Good morning. It is so terrific to be back, in person – yes, still somewhat obscured behind masks but nonetheless together, conducting our lives almost normally, and appreciating the togetherness of the Bobcat family, our family that is truly Bobcat strong.
As we prepare to begin our 92nd academic year, I think all of us are yearning for a return to a more normal rhythm. Let’s be honest. The circle of our lives became smaller over the last 18 months. I don’t think any of us can brush aside the trauma and stresses of the past year – whether we think about this on a global scale – the tragedy of loss of more than 4 million lives – or what happened across our country, in our communities, and in our own homes.
There is no one on this planet whose life was untouched by the pandemic in these last 18 months. There has been unfathomable pain when loved ones passed, or became very ill, children lost critical experiences that they deserve – whether in classrooms or playgrounds, students of all ages didn’t get to learn or connect as they do always, parents had to become teachers and protectors of not just their kids, but of their own parents, people lost jobs, livelihoods, a roof over their head, there was massive food insecurity, people of color suffered disproportionately, we all were isolated from colleagues to whom we’re attached at work, we missed our extended families and we lost the joy of time with our dear friends. And we were stressed because we didn’t know when this would end, or whether we’d get through the overarching anxieties of health and financial uncertainties.
I mention this knowing full well that most of us are among the fortunate. I don’t want to dwell on the past – I truly believe the worst is behind us — but I do think we all need to acknowledge and confront how deeply impacted we were, how hard it was to weather this last year and a half, and how profoundly the after-effects still endure even though – yes, again – most of us are among the lucky ones.
But — there were also many silver linings that we should remember and appreciate, among them – science that produced a veritable miracle in vaccines that came at record speed, vaccines that are saving literally billions of lives. The fact that many of us were blessed to be able to spend time in the cocoons of isolation YET with our loved ones, with more time at home enjoying the closeness of our families. That is also part of the silver lining.
I also experienced special moments that filled me with joy, admiration and even awe as part of our Bobcat family. That our faculty, staff and students pivoted in a nanosecond to teach, learn, work, and live in entirely new ways continues to amaze and inspire me. That our community showed so many big and small ways of expressing care and compassion to each other, and to others in the community, was truly humbling — volunteered and LED in unexpected ways across all parts of our university is a dazzling gift that will keep on giving, well after the pandemic has passed.
And I hope everyone here recognizes how much YOUR commitment and resilience impacted our students, because you offered them a semblance of “normal” in the midst of this very abnormal year and a half. In case you had any doubts about what that meant to our students, just go back and watch the videos of any one of our 13 Commencement ceremonies this past May. You’ll see everywhere jubilant graduates who – with their families – were expressing their gratitude for just being able to come together, in addition to their joy in celebrating the milestone of their graduation. These were truly moving moments.
I thank every member of our community – our faculty, staff, and our students – who kept our university fully functioning, a huge feat, while continuing to advance the distinctions that are building our University of The Future.
This past year has also brought to the forefront basic societal injustices that need to be reckoned with. There were horrific incidents of violence against racial and ethnic minorities. All across the country, despite the lockdowns, people came out to decry the history of discrimination that persists still today, and results in pernicious inequality in every aspect of life for people of color. At Quinnipiac, we are similarly roused to achieve inclusivity and change within our community, to advance racial justice and respect for every form of diversity. We hold ourselves accountable to tangible results that are measured against our stated action plans to advance racial justice and the LGBTQ community. We have an obligation to be a beacon of change in becoming a racially and socially just, inclusive and diverse community. And we are making notable strides in our student population, and among faculty and staff.
I am elated that we are coming back to campuses that will be alive with energy. This year, our campuses reembrace many of the personal connections, routines and traditions we lost temporarily. And although we are seeing rising infections due to the Delta variant, we have achieved near universal vaccination across our QU community, which gives us many reasons to be hopeful.
