Taking Steps: Connecting a Strong Past With Our Desired Future

President’s Forum Dinner

May 21, 2008
President Andrea J. Lee, IHM

Good evening and welcome to Rauenhorst Hall on a gorgeous May evening. It’s always thrilling to gather with so many dear friends to thank you in style and recognize your many contributions, especially to the College of St. Catherine’s Annual Fund, which is the backbone of our fundraising each year. The Annual Fund contributes essential dollars to financial aid, to faculty salaries, to technology, to our library and to so many other important needs. We need your Annual Fund contributions, and we thank you.

Tonight I want to share some exciting news about what your support is helping us to accomplish. Our campuses are vibrating with excitement and activity these days. We are literally building the future at St. Catherine’s — building on a foundation set with vision and foresight by the Sisters of St. Joseph, and building toward a future that will depend on you matching their conviction, their determination, their work and their generosity. Building on such a strong foundation of tradition, innovation and academic rigor has led us this year to take strong and well-defined steps into the future.

Earlier this month our Board of Trustees voted unanimously to change the name of the College to University. That bold move reflects our growth and increasing prominence as an academic institution, as a highly respected resource in this community, and as a beacon of excellence and encouragement for our more than 5,000 students.

The decision came after months of research, conversations and thought — about what was at stake and about what new opportunities might arise in making the change. We sought opinions from all the College’s major constituent groups, including the Sisters, and there was indisputable evidence, as well as strong and convincing support, for taking this step.

What will not change is our mission as a Catholic, liberal arts college for women.

Calling St. Catherine’s a university more accurately reflects who we are: the nation’s largest and most comprehensive College for women, and the only private institution in Minnesota offering degrees at the associate, baccalaureate, master’s and doctoral levels. We are a women’s college, but we are not for women only. Men also enroll in our growing array of associate, graduate, continuing education, onsite corporate and distance-learning programs.

What will not change with our name is our mission as a Catholic, liberal arts college for women — in fact, a name change better positions us to preserve and strengthen that mission in the future. Changing our name, however, does provide a wonderful opportunity to restructure for greater efficiency and effectiveness, and to enhance St. Catherine’s prestige and visibility.

Just this week, for example, I learned that our Occupational Therapy program, one of nearly 160 in the nation, is ranked 21st across the country. This is a comprehensive ranking, and all of our competitors in the top tier are major public research universities, including the University of Southern California, Boston University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, NYU, Columbia and Ohio State.

St. Catherine’s is the only Catholic school in this top echelon, and we outrank many much larger institutions, including the University of Minnesota, which is ranked 65th. We accomplish all this with a fraction of the financial support for research and faculty development available to large Research 1 universities. (And no football team either.)

Our faculty and their leaders deserve high praise for this singular achievement. Think how much more we could do with more adequate resources. That’s one more step to take.

An integrated University

A new Master Academic Plan is taking shape for our University, one that has as its framework a matrix of intersecting schools and colleges. The undergraduate liberal arts college for women will definitely remain the foundation of our university.

Additional colleges for graduate study, and for applied and continuing studies, will allow students to quickly find a smaller, more welcoming home in which to pursue their degrees and connect with faculty. In addition to three major colleges, and our existing School of Health and School of Social Work, we are creating a School of Humanities, Arts and Sciences; a School of Leadership and Business; and a School of Education and Library & Information Sciences.

The result will be an integrated university, eagerly anticipated by the faculty, with baccalaureate education of women firmly at the foundation. That’s a big step toward connecting a strong past with our desired future.

We know that strategic nimbleness is a “must have” quality for any organization to thrive in the future. For us, that means paying attention to the fertile intersection between our compelling mission and the kind of creative responses to changing market imperatives and student needs that will extend our vitality and visibility. Program distinction, flexibility and nimbleness are organizational qualities that we will strengthen and reinforce as our defining emblems.

To do that requires a clear focus on what we are doing and why, and knowing simultaneously that our focus can never remain static. We must seize opportunities and face challenges squarely; we must also strengthen partnerships and build new ones between our university and others who share our goals. That’s another important step.

Coming demographic changes

We are preparing students for a world where, in just a few years, knowledge is projected to double every 72 hours, and where most college graduates will hold 10 to14 different jobs before they’re 40. Indeed, the top 10 jobs a few years from now may not even have existed a few years before.

