Fall Convocation 2011 | Webster University

Fall Convocation 2011

August 18, 2011

Good morning and welcome to the start of another exciting year at Webster University – where the excitement and the energy are palpable as our students return to our campus locations around the world. 

It is indeed a pleasure to see you here in Webster Groves and know that we have Webster University colleagues from around the world viewing this live via video stream.   

Here on the home campus we have worked hard this summer to bring more physical beauty to our landscape, and the results are stunning.  I thank everyone who has helped to make each one of our locations a beautiful, welcoming home for Webster employees and students.

Founded in 1915 with its home campus based in St. Louis, Missouri, Webster University is the only Tier 1, private, nonprofit university with campus locations around the world including metropolitan, military, online and corporate, as well as American-style traditional campuses in North America, Europe and Asia.

Webster is a unique and wonderful place. At Webster, we have the distinct opportunity to travel the world and to bring the world to us. And we all know that our world begins in our own communities. Traveling the world and bringing the world to us – not only opens up dialogue, it opens our minds to new ideas and it helps us to strengthen partnerships on a local, regional, national and global basis.

Last fall, we launched a new undergraduate marketing campaign designed to bring in highly qualified and diverse students. We are happy to report that the campaign is successful and this year so far, our overall freshmen enrollment has increased by approximately 11 percent. Our new freshmen and transfer students represent 142 different countries – adding to the diverse tapestry that is Webster.

The marketing campaign focused on the concept of - Webster University: Destination - A Better U. And it occurs to me that we can benefit from this concept. Webster University is, indeed, a place to discover a “Better U” – whether we are students, faculty, adjunct faculty, staff members, or administrators.

We all seek to learn, to develop, to improve personally and professionally and to create a better Webster, a better University, for the success of our students.

I’d like to begin by noting just a few of our distinguished travelers who come in and out of Webster University – a hub of intellectual and cultural activity.

Whitney Gelnett, a 2010 Webster University School of Communications graduate, packed her bags and headed west to Los Angeles seeking work in the film industry. After just  a little over one year,  Whitney landed a full-time job working on the set of Two and a Half Men at CBS/Warner Brothers.  Whitney came, she graduated, and she got to her destination, yet she will always remain one of us, a Webster graduate – and a lifelong Gorlok.

Beginning this fall in the George Herbert Walker School of Business & Technology, the Walker Travel Award program will help students travel abroad to receive their global business education.  Qualified business student travelers can receive up to $1,000 toward a round-trip, coach-class airline ticket to defray the cost of traveling abroad when participating in a hybrid, short-term business course.

Norbert Leo Butz, a St. Louis native and 1990 graduate of Webster University’s Conservatory of Theatre Arts in the Leigh Gerdine College of Fine Arts, made us all proud as he was won his second Tony Award this year, this time for Best Actor in a Musical for his role in "Catch Me If You Can."

Thomas Schnöell, consul general of Austria, came to the Webster Groves campus to discuss "Austria and the European Union-Economy and Trade" – part of an effort at the invitation of the Austria Society of St. Louis to develop trade and economic development opportunities between local commerce and Austria.

We also hosted Paul Dickinson, Founder of the Carbon Disclosure Project, who led a worldwide discussion with Webster University students and faculty about how this century's emerging communications technologies can conserve resources, protect the environment, and connect far points of the globe in economically productive ways. 

This is what he said about Webster -  “You are living the future. You are really making a successful enterprise out of the biggest opportunity of the 21st century." He was referring to our online course offerings and how our WorldClassRoom affords access to the same high quality faculty who teach in our traditional classrooms from anywhere in the world.

The Webster University School of Education hosted the 2011 Education for Sustainability PK-12 Midwest Summer Institute, a program for school teachers sponsored by Webster University, The Missouri Botanical Garden and the Saint Louis Zoo. More than 60 teachers, educators, students and environmental advocates attended the event.

Our College of Arts and Sciences Department of Nursing is now offering the R.N. to B.S.N. degree completion program through the BJC Center for Lifelong Learning.  BJC Health Care employees who are already registered nurses are eligible for the program. Students can attend class at the Center for Lifelong Learning or through videoconferencing sites at other BJC locations.