I think everyone here has been around long enough to know that straight lines – whether in the growth of an organization, a patient’s recovery, a student’s progress … or even our own daily exercise regimens – rarely exist in real life. There will be days or weeks when we lose traction and slip backward. That’s when resilience, perspective and optimism keep us focused so that, longer-term, we trend always in the right direction. We know we have that power within us because you demonstrated that unwavering resilience over these last 18 months.
It’s time to look forward. Our strategic plan, finalized in May 2019, has never been more important or vital to our future, or to our present. A changing world requires us to prioritize, to focus, to invest in the excellence of areas that offer true distinctions. I said that few lines are straight.
We are seeing that this year with enrollments. Our incoming freshman class is smaller than what we had hoped. The reasons are many and my summary of the past 18 months covers a lot of them.
We are an institution often chosen as a ‘see us’ campus – meaning when students visit us in person, they convert at a high rate into an interested applicant. The absence of campus visits during COVID, and a need to improve how we showcase our existing distinctions – more SHOWING, less TELLING – has prompted multiple changes for the next year. Now and over the next few months you’ll see upgrades to our admissions spaces, in signature spaces in various schools, in the redesign and messaging related to on-campus tours, in how we present the campus and academic programs through social media and digital narratives, and in our marketing campaigns.
We’re optimistic. For example, over the summer we’ve seen record numbers of prospective students touring our campuses, up 25% over 2019 pre-COVID levels. The feedback has been very positive as future students get to see – first-hand -- a university that will position them for the world of the future.
We continue to realize the four pillars of our strategic plan.
In executing the pillars of our strategic plan, we’re investing in more significant capital projects as we continue to build the University of the Future. Under Pillar 3, the largest current project of course is our Recreation and Wellness Center. It’s not just about physical fitness. COVID has been a pointed reminder of just how important it is that we continue to support our students’ total health: mind, body, and spirit. The data are compelling – in 2019, 90% of colleges and universities reported an increase in students seeking counseling services, and Quinnipiac has been no exception. And only half of college students rate their physical health as “excellent” or “very good.” The American College Health Association found in 2019 that over the past year, 87% of college students felt overwhelmed by all they had to do, and 66% felt overwhelming anxiety.
And among surveys of adult populations a fairly similar picture emerges: A Pew Research study conducted in February of 2021 reports that 21% of U.S. adults are experiencing high levels of psychological distress, including 28% who say the pandemic changed their lives in “a major way.” The levels of mental distress are higher among those with financial stresses, younger adults, or those with a disability or illness that limits their activities.
Accordingly, the Rec and Wellness Center is designed to serve the well-being of the “whole” person, with medical and counseling facilities within, and also programming space that addresses the individual’s total well-being. I know some universities have been accused of over-amenitizing their campuses with lavish facilities. That’s not what we’re doing. Our vision for the Rec and Wellness Center is built from within, from the concept of holistic well-being. There’s a demonstration kitchen to nurture healthy food habits, and programming space where we’d like to see our faculty and students in nursing, health sciences, psychology, and medicine, among others, engaged to help all members of our community build healthy life habits that endure for years. That’s what we mean by community well-being.
Under both Pillars 1 – academic distinctions -- and Pillar 3, we’ve significantly expanded the number of our Living-Learning Communities, with about 15 faculty who will be engaged directly in advancing students’ academic, societal and group interests within the residence halls. Our Chief Experience Officer, Tom Ellett, is even moving in to live in Commons, one of our residence halls. This shift – to a richer and more integrated learning-living experience – is a precursor to our movement toward a 3-year residential requirement for most undergraduates, because of the proven advantages of a dynamic and seamlessly connected academic-residential experience for students.
We’ve also upgraded the interior of the Complex residence halls, built several different lab and classroom spaces for this coming year, an esports facility, and maker and innovation spaces. We’re scoping a new academic building and a new residence hall, subject to the directions we pursue under Pillars 1 and 3 in building the University of the Future. And we’re pleased to begin realizing the Campus Sustainability Plan in all that we build, and how we operate daily in stewarding the environment and in engaging meaningfully with the communities around us.
