State of the College – Fall 2018
September 7, 2018
“Leading the Way”
Welcome to the start of the 178th year of this space known as St. Mary’s! St. Mary’s College. A place known as a hidden gem when I arrived. Today? We are an institution on the move! In 2015, the campus community came together and began the process of re-imagining what this institution could be. The result? A strategic plan that I refer to as a foundational strategic plan. Thus, it was not very aspirational. That plan was required to get our house in order for bigger and better things to come. It was indeed a time for rebirth. Our vision? To become The College of choice, bar none. The question becomes, The College of Choice for whom? Well, that’s easy. We want to become the College of Choice for students and their families. When that happens, you become the College of Choice for faculty and staff. Then for graduate and professional schools and, for employers. At the same time, the community in which you reside will consider you a gem because they know that you will be sensitive to their needs while helping move the entire region to a different level, a higher level. There is none to compare you. You are The College of Choice.
To reach that pinnacle requires a lot of work. Work that cannot be done by a single entity or in silos. Work that requires collegial and respectful collaboration across the entire institution. Last year we embarked on implementing integrated institutional planning because every unit and everybody had to have “skin in the game.” Let me say that again. Every unit and everybody had to have skin in the game. This was a different concept, a different approach to how things appeared to work in the past. The result of our past “behavior” or way of doing business? We did well enough and were satisfied. But the world caught up and was beginning to pass us by. The integrated institutional planning concept perturbed the system. There was chaos introduced in the system and things appeared to be in disarray, and if Chicken Little were here, he would have declared that the sky was falling. But, I am here to tell you that the sky did not fall. We are in the process of reaching a new equilibrium and, in so doing, we have moved the needle and are on our way to doing something that no other college or university to our knowledge has been able to do and we will eventually reach that pinnacle, our vision of becoming The College of Choice.
Let’s revisit for a moment the system perturbation because having this aspirant vision to become the College of Choice moves us away from the status quo. When a perturbant (or catalyst) is introduced into a system, things begin to move at a faster rate, and depending on the reaction conditions, some things will fall out of solution, and some might even try to change their state and escape. Others, however, seize the opportunity, use the decreased activation energy, join forces, and move to that different place – changed for the better – and establish a new equilibrium. Today, before I tell you about a few of the highlights from the previous semester, I want to recognize several individuals who are helping us move to a new place and establish a more favorable equilibrium.
In his Drum Major Instinct speech, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. explains how we all want recognition. I quote: “We all want to be important, to surpass others, to achieve distinction, to lead the parade…this quest for recognition, this desire for attention, this desire for distinction is the basic impulse, the basic drive of human life, this drum major instinct.” The individuals I want to highlight today – a student, two faculty members, and a staff member – are the exact opposite of the drum major in that they are quietly going about their work based on what is in the best interest of students – not as the leaders of the parade but as the individuals who help to orchestrate the score.
- Jada Ward ’19, political science major and music minor: Jada could not be with us today due to another commitment, but she is with us in spirit. Jada is a member of the College’s Commemoration Committee, better known as CommComm. Each semester, I find myself inspired by Jada – her thoughtful questions and her steady presence at campus events. She epitomizes what we love most about our students at St. Mary’s College.
- Aileen Bailey, professor of psychology, chair of the Ad Hoc Core Curriculum Committee, and vice-chair of the Core Design Workgroup: Aileen completed extensive work over the summer and was there whenever we needed her – whether it involved a presentation to faculty or a weekend presentation to the Board of Trustees at their retreat. Faculty endorsement of the new vision for the curriculum was a long, and at times, tough process, so kudos to Aileen for her role in making it happen.
- Garrey Dennie, associate professor of history, member of the Faculty Senate, member of the Ad Hoc Core Curriculum Committee, member of the Core Design Workgroup. Dr. Dennie is one of several who has worked with Dr. Bailey and others on the various committees to move the vision for the enhanced programming forward. In my view, he is a consummate statesman, one who could be considered the majority Whip – able to persuade others to move the agenda forward, always looking for compromises.