At Webster’s Los Angeles Air Force Base campus, it appears that “couples rule.” Five different married couples have been working on college degrees at the same time, juggling the challenges of family life, career, and studies.

And our most important visitors who came and went - our Webster University graduates for the 2010 – 2011 year…all 7,195 of them… from campus locations around the world. Our graduates hailed from 49 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and 118 countries. 

The oldest Webster graduate was 79 years old from the Fort Bliss campus site and the youngest was from the St. Louis campus, age 20. These graduates remind us of our important jobs as we begin this new academic year – the importance of helping our students not only enroll, but to succeed, graduate and find their places in the world.

Indeed, we have much to be proud of here at Webster. And we have much to be thankful for.  Last year I spoke of the economic challenges our students and their families faced to assure for themselves the promises that higher education holds. This year, we know those challenges have only heightened for them and in turn for those of us in higher education around the world.

And while we fare much better than most of our higher education counterparts, we, too, will grapple with many of the issues of economic uncertainty, social strife, and political instability that threaten individuals, institutions, and nations. 

Because we are a global university with the need to address those issues that most impact citizens of the globe.

• How will we strengthen our academic programs and ensure our curriculum remains relevant in a drastically-changing and dynamic world?

• How will we continue to invest in our human resources in a manner that ensures that we attract, develop, and retain the highest quality faculty and staff who are  committed to student success?

• How will we invest in our infrastructure—facilities and technology-- and build a sustainable environment so that Webster remains successful for the next hundred years and beyond?

• How will we maintain and enhance the institution’s financial vibrancy while continuing to meet students’ unmet needs?

• And how will we strengthen and create vibrant partnerships to accomplish our mission, locally and globally?

These are questions of significance for us. These questions will require us to make important choices as we move forward, which reminds me of something Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “One’s philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes…and the choices we make are ultimately our responsibility.”

Through the years Webster University has made the choices necessary to identify and meet the unmet needs of our students. Those who preceded us took responsibility for making bold and courageous choices in response to need, circumstance, and their own philosophy and mission. So shall we, and the Webster that will continue to flourish in the next 100 years will be an expression, in large part, of choices we accept the responsibility to make.

Please welcome Provost and Senior Vice President, Dr. Julian Schuster, who will tell us more about what we are doing to enhance global academic and operational excellence here at Webster. Dr. Schuster…

Thank you, Dr. Stroble.

The President just posed some powerful questions. How will we strengthen our academic programs and ensure our curricula remain relevant in a drastically-changing and dynamic world? How will we continue to invest in our human resources in a manner that ensures that we attract, develop, and retain the highest quality faculty and staff committed to student success? 

How will we invest in our infrastructure—facilities and technology-- and build a sustainable environment so that Webster remains successful for the next hundred years and beyond?  How will we maintain and enhance the institution’s financial vibrancy while continuing to meet students’ unmet needs?  And how will we strengthen and create vibrant partnerships to accomplish our mission, locally and globally?

The good news is – we have taken important steps toward the solutions to these challenges over the past year. And I am very proud of the steps we have taken and will continue to take as we pursue the transformation of Webster and set a distinct standard for global education.

We begin by strengthening our academic programs with the Global Citizenship Program – a new undergraduate core curriculum that will permeate the academic experience at Webster across the board.

As we continue Webster’s trajectory to academic and operational excellence, we must retain our focus on teaching our students to ask the right questions. They must become Webster graduates who understand the world around them, and understand its context – so they may change the world and make it better.

This is why the development of our Global Citizenship Program is so important, and why so much work has gone into developing it the past few years. It is designed around our common purpose: To unleash the creative potential of Webster students.

Through painstaking collaboration we have developed an integrated plan that replaces our core general education program and guides each Webster student through a path of exploration and discovery that will prepare them with the necessary skills to be engaged citizens of the 21st century. 

This is not merely another general education plan; it is a carefully designed pathway to make our students better graduates after they leave Webster – but also better students as they immerse themselves in their majors.

