State of the College – Spring 2018
January 19, 2018
“Commemorate the Past. Live in the Present. Prepare for the Future.”
The very beginning of a new year finds most of us reflecting on the events that transpired in the past and looking forward to a better future.
On Monday, January 15, 2018, we had a wonderful MLK Jr. Prayer Breakfast event in which the keynote speaker, alumna Dr. Nandi Crosby-Jordan, discussed leadership and service within the context of Dr. King’s final sermon which was entitled “Drum Major Instinct.” I was taken aback by the text as it reflected well the thoughts that had been taking shape in my mind when I was stirred from sleep by the title for this State of the College address. The theme for my talk today was to be about service and our responsibility as an institution of higher education in the public sector to lead and guide our communities through service that is inclusive and focused on what we believe to be for the greater good.
I would say that we, at this College, have been servants since our founding in the mid-1800’s—servants for what we perceive to be the greater good. This institution was conceived from the idea that women should be active participants in their communities. Thus, throughout our history, we have worked to educate students to be leaders and good citizens.
COMMEMORATING THE PAST
When you examine the history of the county and the people who inhabited this space before we were here, you uncover a story of resilience, and persistence, and creative problem-solving, interlaced with an entrepreneurial spirit. I am not talking about the families of the doctor, the lawyer, and the farmer who are credited with the founding of the St. Mary’s Female Seminary. No. I am speaking of the daughters and sons of the people who were owned by those men. The slaves.
Last semester, the College embarked on a journey that will provide this county, this State with a glimpse of the human spirit of persistence and resilience never before told with this depth and clarity, through the lenses we will use to uncover and tell the story. Thus, the work of the Commemoration Committee, known as the CommComm, is so important for helping us establish the foundation for telling the story of the enslaved in a manner that we will celebrate with pride as we endeavor to understand the impact of slavery on their lives and their livelihood economically, politically, socially, psychologically, and culturally. Then and now. Additionally, the College, in partnership with others, will endeavor to project what the impact of this history could mean for the future – the future of this county, this state, and this nation. In this effort, we are fulfilling our role as public servants: sharing what we know, what we discover; partnering with others to make the world better.
The work of CommComm is critical in helping us begin this journey. Yet, we cannot embark on this task alone. It is essential that this work be done collaboratively, not in isolation, with our community partners: HSMC, which does a good job focusing on the lives and livelihood of the landowners and those who were empowered in this, the first capital of Maryland; Sotterley Plantation, which is a living space focused on the complex community that existed on the plantation; the original Slackwater project focused on the oral histories of residents who have deep family roots in the region; and the Unified Committee for African-American Contributions, an organization whose mission is, in part, to document, increase understanding of and foster African American contributions to the history and development of St. Mary’s County. Members of CommComm and others have begun to tell this story nationally via their participation in a conference in Virginia. Here I would like to recognize those who presented at the conference entitled “Universities, Slavery, Public Memory, and the Built Landscape,” which took place at the University of Virginia. Archivist Kent Randell was a speaker during the panel “Identification & Interpretation Challenges in Researching the Enslaved.” Led by moderator Bill Roberts, professor of anthropology, the panel “Excavating Memories, Elevating Morality: Digging for Slaves at St. Mary’s College” featured Julia King, professor of anthropology and Aldom-Plansoen Honors College Professor; Garrey Dennie, associate professor of history; Christine Wooley, associate professor of English; and Iris Ford, associate professor of anthropology.
By way of the first African and African Diaspora Studies (AADS) Symposium in the fall, CommComm brought outside experts to campus to get a taste of what this place is and what the project could become. I am excited about the potential impact of this project on our students. Last semester, I announced an initiative that will help us re-imagine the liberal arts in the 21st century that I will touch on in a few minutes. The work of CommComm fits firmly within that vision and could serve as a prototype of what can be.
LIVING IN THE PRESENT
We must continue our efforts to educate and be of benefit to the community. We have a unique position within this region of the state in that we are the only four-year college or university within the area. Thus, we represent public servants who play a significant role in the intellectual, cultural, and social spheres within the community. This is a major responsibility, but the data indicate we are doing our part.
