Presidential Newsletters

March 11, 2008

Dear Faculty, Staff, Student and Alumni Leaders,

As I write my mid-semester newsletter, the sun is back out but winter is still in the air. Let us hope this is not one of those years in which we are greeted by snow on St. Patrick’s Day morning.
The past few weeks have included some highly successful events:  the largest ever Scholarship Luncheon for our top freshman applicants; and the Batdorf Lecture sponsored by our two Centers of Excellence. The success of the former is a tribute to Jeff Dittman and his staff and also the faculty, administrators, and students who generously devoted a Sunday afternoon to this important event. Senior Ashlee Wolfe represented us all well with a fine talk. Our other major spring recruiting event is this Saturday, March 15. A large crowd is expected. All trends for Fall 2008 full-time enrollment are very positive, but much hard work lies ahead in the next three months. The active support of so many faculty and staff is essential to our efforts, especially in these latter stages.
The Batdorf program, with our distinguished guest, Bill Byron, S.J., received rave reviews. Many expressed appreciation for the introduction to Catholic Social Teaching, and audience members of varied faith backgrounds commented that the guiding principles resonated strongly with their own values. There are three additional events in the new Alvernia Lecture Series. Look for information on the Hesburgh Lecture on Race (March 31) and the Community Leaders Panel (April 23). An especially appealing event occurs immediately after Easter break (March 25) and features some of our own faculty:  a panel on “The Candidates and Their Faith,” chaired by Jerry Vigna, Director of the Center for Ethics and Leadership, and including Deb Greenwald, (Nursing), Elizabeth Matteo (Psychology) and Spence Stober (Biology and Ph.D program.)
Among many March and April events is our second annual Employee Recognition Awards Reception on Friday, March 28, at 2:00 p. m. Our Theater Program is staging Romeo and Juliet in April, hosting local students as well as campus audiences. Spring sports have begun, with our baseball team just returned from an 8-1 Florida road trip.

IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT: Graduation Day is Saturday, May 17. 

As announced earlier, Baccalaureate Mass and the Hooding Ceremony will be held on campus; commencement will be held in the Sovereign Center. This will enable us to provide 8 not 4 tickets for each graduate. (We will graduate almost 370 this May and 700 overall, compared to 248 and 379 totals just five years ago.) We will honor collectively the Bernardine Sisters, who have served as trustees, with Sister Mary Margaret Jackson representing the congregation. We will have two distinguished honorary degree recipients:  Bishop Edward P. Cullen of our diocese, who will celebrate the Baccalaureate Mass, and Senator Robert P. Casey, Jr., who will be our commencement speaker. It will be a festive occasion to launch our 50th anniversary.


Visit of PA Review Team for University Status – April 27-30

The Pennsylvania Department of Education has set the dates for the team visit to review our application for university status. This will be similar to a reaccreditation visit, with a wide ranging set of meetings. Impressive planning undertaken by the SPC and many others provides the rationale and context for our application. From talking to those at schools who have completed this process, we have reason to be optimistic about the ultimate results of this process. But as with any such visit, careful final preparations will be essential. And we should be aware that the state process is thorough and systematic and make take some time to complete.
A University Transition Committee, along with an Academic Subcommittee, has begun work to oversee our efforts. The committee serves as a clearing house for actions necessary to prepare for the visit. It will also coordinate the implementation process and help ensure transparency, clarity of communication, and collaboration, as we prepare to implement a change to university status. The Committee is being co-chaired by Shirley Williams, our Provost, and Mike Pressimone, Vice President of Advancement.
Committee membership includes a broad representation of faculty and staff from across the institution, including Darlene Berk, Tim Blessing, Jeff Dittman , Rachel Gordon, Jon King, Joan Lewis, Gale Martin, Mary Sacavage, Bridget Scogna, Spence Stober, Grace Stone, Abby Swatchick, and Mary Ellen Symanski. Student members include Adam Butler (resident) and Stacey Sears (commuter). Joining Tim, Spence, and Mary Ellen on a separate faculty subcommittee, established to work on important academic issues, are Audrey Caldwell, Karen Cameron, Nathan Thomas, Tufan Tiglioglu, Eva Weicker, and Victoria Williams.
Besides re-emphasizing that the change to university status is a key priority and specific goal articulated in our strategic plan, the Committee has already drafted a set of guiding principles and key issues to be at the forefront of our proposed change to university. Among the most important are:

  • The legal name of the institution will become Alvernia University.
  • There will be no sudden change to the structure of the institution.
  • Alvernia will continue to be a caring community committed to Franciscan values and to being a personalized, student-centered university.

