The Cigarroa family has had a long and affectionate relationship with the University of Texas at Austin. My father attended UT in the 1940s and left when Harvard Medical School admitted him after his junior year. That’s a strong endorsement of UT’s academic preparation, even 70 years ago. He is still practicing medicine to this day, and he credits UT for his success and for inspiring him to be a critical thinker and lifelong learner.
In the summer after my freshman year at Yale, I took a course in physics here at UT. It was the most difficult course I’ve ever taken. I wanted to do research on cell biology, so I looked at the syllabus and discovered that Dr. Guy Thompson was an expert in cell membrane physiology. I knocked on his door and asked if I could do research in his laboratory that summer. Even though he didn’t know me, he was pleased by my interest and determination, and he welcomed me into his lab. He taught me the fundamentals of basic science research, and to this day, I credit Dr. Thompson for my love of biomedical research.
The lives of three generations of Cigarroas from South Texas as well as many other lives have been transformed by their educational experiences at UT Austin. What starts at UT truly changes the world, and that is one of many reasons this great flagship university is regarded with the utmost admiration and respect. It is also why one of my most important priorities as chancellor of the University of Texas System was to advance excellence at the UT flagship and strive to make it the best public university in the nation.
Over the past six years, the System leadership team and I — in close collaboration with the Board of Regents and institution presidents — focused our attention on several important initiatives:
We worked on accessibility and affordability for UT students and their families, with a special emphasis on controlling tuition increases and student debt.
We improved student advising.
We provided greater safeguards for campus security and addressed a growing need for mental health counseling in the university community.
We developed and implemented best-in-class blended and online learning and greatly expanded access to online educational tools.
We supported a flurry of new state-of-the-art centers and complexes that are indicative of UT Austin’s growth and national stature in a wide range of fields, including the Belo Center for New Media in the Moody College of Communication, the Engineering Education and Research Center, the Bill and Melinda Gates Computer Science Complex and Dell Computer Science Hall and the Liberal Arts Building.
After several years of planning, the UT System, working in close collaboration with President William Powers Jr. and his leadership team, are building the new Dell Medical School at UT Austin, which will educate and train new generations of doctors and health professionals and give the University a major biomedical research component. It will also solidify Austin as a world-class center for research, technology innovation and entrepreneurship.
And we are funding the establishment of major institutes which will benefit UT Austin in the fields of neuroscience and neurotechnology, engineering education, energy research and computer science.
As I leave the chancellor’s office and return to transplant surgery at the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, I see a very bright future ahead for UT Austin and all UT institutions across the state. Retired Admiral William McRaven will serve as the next chancellor, and he is an experienced and effective leader with impeccable integrity and a long and distinguished career of service to our nation. The System is in excellent hands.
Serving as chancellor has been an extraordinary experience. People have asked what motivated me most, and it’s a very easy question to answer. What inspired me most every day was my interaction with remarkable people and the knowledge that, while the daily work was challenging, the end result was eminently worth it. My days were enriched by getting to know students, alumni, presidents, donors, faculty and staff members at UT institutions spread across this great state. I cherish those many interactions, and I will carry their memory with me for the rest of my life.
University of Texas students — you are our future, and you will shape the intellectual and economic landscape of our state and nation in the years ahead. I have complete faith in you. If your educational experience on this campus has been like my father’s and mine, and countless others for more than a 130 years, then UT has instilled in you a love of learning that will lead you toward an abundant and fulfilling life. Embrace this experience. It is a rare and wonderful thing.
As I prepare to step down from this truly extraordinary job, I want to take the time to thank you, the students of the University of Texas, for entrusting your education to us. Education is an investment that will never fail you. I know that sometimes pursuing higher education takes great personal sacrifice, and being a part of your journey has been the honor of my lifetime.
Cigarroa is the outgoing chancellor of the UT System.