Reflections of Urgo's Presidency from a Student's Perspective
By Katherine (Cassey) Elder Class of 2013
St. Mary’s College of Maryland became my home in August of 2009. I can't believe five semesters have gone by already. At the time, the college was actively searching for the next President to lead the school into the coming era. Once President Urgo was chosen, students responded positively. For instance, students appreciated the gesture when, a few months after his arrival, President Urgo served ham to us during exam week. In fact, students became so fond of our new President that student sponsored clubs created pint glasses and mugs with his name and face etched on the front. To say the least, he was welcomed with open arms.
Dr. Urgo is well-loved and as a student, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to speak with the President of my college. I'm certain this would be a near impossibility if I attended a large university. I was extremely anxious to formally meet him, although there have been many times when we've met casually and exchanged hellos. I waited in his lobby for our 10:30 AM appointment and as soon as the clock ticked 10:30, he was out of his office firmly shaking my hand with a gracious smile. I was very much looking forward to hearing his take on the college and the issues we face, from the mold issue to the safety of students. The following article is my attempt to define the Urgo Presidency thus far.
President Urgo began his era at St. Mary's College, July 2010, in the midst of unprecedented financial uncertainties due to the ongoing economic recession, but he reassures the community that the state's financial woes will not affect students. President Urgo described a $5.5 million balance "that acts as an emergency fund of the college." This way, when something happens like mold, for example, there is no immediate need to raise tuition or fees. The college had to dip into the fund for $3 million to pay for hotel costs, the Sea Voyager, and mold remediation, but due to this fund, the money necessary for these expenses were readily available.
Au Revoir Mould
St. Mary’s College's administration probably knows more about mold, its causes, remediation, and the universe of social, economic, and biological factors associated with it than any other college leadership team in the country. Hopefully, they won't have to tap into this wealth of knowledge, except as a consultant for other unfortunate institutions. The mold grew quickly and unexpectedly and can't be blamed on human negligence. The combination of Hurricane Irene, an abnormally long period of hot and humid weather, coupled with a student's ability to control individual room temperatures resulted in a build-up of condensation causing mold to grow exponentially in Caroline and Prince George Halls. Fortunately, the mold is behind us and plans to prevent another outbreak have been implemented.
Is St. Mary's the Real World?
President Urgo consistently refers to a sense of community when he addresses the college. He explains that we are a tight-knit community with a kind of extended family culture that allows all of us to keep one another in check. For instance, he explains, if someone makes a racial slur, the college takes it very seriously and turns the episode into a teaching moment. The college has established a series of community forums to address racial and gender issues. We're not all on the same page. In other words, we're not all blessed with tolerant attitudes toward each other's differences. The forums will provide an opportunity for students and staff to talk about these issues and truly get comfortable discussing them publicly. It's part of the college's mission to create a social and academic community that nurtures the opinions of others. It's the only way to move forward. Centuries of intolerance and discrimination don't go away all by themselves.
Asked if he really feels that St. Mary's is part of the real world, the college president calls it a 'hyper real' environment, even more "real" than the real world. But how can that be? President Urgo explained, "You just can't say things and get away with them." We live in an incredibly tight knit community; we constantly strive to keep it free from discrimination and prejudice. As an active member of this community, each person has an unspoken duty of keeping fellow peers and staff in check, meaning an off handed comment would not be taken lightly and there would be displeased members of the community with something to say about it.
Changes coming to Rt. 5
In recent months, the college has been working to enhance the safety of Route 5 and surrounding roads. President Urgo wants to make it so that Route 5 physically changes when you drive south as the river appears on the right. The college and the state are exploring ways to narrow the road and change its texture to encourage people to slow down. Plans are being made to create signs that show the entrance to the college area. The intent is to create the impression that drivers are entering a college town.
Comparing apples to apples
Time Magazine recently reported that St. Mary's College of Maryland is one of the most expensive public colleges in the nation, not the kind of publicity the college seeks. How does the college president respond to concerns that the college has become overly expensive? President Urgo points out that SMCM offers an outstanding yet rigorous academic program as well as a college experience like no other. This being said, it is not necessarily fair to compare our institution to other Maryland public colleges. The administration prefers to compare the college to private institutions that are typically $20,000 to $30,000 more than SMCM.
St. Mary's is Extraordinary
As one of the 2,000 students currently enrolled at St. Mary’s, I feel extremely fortunate to attend a school that not only facilitates my intellectual growth, but also encourages me to develop as an adult in the real world. This isn’t high school. St. Mary's is a public institution, dedicated to providing a premier education for students with diverse backgrounds and worldviews. This isn't a place where a small group of students are selected for an honors program. Rather, the entire school is an honors college and every student has access to small classes and frequent one-on-one interactions with faculty and staff. It is an intellectual community that includes everyone. The experience and education offered by the college is unlike any public school. As students, we are extraordinarily fortunate to be part of this amazing institution led by such a visionary administration.