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In My Words/A Story Worth the Telling

One of the most important and enjoyable responsibilities of being a college president is getting to tell our institutional story. It’s a pure privilege for me, made even more special since both Carol and I proudly claim SNC as our alma mater. A day rarely goes by that I don’t get the opportunity to tell the St. Norbert tale, so it’s a bonus that storytelling is fun! In fact, like all fishermen, I’m a rather decent storyteller. Almost all of my angler’s tales are, of course, data-based, accurate and rather impressive. That said, there is never the least question about my narration of the St. Norbert story. It stems authoritatively from our rich history and mission, our convincing and relevant outcomes, and our vibrant vision for the future: easy to tell, precise, unembellished and impressive.

Each January the presidents of independent colleges and universities across the country gather to share the good work and stories of their institutions, seek peer-counsel and discover new ways to combat the increasingly more intense headwinds facing higher education. A few weeks thereafter, presidents of Catholic colleges also hold their annual meeting. At each meeting, I’m blessed to have meaningful interactions with leaders of institutions like ours, as well as from schools to whose stature we aspire. We hold in-depth discussions about strategic planning, curriculum development, enrollment strategy and crisis communication. The encounters are simultaneously inspiring and sobering. Each year, from across the 800-plus institutions attending, clear themes emerge from the stories each president tells about her/his institution.

What were this year’s themes? Almost half the member institutions are facing serious financial challenges; a large number are bouncing back from several difficult years but are still wobbly; and the smallest sector includes those able to share captivating, even joyous, stories of growth, innovation and progress. How heartening it is that St. Norbert College continues to hold its place in that last group.

Indeed, St. Norbert’s is a compelling story, its current status hard-won over the decades by those who never wearied as they carried the torch for Norbertine education. By any measure, ours is an enviable position. Our mission is clear, inspirational and relevant. Enrollments are strong. Fundraising continues at a healthy, indeed enviable, pace. Our facilities are state-of-the-art. The student experience is high-impact, rigorous, engaging and vibrant. Faculty and staff are fully engaged in a strategic plan that has us focused on one overarching goal: to leverage our resources toward making the educational experience increasingly more sophisticated and effective. It’s fun to share here just a quick few of the many resulting initiatives. Drs. Terry Jo Leiterman, Raquel Cowell and Jamie Lynch, for instance, have developed a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellows program that now offers young scholars the opportunity to learn the entire research process, from conception of a thesis to presentation of their work at a national meeting – all the while shaping their own path to graduate school. Our standout Honors Program is enjoying significant new investment. A faculty team is leading an effort to revise the core SNC curriculum. Another group is refining college-wide liberal arts goals and the way we measure student learning outcomes. Yet other teams have been working on sophisticated integration of technology into the student experience. Multiple areas are adopting lean process improvements. Multiple exciting external partnerships are being forged – among them the CatholicLink educational collaboration and rich relationships with regional business partners. These efforts are having their intended impact, strengthening the educational experience and solidifying our mission to help students flourish so they, in turn, can contribute to the betterment of society.

All this and so much more makes for a compelling story: We’re an institution that is admired and respected. So, join us. Join us in celebrating the good work that is putting the college in a strong position. Join us in never taking for granted our position of strength as we work on behalf of our students. Join us in writing and imagining the next chapter. Join me in telling our story far and wide!

March 17, 2019