Shirley and Mike will be in touch as soon as we have a final schedule from the State to set up the necessary meetings. Our well deserved reputation for Franciscan hospitality will once again serve us well as we host the team.



Values and Vision: The Alvernia Fiftieth Anniversary Campaign continues to make significant progress during its “quiet phase.”  Several new gifts have been received since the Campus Information Sessions. While we have set ambitious fundraising goals for the first year of this six-year effort, we continue to be cautiously optimistic that the public announcement of the campaign will occur next fall.
As we know, the campaign priorities flow directly from our revised mission, our vision to be a “distinctive Franciscan university,” and our major priorities. The Central Campus Project, now underway, is the first key step in improving campus life for our students. No goal is more important than faculty development funding to support faculty excellence—in teaching and in scholarly and creative achievement. In this light, the recently announced gift of Carole and Ray Neag is especially significant. Their generosity provides partial funding to launch Alvernia’s first two Endowed Professorships.

Alumni Engagement: The advancement office has recently conducted research into the nature and identity of our alumni population.  While there is much useful (and some eye popping) information, here are a couple of highlights:

  • Over half of the degrees earned at Alvernia have been conferred since May 2000.
  • We have good addresses on 96% of 8,503 living alumni, an exceptional percentage.
  • In addition to a large contingent of graduates in eastern PA, we have large numbers throughout the Middle-Atlantic states, in Florida, and, surprisingly, in the southwest. 

The data has confirmed our hunches about where to concentrate our regional activities. Regional chapters are envisioned in parts of eastern PA, New York and Northern New Jersey, the area around the District of Columbia and Florida. Besides these chapters, we will also begin to celebrate some special individual alums: an athletic hall of fame will be instituted at Homecoming 2008.


Work has begun on plans for two major academic areas, identified as critical goals in our strategic and master plans, during Phase I (2008-2013):  Teaching and Learning Spaces and the Fine Arts Program. Back in August, I announced that the year 2008 would be our targeted time for developing action plans. Two initial working sessions have already occurred on each topic; expect a progress report in the mid-summer newsletter!
During the past year, leadership from student life and academic administrators and productive collaboration with faculty colleagues has accelerated progress in the development of a more robust and stimulating co-curricular program.
Co-Curricular Programming Board:  Formed in Spring 2007, the Co-Curricular Programming Board (CPB) provides funding to faculty members interested in sponsoring co-curricular educational programs for students—either for the general student body or one or more designated classes of students. The Board is comprised of Abby Swatchick (chair), Peggy Bowen, Adam Butler ‘12, Gail Metzger, and Ashlee Wolfe ‘08. Among the many proposals approved this year: a Trip to QVC and time with their Director of Public Relations for Jodi Radosh’s classes (Public Relations and Advertising and Television Production), Carol Schwanger’s Percussion Workshops, and Elizabeth Matteo’s class trip (Exploring Psychology) to the Franklin Institute to see the Identity and Personality exhibit. The Co-curricular Board is also collaborating with the Center for Ethics and Leadership on its Faculty Panel and Emerging Leaders Forum later this spring.
Fine Arts Initiative:  A group comprised of Kevin Godfrey, Kristel Kemmerer, Carol Schwanger, and Nathan Thomas have together helped produce a notable increase in the quantity and variety of arts programming. The purpose is to expose students to a variety of visual and performing arts opportunities on campus and in the community thereby augmenting Alvernia’s student productions and student-sponsored events. In 2007-2008, tickets funded by the Fine Arts Initiative include dance events (Paul Taylor Dance Company, Hubbard Street Dance, and Yu Wei, a Chinese dance collection); art exhibits (trips to the Reading Museum’s Degas and the Art of Japan and the Museum of Modern Art in New York City); theater (the Miller Center’s performance of Twelfth Night); and music (From the Hip, a jazz quartet and a New Orleans big band jazz ensemble).
Student Activities has sponsored Nick Motil (acoustic guitarist), Dan Emery (acoustic guitarist), Black Violins, and Recycled Percussion, among others. Campus Ministry has sponsored Popple (a Christian band). In addition, the Fine Arts Initiative encourages students to attend concert series events and gallery openings at other Berks colleges and universities, the Reading Symphony, and Berks Jazz Fest. And important to remember the Alvernia Writers’ Series, straight from Ground Control and led by Major Tom (Bierowski).

