State of the University Address, part 2

| October 21, 2008


As one of the fruits of our last capital campaign, the Century Campaign, concluded in 2002, the Brueggeman Center for Dialogue has built an admirable track record over the last several years of good and patient work. Indeed, while the Brueggeman Center’s engagement is deeply embedded in the interreligious world of Cincinnati, it is also cross-sectoral and multi-dimensional, engaging business, government and the non-profit sectors across a wide range of issues. It has I think come to be one of the major conveners in Cincinnati for programs which deal substantively with major critical issues that face us as a city, a nation and a world. The list of agencies with which the Brueggeman Center has partnered is truly impressive: The American Jewish Committee, Bridges for a Just Community (formerly the NCCJ or the National Conference for Community and Justice), the Center for Holocaust and Humanity Education at Hebrew Union College—Jewish Institute of Religion, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Global Center of Greater Cincinnati, the Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center, the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati, the Ohio Humanities Council and the Metropolitan Area Religious Coalition of Cincinnati, to name only a handful.  In addition, the Winter-Cohen Brueggeman Fellows Program has sent students to 16 different countries thus far, where they have engaged in work and research on topics ranging from microfinance, HIV/AIDS, public healthcare, interreligious dialogue, immigration, emerging democracies, and ecological issues, to name but a few. These experiences place the student, most often alone, in some of the most extreme regions of the world, teaching them about the world beyond the U.S. and developing in them a sense of self-reliance and purpose that is changing lives in ways large and small.

As the nerve center of student activities, the Division of Student Life and Leadership within the Provost area is as well a tremendous source of engagement efforts. Xavier’s revived Women’s Center, though only a little more than one year old, has already developed effective partnerships with the Cincinnati Health Department, the Alliance for Immigrant Women, the YWCA of Greater Cincinnati, Harmony Garden, and Ohio Families for Safe Birth, amon others. The Psychological Services Center not only provides group psychotherapy to fifth grade girls at the Hoffman-Parham School, but this year began providing social support groups to students at South Avondale Elementary School.  The newly established Office for Interfaith Community Engagement has begun developing a variety of good collaborations both within and beyond the University, coordinating two trips to Israel for the 2009 year in tandem with the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Williams College of Business, for example, and developing comprehensive outreach strategies to the Muslim-American Society and the Hindu community here in Cincinnati. Recreational Sports, meanwhile, reaches out to a variety of groups which work with the disabled, such as Starfire and Special Olympics. Similarly, the Office for International Student Services has developed partnerships with the Alliance for Immigrant Women, the American Red Cross, Bridges for a Just Community, Catholic Social Services, the International Family Resource Center, and Ten Thousand Villages in O’Bryonville. The popular and impactful Summer Service Internship Program placed 20 Xavier students this past summer in 20 different agencies across the Greater Cincinnati area.  In this the 14th year of that program, our interns contributed over 6,000 hours to help youth, individuals with disabilities, women, and individuals struggling with economic disparities.  They advocated for refugees, the homeless, survivors of the Holocaust and individuals fighting for rights. X-Action, a group of student leaders dedicated to creating and managing volunteer programs for their peers, organized activities during the 2007-08 academic year that encouraged nearly 600 students to participate in one-time service projects and over 225 to take part in weekly service commitments, while ConneXions, a program led by Xavier staff and upper-class students for first-year students, offers a variety of weekly volunteer opportunities, along with a chance to build friendships while they aim to make positive changes in society. I am eager to see how our current efforts to merge the work of the Office of Student Service with Programs in Peace and Justice will further galvanize student efforts. And then, of course, there is the remarkable success story of Xavier University’s Alternative Breaks Program, now the second largest such program in the country. It began unofficially in 2001 when a group of students went on their own to work with Appalachian communities. The following year, it became an official club and sent 36 students on three trips to rehabilitate houses in West Virginia and work at soup kitchens in Baltimore and battered women shelters in New York City. By 2004, it had grown to 10 trips for 120 students. For the spring of 2009, the Alternative Breaks Program will sponsor 23 trips for over 270 students to cities such as San Francisco, Chicago, West Virginia, and New Orleans domestically and to Ukraine, Jamaica, El Salvador and Mexico abroad. 

