LOOK UP THE WORD “WILL” in most dictionaries and among its definitions, you’ll find descriptors like ‘is sure or determined to,’ ‘expressing inevitable events’ and ‘asserting one’s decision.’
“Will” and all its meanings — both verb and noun — keenly describe how the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet pioneered higher education for women more than a century ago and why St. Kate’s currently encompasses the largest Catholic women’s college in the nation.
The Sisters had the audacity to believe that a college for women could be built and that academic excellence for women wasn’t only achievable, it was an absolute must. They acted on those beliefs — asserting their decision — and, despite financial and bureaucratic challenges, made St. Catherine University an inevitable event.
Today, with more than 44,000 alumnae offering proof that a college education for women was more than a smart idea, it might be easy for some to simply believe ‘the model works’ or say ‘don’t fix what’s not broken.’ Yet, true to the transformative thinking University founders displayed so many years ago, today’s leadership — guided by St. Kate’s long-standing mission and vision — asserted its own will to blaze new trails for academic excellence in higher education.
Late last year, in her presentation to St. Catherine University’s Board of Trustees, President Andrea Lee, IHM, advised that the face of higher education — what comprises it and how it’s delivered — is rapidly changing. She noted several key examples. Among them? The need for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) professionals and educators is critical. Student-athletes have become some of the highest performing scholars and require a more dynamic campus experience. And the demand for new, more relevant courses of study is at a fever pitch. In order to remain on the leading edge of academic excellence, new ideas and bold changes must be the standard of the day.
“We need to respond to the needs of our time quickly and thoughtfully,” she said. “We’ve all heard the complaint that higher education is resistant to change, but transformative thinking and creative problem solving have been part of St. Catherine’s life for more than a century.” Put simply, Sister Andrea made it clear that St. Kate’s will rise to the occasion.
St. Catherine University recently began planning for a multi-year development and fundraising effort — aptly named Katies Will: A Campaign For Academic Excellence — to meet the challenges of today's higher-ed environment and seize new opportunities for tomorrow. The scope of this initiative encompasses three phases over seven years, beginning in 2015 and wrapping up in 2022. Each phase focus on a combination of academic programming, facilities, scholarshiops and faculty development.
The first phase, beginning now, includes three detailed initiatives: The Woman in Science Center, The Women's Athletic and Health Complex, and The Innovation Fund.
LEADING THE WAY IN SCIENCE EDUCATION AND PRACTICE…
Current trends show that there is a dearth of professional women scientists and that many girls choose not to pursue education in the sciences, not due to lack of interest or ability, but because they have few role models to inspire and motivate them. That all may be true… except at St. Kate’s.
Since 2008, the number of students enrolling in science fields has grown more than 30 percent. That statistic, combined with this statement from the White House’s Office of Science and Technology — “development of world-class talent in STEM is critical to America’s global leadership. Increasing opportunities for women in these fields is an important step towards realizing greater economic success and equality for women across the board.” — reveals a bright future for science education at the University. There’s just one problem: Mendel Hall, built in 1927, has neither the capacity nor the technology to support that growth.
“We are at the limit of what is possible,” says Alan Silva, associate vice president and dean of the School of Humanities, Arts and Sciences. “There hasn’t been new construction solely dedicated to academics on this campus since 1971,” he says. “Students deserve more, and we simply need more classrooms and labs than are currently available.” The solution? The Women in Science Center.
Silva leads a 13-member planning commission that has visited some of the nation’s best and most innovative science facilities for ideas on what could be built at St. Catherine. The team focused on designing a space that will integrate the unique dynamic of women learners and the University’s historic mission of empowering students to be confident, expressive and ethical leaders.
“The new Women in Science Center is an exciting opportunity for St. Kate’s. Its state-of-the-art learning laboratories will give students the opportunity to do important research, use advanced instrumentation and share what they’ve learned in an open, collaborative environment,” Silva says. The proposed Women in Science Center, planned for construction just to the north of (and connected to) Mendel Hall, will intertwine history and future for a total of 80,000 square feet of learning and office space.
The design — forward -thinking and sustainable — will encourage collaborative exchange and full immersion in the sciences. It will allow students to engage with faculty, industry leaders and one another to challenge what is believed to be true, allow curiosity to flourish and discover solutions that change the way society thinks and lives.
To support this vision, the University will raise $18 million in private funds to help cover the $35 million estimated project cost. Construction will begin once those private funds are secured.
