A vision set forth by University President Kevin P. Quinn, S.J., challenges the community to reimagine what it means to be a Catholic and Jesuit institution today.
On a crisp fall day in 2011, then-brand-new University President Kevin P. Quinn, S.J., gave his Inaugural Address. Three words resonated with the audience and have permeated discussions among The University of Scranton community since, and will have a significant impact for years to come.
“The University of Scranton, a Jesuit university, can and should excel in providing its students an education that is engaged, integrated and global,” said Fr. Quinn on his inauguration day. “We can do something special here. Of that I am very certain.”
With those three words, or themes, Fr. Quinn set forth a vision for the University. These themes are now the focus of The University of Scranton 2015-2020 Strategic Plan — An Engaged, Integrated, Global Student Experience. The plan has been shaped by Fr. Quinn’s vision and is framed by “rigorous, collaborative review and analysis of challenges in our external environment,” from demographic shifts to the rising costs of higher education.
“The roots of the University’s new plan started with that Inaugural Address,” said Vice Provost for Enrollment Management and External Affairs Gerry Zaboski, who served on one of the plan’s subcommittees that helped develop vision statements and draft goals. “Fr. Quinn knew that we could do something really big.”
In 2013, in a speech at the start of the University’s 125th Anniversary Celebration, Fr. Quinn reiterated the three themes and emphasized the important focus of the “student experience,” which became paramount in the new plan.
His talk was inspiring and optimistic, despite the challenging times that were (and are) facing higher education. He spoke of “extraordinary opportunity” and reimagining the mission of the University. “We will need to be clear on what it means to be a Catholic and Jesuit master’s university in these uncertain times,” he said.
So what does it mean to be a Catholic and Jesuit university?
In 2000, Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J., then Superior General of the Jesuit order, delivered an influential speech in which he said, “The real measure of our Jesuit universities lies in who our students become.”
Students should internalize Fr. Kolvenbach’s “marching orders,” said Fr. Quinn in his Anniversary Celebration speech, and “…be encouraged to enter worlds beyond Scranton, to gain an education that no classroom alone can offer, to learn with and from people in marginalized communities, and so to become global citizens for a new century.”
This educational strategy, said Fr. Quinn, requires a “…personal transformation that would lead to transforming society.”
Thanks in part to Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Donald Boomgaarden, Ph.D., who joined the University in 2014 and is currently overseeing the implementation of the plan, “marching orders” like those Fr. Quinn spoke of in his anniversary address are now laid out in practical language as a clear guide for the community. According to the plan, the University will implement diverse opportunities for students, from academic to social, from spiritual to service-oriented.
The new plan aims to create an “intentional environment” for students to engage, according to Anitra McShea, Ph.D., vice provost for Student Formation and Campus Life and chair of the engaged subcommittee.
“At Scranton, we partner with students to support their vocational interests and aspirations while challenging them to recognize their unique gifts and talents by contributing and serving as men and women for and with others,” she said. “At its core, the plan’s engaged goals and objectives emphasize the importance of these opportunities in and out of the classroom.”
There will be forums for debate, community–based and service-related curricular activities and more experiential learning opportunities that, according to the plan, “promote immersion and reflection.”
Those who helped conceive (and write) the plan said that Jesuit history and tradition, as well as the University’s mission, guided them in their work. Dr. Boomgaarden referred to a “novel teaching concept,” developed by the Jesuits in 1599 called Ratio Studiorum (“Plan of Studies” in Latin). “The idea was that one course led to another, they weren’t stringing things together randomly,” he said. “There was purpose. This kind of education stays with you always, it creates a thirst for knowledge. Young people long for depth and a transformative experience — this serves that purpose.”
The University, through the plan, now promises to deliver this kind of transformative experience through “integrated teaching, learning, scholarship and formation opportunities.”
Michael Mensah, Ph.D., dean of Kania School of Management and chair of the integrated subcommittee, said that the point is pretty simple: students must learn from various sources and then put everything together to form knowledge. “My hope is that when students come here they will learn to synthesize knowledge and make connections across courses to create real understanding,” he said. “They will do this through reflection, which incorporates our values as a Jesuit institution.”
Dr. Mensah said it is exciting to know that programs, departments and colleges, will be working together with a goal of integration in mind. “We want to incorporate bridges,” he said. “When a student comes in as a first-year, we want advising to be seamless. We want to develop a pathway to give that person the opportunity to succeed. We want to remove all barriers. We never want a student stranded on an island.”
Students will be “free of barriers” in other ways as well. According to the plan, they will have the opportunity to be immersed in learning that “cultivates reflection, discernment and action in a global context and within a multicultural learning environment.”
Joseph Dreisbach, Ph.D., associate provost for International Programs and chair of the global subcommittee, explained that this “global context” could mean going abroad or forming a friendship with an international student on campus. “Our international students are coming to The University of Scranton to engage in a formative experience, but they also help our traditional students engage internationally,” he said.
He is thrilled that there will be an opportunity to create a global learning profile for each student. “There is a call for students in each major to think about the global part of their experience here,” he said. “In five years, there will be no student from the University who has not engaged in an international learning experience either on campus, or abroad.”
The University will work toward achieving a more global context, from international internships to new exchange or dual degree programs, from a new Center for Global Studies to emphasize international language learning.
“You really get to know yourself when you leave your small world and enter the larger universe,” said Dr. Boomgaarden. “You realize you are not at the center and, depending on the experience, you have the opportunity to truly become who you are, not who others expect you to be — that’s worth a great deal.”
Sustaining the Vision
A key to this plan, according to Fr. Quinn and the plan’s writers, is that it not just be visionary, but sustainable.
“The plan that we have created together expresses our hopes and dreams for The University of Scranton and answers any who might wonder if Scranton is up to the many challenges that face higher education into the future,” said Fr. Quinn in his preamble to the new plan. “Our hard work now is to put the plan into action.”
Because we believe that a transformational education is one that is engaged, integrated and global, The University of Scranton will:
• Implement diverse opportunities for students to be engaged in transformative and reflective academic, social, spiritual and service-oriented experiences that are intentionally designed to develop their knowledge and skills while challenging them to be men and women of faith and service to their communities.
• Deliver transformational educational experiences through integrated teaching, learn¬ing, scholarship and formation opportunities across disciplines, programs and co-curricular experiences, within a culture of innovation, assessment and continuous improvement.
• Provide opportunities for students to be immersed in academic, moral and spiritual learning that cultivates reflection, discernment and action in a global context and within a multicultural learning environment.
The Strategic Plan’s subcommittee chairs (left to right): Anitra McShea, Ph.D. (engaged), Michael Mensah, Ph.D. (integrated) and Joseph Dresibach, Ph.D. (global).
Read the entire Strategic Plan here: scranton.edu/strategicplan.