Success Amid Challenge: 2022 Outlook

Spires of St. Al's Church

February 22, 2022
President Thayne McCulloh | Gonzaga Magazine

Recently I had the opportunity to participate in a strategy session involving numerous higher education colleagues from the western United States. The facilitator at one point opined that we are living in a “VUCA” reality – VUCA an acronym for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. Periods of unforeseen instability are very challenging, and we all have been impacted by the cultural and global upheaval wrought by the pandemic.

But knowing how to survive, and even thrive, in such a context is precisely the kind of circumstance for which Jesuit higher education was created and exists to this day.

At the start of each semester, I address our faculty and staff, providing institutional updates and perspectives that guide our administration in service to students and colleagues. Of course, this winter’s address was focused on the challenges brought about by, and responses to, the pandemic – along with some daunting forecasts about undergraduate enrollment trends across the nation. And yet, despite these challenges, the foundation of my message was, and continues to be, the imperative we face to see challenges as opportunities, and to continuously set our sights on the future.

Thanks to the commitment and forward-thinking insights of our entire university community, Gonzaga has maintained a steadfast focus on our mission values and strategic priorities – notwithstanding the challenges and (many) inconveniences of COVID-19. Just a few examples:

  • We are deeply grateful to the many partners and benefactors who made possible the addition of the newly opened John and Joan Bollier Family Center for Integrated Science and Engineering, which allows us to expand cutting- edge educational and research opportunities for students and faculty. Faculty have moved into offices, classes are in session, and concrete canoes are under construction! Next time you come to campus, I encourage you to stop in and visit.
  • Enrollment Management is undertaking a comprehensive strategic enrollment management planning effort which seeks to explore and highlight opportunities for program growth and development. This plan will help inform the work of the academic deans and the development of the academic strategic plan.
  • At the south end of campus, rising above the Trent Avenue I-90 on-ramp, is the new facility for the University of Washington School of Medicine–Gonzaga University Health Partnership, where physicians- and physician assistants-in-training as well as students from our School of Nursing and Human Physiology will prepare to enter careers in the health care field. Today, perhaps more than ever, our region and our nation need medical professionals who see in each patient a human being deserving of dignity and love. You can see this work in action this July (2022) when we formally open the doors to the next generation of medical practitioners.
  • Across the university, faculty and staff provide myriad opportunities for students to partner with the local community to improve life, health and educational opportunities through the Center for Community Engagement and its place-based initiative, Opportunity Northeast (ONE). From small-business development and educational support inside the public schools, to tutoring and serving meals, Zags are connecting in meaningful ways. Recently, our School of Leadership Studies launched a training program for neighborhood leaders to gain skills in working effectively with City Council and other agencies to realize the change they wish to see. This March, we join our incredible partners at Catholic Charities Spokane in the grand opening of a new residential community, Gonzaga Family Haven. In these and so many more ways, Gonzaga lives out its commitment to and relationship with the local community every day.

These meaningful achievements are thanks to the deep belief among Gonzaga faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends that – no matter what – we must continue to pursue our mission of Jesuit education, and continue to impact in practical ways the professional and social communities of which we are a part. What Gonzaga does, matters. Our Jesuit mission continues to guide us as teams of dedicated individuals continue to address the challenges of a pandemic. Believe me when I say our teams are tireless – even when they are tired – in taking every precaution to keep our campus safe. Every decision we make, whether regarding vaccine requirements, masking, care of students in quarantine or isolation, policies for in-person events, or adaptive learning environments, requires careful consideration and review by many individuals across our campus community. Our ability to keep moving forward and to cherish the victories along the way comes from innumerable places. It is a work rooted deeply in faith, inspired by the Jesuit charism. But without question, it comes from the strong ties that bind the Gonzaga community to supporters all around the world: our alumni, our families, our friends, and the sponsorship and wisdom of many generous benefactors. Thank you for being our continued source of strength. It keeps us going.

A Note about Student Well-Being

In this edition, we highlight the issue of student well-being and in particular the mental health of our students in the COVID-19 era. Statistics show today’s high school and college students are suffering from anxiety and depression in higher numbers and with greater intensity since the onset of the pandemic. We, along with many other institutions of higher education, have seen clear evidence of this.

I want to take this opportunity to underscore the commitment we at Gonzaga have to student mental health, and to express my gratitude to the many colleagues throughout the university who are working to support and assist students in this critical area. Research shows the impact that consistent care and a strong support system can have on maintaining mental health. Critical to effective support is the ongoing development of contemporary programs and the involvement of the entire community. (See story: A Constellation of Stressors.)

Stay Connected

At the time this magazine goes to press, we are hopeful but cautious about the ability to gather “in person” and watch some excellent Gonzaga Bulldog action during March Madness. While there is perhaps nothing more exhilarating than thousands of Zags getting together, there are other incredible ways we can stay connected. Please consider joining the new Zag Business Directory headed up by our Alumni Relations team, as one more way to enjoy and benefit from our amazing school spirit.

May God bless you and yours in the weeks and months to come. Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam.

Thayne M. McCulloh, D.Phil.

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