Across our great state, students are back on University of Minnesota campuses.
In any other year that would be a routine statement. But as we all know, the past 18 months have been anything but normal. In May, like so many Minnesotans, we were collectively enjoying that moment when COVID-19 was on the decline, masks were coming off and there seemed to be a shared sigh of relief that the worst might be over.
The delta variant has changed all of that. Our state, like our country, is wrestling with the latest challenge in this pandemic. And while many are concerned, the U has navigated through this change and disruption to have one of the best years in history.
We've done so by leaning into a 170-year tradition exemplified in the words etched into the front of our Northrop auditorium: "Dedicated to the Advancement of Learning and the Search for Truth; Devoted to the Instruction of Youth and the Welfare of the State."
This fall we are welcoming our largest freshman class in decades, with greater representation among first-generation students and Minnesotans. Operating under our new systemwide strategic plan, MPact 2025, we are already yielding unique programs like NXT GEN MED and a systemwide enrollment plan designed to maximize statewide service.
Our innovative and life-changing research has catalyzed an all-time high in new startup companies and over $1 billion in record-setting funding, including groundbreaking work supporting Minnesota agriculture, exploring early childhood development and developing powerful transportation solutions for businesses across the state. Projects like East Gateway and the Institute for the Developing Brain, as well as scholarships to enhance the diversity of the student body, have been advanced by record philanthropic support. And our broad commitment to service and engagement included a first ever meeting with the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council, resulting in new consultation and ongoing partnership.
We have also leveraged the expertise of our public health and safety experts and our government partners to keep our community as safe as possible. We are back on campus with an indoor mask mandate recognizing that science has demonstrated the value of mask wearing in slowing viral transmission. We created a vaccine certification process for our students, staff and faculty that has resulted, to date, in a community that reports that they are vaccinated at over 90%. We stood up a COVID-19 hospital, with our partner Fairview Health Services, with some of the lowest mortality rates anywhere.
And we're addressing public safety issues in the neighborhoods adjacent to our campus by investing resources to make these areas destinations to work, study, grow and call home. In particular, we've recently hired three University of Minnesota Police officers, a social worker and a community liaison. We've also partnered with local law enforcement to increase patrols, while expanding lighting, establishing community ambassadors and broadening our Gopher Chauffeur service.
Throughout the best and most challenging moments of the last year, the U's commitment to students and the state, and to advancing understanding, learning and truth has never wavered or been clearer. All three of us echo this important commitment, as well as the shared optimism and energy we've experienced engaging on campus with students, faculty and staff during this new fall semester.
Thank you for supporting the U and, in return, know that we will continue to support you — our students, our staff, our faculty, our neighbors and our entire state. We are all stronger when we stand together to learn, discover and implement solutions to challenging problems, and work toward our shared commitment to each other as Minnesotans.
Joan Gabel is president of the University of Minnesota. Ken Powell is chair and Steve Sviggum is vice chair of the University of Minnesota Board of Regents.