July 9, 2008
Dear Faculty, Staff, Student and Alumni Leaders,
This annual “mid-summer” newsletter arrives in the afterglow of the historic Holleran Center announcement and the holiday weekend. This past week, we submitted our formal response to the State Team’s evaluation of our application for university status. Our central campus is well on the way to transformation; our facilities staff is busy with the usual summer projects. New student orientation sessions, evening classes, campaign appointments, research and other scholarly activities keep many among us quite busy. Still, I hope that these weeks between mid-May and mid-August bring all of us some relaxation and precious family time as well as opportunity for productive work.
There is, as always, much to report. And, as always, much to celebrate, as we begin our anniversary year.
SPECIAL (ANNIVERSARY) EVENTSWell, we do have graduation every year, even twice. Still, it was a big undertaking to move our May Commencement to the Sovereign Center. Students and families were appreciative of the big increase in available tickets and yet enjoyed having the baccalaureate ceremony and liturgy on campus. Bishop Cullen and Senator Casey brought some high-profile attention to the first event in our anniversary year. Thanks to the many folks--especially to Sister Margaret Dougherty, Betsy Stiles, and the College Life and Facilities team—for all their efforts.
Congratulations, also, to the many who worked during the past year to organize the very successful AFCU Symposium held in early June. There were 241 participants, including 55 from Alvernia, representing 23 colleges and universities. Led by Sr. Rosemary Stets in collaboration with Shirley Williams and the planning team, we enjoyed a fine opportunity to showcase Alvernia among our Franciscan peers. Rosemary has already publicly acknowledged the many who contributed so effectively, especially the faculty planning group, led by Bongrae Seok and Mary Schreiner. I will simply add that the event also showcased the exceptional team work and service of our staff in Facilities and Operations, Public Safety, Food Service, Marketing, Campus Ministry, Information Technology, and the Library. Student Ambassadors were indispensable. A special thanks to four staff members who smoothly handled countless details: Suzanne Miller, Betsy Stiles, Sister Deb Surgot, and Lisa Venkler. And who could forget the latest rousing production from the now legendary series, “On the Road to Assisi,” by Mike “St. Francis” Pressimone, Jo “Mother Veronica” Pressimone, and Gale “St. Clare” Martin. Priceless.
PEOPLE . . . and PLACESOur new Holleran Center for Community Engagement is less a “place” than a collection of programs and a catalyst for expanded opportunities for community-based learning. That is much of its appeal.
While many in the community initially assumed Alvernia was constructing still another building with the largest gift in our history, we are fortunate that Jerry and Carolyn Holleran understand the importance of supporting programs and people through near-term funding and a long-term endowment. Their gift challenges us to deliver on the promise of our vision statement: to be distinguished by our emphasis on “integrated, community-based, inclusive, and ethical learning.”
It was terrific to have so many faculty and staff attend the announcement. Through the Marketing Office’s good work, Alvernia received significant publicity well beyond Reading. By coincidence, our June Board meeting brought to an end Jerry’s term of service as a trustee. Together, through their service and generosity over the last twenty years, this special couple helped build the foundation for Alvernia’s next fifty years.
The Holleran Center’s sponsorship of the South Reading Youth Initiative (SRYI) provides valuable leadership opportunities for our students and many aspiring youngsters. The third annual Creativity Camp was held in late June for 27 middle school children from Reading. Under the guidance of Kim Stoudt and assisted by the Center’s staff and five Alvernia students, they experienced activities as varied as the Reading Museum’s Planetarium, the Adventure Aquarium in Camden, NJ, and the Angelica Environmental Preserve. A Junior Creativity Camp for 7-10 year olds is planned for mid-August.
The Central Campus Project is very much a “place.” After delays in the delivery of the structural steel, the Student Center renovation and addition is progressing nicely. The expanded kitchen, dining room, and bookstore will be ready for students in August. Perhaps an even more dramatic change will be the creation of the new and “growing” Campus Commons. Some plantings will be delayed until cooler weather, but several new trees and the much-awaited grass will be in place along with the walkways and paths.
Also, progressing well is the Angelica Park Project. The building of new fields is the first key step in making room available for the development of South Campus. These fully irrigated fields will be home to Crusader softball and baseball teams next spring. Drive out newly named St. Bernardine Street through the park to Route 10 and check it out!
