The backdrop was a stuffy, hastily reformed tennis complex, but the excitement of President Barack Obama’s announcement Wednesday afternoon couldn’t have been more energetic, especially given the topic.
Obama, making his third appearance on campus since 2008, took the stage at the J.W. Isenhour Tennis Complex just after 1 p.m. to deliver the news that NC State had been tapped to lead the $140 million Next Generation Power Electronics National Manufacturing Innovation Institute.
The president knew that NC State, a leader in wide bandgap semiconductor technology research, was the right organization to lead the institute because of its history in engineering research and as a manufacturing incubator.
“I am a lawyer by trade and that is nice, but we need more engineers,” the president said. “So companies like Cisco and IBM, they come to this school when they are looking to hire because of the quality of the engineering programs.”
As he introduced the president, Chancellor Randy Woodson tooted the university’s horn by saying “No one, no one, in the world knows this emerging technology better than NC State.”
Big News, Short Speech
The program was relatively short, and not at all like Obama’s previous appearances here, which were both campaign stops at Reynolds Coliseum.
The president promised to keep the announcement short, knowing that there was a big men’s basketball game between NC State and Wake Forest slated for 9 p.m., and some of the people in attendance were headed to Winston-Salem to see it.
“We are doing this event nice and early so we are not going up against the Wake game,” Obama said. “I’ve learned a few things as president and one of them is not to compete with college basketball down here on Tobacco Road.”
He kept his remarks to less than 15 minutes, and the building was cleared by 2 p.m.
Throughout, there was a festive atmosphere. The doors of the tennis center opened at 10 a.m., and a few hundred students were among the 2,000 invited guests at the rally. The students and the NC State pep band prepped the crowd, made up mostly of electronic industry leaders throughout the state, starting up the obligatory chants of “Wolf!” and “Pack!” as the motorcade whisked the president down Western Boulevard past a small group of protesters from Americans For Prosperity.
Milling about while waiting for the featured guest to arrive were some of the most recognizable figures in the state, such as former four-term North Carolina Gov. Jim Hunt, still his alma mater’s biggest political proponent.
Gov. Pat McCrory was on hand, along with U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre and the mayors of the three vertices of the Research Triangle, Raleigh’s Nancy McFarlane, Chapel Hill’s Mark Kleinschmidt and Durham’s Bill Bell. Woodson also hosted new UNC chancellor Carol Folt at the event.
Former NFL and Wolfpack All-America wide receiver Torry Holt had a middle row seat, and like everyone else, he tried to get a little work done on his smartphone while killing time.
The festivities were kicked off a little before noon by student body president Alex Parker, whose short address was sandwiched between sets of piped-in bluegrass music. He wasn’t the only student on the program, though.
Amalia Osborne, a senior from Waltrop, Md., who is the former battalion commander of NC State’s Army ROTC program, was chosen to the lead the crowd in the pledge of allegiance. And senior volleyball player Meredith Richardson was selected by the White House to sing the national anthem, after she submitted a videotape of herself performing the song on Senior Night in Reynolds Coliseum.
Obama spent a portion of his speech touting some of the recent accomplishments of his tenure, but focused on the manufacturing and economic impacts of the new initiative and its job-creating potential.
“This has to be a year of action,” Obama told the crowd. “North Carolina is doing your part to create jobs. That is what we should all be aspiring to.”
And, for good measure, he sent the crowd home with marching instructions.
“Now,” he said, “let’s get to work.”