Fall Convocation | Webster University

Fall Convocation

Good afternoon, I am Beth Stroble, President of Webster University. Welcome to Fall Convocation 2013! It is great to see you! Fall Convocation is our time to renew and make acquaintances with friends and colleagues, catch up with summer developments, and prepare to welcome new and returning students to another exciting year at Webster. We will certainly do that today.

For some of the progress updates we usually give on this occasion, including progress on our 2015 Stretch Goals, I instead ask you to look for an upcoming email to faculty and staff, where you can find enrollment and endowment updates in detail. But I can give you a preview: While numbers are still coming in, the data I have in front of me indicates we are meeting our undergraduate goals in St. Louis, and our endowment has reached an all-time high, effectively doubling since 2009.

This has been accomplished with your hard work and I thank you. With many of our Stretch Goals met and others within reach, today we are going to cast our view beyond 2015, exploring the essential question for our institution: What’s Next?

As you saw in the opening video, we want to explore those topics not just in our words, but in the words of our faculty, our staff, and our students. Because we are making this journey together to transform our students – and ourselves – for global citizenship and individual excellence 

We have important work to do as we individually and collectively pose and address questions about the future life of Webster University—how we will advance a mission that drives us and our students to make a difference in the world. How will we transform Webster itself in ways to thrive and succeed in that journey?

Those of us here today or watching from around the worldwide network are fortunate to be among those who will steward this institution into its next century. Webster University will celebrate its Centennial in 2015, a time to take pride in our first 100 years, to celebrate our present, and to focus on the future while asking questions that matter:

  • What future are we creating—for our students, for ourselves, for Webster, for the world?
  • How can our behaviors, our actions, our priorities better reflect our core values of students, diversity, learning, global citizenship?
  • How can we anchor our leadership in our collective vision and mission?
  • What is distinctively valuable in what we do, and how we can continuously improve Webster’s value to and for those we serve?

Today we will begin to address some of those questions.

But first, let’s briefly catch up and congratulate one another on some great news that you might have missed over the summer. In May, we welcomed some 8,000 colleagues, friends, and partners from around the world at the NAFSA Conference for International Educators in St. Louis. As a major sponsor of the event, many faculty, staff and administrators participated as speakers and hosts to our international guests. Webster was front and center before thousands of international educators in the America’s Center. I want to show you a brief video that was played before multiple sessions during NAFSA, as part of our sponsorship:…What a great way to introduce Webster to that audience! By the end of the week, it was clear that Webster University is the choice for global education in St. Louis and beyond. 

The baseball team put Webster in the national spotlight again. For the second year in a row, they were regional champions and played in the NCAA Division III Championship, known as the D3 College World Series, with a 5th place finish. Their success was part of another great year for Webster Athletics: collectively our sports teams won the SLIAC All-Sports Trophy for the ninth consecutive year!

The Webster Chess Team continued its stunning success: They won the “final four” of college chess as national champions, and individuals took top spots around the world, including individual first-place finishes at the 2013 World University Championship and the U.S. Open. Three of our students are representing their countries at the Chess World Cup – the first time any university has had so many in that tournament. 

The Forensics and Debate team received special commendation from American Forensic Association for having students qualify for this elite national individual events tournament for 15 consecutive years.

The Chamber Singers have been invited to perform at not one, but two upcoming prestigious national gatherings. These students come from across disciplines, not limited to the Department of Music.

Our entry in the annual Webster Groves 4th of July parade – which featured our champion chess and baseball teams – was recognized by the City for the “Best” parade entry in the neighborhood division.  Also in celebration of Independence Day, on July 5 Brigadier General Mike Callan spoke to thousands as Webster recognized our Military members and Veterans because we sponsor Fair St. Louis and Salute to the Troops in downtown St. Louis.

Some major international news for Webster over the summer: we have now received accreditation from Ghana’s Ministry of Education for our new campus in Accra. Webster University Ghana Campus can begin enrolling students on our 4th continent after we receive approval from the US Higher Learning Commission for Accra to serve as a Webster campus. We anticipate a grand opening celebration of Webster Ghana in January. In Vienna, the papers have been signed for the new campus location, and our colleagues are busily preparing for a move to the historic Palais Wenkheim in 2014. Signs are posted for San Antonio’s new campus, where this fall we are opening the university’s first new Metro location in 10 years. This was a long-planned response to changing market and military needs in that area.

These developments which illustrate the energy that Webster faculty and students bring to meeting unmet needs make Webster a great place to work. I am happy to say The Chronicle For Higher Education agrees! For the 6th year in a row they named Webster one of the Best Colleges to Work For based on surveys of college employees nationwide. Most importantly, Webster is a great place to learn, too! This summer, Forbes once again recognized Webster in its list of top universities in the United States … the nonprofit Affordable Colleges Online recognized Webster as a Top Missouri College for Return on Investment … Ingram’s Magazine named the Webster MBA the most popular MBA program in both Missouri and Kansas … and the local nonprofit Paraquad is recognizing Webster as one of five local institutions that has made great strides in increasing the accessibility of our programs and services – on campus and online – for those with disabilities.

