Each autumn, we wonder when the first leaf will turn: first one, then a few—and, overnight, a panorama of reds, yellows, and oranges! The campus canopy is constantly adapting. In my comings and goings along The Avenue, I note its enchanting display of the seasons, and I often imagine how our founders thought of this tree-lined Avenue as an example for our students. The word “resilience” feels appropriate: the trees bend (mostly) without breaking, and they experience change, rebirth, and loss every year.
When I joined the College in 2019, I noted that Sister Madeleva Wolff, a transformative past president, had also been attuned to the idea of resilience. At a time when the education of women was subversive in itself, she ensured that Saint Mary’s would further cultivate women’s resilience by combining a liberal arts education with exposure to technical fields and to advanced study. Because of these early steps, Saint Mary’s today offers a comprehensive program portfolio: the liberal arts, yes, as well as professional programs such as Accounting, Engineering, Nursing Science, and Speech Language Pathology. A strong interdisciplinary foundation prepares all Saint Mary’s graduates with the ability to flex with life’s demands, to apply a critical mind to any field, and to adapt across the seasons of life.
As the beneficiary of a liberal arts education, I often struggle to answer questions about my own career path. How did a B.A. in Music go on to a Ph.D. in Neuroscience and a career in strategy and finance? The liberal arts are the secret sauce! Contrary to skill-based education, the liberal arts train students in the art of learning—ensuring the development of foundational skills that transfer across jobs and careers. Workforce research points to a real urgency for more such graduates: the skills most in demand by employers today are the educational strengths of Saint Mary’s College, including critical thinking, research and evidence-based practice, problem-solving, and the ability to acquire new skills.
Saint Mary’s has also developed expertise in institutional adaptation. We have emerged on this side of a pandemic stronger than where we began, with over 400 new undergraduate students this year and a growing balance sheet. Stability in our undergraduate core is augmented by growth in new programs that diversify our reach, including accelerated bachelor’s-to-master’s pathways, both at Saint Mary’s and in partnership with the University of Notre Dame; new graduate programs in Nursing and Social Work; and a suite of new summer youth programs to be launched in the summer of 2023. These summer camps and pre-college offerings are being created with support from Lilly Endowment, and youth programs are key to our vision to serve girls and women across the lifecycle.
The Avenue’s extravagant hues are soon replaced with bare branches that will, in turn, bud, leaf, and flower in time to celebrate our seniors as they move into their own next seasons. The liberal arts foundation offered by Saint Mary’s promises a lifetime of opportunity for these graduates—and the certainty of impact for the communities they serve.
Dana Strait, Ph.D.
Senior Vice President for Strategy and Finance