- Volunteer hours – The campus community spent over 20,000 hours volunteering in the county. St. Mary’s College students, faculty, and staff volunteered their time, expertise, compassion, and energy in schools, at shelters, in the hospitals and hospice, at playgrounds and community centers, tutoring, teaching, reading, writing, assisting, feeding, cleaning, speaking, driving, organizing, gardening, painting, and whatever else was needed to assist the residence of the county so that they may have an improved quality of life. A specific example occurred just two days after the start of the fall semester when approximately 400 new students volunteered in the community for Seahawk Service Day that included projects at Point Lookout State Park, Trinity Episcopal Church, Calvert Marine Museum, Historic St. Mary’s City, St. Mary’s River Watershed Association, Little Flower School, the theater, film, and media studies department, and the College’s public safety office. A notable achievement of last semester was the work of Mary’s College of Maryland students led by the Student Government Association (SGA), in an initiative called St. Mary’s College Cares to provide non-perishable items to aid more than 56,000 students and their families devastated by Hurricane Harvey. Nearly $14,000 in monetary donations and 9,816 non-perishable items were collected by the SGA and distributed by the Pasadena Independent School District in southeastern Texas. Let’s give this effort a round of applause.
- Special events – As an institution, we provided access and exposure to local, national, and world-renowned speakers, performers, artists, musicians – who provided thought-provoking, engaging, and sometimes challenging issues for discussion and contemplation; music or song that rejuvenated the soul or calmed the spirit; words that brought laughter or tears; spirited athletic events that brought the community together and gave us the opportunity to cheer and encourage those with athletic prowess greater than our own. Mary’s College hosted Math Girls Day at the College’s Schaefer Hall. Math Girls Day runs every semester for middle school girls from Esperanza and Spring Ridge Middle Schools. This year, 44 girls partook in math-related activities.
Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity (IDEs)
Both within and beyond our campus community, it is absolutely essential that we always strive to be respectful of others and try to learn to appreciate diverse perspectives and ways of doing, seeing, and experiencing the world. The IDEs work that was begun in 2015 and is establishing a firm foothold within our campus culture is so very important in helping us go beyond just talking about issues to actually doing something about them. To move this undertaking in earnest, it is essential that we all first take the time and make the effort to learn to speak the same language. In 2016, members of the IDEs education and training workgroup set about to identify a tool to help us learn to speak the same language. The tool was DiversityEdu.
In 2017, under the leadership of Dr. Kortet Mensah, associate vice president of diversity and inclusion, the tool was successfully integrated into an educational program comprised of two components: one passive, the DiversityEdu electronic module; the other component, the small group discussions, provided a unique opportunity for all of us to translate the theory introduced electronically into practice and reality. It is the combination of passive and active learning that provided an enriching and engaging experience to over 70% of our campus community. We are grateful for Dr. Mensah’s leadership in this huge undertaking, and I want to take this moment to applaud Dr. Mensah and the more than 140 student, faculty, and staff volunteers who worked to develop, implement, and facilitate the conversations that we are calling DiversitySMCM.
The work of IDEs will continue to evolve and expand. Dr. Mensah envisions lots of IDEs-related activities across campus being developed over the years, and this requires a multitude of spaces to integrate the work into our campus fabric. Thus, as it continues to grow, there will be IDEs hubs across the campus – some spaces for serious “roll-up-your-sleeves” engagement, some for relaxation, celebration, and fellowship. We are on the path to make that vision a reality. The Lucille Clifton House (LCH) will now be a place where student paraprofessionals interested in serving as liaisons between students and Dr. Mensah and who want to be engaged in IDEs planning at a deeper level will have an office in which to work. Additionally, small groups and individuals who are interested in working on IDEs related endeavors or who just want to gather and celebrate IDEs-related events and such, can gather in the LCH in the IDEs workroom and, whenever possible, the LCH living spaces. Dr. Mensah now has a new office in Calvert Hall on the second floor, which she refers to as the administrative hub – where she can have individual or very small group consults and meetings as well as work on administrative projects in close proximity with campus executives.