But all these efforts, good and important as they are, would not affect the deep heart of the University were they not matched by equally vigorous commitments from within that heart itself, namely from within the academy proper. It is these engagements, offered principally within the colleges, which ensure that community engagement is something more than just a nice “add-on,” but is indeed a fundamental marker of who we are here at Xavier. Premier among these programs, perhaps, are the Academic Service Learning Semesters in India, Ghana, Nicaragua and the Cincinnati neighborhood of Over the Rhine. As you know, these programs allow undergraduate students representing a variety of majors to combine 12 to 15 credit hours of academic study with community service under the guidance and supervision of Xavier faculty.  Students spend a semester living in host communities in the context of living and working with the economically poor. Their coursework provides them with a knowledge of the culture, religion, history, government and economics of the area in which the semester took place, all with an emphasis on social justice. I am always pleased to see the transformative impact that these outstanding experiences have on our students. The Philanthropy Program, a small but mighty engine of change, likewise cuts across the entire University. The brainchild of Roger Grein, a wonderful friend of Xavier University, this program makes it possible for individual classes to have grant monies to invest in local area non-profits, thereby creating the opportunity for our students to come to know something about the rich tapestry of non-profit initiatives across the region and the important work they do.  In the last six years, more than 1,000 Xavier students have contributed more than $140,000 to more than 80 non-profits in the Greater Cincinnati community. Students and their instructors determine the goals of their investment strategy based on the learning objectives of the course, an assessment of related community needs and an evaluation of organizations working to meet those needs. Last spring, faculty and their students from the Departments of Sports Studies, Management and Entrepreneurship, Theology, Health Services Administration, Management Information Systems, and English awarded $24,000 in grants to agencies as diverse as Grass Roots: Interfaith Power and Light, Christians for the Mountains, Women Writing for a Change, and the Fernside Center for Grieving Children.  

All three of our colleges present a similar vibrancy. Within the College of Arts and Sciences, Kelly Phelps in the Art Department has been teaching weekly art classes to senior citizens and at-risk teens in the newly founded Flavor of Arts Studio on Montgomery Road in Evanston, while Bruce Erikson, also in the Art Department, has worked for two years as a volunteer to assist long-term patients in making art at Drake Rehabilitation Center, a project in which he has likewise begun to involve students in creative ways. Meanwhile, Tyrone Williams, of the English Department, chairs the Board of InkTank, an organization dedicated to running writing workshops for the homeless and those in rehabilitation. Advanced level Spanish students in Modern Languages have worked as tutors for Spanish-speaking students in area schools during the last two spring semesters, and the department has recently established connections with the newly-opened Pleasant Ridge Montessori School.  The Xavier University Concert Choir, under the direction of Tom Merrill, appears with major Cincinnati arts groups, such as the Cincinnati Pops, Cincinnati Ballet, Museum Center Concert Series, Vocal Arts Ensemble of Cincinnati, the Cincinnati Baroque Orchestra and so on. With the support of Wheeler Grant and a grant from the Ohio Humanities Council, Karim Tiro of the History Department and the students in his public history seminar will meet with members of the local community and develop an exhibition titled “Bitter/Sweet:  The History of Sugar in North America” that is slated to go up in Findlay Market in 2009. It will engage the histories of slavery, the modern diet, and U.S. foreign policy. Elizabeth Groppe of the Theology Department and Kathleen Smythe, of History, have collaborated as co-directors of the Ethics, Religion and Society Program to sponsor events with community organizations including the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati, the American Jewish Committee, and the Cincinnati Zoo. Chuck Grossman of the Biology Department has been coordinating a manatee research project in partnership with the Cincinnati Zoo and Time Warner Cable. And then there are the wonderful efforts of our students in our newest honors program—Philosophy, Politics and the Public—who have taken on a variety of public policy issues—producing, for example, a documentary exposing government discrimination against black farmers, testifying before a state task force on eminent domain, and advocating for local transportation issues.

