Presidential Newsletters

November 5, 2007


Dear Faculty, Staff, Student and Alumni Leaders,

As I write my mid-semester newsletter, we are finally enjoying an idyllic autumn weekend and anticipating the coming of Thanksgiving. Halloween is safely behind us. Having seen Pat Shannon decked out fetchingly in pink, wand in hand, as I arrived early on the 31st, I can only imagine how Darlene Berk, as a “biker babe,” managed to edge him out in our annual costume competition.

Kudos to the students who sponsored "trick or treat on campus," a night of fun and fright for over 350 children from the Reading and Governor Mifflin School Districts. The Commuter and Residential Councils, Education Club, Alvernia Outreach Program, and Criminal Justice Association collaborated on the event. Karolina Dreher and David Stuart were the chief staff "goblins" helping make this all possible.  

As November begins, the arts continue to hold center stage. Jon Clinch, author of the highly acclaimed first novel, Finn, and the renowned forensic scientist, Henry Lee, headlined a stellar program during the Greater Reading Literary Festival at Alvernia, with several events featuring Alvernia faculty scholars. Sue Guay, members of the planning committee, and our marketing folks made a fine team. Continuing though next Sunday is our theater program’s ambitious production of David Adly Guirgis’ The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, initially directed by Oscar-winning actor, Philip Seymour Hoffman and, at Alvernia, by our own Nathan Thomas.

Fall sports are ending, winter sports have begun, and Maroon and Gold night has kicked off the basketball season. But don’t tell that to our Field Hockey Team! Conference finalists for four consecutive years, under Coach Laura Gingrich and Assistant Nikki Rhoads, they have made their final PAC season special with an undefeated conference championship season. Freshman Ashley Tatangelo, sophomore Janielle Lynch, and senior Amber Landis joined our championship game MVP goalie, junior Audrey Hoffman, in leading the team to a thrilling shoot-out victory (after two scoreless overtimes) over Eastern University. Our first-round NCAA game is at Skidmore (NY).

IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT:
  Leadership in Community Revitalization: “A Conversation with Albert Boscov” will be the first program in the 2007-08 Executive Ethics and Leadership Lecture Series sponsored by Alvernia’s Centers for Excellence. This free public event will be held at the Bernardine Franciscan Conference Center on Thursday, November 29, beginning at 4 p.m., and followed by a brief reception. Mr. Boscov will also be meeting separately with graduate students. This promises to be a memorable event. Albert Boscov is not only an important entrepreneur but the major figure in the contemporary revitalization of Reading. His is a quintessentially American story.

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There is, as always, much to report.  Important new initiatives and special projects are underway, along with much good “regular” work that we should never take for granted. Implementation of the strategic and master plans is proceeding well, as is the initial phase of our first-ever comprehensive capital campaign.

FUNDRAISING CAMPAIGN and FIFTIETH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION

Values and Vision:  The Alvernia Fiftieth Anniversary Campaign continues to make significance progress during its “quiet phase.” Initial campaign materials have been finalized, as has planning for the component focused on Berks County businesses, which spans November, 2007, to November, 2008. Mike Pressimone and I have already met individually with many current and many former trustees and other important Alvernia supporters to review the priorities, derived directly from the strategic and master plans. We have set ambitious fundraising goals for the first year of this six-year effort and anticipate the public launch sometime next year to coincide with our anniversary.

There is a small army of volunteers working behind the scenes in preparation for our anniversary celebration as well as for the comprehensive campaign. Over 80 folks have already committed and are serving on the Campaign Cabinet and subcommittees, the Berks Campaign Steering Committee, and the Anniversary Steering Committee and its various subcommittees. These include trustees, alumni, students, faculty and staff, members of the business community, and other friends of the college. Their commitment is inspirational.

Among the early successes is federal funding of $350K for two of our most prominent academic programs, Nursing and Criminal Justice. Both projects involve creative community partnerships, and we are optimistic about additional future funding. The Almanac will report on this in upcoming issues. Special thanks to Daria LaTorre and Karen Thacker and the faculties of CJ and Nursing for their assistance in preparing these requests.

The campaign priorities, as mentioned above, flow directly from our revised mission, our vision to be a “distinctive Franciscan university,” and the priorities in our plans. Now underway is development of specific projects that will support our goals and appeal to donors. No area is more important than faculty development funding to support faculty excellence—in teaching and in scholarly and creative achievement. Over the coming weeks, I will be meeting with faculty representatives to identify some specific campaign projects and then hosting an open forum on this topic in early December.  

PEOPLE . . . and PLACES

The Almanac now provides much news about faculty and staff. Let me supplement this with some trustee news and updates on two important “places.” But first . . .

Doctor, Doctor:  Double-barreled good news as we congratulate Di You (Psychology) and Beth Berret (Business) on finishing their doctorates.  They have additional reason to celebrate Thanksgiving this month!

