Webster’s Leadership and Vision for Global Academic Excellence | Webster University

Webster’s Leadership and Vision for Global Academic Excellence

May 26, 2010

Thank you, Matt.  Good afternoon everyone.  It is a pleasure to be here and to see so many I have met in my first year as Webster’s president and to meet, in some cases for the first time, more of our community’s visionary leaders.

I will focus my remarks today on Webster’s Leadership and Vision for Global Academic Excellence.

Let’s begin with the 1904 World’s Fair, when the world came to St. Louis.  Over nineteen million people visited the fair to experience an explosion of cultures congregating in one place.  And it was all made possible through the vision of civic-minded leaders who saw the city’s location and westward expansion as a stimulant to economic development.  This was an early example of the big view - to think globally in order to develop locally.

Webster celebrated that same spirit of global exchange at our most recent commencement ceremony at the Muny, on the same grounds where the world gathered 106 years ago. Over 1,100 graduates, their families and guests gathered for Webster University’s 91st Commencement ceremony. On that bright, sunny, and very windy day the Muny became our stage where we celebrated our stars, the Class of 2010.

Just as the world came to St. Louis for the World’s Fair, citizens of the world of Webster again came to Forest Park. This was the day we exhibited our global capacity and accomplishment and celebrated why we do what we do. Our worldwide Class of 2010 totaled 6,887 and included students from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and 102 countries. International graduates carried their native countries’ flags in our ceremony. Also present at the ceremony were nine students who took most or all of their classes online, through our virtual classrooms. 48 of our graduates are active U. S. military stationed overseas. Our oldest graduate was 71 years old and earned a Masters in Counseling from our Jacksonville, Florida campus.  The youngest was an 18-year-old Video Production major from St. Louis.

I tell you this to illustrate the essence of Webster University.  The Class of 2010 is comprised of students from so many places, not only geographic places, cultural places, and experience places, but places of need. And Webster filled those needs. 

From the 18-year-old traditional student to our 71-year-old non-traditional student-the conventional classroom in Webster Groves to the virtual classroom in the Middle East-Webster’s reach and impact on the lives of our students extends far and wide.

Webster’s mission to respond to unmet educational needs is rooted in our beginnings, when in 1915 the Sisters of Loretto opened one of the first Catholic women’s colleges west of the Mississippi.  Just a few years later, two French students enrolled, signaling the future of Webster’s global orientation. 

As we approach our centennial anniversary, it is important for us at Webster to remember the leadership and vision of our founders and our evolution from a local college for career-oriented young woman to a worldwide university whose 91st Commencement speaker was a Webster alum and - a career-focused military man.

The Sisters of Loretto’s tradition of innovation, their entrepreneurial spirit, and a commitment to inclusion continues to inspire and propel our mission forward to identify and respond in new ways to the unmet needs of individuals around the world. 

We do this through strategic partnerships, ground-breaking programs and visionary leadership to set a distinct standard for global education.

Webster stands at a defining moment in its history when the need worldwide for advanced education is essential to finding solutions to the opportunities and challenges we are facing today.  As Jamie Vollmer, former businessman and attorney, now an advocate for education and educators, puts it, “Economic necessity has met moral imperative.”

America’s commitment to an educated citizenry requires our continued commitment and capacity here at home, and as Webster has discovered, is a valued commodity as we have pioneered campuses in 109 locations around the U.S. and in Europe and Asia.

That pioneering journey began in the late 1970’s when Webster became aware of the need for an English-speaking American Education in Europe and, in 1978, opened the campus in Geneva, Switzerland.  The University’s initial intent was to provide a program of part-time graduate study for working professionals.

It soon became apparent that a program for undergraduate education was needed as well and by the fall of 1981, the undergraduate student population was almost double the graduate enrollment. 

