The deal of a lifetime
President Tom Kunkel
All across Dublin, one finds billboards and signs beckoning people to “the Gathering” in 2013. This is a summoning of people – people of Irish lineage, Irish ex-pats, aficionados of Irish literature, culture and the arts, fans of Guinness or Jameson or limericks or hurling or the piquant Irish wit, or simply diehard lovers of all things Irish – back to the island for a yearlong celebration.
As it happens, the St. Norbert College extended family had its own gathering in Ireland in late August – jumping the gun a bit on the official festivities, it’s true, but managing to have a fine party nonetheless.
Hundreds of our alumni, parents, trustees and friends came to Dublin to watch our Green Knights football team open its season as part of the Global Ireland Football Tournament, or GIFT. The tournament was held in conjunction with the Emerald Isle Classic, which saw Notre Dame’s Fighting Irish defeat Navy in the latest installment of their long rivalry.
As for our game ... well, let’s just say we came up against a very talented opponent in Cleveland’s John Carroll University, which had a quarterback who, at least for one crisp Irish evening, looked as if perhaps he should have been playing the following day for Notre Dame. Our young men were naturally disappointed to lose, but they played hard and were bucked up considerably by the high-spirited locals, who adopted our team right off – the Irish do love an underdog, especially one wearing green jerseys.
But the Dublin trip was never so much about the score as it was about the experience, and that was priceless.
For about 75 young men, most of whom had never been out of the United States, the Ireland trip was the sort of eye-opening experience that only travel can provide. They never would have had that experience if they hadn’t been St. Norbert student-athletes – just as they never would have had that experience without the generosity of our friends, patrons and alumni.
And that, I suppose, is my real point here.
Like me, you are doubtless seeing many media reports these days about the state of higher education. Their premises range from sobering (“Is College the Next Bubble?”) to silly (“Is College Really Necessary?”) to deadly serious (“Is the Cost of College Out of Reach?”).
This scrutiny is important; it keeps people like me focused on doing everything possible to keep higher education both relevant and affordable for all who want it.
Yet I’m struck that, regardless of the angle, few of these reports bother to look at what actually goes into a full-blooded, residential college experience for a typical student: the lengthy chats over coffee with a favorite professor; the endless hours of service and organizational work; the development of social skills and personal confidence; the arguments and debates; the search for spirituality and meaning; the shaping of personalities; the shaping of minds.
Media reports about higher education tend to focus, understandably enough, on what happens in the classroom. Yet the aforementioned examples are less the product than the byproduct of the classroom. They are not commodities that can be quantified; they are life experiences – such as the experience of getting on a big plane and crossing an ocean to see what things are like on the other side.
It’s not that we’re blind to the broader issues in higher education today. In fact, we’re having robust conversations about the higher education marketplace with our trustees and administrators, as well as with our faculty: Already actively engaged through our digital learning initiative, they are now weighing the topic as a potential focus for next semester’s faculty development conference.
So, all told, you won’t be surprised to hear me assert that you’d be hard pressed to find a better deal than the four-year college education we offer at St. Norbert. For return on investment, I’d argue it’s a deal that simply can’t be beat.
We’re graduating students at rates better than any other college or university in the state, besting the predicted rate for a student body the size of ours. The folks in our Career Services office report some 94 percent of our graduates are employed or attending graduate school within nine months of graduation. Their efforts, supported by every unit on campus, aim to ensure each upcoming class is well prepared for the best possible opportunities as they enter the workplace.
And we were gratified to learn from our latest alumni survey that 72 percent of our alums feel that the college is moving “in the right direction,” and a whopping 83 percent feel “very satisfied” with their St. Norbert experience. It’s nice to have statistics to back up one’s instincts, but these findings only reinforce my own experiences when I connect personally with alums around the country – around the world, in fact.
All of this points to the value of the outstanding all-around educational experience we prize here at St. Norbert – and wherever there’s value to be had, word tends to travel pretty fast. One case in point: This past year we received applications from so many qualified – highly qualified – prospective students that we found it necessary to put a waitlist in place. A few months ago we welcomed our newest incoming class, a class of some 600 new students who are already making their mark in the classroom, in residential life, in athletic endeavor, in student groups and in service to our own college community and the wider world. Our demand has never been greater – our enrollment never larger.
As you will see in this annual report of the college, it has been another remarkable year in terms of your support of St. Norbert – the support that makes all this possible. We’re encouraged by strong early support for the new science center, for which more than half of the needed $42 million has been raised. We opened Michels Commons and have begun work on what will become Dudley Birder Hall. In fact, we have invested more than $55 million in new or renovated building projects in less than five years.
Generous gifts from the Gentine and Sturzl families allowed us to endow our first center, the Sturzl Center for Community Service & Learning. You also will have read on page 4 of this magazine that a second endowed center has been dedicated this fall to the late Norman Miller, whose family’s generosity to the college continues.
The open hearts and hands of our donors have allowed us to create new scholarships and enhance existing ones. And one big group of students got the thrill of a lifetime in Dublin.
I am proud that St. Norbert can provide so many life-altering opportunities to our young men and women. And I am immensely grateful to the people we celebrate and honor in this issue, who make all these opportunities possible.