January and February find me travelling a good deal on university business, often to the nation’s capital where it is easy to be consumed by the swirling conflicts and controversies. So it has been a relief to observe some of the wonderful developments back on campus. And it is even better to return home, wind through Angelic Park, and then turn up the hill to the Vern.
By the way, the construction in Angelica Park is winding down. The entry road, known as St. Bernardine Street, will re-open this spring, complete with new campus-style light poles running the entire length of the park. And the new headquarters of Berks Nature, will also be completed, offering opportunities for our students along with many others.
So here are just a few of the news items that should make us all proud!
HISTORY IN THE MAKING: Speaking of our nation’s capital, Alvernia students Ashley Beyer, Rebecca Dunst, ReJeana Goldsborough, Colton McLaughlin and Christopher Thomas took part in the 2017 Presidential Inauguration though our partnership with The Washington Center, coordinated by the O’Pake Institute. The program extended for two weeks leading up to the big event, with attention to a variety of national policy issues. More than 340 students from across the nation participated.
ARE YOU READY FOR SOME FOOTBALL?!: The new year began with great excitement. An overflow crowd and several news outlets were on-hand in the Campus Commons on January 5 to meet Alvernia’s first Head Football Coach. Coach Ralph Clark stood out from a pool of more than 300 applicants, with 19 years of experience at the NCAA Division I-FCS, Division II, and Division III levels and a stint as a high school head coach. His coaching stops include Saint Francis, Northeastern and Georgetown Universities.
Coach Clark’s passion for Alvernia’s Franciscan mission and commitment to developing impressive student-athletes of character and accomplishment make him the right person to build our football program. With his home in Lancaster, Ralph already is familiar with high schools in Berks County as well as throughout the entire Mid-Atlantic region. We know he will be a superb representative of the university, both on and beyond the campus.
Many thanks to the fine search committee: Karen Cameron (faculty), Cam Coons (student), Karolina Dreher (university life), Laura Gingrich (athletics), Jenna Harper (student), Dan Hartzman (admissions), Polly Mathys (faculty), Tom Minick (advancement) and Tom Porrazzo (faculty). And congratulations to Athletic Director Bill Stiles and Vice President John McCloskey for their leadership throughout this process.
COMMUNITY CAMRADERIE: More than 300 Alvernia students, faculty and staff returned a day early for the spring semester, in order to turn a day off into a day on, as they worked at 28 different community partner sites, for the 2017 MLK Day of Service. Sites included recreation centers and several Olivet Boys & Girls clubs, Berks Encore, Mary’s Shelter, Habitat for Humanity and City Hall. Our four annual university-wide “Days of Service,” coordinated by the Holleran Center have become a popular tradition at Alvernia.
SERVICE AND CONTEMPLATION: More than 65 Alvernia students will be hard at work, regardless of the weather, at locations in inner city Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., as they volunteer through our popular Alternative Break program.
OFF TO THE REAL WORLD: Announced last summer, our Real World Experience Award program immediately caught fire. Nearly 50 students are using awards of up to $2,000 to explore experiential learning opportunities around the globe, including 18 who are heading to Dingle, Ireland this spring and summer, joined by nursing professor Tracy Scheirer. Other award winners will be participating in distance internship and service opportunities, as well as studying this summer in China, the Dominican Republic, Italy and Spain. The expansion of our global study options, led by Dean Beth Roth, is exciting!
DIFFICULT DIALOGUES . . . MADE EASIER: Two important sets of programs are unfolding this semester. A series of campus discussions, preliminarily titled, “E Pluribus Unum” (meaning ’out of many, one’ — the motto on the Great Seal of the U.S.A.), will be scheduled alongside selected campus, regional and national events to help students, faculty and staff exchange viewpoints on important topics, both to discuss disagreements constructively and to seek shared perspectives. The first program centered on the Presidential Inauguration, and upcoming discussions will focus on interfaith responses to suffering and the challenges associated with the prevention of sexual violence.
Alvernia has been awarded a “Bringing Theory to Practice” grant to support five campus dialogues that advance action items conceptualized in the university’s Inclusive Excellence Plan. The guiding question is: How do we provide opportunities for students, staff and faculty to practice and recognize inclusive engagement as essential to achieving higher education's greater purposes of preparing individuals for lives of meaning and purpose? Look for invitations to events in March, April and May.
DRAMATIC ENTRANCES: Alvernia Theatre is tackling a dramatic adaption of Sinclair Lewis’ 1930s book “It Can’t Happen Here” about the fictional rise of an American fascist state. Performances will be held April 20-22 and 26-28. And in partnership with the Berks Jazz Fest, returning to campus after a sold out performance last year is instrumentalist Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks will take the stage in Francis Hall Theater, March 15 (7:30 p.m.).
AUTHOR! AUTHOR!: Bongrae Seok, associate professor of philosophy, published a new book (his fourth!) in January, titled “Moral Psychology of Confucian Shame.” It is part of a series on critical inquiries in comparative philosophy published by Rowan & Littlefield International. One of our other many faculty authors, biology professor Diane Kraft, will discuss her co-authored book “The A-Z Guide to Food As Medicine” as this spring’s Literary Festival presentation in the Francis Hall Atrium, April 20 (4 p.m.).
MORE FACULTY EXCELLENCE: At a special executive session in late January, our Board of Trustees approved the following tenure and promotions for an impressive group of our faculty colleagues — by far the largest group of successful tenure cases in my time at Alvernia:
Dr. Travis Berger - Tenure
Dr. Samuel Bradley – Tenure and Promotion to Associate Faculty
Dr. Greg Chown – Tenure and Promotion to Associate Faculty
Dr. Corey Harris – Tenure and Promotion to Associate Faculty
Dr. Joseph Kremer – Promotion to Associate Faculty
Dr. Ryan Lange – Tenure and Promotion to Associate Faculty
Prof. Peter Rampson – Tenure and Promotion to Associate Faculty
Dr. Erin Way – Tenure and Promotion to Associate Faculty
The colleagues listed above all made compelling cases — as they must — for excellence in teaching. Each had a record of scholarly and creative achievement and of service (broadly defined) worthy of tenure. But as always the case, each candidate has distinguished her/himself with scholarly achievement and/or service well beyond the norm. And they made a compelling casefor their long-term value to Alvernia and their commitment to our mission and Franciscan core values.
TANTALIZING TOPICS: More than a dozen lectures are taking place this semester, exploring important topics like the Holocaust, human rights and the Catholic Church, eviction, challenges facing student-veterans and interfaith understanding. Be sure to join us on March 27 (7:30 p.m.) to hear from artist, author, and Holocaust survivor Nelly Toll. Her compelling artwork will be on display March 20-April 19. The spring Francis Factor/Hesburgh Lecture, “Human Rights and the Catholic Church, from Saint Francis to Pope Francis,” will be held April 6 (7 p.m.) featuring Notre Dame’s Paolo Carozza.
A MEMORABLE “SENIOR MOMENT”: I’m happy to report that, by popular request, MargaritaVern is moving to a Saturday this year (May 6) and being combined with a new Alvernia tradition. The weekend will kick off with an online Day of Giving event on May 5. So mark your calendars, seniors!
Peace and All Good, Tom Flynn