Alvernia is fortunate to have many distinguished former trustees, several of whom are now being honored with emeritus status. At the December commencement, The Honorable Linda Ludgate ’77, Judge, Court of Common Pleas, will be so honored and also deliver a brief commencement address. Many of you know this impressive woman by reputation or perhaps personally. She is among our most respected alumnae.

Since the June Board meeting, seven new trustees have been approved, including two respected and well known academics:  Sister Margaret Carney, OSF, S.T.D. a world renowned Franciscan scholar and President of St. Bonaventure University (NY) and Dr. Carol Hinds, Professor of English at Mount Saint Mary’s University (MD), and former recipient of a national award for distinguished contribution as a chief academic officer.  Also joining our board are two alumnae—popular local vocalist, Deanna Reuben ‘79 and financial advisor, Kathy Kleppinger ‘83—as well as Franki Aitken, the senior vice president of the Berks County Community Foundation; Michelle (Miller) Davis, a teacher; and Michael Fromm, CEO of a local business. Michelle and Mike are children of recently recognized trustees emeriti, Janice Miller and Bernie Fromm. We are pleased to increase steadily the number of alumni/ae and those with regional or national presence on our Board, while recognizing our rare good fortune to have such strong commitment from local community leaders. Check the Almanac for upcoming profiles.

At each board meeting, trustees meet with a group of students or faculty and also participate in a plenary session which briefs them on an important Alvernia priority. In September, the department chairs were featured guests, and three faculty—Beth DeMeo, Spence Stober, and Mary Ellen Wells—formed a panel on “The Work of the Faculty.”  Our trustees enjoy these opportunities and recognize them as valuable to their work as our governing board.

This month we celebrate the opening of two new important facilities that will significantly improve teaching and learning resources and campus life for our students.

Upland Center Grand Opening:  The Upland Center, a new academic building and the home of Graduate and Continuing Studies, will be celebrated with grand opening festivities on November 9 and 10. Friday evening events include media tours and a VIP reception. Saturday’s schedule includes a Public Open House, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., an event designed to showcase the new classroom space and academic programs housed in Upland, including the Ph.D. program and the Seniors College. The planners of the Upland Center Grand Opening events are grateful for the faculty and staff support they received to give these events a professional luster and public appeal.

The Student Life Center:  Formerly the graduate center, this newly renovated building will open in December with all student life offices gathered under one roof! The Dean of Students and the offices of Student Activities, Campus Ministry and Multicultural Initiatives will be housed here, along with the Student Government Organization and other student groups.  here will be a meeting room available for student organizations. Perhaps most exciting will be the 24/7 student lounge and a 24/7 computer lab/workroom for those late night projects! This building was designed to respond to the needs expressed by students and has a particularly “student friendly” décor. It is an early action step addressing the “Student Communities” priority in our new plan. Keep your eye out for the grand opening in December.

MAJOR INITIATIVES and PROJECTS

University Status:  As you will recall, Alvernia submitted its application for university status in late June. Provost Williams has now met with our liaison in the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE), who is responsible for reviewing applications and providing suggestions to enhance them prior to the applications becoming public documents. The principal recommendations focused on strengthening the description of the evolving scope and complexity of Alvernia over the last decade, specifically the importance of our satellite locations in Philadelphia and Pottsville and other off-site locations and the significant expansion of graduate education and its corresponding impact on faculty roles and responsibilities. Overall, the review was quite encouraging, with nothing anticipated that should prevent our success in the application process. After the revisions are complete, the PDE will assign a visitation team for a late spring visit.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education Visit:  The Site Review Team will visit, December 2-4, 2007, to evaluate our education programs. Team members are Christina Shorall, Carlow University; Sister Carol Anne Couchara, Immaculata University; Connie Rothermel, James Ebling, Bonnie Williams, Bloomsburg University; Carol Pete, Chestnut Hill College; Barbara Zimmerman, Millersville University; Clifton Edwards, PDE. This is an “administrative evaluation” (not a comprehensive) visit, so they meet with administrators and faculty who work in or with the Education Department. Our preparation has been extensive, challenging, and time consuming. Besides needing to meet state requirements, we (and our students) will benefit from the improvement to our teacher preparation programs.

Enrollment Management:  Despite a small shortfall in returning students, we met our FT undergraduate goal in August due an increase in transfer students.  Subsequent attrition have caused us to fall slightly below our budgeted goal, but new transfer students and improvements in retention will help address this situation. Enrollment in graduate studies and continuing education is also lower than expected; plans are in place to catch up in the months ahead. Still, we are close to 2,900 in total undergraduate and graduate students. Looking to next year, we are running well ahead in undergraduate admission inquires, applications, and visitors. Our second and last Fall Open House is Saturday. As we know well, admission and retention are everyone’s business!