In her recent update, Provost Debra Liebowitz shared some innovative developments and plans for academic programs and experiences. I am especially excited about new programs in Environmental Studies, and Cinematic Production Management, partnerships between the QU Poll and communications, political science and business coursework for immersive learning about polling and survey methodologies, and an important grant to launch the Connecticut Public Health College Corps under the auspices of the School of Health Sciences, training students as influencers over young adults who are vaccine hesitant in Connecticut communities.
A working group appointed by Provost Leibowitz is addressing opportunities for immersive learning and career advising that – in my mind – will become critical differentiators of the Quinnipiac experience. As I talk to business and healthcare leaders around the state, to a person they speak to the criticality of skill-ready graduates aligned not with past needs, but with how the nature of work is evolving.
We are already one of the most agile, market aligned universities -- we were just ranked by leading career preparation site Zippia – for the third consecutive year – as the no.1 university in the United States for career outcomes measured 10-years out. We can do even better if we examine – in every discipline across the university – how we build immersive learning experiences into our courses and curricula to remove the gaps between school and work.
That work is transforming at ever-accelerating rates requires intentional investment on our part to understand current and future needs of workplaces, and to reflect those skills and knowledge in how and what we teach, and in the opportunities we create for applied learning. More on this challenge in my closing remarks.
Advancing job and career readiness is also implicit in another goal for this coming year, and that’s the intent to expand our portfolio of short badges and certificates. Within the last year we’ve created many new badges and certificates for adult learners who are a vital, expanding learning pool we must serve. In addition, it is enormously valuable to our students if they receive badges or certificates in defined skill areas as they progress to their ultimate degree. That adds to students’ marketability and career readiness while still in school. There are countless opportunities in fields across the university to offer these value-added credentials for both adult learners, as well as for our current students.
In addition to the 14 faculty and 49 staff who joined the Bobcat family over the last year, there are several new leaders in our community who will be spearheading many of these initiatives. Let me highlight just a few:
• Mark Antonucci, ’06, Associate Vice President for Alumni Engagement and Development Communications, most recently Vice President of the Arizona State University Foundation;
• Philip Boiselle, Dean of the Frank H. Netter MD School of Medicine, most recently the medical school dean at Florida Atlantic University;
• Khalilah Brown-Dean, who was appointed Associate Provost after a serving on the faculty of the College of Arts & Sciences and as senior director for Inclusive Excellence;
• Lynn Byers, who was appointed interim Dean of the School of Engineering where she where she was chair of the Department of Engineering and director of our Mechanical Engineering program.
• Holly Raider, Dean of the School of Business, who joined Quinnipiac from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, where she led executive education;
• Tony Reyes, our new Chief of Public Safety, from the New Haven Police Dept. where he served as Chief;
• Adam Roth, Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, where he earlier served as Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences at the University of Rhode Island; and,
• J.T. Torres, Assistant Teaching Professor of English, was named Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning.
We welcome all of our newest arrivals to Quinnipiac – and congratulate those who are taking on new or expanded roles – and look forward to your contributions as we all work together to amplify the distinctions of the university.
The introduction of new programs and badges, like those in Lean Six Sigma, our gaming lab, and our new program in data science, equip our students with the interdisciplinary expertise they need to be not just career ready – but prepared for citizenship in an increasingly complex and polarized civic space.
I’d like to spend a moment on that last point. Many students indeed choose college to position them for jobs after they graduate. Of course we strive to provide that, yet our goal also must be to imbue in them a love of learning for its own sake, and to prepare them to be informed citizens who can separate fact from propaganda, and find the common ground where democracy flourishes.
Increasingly, our collective professional and technical proficiency is linked to the very notion of freedom. For example, the National Security Commission this year joined a chorus of experts – led by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt – warning that China is eating our lunch when it comes to cutting edge technologies such as artificial intelligence. Yes, this is bad for our economy and competitiveness, but we also saw first-hand over the past year on everything -- from vaccine hoaxes to lies about the election -- how bad actors can use these technologies to manipulate people, and threaten democracy.