Pictures of all three construction projects can be viewed at http://picasaweb.google.com/AlverniaWebGallery
JUNE BOARD MEETINGAs is customary, this newsletter is an opportunity to report on the quarterly meeting of our Board of Trustees. Trustees have turned their June meeting into a two-day workshop on strategic issues. This year’s theme, “Today’s Students in Context,” featured presentations by nationally known experts on challenges for contemporary private higher education, demographic trends, and changing student expectations; two Franciscan sister-trustees on the Franciscan tradition; and an Alvernia panel covering progress in student life, learning services, and student recruitment. Trustees also discussed reports on the peer institution study and the capital campaign and completed the annual evaluations of the Board and President.
Major action items included passage of a resolution to request formally a change in name and status to Alvernia University and the approval of the South Campus Project, including authorization to build the first 150 beds in a village apartment complex. (These topics will be featured at the State of the College event.) Trustees also elected new Board officers, including our first alumna-chair, Kathy Herbein ‘95, and Al Weber, as vice chair, and paid tribute to outgoing chair, Jim Boscov, and to dedicated trustees whose terms of service ended this June—Bill Combs, Jerry Holleran, and Carole Neag.
MAJOR INITIATIVESA year ago, we were rightfully preoccupied with a range of challenging compliance issues. Much hard work and the transition to new and more demanding standards continue, but we can view our progress with satisfaction and pride. Several faculty are attending a state-wide conference on the new teaching certification requirements. In addition, working groups are underway on the following topics:
- general education learning outcomes for Alvernia graduates, including explicit outcomes related to Franciscan values;
- a revised set of guidelines, definitions, and outcomes for service learning;
- five-year plans for the renovation of teaching and learning spaces and for the development and expansion of the arts at Alvernia;
- planning for expanded and better supported distance learning offerings;
- expansion of athletic and recreation programs and facilities; and
- improved advising, especially as part of the first-year experience.
MAJOR INITIATIVES: Enrollment and MarketingThe College Life and Enrollment staffs have been busy with eleven summer sessions for new undergraduates, including five new Transfer Registration Sessions. Faculty and staff are essential to this team effort. Thanks to the many who help make these successful.
As all are well aware, after several years of rapid and steady enrollment growth, our last three years have been more challenging, in student recruitment and retention and with both undergraduate and graduate students.
Improved retention is a major and increasing concern. At present, retention of returning students is running well behind goal. While the contributions of all parts of campus greatly support our student recruitment efforts, all parts of campus share responsibility for student satisfaction and persistence toward graduation. Improved retention must become an institution-wide priority during 2008-2009.
With excellent collaboration between the staff in enrollment and marketing, new admissions publications have been developed for all our student recruiting efforts, and we are launching a much-needed redevelopment and upgrade of our website. Much progress continues to be made in our overall marketing efforts, perhaps most visibly with our magazine. Good progress continues on refining our graphic identity. Improvements in undergraduate admission operations have professionalized our communication with potential students. Comparable steps are underway with adult education markets.
This effort is paying off! Signs of progress have been dramatic over the last two months.
This year, on June 1, we were 100 freshmen ahead of a year ago! As of July 3, we have 395 freshmen, well above our goal of 340 and far more than last year’s eventual class of 305. Certainly there will be some summer “melt” of students, but it seems safe to say we will welcome a record number of freshmen. The academic profile is also higher but, as would be expected, so also is the amount spent on financial aid.
Transfer student recruitment continues to climb toward the slightly reduced goal of 110 new students. Because our well respected nursing program is at enrollment capacity—good news indeed—admission is able to accept fewer transfer students than usual. Admissions and Nursing are developing plans to capitalize on our program’s strong market position. At the same time, a major new collaboration between the enrollment and academic areas will begin in early fall to expand overall transfer recruitment and strengthen articulation agreements with the local community colleges.
Even as our undergraduate enrollment team continues to be focused on Fall 2008, they have made excellent progress in the recruitment of our next class for the fall of 2009. Not only have we greatly accelerated the timeline for this critical work, but we have expanded the scope and sophistication of our outreach. Throughout July and August, Summer Information Sessions (SIS) are being held on Friday. Please feel free to drop by and join families for lunch in the dining room.
UPDATES and NEWS FLASHESThe close of an academic year reminds is a time to celebrate student accomplishments. This year’s Honors Convocation featured a number of worthy awardees. Our baseball and softball teams both exceeded 30 wins, remarkable given both the competition and the spring weather! Immediately after graduation, a group of students participated in the Alternative Break trip in downtown Reading, sponsored by the Holleran Center. (Begun by Campus Ministry, our Alternative Break Program is expanding in scope and impact.)
