Presidential Newsletters

March 8, 2009

Dear Faculty, Staff, Student and Alumni Leaders,
As I write my mid-semester newsletter, several of our athletic teams are regretfully heading north from Florida, while two other student groups and our campus ministry staff are returning from their “Alternative Break” programs in El Salvador and Baltimore. Happily, the sun is out and spring is in the air. Before long those popular Adirondack chairs, the gift of last year’s senior class, will be filling up!
The last few weeks have included several successful events, including the largest ever Scholarship Luncheon for our top freshman applicants (115 vs. 99 last year). The luncheon’s success is a tribute to Jeff Dittman and his staff and also to the many students, faculty, and administrators who devoted a weekend afternoon to this important event. Senior Melissa Masone represented us well with a fine talk. Our other major spring recruiting event occurs on Saturday, March 21. A large crowd is expected. Amidst a turbulent economy, enrollment goals will be more difficult to achieve, and much hard work lies ahead in the next several months. The active support of faculty and staff is essential to our efforts, especially in these latter stages.
Several special programs have drawn large and appreciative audiences. The Student Activities, Multicultural, and Campus Ministry Offices organized an Inauguration Day gathering in the Student Center, preceded by a campus prayer service.  The kick-off event of Black History Month attracted members of the local and near-by collegiate communities and also introduced a month-long art exhibit. The Batdorf ethics program featured a distinguished panel of journalists, and the moving Gerry Straub lecture, “Poverty and Prayer,” sponsored by the 50th Anniversary Committee, packed the Bernardine Conference Center. The 2008-2009 Ethics, Leadership, and Community Lecture Series continues tomorrow, with Tim Blessing (History) and Takele Mojire (Economics) critiquing the first 100 days of the Obama administration. Look for upcoming information on the Hesburgh lecture on Mexican Migration (March 26) and the presentation on Christian-Jewish Dialogue (April 21). April 21 will be a special and sacred day, beginning with a noontime interfaith prayer service to commemorate National Holocaust Day and ending with the opening of the acclaimed “Blessing” exhibit.
The annual Spring Play and Concert fast approach. The Library’s Edible Book Festival occurs on April 1; a full slate of exciting events are planned for Earth Day on April 22, with Margaritaville later in the same afternoon. And don’t forget the Anniversary Gala Celebration on May 2.
The well-attended divisional campus “town meetings” covered important topics such as new student enrollment, student retention, and the financial situation, so let me cover a few different topics, preview the March board meeting, and add a few news flashes.


Early last week, we received final confirmation of the special federal appropriation secured for 2009, totaling $1,256,000.  The South Reading Youth Initiative (SRYI) has received $600,000; an additional $570,000 has been received for science equipment; and $95,000 has been awarded to enhance the nursing scholarship program funded last year.  Special thanks to trustees Jonathan Encarnacion, Kathy Herbein, and Jim Boscov for their assistance and to Congressman Jim Gerlach, who was our chief advocate.  Our success with such fundraising these past two years has hopefully begun a new trend.


What do Georgetown, Duke, and Purdue have in common with Alvernia?  All are among the select group of 119 schools recognized by the Carnegie Foundation, the leader in higher education evaluation, with the 2008 Community Engagement Designation. This award recognition speaks to the campus-wide alignment among Alvernia’s mission, culture, leadership, and resources to support civic engagement and links us to only 9 other 2008 Pennsylvania designees such as Penn, Swarthmore, and Villanova.
The award is an independent, third-party validation from the recognized leader in higher education of Alvernia’s civic leadership. Because of the initiatives, programs, and resources regularly offered by our faculty, students, staff, and community partners, Alvernia University has been held up as a national model for civic engagement. The Carnegie Foundation has affirmed that we walk our talk. And it is, of course, equally a tribute to our many community partners. What a fine midyear 50th anniversary gift! 

Great Service of all Kinds!

In celebration of this significant honor, here’s a handful of the programs cited in our application to the Carnegie Foundation as well as some new related initiatives.