“The importance of science to the future of our nation and world has never been more apparent,” says Silva. “The international call for more women scientists has never been stronger.”
MORE THAN A HOME FOR THE WILDCATS…
In an age where women’s collegiate athletics are becoming nearly as visible as men’s and student-athletes are emerging as some of higher education’s best and brightest students, providing top notch practice and game facilities is no longer a perk, it’s a requirement.
For fall 2014, 20 percent of all incoming first-year students were scholar-athletes. Yet, as these women become a larger portion of St. Catherine’s student body, the fact is many of them can neither train nor compete on their own campus. That poses a serious challenge to recruiting and retaining this high-potential segment of future Katies.
“A quickly growing population of prospective students choose a college based on what the campus has to offer them as a whole person, not just a student, or an athlete,” remarks Bea Abdallah, vice president for external relations. “Those are the very students we want to attract to St. Kate’s: wellrounded individuals asking for both superior academic opportunities and the full experience of college life.”
To accomplish that, University leadership proposed the new Women’s Athletic and Health Complex. This new building — comprising both indoor and outdoor facilities — will house on-campus competition venues for Wildcats tennis and track and field teams, and training spaces for varsity athletic teams at-large. It will also offer exercise, health and wellness options for all St. Catherine students.
“Not only will this building greatly benefit our varsity athletic programs,” says Eric Stacey, St. Kate’s athletics director. “It will provide recreational opportunities for all students and be a gateway to our outdoor athletic facilities. An outdoor plaza will connect the spaces, giving our campus community a new gathering place.”
Equally important, the Women’s Athletic and Health Complex will support the University’s growing nutrition and exercise sciences program and provide additional research space for students in fields such as physical therapy, biology and occupational therapy.
The price tag? “Our goal is to raise $10 million in private funds for the construction of this complex,” notes Abdallah. “We need to take this critical step into the future right now so students can grow and perform to their potential.”
INNOVATION AS DAILY PRACTICE…
For several years running, The American Freshman National Norms survey conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA reveals that the number one consideration driving prospective students’ decision in choosing a college or university is academic reputation relative to their desired areas of study. Knowing this, St. Catherine University believes the continual sharpening and evolution of its curricula — with special consideration given to costs, relevancy and return on investment — is critical to success and long-term growth.
And it’s not just undergraduates’ choices. Every level of education, from certificates and associate degrees to postgraduate and doctoral work, demands schools offer all things cutting edge.
“Navigating the cutting edge means that academic program development and curricular innovation are ongoing, vital parts of our work,” says President Lee. “Our academic programs need to continue to prepare students for meaningful careers and the ability to adapt in a rapidly changing world.”
Curricular innovation requires financial resources beyond those available in the University’s annual operating budget. It also requires human capital — creative energy and talent — and time to transform promising ideas into fully developed, student-ready academic programs.
St. Kate’s answer? Blaze new academic trails with the Innovation Fund.
In 2013, St. Catherine University’s Board of Trustees seeded the fund — a permanent revolving loan to support the start-up costs of new academic programs — with $1 million. The ultimate goal is to raise another $5 million in private funds so leaders can support new programs from inception through profitability until they can ‘repay’ the loan, then begin again.
Today, there are nearly 20 potential programs under consideration. Examples include a baccalaureate degree in environmental science, and graduate degrees in public health and health informatics. Decision criteria for new program funding will focus on market demand, potential for competitive success and cost to implement.
Leaders at St. Kate’s forecast that the Innovation Fund will attract student growth at all degree levels. Abdallah agrees. “Innovation in academics is our lifeblood and the key to a successful future. It’s imperative we stay ahead of the curve in the programs we offer and how we deliver them.”
PUSHING WILL FORWARD…
As part of her remarks to St. Kate’s Board of Trustees last fall, Sister Andrea pointed out that “our future depends on what we do today to meet the needs of our students.” And the future holds no bounds. Much like her predecessors, Sister Andrea fervently believes “we must continue to dream today and we must dream big.” It’s exactly this audacity that will turn Katies Will into an inevitable event.
“Transformative thinking and creative problem solving have been part of St. Catherine’s life for more than a century.”
—PRESIDENT ANDREA LEE, IHM
In past editions of SCAN:
Read more about St. Kate’s commitment to the sciences, in “Science Stalwarts.”
Read about the accomplishments of three Wildcats, in “Citizen Athletes.”
Learn more about St. Kate’s approach to new construction, in “True to Form.”