This generosity of spirit was on display during Spring Fling, led by the Student Government Association, with $10,770 plus several boxes of much needed items donated to Berks Women in Crisis. The majority of the money raised for this worthy charity came from ticket sales from the Spring Fling comedian event, which had over 700 attendees. Various offices in College Life co-sponsored several new programs that broadened the range of our student activities, including Alvernia’s first “Take Back the Night” event, speakers on Iraq and fair trade sales, and our first “Seniors’ Last Lecture Series.”
Students from the Holleran Center are featured in the televised Capitol Connections show. “Paying For College” covers our students’ work in the community and the varied ways that Alvernia students pay for their education through grants, loans and jobs. A replay of this show will be broadcast on July 20th at 2:30 pm on the PCN channel.
Junior Brian Longo‘10 has been named President of the Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) of our new athletic conference for 2008-09. All NCAA schools appoint student-athletes to provide advice regarding the student-athlete experience. Longo, a relief pitcher for the baseball team, has accepted this important leadership role in Alvernia’s first year as a member of the Freedom Conference. (A reminder: the Freedom and Commonwealth Conference are subsets of our new conference, the Middle Atlantic States Collegiate Athletic Corporation, commonly known as the MAC.) Tyrone Bradley ’09 (Basketball) and Jasmine Morales ’09 (Soccer) represented Alvernia at the 2008 NCAA Leadership Conference.
Junior Katherine Ayers’10 is one of seven recipients in the state of the McLean Physician Assistant and Nursing Scholarships awarded by the Independent Colleges and Universities of Pennsylvania (AICUP). Katherine is an outstanding student in our nursing program with a 4.0 average.
Finally, you may recall that a year ago the City Council approved the Alvernia-City of Reading Angelica partnership. In addition to our reconstruction of the ball fields, the City has restored and beautified the wetlands. A new Environmental Center is envisioned on the site of the old boathouse. And, of course, the entrance to the Park will double as a new approach road for Alvernia. A ceremony signaling this progress is expected later this month. Spence Stober and one of our top doctoral students, Alicia Sprow, have been leaders in this effort, supported by Ginny Hand and Doug Smith. Over the next several years, an attractive campus will become even more so!
AUGUST and SEPTEMBER EVENTSLet me highlight a few of the upcoming orientation and anniversary events:
The first of several campus-wide events is our annual Mission Day, Monday, August 18, at the Bernardine Franciscan Conference Center, beginning at 8:15. The theme is “Social Justice and Service.” The morning will conclude with a noontime lunch in the student dining room and the kick-off of our United Way campaign. The annual State of the College program, Tuesday, August 19, begins at 8:30 A.M. with breakfast in our new student dining room, with the program in the FH Auditorium. The New Student Convocation, Thursday, August 21, at 2:00 P.M., begins orientation.
Everyone should mark their calendars for Founder’s Day Weekend, Friday-Saturday, September 12-13.
On Friday, the Mass of the Holy Spirit will mark the beginning of the academic year and launch the anniversary celebration. As with the baccalaureate liturgy, faculty and administrators are asked to join the academic procession and invited to participate in the liturgy in whatever way they are comfortable. A reception and dinner will follow, where we will celebrate Alvernia’s “legacy of leadership.”
On Saturday, there will be a campus-wide festival like those which the Bernardine Sisters hosted for many years featuring ethnic foods, entertainment, and a closing fireworks display. You can access the preliminary anniversary calendar of events on the web.
The year ahead will be exciting as well as historic. We have reason to be optimistic about achieving university status. We are making solid progress on other elements of our strategic plan. The Central Campus, South Campus, and Angelica Projects will transform the student experience. Our “Values and Vision Campaign” is attracting strong, unprecedented financial support. Events like the national AFCU Conference are enhancing Alvernia’s reputation.
As the grim facts of the national economy and the war in Iraq remind us, we live in challenging times. Whatever our challenges here at Alvernia, we are fortunate in our good work and good colleagues. Our students, whatever their backgrounds and abilities, deserve our best effort and unequivocal commitment. We are fortunate to find worthy inspiration in those long-ago Bernardine Sisters who founded Alvernia. As we anticipate our anniversary year, let us pledge to reflect seriously on our living heritage of Franciscan values so we might ever more consciously draw on them to guide our future.
Enjoy the summer. Look forward to seeing you all at our campus-wide August events.
Peace and All Good,