, avowing that “technology has the power to improve the human condition.”
The new plan, which was approved by the University of Georgia’s Board of Regents on May 12, asserts, however, that technology is only of value “if it is grounded on a critical understanding of its broader social, economic, environmental and cultural context and if is available where needed.” To meet this goal, the university will have to draw, according to the plan, on “a multitude of disciplines…”
Dr. Cabrera gamely admitted that he and his family had been on a rollercoaster since assuming his post in September due to the coronavirus outbreak.
“We didn’t know what was going to happen,” he said. “We’ve been on a rollercoaster. Our honeymoon period came to a sudden end. But there is not a place I’d rather be to weather the storm.”
A native of Madrid, Spain, Dr. Cabrera is an inveterate Yellow Jacket, having earned his master’s of science and his doctorate in cognitive psychology and leadership from Georgia Tech as a Fulbright scholar.
His wife, Beth Fraser Cabrera, whom he met at Tech and who was in the same course of study, and his son, Alex, are both graduates. He was a member of the university’s board of advisors for almost a decade, where he oversaw the 2010 strategic plan, while being president of George Mason University in Virginia. Previously he had been president of the Thunderbird School of Global Management in Arizona.
The coronavirus outbreak has upended Georgia Tech as it has everyone else, he said, calling it similar to the impact of World War II and the Spanish Revolution for his forbears. He proudly pointed to Tech’s resilience for being able “to turn on a dime” in its teaching practices and having demonstrated leadership in learning technology and innovation, having produced the world’s largest online MSc program in computer science long before the pandemic struck.
The early adoption of the initial global online program prepared Tech to transition its entire faculty online within two weeks. It also provided examples of how lectures could be conducted virtually while teacher-student interactions could be sidelined to the classroom in due course.
The coronavirus threat propelled him to turn to all facets of Tech’s sphere of influence, including graduates, professors, students, the university administration and state government as well as all Georgians, whom he called “stakeholders” in the university and its efforts to tame the virus.
As examples of the university’s community response, he cited Georgia Tech graduate, David Dorman, the chairman of the health-care company CVS Health, who helped inspire drive-thru testing for the virus at its store outlets. He also praised the engineers who developed a prototype mask which is now being manufactured by the hundreds of thousands everyday. The biotech department also is using CRISPR gene-editing technology, he said, to research the development of a vaccine.
And he did not lose sight of the students.
For them, he said “it was a time for growth and learning, providing them with “a crash course in the meaning of life, and how to use tech to make a difference.”
Within two weeks of the departure of most of the student body all courses were on-line, an extraordinary accomplishment, he said, “for an industry not prone to innovation or change.”
In closing, he said that he had two main issues on his mind: preparing for the return of students in the fall, and dealing with the impact of the virus on the university’s budget.
Before COVID-19 hit, Georgia Tech was flying high with a startling $1 billion in research grants coming its way.
It had been chosen by U.S. News and World Report as being among the top five public universities in the country. In 2019, there had been 32,000 applicants for 3,000 places available in the freshman class. This astounding equation was topped for this year’s attendance, he said, with 41,000 applicants for slightly more than 3,000 places.
The evacuation of the campus was complicated, he added, by the large numbers of foreign students, who couldn’t return home due to international travel restrictions. Consequently, 300 students have had to remain on campus, a situation, he said, that has been stressful for both the students and the university.
With state funding inevitably going to be cut back, he frankly admitted that “We don’t have all of the answers.” But, he repeated, “There’s not a place I’d rather be.”