This fall we will finalize the first courses that apply to the program, and this will be a defining element of the entire Webster community. By next year at this time, the first students will be enrolled under the new core curriculum – the Global Citizenship Program.

I use this opportunity to thank the faculty for their hard work on this project that will impact student success in a significant manner.

Of course global academic excellence cannot be achieved without investment in human resources. To strengthen our ranks, we have recruited 17 new faculty members for the coming academic year, including five visiting assistant professors

But here, too, our work is not done. We will continue to recruit talented, dedicated faculty.  And we will continue to provide an environment in which faculty can grow professionally and will strengthen their contributions to the university through scholarship, teaching, and service.  We will work together, and in doing so we will continue a long Webster tradition of collegiality and mentorship.

An important achievement of this past year was a significant example of how faculty and staff and administration can work together: I’m speaking of our compensation study. Compensation is a topic that can divide faculty and staff. But for us, it was a chance to unite as one to achieve what is best for the Webster community as a whole. We initiated the study with the input of faculty and staff, and we shared those findings with the Faculty Senate and with the Webster Staff Alliance.

 At the outset we established and updated our market definitions, to benchmark our current pay practices relative to market peers, assess geographic pay differentials, and update our salary ranges accordingly. Implementation of many recommendations is already under way and will continue in stages in the years ahead.

Yes, we will achieve academic excellence – but only with investing in processes that help define a pathway to success. We will invest in our infrastructure with an integrated campus master plan. 

Webster has contracted with the internationally known firm, Sasaki Associates, to develop its campus master plan that will guide Webster Groves campus planning for the next 15 years and beyond.

Initial interviews with select Webster Groves community members have already taken place, and the project officially begins in September. It will encompass four stages: assessment, exploration, master plan development and community engagement.

The study will assess current uses of our property and space and identify possible future uses. It will identify how current space needs align with future enrollment plans and opportunities. This includes not only plans for managing traffic and parking, but also for an overall design to bring a coherent look and brand to the campus, including the grounds. We look forward to beginning this process next month to form a solid local hub to support global growth.

We welcome your full engagement in this process and encourage you to participate. Watch for updates in Webster Today.

Regardless of how our campus master plan takes shape, a major part of it is being erected just a few hundred feet from where we have gathered here today. This is an invigorating development, because it is a visible, tangible sign of our progress that we can see each day.

It has been exciting to watch the construction the new academic building, the future home of the George Herbert Walker School of Business & Technology. This building will include 40 general-purpose classrooms to serve more students in day classes and to serve them better.   We currently expect the building to open for classes in Spring II, 2012. I know we all look forward to this date. 

When it arrives, the new academic building will serve as a signature icon on campus, a place where modern higher education lives and breathes. And it will also free us to improve the rest of campus in accordance with the master plan.

A priority in that plan is a modern-day facility for biological and health sciences. The master planning process led by Sasaki will help us identify other priorities to strengthen academic programs, student life, and service to our community as well as the beauty and coherence of the campus.   Included in this, we look forward to the renovation of the Sverdrup Building as it becomes an enhanced home for the growing School of Communications.

We have made great progress in maintaining and enhancing the institution’s financial vibrancy.

Webster University recently earned rating upgrades from both Moody’s Investor Service and Fitch Ratings. This is the second bond rating upgrade that Webster has received since 2009 – a significant achievement in higher education.

The ratings increases reflect a better understanding by both agencies of Webster’s unique and stable financial strengths. Both Moody’s and Fitch visited the Webster University home campus and noted the quality of our faculty and academic programs.

Webster’s recent $61.4 million bond offering will be used in part to construct the new 90,000-square-foot academic building, retire existing bonds, and keep a low interest rate that results from our ratings upgrades and general economic conditions. 

The bottom-line savings that resulted from Webster’s rating upgrades is approximately $1 million dollars, with additional savings measured in the millions resulting from the re-financing of our existing bonds.

Of course, none of this would be possible without the talent and flexibility of our faculty and staff, who – as good stewards of university funds - keep us relevant and poised to serve new educational needs as they emerge.

