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Message from the President: Need for Big Ideas

Nov. 22, 2013

To our alumni friends:

Big ideas often start out small. Sometimes they might even seem a bit, well, nutty.

At the close of the 19th century on the outskirts of little Green Bay, for instance, a young Dutch immigrant priest started a seminary. And not content with that, he soon decided it should be a full-blown college. Of course, he didn’t have any money, and he wasn’t necessarily sure who would want to come – or who would teach them if anyone did!

But 115 years later, here we are at St. Norbert College – a big idea that continues to pay dividends far beyond what even the audacious young Bernard Pennings could have imagined.

Today we must continue to sow big ideas. In fact, you can make the case that in this highly competitive higher-education environment, innovation is the oxygen colleges need to survive and thrive.

Toward that end, I recently created a special task force on innovation, or big-idea generation. Of course, at SNC new ideas surface every day. But often, due to the business of our lives, the big ideas aren't always recognized or don’t get the attention they deserve to come alive.

One of my colleagues, Bridget O’Connor ’93, has an affinity for big ideas. This year, I’ve asked her to develop a think tank of sorts. So, we identified a handful of key faculty and staff, including Raechelle Clemmons, Tim Flood, Ruth Johnson, Mark Glantz, Kristin Vogel, Dottie Stepien and Drew Van Fossen, to dive in and think big.

My charge to the group is deceptively simple: Come up with the kind of ideas that could help transform St. Norbert in the 21st century. I have intentionally not put a lot of rules around this invitation.

Bridget's group has a good start and is ginning up all kinds of notions. But they’ve asked me to invite you into the mix.

They welcome your big idea by the end of the year so that they can add it to those coming from students, staff, faculty and friends. Then, next semester, they’ll identify clusters that will ultimately lead them to two or three truly concrete ideas that we as an institution will seriously examine.

So please feel free to drop me, or Bridget, an email if you have a suggestion. I'm at, and Bridget is at

Just remember – we are not especially seeking “incremental” notions; we deal with those every day. We’re looking for innovations – truly powerful initiatives that further help us live our mission.

Thanks in advance for your contributions, and here’s to a great future!