Brand Audit and Development:  The results of Alvernia’s brand audit and the plan for development of an “aspirational brand identity” were shared with the campus community in Open Sessions on October 30 and 31. This audit was informed by quantitative and qualitative research provided by faculty, staff, and students, conducted by an independent higher education marketing firm, The Lawlor Group (MN), in cooperation with the Marketing and Communications Department. Rather than being simply a promotional strategy, a “brand” is in essence the core promises that faculty and staff make to students, the public, and themselves about the educational experience. In the coming months, staff members from the Marketing and Enrollment teams will meet with departments and small functional groups for feedback and assistance with implementation and to ensure that we are all “on the same page” regarding our promise and our promotion!  

UPDATES and NEWS FLASHES

AFCU Conference:  Planning for the Franciscan Conference at Alvernia in June 2008 has moved steadily forward. Each of the 22 AFCU member institutions has received information about the conference program, including a Call for Proposals. A Conference Task Force, including faculty members Bongrae Seok, Mary Schreiner, and Marc DiPaolo will be working with delegates from the member schools to coordinate breakout sessions. A brochure is being finalized; a website link will be active by mid-November. Alvernia faculty and staff are encouraged to submit proposals or participate in other ways. Contact the above faculty, Sister Rosemary, or Shirley Williams for further information. This significant event will not only highlight our Franciscan identity, but also help us celebrate our anniversary with fellow Franciscan schools.

The Center for Community Engagement (CCE):  Alvernia College was one of ten private colleges and universities (out of 82 in the state) chosen for Independent College Day in the Capitol Rotunda. These colleges and universities provided specific case studies exemplifying how private colleges and universities benefit the Commonwealth under the theme—“The Ten Reasons Why Pennsylvania Needs Independent Higher Education.” Lehigh, Bucknell, Allegheny, and St. Joe’s were among others selected. The CCE’s South Reading Youth Initiative (SRYI) was Alvernia’s featured project. Led by Ginny Hand, our student delegation was introduced on the House floor.

Center of Ethics and Leadership (CEL):  Supported by the CEL, students Melissa Masone, Deborah Crum, and William Ward attended the 22nd Annual National Conference on Ethics in America (NCEA), 21-25 October 2007, at the United States Military Academy, West Point, New York. The theme for this year's NCEA was "Providing the Nation with Citizens of Character." Also in attendance was Alvernia doctoral student Tammy Toso, who served as a facilitator. The NCEA has been endowed by West Point's class of 1970 and annually brings students from the nation's best universities to the week-long workshop. The CEL also helped sponsor a workshop in clinical ethics put on by MACC faculty Paul West and Joanne Kaminski on September 14. Look for CEL director Jerry Vigna's regular column in each issue of The Alvernian.   

Diversity Survey:  Yesterday, we received a website link requesting all full-time faculty, staff and students to complete a survey that has been developed by Evelina Panayotova in the Office of Institutional Research, with input from Mary Lozada, Coordinator of Multicultural Initiatives, and the Multicultural Committee at Alvernia. Please take time to complete the survey and also encourage students and colleagues to participate as well. Initiatives to strengthen diversity and inclusive learning are integral to our strategic plan, so such self-assessment is an important initial step.

Emergency Prep Drill:  As part of a continuing effort to improve campus emergency preparedness, we are holding a drill on Friday, November 9. Developed in conjunction with the Reading Police Department, a practice scenario has been designed, involving discovery of a suspicious package on campus and response by the Reading Police Bomb Squad. We will announce the drill utilizing e2campus, our cell phone, email and voice mail alert system. We will conduct additional future drills, including unannounced ones.

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In recent weeks, I have enjoyed some special opportunities to visit with students. Meeting with student leaders and other groups of undergraduates and graduates is essential for getting feedback and suggestions. It is also fun. Students are universally excited by the rapid progress of campus development, notably the opening of the Upland Building. They were complimentary to those who organized and now staff our shuttle service. And they are eager to see the renovation and expansion of our dining services and the other upcoming improvements. In the coming week, I will have the opportunity to join a class of our second-year doctoral students and to preview a new Seniors College course on “The Poetry of Robert Frost.”  As faculty know best, students are our reason for being!

Early October brought for Helen and me a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We benefited from an extraordinary gift from the Bernardine Sisters, given for my inauguration in April 2006. We joined 35 others from Franciscan schools and hospitals on a pilgrimage to Franciscan sites, in Rome, La Verna (after which Alvernia is named), and Assisi.

The next Alvernian will include some of my reflections on this memorable experience, so I will simply here express public, heartfelt appreciation to Sister Madonna and her leadership team. It was a warm, generous gift. It was also a wise one:  my understanding of and appreciation for the Franciscan tradition was enriched—intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally—by this unique experience. I can imagine few experiences as valuable to me as your president. Our three leaders, among them Alvernia’s own Sister Roberta McKelvie ‘71, a new trustee, were superb guides to the “spirituality of place,” a recognition that sacred locations like Assisi have enormous inspirational power.

The trip to Assisi built in me additional enthusiasm for this special place and our upcoming Fiftieth Anniversary. Whatever our challenges, we are fortunate indeed, with much reason to be optimistic, as we anticipate our future.

Cheers, Tom Flynn




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