Every week this summer, we saw the results of Webster’s advancing success. The latest: Webster just signed a student exchange agreement with China’s Harbin University in which Harbin students studying to become K-12 English language teachers will spend their junior and senior years at Webster University’s School of Education.  

Will you stand for a moment and tell those around you thanks and job well done? Now, so many of these developments are not only good to celebrate for the present. They are important for Webster’s future. For those who were present for last fall’s convocation, Julian and I asked everyone to tap the power of teamwork in a relay—where every move that is made, every handoff and pick up, every action by every individual culminates in a successful result. I am pleased to say that teamwork took hold in productive ways last year. Relays that had begun continued, and many joined with Webster colleagues to hand off and pick up for success. As a community, we are creating for ourselves, for Webster, and for future generations of students a brighter, more focused future. Let us take a moment to see how this kind of collaboration achieves results for Webster, not just in new initiatives, but in evaluating and strengthening our work together:


Staff and Faculty designed the Transitions (TAP) program to better prepare – and retain -- incoming students for a successful college experience.

[Jeremy Coleman on how the Transitions program pushed him to be a leader, a senator, an RA, and he is driven to leave an impact on this world]

Opportunities on campus, abroad, and through partners create personal development for students.

Kris Parsons on the opportunities Webster has given her through Delegates’ Agenda, studying abroad in Thailand, interning at Monsanto, working as a grad assistant in Finance.

WSA connects colleagues and fosters professional development.

[Tamara Minley on “bringing people together across departments in the University. … It has helped me in many ways, professionally, leadership skills, knowledge of the University.”]

The Student Ambassadors program creates leadership opportunities for students, and showcase the quality and diversity of the student body for Webster’s constituents.

[Suhani Fernando on how being a Student Ambassador has opened doors, introducing her to more Webster staff, alumni, donors who give her a wider perspective and “be more aware of how the world works, how it is possible for me to grow as a person.”]

The Global Leadership Academy develops leaders within our community, nurturing collaboration across all of Webster University.

[Jim Meadows on the GLA experience, and what it taught him about leadership – beyond his military experience – and how it set him up for success after moving from Fort Leavenworth to St. Louis.]

The Working Groups were created in 2012-13 to ignite strategic thinking to address Webster’s most pressing challenges.

[DJ Kaiser on the Working Groups: “After working at larger universities for two decades, I really like that after two years at Webster I feel like I know who I can talk to, how I can get answers, and I can actually play a role in the changes we want to see happen here. … in the Working Groups we all learned the importance of faculty, staff, administrators and students working together to have these conversations to get us on the right path.”]

The University Library is a nexus for faculty, technology, students and scholarship in the 21st century.

[Holly Hubenschmidt on the power, the magic of collaboration.]

Those glimpses into the thoughts of students, faculty and staff speak to the value of working together, and using our individual strengths to make Webster a stronger university community. An inclusive approach that capitalizes on diverse talent and distributed leadership is exactly what helps us define “What’s Next?” for Webster in the changing landscape of higher education.

You see, we have virtually completed Vision 2020, the strategic plan developed in 2008, and it is time now to look beyond – to a future that will embrace holistic strategies and measures; seamless integration; strategic enrollment management and philanthropic goals; talent development and fostering a globally diverse and inclusive environment; wise stewardship of our resources; cultivating partnerships and strengthening infrastructure; advancing programs that are responsive to needs, all while using growth to feed Webster’s vibrant culture for success in our second century.

Because we cannot think about the future merely in terms of sustaining and maintaining what we already have.  As Danny Meyer, famed New York City restaurant owner and St. Louis native, suggests when he is asked:

“How do you keep your culture? How do you sustain or maintain your culture with all this growth? He thinks a better question is: How can you use growth to advance your culture, as opposed to being afraid that growth will prevent you from sustaining it? So what we’re focused on right now is using growth as a way to feed our culture.”

-Danny Meyer, interviewed in Ad Week, August 4, 2013

We have to think, and act, in terms of growing a thriving future that capitalizes upon our strengths and leverages our distinctive value as an institution while constantly improving. We can do this: While others in academia may struggle with a changing paradigm for success, Webster has been at the forefront in many ways – leading the way with global campuses, online programs, outreach to service members, one-of-a-kind partnerships. In other ways we have just begun the needed work—globalizing the curriculum, improving financial aid services, and providing facilities needed for students here and throughout the university community. In some areas we can use improvement. It is time to transform.