- Joanne Goldwater, Associate Dean for Retention and Student Success: Joanne has been a part of the campus community for more than 20 years. Her commitment to our students is noteworthy. Her efforts in student retention and equity are laudable. She epitomizes a caring and willing spirit who just does whatever is needed to advance the cause.
Truly, Jada (in absentia), Aileen, Garrey, and Joanne are stars among many. Know that we appreciate each of you for all that you do in support of the College. I ask that each of you stand and be recognized by the community and please accept this small gift as a token of my appreciation for all that you have done and continue to do for us.
Now, let’s turn our attention to our quest to become The College of Choice and highlight some of our accomplishments since the January State of the College. To get there, it will matter how we do, what we do, and when.
HOW WE LOOK
Part of our efforts in integrated institutional planning must focus on how we look, our curb appeal. We realize that effective facilities are instrumental to our ability to recruit and retain students of a high caliber and our vision to become the College of Choice. The Jamie L. Roberts Stadium project and the forthcoming new academic building and auditorium will raise our profile not only in terms of our students but also in the surrounding community. Familiarity often leads to interest.
The Jamie L. Roberts Stadium construction is well underway. The artificial turf field is already in play! In fact, our field hockey team posted a win last week. The grass field and the foundation for the stadium are in progress. Projected completion for this project is March 2019. We look forward to hosting more and more old friends and newcomers to our campus in the spaces made possible by the support of generous donors, especially Bob Roberts, father of Jamie L. Roberts ’11.
The stadium, academic building and auditorium projects, in addition to the Slave Commemoration Project and many others on the near horizon, will enhance the beauty of our campus. As you are all aware, Chip Jackson retired last week. Chip wore a variety of hats during his 32-year career and played an integral role in helping to shape the look of our campus. Although Chip is irreplaceable on so very many levels, I have no doubt that his replacement will pick up the torch that has been handed to him and carry it well and far. At this time, I would like to introduce our new Vice President for Business and Finance, Paul Pusecker, to you. Paul brings a wealth of experience and expertise, most recently serving at the University of Delaware as senior chief business officer. Know that he retired from a laudable career in the US Army as a lieutenant colonel. We salute you, Paul.
HOW WE FEEL
The demographics for College-going adults continue to change. Perhaps now more than ever before, it is essential that we work to make our campus as welcoming and inclusive as possible in order to achieve our vision of becoming the College of Choice. Last year, we solidified our commitment to this effort with the implementation of required diversity training for every member of our community. This year, our efforts will be enhanced. I first want to thank all of you who have endeavored to embrace our inclusive diversity and equity work. I want to give a special THANK YOU to those who have agreed to serve on the committee to identify our new associate vice president of inclusive diversity and equity/chief diversity officer. Leonard Brown – chair, Jeff Coleman, Scott Mirabile, Leslie Tucker, Soo Bin Jang, Angie Draheim, Erich Westhoff, Angelina Wilson, and Troy Moss). We look forward to interacting with the slate of talented and experienced candidates you will bring to campus later this semester.
We are very fortunate that Ken Coopwood has joined us as our interim AVP of inclusion, diversity, and equity. Dr. Coopwood has a long history of managing diversity initiatives at institutions of higher education and in the business sector. Among a myriad of tasks, Ken has been asked 1) to help us evaluate and improve our environmental and cultural policies and practices as well as 2) to help us develop and implement curricular and co-curricular programs that enhance our students’ experiences and competencies. Welcome, Ken.
I am constantly reflecting on the question, what does it mean to be educated in the 21st century? We continue to ask what do today’s students and their families want from higher education? What does the nation need from an educated and skilled citizenry? Liberal arts colleges have a special place in the higher education sector. For decades, St. Mary’s College has been revered for its innovative and relevant curriculum. To remain current and relevant in the higher education landscape, we continue to offer and, when necessary, sunset programs.
At the May 2018 meeting, the College’s Board of Trustees approved two new minors: one in business and the other in astrophysics. I thank the faculty who worked to develop these programs. As you should be aware, last night we awarded The Patuxent Partnership (TPP) the Trailblazer Award for its significant support of partnerships between academia, industry, and the military in general, and specifically for its support of our Center for the Study of Democracy and the STEM disciplines. Our Physics department has won national recognition and awards for its programming much of it due, in no small part, to the financial support the TPP has provided. The astrophysics minor is another manifestation of the great work the department is doing to not only attract more students, but also to attract and retain a diverse group of students to the College.