We are already among the most diverse college campuses in Minnesota.

The coming demographic changes in the Upper Midwest — the likes of which we have not known before, at least in this part of the world — will require the strategic nimbleness of which I just spoke. Economic uncertainty has become the new steady state, not a passing trouble spot, suggesting that what has always been may be no longer, at least not in the way we have known it. High-quality, convenient and relevant lifelong learning options will be the centerpiece of the corporate and not-for-profit workforce for the future. These realities and others present both opportunities and challenges for St. Catherine’s.

We know, for example, that African Americans and Hispanics enroll in and graduate from college at significantly lower rates than do Caucasians and Asian Americans. Something must redirect that unfortunate trajectory — for reasons of justice, for pragmatic reasons of expanding our talent pool and economic vitality, and simply because the growth market for higher education will be in communities of color.

Our student body at St. Catherine’s already has been growing in diversity, while the number of high school graduates begins to fall throughout the Upper Midwest.

We are already among the most diverse college campuses in Minnesota, and, within a rapidly changing cultural landscape in our region, we work hard to recruit, engage and graduate students of color. We are serious about this work and do it well.

One reason that I came to St. Kate’s 10 years ago was because I could see, even then, that this would be a good community in which to raise my Haitian son — and it has been. We need to work together to make it an even better one — for his children, my grandchildren, and for yours. That means adjusting our expectations and approaches without sacrificing quality, if we are to help large numbers of first-generation, multicultural students earn degrees. It means developing skill around language and social customs in order to serve our students as they enroll, study and graduate

Strategic nimbleness requires a clear focus on what we are doing and why.

St. Kate’s has responded to this challenge in several ways. Creative programs introduce high school girls of color to the collegiate experience and provide the information they need to prepare for college. We are among the few who provide language-specific services for our students and families, including an award-winning series of culturally specific recruitment videos. In addition, the College supports a number of cohort programs for first-generation and multicultural students throughout the academic year. At every step, St. Catherine’s encourages these women to imagine themselves as college graduates.

At Commencements last weekend, I awarded more than 1,000 degrees — and the number of women of color among our graduates (including men at the associate and graduate levels) was a deeply satisfying reality. We have done this work, but we must take additional steps.

Distinctive academic programs

Certainly, the rising cost of higher education is a formidable barrier. With federal and state governments holding financial aid lines static, most families and students with modest incomes must take on debt in order to pay for college. So scholarships — generously supported by many of you — are very important.

Of the 20 fastest growing occupations projected for just five years from now, 15 require significant mathematics or science preparation. Our STEM initiative (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), brings together our faculty — for decades highly successful educators of women scientists and mathematicians — with their colleagues in the K–12 schools. There, teachers and professors work collaboratively to encourage girls to pursue education and careers in math, science and technology.

St. Kate’s is one of the nation’s leading universities promoting STEM education for women. From our Science Saturday program for elementary-school girls to our interdisciplinary STEM minor, to our successful efforts to graduate women chemists, biologists and medical school–ready candidates, we encourage women to learn more about STEM careers and to gain confidence in their ability to “do” science and math. In the march toward pre-eminence in the world of science and math for women and girls, St. Catherine’s has taken important steps.

Recognizing that success requires sharp and evolving technical skills, along with superb communication skills and a solid grounding in ethics, St. Catherine’s has taken the lead in several distinctive academic programs. The Center for Sales Innovation, a nationally recognized sales education and research center, prepares effective and ethical business sales leaders to support Minnesota’s diversified business community. The healthcare, financial, business-to-business and service industries all benefit from academic concentrations within this leading-edge program. With a strong liberal arts foundation, St. Kate sales majors think critically, communicate effectively and succeed magnificently.

Ethical leadership is the cornerstone of education at St. Catherine’s. The ability to define and solve problems, to think critically and imaginatively, to write and speak accurately and persuasively, and to undergird decisions with ethical analysis and reflection from diverse perspectives are the respected and positive outcomes of education in the liberal arts and science at Catherine’s. Through their liberal arts education, our students learn what it means to be whole people and to step out as leaders.

