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CSU makes history with largest-ever 2012 graduating class

Bishop Horace Smith, M.D. and retired State Sen. Emil Jones featured at commencement ceremony that includes doctoral degree students from the inaugural College of Pharmacy graduating class

May 17, 2012 — Chicago State University celebrated its largest graduating class to date and its first pharmacy class at a ceremony today, May 17, at the Emil & Patricia A. Jones Convocation Center on the south side campus. Retired State Sen. Emil Jones returned to the south side campus and spoke with students in the convocation center named after him and his late wife.

"You can accomplish more when you're doing it for someone else other than yourself," Jones told the crowd, marveling at the high salaries graduates of the first College of Pharmacy class are poised to earn. "Don't forget this institution. Give back to this university, so other students can follow in your path."

Commencement speaker Bishop Horace Smith, M.D. exhorted students to live meaningful lives of vision, persistence and accountability. The first-generation CSU college graduate from the class of 1971 told graduates it is only literate societies that are prosperous.

"Illiterate societies are plagued by poverty and violence," Smith said. "What are your values, above what money you're going to make? What will you do to make others better? It's the beginning of adulthood to ask not only what am I doing, why am I doing it?"

The University is poised to have a graduation rate higher than last year's rate of 20.9 percent for first- time, full-time freshmen. Another goal is to exceed the transfer student graduation rate from the last fiscal year, which was 50 percent. The inaugural pharmacy class of 2012 includes 77 doctoral graduates with a 98 percent retention rate over the four years of the program. The 2012 pharmacy class is notable in its diversity: It is a third Caucasian, a third Asian, and the rest are a combination of African-Americans, Hispanics and Africans.

When CSU President Wayne D. Watson, Ph.D. arrived on campus in October 2009, the 145-year-old institution that has cultivated generations of public school teachers and provided a bridge to middle-class professionalism was languishing with a low graduation rate of 14 and 13 percent, respectively in 2009 and 2010. In 2011, the graduation rate had increased to 20.9 percent.

"These latest figures are based on first-time, full-time freshmen, a measurement we don't feel accurately reflects our student-body composition, which is comprised largely of transfers," said Watson, who has worked intimately with the Illinois Board of Higher Education on performance funding. "Fortunately, the national conversation around graduation rates is beginning to consider that long uncounted transfer students matter and should be counted, and we hope to accomplish this with the performance funding metrics we helped to develop."

CSU has gone through great effort to undergird each student's academic foundation by increasing retention and graduation supports. For example, on the first day of classes through end of term, each student may access subject-matter tutoring for academic support and remediation. CSU also has a Freshmen Experience program to guide first-time, full-time freshmen through the challenges of college life and prepares them early for graduation.

As the most diverse college at CSU, and the 11th most diverse pharmacy school in the nation, according to the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy, this phenomenon reflects CSU's efforts to recruit a more diverse student body from across cultures and economic circumstances.

The south side institution has also invested in science, technology, engineering and math by building a $1.5 million, state-of-the-art interactive physics lab that allows students to collaborate effectively and faculty to research student learning methods to increase their chances of success. Chicago State is also notable in that undergraduate STEM majors engage in the type of research reserved for graduate students at other institutions.

"Chicago State is thrilled to reach two great milestones today: Our graduation rate, as promised, is on a steady uptick and is our largest ever," Watson said. "Moreover, we're graduating the first-ever class of doctoral students in pharmacy with our inaugural class."