President’s Newsletter – Fall 2018
It now seems so far away, but hundreds of us began the new academic year with Mission Day, centered on Franciscan spirituality and our annual reflection on our core values. Following our now traditional Mission Moment led by last year’s Assisi pilgrims, we heard a report from Julianne Wallace on the revised and enhanced campus ministry plan before focusing on “Commitment to Civil Dialogue and Freedom of Expression,” the product of a large campus group I convened last spring.
Feedback from Mission Day helped us to finalize this compelling and practical document. Rooted in our mission and identity, Mission Day provides a framework for the dual commitment of our campus community to both open expression of perspectives on different (even “difficult”) ideas and our expectation that such dialogue, especially when disagreeable, is conducted with respect for all individuals and groups. Other groups have been consulted since Mission day, including student leaders and our trustees, with similarly enthusiastic support. The statement is now official and has been posted to the website.
We had an exciting opening month, with the arrival of a record first-year class, two massive days of service (New Student Orientation and Feast of Saint Francis), a memorable opening football game with a movie-made ending, and the topping off ceremony marking a construction milestone for the Flynn PLEX. Now on to Homecoming and Family Weekend.
Amid this bustle, I had the opportunity to join other Pennsylvania college presidents for a meeting with Senators Casey and (Patsy) Murray at the Senate office building in Washington, DC, to provide feedback on the impending reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. While there, I also visited with senior editors of the two national higher education media organizations, the Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed, where we discussed the opportunities and challenges facing higher education over the next several years.
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Peace and All Good,
Board of Trustees
We are saddened by the loss of two dear trustees and longtime, fervent supporters of Alvernia—Cindy Boscov and Carl Herbein—but honored and pleased to have hosted their memorial services at the university. Carl was founder, president and CEO of Herbein + Company and a nationally respected expert in the dairy industry as well as a revered civic leader. Some of our top accounting alums work at Herbein + Company. Kathy, his wife of almost 50 years, is an Alvernia alumna and trustee emerita who led our successful Values and Vision campaign. Cindy was a longtime, faithful Alvernia trustee and proud parent of Alvernia alumna, Rachel. Cindy was devoted to our Franciscan Catholic mission and loved and respected for her intelligence, insight, and wit. Along with her husband, Jim, and Jim’s mother, Shirley, she helped make possible Alvernia’s Boscov Scholars Program which sponsors the best and brightest in Berks County. May they rest in peace, and may their loved ones and many friends be comforted.
We have welcomed two new members to the Alvernia board of trustees—Michael Duff, senior vice president-government relations and chief compliance officer at Penske, and Guido Pichini, president and CEO, WSK & Associates, and former chairman of the PA State System of Higher Education. Both bring a wealth of knowledge and acumen to the board along with years of community work and engagement.
The board kicked off the fall semester in September with a plenary session examining Alvernia’s Peer Group and the very positive improvements in the university’s relative competitive position. A thematic focus on “Then and Now,” featuring Alvernia’s progress and achievements during the past decade, summarized many key metrics tracing the accomplishments of the past 10 years. Among them are: the transition from a small college to a comprehensive regional university with significant upgrades in both our Carnegie classification and U.S. News & World Report ratings; increased graduation (53% to 60%) and retention rates (69% to 82%, with average at 77%); the strengthening of community engagement in multiple ways; expanded residence life capacity and programming; a far larger campus and budget; and a successful, first-ever comprehensive fundraising campaign and the doubling of the endowment.
Enrollment and Budget
Almost 500 new students arrived this fall with most of them comprising the historic Class of 2022, which is a far larger, more diverse and an academically stronger group of students than ever before. Of the new class, 37% are students of color and 45% are student athletes. The new class also boasts an average SAT of 1050 and 3.34 GPA, with much higher requirements for top programs in occupational and physical therapy.
Our FY18 balance sheet—aided by excellent investment results overseen by our trustees—and the 2018-2019 budget both reflect a stronger financial position than a year ago. We’ll move forward cautiously, requiring review of all open positions with decisions made to fill, eliminate or reallocate each position. And we will continue to rely on effective budget stewardship by many across the university. Still, the new budget reflects notable progress and significant special investments in faculty and staff development, regional marketing and recruiting efforts, and “real world learning” awards for students.
Kevin Donnelly, newly tenured as associate professor of history, and Mark Kaufman, assistant professor of English, have been awarded the Neag Professorships for 2018-2020. Established in 2010 through the generous support of Carole and Ray Neag, funds are awarded to faculty members who have demonstrated excellence in scholarly work and distinction in teaching.