We will undertake transformative work with strategic planning starting this fall. The good news is…we’ve already built the foundation needed for strategic planning. With the help of over 300 faculty and staff, we completed Working Group research and recommendations for areas of strategic importance. With your help, we completed the ACE Internationalization Study and launched our first year of undergraduate programming in the new core curriculum, the Global Citizenship Program. With your help, we completed Program and Site Review.

As we think about the very nature of strategic planning in a new light, we know that today’s strategic plans have a shorter timeframe – gone are the days of a 10—15 year strategic plan. In today’s highly competitive and dynamic environment, we must be adaptable and innovative, creative and inclusive – while we remain committed to our global view and local connections to the communities we serve.

Now please welcome Webster’s Provost and Senior Vice President, our Chief Operating Officer and my partner in leadership, Provost Julian Schuster, to discuss the guideposts we will use as we plan our future.

[Provost and Senior Vice President Julian Z. Schuster]

Thank you, President Stroble.  Colleagues, it is time to look to our future. It is time to choose our path and to make the journey with persistence and dedication with our heads held high. It is time to confidently carve out our future together. We have come far – and we have far to go. There is more to be done and we, walking side-by-side will go there. Together, we will forge our own destiny. Together, we will paint the colors of our existence. And those colors will come in all hues, in all shades, acting as a beacon for us to follow.

President Stroble has begun to lay the foundation if you will…the building blocks for our success as we move forward. I’d like to call these the pillars of our strategic planning process.

First, we are Grounded in Heritage.

We will continue in the vision established by our founders in 1915 – the Sisters of Loretto – who bravely carved out opportunity to provide access to higher education for those groups that otherwise might not be able to receive it.

Our global view/local connections will continue to meet the demands and needs of our communities around the world. We will build upon our strengths and continue to respond to some of the world’s most compelling issues with compassion…with tolerance…and with understanding.

Second, we will use Holistic Strategies.

President Stoble’s strategic prism now takes on new subtleties as we become adept at working across academic and administrative units, across borders, and across cultures to deliver significant and transformative results in all areas. You have seen in the video today how this approach makes a tangible difference to faculty, to staff, and most importantly, to students.

This will result in increased enrollment and retention of students; enhanced alumni success and engagement; increased philanthropic support; dynamic new academic programming that is responsive to our communities’ needs.

We will continue to forge strong partnerships that open up opportunities for faculty, staff and student mobility around the world. This mobility leads to cultural understanding and global awareness of the challenges that face humankind. If we are to continue in the great work of creating global citizens, which we are, we must continue to expose our students to the multi-faceted realities of the world that awaits them.

Third, all of us will Lead Change.

We will focus on sustainability in the broadest interpretation of the word. We will create a sustainable financial future; sustainable infrastructure; sustainable academic and administrative programs. But as Beth said, we must do more than sustain this institution; we must set it up to thrive. 

We’ve made good progress here and Webster’s endowment has grown significantly over the last 5 years and stands at $111.1 million as of May 31, 2013.  This represents the University’s historically highest endowment level.


The endowment and similar funds (including interest from those funds) support the current and future operations of the schools, academic departments, facilities, and student financial aid. 

In an ever-changing world, Webster will adjust to the changing economic social and cultural environments we serve in every community around the world.

  • We will do this through the lens of innovation. We are examining opportunities in the historic Arcade Building in downtown St. Louis for a “Gateway Campus” location that would expand our St. Louis metropolitan offerings in a highly-visible and transformative way.
  • We will respond with creativity in thought and action. Some of the thinking that was generated from the Working Groups is highly creative, and some of it was incorporated even before the Working Groups finished. We will build upon this type of creativity as we move forward.
  • We will respond with science-related academic programming. The introduction of the Masters in Cybersecurity this fall is an example of how we can respond to a demand while taking advantage of our resources and strengths. This program will launch first in Colorado and we expect it to be a sought-after program for many and especially for our Military students.
  • The Interdisciplinary Building, which will rise just a minute’s walk from where I stand now, will further act as a laboratory for this type of cross-academic unit collaboration.
  • We will transform our other academic areas of strength and challenge ourselves to answer our students’ and their parents’ questions, what is the outcome? What jobs are available in this field?
  • We will respond with inclusivity to all people – no matter race, creed, color, age or sexual orientation. And we will not define people by markets – but rather as individuals…individuals who care for themselves as they care for others in their communities and in the world.
  • We will continue to serve our unique populations – the Military, Metro, Online, Global and those right here in St. Louis. It is through these powerful lenses that Webster University is one of the most vibrant and most diverse universities.
  • We will continue to build our undergraduate population in a manner that brings more of a balance between our undergraduate and graduate student numbers. Our new campus in Ghana; the move of the Vienna campus; bringing on the San Antonio metro location -- all help us to move in this direction.
  • We will engage our donors and friends to participate in our future. By providing naming opportunities within the new Palais Wenkheim in Vienna and in the new interdisciplinary building (Browning Hall) on the Webster Groves campus – and a myriad of other opportunities, our community members can be involved with Webster and a significant part of our vision.  
  • We will respond by continuing to invest in our people through annual programs such as the Global Leadership Academy and Global Staff Exchange, and one-time opportunities like the Working Groups and the ACE Internationalization Study.