Which is why our second pillar of Inclusive Excellence has become so urgent. Academics, like democracy, are built on the fundamental premise that we can hold different opinions and disagree on some things, while still respecting a common set of facts and data. As Senator Moynihan said: “You are entitled to your opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts.” That premise almost sounds quaint these days, when the “facts” themselves are bifurcated and entirely shaped by one’s choice of media sources, and the social bubble in which we choose to live.
Learning can sometimes be uncomfortable. To learn, we must make room in our minds and our world view for a new perspective, even a perspective that we do not agree with. That can be seriously threatening. But all of us – students, faculty and staff – need to confront challenging questions about how we talk about race, gender, sexual orientation, political outlook, even health which has become politicized, and the myriad other issues that together fall under the big umbrella of inclusivity.
We must all make a special effort to step outside our comfort zone … to at least hear another perspective. As civil discourse has become not just polarized but entirely partitioned and at war, we have to find educated ways to edge closer to the uncomfortable, and to create experiences that inform and offer opportunity.
We’re doing that – creating experiences that inform and offer opportunity such as the QUEST mentoring program, our growing and strengthening relationships with diverse high schools and community colleges, as well as our summer programs that reach under-represented high school students. We are steadily increasing the representation of diverse faculty and students, and that diversity brings with it a more nuanced platform for debate and consideration of basic tenets of our university, of our educational offerings, of our lives. We are more thoughtful, more informed, more open, and kinder because of that diversity. I can tell you that I’ve experienced that first-hand – and I’ve learned a lot, with gratitude, because of the growing diversity that surrounds us.
This year, a group of students took the initiative to launch a magazine celebrating multiculturalism, and we issued our first-ever Equity and Inclusion Report. It puts a stake in the ground of where we are, and is an integral source of data to help accelerate our efforts to create and foster a more inclusive culture at Quinnipiac.
The last pillar of our strategic plan -- pillar 4 -- takes the longer view, of lifelong connections and learning. I mentioned badging and re-skilling, and the pandemic only amplified their vital importance for employees at all levels to stay current and marketable in a rapidly transforming work environment. Coursera’s second quarter 2021 results reported revenue growth of 38 percent on the strength of global demand for reskilling, and “sustained demand for career-oriented professional certificates targeted at entry-level digital jobs.” Coursera’s biggest competitor, online education company 2U which partners with many universities, reported 36 percent growth in its “alternative credentials” business segment in its most recent quarter. Demand is coming not just from people who lost their jobs. It’s driven by people who understand that the pace and scale of change seen in 2020 is not going to slow down. If anything, it’s accelerating.
And so must we. That’s why we are expanding – with your input and creative design – the number of offerings for adult learning -- badges, certificates, online degrees and summer programming.
The latest August 2021 update from EducationData shows that 45.5% of students enrolled in college are over the age of 22. We need to view lifelong learning the way we think about subscription services like Netflix or Amazon Prime – it’s there for students to engage with, on their terms, whenever they choose, and hopefully for life. And the rise of distance learning throughout the pandemic has pushed us to think long and hard about pedagogy and how we adapt and evolve learning, because we must acknowledge the extraordinary value of this medium as a delivery method for growing segments of learners.
I anticipate that we will be expanding digital delivery as we grow our badging and specialized programs, and as lifelong learning becomes as common as well … an Amazon Prime subscription. That’s clearly a growth opportunity we must pursue, recognizing the parallel decline in the demographics of the traditional undergraduate population. Several of us have been meeting also with major CEOs in the State of Connecticut -- to understand their needs and deepen our engagement that opens doors for long-term, reciprocally beneficial partnerships, boosting skills and training opportunities for both our students and local employees.