That initial step was the springboard to our current network of international campuses, partners and partnership exchanges in 10 countries. Along with our Geneva campus, Webster has campuses in Vienna, Austria where we are the only American university offering full Bachelor, Master and M.B.A. programs. Webster University is the only American university in Central Europe to offer MBA programs in Slovakia and Hungary in partnership with local universities and our Vienna campus. Leiden and Amsterdam, the Netherlands where we are the first and only American university with full programs at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. London, England where we are the largest provider of American masters’ degrees. And Bangkok and Cha’am, Thailand where we are the only university in granting U.S.- and Thai-accredited degrees. Webster University’s innovative dual degree program with Kansai University in Osaka Japan allows students to qualify simultaneously for two undergraduate degrees through a single four-year program. Webster University’s exchange program with the Autonomous University in Guadalajara, Mexico, enables students to enroll in Spanish language and culture courses for a semester or academic year. And you will find us in Shanghai, Shenzen, Chengdu, and Beijing, China, which I will describe later.

Webster claims many other distinctions with regard to its international activities including…

The distinction of being one of the largest hosts of U.S. study abroad students.

On average, a faculty member on an international campus speaks three languages and has lived in three or more countries.

Webster University’s Global MBA program and Global MA program in international relations provide students with the opportunity to learn and interact in five countries on five Webster campuses overseas within one academic program.

Webster University’s innovative World Traveler Program offers a round-trip airfare for students to obtain a study abroad experience.

Webster University’s Study Abroad programs rank in the top 2 percent of the more than 1,400 colleges and universities surveyed in the just-released “America’s Best Colleges” 2010 edition of U.S. News & World Report. 35% of Webster undergraduates will have an international study experience while the national average is 3%.

Webster University has sponsored more than 100 faculty members on international exchange teaching and researching visits between and among the international campuses since 2003.

Webster University’s Global Staff Exchange Award provides staff from Webster’s worldwide network of campuses with the opportunity for an international professional development experience.

Webster University’s International Business Internship Exchange program, in partnership with the State of Missouri Department of Economic Development, has served more than 700 U.S. and international students during the past 25 years.

The Higher Learning Commission gave us this commendation at the end of our last evaluation…

 “By creating licensed and accredited culturally diverse learning environments and facilitating the international exchange of students among its international sites, Webster is achieving a goal that many institutions around the world are still planning.”

We are proud of our distinctions and the recognitions earned for our global capacity and accomplishments.  But nothing distinguishes us more than those we celebrate at every commencement.

Webster claims over 130,000 living worldwide alumni, many of whom have earned exemplary distinctions of their own…

SBY Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, president of Indonesia

Mary Ann Wyrsch, Former Deputy High Commissioner of Refugees for the United Nations, now a senior advisor to the Secretary of Labor for the U.S.

Mark A. Keiffer (KEE-fer), President of Global Operations for AT&T

And, Todd Kohlbecker, member of the Board of Trustees and Vice President of Corporate Real Estate, Brown Shoe Company

Among these distinguished alumni are active and retired high ranking military officers. 471 officers have attended classes at one or more of our 47 military base locations or in our virtual classrooms online.

Our Commencement speaker, Army Lieutenant Colonel, soon to be full Colonel, Greg Gadson.

Army Lieutenant General Lloyd J. Austin III, recently nominated by President Obama to lead U.S. forces in Iraq. He is currently the director of The Joint Staff in Washington, D.C.

Brigadier General Sheila Baxter recently retired from her post as Commanding General for the Western Regional Medical Command and Madigan Army Medical Center in Fort Lewis, Wash.

We are proud of the successes we have achieved in meeting the needs of our military, whose selfless service to our country is remarkable. 

We are equally as proud to serve our military veterans. In the 2010 list of Military Friendly Schools, G.I Jobs magazine recognized Webster as one of the top 15 percent of all U.S. colleges, universities and trade schools that are doing the most to embrace America’s veterans as students. 

These recognitions and distinctions, and most importantly, our outstanding graduates, are a testament to our global reach and influence.

Part of the success of a comprehensive approach to globalization is the importance of recognizing, nurturing and supporting a vibrant community.