The National League of Nursing presented Tracy Scheirer, instructor in the nursing department, with the 2018 Jonas Scholars Program grant during its national summit in Chicago in October. The grant provides financial support for the scholars' research through the final year of doctoral study education. She was nominated by the PhD Nursing Program at Widener University and selected from many nationwide candidates. Nearing the completion of her doctoral dissertation, Tracy expects to graduate soon.
Building Our Community: Citizenship and Service was the theme for Orientation Day at Alvernia, where more than 600 new and returning students along with faculty, staff and peer mentors strengthened relationships with the local community by conducting a series of day-long service projects at nearly every school in the Reading School District and the Berks County Parks Department.
Lambda Sigma Society, a national honor society for second-year college students, has named Alvernia’s chapter its 2018 honoree. The award for outstanding chapter will be presented at the national leadership conference this fall. In addition, our chapter was recognized for outstanding community service.
People . . . And Places
The Alvernia Women’s Council kicked off its sold-out inaugural fall luncheon by presenting Linda Ludgate with the first-ever Bernardine Legacy Award. The award honors Ludgate for her distinguished career and for serving as a leader and role model for women. A senior judge in Berks County, Ludgate also is an Alvernia alumna (‘77) and trustee emerita.
We are embarking on a historic transition to lay leadership that will guide the path nationally for other Franciscan universities. Guided by the evolving vision of our sponsors, the Bernardine Franciscan Sisters, we are intensifying a new model of lay-religious collaboration for our university’s Franciscan charism and Catholic identity. Julianne Wallace has assumed expanded responsibilities as Assistant to the President for Mission and Director of Campus Ministry. In addition to two years at Alvernia, and a soon-to-be completed doctorate in educational leadership, Julianne brings deep background in liturgy, music performance and higher education leadership as well as diverse campus ministry experience.
Real World Learning
Funding for Real World Learning awards as well as Student Undergraduate Research Fellows (SURF) has increased. We have allocated $125K for RWL awards, up from $35K last year. Also, SURF awards are being expanded. Applications from students for RWL awards more than doubled this past year as did the number of awards granted to students. These opportunities allow students to gain invaluable, hands-on experience prior to graduation. SURF is an opportunity for student fellows to explore scholarship, research or creative collaboration.
The student-led Bog Turtle Creek Farm in Mohnton, PA, provides access to affordably priced healthy, fresh produce for families in Reading, including those on government programs such as WIC and SNAP. The farm also is used as a tool to teach the community about sustainable agriculture. Some of the most disadvantaged people in Reading benefit from Bog Turtle Creek Farm’s sales and donations, which include beets, cabbage, collard greens, kale, squash, tomatoes and tomatillos.
Alvernia University is ranked in the top tier among 2019 Best Regional Universities in the North by U.S. News & World Report. Of the more than 1,500 colleges and universities in the northeast region, U.S. News only ranks 196 in its top tier, and Alvernia is at 105, moving up steadily over the past several years. On to a double-digit, top 100, ranking!
The Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) presented the 2018 Educational Fundraising Award for Overall Improvement to Alvernia University for significant program growth among private comprehensive institutions with endowments under $72 million.
Community leaders and longtime supporters joined the Alvernia community to celebrate the hoisting and placement of the final beam on the new Flynn PLEX on the East Campus in September. The topping off ceremony marked a construction milestone, when hundreds of students, faculty, staff and the community signed the large beam that previously had been displayed on the campus quad for several weeks. Final signatures were added just before the beam was hoisted into place with fanfare. And, we (hopefully!) calmed tree-dwelling spirits during the ritual that dates to ancient Scandinavian times.
Join us for Homecoming and Family Weekend this week for a series of festive activities for the whole family, ranging from a party on the quad, open house, comedy theatre, alumni social, Golden Wolves tailgating and of course our first-ever homecoming football game!
Homecoming & Family Weekend, Friday, Oct 12, 8 am - Sunday, October 14, 7 pm
Executive in Residence Chris Pruitt, CEO, East Penn Manufacturing, October 25, 3pm, Bernadine Hall Lecture
First Year Experience Lecture with Author Jamie Ford, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Monday, November 5, 6-9 pm, PEC
The Fate of Political Discourse: Media and Politics, November 12, Francis Hall Theatre, 4pm