Forging strong lifelong connections with our 60,000 alumni is an especially gratifying goal. They are fabulous ambassadors and cheerleaders for our institution. And they are our partners for life. The Quinnipiac Advantage Program offers modules for lifelong learning among alumni, and we’ve provided hundreds of one-on-one career consultations to alumni. Bobcat Connect, a LinkedIn-style platform that connects students with alumni and parents for career preparation, continues to grow – now engaging over 5,700 alumni and friends in mentoring and career advising relationships with current students.
Engaged alumni become vested in the future of the institution, and are a primary source of philanthropic support. Indeed, donor support over the last 3 years, with the leadership of our Trustees, has been at all-time highs in the history of the institution and reflects growing opportunities for meaningful engagement of alumni, parents and friends of the institution in classes, campus-wide events, athletics, and directly with faculty, staff and students. You are each key to that deeper engagement.
I’ve covered a lot of ground to describe the excitement of the coming year, and years ahead. I hope you share my optimism and unwavering confidence in the future of the institution.
Each year at Convocation, I’ve put forth challenges to our university community for the upcoming academic year. And each year you have responded to the challenge and often exceeded any expectation associated with those challenges:
• I had asked you to commit to an “Institution First” mindset. Well, this QU community was a national role model for ‘institution first’ last year, in the way you sacrificed, selflessly, and overcame every challenge posed by COVID.
• I had asked that we embed data analytics throughout our curriculum so that every QU graduate is data savvy. We now have courses across our Schools that infuse the use of data and promote the critical thinking needed to understand and apply that data. More to do, yeenormous progress has been made.
• I had asked that we each engage in individual acts of kindness, and that has been evident in spades, never more than the last year as I described earlier.
• And I asked that despite the storm of COVID of the last 18 months, that we not divert our focus ALSO on advancing the University of the Future, and our strategic plan. And as is evident, we continue to progress with inspiring, strategically focused advances.
So I’ll end, as I have done in the past, with three collective challenges for this new academic year:
The first is to create urgency around structuring immersive opportunities into our curricula, especially as students advance toward their graduation. Every field has different forms and opportunities for immersive learning. Badges and certificates along the way may provide added opportunities for knowledge and skill alignment with the needs of employers. Engaging practitioners in the classroom is yet another way of structuring such immersive opportunities, but that’s up to you to design and shape. You most certainly will be more creative and knowledgeable than I could ever be on this. I view immersive learning embedded within the learning cycle of every student as a key differentiator of Quinnipiac’s educational offerings.
My second challenge is for each of us to consider how we step out of our zone of comfort, and to provoke ourselves and others to hear views other than our own, to see other experiences than our own. That alone will open us up, and likely move us towards greater inclusivity. It’s OK to be provoked into hearing and seeing contrarian world views – shared respectfully – in the classroom, as part of our Living-Learning Communities, in our lecture series, as part of the public service experiences of our students, among people whom we invite to dinner. Let’s each challenge ourselves to become part of the movement that is not warring, that crosses into uncomfortable terrain, and learns …
And my third challenge is for each of us to become an unequivocally enthusiastic, unabashedly proud, unrestrained cheerleader on behalf of Quinnipiac University, wherever we are. I presume that we each love this institution. We are each the most authentic ambassadors of this institution by virtue of our firsthand experiences, whether encountering a touring family on campus, speaking to a stranger in line at the grocery store, or watching our child’s soccer game with a fellow parent. We are Bobcat proud, and there’s a lot to be proud of!
So the three challenges for next year are to:
• Build immersive learning opportunities as a distinction across all of QU
• Provoke yourself to hear the counter thought, and to engage
• Be a vocal Quinnipiac ambassador and cheerleader.
The past year definitely tested us. We passed, I’d say with flying colors. That’s because of all of you. Thank you for your continued faith, resilience and passion, and for collectively propelling us toward the University of the Future.
Welcome back to our 92nd year! Now it’s time to get on with it and to see the excited faces of our incoming students who are joining us in a moment. I now hand it over to our terrific Provost, Debra Liebowitz.