Leaders of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition had to prepare the city and the region for its debut on the global stage and its goal to become an attractive location for future development.  Leaders of the Civic Progress, RCGA, the Regional Business Council, the St. Louis Downtown Partnership, and many others across the region are continuing that effort today.

Education and globalization are the keys to the potential for economic development in St. Louis, as we have recently been reminded in a May 4th editorial in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

In the editorial entitled, St. Louis can - and will - compete. Economic development – Local strategic initiatives are laying the groundwork for excellence, authors Bob Reynolds and Danny Ludeman note that “St. Louis is on the short list for expanding and relocating companies.” They list strategic regional initiatives to “enhance our region’s competitiveness” for those prospective economic development projects.

This is exciting news and poses many challenges and opportunities for collaboration. Webster is poised to serve a significant role. For example, the potential projects represent new employment opportunities for our community.  The editorial identifies a need for educational opportunities for individuals who did not finish college to get their degrees and bolster our talent pool.  Webster can help meet the needs of the 440,000 adults over 25 in this region who started college, but never finished. 

Throughout our history, we have met needs of students who either were not seen in college classrooms or whose needs required innovative educational approaches.  That makes us uniquely qualified to support the goal to encourage those 440,000 individuals to return to the classroom.

Bob Reynolds and Danny Ludeman suggest, “leveraging the region’s location advantages” and laud the importance of the Midwest China Hub Commission. 

In 2008, we opened the Confucius Institute at Webster University, one of the first private universities to be chosen by the Hanban, China’s Ministry of Education, to host a Confucius Institute.

This appointment by the Hanban was an affirmation of our prowess in international education and a result of our longstanding history of academic excellence in China. Webster University was one of the first joint M.B.A. programs in all of China in 1997 and the first joint MBA in China’s West region through our Chengdu location. As a result, Webster Chinese alums number 1100.

The Confucius Institute, in partnership with Chinese government, provides Chinese language, culture, and exchange opportunities to Saint Louis businesses and organizations. The Confucius Institute programs will further trade and cultural understanding between China and the Saint Louis region and is currently providing translation and protocol support to the China Hub Commission. 

And as Webster’s president, I am grateful to participate in the local High Level Business Council and am anxious in my continued trips to China and hosting of visitors from Webster’s Chinese partners to create opportunities for faculty and students to travel between continents as effectively as we imagine that cargo will.

And the final initiative where Webster contributes is in “attracting, developing and retaining top talent in the region.”

Earlier I shared some stats about the Class of 2010.  What do those numbers mean? 

Webster classrooms - real and virtual - are infused with the perspectives and experiences of students from across cultures across the globe. The interchange of students studying, traveling and experiencing a world of cultures is an important part of a Webster education. 

They are also impacted by the diversity of our faculty, fifty percent of whom have taught or studied abroad.  And our strong adjunct faculty of professional practitioners brings a diversity of real-world experiences to their classrooms.

We are committed to achieving a global education for every Webster student.  In our recent report to the Brookings Institute on our global citizen curriculum efforts, we described the work of our Global Citizen Task Force. 

This initiative is a faculty-led effort currently under way to develop a new general education program that involves moving from one that expects students to study broadly, to a program with the specific mission to develop the core competencies required for global citizenship in the 21st century in each of our students.

Reynolds and Ludeman say it is critical that the talent pool be “diverse across dimensions of race, ethnicity, gender, ability, background, age and culture.”  The pool must also be “business-led and data- and demand- driven.” 

I believe our Global Citizen Task Force and our Global MBA and MA programs are just a few examples of Webster’s dedication to transforming our students for responsible global citizenry and expand the qualified talent pool considerably. 

I would add here that Webster was recognized in Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, for awarding more master’s degrees to minority students than any other traditional, non-profit U.S. higher education institution.

Richard Florida, an American urban studies theorist, has his view about what it takes to make cities attractive to young professionals—an active civic life, lively cultural activity, and openness to diverse lifestyles. St. Louis is rich in these attributes.