  • Crusaders Go the Extra Mile! Student athletes in partnership with the Holleran Center for Community Engagement have teamed up to reach out to the local community in a coordinated service project. More than 100 athletes on six teams participated in projects serving South Reading youth, IM ABLE, and local youth athletic programs. One of the projects involved members of the men’s and women’s lacrosse teams who participated in an obstacle course fundraiser for the IM ABLE Foundation, netting $17,200 to buy two skis for an adaptive ski program at Bear Creek for disabled children and adults. 
  • Video for Life: Students in Jodi Radosh’s video production and advertising classes created informational videos for ovarian cancer patients in treatment at Lehigh Valley Hospital. They also developed a website and press kit for a grass roots organization devoted to preparing Berks County for pandemic flu.
  • Career Services in the Community: Jennifer Dalton, Coordinator of Alvernia University Career Services, has responded to several requests from the community – the Mifflin Library, the Berks Community Action Program, and others – to present free workshops on resumes, job search tips, business protocol, etc., for people out of work or seeking to be more productive at their jobs, conducting several such workshops within the past year. She also provided free consultation on personality assessment as it applies to careers for a seminar held for a local industrial firm’s workers.
  • Compassion for Homeless Pets: Alvernia’s Student Chapter of SHRM (Society of Human Resource Management) completed their 8th annual “Animals Need Food, Too” campaign, a pet food collection conducted during the holidays to benefit pets sheltered at the Animal Rescue League in Berks County under the supervisor of SHRM advisor, Beth Berret. (By the way, our human resource curriculum just received certification from the national SHRM.)
  • Aid for Angelica Park: Alicia Sprow, one of the doctoral students in our Ph.D. in Leadership program who serves as the graduate assistant to the Holleran Center is developing a business and educational plan for Angelica Park for subsequent funding and use by neighboring schools including the new Millmont Magnet School as well as area college and university students. This involves close interaction with regional environmental state and federal agencies and will incubate student and faculty research projects for many years to come.
  • Student Nurses Reach Out to the Underserved: Nursing students have conducted health fairs for seniors living at city high rises and health clinics for Latino seniors at Centro Hispano. They have also been willing Bernardine Buddies, spending time and doing activities with the Bernardine Sisters in St. Joseph’s Villa.


March Board of Trustees Meeting: Trustees will be approving new guidelines for budget development and management as well as specific measures to ensure that Alvernia has adequate contingency plans for the coming year. (This work was thoroughly reviewed by several campus groups, including APAC and the Faculty Executive Committee.) Trustees will also be reviewing progress to date on faculty tenure and promotion policies, technology planning, and campaign strategy as well as discussing a range of other reports. Continuing their practice of hosting faculty, staff, and student groups, trustees will enjoy lunch with the first-year faculty.
New Enrollment, New Programs:  All experts agree that past trends are not a reliable predictor of results for Fall ’09. Still, the various trends bear watching. Currently, for new FT undergraduates, inquiries and campus visits are ahead of last year, applications and acceptances are close to even with last year, and freshman deposits are running behind. 
Graduate and Continuing Studies is slightly ahead in enrollment but slightly behind in budget (since in a bad economy some students take fewer courses). Led by John McCloskey, the staff have held the first of four planning sessions focused on strengthening approaches to recruitment, admission, and retention, so as to provide even more effective student-centered services.
The Office of Student Financial Planning, sensitive to changing family situations during uncertain economic times, has created a new Special Circumstances policy for incoming families. For the first time, staff will provide feedback early in the application process to give students and families a projected estimate of their financial aid eligibility. REMEMBER:  if you know continuing students who have suffered negative changes in financial circumstances, please arrange for them to visit this office.
Our new master’s in nursing is off to a fine start; the on-line MBA program is getting ready to begin. Several undergraduate, graduate, and certificate programs are being proposed for offering at the Montgomery County and Harrisburg Area Community Colleges.            

PLACES . . .

Alvernia continues to make steady progress on the implementation of Phase I campus master plan priorities. Uppermost is improvement of residential life through expanded housing, athletic and recreation fields, and parking, building on last summer’s transformation of central campus. Despite weather-related and other challenges, the Angelica baseball and softball fields will be ready this spring. The Village Apartments, our first housing to provide independent living options for juniors and seniors, have progressed rapidly. The entire South Campus Project, including a synthetic turf athletic track and field, 250-space parking lot, and related improvements remains on schedule and within budget. Our new South Campus and the related improvements in Angelica Park will change the face of Alvernia.
We have deferred several landscaping projects to save money during these challenging times financially, but later this spring some signage and campus maps will be installed.  And we hope before long, once all approvals are finalized, to make permanent improvements at our new entrance through Angelica Park. 


