Cabrera Comes Home

New President Delivers First Institute Address

“This is a crazy moment for me. I hope you appreciate that,” said President Ángel Cabrera as he began his first Institute Address to approximately 550 Georgia Tech students, faculty, and staff in the Ferst Center for the Arts.

“I am thrilled to be back. When I was a student in the Skiles Building, it never crossed my mind that one day I would be addressing you as Georgia Tech’s new president. It’s absolutely exciting,” he said.

As a Fulbright Scholar, Cabrera earned an M.S. and Ph.D. in cognitive psychology from Georgia Tech. He also holds a telecommunications engineering degree (B.S. and M.S. in computer and electrical engineering) from Universidad Politécnica de Madrid.

He is married to management scholar and fellow Tech graduate, Beth Cabrera, M.S. PSY 1993, Ph.D. PSY 1995. Their son Alex is a recent Georgia Tech graduate and currently a Ph.D. student at Carnegie Mellon University, and their daughter Emilia is a rising junior at Harvard University.

“Today I will share some of my thinking about what I hope to do over the next year. And I will share some immediate actions. But I thought I would introduce myself so you will know a little more about me.”

First, he introduced “the other half of the Cabrera team” — Beth, who grew up in Florence, Alabama. A native of Madrid, he met her at orientation on their first day of graduate school at Tech.

“We started dating a year later, and our very first date was right here, in the Ferst Center, in 1992,” he recalled. “We came to hear the Spanish symphony perform here.”  

That was almost three decades ago. “I just couldn’t believe it,” he said. “Here I was, a kid from a working-class neighborhood, whose parents didn’t go to college, about to start a doctorate at an iconic American research university. What are the odds? But what I didn’t realize then is that giving opportunities to people like me was exactly why public higher education was created.”

Cabrera told the audience (also watching via live stream) that he has seen firsthand the impact of public research universities on the lives of students and their families, the health of economies, and the strength of societies.

“Nothing I have accomplished in my own life would have been possible without quality public education. And I consider it a privilege to work for an institution that is not only devoted to scientific and technological progress, but to social mobility and opportunity as well,” he said.

Most recently, as president of George Mason for seven years, Cabrera worked with faculty and staff to help the university become a national example of access to excellence.

Cabrera pointed to Tech’s ability to attract talented individuals from all backgrounds across Georgia, the nation, and around the world. The Institute’s strengths now reach far beyond engineering, with almost half of its undergraduates choosing majors outside the discipline.

“Our research is leading to breakthroughs in areas ranging from artificial intelligence to sustainability, from biomedical engineering to policy, and a wide range of social and cultural issues,” he said. “With research awards now surpassing one billion dollars, the magnitude of our research enterprise is simply extraordinary, especially for a public institution without a medical school.”

As a member of the Georgia Tech Advisory Board for almost a decade, Cabrera watched the Institute reach impressive new heights under the leadership of his predecessors, G. Wayne Clough and G.P. “Bud” Peterson. As he put it, “My number one goal is — and I have written it on my desk — do not screw it up! At least keep that trajectory going.”

Cabrera pointed to Tech’s 2010 Strategic Plan, which, he said, “has served the Institute well. Many of the accomplishments over the past nine years can be traced to the foresight and vision in that plan and the ability of to execute it, along with the flexibility to respond to opportunities that arose.” It also served as the foundation for the highly successful Campaign Georgia Tech, which raised $1.8 billion.

“Much has changed in nine years,” Cabrera said. “Our presidential transition creates a natural opportunity to reassess that vision, to rethink the kind of institution we want to become and the impact we want to have in the world. So, you can expect a lot of opportunities for engagement in developing a new strategic plan.”

To serve that effort, Cabrera announced a few immediate organizational changes. The first is the addition of Frank Neville, who will serve as Cabrera’s chief of staff and senior vice president of Strategic Initiatives. Neville worked with Cabrera at George Mason, in the role of chief of staff and vice president of Communications and Marketing. The two also worked together at the Thunderbird School of Global Management (now part of Arizona State University). Neville will assume oversight of Tech’s Strategic Consulting department, which currently operates under the executive vice president for Administration and Finance.

Lynn Durham, chief of staff for President Peterson and interim vice president for Government and Community Relations, will take on a new role as vice president for Institute Relations. Her portfolio will include Government and Community Relations and economic development, as well as chairing a new external affairs council.

Cabrera also announced he will transfer Tech’s Title IX office from the Office of the General Counsel to the Office of Institute Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (formerly Institute Diversity).

“I look forward to working with all of you in building an environment where all students can thrive.”

Management of ADA compliance will also move to the Office of Diversity, Equity ,and Inclusion.

Cabrera announced he will create a formal Open Records office within Institute Communications to underscore a commitment to transparency and maintaining the public trust. It will operate as part of a new group in the department focused on telling Tech’s story through the news media, managing crises, and responding to all open records requests.

He noted some of the issues at the top of his list of priorities, including student mental health.

“This is a nationwide issue, and it is a worrisome issue. We have to do everything we can to take care of students while they are here,” he said. “The more aspirational and demanding Georgia Tech is, the more likely it is that mental health issues will continue. It requires everybody’s participation.”

Cabrera wrapped up by reiterating his excitement — and pride — about being back at Tech. “And not because of our reputation and accolades, but because of our impact. Don’t get me wrong. I love our fabulous rankings, and I will be the first to brag shamelessly about them whenever I can. But that’s not why we do what we do. We work hard to make a difference in the world we live in.”

Cabrera intends to offer his own transparency through his blog, as well as on Twitter and Instagram. He shared his email address angel.cabrera@gatech.edu and invited anyone who sees him on campus to say hello — and to use his first name, Ángel.

Watch an archived presentation of the address.

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