December 18, 2014 –
Dear Members of the Mount Ida Community,
Each December, the change which occurs around mid-month on campus is quite dramatic: One moment students are rushing to class, to exams, to the student center, from their residence halls, putting coats and sweatshirts on as they go against a cold early winter wind, anxious about finishing papers, passing exams, completing a capstone. The next moment, all is so quiet: student rooms are no longer lit until late into the night, the pathways to ATC and the Athletic Center are empty except for the rustling leaves and a few lonesome turkeys.
As unsettling as this quiet is, it is a good time to do a couple of things: The first and most important is to express my thanks to each and every one of you for the extraordinary work you are doing to transform this college, a place so filled with potential, into a beacon of education for students who come to us, many with challenging financial circumstances and the need for guidance in their path through higher education, but who also possess the energy, creativity, and desire for success. Together, we have become what is now a rarity in higher education: an exciting and compassionate center for youthful learning, for campus life and civic engagement – and that accomplishment is a tribute to each of you – faculty, staff and our extraordinary students.
Our academic year, once begun, seems to disappear in an instant in the midst of all the energy on our campus. Speakers and events fill our nights; football, soccer, volleyball, field hockey on our weekends. Our students are engaging off-campus at West Roxbury Science Academy and volunteering in local senior centers, dental and animal clinics. But in that crush of activity, we can and should take some pause to note to ourselves and our friends some of the specific and dramatic aspects of our growth.
To start, we are proud of the trends in our applications and admissions. For the second year, while some of our peers are challenged by demographic decline, our applications, and the academic qualifications of our students have trended dramatically upward: a 12% increase in academic grade point averages since 2012 and a 20% increase in enrollment with an entering class of 492 freshmen and transfers. All are indicators of the relevance and resonance of our programs to college bound students and their families. Mount Ida’s career-focused education, based upon a strong underpinning in critical thinking, as well as a traditional focus on social sciences and humanities is clearly the right mix for this generation. Combined with our strong 86% overall placement rate within 11 months of graduation, it is clear that we are attracting and resonating with enthusiastic, engaged, competent and committed students.
Supporting this growth over the past two years, our faculty, the core of our educational capability, has seen many changes. This year we welcomed nine new faculty members to our ranks. In addition, two new Deans, Jason Donati, Dean of the School of Design and Brad Hastings, Dean of the School of Social Sciences and Humanities have completed their first year. This past semester we added two new School deans: Dr. Reema Zeineldin was appointed as Dean of the School of Applied Sciences. A respected professor and researcher in biomedical science, Reema was most recently a member of the faculty of the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. The new Dean of the School of Business, Sharon McKechnie, comes to us from Emmanuel College, where she held the rank of Associate Professor in the Management and Economics Department. Her research has included numerous articles and presentations in the areas of employee engagement and workplace flexibility. The addition of the school deans and the growth of our faculty are an important and impressive statement of our commitment to the higher education and the success of our students.
With the deans in place providing strong leadership for each of our schools, each academic unit is developing its own unique character and pathway to success, increasing new curricular offerings and innovative means for student academic engagement. I am pleased to report the growing success of all of our new majors including media communication, political science and history, digital visualization, commercial photography and animation. In the near future, we expect further new offerings for our students in our applied sciences and business schools, expanding course offerings and internship opportunities.
As the Schools have begun to develop their own unique personalities, they are unified by a number of College-wide academic structures: the first, under Dr. Alan Whitcomb, Dean of Curriculum and Academic Quality, is the program for assessment of academic outcomes in which each of our faculty tracks and is responsible for the academic progress and outcomes for our students. Dean Whitcomb’s efforts are leading to clear metrics of our effectiveness in academic achievement among our student population.
Secondly, the faculty has inaugurated the Faculty Senate, providing a voice to faculty initiatives, concerns and general governance matters. In its first semester, the Senate has engaged our professors in formal discussions and informal gatherings. I look forward to participatory engagement by the Senate and the newly elected Senators as a means to involve the faculty in discussions about the future of the College.
Student Life Moves Forward
The growth and change that mark our academic endeavors are equally noted in student life. Combining leaders from academic and student life divisions, we have sought to dramatically improve our student retention and engagement through the following initiatives:
- Under the direction of the STaR Committee, and the Dean of Student Success, Mary Anne Miller, the College launched a comprehensive cross-departmental retention effort that coordinates the identification of and direct follow-up with students who are at risk of leaving the College. Thanks in part to software tracking and analytical systems, along with faculty participation, STaR has been able to identify students with financial, academic and/or residential life challenges and affords them the direct support, counseling and academic assistance they need to succeed.
