You are always the primary audience for these columns, which appear first in the Alvernian. But I wanted to begin this year with a special welcome letter to you — new and returning students alike, undergraduate and graduate, doctoral candidates and Seniors College “life-long learners.”
You share the experience of learning (and often living) in a caring community, enriched by liberal arts and Catholic higher education traditions, and inspired by our Franciscan values. And you are fortunate, as am I, to be part of Alvernia during a historic time of great progress and even more promise. (Hey, Adams Street is even finally free of potholes!)
WE ARE AU! This past summer, Alvernia received unqualified affirmation of our progress during the last decade (2005-2015) through reaccreditation by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. Among the 35 commendations from the visiting team were high praise for the dedication of our faculty, the focus on students by staff and faculty alike, and the exceptional way our students embody our Franciscan mission.
We also, as usual, were recognized nationally by the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll. And we were again held up as a national model of civic engagement by the Carnegie Foundation which recognized Alvernia for excellence in several categories including interfaith initiatives.
Essential as is such external validation, we can ourselves point to great strides in quality and reputation even during the last year. Here are a few highlights!
SERVANT LEADERS! Alvernia students reported over 30,000 hours of community service last year. Thirty-seven students were recognized for extraordinary levels of service: 27 for providing 100 hours or more in service during the academic year; seven for providing more than 300 hours of service during their time at Alvernia, and three for completing over 500 hours.
As part of New Student Orientation, approximately 500 students, faculty, and staff served at 16 sites throughout Reading. The spirit of this year’s freshman class is contagious!
St. Francis Day of Service will take place on Saturday, Oct. 10.
NEW PROGRAMS, MORE OPPORTUNITIES! Faculty members were also especially busy last year, approving several exciting new programs.
New doctoral programs in physical therapy (AUGUST ‘15) and Nursing (JANUARY ‘16) are attracting top students. Undergraduates can now major in finance, healthcare administration, and environmental biochemistry. The new sustainability minor is underway, and a new minor and certificate in community engagement is starting this spring.
HOME SWEET HOME! This fall we have the largest-ever number of students living on campus. Theme housing is all the rage: 100% of our freshmen and 78% of all other residents live in theme housing. This is noteworthy because students who live in theme housing (based on common interests) tend to do better academically and stay in college through graduation.
LEAVING HOME! There are of course life and opportunities beyond the ’Vern. Occasions for international experiences have been expanded for students and faculty alike, including a formal agreement with Australian Catholic University. Fifteen global options are now available for students through our popular Study Abroad program. We also have a promising new partnership emerging in Ireland and potential service trips to Brazil in cooperation with our Bernardine Franciscan Sisters.
LET’S TALK TURKEY! In September, we hosted seven Turkish and Bosnian college presidents to explore potential international exchanges for students and faculty. We already have 11 Turkish graduate students studying at Alvernia and expect that number will expand in the future. This fall we also welcomed students from the Dominican Republic, Vietnam and Saudi Arabia and hope soon to host students from China and India.
REAL WORLD LEARNING! Whether enjoying international study, a service trip or the Washington Center Program; completing an internship in Philadelphia; or pursuing community-based research or a clinical placement here in Reading . . . Alvernia students are preparing well for successful futures. Senior psychology majors, for example, complete a rigorous full-year internship! And a range of students now have great experiential learning opportunities at the new Oakbrook Housing Clinic, a multi-organization partnership led by Alvernia to provide health services for low-income residents.
CRUSADER PRIDE! And such experiential learning makes a difference, sometimes a life-changing one. Three recent alumnae illustrate this well. Alvernia occupational therapy alum Capt. Ashley Welsh ‘10, stationed at Landstuhl Medical Center in Germany, made headlines recently for her role in treating one of the American heroes who stopped a terrorist in France. Airman 1st Class Spencer Stone sustained his injuries while preventing an armed attack on a train.
Kate Roesch ’12 continues to make a major impact in Mbale, Uganda where she is teaching local students as a Peace Corps volunteer. And Kathleen Ellis M’04, Ph.D.’14, who stays busy during the day working as a high school special education teacher in the Twin Valley School District, is now serving on the board of directors for the John Paul II Center for Special Learning.
So students, never forget that, for your faculty and staff, you are “why we do what we do.” We look to you--as to alums like Kate, Kathleen and Ashley--to do well and do good. And through you we are inspired to do even better ourselves.
Peace and All Good, President Flynn