Eight faculty have articles appearing in the 2009 AFCU Journal: A Franciscan Perspective on Higher Education.  Their articles were among the small number selected through a blind, peer-review process from among the many presentations at the June conference. Congratulations to Travis Berger, Neil Penny, Mary Sacavage, Bongrae Seok, Mary Ellen Symanski, Jerry Vigna, and Kathleen Wisser/Connie Twyman. Trustee Roberta McKelvie, OSF, contributed one of the featured articles.
The CJ Faculty—Peggy Bowen, Barry Harvey, Ed Hartung, and Daria LaTorre—are each presenting papers at the Academy of Criminal Justice Conference. They are also busy planning the implementation of their previously received federal technology grant.
Donna Yarri has completed her co-authored book manuscript—God, Science, and Designer Genes—with Spence Stober. It will be published this summer by Greenwood Press. Donna and Marc Lucht have just had their co-edited manuscript, Kafka’s Creatures, accepted for publication by Rowman and Littlefield.
Paul West received the President’s Award for service to the PCA this last fall. Paul and Judy Warchal have had an article accepted on evidence-based therapy. Tom Bierowski, besides coordinating the Alvernia Writer’s series, has his own “Red Power Ranger and the Fruit Bat” published in the Conscious Reader (10th edition). Beth DeMeo and five of her merry band of Sigma Tau Delta students (Sarah Heckman, Laura Heffner, Melissa Masone, Lauren Rocchino, and Kelly Rohrbach), had their panel on “The Death of Paper” accepted for the annual convention.
The people who bring us our (campus) news and support our efforts to raise the visibility and reputation of Alvernia have received some well deserved peer recognition.  At the 24th Annual Admission Advertising competition, our marketing team took both a gold and bronze award!  Congratulations to Carrie Dittman, Gale Martin, Carey Manzolillo, and Jen Richter
Welcome back to Jo Pressimone who, along with her fine voice, is back on our Campus Ministry staff. And welcome also to Joe Cicala, Vice President of University Life, who began his time at Alvernia right as the students left for spring break. Hmmm. Actually, the timing was deliberate, and Joe had a productive first week meeting with his staff and fellow vice presidents. He already has had some good student contact, as he was the chauffeur for the El Salvador group when they flew into Newark late on Saturday! 

Arts and Artists of All Kinds!

Our artists not only foster their students’ artistry but also pursue their own creative work. Jennifer Michalik sang in Carnegie Hall with the Festival Chorus under renowned conductor Helmut Rilling in February. Our choral program is growing rapidly under her leadership. 
Carol Schwanger performed with the Reading Pops Orchestra at a recent Miller Center concert; Nathan Thomas’ “Magnificat” was performed by the Alvernia Chorus at the annual Christmas Concert.  The Pep Band, under the direction of Ringgold Band Director James Seidel, made its debut performance on senior day for the men’s basketball team. A display of Fran Ross’ works will be featured at our upcoming anniversary gala.

More Great Service

Coming soon is our third annual Employee Recognition Awards Reception (March 17). Join in honoring those who have contributed years of faithful service.
Speaking of such people, after more than fifteen years at Alvernia, Betsy Stiles is leaving to become Executive Assistant to the President at Cabrini College, effective March 30. This is a fine opportunity for her, both professionally and personally, as she will have increased responsibility and be able to work in the Philadelphia area. Prior to serving in the president’s office, Betsy worked in Enrollment Management, including as director of financial aid, and in the Office of the Provost, as director of operations.  Her impeccable organization, attention to detail, and spirit of team work provided leadership for New Student Orientation, Commencement, and countless special events. We will have an opportunity to thank Betsy and wish her well at a reception later this month.
Serving in the interim, while the search for a permanent replacement is conducted, will be Karen Schroder, Director of Planned Giving in the Advancement Office. A committed Alvernian, with longstanding family ties to the University and our Montessori School, Karen has served seven years, mostly as director of business development in Graduate and Continuing Studies, following time in the business sector. Her extensive community connections, external skills, and administrative experience will be invaluable during this stage of our capital campaign. I am very appreciative to Karen and to Mike Pressimone for her service.
And speaking of great service, I would be remiss not to thank Sister Margaret Anne Dougherty, RSM, one final time, for her leadership these last 3 years. We are fortunate in her return to full-time teaching, and look forward to her contributions in graduate education, teacher preparation, and the upcoming work on the future of mission and identity. 


As the close of our 50th anniversary year, our Spring Commencement (Saturday, May 17) will be a special event, and so appropriately we have special honorees to celebrate for the high quality of their service (and servant-leadership).  We will honor our dear friends and former trustees, Jerry Holleran and Carole Neag, with emeritus status. Their commitment to Alvernia has been and continues to be exceptional. We will have two distinguished honorary degree recipients:  our own Sister Pacelli and Richard Ekman, the president of the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC), who will be our commencement speaker. Dr. Ekman is a national leader for private higher education and an influential advocate for schools like Alvernia. Sister Pacelli has no peer in the contributions made to Alvernia—as teacher-scholar, faculty leader, and visionary administrator.
Leadership and service comes in many forms, from many people. We are fortunate in the many trustees, administrators, staff, and faculty who have made this place a special one. And those of us now here are also fortunate in each other, brought together by the shared vocation of service through higher education. 
Peace and All Good, Tom Flynn  

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