- The STaR Committee worked hard at planning for the fall 2014 implementation of Freshman CONNECT, a living, learning community of 69 freshmen who occupy the newly refurbished third floor of Wingate Hall. The concept is unique and exciting, incorporating newly constructed learning, conference and study areas in our Wingate residence hall. This strategic residential clustering of students with shared academic interests has allowed for deeper social connections and is improving college-readiness by providing more regular and direct contact and involvement with faculty, access to targeted residence life programming and academic support resources.
Toward a New Model of Higher Education
In the 21st century, higher education demands more than campus experience. Students must learn to engage with communities beyond the college, locally, nationally and internationally. Mount Ida strives to reach its potential in this area. Last year our new Assistant Dean of Student Engagement & Leadership, Patrick I. Romero-Aldaz joined us, established his office at the new Student Center. Campus life and activities have exploded – but in a form that is substantive instead of episodic. The list of accomplishments on campus is extraordinary; a revitalized student government and student organizations, the return of evening events, dinners for each class year, clubs and organizations, speakers and cultural opportunities from poetry nights to comedians, all have increased the energy and sense of inter-student community.
Important to the student body in this process is the introduction of community service and service learning in a concerted way. To this end, the College engaged Sarah Bouchard as Assistant Director of Civic Engagement and Service Learning to substantially increase engagement and service learning beyond the boundaries of our campus.
Here, too, the first year has been impressive. A landmark cooperative program involved Mount Ida students engaging at the West Roxbury Urban Science Academy in partnership with AmeriCorps VISTA and the Massachusetts Campus Compact. During Welcome Week, we sent 365 students, led by 40 student leaders, across Newton and Boston to participate in community service projects. We partnered with 17 community agencies, donated 150 backpacks to young school children, created 1,000 birthday goody bags for children in local homeless shelters, created 25 fleece blankets for newborn infants at Newton-Wellesley Hospital, cleaned parks, and helped prepare several Boys & Girls Clubs for the school year.
In August, we received recognition from the National Association for Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) as a member of their Lead Initiative for 2014-2015. Mount Ida College is now a member of a select list of 100 institutions dedicated to promoting civic learning and democratic engagement as a core function of the division of student affairs.
Along with service learning, international travel grew exponentially under the direction of Robin Melavalin, Director of Global Connections and Continuing Education. Increased foreign travel supported by the College, provided many opportunities for international student engagement. We had the most expansive year in the College’s history for educationally-focused overseas learning. With the financial assistance of Santander Universities – the educational charitable arm of Santander Bank – as well as the College’s own scholarship funds, we provided international travel to 52 of our students to Belize, Ecuador, China, Costa Rica and England. Our students examined business operations in China, staffed children’s dental clinics in Ecuador, lived with families in Costa Rica, assisted in veterinary care facilities in Belize and visited graphic design studios and museums in London. Many of our students had never traveled either domestically or overseas and the trips were an experience of a lifetime for them. Santander has doubled the financial support of our unique travel program this year. Under Robin’s direction, we anticipate over 80 of our students will travel abroad – most for the first time. As important is the fact that each international program will incorporate a service learning component in the countries visited.
The Importance of Athletics at Mount Ida
Finally, I would like to note the importance of athletics on the Mount Ida campus. Our philosophy regarding the role of athletics in college life is that it must be inclusive and help build community, individual confidence and personal leadership skills. At its best, it fulfills many of the same goals of personal growth, which occur in our classrooms.
We are fortunate to have an athletic program which not only complements our intellectual endeavors, but through the extraordinary capabilities of our coaches, develops and matures our students to achieve the best in themselves and builds energy, spirit and commitment on our campus. This year we added women’s field hockey and a revitalized tennis program to our growing list of Division III competitive athletics, while sustaining the other varsity and intramural sports that help attract and retain students to the College. In the upcoming spring and fall, we expect to add track and field, first as a club sport and then as a Division III competitive sport.
I want to take this opportunity to express my thanks to all of our coaches and trainers and to our athletic director, Matt Burke, for all they do and how much they add to the life of the College. I also note that this year we established the Mount Ida College Athletic Association as the focal point of our alumni athletes, parents of our team players as well as our current athletes. MICAA will serve as the organizer of events and philanthropic support for our teams and athletic enterprise. Our growth in athletics demands the creation of a central organization to coalesce our alumni and outside supporters. We look forward with great pride to the new MICAA
A Final Thought
By and large, America’s colleges have been slow to adapt to the needs of our society and generation of students which is seeking more from higher education than an earned degree. Our college and each of you should take pride in the fact that you are meeting the challenge of enlightened education, civic engagement and career focus which will lead to the success of our students and our enterprise. As a community, we can justifiably honor our recent successes and look forward to a future of exciting possibilities.
My gratitude goes out to each and every one of you for your support, hard work and compassion toward our students and our community. We are truly becoming a unique and special college. May I wish you all a season of happiness and peace.
All best regards,
Mount Ida College