Finally, we will Focus on the Power of People.

In the simplest terms, we will each become the change we want to see in Webster. Each of us will own our individual contributions while we embrace the spirit of teamwork to really begin to transform the institution.

What we’ve done together so far is good – findings from the Working Groups, Program and Site Review; and the Ace Internationalization laboratory will form the basis of our strategic planning process. But as you know, as the market and economies around the world tell us: We must do more. 

It is a bold new academic year. And we will face it with similarly bold and purposeful actions. Together.

[President Elizabeth J. Stroble]

Thank you, Provost Schuster. When I joined the Webster University community in 2009 as the 11th president in Webster’s history, I knew that my time here – my legacy – would not be about me, personally. Nor would it be about my singular vision for the future. I knew it would be about Webster, about all of us…about each and every one of us working together to transform Webster into its next century. When the Sisters of Loretto transform educational opportunities for women by launching Webster’s first century in 1915 – they did it for the women, not for themselves.

And here we are, in 2013, contemplating and planning a thriving future as we approach the turn of our century mark. Our vision is not for us alone. It is for our students, for their families, for their communities, for their world.

Surely we all have thoughts on this topic.  Just as we have captured this community’s best thinking through town halls and working groups, we will need every voice to be heard. To capture some of your thoughts, we reached out to faculty, staff and students in the last few weeks, asking what they see for the future.

The question: What is your vision for Webster as a thriving university? Let’s have a look at what some of our community members said. [video] 

Questions for discussion:

  • What future are we creating—for our students, for ourselves, for Webster, for the world?
  • How can our behaviors, our actions, our priorities better reflect our core values of students, diversity, learning, global citizenship?
  • How can we anchor our leadership in our collective vision and mission?
  • What is distinctively valuable in what we do, and how we can continuously improve Webster’s value to and for those we serve?

Recently, we had the opportunity to discuss these questions with University leaders. What we found was amazing alignment with the feedback we received from the campus community over this past year and in the videos seen today.

So what future are we creating – for our students, for ourselves, for Webster, for the world? Higher education is not a luxury. It is an imperative. It is a driver for change in the world... Just as the Sisters of Loretto met the unmet needs of educating young women west of the Mississippi River in 1915, whose needs will we meet as we near our Centennial in 2015? We heard from Webster’s leaders, faculty, staff and students that we should consider pioneering new directions in action-oriented education. Sustainability and resiliency is important – just as it’s been in our history. Creating a future that provokes giving and creates excitement. How can our behaviors, our actions, our priorities better reflect our core values of students, diversity, learning, global citizenship?

[dialogue between President Stroble and Provost Schuster discusses these questions]

And so these are just some of the questions – and answers – that begin to move us into strategic planning. We are off to a good start. As I imagine Webster University in 50-100 years, I think that those who follow us will look to this time in the institution’s history as a pivotal one.  A defining moment, as I have often called it.

We only need to look at the public dialogue about higher education to know that this is a time that demands leadership. Just as Webster led the conversation so many times before—defining the standard for which students’ needs we would serve and embracing a broader and broader identity—so will this time of strategic planning and centennial celebration provide us the opportunity to lead, to define the moment, and to lay the foundation for a thriving future.

At the time of my inauguration I shared my thoughts about the challenge before us.  All of us in higher education stand at a time of needed critical re-definition. We must re-invent and grow our institutions for relevance, responsiveness, sustainability, and significance. What is singular for Webster and truly our unique advantage is that we thrive in such times.  We are compelled as a creative, caring community to take action for the benefit of the worlds we serve.

We know that everywhere students struggle with issues of time and money to seize the opportunity for postsecondary education. Families’ resources are increasingly limited, state and federal support strained, and post-graduation employment opportunities challenged.  At the same time, the need has never been greater for the kind of transformative opportunities that higher education can provide.

We know, just as Webster’s founders knew, that meeting students’ needs requires a pioneering spirit.  Just as students need to experience and know worlds outside their own, universities must embrace new ways of serving students and their communities.

 As the Webster University community, our identity is inclusive, our spirit hopeful, and our history of accomplishment unparalleled.  By being true to ourselves, we will together lead a vision of global academic and operational excellence.   Worlds of need await us, and for that reason, I am proud to say that we are Webster University.