Dear Colleagues,

Spring is in full swing at Alvernia. We’ve battled some of the coldest temperatures in Berks County history this winter, but St. Patrick’s Day always brings the promise of warmer weather, even if one more snowstorm occurs!
 

Try as I do to focus my energy on important initiatives such as expanded funding for our Reading Collegiate Scholars Program, it’s been impossible to avoid thinking ahead to June 30 and anticipating the final months of my Alvernia journey. Thoughtful notes from colleagues, past and present, and alumni farewell events have certainly made me nostalgic. And they have provided wonderful opportunities to share stories with those who have played a role in Alvernia’s transformation into a thriving, comprehensive, regional university, guided by our core values and the Franciscan educational ideal of “knowledge joined with love.”
 

Speaking of iconic Alvernia phrases, new signage and other marketing collateral sporting brand messaging are appearing around campus, in the greater Philadelphia region, and in our many digital platforms. Brochures and billboards are nice, but what’s most important is that we all live our brand promise: “Forming ethical leaders with moral courage to do well and do good.”
 

An essential part of the foundation for this brand promise is our strong commitment as a university community to being a beacon of inclusion and interfaith dialogue well beyond our campus. In this spirit, it was fun as well as meaningful to join Rabbi Brian Michelson, Msgr. Tom Orsulak, and Elsayed Elmarzouky as panelists at the 11th Annual Common Heart Program late last month. Our university is fortunate to have close relationships with impressive leaders in the Jewish and Muslim as well as Christian communities, with some of them dear friends to many of us at Alvernia.
 

The PLEX is on schedule to be completed in June and opened in August. On time and well under budget! It will be ready for the arrival of the new Class of 2023 (!), with the dedication ceremony set for September 10.
 

Of course, the biggest news is the ongoing transition process of presidential leadership and the appointment of Dr. Glynis Fitzgerald as the new provost. John Loyack made the third of four in-depth, week-long transition visits last week. Glynis also joined us for her welcome reception and the March board meeting. Thanks to good work by many, the university is well positioned to address the challenges and opportunities of the future. And the comprehensive transition plan will help ensure a highly successful launch of the new administration.
 

The faculty join me in being eternally grateful to my longtime colleague and friend, Jerry Greiner, for his superb service as interim provost. Working with the deans and faculty leaders, he has led the development of new programs in Computer Science, Cybersecurity, Data Science, and Digital Media Marketing.
 

Helen and I know we will be nostalgic indeed for our privileged years as the grateful stewards of Cedar Hill, but we look forward to remaining in the Reading area in our new home in Spring Ridge. And I look forward to my new roles as Senior Fellow at both the Association of Governing Boards (AGB) and Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities (ACCU). After some travel this summer and next fall (yes, including Ireland!), we look forward to renewing our membership in the Alvernia and Bernardine Franciscan communities.
 

As always, much else is happening at Alvernia that you will find interesting.


Peace and All Good, Tom

Board of Trustees

In the fall we grieved the losses of two dear trustees and longtime supporters of Alvernia – Cindy Boscov and Carl Herbein. Both their spouses, emeritus trustees Jim Boscov and Kathy Herbein, graciously agreed to serve the remaining time on Cindy’s and Carl’s terms. Jim and Kathy each have significant previous experience on boards and are previous Alvernia board chairs. We are grateful for their continued dedication and service to Alvernia during this difficult period for them both.
 

We welcomed Dan Langdon as our newest trustee. Recently retired as CEO of East Penn, Dan continues the tradition of prominent civic leaders serving as Alvernia trustees. Two loyal alums were also approved for board membership: Meggan Kerber ’96 ’01 and Steve Koons ’05. And a third alum, Steve Keiser ‘80 was approved as a trustee emeritus.
 

Among key action items in March, the Board approved honorary degrees for former trustee and president emerita of St. Bonaventure University, Sr. Margaret Carney and longtime behavioral health professional George Vogel. The Board also approved the remaining renovations of the PEC, made possible by the anticipated opening of the PLEX this summer, and reaffirmed the twin fundraising priorities of the PLEX and the Reading Collegiate Scholars Program. Major discussion topics included the expansion (and refinement) of Alvernia’s workforce development efforts and both committee and plenary discussions on “Recruiting and Retaining Gen Z Students.” I also shared some final reflections on the ways Alvernia is well “Positioned for the Future,” along with some of our anticipated challenges and opportunities.


Enrollment and Budget

As reported at our January “town meetings,” enrollment news is largely positive for both our full-time undergraduate and graduate & adult populations.
 

