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

2019 Fall Convocation

THURSDAY, August 21
Fall Convocation, Loretto-Hilton Center, WEBSTER GROVES CAMPUS

Welcome, everyone! It is great to see you here, and a pleasure to reconvene as a new academic year gets underway.

We have some new faces in our leadership team and among our faculty and staff. Let me tell you that we are delighted to have you with us as we also welcome our latest class of new students. If this is your first convocation with Webster, could you please stand now and be recognized by your colleagues?

Did you notice how the new feature on the lectern? This is the new University seal, designed by a Webster alumna. Sarah Lafser has told us of the impact Webster had on her, and the importance of the diverse, global experience to her life – one of the reasons she was excited to submit a design for the contest we held as we celebrated our 100th Commencement.

For those new to being a Gorlok and for those of us who have made Webster our university home for some period of time, it's good to remind ourselves of what we can and have accomplished when we pull together as a mission-driven community.

As you entered Webster University's theater, the Loretto-Hilton today, we illustrated some of those Webster achievements from the past decade. What we have achieved in to serve students more effectively, to meet them where they are, and to take them forward as individually excellent global citizens!! This university community should be proud.

With confidence that together we can seize opportunity and overcome challenges, we should take stock of the current moment and use that to fuel our drive to achieve a better, stronger Webster. In the current environment, Webster University focuses on three strategies to strengthen its academic and financial position: reducing costs, increasing efficiencies, and diversifying and strengthening revenue streams. I am glad to tell you that these efforts are showing demonstrable success in reduced expenditures, greater efficiency, and a number of positive trends in student markets Webster serves.  Among these are growth in online students and at some of our international locations as well as unprecedented gains in grants and contracts. Coupled with the growth in Webster's endowment over a ten-year period, these trends signal a reversal of the negative trends of the past years.

That is welcome news. And, of course, our work is not complete. We are building the foundation for the future, and our focus must emphasize growth in revenues from all available sources—enrollments, grants and contracts, and donor gifts from friends, alumni, and business partners.

Fall and Spring Convocations are traditions to not only gather as a community at the beginning of each semester, but also to reset and reflect on what this community is all about. As we discussed at last year's Convocations, the primary outcome of that reflection is to put the needs and success of EACH student first. Last year during Fall Convocation, we heard from students describing what one-on-one attention did for them, and we discussed why putting EACH student first is so important to our mission. Then during spring of this year, we heard specific examples from faculty and staff about what they had been doing throughout the year to put EACH student first.

When we listen to our students, they help us reaffirm our commitment to them and meeting their unmet needs. We had a particularly strong opportunity to hear the voices of Webster students this summer when we hosted the third bi-annual Global Student Leadership Summit. Initially created for the Centennial in 2015, this special weeklong immersive experience brings together student leaders from multiple Webster campuses across the globe, to reflect on their own leadership skills and work together on ideas to improve the student experience at each of their campuses. It is one of those uniquely Webster opportunities. And it is one of the many examples where we are creative and resourceful in meeting the needs of individual students.

We know these students would not have these powerful reflections about their Webster experience if each and every one of us didn't put each and every one of them first. And we know that in challenging times, doing so has required hard work and creativity from all of you. That hard work does not go unnoticed. With that in mind, this community should be applauded for the work everyone has done. So today we will talk about recent initiatives to give needed attention to specific student needs, maintaining our momentum in providing the best possible experience for students.

One area where we have seen impressive growth is in Uzbekistan, where last year's cohorts thrived and we are now seeing strong demand for programs in this historic Central Asian region. I thank all who have worked so effectively to meet a need with such positive energy. Another area of focus this fall is a renewed emphasis on fundraising. The members of the advancement team and I are asking our most loyal friends and alumni to support our students—through scholarships, through gifts that enhance our programs and services, and through continuing to improve the facilities that support students' success.

There are many needs, and I want our students, and specifically our student athletes to know that we understand how competitive they are as students and athletes and are dedicated to finding solutions that expand their opportunities. We know new students cannot thrive unless we stay true to what I mentioned in the opening: putting each individual student first. We saw what that looks like in the video. We should be encouraged by this work and what our colleagues have accomplished. To that end, I invite the thoughts of my partner in leadership, Julian Schuster, Webster's provost, senior vice president and chief operating officer. He will share highlights of on-going work from the past year that reflect what we, as an institution and a community, have been building for our students. [

[Julian Schuster]

Thank you, Beth. If I could expand on one point President Stroble made, it is to commend the adaptation we see from our community. With the seasonal cycle of an academic year there can be the temptation to say, "Okay, how did we do this last year?" But as you all will see in a moment, this community regularly asks itself, "How can we do it better than last year." We know that is necessary to keep Webster moving forward. We must continue to be responsive as the higher education landscape changes, as the demographics of our prospective students shift, and as the needs of our current students' evolve. To that end, there are several activities driven by this community which are continuing to build a stronger experience for students.