Webster recognizes the contribution that institutions make to the quality of life in a community and offers support in many areas.

First and foremost, Webster has been the beneficiary of the extraordinary philanthropic nature of this community.  And Webster is no exception when it comes to giving back to the community.

Service to community is an integral part of a Webster University education.  Each year, in early October, faculty, alumni, staff and students in each of our 109 campuses, go out into their communities to perform service projects for agencies and organizations. Since its inception fifteen years ago, over 20,000 volunteers have contributed 91,000 hours of service. 

Webster University contributes to the arts and cultural opportunities in the community through our own arts programs and through partnerships with the Repertory Theatre and Opera Theatre of St. Louis.  Our Community Music School provides music education to students throughout the region and the Webster University Film Series screens a broad range of important films and documentaries.

Webster University played a pivotal role in the redevelopment of the Old Post Office downtown.  It was a collaborative effort and after seven years of hard work, the building opened four years ago and inspired the rejuvenation of Downtown St. Louis.

One reason for that revitalization is the 550 students who enroll in night classes at our Old Post Office campus. Webster is proud to have been a part of the downtown community for the last 35 years.

Along with providing quality academic programs to our students, we continue to foster partnerships and collaborations with the organizations that share our space at the Old Post Office.

The Diversity Awareness Partnership is dedicated to promoting diversity in the St. Louis region around issues of race, religion, sexual orientation, and disability.

In a similar vein, it is fitting that the World Affairs Council is located on our campus.  Its mission to “promote understanding, engagement, relationships, and leadership in world affairs” is a natural complement to Webster’s mission. Webster is a proud co-sponsor, with Boeing and Emerson, of the World Affairs Council's Ambassador Forums. 

Our School of Education, in partnership with the Literacy Investment for Tomorrow, is actively involved in setting policy and direction for programs that will provide solutions to the literacy issues in our community.

The Holden Public Policy Forum @ Webster University, led by Governor Bob Holden, provides a bi-partisan speakers series that brings public policy leaders to St. Louis to engage in open debate about public policy and the opportunities and challenges that will impact this area's health and well being. 

The Center for Professional Development is the professional training arm of Webster University.  The Center offers signature programs in leadership, sales and customer service, and many areas of professional development.

One of the unique characteristics of our city is the  range of higher education institutions that call St. Louis home.   As we bring entrepreneurs, cities, and universities together, we gain capacity to build our knowledge economy and realize our potential as a community in a fiercely globally competitive world. 

Many challenges and opportunities await us in this region and it is incumbent upon us to pool our collective creative resources to build our future.  

I am encouraged by the thoughtful and strategic leadership expressed by Bob Reynolds and Danny Ludeman on behalf of the RCGA and the region. Webster is poised and ready to partner in these efforts and find ways to fill those unmet needs now and into our next century of service.

Webster’s leadership and vision is focused on global academic excellence.  Our expertise is the ability to see the big view – to develop locally, while thinking in a larger environment.

Was it a coincidence that we celebrated Webster’s theme of global access and cultural exchange on the grounds of the 1904 World’s Fair?  

Is it equally as interesting that earlier this month, on May 1st, 2010, Shanghai, China opened its doors to the Shanghai Expo 2010 and standing there were our Global MBAs?

From Webster in St. Louis to Webster in Shanghai, Webster embodies a gateway to the world.

Commencement is our celebration of what we do. It is why we do what we do.  It is a celebration of our global capacity and accomplishment.  It is the force that inspires us to greater heights to ensure high quality learning experiences that transform students for global citizenship and individual excellence.

As an early mentor of mine once said, “Leaders invite others to the table.”  That is what we do at Webster.

I am inspired and energized by this opportunity to meet you, our community’s visionary leaders. Thank you for inviting me to your table today.  As we at Webster continue to advance education for individual excellence and global citizenship here and abroad, we invite you to ours as well.