As time goes on, the IDEs hubs will be strategically located in a variety of buildings across campus. In this way and with additional and enhanced programming, we will grow ever closer to our aspiration of creating a campus culture and environment where all are welcomed and all thrive.
PREPARING FOR THE FUTURE
I want to return to the story about the founding of the Seminary. Three men recognized a need and, perhaps, they tried to forecast the future. They got together and made a plan to address the need in a progressive way. That which they created has evolved into an entity that I am certain they could have never imagined. In a span of 165 years, the institution they created went from being a small female school to a highly lauded college.
St. Mary’s College is ranked as the nation’s fifth best public liberal arts college in U.S. News & World Report’s “2018 Best Colleges.” St. Mary’s College also ranks 96 on the national liberal arts colleges list. St. Mary’s College is ranked as the nation’s eighth best affordable out-of-state public school in United States by AffordableColleges.com. St. Mary’s College is ranked 6th in the Top 50 Green Colleges in The Princeton Review’s Guide to 375 Green Colleges. St. Mary’s College is listed among the Top 25 Hidden Gems for Women in STEM by CollegeRaptor.com.
These are all good accolades, but we cannot rest on our laurels. The world around us is changing more rapidly than few ever imagined. We see that many of the things that our society once held in high regard are becoming less important and, in some cases, obsolete. How do we ensure that St. Mary’s College of Maryland does not become obsolete? How do we best prepare our students for success beyond these grounds? What will it take to enhance the College’s long-term viability?
In the world of higher education, the national discourse gives one pause. What does it mean to “educate”? Should the focus be on developing skills or the habits of the mind? Who should have access? What should be done to contain costs? How can the business model be “fixed”? The questions are indeed complex.
We have enrollment challenges, and there are a multitude of reasons for our challenges. The Board said we had to come up with a plan to fix them. During our trips to Annapolis, as recently as yesterday, the governor’s office, the secretary of budget and management, as well as every legislator with whom we met asked, how is enrollment? What are you doing to turn it around down there at St. Mary’s?
There is no denying the sense of urgency. However, there is also the understanding that to “turn things around at St. Mary’s,” some things can and must happen immediately; others will take a bit longer. We also know that everyone must have skin in the game, and we all must work together.
So, what has been happening since the last state of the College when I announced efforts to integrate institutional planning as means to re-imagine liberal arts education? We call this institutional effort Honors College (HC) 2.0.
The foundation for HC 2.0 is the vision presented in the strategic plan that calls for SMCM to become The College of Choice. This means that we must re-imagine what we are doing at every level of the institution and do it better and more efficiently. We must constantly ask how what we do, how we look, what we say could be perceived by the outside, and we must ensure that we are always putting forth our best effort. So, we must think about curb appeal, the IT infrastructure, marketing and branding, amenities, admissions and financial aid practices, hiring practices, student programming, employee opportunities, philanthropic opportunities, the social and cultural environments…everything! And, everything must be focused on the student experience. If we are able to do this, we will achieve our long-term vision of becoming the College of Choice.
I’d like to mention some of the highlights since the last State of the College.
Business and Finance
- Buildings and grounds beautification efforts
- Enhanced Information Technology infrastructure
- Giving Tuesday – 28 was a record-setting day for St. Mary’s College. The goal of 600 donors was easily surpassed when 1,411 donations catapulted the total amount raised to $239,589, more than $86,000 over last year’s Giving Tuesday total amount of $152,799. The St. Mary’s College Alumni Council rallied together to donate over $10,000 to award to student clubs and teams as part of a video challenge to share why they love St. Mary’s College.
- Trustee and alumnus John Bell ’95, announced the establishment of two new scholarships for Harford County residents who have been admitted to St. Mary’s College. The John Bell Havre de Grace Scholarship and the John Bell Harford County Scholarship are two merit-based scholarships with preference given to students with financial need.