Another way to remain relevant is to continue to create meaningful global  partnerships. This year I am proud to report that we have initiated and facilitated expansions of Webster’s global reach. This has resulted in new memoranda of understanding that are signed or in progress around topics such as: MA in Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language; Internships in China; International student recruitment in India; and collaborations with institutions in Italy, Ukraine, Germany, and China. 

Webster University has been awarded the AsiaNetwork-Freeman Foundation Student-Faculty Fellows grant for Collaborative Research in Asia.  It is through international partnerships such as these that we deliver on our vision of setting a distinct standard for global education. 

In closing, I would like to thank you for your hard work and dedication as we have accomplished these initiatives. While we have made great progress, our work is not finished. Our work goes on as together we seek to provide a distinct standard in global higher education and continue on the path of global academic and operational excellence.

Thank you, Julian. We are well on our way to becoming a better U.

We are fortunate to have a loyal and generous group of donors and friends who support Webster in many ways. Since the start of WebsterWorks, the campaign for Webster University, we have raised approximately $51 million in gifts and pledges to support scholarships and academic endeavors in coordination with the strategic plan.  

With the launch of a public art initiative on the Webster Groves campus and the increased needs for student support, we are aggressively seeking the gifts that will close the campaign and the $55 million goal.

Of that total, $9.1 million has been raised for the Webster University endowment, which includes 45 new endowed scholarships such as:

• The Peggy Fossett Endowed Scholarship Fund for Music.

• The William HuddlestonBerry Memorial Endowed Scholarship, which promotes the study of Behavioral Sciences.

• The Markus & Barbara Trice Endowed Scholarship, established by an alumnus to support to an undergraduate in the Conservatory of Theatre Arts.

• The Arthur M. Sandler Endowed Scholarship, which supports the study of Human Rights.

Our support of annual student scholarships continues to increase every year and this year 103 annual scholarships will be awarded to students.

When I began my presidency in 2009, I talked about finding our identity – who and what Webster University is, what defines us as a university community, and what values and aspirations will guide us to create the Webster we seek to become. Our strategic plan provides the vision. 

And our core values of being focused on students; committed to diversity and inclusive excellence; and passionate about creating a learning environment that fosters global citizenship provide the thread that binds us together.

When I arrived at Webster, a campus-wide “reputation enhancement” task force was already formed to further Goal 5 of the Vision 2020 plan. The members recruited and worked with a specialized higher education research, marketing and branding firm. 

A worldwide campus engagement process was launched that included processing feedback from more than 500 stakeholders. This resulted in some excellent planning, strategic thinking, and focusing of messages.  

Most importantly, this work provided the foundational discussion of reputation management, of the Webster University brand, and gave us a greater understanding of who we are as an institution.

Now we will move forward in finalizing the reputation enhancement and strategic communications project. We will soon roll out the creative execution of a Webster University institutional image, which will clearly communicate what makes Webster University distinctive in the marketplace of ideas and institutions.

Maximizing our reputation will be critical to our success in an increasingly-competitive higher education environment. Consistent communications and brand messaging will help to accomplish this.

At this point, I think it’s important to remember that we cannot build reputation without our good work. It is only with our continued commitment to excellence that we continue to grow in esteem and reputation.

So thank you – and congratulations on some of our recent recognition:

Webster University is one of the best colleges to work for, according to the fourth annual workplace survey by The Chronicle of Higher Education – one of the most respected publications serving the academic community. 

Webster has received top honors in The Chronicle's annual survey every year since its inception in 2008. The work culture throughout our worldwide Webster University community is built on a strong foundation that fosters dialogue, respect, understanding and leadership.

Webster is recognized for providing an environment in which diverse graduate students can be successful and earn degrees. 

Our graduate student population represents the largest number of individuals of diverse backgrounds among all traditional, non-profit U.S. higher education institutions, according to a 2011 survey published in Diverse: Issues in Higher Education. Webster has consistently achieved top rankings in the Diverse survey since it began publishing in 1991.