I will share more about several of them with you today – both to keep you informed and to inspire thoughts about other ideas you may be pondering even as we speak: á As you have no doubt noticed, our first year students are arriving on campus as we meet here today. These students are the first to have taken part in a new approach to onboarding – both the new student registration days and the orientation days have been revamped. Over the spring and summer, new students attended a full day of activities, rather than a half day, and their families did the same. This intensive day of registering for classes and learning about Webster means students are ready for what we now call Welcome Week, several days of activities to engage students and make them feel a part of Webster.

The Preferred Name policy approved last year is now in place for students, ensuring that our students' preferred name appears on University-based systems such as email and class rosters without requiring a legal name change. This was an important request and very meaningful to students – especially trans and gender nonconforming students -- and I commend our staff across units, led by Diversity and Inclusion, Information Technology and the Registrar for doing the work needed to make it possible. The response from students has been immediate and very positive, with some 80 requests in the first few days after launching.

The work of the Retention Committee has continued and has resulted in a number of specific projects and initiatives. One is RISE (Resilience Inspires Student Excellence), a pilot-initiative of the "Retention Challenge Fund." Webster RISE is intended to help a cohort of men of color thrive academically and socially by bonding them with the Webster campus, community and each other. Webster RISE participants will go through the program's mix of academic support, mentoring, community service and professional development throughout the entire 2019/2020 academic year. Approximately 16 students will take part in this first pilot year.

This summer we also had another successful TAP program, a 10-day cohort program that prepares conditionally admitted students for college in an effort to improve retention and persistence. It is another highlight of how the ARC and Webster overall serves student needs across the spectrum. The 2019 cohort welcomes 26 students and added new engagement experiences. Initiatives that faculty have led or participated in over the past year are bearing fruit this year: Following several months of work, a committee of faculty and staff has proposed a new honors program – the Impact Scholars Program – that will start as a pilot this fall. The program is inclusive so that students with diverse strengths and talents will participate. In addition to course requirements, students will design and implement a community learning project under the guidance of faculty.

A Center for Research, Experiential and Teaching Excellence (CRETE) in the College of Arts & Sciences has been proposed. More than 25 faculty members are connected with the proposal. The Center is intended to foster, enhance, and support student participation in research and scholarship, creative endeavors, and experiential learning opportunities across all disciplines.

Faculty are continuing to develop strong study abroad programs that leverage our global locations. This fall, the Introduction to Africana Studies course will include a weeklong immersion trip to Ghana during Fall Break. We look forward to hearing the impact this makes on the students enrolled in the course.

Africana Studies is one of our newest short-term, faculty-led study abroad programs. The Women and Law course with study abroad in Leiden was one of our first. Led by Tena Hart this summer, the Leiden Legal Studies program exposes students to pressing global themes/issues and provides them the opportunity to engage directly with key individuals and institutions engaged in the work on a global scale, so that they can take a more informed, holistic, and critical approach to addressing these issues.

As always, there is new and revised curriculum – majors, minors, certificates and emphases – at the undergraduate and graduate levels. In addition, last year's academic program review work focused on more than 50 of our smallest programs, reviewing them for sustainability. The Academic Program Review Committee has completed this review and will make their report and recommendations available in early September. The continuous attention to the health of our academic programs is critical. At the undergraduate level, 15 majors make up 65 percent of our enrollment across the network. At the graduate level, 15 majors make up 85% of our enrollment. The collaborative efforts of faculty, staff, and administration are needed to support new and existing programs so that our enrollments – and revenue – will grow.

Accreditation for programs – bringing external recognition – has continued to be a focus. Recently, we received work that our professional Counseling program in South Carolina has received CACREP accreditation, following the plan of the department to first obtain accreditation here in Missouri and then extending strategically to other location. Other programs, including the MHA and the undergraduate Computer Science degrees, are progressing toward initial accreditations as well. á Our extended domestic and international campuses are also working on specific initiatives. For example, in Geneva, we are seeing results from the Academic Careers Excel (ACE) program launched in Fall 2017. The program's goals include GPA improvement, skills development for the international workplace, increased participation in double majors, minors, certificates, internships, and study abroad. By establishing a "trio" of student, academic and career counselor, this program has helped undergraduate students excel in academics and career prospects by focusing how to best use their time at Webster for preparation for life after Webster, be it graduate career or a professional career. The initiatives noted today all have one thing in common: they are conceived, designed and executed to meet students' needs. And student success must be foundation of our next strategic plan.

[Beth Stroble]

In closing, we want to wish you a happy and successful new academic year. As it kicks off, I want to call your attention to two FUN upcoming events that will engage key partners of Webster and can use your support. The Alumni Weekend will bring our alumni back to campus, where your engagement will help them catch up and learn about new developments at Webster since they graduated. Visit the alumni site for a full schedule of events. [SLIDE: On screen list date (Sept. 27-28) and the URL: alumni.webster.edu/alumniweekend2019 Beth: [need a slide about the open house] Also happening that weekend is a first of its kind: a University Open House where we are inviting members of the Webster Groves community to visit campus; meet faculty, staff, and students; and discover the wonderful things our University has to offer. This is our chance to strengthen the connections with our neighbors and to build on the positive relationships we have worked so hard to nurture. So I encourage you to participate in these events, and volunteer to help if you can. This will be a fun weekend to kick back and enjoy the company of students, alumni, neighbors and colleagues. Have a great year!