The business minor is significant for the College and I am so pleased that a minor, not a major, is the course that we have taken. A minor speaks very nicely to the entrepreneurial mindset so prevalent in the students of today and tomorrow and, because it is not a major, it provides the opportunity for virtually any student, regardless of major, to fit it into their academic program and still graduate “on time”.
The program in Women and Gender Studies is now a major – something that the students at the College have wanted for a long time.
At this time last year, on this very stage, I discussed a framework that would integrate the practical and professional skills required for success beyond college across the curriculum for all, not just a select few, of St. Mary’s College students. In conversations around the State and across the country, current and potential students and their families, policymakers, and employers were excited about the concept. Although there was excitement about it, there was doubt that we could do it. I am thrilled to inform you that we are a step closer to this vision. In May 2018, the faculty approved a framework that integrates professional and practical skills across the curriculum and a committee comprised of faculty and staff worked deliberately and diligently to begin to build the structure for that framework. Earlier this afternoon I acknowledged the significant efforts of Drs. Bailey and Dennie in this endeavor. On this slide, you see the names of all of the individuals who have worked hard on getting this vision to a reality. At this time, I want to publicly thank each of them for this tremendous effort and I look forward to the refinement of this programming, programming that can be both relevant and distinctive, in the higher education sector.
The staff in both Admissions and Financial Aid and Integrated Marketing have done a tremendous job in bringing in the entering class this year. I would like for all who are present to stand and be recognized. I also want to thank the students, faculty, and staff who worked with these units to plan and implement the revised and brand new programming for Open Houses and Admitted Student Days, SOAR, the receptions, and phone calls. Well done! I also want to say welcome to the new director of admissions, Ms. Kendra Lawrence. We look forward to your leadership in helping us build next year’s class.
So, what has been the result of our integrated institutional planning efforts? The buzz and achievements have positively impacted our new student enrollment for Fall 2018!
What you see here is that we have the largest number of new students, which includes first-time/first-year students and transfer students, in six years! And their credentials are the highest they’ve been in a long time!
These accomplishments have taken the entire community working together. The word is getting out that St. Mary’s College of Maryland, that hidden gem, is kind of a big deal. How do we sustain this energy and momentum and continue our ascension? How do we tell the story of who we are, what we offer, and where we are going?
IT IS TIME TO BUILD A STRONGER BRAND
We are on the cusp of the trajectory that can lead to our becoming The College of Choice. We have a strong history of academic excellence, but in recent years, we seem to have lost our collective voice and the nation has stopped “listening.” But our conversations across the country during the last year clearly indicate that we are on the right path for developing and implementing that which few have dared to do. And, importantly, we are about to do it in a way that none has yet to accomplish.
How do you get the word out or, as some say, build a stronger brand? You go out and hire a consultant who specializes in branding and marketing higher education institutions. We are fortunate to have an alumnus who has one of the best such firms in the country. The firm began its research and culled through the responses of more than 1,500 participants who represented prospective and current students, alumni, employers, faculty and staff, looking for answers. Thanks to each of you who took the time to participate in the research that was an important component in shaping this marketing strategy for our College. You, our community, are helping guide exciting and meaningful curricular change. You are the authors of, and participants in, our story—both then and now. Building an authentic brand platform would not be possible without your participation.
So what was the research trying to determine? Essentially, the firm, Creative Communications Associates (CCA), was trying to find answers to the following. Who is SMCM? What do people think about the new framework?
What did they discover? People couldn’t come up with any distinctive academic traits of the College and that “Honors College” resonated strongly with the external community, not so with our faculty, staff, and current students. The good thing is that virtually everyone, especially students, families, and employers, embraced the new programming framework that last year we referred to as Honors College 2.0.
