October 13, 2009
Dear Faculty, Staff, Student and Alumni Leaders,
October has brought a flurry of events inspired by our patron, St. Francis, including a gathering of a large number of creatures and critters for the annual Blessing of the Animals. The month-long Franciscan retreat is underway, with many staff, faculty, and student participants. The first of our three annual days of campus-wide service deployed almost 50 Alvernians to assist with the South Reading Youth Initiative (SRYI) and at Opportunity House. And we enjoyed a long weekend.
As I write the fall newsletter, Homecoming Weekend beckons alums back to campus. Speaking of our alumni, our second annual series of regional receptions begins later this month, with events in Northern New Jersey and Florida as well as in Philadelphia, Lancaster, and other near-by locations. Others are planned for later this fall and through the winter months. Our always popular Reading event at 3rd and Spruce, attracting a large contingent of faculty and staff, is on Thursday, November 3.
October is also the month of the Alvernia Literary Festival, coordinated by Sue Guay and her merry band of volunteers and sponsored by the Holleran Center. As usual, there are numerous appealing events, stretching from October 12 to 30, featuring our own literati, like Drs. Richard Law and Tom Bierowski, presentations by several faculty scholars, and the now annual appearance of our writer-in-distant residence, Larry Mazzeno. Among our distinguished visitors are the Jeffersonian scholar, Jon Kukla; the bestselling author Lee Woodruff; and the founding members of the John Updike society, who will join in a special Updike tribute on October 26. The Alvernia book club will gather on Friday, October 16, to review The Elegance of the Hedgehog.
And there is much more! The nursing faculty is hosting an upcoming conference on Traumatic Brain Injury, featuring Lee Woodruff, wife of ABC journalist Bob Woodruff, who suffered a traumatic brain injury while embedded with the military in Iraq. The fall play, The Good Woman of Setzuan, debuts later this month. Be sure not to miss seeing our varsity teams competing on the new field. Try out the new track! And remember that in two short weeks, we will find out who will steal the show at this year’s Halloween costume contest.
A year ago, we were about to make the public announcement of Alvernia’s first comprehensive campaign, just weeks after the launch of our 50th Anniversary celebration and our historic University Day. Alvernia continues to be a source of pride in the local community and increasingly well known in the region and beyond. This week at our annual President’s Dinner we will celebrate further progress on our campaign, even amidst dismal economic circumstances, and also bestow some coveted awards.
Let me turn first to my customary report of the Board’s quarterly meeting and then cover some news items, including some important academic initiatives and the fall update on the budget, and information on some impressive Alvernia honorees.
SEPTEMBER BOARD MEETING
The September meeting reviews the results of the previous year but focuses on the new year. The Board follows the “best practice” of setting annual goals as well as approving goals for the president. Trustees recommitted to significant philanthropic and trustee recruitment goals for 2009-2010. They identified key initiatives from the strategic plan—mission and identity, marketing and regional visibility, student retention, the campaign—and special related projects--the faculty compensation study, the Francis Hall theater and recital hall--where they expect significant progress or final results during this year.
Trustees also finalized the budget, approved honorary degrees (see below), discussed a draft of the Teaching and Learning Space Plan, and received an in-depth briefing on technology upgrades and potential future initiatives.
Trustees praised the progress of the Values and Vision Campaign, especially given the unfavorable economic conditions, and the implementation of university status. Trustees were especially pleased with the financial results from 2008-2009 and the careful planning that anticipated the challenges for 2009-2010. They reaffirmed the Executive Committee’s approval of the administration’s recommendation to award a $1,000 bonus to all employees. Besides joining the large audience gathered for the first Founder’s Day lecture, Board members hosted the members of the Franciscan Learning Community at dinner and the faculty and student officers and several new administrators for lunch.
BUDGET and ENROLLMENT
As you know already, last year ended well. We were able to award an employee bonus and set aside substantial one-time funding for Teaching and Learning projects and upcoming ADA improvements. Offsetting the shortfall in adult enrollment were a record freshman class and better-than-projected spring enrollment.
