President's End-of-Semester Reflections, 12/21/17.


President’s End-of-Semester Reflections, 12/21/17

Dear members of the Drew community,

We’ve developed the tradition to take the end of the semester and the end of the calendar year as a natural time to reflect on the past year and to tell you about happenings here in The Forest. In my fourth year at Drew, I continue to be honored to serve as president and feel privileged to be part of this remarkable community of students, faculty, staff, alumni, and neighbors in Madison.

Thinking back over the semester, I will remember most the many times in which the Drew community demonstrated its welcoming nature. My favorite time of year is welcoming the new class, this year the Class of 2021. In addition to welcoming new students in the College of Liberal Arts, we are welcoming more of them. The Forest is growing. Over the past three years, we have welcomed 27% more undergraduates, and our international population has grown by nearly 200%. Along with that growth we have become significantly more selective—by about 20 percentage points—in less than five years. The selectivity comes with increases in out-of-state students, and increases in the number of American students of color.

Both the Theological School and the Caspersen School of Graduate Studies are growing in programs. In keeping with its designation as one of a select group of Seminaries that Change the World, the Theological School will roll out an entirely new curriculum in fall of 2018. It is designed to meet the needs of today’s divinity students and congregations in an ever-changing world. In the Caspersen School, we are expanding our offerings in education and in finance. The Arts and Sciences faculty recently approved a new Master of Finance to capitalize on the prowess of our alums in this area and to bring our success in the Wall Street program to graduate students considering a career in finance.

One of the things that makes me most proud to be president of Drew is our enduring mission commitment to be a diverse, welcoming community. Our diversity is a foundational underpinning of learning here, both inside and outside the classroom. Drew students appreciate that characteristic and nurture it, and take leadership roles in sustaining the positive culture it creates. We fight intolerance by talking with each other, providing learning opportunities for each other, and by creating forums for respectful discourse. For these reasons, Drew University is ranked eighth in the country by Princeton Review for “lots of race/class interaction.”

We are one of the most diverse liberal arts universities in the country, with 36% American students of color and many religions represented on campus. This year was also momentous for Drew, as it marked the first year in the University’s history that it’s ranked in the top 20 in the country by the Institute for International Education for the number of international students, ranking just above peer schools including Skidmore, Oberlin, Dickinson, Bucknell, Williams, and Carleton.

Drew’s reputation for international education is growing in another way as well. We are ranked, also by the Institute for International Education, in the top 30 in the country for study abroad participation, just ahead of peer schools including Oberlin, Sarah Lawrence, Colgate, Middlebury, and Skidmore. Taken together, the three rankings on diverse environment, international student enrollment, and study abroad participation present a very clear picture of Drew’s strength and reputation in these important educational areas.

Accolades and rankings this year continued, as Drew was noted by Washington Monthly for the second year in a row among the top third of national universities, which also declared Drew one of the “best bangs for the buck” in the Northeast. The University also continued to be touted by Princeton Review for its commitment to being a green college and sustained its top 10 ranking in theatre at 5th in the country. One final designation of which I am particularly proud is that Drew students were identified by Pillars of Academia as the most altruistic student body in New Jersey, recognizing, among other attributes, our students’ commitment to community service and civic engagement.

This year will also go down in Drew history for the bold and innovative decision of our Board of Trustees to be clear about the cost of a Drew education. In September we announced that effective academic year 2018–19, Drew’s tuition will be lowered by 20%—about $10,000—narrowing the gap between the actual tuition charge and the amount many families pay. This move will make Drew’s true tuition, and our true value, more clear to more families. This decision has been met with very positive feedback and tremendous interest from families in the college search process. I am pleased to report that admissions applications are up significantly for domestic and international students hoping to enter in the fall of 2018.

Innovation—marked by quality scholarly, pedagogical, community, and athletic accomplishments and initiatives—was also reflected in the success of our faculty, students, staff, and alumni in many domains this past semester. Their accomplishments are too numerous to mention here, but I will share just a few:

  • Our faculty were awarded a Mellon Grant that fuels the Digital Drew initiative, focused on the creation of an interdisciplinary digital humanities program.
  • Sangay Mishra, assistant professor of political science, was awarded the distinction of Best Book on Asian America for Desis Divided: the Political Lives of South Asian Americans.
  • Emily Hill, associate professor and program director in Drew’s Mathematics and Computer Science Department, earned a Most Influential Paper Award for her contributions to a piece of research titled, “Using Natural Language Program Analysis to Locate and Understand Action-Oriented Concerns.”
  • Recent grad Mallory Mortillaro, C’12, G’15 has achieved international fame for her pursuit of the validation of a Rodin bust that she discovered while interning at the Hartley Dodge Foundation in Madison. Smithsonian magazine, and hundreds of other media outlets, covered this event.