So it is time to tell people who we are and what we are about. The tide is turning as we have seen with recent enrollment success. The branding and marketing initiative will support our efforts further. Besides articulating in an authentic and compelling way our unique story, it gives us all a clear and consistent framework through which to share our story. It will help prospective students understand the value of choosing St. Mary’s College over others. It will build pride among alumni, encouraging even closer connections, making them more inclined to provide financial support and career opportunities for our future graduates. It helps our peers, influencers, employers, and the state of Maryland recognize and value the unique position we occupy in the higher education landscape.
Most of all, it helps us speak in one unified, consistent voice–because ours is a remarkable story worth telling over and over.
So what is the brand identity? St. Mary’s College of Maryland. The National Public Honors College. We are one of only two public honors colleges in the nation—a position we have always held, but never lifted or embraced. It is time to claim that designation, to own it, to proudly display it. And, importantly, the “honors” concept resonates very well with prospective students.
We will use this position to build stronger awareness and familiarity in a very crowded market. Our voice must be stronger and bolder.
We need to learn how to talk about our teaching and learning—the hallmark of The National Public Honors College.
The term “Honors College 2.0” means nothing to the external community. There is even a little bit of uncertainty as to what it means to some here on campus! So, how can we effectively and efficiently communicate the teaching and learning embodied in our new liberal arts framework? LEAD – Learning through Experiential and Applied Discovery. And so, instead of saying Honors College 2.0, we will refer to our LEAD curriculum as the way we teach and transform thinkers into doers at The National Public Honors College.
As we tout St. Mary’s College as The National Public Honors College, CCA developed five chapters—or key message areas if you will—that build the College story and answers, when someone asks you to, Tell Me About St. Mary’s College of Maryland. These five chapters in my mind help each of us articulate who we are, and we will have stories and proof points to support what we say.
The first is about Prestige + Access. This is about “HONORS” and PUBLIC providing an esteemed private education that is affordable. It points to our designation as the nation’s first public honors college and one of only two. Importantly, we have the prestige, but because we are public, we are proud to offer access to any student who has the talent, ambition, and potential to do the work.
Our second brand chapter—is why we stand out. Our LEAD curriculum has a career-ready edge. It applies the liberal arts through an innovative approach to learning. Here is where we will tell the academic stories of what our faculty are accomplishing and how our students are learning.
Our third brand chapter speaks to many of our external rankings and badges as well as our four-year graduation rates and our position as the college with the lowest debt among four-year publics in Maryland. We offer an exceptional high-quality education at an affordable price. You can graduate on time with low debt. Uncommonly worth it.
Our fourth brand chapter underscores our historic roots and the ideals of freedom and inclusiveness. It talks about our location and the river as an underpinning to our identity. We give our best here because our location inspires us with energy, perseverance, and movement ever forward.
And finally, the fifth brand chapter we will develop speaks to student success. It talks to the small class size and the extraordinary bonds our students have with faculty. It speaks to our offerings and options for students as they focus their career pathways. Here we will tell the stories of the remarkable graduates you all have inspired, graduates who are world citizens, choosing to lead purposeful lives.
At this time, staff will pass out the official pocket guide outlining these key points. While this is happening, I ask our Vice President for Institutional Advancement, Carolyn Curry, to come up and provide additional detail.
During Hawktoberfest, I hope you will join me on October 19, where we will unveil more of the brand – this time in videos and other collateral—and show you ways that you can incorporate it. I will be repeating the same presentation on October 20 to alumni and parents who are here for Hawktoberfest.
Thank you again for your role in helping to articulate our new brand position. It is all of our responsibility now to become ambassadors for this story. I hope you feel as much pride as I do in our collective work on so many fronts.
St. Mary’s College, ranked fifth best public liberal arts college in the United States by U.S. News & World Report, is kind of a big deal. Because of all of us. All of our sacrifice. Our commitment. Our passion. About a week ago, St. Mary’s College was named #28 out of Washington Monthly’s top 30 liberal arts colleges. It’s kind of big deal. The Washington Monthly rates colleges not based on what colleges do for themselves, but rather on what they do for their country.
Together with each of us, St. Mary’s College of Maryland is leading the way. We LEAD through our service. We LEAD through our passion. We LEAD through not trying to be like everyone else but by simply being our best selves – our individual efforts creating a collective whole that we are proud to call our own.
I look forward to a productive semester. Thank you.