Due to careful foresight about the impact of the economy on our students (and the University), our operating budget is tight but sound as we conduct the mid-semester review. Reasonable revenue and expense goals have been set, and we have savings from unfilled positions, budget holdbacks and cuts, deferral of some projects, and contingency funds. Unlike many schools, Alvernia did not overspend on financial aid, though we did provide supplementary, emergency funding to some in special need.
Graduate and Continuing Studies enrollment has noticeably improved during the last six weeks and is close to goal. The undergraduate new student total, while well below the record level of a year ago, is still encouraging, given the serious economic challenges facing many of our families. Retention is a mixed story, with improvement in freshman retention offset by declines in other returning students. A major concern for all of us: since tuition has been increased only minimally, very slight enrollment growth limits the availability of funds.
PEOPLE . . .
This is the week for awards! As part of Homecoming 2009, we will present our two highest alumni honors, the 2009 Distinguished Alumni Award for professional achievement to Dr. Charles Barbera, director of emergency medicine at Reading Hospital, and the Ellen Frei Gruber Award for outstanding service to Alvernia to our own Suzanne Miller. We will also induct our second class of alumni into our Athletic Hall of Fame. This year’s inductees include Cristie Ansbach (Women's Basketball), Daimen Hunter (Men's Basketball), Carl Solarek, Jr. (Baseball), Steve Westley (Basketball, Baseball, Golf, and Tennis), and the 1991 Baseball Team. Homecoming Weekend has some new features this year, most notably a complete day of contests on our new turf field. The field will be dedicated on Saturday at 12:30 prior to all the games.
The Annual President’s Dinner will be held on this Thursday, October 15, in the PEC. At this dinner we host those who are most generous to the University and honor servant-leaders with the Franciscan Award and organizations with the Pro Urbe (“for the city”) Award. This year, Paul Roedel, former President and CEO of Carpenter Technologies and an outstanding civic leader, will join a list of illustrious honorees to receive the Franciscan Award for his tireless efforts to improve the quality of education for our city’s youth, especially through the Berks Business and Education Coalition, and for his selfless contribution of his managerial expertise to many non-profit and other organizations.
Last year we honored two distinguished emerita faculty members, Sisters Florence and Pacelli, as exemplars of the order of Catholic religious women who have helped make Alvernia a place of transformational opportunity for women of all ages. This year we are further emphasizing this heritage by bestowing our Pro Urbe (“for the city”) Award on two outstanding organizations, Berks Women in Crisis and Mary’s Shelter/Mary’s Home, that make a critical difference in the lives of women in our community. We are proud to be a partner with these organizations in helping to improve the lives of women, especially those too often marginalized. Our scholarship program for the women at Mary’s Shelter/Mary’s Home has already resulted in several Alvernia graduates and a few more current students. (Later this fall, we will also celebrate the local Visiting Nurse Association’s 100th anniversary by hosting a panel of health educators.)
Mindful of our Catholic tradition, we will also join the universal Catholic Church in celebrating the “Year of the Priest” by honoring a priest at each of our commencements. Msgr. James A. “Andy” Treston, a beloved local pastor and champion of Catholic education, will be so honored in the fall and will preside at our baccalaureate liturgy. Joining him to receive an honorary degree, and providing some brief remarks, will be Rolf Schmidt, a local businessman and strong supporter of educating the underserved.
And finally, an award which tugs at our heartstrings. Former volleyball student-athlete Kindra Lewis was honored with the ECAC Award of Valor, on October 6, 2009, at the ECAC Convention in Hyannis, MA. The award is given each year to a student-athlete whose courage, motivation and relentless determination serve as an inspiration to all. Kindra completed her studies at Alvernia in May 2003 and was awarded a posthumous degree in 2008. She cared for her daughter, excelled in the classroom and at volleyball, and completed requirements for a degree in liberal studies before passing away prior to her graduation ceremony. Kindra still holds over 13 Alvernia volleyball records. Her family and a group of Alvernia administrators were on hand at the ceremony to accept the award in her memory.
. . . and PLACES
A year ago, we were still marveling at how the renovated Student Center and the new Campus Commons had transformed the center of campus. This year, students are all a buzz about the equally dramatic impact of the new South Campus and other improve-ments in their Alvernia experience. The new apartments are filled, and for the first time in Alvernia history more than half of our full-time undergraduates are able to reside on campus. The field also opened a bit earlier than expected, and over 40 men’s and women’s soccer alumni returned to compete in the first games on the new field.