Mallory’s experience is a shining example of the wonderful relationship we have built with the Borough of Madison and the greater Morris County area. What other local foundation would have thought to hire a student to curate the pieces in its Borough Hall? Our relationship with Madison, local businesses, and not-for-profits adds balance and diversity of student experience to Drew’s highly-regarded global experiences and growing number of New York Semesters. Through programs like the Speed Networking event held in conjunction with the Chief Executive Council of Madison and on-going programming with the Downtown Development Commission, we provide opportunities for students to integrate into the community directly outside of The Forest.

In order to facilitate and grow these relationships, I have recently named Marti Winer, our current chief of staff, as vice president for university relations. Marti will maintain her chief of staff role and will take on duties in the area of government relationships and growing partnerships with outside entities.

We also celebrated the triumph of Ranger men’s soccer after reaching the round of 16 in the NCAA Tournament and earning the number 12 ranking in the final United Soccer Coaches national poll. The Rangers went 21-1-1 in 2017, winning their second Landmark Conference championship and advancing to the third round of the NCAA Tournament for just the third time in program history. This success was a part of a great semester for the Drew Rangers and we are particularly proud of the men’s and women’s swimming & diving teams who recently had two consecutive weeks of Male and Female Landmark Conference Athlete of the Week honors.

Sadly, we have also had to say good bye this semester. The Drew community continues to mourn the recent losses of Professor Rodney Gilbert and CLA senior and sociology major Tammy Montgomery. Students, faculty, staff, and alumni continue to bring forth stories about their relationships to both of these individuals and the values for which they stood. Their commitment to their ideals, as well as their commitment to the Drew community, has been frequently stated, and our community is a better place for having had them here.

We are also sorry to say farewell to Sara Waldron, vice president of campus life and student affairs, but wish Sara a joyful retirement beginning early in the new year. We thank Sara for all of her hard work and dedication in the eight years she has spent at Drew and we will all miss our “Veep.” We are very pleased to share that Frank Merckx, current dean of students, has agreed to serve as interim vice president and dean of students, and are confident that Frank will continue the momentum that Sara has created in improving the culture of student life on campus.

On the strategic front, Drew has been engaged in a multi-year financial plan designed to create a sustainable future. Strategies include enrollment growth through the tuition reset initiative described above and the addition of several new programs, restructuring of the University’s debt, realignment of our benefits package, growing annual and unrestricted fundraising capacity, exploring innovative partnerships in technology growth and management, and realigning processes, administrative, and staffing structures to leverage and support the talents of our dedicated staff members.

The end of the semester is always an appropriate time to say thank you. Drew’s motto “Freely Ye Have Received, Freely Give,” has been exemplified in the response to a fundraising challenge recently offered by a generous donor, Dr. Steven Gilbert. Steve is the son of the late Dr. Norma Gilbert, a longtime Drew professor and chair of the math department. Dr. Gilbert will gift $1 million to the President’s Discretionary Fund for New Initiatives if we are able to raise $4 million in cash and “bookable” pledges by December 31, 2017. Because of the generosity of current and former Board of Trustees members and other good friends of Drew, we had already raised over $3.6 million toward the goal during the “quiet phase” of the challenge.

In the last week or so, we have reached out to the broader Drew family who have also stepped up. At this writing, we are very, very close to crossing the finish line. I extend my gratitude to all who have been engaged in this challenge, as well as those who have been generous in many other fundraising efforts to support Drew. If you would like to participate in helping us earn this matching gift in the Gilbert Challenge, you can do so here.

We are very excited about what lies ahead. The end of the fall semester brought with it the culmination of a year-long process to explore Drew’s identity as a University and in the three schools individually. Each school, in its own way, used empirical research to explore the “sweet spot” between Drew’s character and academic DNA—the place where our greatest academic strengths will meet the needs and desires of today’s students. We learned some exciting things, particularly about Drew’s ability to prepare students for productive and happy lives after graduation, in their careers and their communities. We will spend the spring semester, exploring how to translate our research findings into academic and co-curricular programs that exploit these strengths. Our aim is nothing short of national leadership in helping students prepare for post-University success.

All of us at Drew University wish for you and yours a happy holiday season and a joyous new year. If you haven’t yet seen our holiday greeting, you can find it here, where the squirrels have buried it.


MaryAnn Baenninger