Our Leadership Institute programs engage professional women from a variety of for- and non-profit settings. Thousands of women attend Leadership Institute events such as the MPR-broadcast Leadership Forum and the Northern Stars Breakfast Series, among other networking events.

Our International Institute for Women Entrepreneurs (IIWE) provides women business owners with help in business development, capital acquisition and strategic planning. More than 4,000 women business owners are members of our institute. Their accomplishments will have a lasting impact on their communities. IIWE is one of the key ways that women step out beyond our gates.

Women business owners represent the emerging wave of both commercial and social entrepreneurialism. Nearly 10.4 million businesses in the United States are owned by women. Those businesses employ more than 12.8 million people and generate nearly $2 trillion in sales. In Minnesota, more than 129,000 firms are owned or majority-owned by women.

I often speak of St. Catherine’s as one of Minnesota’s largest women-owned businesses, with annual revenue in the neighborhood of $80 million.

Moving forward

Many women work in the healthcare industry, which has engaged our College from its early days and, 50 years before that, through the Sisters’ pioneering work in Minnesota, dating from the 1850s. The worker shortage in healthcare today comes at a time when swelling ranks of aging baby boomers will dramatically increase the need for affordable and quality healthcare.

Last September, we took a big step and launched St. Catherine’s School of Health, which builds upon our highly respected tradition of excellence. It is one of the most important decisions made during my presidency. Why? Because, healthcare — particularly primary healthcare — must undergo radical reform in response to obvious access, cost and quality pressures. Our programs focus on promoting health rather than treating symptoms and disease. They assume that everyone, regardless of social, economic or cultural background, deserves adequate and compassionate healthcare.

Our School of Health is grounded in the belief that healthcare should be relationship-centered, effective, efficient and equitable. With healthcare standing center stage among national priorities, we know that St. Catherine’s is uniquely positioned to respond to challenges from a position of strength and experience.

Today, we offer 21 different fields of study in healthcare at all degree levels, enrolling more than 2,000 students and employing more than 200 faculty members. Seven new programs are in active development; another dozen are in earlier planning stages. The School of Health also engages with regional and national partners to meet urgent health, healthcare and workforce challenges. We seek partners who believe as we do and want to help us prepare the workforce of the future.

For example, a St. Kate’s team and I will meet with our counterparts at Creighton University in just two weeks. Next October leaders of Catholic institutions engaged in healthcare education and leaders of large Catholic health systems will gather at St. Catherine’s for a summit funded by the John and Susan Morrison Foundation to talk about partnerships that can achieve our mutual goals concerning preparation of an ethical and enlightened healthcare workforce for the future. That’s a big, big step.

As St. Catherine’s stands on the sharp edge of change, we must guard our mission, one that has guided us for more than a hundred years, with special care. Toward that end, we are raising funds to support three endowed faculty chairs and three enabling program endowments to preserve and strengthen the three elements of our mission in perpetuity.

Pat and John Myser generously funded our initiative in Catholic identity, and many of you have supported the Archbishop Harry J. Flynn Distinguished Professorship in Catholic Identity. Our work to fund the distinguished chairs and program endowments in liberal arts and women’s education is underway. With your help, I know they will be successful. I consider these chairs and program endowments among the most important elements of my vision for the future — they will take a big step toward developing strong faculty leadership around our mission.

We do all of this work in an enormously competitive environment. We are not the largest, we are not the wealthiest and we are not the most powerful. But we are definitely right in the game, and like many great athletes we use our smaller size and our quick, nimble action to our advantage. Think about it!

Each of you, our honored guests, should feel justly proud knowing that your gifts support the achievements of this college that we love so much. Excellence is, as it always has been, the standard by which we are measured; it is the standard we set for ourselves. An investment in the College of St. Catherine yields a standout and stunning return, so thank you for your faith and your investments in us.

God bless you for your generosity. Thank you for supporting our amazing students and faculty. Thank you for your investments in our future, for your personal support and encouragement to me, and for your confidence in and support for our mission.

St. Kate’s is truly a one-of-a-kind place. A diverse array of women — of students — come here and later become successful and vital members of our communities. As our partners, you are essential players in expanding the indisputable success story of the College of St. Catherine. With your help, as a university we will do more of what we can do very well, and we will do it even better.