New Academic and Athletic/Recreational Programs: Essential to enrollment growth and to an improved competitive position, especially amidst the demographic challenges facing Pennsylvania, is the development of new opportunities for students. Not only must we strengthen existing programs, but we must introduce new academic programs, athletic opportunities, student life options. The proposed master’s degree in nursing is a good example. Other academic initiatives are underway; and, as described above, co-curricular activities are being expanded.
Alvernia lags well behind peers in our athletic and recreation facilities and opportunities, especially for the non-varsity athlete.  Fortunately, due to the recent addition of two major academic facilities (O’Pake Science Center and Upland Center for Graduate and Adult Education), we are now able to target near-term facilities improvements on recreation. Both the enrollment and athletic divisions (and many students) have urged us to explore new athletic programs—track and field, football, swimming, women’s golf, to name a few. A campus-wide ad-hoc group will be established later this spring to assess the desirability and feasibility of such new programs, aided by external financial data and the experience of similar institutions.

Institutional Research

Under the direction of Dr. Evelina Panayotova, the Office of Institutional Research is now established as an essential contributor to many facets of campus life. Few of us are probably aware of the scope and significance of this work.
External Reports: Numerous compliance reports are required by external organizations, including federal and state agencies and private organizations. A few others, though optional, offer valuable support to our marketing efforts by increasing Alvernia’s visibility and responding to increased national pressure for accountability by making information readily available to students and parents making their college selections.
Internal Reports: As many of you know, this office has provided survey and research reports to numerous offices and departments at the college. Most importantly, the office continues work to expand web survey offerings to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of internal survey research, to reduce costs, and to streamline information gathering and dissemination. Among the major recent efforts: Exit Survey of Graduating Seniors (pilot for December graduates); 6-month Alumni Survey; an employer survey for the Nursing Department; and the first- year seminar and national CIRP surveys.
Assessment Research: The office coordinated the participation of 400 Alvernia freshmen and seniors in a national outcomes assessment research project conducted by ACT. Currently underway is an exploratory research study on assessment and program review in higher education. The goal of the project is to identify current trends and best practices in assessment strategies, define linkages between program review and assessment to accreditation, and identify innovative technological applications/software products for assessment.
Special Projects: AS with all of us, the always popular “special projects” often demand considerable time and attention. Two recent projects were collaborative efforts:  the Diversity Survey (Office of Multicultural Initiatives) and the Enrollment Growth Model (Admissions). Now underway is an Alvernia Fact Book and an environmental scan and other initial research necessary for a Peer Group and Benchmarking Study.


Board of Trustees: At each board meeting, trustees meet with a group of students or faculty and also participate in a plenary session on an important issue or priority. At the spring meeting later this month, they will have lunch with student leaders and student life staff, review initial plans for a new residential village for juniors and seniors, and enjoy a tour of the new Student Life Center.

We continue to add impressive trustees, including alums and individuals from the wider region. Check the Almanac for upcoming profiles of John Wanner ‘82 and Tom Martell.

Enrollment and Budget: It has been a challenging year for enrollment and budget, and media commentators warn of tough times ahead for the national economy. Doug Smith’s recent campus e-mail summarized the progress on enrollment and budget during January and February. As he made clear, we have taken several coordinated actions, including a freeze on non-essential spending across the institution and a freeze on non-faculty hiring except in the academic area. With good cooperation, we are more conscious of the need to monitor spending and, as of now, we are back on track to achieve a balanced budget.
Among the encouraging recent signs was the reduction of attrition among full-time undergraduates between fall and spring semesters. Progress on retention is essential for our financial health and, more important, as a reflection of the educational quality and student satisfaction. Equally encouraging are the trends for Fall ‘08. We have set an aggressive target of a 12% increase in freshmen, so we will need parallel improvement in our yield efforts. Equally important, the staff is well ahead of previous efforts in beginning recruitment of current high school juniors and sophomores.
Faculty, staff, and student involvement in recruiting and retention efforts is essential. As noted above, we are fortunate to have many who contribute generously to this effort.