Webster University ranks among America's best colleges, according to a report released recently by Forbes magazine. This is the second year in a row that Webster has been included in the Forbes list.

U.S. News & World Report – we are waiting for this year’s results, which will be in soon. I am sure we will continue to hold our first-tier ranking as we have for the last ten plus years.

Our reputation as a Military Friendly School continues to build. Today, more than 3,500 of our 21,000 students have a military connection. We have been recognized in GI Jobs and Advanced Military Education magazines.

We will continue to investigate how best to serve members of the military and the new wave of veterans, approximately 180,000 of them, that will be returning to the U.S. over the next year or so.

Webster University was widely recognized for the quality and duration of our study abroad programs regionally and nationally in the most recent Open Doors Report. The Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange is supported by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State. 

The list of recognitions could be lengthy – I have highlighted just a few. While I am proud of these recognitions, I am more proud about what they represent. They confirm that Webster University puts in place the necessary structures and approaches to help our students, faculty and staff succeed.

These recognitions show that we are making progress toward our strategic initiatives announced last year: 1) Setting a distinct standard in global education; and 2) Becoming a first-choice university for military students.

It is your hard work and dedication that made these recognitions possible. Together, we are fulfilling our worthy and singular mission as a worldwide institution - to ensure high quality learning experiences that transform students for global citizenship and individual excellence.

The goals established in the Vision 2020 plan have energized our work together in the past two years.  We have been working intentionally and systematically on the topics that continue to evolve and progress—in dynamic interaction with one another to create a better U in every respect.

And together we are making progress in building the infrastructure for successful completion of Vision 2020. I have said that leadership must be about results and process, and we are achieving results as we improve our processes and continue to establish mechanisms to measure our progress and report on outcomes in all of these strategic areas.

And of course, a critical element of success involves people – and we are committed to investing in and developing our people at Webster. As Webster grows in global academic and operational excellence, our need to add to our quality faculty and staff grows as well. Let’s meet the newest colleagues at Webster. I invite Provost Schuster to join me on stage to make the introductions.

Let’s begin with the newest members of our leadership team.  Please stand when your name is announced:

Eileen Condon

Ken Freeman

Greg Gunderson

Nancy Hellerud

Barbara O’Malley

Laura Rein

Oren Yagil

We welcome all of you to the Webster Family!

At this time, let us share a moment of silence to remember members of our faculty and staff members who are no longer with us.

• Ardith Brearton, a financial aid representative from our Columbia, South Carolina campus

• Bart O’Connor, retired, former Vice President of Finance

• Richard Holmes, Conductor of the Community Music School Young People’s Symphonic Orchestra

• Ralph Southard, retired director of our Fort Leonard Wood and Rolla campuses

• Anna Barbara Sakurai, former Sister of Loretto, long time professor, most recently in the Mathematics and Computer Science Department, and beloved wife of Ed Sakurai.

Thank you.

In closing, I’d like to share with you an observation from a recent trip to the Old State Capitol. in Springfield, Illinois, administered by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency…where along with the deans and members of the Administrative Council, I enjoyed a fascinating journey through a portion of U.S. history narrated by one of our own Webster graduates, Justin Blandford, who also serves as the Old State Capitol site manager.

I was reminded by our Webster graduate to be both inspired and humbled as I reflected on my own place in history at this time and in this place. And I encourage all of us to do the same today.

How will we individually and collectively positively impact the lives of our students? How will we inspire and support our students as they navigate the challenges of the economy, of life and family, and of their college career to be successful students and committed members of their communities? 

How can each of us inspire our graduates to stay connected with the university once they leave? And how will we be wise stewards of our resources so that we leave a stronger and better university for faculty, staff and students who come after us?

While we are here at Webster University, this vibrant worldwide campus community of lifelong learners and scholars, we have the honor of taking Webster to the world – and bringing the world to Webster.

As we get started in this new academic year, I ask you to go forth and accomplish great work – and to enjoy what makes Webster truly remarkable…the travelers that we encounter every day in our hallways, in our offices, in our classrooms and in our communities.

Have a great year.