The Teaching and Learning Space Plan is nearing completion, the culmination of discussions that began three years ago. The ad-hoc faculty group and others will review a final document by the end of October. The plan includes a complete space analysis of the campus’ classrooms, library, and specialized teaching spaces on campus. In addition, it includes a phased-in plan for renovation of Bernardine Hall over the next five years and some additional classroom space in the Franco Library and Learning Center. The base-line budget has $200,000 per year in capital funding, with significant supplementary funding already raised from the capital campaign through state and federal grants for technology and specialized equipment.
On November 12, we will open the new Alvernia Schuylkill Center in the Cressona Mall near the intersection of Rts. 61 and 183. This new facility will expand our capacity to offer programs in Schuylkill County. We are grateful to the McCann School of Business where our program has been housed for the last decade, but our need for more space necessitated a new home. The new facility features offices, lounge space for students, and eight classrooms. It is a major step forward.
UPDATES ON ACADEMIC INITIATIVES
Like the work on Teaching and Learning Spaces (above), a plan for the Fine and Performing Arts is nearing completion. The planning, which includes a proposal for a major for Theater and a plan for expanded use of the Francis Hall Auditorium and Recital Hall, is being led by Nathan Thomas, in collaboration with arts colleagues and others across the university. Enhanced commitment to the arts is one of several emphases in the strategic plan. So it is essential that priorities be set and that planning include academic, co-curricular, and community engagement components as well as
budget, enrollment, and facility considerations.
The first phase of a compensation study for faculty is nearing completion. Mosteller and Associates has completed work to devise an equitable method to establish and administer a base compensation system. Using data from peer institutions, CUPA national data for private institutions, and proprietary databases from national educational institutions, some proposed salary ranges have been developed. The first phase will be reviewed by the Faculty’s Salary and Benefits Committee at their next meeting.
Distance Education at Alvernia University has grown significantly in the past months. Here are some highlights:
- The department has purchased Wimba Classroom 6.0, a product designed to provide a live, virtual classroom environment with features that include audio, video, application sharing and content display, and MP4 capabilities. The product’s design allows for students and teachers, administrators and staff, to share discussion in meetings face-to-face. Wimba provides the services needed to create asynchronous podcasts (audio), vodcasts (video), screencasts (media slides/screens), and any combination of casting. Some of the other advanced features include polling, whiteboarding, resizable chat areas and participant lists.
- Sixty-six faculty (full-time and part-time) have been trained in Blended and Online Instructional Design since last year. It is estimated that the number of faculty who will complete training this academic year will double that number.
- In the Fall 2004 Semester, 115 distance education (blended, online, web-enhanced) classes were offered. Five years later, in the Fall 2009 Semester, 402 distance education classes are scheduled.
Carrie Fitzpatrick, our director, conservatively estimates an increase of 40%-50% in Distance Education offerings over the next five years.
OTHER NEWS FLASHES!
With 450 new students now in classes, the staff of the Undergraduate Admissions Office is busy recruiting the next groups of new students. Summer information sessions, supported by faculty and staff, drew over 250 students and families, an increase of 14%. This fall, there will be three major information sessions and two Fall Open Houses on October 17th and November 14th.
Our annual “Ethics, Leadership, and Community” Lecture Series is off to a fine start, with three events early in the semester. A large crowd gathered to hear a world-renowned Franciscan scholar, Sr. Mary Beth Ingham, deliver our first Founder’s Day Lecture, a now-annual event reflecting our vision to be a “Distinctive Franciscan University.” Last week, a panel of local Berks County Judges spoke on judicial leadership and some related ethical challenges. On Tuesday, noted author and historian Jon Kukla will discuss his popular book, Mr. Jefferson’s Women. Mark your calendars for Thursday, December 3rd at 4:00 p.m., when community nursing leaders, moderated by Karen Thacker, discuss the state of nursing health care across generations in our community.