The track record for engagement of the faculty within the College of Social Science, Health, and Education is no less impressive.  I was pleased to read the recent newspaper report that noted that Xavier University has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Norwood Schools to create a partnership. Under this agreement, we will develop opportunities for Xavier students to student teach in Norwood schools and for professional development opportunities for Norwood students, teachers, educational personnel and administrators. Our Division of Student Life and Leadership is also in on the act. They will partner with Norwood student leaders on a variety of leadership development activities, and we will also develop service opportunities for both Xavier and Norwood students and staff. As well, the Montessori Education Program has created the Center for Montessori Education to coordinate outreach efforts in the community to support and develop Montessori education in, for example, the Cincinnati Public Schools and the Dayton Public Schools, where it currently has agreements in place to provide professional development, coursework, and parent workshops. Building on their successful MSN, MIDAS and RN-MSN Programs, the Nursing Department has been awarded a grant to develop a new program focusing on clinical nurse leaders. As a part of this program, the department has begun to offer instruction via distance learning technology to hospitals in areas that cannot easily reach our campus. The Center for Catholic Education has now begun the third cohort of its successful initiative for Catholic schools with teams from local Catholic schools made up of an administrator, a science teacher and a math teacher. These teams partner with Xavier faculty and staff to study innovative teaching methods in math and science and in the area of leadership, while also developing a plan of action to address an identified area of need in their school. The Occupational Therapy Program has partnered with the community of Evanston to create learning models to show residents how to adapt their homes as they grow older and has applied for grants to build a model home to showcase these aging-in-place strategies. Lastly, the Inside-Out Program, from the Criminal Justice Department, has had Xavier students take part of their coursework in the prison environment, interacting with prisoners and corrections personnel to learn more about the processes and issues of corrections facilities. Part of this program involved a lock-down of Xavier students: They were booked and arraigned and spent a night in jail. Their professors report that the journaling conducted during this experience provided a profound learning experience for them. I will take their word for it.

Faculty from the Williams College of Business have been likewise discovering creative ways to link their work as teachers and researchers with the world around them. Thus, Phil Glasgo, David Randolph and Sandy Richtermeyer have been working closely with the Community Building Institute and the Federal Reserve Bank, Cincinnati Branch, to provide mortgage education to homeowners in our neighbors who are in danger of home foreclosure, and Xavier University will host a meeting on November 20th with various key players at the Cintas Center to discuss strategies to help these threatened homeowners.  Marketing professor Chris Manolis has been leading the Xavier University Marketing Club in a partnership with the Avondale Youth Council to identify ways of reinforcing positive attitudes about education in the Avondale community. Its goal was to expose Avondale youth to life on a college campus and, with the discipline of marketing, to inspire them to pursue higher education. They were supported by a grant of $5,000 for the Ohio Campus Compact helped Xavier students meet regularly with members of the Avondale Youth Council, conduct initial research and subsequent training.  Working with MBA students, Len Brzozowski asked his graduate students to develop from scratch a business plan for a profitable housing development company with a socially conscious twist:  the company’s business practice had to align with the Evanston Housing Plan, a document developed in collaboration between community residents, with support from the Community Building Institute, that also outlines long-term community goals as well as specific objectives such as attracting new residents while not displacing long-time residents and upholding the community’s proud African-American cultural heritage. Tim Kloppenborg has developed a variety of good consulting relationships with local institutions ranging from Archbishop McNicholas High School to Beech Acres Parenting Center, the Hamilton County Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, and United Cerebral Palsy, to name but a very few. Daewoo Park has coordinated the work of the Entrepreneurship Boot Camp for Veterans. Mark Frolick has collaborated with local and state governments and private enterprise to develop the Platform Lab downtown to provide organizations with the ability to test critical information systems in the event of disasters, so as to make sure that everything will work fine when the next Hurricane Ike strikes and everyone loses power.  Several faculty and staff in the Williams College of Business have been collaborating with the staff in Programs in Peace and Justice to develop a community engagement certificate for Xavier business students, a program which will launch next month. David Burns has worked with one of his classes to help develop a business plan for the Evanston Business District close at hand, while Tom Hayes has similarly worked with several of his classes to develop marketing plans for the American Cancer Society and StopAids. And Pricilla O’Clock is once again involved in her important work with her students as volunteer income tax advisors.

Part 3