Alvernia has historically been a special place of opportunity for first-generation students, working women and others with limited access to higher education.
I am grateful my history professors at both Boston College and the University of Michigan cultivated in me an appreciation for the use of language and the ways cultures and organizations evolve over time. In Shakespeare’s immortal words, “the past is prologue,” especially for leaders like me who stand gratefully on the shoulders of their predecessors. Yet after almost two decades as a college president, I know too that universities must be alert to unforeseen possibilities that help realize unimagined dreams of a better future.
Alvernia is fortunate that the heroic Franciscan Sisters, whom I described at my long-ago inauguration as those “bold and audacious women,” refused to be cowed by the formidable obstacles facing them in 1958 and during the college’s early decades. The transformation of their little college on top of Mt. Alvernia into a comprehensive, “Distinctive Franciscan University” is proof that even outlandish dreams can be realized.
Alvernia has historically been a special place of opportunity for first-generation students, working women and others with limited access to higher education. Today Alvernia is also known for excellence as well as access. Our Reading Collegiate Scholars Program graduated 100% of its initial cohort of talented students. And alumnae (and alumni) of all ages are now leaders in their professions and in their local communities, as evident in this year’s President’s Dinner awardees—Chief Andres Dominguez, Dr. Melissa Marcario, and Dr. Phil Fromuth.
Alvernia has historically considered community service an essential part of our education. Community leaders have long valued our students’ volunteerism and generosity of spirit. Today, even as students alone contribute 40,000 hours of service annually, the Holleran Center, O’Pake Institute, Seniors College and Arts at Alvernia have become invaluable community resources. Our board of trustees attracts civic servant-leaders like this year’s Franciscan Awardees, Jim and Cindy Boscov. And the university is itself an essential “anchor institution” for Greater Reading.
Alvernia has historically championed lifelong, values-based learning grounded in the liberal arts and sciences. Today, the university community has adopted a statement of “Commitment to Civil Dialogue and Freedom of Expression.” Our Search Program ensures all first-year students confront and ponder “Enduring Questions” in multiple courses, and all graduate as well as undergraduate programs require at least one course in ethics. Students are inspired by a dedicated faculty to become “ethical leaders with moral courage.”
Alvernia has historically responded to workplace needs by preparing future teachers, addiction counselors, police, nurses, accountants. Today, several doctoral programs also complement a range of specialized professional programs, especially in health care and the human services. Pass rates for our occupational therapists and nurses range annually between 90-100%, and 95% of our recent seniors were employed or in graduate school within six months of graduation.
Alvernia has historically welcomed people of all backgrounds and faiths. As our iconic Sr. Pacelli once said memorably at a faculty seminar: “If the Sisters wanted only to educate Catholics, we would never have settled in Berks County.” Today, Alvernia is an interfaith leader in our community, working in special partnership with leaders of the Jewish and Muslim communities and hosting the inspirational Common Heart activities. After attending the moving memorial for Carl Herbein on our campus, one prominent community leader described Alvernia as “the spiritual home” for many in our community.
I don’t tend to reflect nostalgically on bygone times. But I do enjoy crooning “Glory Days” with Springsteen (and, of course, howling with other Golden Wolves!). And the memorable moments are many . . . from the day we announced the approval of university status to the 2018 opening convocation where we welcomed a record freshman class; from the creation of the Holleran Center and O’Pake Institute to the appointment of our first Neag Professors; from championships in too many sports to mention to the glorious goal line stand in our inaugural football game; from the dedication of Pacelli and Zygmunta Halls to the ground breaking of the PLEX on a new East campus; from the honoring of almost a score of faculty book authors to the bestowal of the first Albert Boscov Award to the outstanding graduate of our Reading Collegiate Scholars Program. And perhaps most of all, from stimulating and fun Faculty Forums with treasured colleagues to lively dinners with inspirational students at Cedar Hill and in Holleran’s Pub.
As we enthusiastically welcome President-elect John Loyack to an academic community devoted to our Franciscan values and the pursuit of “knowledge joined with love,” let us anticipate a future for Alvernia full of promise and unimagined possibility. May the new administration, in partnership with faculty, trustees and the entire Alvernia community, continue to embody the legacy of our “bold and audacious” foundresses.
Peace and all good,
Tom Flynn, President