Some memorable events marked the final weeks of the Blessing Exhibit. The Jewish Federation of Reading and multiple synagogues in the Greater Reading area sponsored a panel discussion on Jewish-Catholic relations, with over 75 participants. On a thunderous, rain-drenched summer afternoon, over 150 people joined local clergy and representatives from various faiths at an interfaith closing ceremony. Passages were read from the Decalogue and Prayer for Peace written by Pope John Paul II for the Assisi World Day of Prayer in 2002. Nearly 4,000 visitors took the time to view the exhibit, many of them first-time visitors to Alvernia.
As part of Alvernia’s South Reading Youth Initiative (SRYI), the Holleran Center’s Junior Creativity Camp, taught by Kim Stoudt, drew nineteen youngsters (7-10 years old) “Behind the Scenes” to the Crayola Factory in Easton and on a tour of the new presses at the Reading Eagle Company. Led by Meghann Burton, the SRYI’s Fall After-School Program is now running three days a week at St. Peter’s Church in South Reading. An average of 35 students, ages 7-14, attend each day, where they receive homework help from Alvernia students fulfilling community service hours and/or participating in service learning courses, such as Mike Kramer’s ESL for Teachers Communications course. The South Reading Youth Initiative is currently partnering with the Council on Chemical Abuse, the Reading Eagle, and local community members to present workshops to the students. Major grant funding is supporting these activities.
The Holleran Center joined a large group of co-participating agencies in sponsoring a Women In Transition Weekend at the South Mountain YMCA from October 2-4. This weekend retreat provided information about opportunities for transitioning, both personally and professionally, in a healthy supportive atmosphere to 32 participants of all ages. Ginny Hand and Beryll Ruth led a workshop on “Improving your Educational Toolbox,” and Sister Christen Shukwit, OSF, Director of the Bernardine Franciscan Spirituality and Conference Center, led a session on “Journaling and Creative Writing.”
As noted above, the first of three University Days of Service honored the Feast of St. Francis. Over 250 books were distributed to children as part of the Greater Reading Cops N Kids Literacy Program. The next Day of Service will be on Martin Luther King Holiday on January 18, 2010. Hope to see many of us there.
Speaking of service, eleven service-learning courses are being offered in the Fall 2009 semester, taught by Professors Ballantyne, Delbene, Fetrow-Stewart, Greenawald, Kramer, Radosh, Rodriquez, Schreiner, Twyman and Warchal. Ten more courses are already planned for the spring.
September’s successful Alcohol Awareness Week, led by Assistant Director of Residence Life Chris Ottey, featured events sponsored by Campus Ministry, Student Activities, Health Services, and our student Criminal Justice Association, and drew positive coverage from both The Reading Eagle and Channel 69.
Channel 69 also covered “Latino Education Professionals Impacting the Community” on October 8. Keynote speakers included Alvernia alumni Salvador Sepulveda, Jr., Principal of Reading Millmont Elementary School, and Capt. Bill Jimenez, Vice Principal of Northeast Middle School. Panelists included Ana Ruiz. Organized by Mary Lozada and Ellen Engler, the event was the keystone of Hispanic Heritage Month at Alvernia (September 15- October 15), celebrated with educational and social events.
Initial discussions are underway to establish a Visiting Franciscan Scholar Program and to expand opportunities for students, faculty, and staff to visit Assisi and the Bernardine Sisters’ mission in the Dominican Republic. Contact Sr. Margaret Ann Dougherty, if you are interested in helping with these plans.
And finally . . . . a special notice: Sister Madonna and I are pleased to announce that on December 7, we will host Bishop John Barres, as he celebrates Mass on campus (tentatively at 5:30 p.m.) and makes his first visit to the University and Bernardine Franciscan communities. Details to follow.
Recently, I hosted the first of several student dinners at the house and the first of monthly Pizza with the President sessions in the Crusader Café. The students’ enthusiasm was infectious. Those in attendance, to be fair, are student leaders, though they are varied in background, interests, and leadership style. Many were seniors. But many were also new to leadership positions. Their appreciation for their Alvernia education and overall experience was heartening. And their evident talent and future promise were inspiring.
It is, after all, all about our students, past and present. Their growth and development—intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually--should be our preoccupation. It should also push us to stretch for our very best efforts, toward personal and professional excellence. And as stay mindful of our vision, to be “Distinctive Franciscan University,” and of our core values, it should also affect how we do what we do!
Peace and All Good, Tom Flynn