We Are All Webster: Building community from many identities, owning our biases, infusing diversity with inclusion | Webster University

Global Network, Diversity, Transformation


Monday, June 8, 2015
Global Leadership Academy Symposium Keynote, Vienna


It is wonderful and most suitable to convene at the Webster Vienna campus members of the Webster Vienna community, members of our Global Leadership Academy, colleagues from here in Vienna and St. Louis, and honored guests.  Webster Vienna is currently home over 500 of Webster University’s 20,000 students worldwide.  Undergraduate and graduate students here represent 90 different countries, with about 15% from Austria, 15% from the United States and the rest from “everywhere else,” with significant numbers from Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and the Middle East.

Worldwide, Webster students are globally diverse with a variety of career and academic interests.  While 78% of our students are graduate students worldwide, we find a different mix at most of our international campuses, which house 5000 students who are more typically traditional undergraduates in locations other than China.  In fact 30% of our total undergraduate student population completes programs at an international campus.  These numbers do not include those who study abroad and take advantage of our student mobility programs.  Of all Webster students enrolling in classes at both graduate and undergraduate levels, 67%  currently major in business and technology, 18% in arts and sciences, 6% in communications, 4% in education, and 2% in fine arts, with a smaller number undeclared by major.  Given today’s topic, it is also important to note that some 15% of Webster’s students enroll in online programs.  

Whether a Webster student is here in Vienna enrolled in undergraduate psychology or international relations degrees, or a U. S. military student deployed overseas and using online capabilities to enroll in a master’s program in logistics and supply chain management, or a St. Louis 20 year old preparing for a career in music and theatre working side-by-side with professional companies housed on our campus there, we at Webster share a stated and lived mission commitment to ensure high quality learning experiences that transform students for individual excellence and global citizenship.

Just as the future of Webster University in its second century depends upon the transformative impact of a globally diverse and inclusive community, so the world’s future will be strengthened and enhanced by the bonds of community that are transcend boundaries of time and space, among people of varied lived experiences and perspectives, and within a framework of shared humanity.  

How can we cultivate this kind of dynamic community?  Technology has a role, one that I believe we should explore—not only on a functional level—making links as an alternative or substitute when in-person engagement is not possible.  It is my view that we have only begun to understand the transformative power of technology for individuals and communities as we explore technologies for social purposes and applications.

Developing global citizenship in the Webster community and in the world community can benefit from a focus on the points of convergence among education, leadership, and technology.

Leadership, Globally Diverse and Inclusive Talent

In this Centennial year for Webster, we have launched a new strategic plan, Global Impact for our Next Century.  The first of four themes around which the plan is organized is “Global Innovation through Inclusive Leadership.”  Webster University will provide distinctive educational experiences, which highlight our unique global network and leverage the expertise and talents of faculty, staff and students at all campuses. To accomplish this goal strategically and sustainably requires we invest in our people—developing ourselves as leaders and innovators throughout our community. 

Our global diversity is our strength, and in fact we hold that a strong and vibrant community is not possible without global diversity and inclusion.   And that diverse community of leaders must be built among our students—only 41% of whom identify as White or Caucasian—and among ourselves. 

The Global Leadership Academy, now in its fourth year, is one very intentional means of developing a distributed model of leadership for the 4 cohort groups of fellows: 73 total with 25 faculty, 48 staff, 69 STL, 8 extended US, 6 international. 

The community, built among those of you present in each traveling cohort, takes advantage of intense in person engagement during weeks of campus visits in St. Louis, the U. S., and international campuses.  At the same time, technology enables this community to connect prior to their first in person connections and to maintain and build relationships across the barriers of time and space.  

In a similar way, we convened our first ever Global Student Summit this year on the St. Louis campus, convening 29 students from St. Louis and all international campuses.   These 29 students participated in an online course and met in person for several days in March 2015.  Their learning focused on developing individual and campus leadership, communicating effectively, gaining intercultural competency, and committing to social responsibility and the common good.  As these students built relationships with peers across our global university system, they evidenced how a convergent focus on technology, education, and leadership furthers global impact, particularly in the form of the specific initiatives for which they advocated in in implementing the new strategic plan.

Welcome, Importance of Strategic Partners

While I am not a digital native, I am a native communicator and an enthusiastic early adopter when it comes to communications technologies. I come by this naturally, having been raised by parents who met each other as pen pals during World War II.  During my childhood, the arrival of a handwritten letter from my Grandma Mac was the happy occasion for a family read-aloud.  As I communicated by letter with my favorite cousin, with my own pen pals, and with best forgotten subjects of romantic interest, I gained a love of writing and receiving letters only heightened by the fact that the mailman delivered mail but once a day.

It is no exaggeration to say that the moment my doctoral advisor introduced me to e-mail in the late 1980s changed my life.  Even in its most primitive form, lacking the ability to attach documents or easily distribute messages to multiple individuals, e-mail compelled my interests as a scholar and a communicator.  Over the next decade, I investigated the effect of e-mail as a communication tool among student writers and piloted the use of email for networking purposes by teachers in training.  

My experiences as a user and as an investigator convince me that emerging uses of technology can support our communications across boundaries of time, space, and culture to build globally diverse and inclusive communities.  Since fall 2009, I have embraced social media applications, creating a global community as Webster’s president through twitter, facebook, and LinkedIn as well as through a Tumblr blog.

I look forward to learning more about the ways technology can help us as members of a global Webster community accomplish our mission and vision—through our own engagement and leadership and that of our students. 

We are fortunate today, as we consider the role of technology in developing global citizens, to be joined at a distance by Webster’s CIO, VP Kenneth Freeman.  Welcome, Ken.  I am honored to welcome here with us in person, Magister Harald Leitenmueller, Chief Technology Officer, Microsoft Austria.  We are honored by your presence today.  Please accept my sincere welcome on behalf of the entire Webster University community.