Even with this year’s sizable shortfall of transfer students, and increased first-year attrition, spring semester enrollment is ahead of goal. SGAE enrollment is also slightly ahead of goal, boosted by strong results at our Philadelphia location with both bachelor and graduate programs. Two positive factors are the reopening of the Master in Clinical Counseling and growth in the Master in Leadership programs.


Faculty and Student Excellence

Just before spring break, we received word that Victoria Cerulli ‘20 has been named Alvernia’s 8th Newman civic fellow, undergrads celebrated as national leaders in community engagement.
 

Victoria is our latest Holleran Center All-Star!
 

Longtime social work adjunct faculty member at the Alvernia Philadelphia Center Leticia Egea-Hinton is completing her first year as a member of the Philadelphia Board of Education. She was appointed to the board by Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney in April 2018. Leticia has specialized in homeless services for 28 years, having served as the director of the Office of Emergency Shelter and Services and director of the Office of Supportive Housing.
 

We won’t jinx them before their doctoral defenses, but the spring semester will welcome a few more doctors to Alvernia’s faculty and staff. Two of our most recent doctors have been busy.
 

Nursing faculty member Robyne Eisenhauer recently traveled to San Antonio, Texas, for the International Meeting on Healthcare Simulation (IMSH) to present her recently completed dissertation: “Increasing Confidence Levels and CPR Effectiveness of Nurses during the First Four Minutes of Cardiac Arrest: A Pilot Project Using Insitu Simulation at a Veterans Administration Medical Center.”
 

Besides successfully defending her dissertation recently, doctoral student Abby Wells has been awarded a United States-Israel Educational Foundation (USIEF) Fulbright Postdoctoral Research Fellowship. She will conduct research on Jewish history at the University of Haifa beginning August 2019. Wells, the first Alvernia student to win a Fulbright, will earn her doctorate at commencement in May. As a practitioner-scholar, she is working on a book examining the conceptual dimensions and boundaries of divinity in narrative leadership texts. She is also the foundress of an unaffiliated synagogue in Ann Arbor, Michigan.


Eighty-five student-athletes (up from 53) represented the Golden Wolves on the 2018 Middle Atlantic Conference (MAC) Fall Academic Honor Roll. Women's Soccer led the way with 20 representatives, closely followed by Men’s Soccer and Field Hockey. Across all sports, nine Alvernia student-athletes achieved a 4.00 GPA this semester.


People … And Places

To start the new year, Alvernia welcomed longtime local educator Dr. Thomas R. (Rudy) Ruth as the new director of O’Pake Institute for Ethics, Leadership and Public Service. Ruth, who had been serving as director of business development in Alvernia’s School of Graduate and Adult Education, came to Alvernia after retiring from a full career that began in the Wilson School District as a teacher of health and physical education at Wilson Central Junior High School and culminated as superintendent in 2009, a position he held for seven years. Ruth follows in the footsteps of David Myers who has served as director since 2012 and has raised both the profile of the O’Pake Institute and the reputation of Alvernia as a leading local “anchor institution.”.
 

In February, the founding principal of Berks Catholic High School and Alvernia alumnus Tony Balistrere was named as the deputy superintendent for Catholic education for the Diocese of Allentown, effective in July. An active member of my President’s Advisory Council, Balistrere earned his master’s degree in educational leadership and administration from Alvernia in 2007 and has served as Berks Catholic’s principal since 2011.
 

Alvernia’s Educational Technology and Media Suite departments have combined to form the new Center for Instructional Design and Learning Technologies (CIDLT). The new CIDLT is provides a robust faculty development program, campus-wide production and editing facility and a space for faculty, staff and students to explore new ideas and create great projects. Erik Sandbakken ’18 has been hired as the new instructional media specialist with manager of educational technology Brian Gall to help guide the newly created department.


Real World Learning

The Holleran Center received 156 applications for RWL experiences grants so far this year, up from 146 last year. As of late February, 170 students received grants averaging $878 to study abroad, participate in alternative break trips, conduct research and offset costs of internships.
 

During winter break, Dr. Greg Chown and Dr. Karen Cameron lead a trip for eight occupational therapy students to the Dominican Republic. Working with the Judy Boehler Foundation, students sponsored a Three Kings Party for children living in the barrios in Santo Domingo and spent the remaining week at the Dario Contreras Hospital where the they taught splinting and upper extremity rehabilitation to the staff, as well as created a pop-up splinting clinic and treated patients in need.
 