- BB&T and Regional President Chris Holt ’86 was recognized for supporting the College’s Bookbag to Briefcase program as the title sponsor for the 2017-18 academic year. The Bookbag to Briefcase program, formed several years ago, is designed to connect St. Mary’s College students with industry experts in small group settings.
- Integrated Marketing – recreated the College’s homepage and is constantly working to improve the Admissions landing pages. The team is beginning work on pages associated with Student Affairs, and will continue until every webpage is current, vibrant, and informative.
Admissions and Financial Aid
- Re-structured and increased off-campus events and visits by staff
- Enhanced on-campus events
- Coordination with Financial Aid to include scholarships and financial aid package with the acceptance letter
- Developed an intense communications strategy, in collaboration with the Integrated Marketing staff, that takes full advantage of all of the social media opportunities as well as mailings directed to the student and/or the parent
- The most recent data indicate that thus far, we have not lost any ground from where we were at this point last year, and that is noteworthy
Student Affairs – An aspect of HC 2.0 is to provide every student with skills and opportunities that better prepare them for that first job in addition to long-term career success. An important aspect of that endeavor is to require micro-internship and internships for every student beginning with the class that enters in Fall 2018. We are well on our way.
- Micro-internships increased 46% last semester, including 70 alumni hosts at a variety of organizations.
- Full launch of the Career Immersion Trip program to 9 employers.
Let’s turn to Academic Affairs – Another important component of the HC 2.0 initiative is to provide every student with immersive experiences that ensure and enhance leading-edge, hard skills development that sufficiently develops the soft skills essential for long-term success. I am pleased to announce that faculty from two departments, Psychology and Chemistry & Biochemistry, collaborated and were awarded a highly competitive The Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) Transformations Project grant – an honor bestowed upon only 12 institutions across the country. Let’s give that team a hand.
As a campus community, we are working to ensure that the world knows about the good that is happening at St. Mary’s College. Here are just a few more members of our community who have been doing some really important things. A complete list will be available in my February written report to the Board of Trustess.
Ben Click, professor of English, begins a five-year position as editor of The Mark Twain Annual, published by the Pennsylvania State University Press.
Assistant Professor of Chemistry Troy Townsend ’07 was a featured speaker during the “Creating Change Locally” TEDxLeonardtown event.
Katharina Von Kellenbach, professor of religious studies, gave the keynote address during the symposium “(Un)comfortable Identities: Representations of Persecution” at the University Center, Humboldt State University in California.
Professor of Music David Froom’s newest work, “Ribbons,” was commissioned by the National Flute Association and performed by six competition finalists at its annual convention in Minneapolis. Following the competition performances, flutist Jonathan Keebler, University of Illinois School of Music, performed the official premiere. This season Froom’s music was performed in Salt Lake City, Boston, Washington D.C., and Québec (Orford Festival).
David Kung, professor of mathematics, gave the keynote address to the Panamanian national science and math group at a conference hosted by the National Secretariat for Science, Technology, and Innovation.
Kate Shirey, director of career development, was selected as one of 31 Southern Maryland leaders for the Leadership Southern Maryland (LSM) 2018 class. LSM is designed to develop leaders from the Southern Maryland area for regional collaboration.
Why did I begin this presentation talking about “service”? I read somewhere years ago that people who are educated are more philanthropic with not only their money but with their time. This means that they spend time engaged in service to their communities. I believe very strongly that, as a public institution, we are public servants. Our mission is to provide an excellent education that is accessible and affordable. In my view, the experiences we provide should also be impactful and transformative. We are working very hard to continue to provide an excellent education that is relevant in today’s world. As public servants, we must always remain cognizant of our responsibilities to educate and provide resources to those beyond our campus. Our greatest resource is our students. They represent the future and are the means by which we can create a more just and humane society for all. Let us do what is necessary to ensure that that which we believe to be the best way forward, is available to, and required of, all students. Let us continue our steady progress in developing and implementing Honors College 2.0.