The Graduate and Continuing Education Division has implemented a number of new strategies to increase student enrollment and revenue: among them, new and expanded methods of identifying potential students, expanded course offerings, new program development, analysis of current data trends on retention, and clearer separation of academic responsibilities of program faculty from responsibilities of administrative and support staff.  Among the new action steps:

  • Mailings to all current juniors, seniors, and alumni regarding benefits  of attending Alvernia as an alum – with a special anniversary discount for alums to celebrate the institution’s upcoming anniversary celebration;
  • Expanded open houses throughout Alvernia’s off-campus sites and locations;
  • Training for all staff to develop on-line information sessions;
  • Design and implementation of Google Adwords;
  • Discussions with faculty regarding needs for on-line courses and programs.

Short-term action steps are especially important for such programs, given the nature of the competitive environment and the expectations of older students.  At the same time, we must plan for the future. I have asked that we accelerate the timetable for a long-term plan, with a draft plan drafted by early summer and ready for discussion by early fall.

“Pardon our Dust” – The Central Campus Project: As you have noticed, work has begun on the Central Campus Project, particularly the expansion of the Student Center housing the new college bookstore. The official “groundbreaking” will occur during the upcoming Board of Trustees meeting, but work started earlier to help ensure an August completion date. Immediately after Graduation, work will begin to create the new campus commons. It is not surprising that students are excited these dramatic improvements.
Lower Campus Project: With Central Campus being renovated, attention has turned to the second stage of Phase I (2008-2013) of the Campus Master Plan. With the help of architects and engineers, the specific site locations are being finalized for the key components of a new Lower Campus: a residential apartment village for upperclassmen; a turf field and track; and a large parking lot and related access roads and pathways.  (Review of the PEC expanded footprint is also included in this work, although that extensive renovation is still a few years away.) As of now, assuming no unusual challenges, the Lower Campus Project would be completed by August 09, including the first building (about 75 beds) in the new village. 
Athletics: Winter sports have ended, and spring sports have begun. Ice Hockey stormed into the Mason Dixon College Association making the Championship Final in its first season in the conference. The team finished with an impressive 20-4 record.  Congratulations to our coach and alum, Tom O’Connell ’95.
Both basketball programs enjoyed big wins during their seasons. The men won still another regular season PAC Championship; the women ended Gwynedd-Mercy’s impressive conference winning streak with an exciting upset win. Both teams hoped for longer post-season runs but can look back on their PAC achievements with pride as they anticipate competition in our new conference. Both John McCloskey and I are already active in conference activities as our new conference is highly visible and vocal in the national deliberations about the future of Division III.
As we have come to expect, student athletes distinguished themselves in recent months. Most notably among several awardees, Junior Terrence Shawell was honored as the recipient of the PAC Men’s Basketball Conference Player of the Year. In addition, Shawell became the 20th player in men’s team history to reach 1,000 career points. 

AFCU Franciscan Conference Update:  Planning for our national conference is near completion. Registrations have been received from 12 Franciscan institutions, with about 140 total participants expected, including over 25 Alvernia presenters. In addition to the plenary sessions, and 21 breakout sessions, there is a special event on Friday evening:  A Celebration of the Arts that includes a dinner-theatre program, followed by a choice of poetry readings, a musical performance, and art exhibits. 
Remember that faculty and staff are welcome to attend any and all sessions at no charge but must register formally so conference planners can adequately prepare for meals, breakout rooms, and manage other logistical needs. Please contact Betsy Stiles.


As often happens by the time this newsletter is ready for e-mail, there are news flashes that make us all proud.
Mike Miller (Athletics), our head men’s basketball coach, will be inducted on April 6 into the Berks County Chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame. The recognition is well timed, as his team completes a fine three-year run in our final years in the PAC, and as our teams movie to the higher profile MASCAC next year. We can be proud of Mike, as a head coach and long-time assistant for some great Jack McCloskey teams. Good to remember that this is a career award, also recognizing his outstanding record at Reading High School in the late eighties and early nineties.
Sixteen students, joined by several staff, have just returned from El Salvador where they spent an “alternative spring break.” Along with parents, faculty, and staff, I was fortunate to attend their commissioning ceremony, the evening before their departure. It was inspirational. These and other similar opportunities for students are expanding at Alvernia under the leadership of Kristin Nivison and Jo Pressimone in Campus Ministry and Ginny Hand and Jodi Radosh in the Center for Community Engagement. 
At a national conference over the weekend, Beth DeMeo (English) received recognition for her outstanding leadership, on campus and nationally, in Kappa Pi. Beth has indeed touched many lives, students and colleagues, in and beyond the classroom.
Generosity of spirit.  Doing well and doing good.  It is the Alvernia way.
Peace and All Good, 

Tom Flynn

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