Gratitude, Renewal, Opportunity
This fall, in an address to faculty and staff, I shared a story that I believe provides the Gonzaga community – those on campus and those who engage with and support us from a distance – a helpful outlook for a season of strategic planning with a renewed understanding of our purpose.
In the early months of the COVID pandemic, after campus had resumed for in-person instruction, I had an encounter with a student I’ll call John. We crossed paths as he was moving back into his residence hall and he shared how grateful he was to be on campus again. John’s father, just before his death from COVID-induced organ failure, implored John to return to school and finish his degree.
The student had many reasons not to. He was worried about his mom and had his own depression to face, but he did come back. I will never forget what he said: “For some of us, Gonzaga is a light in the darkness.”
Amid his grief, John finished his degree and launched a career for which this university prepared him.
This is why we do what we do. This is our unique purpose as a Catholic, Jesuit, humanistic institution.
Despite criticisms of higher education – the suspicion about politically motivated indoctrination, the question of whether a college degree is really worth the expense – I believe with every fiber of my being that the perseverance of our students is all we need as testament that we are worth the investment.
As I consider the previous academic year and look ahead to the next, I am struck by overwhelming gratitude, a sense of renewal, and opportunities the likes of which we have not encountered in many years.
The recent U.S. News & World Report college rankings once again recognize Gonzaga’s excellent teaching and support services, which contribute to high retention and graduation rates. This is a testament to our talented, tireless faculty and staff. A recent story by Condé Nast Traveler also named Gonzaga one of the prettiest 56 college campuses in the U.S., among the thousands of postsecondary institutions in the nation. Hats off to Plant Services for this honor. Few institutions can claim having opened two major facilities during the pandemic, as Gonzaga did with the John and Joan Bollier Family Center for Integrated Science and Engineering and the University of Washington School of Medicine-Gonzaga University Health Partnership building, thanks to collaborative, innovative partners. Furthermore, GU received an incredible number of individual gifts of $1 million or more, from generous benefactors who want to ensure that more students like John can experience a light in the darkness.
The years of COVID have been transformative. Alongside lessons and new opportunities, Gonzaga, like so many others, experienced a significant amount of change in its employee population. Students were anxious about what they missed and how that may impact what they are capable of doing. Our community – among the first places to bring back in- person college experiences – is now ready to move forward into a new era in the actualization of the mission.
New members of our Executive Leadership Team are up to the challenge. Provost Sacha Kopp has a curiosity fueled by his joy of learning, and is thoughtful in engaging complex issues. Acting Vice President of Mission Integration Ellen Maccarone has a genuine love for this university and expertise that will aid in discerning the path forward. Vice President of Human Resources Ray Kliewer brings depth of experience from large institutions and private industries to improve Gonzaga as an employer. These three – in addition to many long-serving leaders – will help Gonzaga find new ways to meet the high expectations of students, families and the community.
In my time at Gonzaga – more than three decades in various capacities – I have learned that resource growth almost always comes from new sources of revenue. And thus, our vision for the future requires increased philanthropic support and development of new non-tuition sources of funding. We must adapt to attract graduate and undergraduate students in an increasingly competitive environment, develop new academic programs, and refine existing programs to ensure they are relevant to students seeking to address the world’s greatest challenges.
This all sets the stage for updating our strategic plan, to ensure Gonzaga is competitive in areas where the demand is high. Under the guidance of Provost Kopp, we initiated this fall a process called The Grand Challenge to engage faculty and staff in identifying goals and initiatives for research and creative academic activities, student development and new programs of study. The resulting priorities will create exciting opportunities for funding support and partnerships.
Sustainability and stewardship are part of the evaluation, too, understanding that we must thoughtfully consider where resources will be deployed in fulfillment of our mission.
Moving Forward, Together
As a Jesuit institution, we are called to emulate the model set by St. Ignatius of Loyola – to be “contemplatives in action.” I believe this is the foundation for successful strategic planning, to consider how we best serve others, distinguish our university and most effectively work to facilitate care and stewardship of God’s creation.
Gonzaga University is woven into the fabric of so many lives, and we all play a critical role in its future. Thank you for the support that has made Gonzaga what it is, and for your care and engagement in what it will become.
Thayne M. McCulloh, D. Phil.
Read "Lighting the Way" for a look to the future.