Alvernia has several students in long-term study-abroad programs this year. Over the course of the winter term, two students, Gabriella Cavell and Daniel Campion, studied at Sacred Heart University in Dingle, Ireland. Additionally, four students enrolled in a summer study abroad experience at the University of Roehampton in London.


Community Engagement

Many generous supporters continue their sponsorship of our Reading-based education initiatives, the South Reading Youth Initiative (SRYI) and the Reading Collegiate Scholars Program (RCSP).
 

  • Customers Bank’s gift to support the SRYI allows Alvernia to expand services to elementary and middle school students during the school year and in the summer by hiring professional staff and assisting larger numbers of young people.
     
  • Fulton Bank’s gift to the RCSP’s College Readiness Program supports the growth and improvement of our work at Reading High School, including educational support and tutoring, campus visits and assistance with college applications.
     
  • A new initiative jointly announced by RAAC President Susan Looney and me will begin this fall: Alvernia will annually offer 2 two-year, full-tuition scholarships for qualified RACC graduates through the RCSP. Scholarship support will also be increased for all RACC graduates with top academic and service records who seek admission to Alvernia.


In October, Alvernia students who participated in the university’s Alternative Break program in January 2018 organized a fundraising effort to purchase new uniforms for nearly 200 children at the Bernardine Franciscan Sisters' school in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. After returning to campus, Alvernia students coordinated a sponsorship program that raised more than $4,000 for new uniforms. Each of the Dominican children received one new set that includes uniforms for school and gym class.
 

As of February, Alvernia students have completed more than 15,000 hours of community service this academic year. The Holleran Center has multiple Franciscan Friday service opportunities scheduled throughout the rest of the semester with organizations like Mary’s Shelter, Shady Hollow Assisted Riding, the Schuylkill River Trail, and the annual Millmont Elementary School Carnival, sponsored by the South Reading Youth Initiative.


News Flashes

Almost a decade ago, at the request of prominent community leaders, Alvernia stepped in to ensure the survival of Leadership Berks. Now established as the community’s premier professional development program, Leadership Berks will become a co-branded initiative, with the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance (GRCA) assuming responsibility for the operations and Alvernia providing both a certificate and credits toward a degree in leadership studies. The new arrangement will leverage the Chamber’s extensive network, professional development resources and cadre of business leaders as well as the expertise of key Alvernia faculty.
 

Alvernia was named a Military Friendly ® School for the seventh consecutive year and for 2019 is one of the only approximately 25% of schools nationwide to receive the designation for meeting university-wide benchmarks in areas such as student retention, graduation and job placement as well as for being in good standing with federal programs such as the Post-9/11 GI Bill and Armed Forces Tuition Assistance Funding.

 

The Washington Monthly recently ranked Alvernia as one of America’s Best Colleges for Student Voting for 2018. Alvernia is one of only 132 four-year and two-year institutions recognized for civic engagement on college campuses. The broad range list of higher education institutions highlights the depth and breadth of college students’ efforts across the country to encourage participation in the voter registration process.


Coming Events

Behavioral Health 40th Anniversary Celebration, Tuesday, March 26, 5:30-8:30pm, McGlinn Conference Center
 

6th Annual Social Work Undergraduate Seminar “Trauma to Triumph”, Friday, April 5, 8:30am-3pm, Student Center Seminar Rooms
 

Earth Day of Service, Saturday, April 6, Multiple Locations
 

“Gratitude Week”: This is a week of events I have organized to thank and celebrate key members of the Alvernia community for their contributions to Alvernia’s transformation—from our devoted foundresses, the Bernardine Franciscan Sisters, to our fine faculty, to our interfaith brothers and sisters, to our donors.
 

Several events are open to all, April 24-26:
 

  • Founders Day Lecture, Wednesday, April 24, 4:00pm, McGlinn Conference Center
     
  • Faculty Excellence Symposium, Thursday, April 25, 4:00pm, Francis Hall
     
  • Celebration of Interfaith Dialogue, Friday, April 26, 3pm, PEC


All In For Alvernia Fundraising Campaign, May 3-4. More information at Alvernia.edu.


MargaritaVern, May 4, 6-9pm, PEC


Alvernia University Baccalaureate Mass & Hooding Ceremony, Saturday, May 11, 10am, PEC


Alvernia University Commencement, Saturday, May 11, 2pm, Santander Arena


A Salute to Tom Flynn Gala, Thursday, May 30, 5:30-8pm, DoubleTree Hotel. Tickets available at Alvernia.edu.

President's Newsletter